MG at Heart Book Club Book Review: LOVE SUGAR MAGIC by Anna Meriano


LOVE SUGAR MAGIC: A DASH OF TROUBLE is about a girl named Leo, who is almost twelve and not a little kid anymore. But her family seems to be keeping secrets from her. Her four older sisters all get to work in the family bakery with their Mama and Tia. But not Leo. Leo hates being left out, so she does some snooping.

What she discovers is that her Mama and Tia and sisters aren’t just bakers baking breads and cookies. They are brujas making magic with sugar and love.

Leo isn’t supposed to know. Initiation into being a bruja and working in the bakery happens at fifteen. But Leo hates being left behind. So she keeps a secret of her own. She has started practicing magic.

At first, it’s flour into snowflakes and flying cookies. But when a boy hurts her best friend’s feelings, Leo decides to take matters into her own hands. What results is a total disaster. Now Leo must fix her mistakes without letting Mama know. Because if Mama finds out, she might never let Leo learn the family magic. Ever.

This book was just a delight to read. It’s one of those books that not only will have kids flipping pages to get to the end, but will make them want to get up and do something. In this instance, BAKE! I foresee many kids trying their hand at baking magic in the near future.

There is so much in here to love. From a teacher’s perspective, it is the perfect book to read for Dia de los Muertos, as the holiday is featured prominently in the book, with plenty of details about what it really is and how to celebrate it. I especially loved that the whole town comes out for the celebration, but Meriano showed how those outside the culture could celebrate it without appropriating it.

While there is magic and speaking to the dead, there is nothing creepy or scary. And I appreciated that, in keeping with the spirit of Dia de los Muertos, the spirits of the dead were family, loving, and not scary at all.

LOVE SUGAR MAGIC also does a wonderful job of showing a (mostly) happy large family dynamic, which is something we don’t get to see very often in children’s literature. I’m the oldest of six kids, so I love seeing these portrayals done well. Leo had two loving and very involved parents. She had four sisters with their own personalities. And the hubbub and love that comes along with that was all very real.

Overall, this is a book that both adults and children will love and enjoy together.

For fun . . . I asked the other contributors at MG@Heart to answer some silly questions about the book. Here are their responses:

Which sister did you relate to the most?

AMANDA: Leo! I always want to know EVERYTHING! I hate secrets!

LAURIE: Definitely Isabel. I’m the oldest sibling in my family, so I relate to the ways she tries to look out for Leo, and I also relate to her conscientiousness and eagerness to learn and practice something she cares about.

KIT: Definitely the twins. They were kind to Leo. They talked to ghosts! I can’t really talk to ghosts myself . . . but I really wanted to hang around with the twins.

JULIE: Marisol. She was willing to be different and not go along with the others. But despite being a little prickly at times, she was still fiercely loyal to her family.

Which tasty treat tempted you the most as you read?

AMANDA: The cinnamon rolls! I’m trying to cut out added sugar most days so that scene was torture.

LAURIE: Mmm, those cinnamon rolls Leo and her mom make for breakfast sounded AMAZING.

KIT: I’m actually not a huge baked goods fan! But the honey scene made me want to scoop honey out of our jar at home like Pooh bear.

JULIE: Ginger snaps! My favorite 🙂

What kind of magical recipe would you make?

AMANDA: I think I’d make up “Perfect Sleep Tea.” Something I could drink before bed that would make me wake up at the perfect time feeling rested and refreshed.

LAURIE: I liked the idea that Leo was able to put a mild good luck charm on a cookie recipe for her snack club friends. I’d like to make something with a mild happiness charm — something that would just give people a little push towards staying positive and seeing the good in people and situations.

KIT: I’d like to make something to soothe me when I’m stressed or anxious. I wouldn’t mind having Isabel as a family member, the way she could help her mother or sisters relax.

JULIE: Pan de Muerto so that I could talk to my father and grandmother from time to time

What do you think Leo’s special magical power is?

AMANDA: I think it might be that Leo just has a really extra dose of magic. So every spell she does is always more powerful than usual.

LAURIE: Hmm, good question! Maybe it has something to do with her intuition, because I was pretty impressed with the ways she listened to her gut as she figured out how to adapt and then reverse spells.

KIT: I’d like to think it’s something undiscovered! That Leo is truly a special sister, and her skill will be revealed in a later story.

JULIE: I think she must be an influencer like Isabel since she’s so good at convincing everyone to bend the rules for her. But I also suspect she has a special knack for creative spell interpretation!

