Book Review: GREEN LANTERN: LEGACY, by Minh Lê and Andie Tong

“Legacy.”  This word has the power to weigh down young and old. Often attached to legacy are the expectations of those before us that we knew and love, but that may have radically different views on life and what dreams and goals are worthy pursuits.  The responsibility of carrying on a legacy not chosen by us, or harder yet, to forge a new one, can be overwhelming.

Green Lantern: Legacy by Minh Lê, illustrated by Andie Tong,  discloses from the very title that Tai Pham’s story would not be just his own, it would be laden with expectations from the past.  Lê doesn’t let readers get fully comfortable, he barely allows us to enjoy Tai and his Ba Noi’s (Vietnamese for paternal grandmother) funny banter, when BAM!, in the characteristic action-packed-fast-paced style of superhero stories, an event of vandalism takes place that offers the reader two important keys to understanding Chi Dao, Tai’s Ba Noi: she doesn’t run from a fight, and she has superhuman abilities. The pace continues to move rapidly, with a few panels slowing down the action enough to let readers learn about Tai’s personality and history, catch their breath, before rolling back into action.

Tai’s story can be considered an origins one. In the world of the Green Lanterns, there’s not just one individual charged with protecting the Earth and it’s innocents, but rather an army of Lanterns.  When one Lantern extinguishes, a successor takes their place, effectively beginning their story as a superhero. One of the pulls of Tai’s origin story is his age, he’s only thirteen when he has to step up to a responsibility that should have come later in life, making him a contemporary to his readership.  Lê develops Tai with nuance. If you’ve ever been around a 13 year old, or if you are a 13 year old, you will attest to how age appropriate Tai’s behavior, maturity, and playfulness are.

Superhero or not, Tai’s loss of his grandmother, a steady and strong presence in his daily life; well known and liked billionaire, Xander Griffin, taking an interest in Tai; and having his friends, Serena and Tommy, prove their loyalty by questioning his decisions, are all turning points in Tai’s already complicated Green-Lantern-legacy situation. Readers will find a mirror in Tai’s handling, and sometimes mishandling, of these events. Meaningful conversations about what “having your back” really means, and the possibility of readers redefining friendship and what it means to be a friend, will be made possible thanks to Lê’s care in showing rather than telling, through the interactions and actions of Tai and his friends, what healthy friendships look like.

As a reader, when Lê’s first installment of Green Lantern was close to culmination, I was caught up in the action, the battle, the outcome, reading as fast as it was unfolding, when Tai made me halt mid page turn, as he voices the realization of the gifts legacy brings. I had to shake my head to try and clear it. It felt like I had been driving over the speed limit and came to a sudden, immediate stop. Lê offers readers the opportunity to redefine the power of legacy, and I had no other option but to pause and let it sink in.  

For the past few years the word diversity has been flung so often in the world I live in (education) and the world I frequent (publishing) that it seems to echo indefinitely in the social media universe, in educator conferences and publishing marketing campaigns, but the TRUTH is in the numbers: in 2018 only 23% of Kid Lit books published included diverse characters.* I like to think that Lê’s legacy with Green Lantern, as well as with his picture book Drawn Together, illustrated by Dan Santat, is forging a diverse book world where our children of color and marginalized communities witness that their stories, their culture, their diversity is valued because they frequently see themselves on the cover of books and in stories that are loved and shared by all. Lê’s Green Lantern offers diversity in so many forms. It’s a model for a true diversity trend that will be worthy of being read by all our children: 

  • #OwnVoices author and illustrator 
  • a superhero that is a person of color from a marginalized community 
  • set in a diverse neighborhood portrayed as a tight-knit community 
  • a storyline that pauses to include authentic customs and language of the character’s culture 
  • engaging, action packed story  

May you enjoy Green Lantern: Legacy, and may author Minh Lê continue to enrich our children’s lives with diverse stories.

