Tiny House, Big Family

A determined young girl stars in my latest scout, The House that Lou Built, a debut novel by Mae Respieto. Respieto’s Filipino culture and childhood spent near San Francisco play strongly in her story of Lou, a thirteen-year-old girl living, along with her mother, in her grandmother’s house in San Francisco. Numerous members of Lou’s Filipino family life nearby.  Lou, at times, loves having close cousins and aunts, but at other times, she wonders what it would be like to have more autonomy and be able to have the privacy she sees her friends enjoy. Still, Lou is kept busy planning her dream home, a tiny house she longs to build on her piece of Heaven: some lush, secluded property her grandfather left to her. Lou is laser-focused on her dream. She acquires the skills needed to build, works at a scrap yard and collects items she can use in building and saves money to accomplish her tiny house goal.

Lou’s world is turned upside down when her mother gets offered a job in Seattle and intends to accept. Doubling down on her dream, Lou accelerates her pace of building, hoping the tiny house will change mom’s mind. Complications arise and Lou makes choices that result in deceptions to mom and other family. As the stakes get higher, Lou learns that mom can’t pay the taxes on the property and they will likely lose it. Lou refuses to relent, but it will take the assistance of family to finally perservere.

In a satisfying ending, Lou realizes her dream with the help of family and mom discovers that her dreams are better realized with family in her corner, as well.

FYI: I like to be transparent about content, so there are no surprises and adults have the chance to discuss subject matter.  First, Lou develops a crush and get her first brief kiss.Second, her teacher, mentor and helper is a gay character, although there is little detail other than he lives with his partner.

What I like about this book:

Lou is a great role model. She is comfortable being a young teen who loves tiny houses, building with wood, and embracing her culture by being in a Filipino dance troup. She is independent, strong-willed and dedicated to her goals.

There is a great deal of Filipino culture woven into the tale, from beliefs to cooking to dance, which lends the story more authenticity and gives depth to the characters and their relationships.

Written by Mae Respieto

Copyright 2018

Accelerated Reader Level: No test yet written. Approximate reading level is 5.0

Click on book cover to order through Amazon:              

Magic, Dragons and One Mean Witch!

 

Jax is a nine-year old boy living in Brooklyn with his mother. He is a compliant kid. But when his mother drops him off at Ma’s place for the day while she goes to court to deal with their possible eviction, he is in for an adventure that will require him to assert himself, take unprecedented risks and show cunning and bravery.  Ma, who is not a relative but did raise his mama, is about as friendly as an angry rattlesnake  Initially, Jax is afraid of Ma, which gives way to anger, then couriosity. She reluctantly allows him to stay for the day, but hisses orders at him, trys to keep him away from her things and berates him for his potential eviction.  A box sitting on a table is covered in postage from Madagascar and Jax observes it moving.  Ma guards it carefully, but Jax spies her transferring its contents to a small mints container. Eventually, through sleuthing and disobeying Ma, Jax finds that, shockingly, there are lizard-like creatures in the tin, three of them. Ma reacts strongly to his snooping and Jax decides to bail, running out of Ma’s apartment only to have her follow him.

Their discussion becomes a turning point in their relationship. Ma takes some responsibility for her gruffness and confesses that she is a witch. Jax insists that she be more respectful and gains some insight into her actions. From here, the fantasy element of the story takes off. Ma lets Jax know that she has been assigned transport of the lizards, which are really dragons, to their magical destination. Jax, who now knows that his mother was offered the chance to be Ma’s applrentice when she was young but chose not to enter the magical life, decides to embrace the adventure. With the help of magical characters and a couple of friends, Jax enters the magical world of witchcraft to discover if it’s his destiny to be part of the magical realm.

Jax’s relationship with Ma evolves from rocky to loving through their adventures: transporting to a magical world, losing Ma, losing one of the dragons, finding them both and, in the process, finding his passion.

This is a great book for new fantasy readers as they wade into the genre, and would be a fun  general fantasy story for third and fourth grade chapter book readers and reluctant readers in higher grades.

What I liked about this book:

Ma is the quintessential “hard on the outside, soft on the inside” character. It’s entertaining to witness the way in which Zetta Elliott artfully engineers Ma’s transformation through her relationship with Jax, a mere mortal and a young one, at that.

Variety makes this book spicy through these ingredients:  a variety of cultures, characters that span a wide range of ages and even one character that is invisible!

Written by Zetta Elliott

Copyright 2018

Accelerated Reader Level: No test yet written, Reading level approx. 5.0

Click on the cover picture to order through Amazon:

Two Langstons and Poetry

After the loss of his mama, eleven-year-old Langston is uprooted from his home in Alabama.  His father needs to escape the painful memories of the death of his wife and to seize the opportunity in Chicago to earn a better living. For Langston, being transplanted only exacerbates his grief. Not only is he in mourning, but he deeply misses all of what Alabama means to him: a loving grandma, aunt, cousins, friends, rural life, kind folks and southern cooking. In Chicago, Langston is bullied by three boys, only one neighbor speaks to him, people, trash, even buildings are tightly stacked and his dad’s cooking is awful. Respite comes when Langston stumbles upon a library.  In 1946 Alabama, libraries are not accessible to blacks. But, in this Chicago branch, all residents are welcome. A librarian guides Langston to the poetry section and the works of Langston Hughes. The writing of Hughes connects on a soul level with Langston and launches events that help young Langston understand more about the people in his life from bullies, to family to himself. A well-crafted story of love, loss and compassion. Lesa Cline Ransome  has designed a chapter book short in length, but long on complex characters and powerful messages.

Lesa Cline-Ransome follows her novel with an Author’s Note. In it, she provides background on the time period, from the 1940’s through the 1970′,s during which a steady stream of blacks relocated from the South to the North in search of increased liberties and the ability to financially prosper. The author also expands on the library central to the story, a Chicago landmark, conceived by and named after Dr. Hall, an influential black doctor and community leader. The Hall Library showcased the lives and work of successful black writers and was the actual spot where Langston Hughes spent time drafting his own life story.

This would make a great read-aloud, particularly as part of celebrating Black History Month!

Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome. Copyright 2018. Accelerated Reader Level 4.5

Click on the cover to order through Amazon:

Hardback book


          Audio Book or Kindle