. . .

Don’t miss the MG@Heart Book Club’s Twitter chat, where there’ll be further discussion of LOVE, SUGAR, MAGIC. It’s happening this Tuesday, February 6th, at 8 pm EST. Find it, and participate, using the #MGbookclub hashtag. See you there!

Book Review: FINDING PERFECT by Elly Swartz

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Finding Perfect is a heartwarming story about a girl named Molly who is struggling with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) that she doesn’t even realize she has! While she is trying to win a poetry slam, she is also trying to get her mom to come home from Toronto. She feels like she is missing a piece of her life. Elly Swartz’s debut novel is an emotional rollercoaster. Read Finding Perfect and purchase Elly’s second book, Smart Cookie, which is out today, January 30, 2018!


My name is Quinn Samson, I’m in 5th grade, and I am 10 years old. Both of my teachers inspire me every day to be myself and be creative. My ELA and S.S. teacher, Mrs. Picone, is the one who encouraged me to write this. The reason I write reviews is so that I can share the powerful words of authors with everyone. Every time I write a review it makes me feel so good that I have helped others. In addition to reading, I play soccer and lacrosse. I also love to color and play with my brothers. My family is always so supportive with everything that I do.

MG at Heart Book Club’s 2018 Book Picks

February: SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS by Jack Cheng

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Amazon   Indiebound


March: THE VANDERBEEKERS OF 141ST STREET by Karina Yan Glaser

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Amazon   Indiebound


April: THE PARKER INHERITANCE by Varian Johnson

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Amazon   Indiebound


May: EVERY SHINY THING by Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jensen

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Amazon   Indiebound


June: THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER by Diane Magras

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Amazon   Indiebound


July: JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS by Melissa Sarno

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Amazon   Indiebound



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Amazon     Indiebound


September: THE HOUSE THAT LOU BUILT by Mae Respicio

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Amazon     Indiebound


October: THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC by Amanda Rawson Hill

(cover not yet revealed)

Amazon     Indiebound


November: THE HOTEL BETWEEN by Sean Easley

(cover not yet revealed)

(not yet available for pre-order)

Book Review: THE RAT PRINCE by Bridget Hodder

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Everyone knows the classic fairy tale of Cinderella. However, do you know what happened to the rats after they were turned into coachmen? The Rat Prince is a middle-grade novel with a spin. Cinderella is not the only one with a story to tell. Read Bridget Hodder’s debut novel, The Rat Prince, to find out about Prince Char and his kingdom within Cinderella’s walls.
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My name is Kieran Samson. I’m in 4th grade and am 9 years old. When I’m not reading books, I play travel soccer and hang out with my siblings. I am a huge Harry Potter fan and am currently reading the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini. I hope that I can share my love of reading with others by writing reviews for my peers!

Book Review: AHIMSA by Supriya Kelkar


Based on India’s history before independence, Ahimsa is a fully immersive novel and I truly enjoyed reading it. While turning the pages, you’ll envision yourself walking down the dusty roads with main character Anjali, petting her family’s milk cow Nandini, and experiencing her life in the year 1942.

Anjali, age 10, is part of the top Hindu caste of India—called Brahmins—and her life with her parents is stable and happy until her mother stops working at a British Captain’s office, in their small fictional town called Navrangpur.

Believing her mother was fired, Anjali decides to paint the letter ‘Q’ on the Captain’s office property. The ‘Q’ stands for “Quit India,” a phrase coined by Gandhi, directed at Britain’s rulers to give India back to its people, to rule themselves. Anjali’s closest friend is Irfaan, a boy from a Muslim family, who is more hesitant to draw unwanted attention to himself. I think it’s because he understands, more than Anjali, that he may not even be welcome in a free, majority Hindu India. Even if Anjali and Irfaan are wonderful friends, not every Hindu and Muslim in India are able to see past their differences.

After Anjali’s mother joins in the Indian freedom fight, practicing the nonviolent principle of Ahimsa, her life changes dramatically. Anjali is resistant to it at first before following in her mother’s footsteps. Supriya Kelkar isn’t afraid to deal with the tough topics. I also appreciated the sensitivity Kelkar used while presenting views of characters from different religions and different castes.

There’s another great lesson in the story: Sometimes our zealousness can overshadow the true wishes of the people we are trying to help. The only way to learn is by asking the opinions of those very people. Anjali and her mother learn this as they try to change communal prejudices.

