Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee

cover166873-mediumSimon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019

In Maybe He Just Likes You Barbara Dee captures the feel of middle school perfectly. They’re on the line, Mira and her friends, sometimes leaning over into childhood and other times into adolescence. Mila’s body has moved into adolescence of its own accord, and even her green sweater doesn’t do enough to hide the changes she’s not ready for. Her friends, too, are dealing with the changes—or lack thereof–and it’s causing strain in the group. So, when a group of boys begins to give Mila a lot of unwanted attention, she doesn’t know what to make of it or where to turn.

It’s so easy to sympathize with Mira in this story. When everything is new: the shape of your body, the crushes your friends get, the social scene in middle school, it can be hard to determine what’s okay and what’s not. But Mira quickly comes to the conclusion that what’s happening is not okay. Yet, faced with an overwhelmed single mom, distracted teachers and male counselors, she cannot bear to explain. Finally, one night, Mira has the opportunity to retaliate against the leader of the group of boys, and that leads the way to help, learning, and restorative justice.

This book makes an excellent resource for middle school girls and dare I say male middle school teachers and administrators since the painful situations Mira is in are presented in such an unflinching and clear manner. In addition, Barbara Dee presents a realistic situation where the adults are clearly trying to do well by the students and yet Mira has good reasons to fear approaching them. I would hope that the resolution of the story would give any girl faced with this problem the courage to seek help.

I did have one big beef with the book, and it comes at the end, so if you don’t want spoilers, stop reading now. At the same time that Mira is dealing with sexual harassment at school, there are hints that her mother is encountering the same at work. In addition, the small family has some serious financial problems caused by the fact that Mira’s father refuses to pay child support. In the end Mom’s male boss fires her. Although Mira saves the day by pushing her mother in the direction of a new job with a female boss, the conclusion of the sub plot made me want to spit. Mira’s mom gets a new job she loves in a woman-owned business…at an even lower wage.

Suffice it to say my reader’s high in Mira’s success was spoiled by the message that in adult life women are at the mercy of men—whether ex-husbands or bosses—and that in order to be happy they must also be poorly compensated.

My conclusion? This book has a great message as it relates to middle school, and that’s probably reason enough to buy it, because that part of the plot’s masterful. But if my daughter were in middle school, I’d hand it to her with the requirement that we talk through what happened with Mira’s mom after she was finished reading. Unfortunately, I’m guessing most middle school girls won’t share this book with their mom.

I received an advance reader copy of Maybe He Just Likes You from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

20 Recipes Kids Should Know

Recipes and text by Esme Washburn

Photographs by Calista Washburn

Prestel Publishing, New York, 2019

We’re foodies in my family, so my kids were always interested in cooking. However, although they would ask for help when stuck, mostly they wanted to pursue their own cooking endeavors rather than learn from their parents. I wish this book had been around when they were young! Unfortunately, when my kids were ready to begin their cooking journey, the author of this book, Calista Washburn, hadn’t been born yet! She wrote this book when she was twelve.

I can’t say enough good about this book. The recipes are for healthy foods cooked from scratch. They range from the very simple grilled cheese and pancakes to the more complicated yeast bread and homemade pasta. The steps in each recipe are straightforward and clear, and the pasta recipe includes step-by-step pictures to go with the directions. Anyone who works their way through this cookbook will have a repertoire of recipes that will stand them in good stead to feed themselves and company as well.

The recipes feature common ingredients with substitutions noted for anything that’s a little more unusual. The bread recipe includes two alternatives, one for using a stand mixer and another for letting the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator, so that schedules and equipment won’t limit cooks in accomplishing their task. The introduction includes general information for the novice cook from measurement substitutions to a glossary of cooking techniques.

The pictures in this book are likely to make you hungry, they’re beautifully styled and put together in a way that gives you a great sense of the goal for each recipe. That’s quite an accomplishment for a teen photographer, Calista Washburn, Esme’s older sister.

All-in-all I would recommend this book as one of your first summer purchases. What a great way to learn to cook!

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Children of Jubilee by Margaret Peterson Haddix

children of jubileeSimon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018.

Refuge City is supposed to be just that—a refuge. But suddenly, the safe haven where Kiandra and Enu have lived since they were tiny has been taken over by Enforcers, and Rosa, Edwy, Zeba, Bobo, Cana, Enu, and Kiandra find themselves running for their lives. Not only that, but everyone expects twelve-year-old Kiandra to know what to do. Kiandra’s a tech genius and great at finding answers, but she’s definitely not used to having anyone depending on her. To Kiandra’s dismay, the others expect her to lead them even when the tech is taken out of the equation, and the stakes could not be higher.

Children of Jubilee is a cracking ending to the Children of Exile series which started with Children of Exile and moved on to Children of Refuge. Click the links to read my reviews of the previous books. Every book builds on the story through the eyes of a different main character, and yet the impeccable tension, pacing, and consideration of the human condition make a strong thread through all of the books.

I enjoyed—as will most middle grade readers, I think—the opportunity to learn about the worlds and cultures within the books and ponder the ethical questions that arose. Each main character, first Rosi, then Edwy, and finally Kiandra, is a hero to be revered who also gained my sympathy. The action kept me reading and the ethics kept me pondering. The questions of ethics are universal ones, and ones particularly suited to this series’ audience, I think. Each book could stand alone, but I think they’re especially satisfying read as a series.

I recommend this series as an addition to libraries, classrooms, and as gifts for middle grade readers who like a gripping, high-stakes, sci-fi tale.

I received a copy of Children of Jubilee in exchange for an honest review.

Dragonwatch: Wrath of the Dragon King by Brandon Mull

Dragonwatch, book 2: Wrath of the Dragon KingShadow Mountain Publishing, 2018.

Seth is frozen–rendered completely immobile by the fear of the dragon before him. Even his knowledge that this dragon is a friend cannot outweigh the fear that paralyses him. Seth and his sister Kendra may be co-caretakers at Wyrmroost, but only Kendra is immune to dragon fear, and Seth is only protected when he holds her hand. There are a few logistical problems with that, plus it’s embarrassing!

Now Celebrant, the Dragon King, has invited Seth and Kendra to a feast and it’s an invitation they can’t refuse. But Kendra’s immunity to dragon fear once helped her get the better of Celebrant, and that made him her enemy. Will the dragons honor their rules of hospitality at the feast or will Seth and Kendra be risking their lives just to attend?

I came to this preview of the second book of the Dragonwatch series without having read the first book nor any other than the first book in the Fablehaven series. Nevertheless, the world-building in Wrath of the Dragon King is strong, so although there were many characters to be introduced to in a short time, I felt as if I understood the world itself and the challenges the main characters faced right away.

This story will be loved by readers who love magical creatures, lore, and of course, mythical battles. There is magic here, but much of the interest in the tale seems to focus on strategy, cleverness, ancient rules, and societies. Seth and Kendra have a real challenge in front of them. I can’t wait to find out how it ends!

I received a preview of Wrath of the Dragon King from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.