Ro Menendez is a picture book collector and teacher-librarian in Mesquite, TX.  After thirteen years in the bilingual classroom she decided to transition to the library where she could build relationships with ALL readers on her campus. She enjoys the daily adventure of helping young readers develop their reader identity by connecting them with books that speak to their hearts and sense of humor! Ro’s favorite pastimes include reading aloud to children and recommending books to anyone who asks! She is also very passionate about developing a diverse library collection where all readers learn about themselves and those around them. You can find her on Twitter at @romenendez14.

Connecting Kids to Authors: That’s What It’s All About

As a middle school librarian for 23 years, I have spent much time searching for books that kids will love and then helping kids discover those books.  But, I’ve always felt that there is a deeper connection that can be made between reader and book – the connection to the author!  I’ve been privileged to attend conferences and meet many authors – but how often do young readers have that opportunity? It rarely happens for young readers, especially tweens. Authors do come through town on book tours, but most of the tours are for adults and young adults.  We do have a book festival in Utah, but again – the audience is adults with some YA mixed in.  Occasionally there is a picture book author, sometimes a middle grade author – but those chances are the rarest of all.

So here comes my dream – a book festival in Utah just for those kids in the middle.  It took me several years to screw up my courage, but with the help of a few friends, I am taking the plunge into making this a reality.  The inbeTWEEN Book Festival will take place on Monday, February 15th (President’s Day) in West Jordan, Utah.

Now begins the hunt for authors of books for kids from grades 4-9 – the ages in the middle. All the information for author submissions is on our website: http://www.utahtweenfest.org.

We are looking for authors of middle grade books who want to talk face-to-face with their readers.  We are also looking for sponsors, exhibitors, and will be applying for grants so that hopefully no one will be doing this on their own dime.

If you have questions, feel free to email me at cindy.utahreads@gmail.org.

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Shannon Doleski

Hi Shannon, and welcome to MG Book Village. Thank you so much for taking part in our Fast Forward Friday feature. Can you introduce yourself to our readers, please?

Hi! I’m so excited to be here! I am Shannon Doleski, the debut author of the upper MG, Mary Underwater. I live in west Texas with my husband, our three kids, and our two rescue dogs. I used to be a middle and high school English teacher and swim coach. My husband is a social worker in the Air Force, and we move around the world. 

Your debut book, MARY UNDERWATER, will be released on April 7th by Amulet Books, and I hear that it’s inspired by Joan of Arc. Could you tell us a bit more about that, please, and give us a brief synopsis of your story.

Mary Underwater is about a fourteen year old girl, inspired by Joan of Arc, who builds a submersible and pilots it across the Chesapeake Bay.

I remember camping in Santa Fe, with a half-done first manuscript about a sad girl who builds a sub, and thinking it needed something else. Mary Murphy, my Catholic school protagonist, needed an internal hero. She needed something to shield her from her abusive family. And I knew it had to be a saint. At first, I thought I could pick a whole bunch of girl saints and rattle off facts like a Catholic school kid would. But then it became apparent that Mary needed one heroine, Joan. I was, like Mary, pretty obsessed with the superheroes of the religion when I was a middle schooler, and Joan was such a perfect fit. Two teens on epic quests. 

If there’s one thing you hope young readers will take away from your book, what would you like it to be?

This is a hopeful story. We are captains of our own ships (we are pilots of our own subs 😉 So the one thing that I want young readers to know is that they are worthy. Worthy of love and happiness and joy and success.  

What has it been like for you to publish your debut book?

It’s wild. I still can’t believe it’s happening. Maybe it’s not! Maybe it’s all a beautiful dream. No, I am so lucky to have a wonderful agent and editor and team who believe in me. I can’t wait for kids to get their hands on my book.  

If readers want to find out more about you and your writing, where can they go?

I have a website: www.shannondoleski.com and a pretty good Instagram (if I do say so myself) @shannondoleski. That’s my favorite, but I’m also available on Shannon Doleski Author Page on Facebook and Twitter @shannondoleski.