Anjali’s mother, Shailaja, is eventually arrested, and fasts while in prison. This is hard on Anjali as she debates whether she and her mom should have been so involved with the freedom movement in the first palce. It’s that internal struggle between doing what’s right and doing what’s easy. I love that Shailaja’s character was based on the author’s own great-grandmother and her involvement in the freedom fight.

Ahimsa shows what it truly means to take a stand. Sometimes that involves doing away with your own cultural prejudices and preconceived ideas. It means giving up personal security and comfort. For some, it means giving up your own life. Anjali encounters various hardships, from being insulted by a British official to losing friendships due to associating with people in the lowest caste of India, sadly called the “untouchables.” Some mentions of death and violence during riots may be difficult for younger, sensitive readers and should be discussed with an adult.

This story is a wonderful tool for teaching not only the history of India’s struggles for independence, but also the internal struggles India has had, which is still present in many forms today. Before I can point fingers as an American, I must accept the parallel to these problems in my own society. The messages in this book resonate for us on the other side of the world.

My husband is from India and speaks Hindi, so that gave me an advantage of knowing some of the terms used in this story. I have been to India several times, and have learned about the culture as much as I can, but there is always something new to learn.

For anyone who feels confused while reading Ahimsa, there’s a helpful glossary in the back of the book, and a note from the author. If those don’t answer your questions, you can always look for books about India at the library, or google (kids, ask your parents for help and permission first!).

Some tips before you read: In Indian culture, it’s generally considered polite, and expected, to refer to non-relative elders as Uncle and Auntie. That is why Anjali refers to neighbors and friends’ parents that way. There are also different ways to say aunt and uncle, for your actual relatives, depending on if they are related to your mom or dad.

If you looked up the meaning of my married last name, you’d learn it’s also a Brahmin last name, like Anjali’s. I do not find significance in that for my life, but for many people, last name still gives them an important role or place in society, for better or worse. When people can move past it like Anjali and her parents did, even when it was hard, then good things can happen in the world.

Coincidentally, I read this at a great time of year. Not only is India’s Republic Day on January 26th, but it’s Multicultural Children’s Book Day on January 27th, the same day as my husband’s birthday. Jai hind!

Republic Day celebrates the date when the Constitution of India went into effect on 26 January 1950, several years after their 1947 Independence.


Born in Queens, NY and raised in sandy Florida, Christina Dwivedi wanted to be a mermaid when she grew up. When reality kicked in, she pursued a degree in Sociology from USF in Tampa. After a few years in Birmingham, AL, she now calls Apex, NC home. Her heart lies with reading and writing children’s fiction. Traveling with her husband and two sons is a special part of her life, whether it’s locally or to India to visit her in-laws.

Flipgrid and Other Book-Friendly Technology


Earlier today, we posted our second kid-written book review. If you missed it, you can read fifth-grader Fiona’s thoughts on Gina Linko’s FLOWER MOON here. Alternatively, you can hear Fiona booktalk the novel here.

Fiona recorded her review using Flipgrid, a platform that seeks to use video to “ignite student discussion and engagement.” Flipgrid is primarily used by students and teachers, but more and more, it’s being used by authors, too. Teachers like Fiona’s have set up specific Flipgrip pages where authors can make videos booktalking their own books (AUTHORS: make your video here!). Her students are then able to browse the videos and learn more about each book directly from the author. How awesome is that?

Before Fiona’s teacher, Nicole Mancini, asked me to record a video about my book for her students, I’d never even heard of Flipgrid. When I asked her to tell me a bit about it and about what it’s done for her and her students, she had this to say:

“Flipgrid is so great that it is difficult to put into words. It has honestly revolutionized my classroom. It’s made connecting with authors incredibly special for my kiddos (and me), and brings the quiet kids from the back of the classroom to the front. I love how I’m able to forge even stronger relationships with my students through it. I actually met most of them before school even started — I set up a grid for introductions and emailed the link to all of their parents a few weeks early and got to know the kids that way. We also have a section where they share what they’re doing over the weekend or while on trips (one did a vid response from Dubai!).”

Technology is constantly changing and advancing, and here at the #MGBookVillage, we hope to keep up with it — especially if it’s all in the name of sharing, celebrating, and discussing books! Contributors should feel welcome to pitch ideas for posts in any form they choose. Have an idea? Get in touch via our Contact page.

— Jarrett

Book Review: FLOWER MOON by Gina Linko

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Flower Moon is a book that is about friendship, family, and adventure. It is a great book and everyone can enjoy it. Tally, the protagonist, has a twin, Tempest. They did everything together and Tally always thought that were exactly the same. But they weren’t. Once Tempest finds a new hobby, she likes everything about science, technology, and building inventions instead of following Tally around on adventures.

One day Tempest is doing a science presentation in front of the class and Tally has to bring something up to her, but when she’s about to hand her the thing that she needed Tally felt a pressure, stopping her from coming close to her sister. As she gets closer the more pressure she feels, and there’s a chattering her teeth and in her ears there’s a hard drumming. She wonders what is this and why can’t I come close to my sister?

Once they get home, she can still feel the pressure, and the twins find out that they are going to their grandfather’s carnival for a few weeks for their birthday. When they get to the carnival, Tally tries to come closer to her sister, but with each day it just gets worse. Along the way, they find out a secret about why their mother and her twin went separate ways and left each other.

Do Tally and Tempest find a way to come close to each other without feeling this pressure? Do Tally and Tempest split up, like they discover mother and aunt? Read this outstanding book to find out.

This book is one of the best books that I have ever read! I think that everyone should read it because it is for all ages. It is well written and is so moving — it is just outstanding. I love this book so much! I chose to review this book because I think that everyone should read it and that they will love it.

My name is Fiona and I am in grade five and I am 11 years old. I love to read books that are fiction and that have a lot of action. I read whenever I can and I move through each book quickly. I also love math a lot and I am good at it, but nothing is better than reading a good book. My favorite hobbies besides reading are drawing, painting, and swimming. I also love to cook, and I enjoy the sport fencing, too. Some of my favorite series of books are Harry Potter, The Iron Trail, Wings of Fire, Fablehaven, Percy Jackson, and A Series of Unfortunate Events. Some books that I really enjoyed were Flower Moon, Click’d, Finding Perfect, The Someday Birds, Flush, Scat, Skink–No Surrender, Dragon Watch, The Day that Saved My Life, The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and many many more. I enjoy writing stories but they don’t always come out the best. My ELA teacher asked if I would like to make reviews for some new books coming out and when I started I enjoyed it a lot.

Book Review: CLICK HERE TO START by Denis Markell


Denis Markell incorporates a classic mystery with a spine-tingling twist into a breath-taking novel. Ted is a gaming geek who always has Caleb, his best friend, at his side. New girl Isabel is a sucker for romance. Together they must solve a mystery that is more than just clues and hints . . .

Read Denis Markell’s debut novel Click Here to Start to find out if they will end this crime-filled mystery.

IMG_0160My name is Quinn Samson, I’m in 5th grade, and I am 10 years old. Both of my teachers inspire me every day to be myself and be creative. My ELA and S.S. teacher, Mrs. Picone, is the one who encouraged me to write this. The reason I write reviews is so that I can share the powerful words of authors with everyone. Every time I write a review it makes me feel so good that I have helped others. In addition to reading, I play soccer and lacrosse. I also love to color and play with my brothers. My family is always so supportive with everything that I do.

Book Review: THE WITCH BOY by Molly Knox Ostertag

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Aster has a problem. He’s 13, the age at which he should know the animal into which he will shapeshift, a crucial part of growing up as a boy in his magical family. But Aster feels no connection to any animal, and doubts he will ever learn to shift. He’s far more interested in the potions and spells that his sister and female cousins are learning as they mature into full witches. But he’s always being chased away as he tries to eavesdrop on their lessons.

“This lesson isn’t for you,” his aunt tells him in the first pages of Molly Knox Ostertag’s graphic novel The Witch Boy. “These girls are learning secrets.”

Secrets of more than one kind abound in this book. Sensitive Aster isn’t the only family member who has known he’s a witch deep down inside: He’s heard the cautionary story of Mikasi, his matriarchal grandmother’s twin brother, who sought to become a witch and became a monster instead.

Teased by both his male and female cousins, Aster wanders away from his forest home to a nearby suburban neighborhood where he can practice mild magic without being observed. There he meets Charlie, a girl who broke her leg confronting her world’s gender roles when she challenged a group of boys to a daredevil bicycle move—and did it first.

Charlie quickly becomes not just Aster’s friend but his rock, giving him a safe place to talk about his feelings—and even to practice his burgeoning witch’s magic on her broken leg.

Tensions rise back in the forest as Aster’s shapeshifting cousins start disappearing—and when one returns in a horrible monstrous form, Aster is approached by the mysterious creature that had lured them all away. The creature says that it’s the only thing that can teach Aster how to shift, and if Aster agrees to learn, he’ll become more powerful than any other shifter. Aster has a choice: to take the creature’s help and become the shapeshifter his parents and whole family want him to be, or to use his witch’s abilities to try to rescue the other boys.

Ostertag neatly shifts story conventions as her sweet and sensitive male protagonist confronts gender stereotypes and restrictions. The story also hints at more than just a dichotomy of genders, late in the book introducing a character who is both a witch and shapeshifter. The illustrations are vivid and colorful, depicting the bright calm of Charlie’s world, the mystery and menace of Aster’s, and the nightmare landscape of the creature’s.

The Witch Boy is a powerful warning of the dangers—and hurt—that results when gender roles and expectations fail to recognize who people truly are. Highly recommended.

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All things medieval fascinate children’s author Diane Magras: castles, abbeys, swords, manuscripts, and the daily life of medieval people, especially those who weren’t royalty. Diane lives in Maine with her husband and son and thinks often of medieval Scotland, where her stories are set. Her middle grade fantasy adventure The Mad Wolf’s Daughter (March 6, 2018, KD Books/Penguin Younger Readers) is her debut novel.

MG at Heart Writer’s Toolbox: Using Character-Specific Figurative Language to Enhance Voice


The MG at Heart team is happy to share our first mid-month post! This month, we’re analyzing the delightful voice in our January pick, Anna Meriano’s Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Magic, and considering what other writers can learn from it.

It’s easy to tell when a story has a great voice, but it’s not so easy to say why that’s the case. When the voice is especially strong, readers are invited right into the mind and world of the character whose point of view we’re following. There’s something special and vibrant about the rhythm, word choice, and personality of the narrative. Something wonderful . . . but a bit difficult to pin down.

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Because voice is an elusive concept, it can be a hard element for writers to work on. Some people even believe voice can’t be taught. But voice is all about specificity: the sense that we readers are getting a unique, fully-realized character’s account, and no other character would perceive or phrase things in quite the same way.

One thing writers can do to can enhance the voice in their stories is to figure out the specific lens through which the point-of-view character sees the world and then filter the character’s language choices through that lens. This is something Anna Meriano does masterfully in Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble.

The book is told from Leonora “Leo” Logroños’s point of view, and the third-person voice is absolutely charming, in part because of the way Anna Meriano uses character-specific figurative language to convey Leo’s thoughts and emotions.

If you’re reading the novel along with us, you know that Leo’s family owns a bakery and Leo desperately wants to help out as much as her older sisters do, especially after she discovers that her mother, sisters, and aunts are brujas who add magic to their recipes. Baking is an important part of Leo’s life, so it shapes the lens through which she sees the world. Here are some of the times when Anna Meriano uses baking-related figurative language to bring Leo’s voice to life:

“A plan started to rise like dough inside Leo.” (17)

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“Half worried from Caroline’s talk about secrets, half furious that she was being left out again, Leo felt her bad feelings swell like cake in an oven.” (21)

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“Mamá would be boiling-oil mad if she found out that Leo had left school without permission.” (22)

“Her brain felt like a stuffed empanada, with Mamá’s words oozing out the sides like guava jelly.” (24)

These examples work so well in part because the sentence structures are interesting and varied, and there are vivid verbs such as “ooze” and “swell.” But in addition, thanks to the baking language, these sentences help us get to know Leo and experience the world through her unique perspective. They convey emotions in an original way, without resorting to clichés. They are specifically and vibrantly Leo. “Boiling-oil mad” has so much more life and voice than just plain “mad.” And how brilliant and evocative is that empanada simile, which suggests the way Leo’s family’s culture shapes her worldview, as well?

If you’re joining us in reading Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble this month, see if you can spot more baking-related figurative language that enhances the strong voice, and please share other examples in the comments or on Twitter.

And if you’re writing something of your own or working with kids on their creative writing, you can ask this question: What passions, culture, and experiences shape the way your character sees the world, and how can these things impact the unique way the character might perceive and phrase things? We’d love to see examples of character-specific figurative language from your own work in the comments or on Twitter, as well!

Happy reading and writing, and make sure you’ve subscribed to the Middle Grade at Heart newsletter so you won’t miss this month’s edition, which goes out on January 29th and will include an author interview, an activity, a recipe, and other great content for Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble. And we look forward to chatting with you about the book on our Twitter book chat on February 6th!