Thank you again for taking time to chat with us, and I hope your debut year is a successful one!

Thank you so much for having me! Meant the world to me 🙂 🙂 🙂 

Shannon Doleski was born and raised in Cazenovia, New York. After graduating from Niagara University with an English Education degree, Shannon was an English teacher and swim coach in New York and Maryland. She lives with her husband, three children, and rescue dogs wherever the Air Force sends them (currently West Texas). Visit her author website at shannondoleski.comMary Underwater is her debut novel.

FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Margaret Finnegan

Hi Margaret, and welcome to MG Book Village. I’m so pleased for our readers to get to know more about you and your debut novel, WE COULD BE HEROES (release date is Feb 25th by Atheneum Book for Young Readers). Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Thank you so much for inviting me to MG Book Village. Although I now live in Southern California, I spent my childhood moving around the western United States, including Utah, North Dakota, and Montana, before finally settling in the San Francisco Bay Area. When I am not writing middle grade fiction, I teach college students at California State University, Los Angeles. For fun, I like to play ball with my sweet yet neurotic dog, Walt, bake, and spend time with husband and two daughters. Oh, and as that last sentence proves, I am camp Oxford comma.

Can you please tell us about your book in your own words, please?

We Could be Heroes is about Hank Hudson, a fourth grader with autism, and the friendship he develops with new girl Maisie Huang as they come up with increasingly elaborate plots to…liberate..the epileptic pitbull who is tied day and night to a neighbor’s tree. Ultimately, it is a story of not only how to make a friend, but how to be one to both people and animals.

Why did you feel compelled to write this story?

I’ve been a writer for adults for a long time, but I wrote this story for my daughter, Elizabeth, who has both autism and epilepsy. Although she is a young adult, she got stuck for a really long time re-reading the middle grade fiction that she loved because she was so worried about what might happen to new characters in unfamiliar books. When she reads a book, she is in that book! So I wanted to help unstick her, and I also wanted her to see her challenges and her gifts represented on the page. 

How has your debut experience differed so far from what you expected?

I didn’t think it would be so terrifying. To be sure, it has been a very positive experience. My agent, Tracy Marchini at Bookends Literary, and my editor at Atheneum, Alex Borbolla, have been so encouraging and they have both helped me turn what I think was a pretty good book into what I hope readers will now consider a pretty great book. But, wow, everytime I would get a revision letter from Alex I would have to just walk away from my computer and eat some chocolate so I could fortify myself to even read what she wrote. And now, as we await publication, I’m freaking out a little bit. Right now, reviews are starting to roll in. Just recently, Alex sent me our Booklist review. She said, “Look at this great review!” And I was just, “Wait! Where is my chocolate? Is this review radioactive? Will I explode? Ack! I don’t even want to know!”

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers, either about WE COULD BE HEROES or advice for other debut writers?

You know, as a society, we ask a lot of neurodiverse people, and so often what we ask is that they change everything about themselves in order to make everyone else more comfortable. It is true that people on the spectrum need accommodations and support, but what they need more than anything is acceptance. I’d like to see a world where neurotypical people–without even being asked–do some of the bending that we ask of people on the spectrum. For example, my daughter has had numerous teachers get frustrated with her inability to recognize their sarcasm, and they have straight out said, “You need to learn sarcasm.” Well, okay. But, you know, those teachers could have just as easily said to themselves, “Maybe I need to need to have a little more audience awareness myself. And maybe if I want to be sarcastic I can sometimes say, ‘Don’t worry. I’m being sarcastic.” It seems to me that thinking about the needs of others is just being kind. I hope that WE COULD BE HEROES can help create a kindness narrative that will help everyone.

As for advice for debut authors, keep a steady supply of chocolate on hand at all times.

We really appreciate you joining us today. Thank you so much, and best of luck with your upcoming release.

Margaret Finnegan’s work has appeared in FamilyFun magazine, LA Times, Salon, and other publications. She is lives in South Pasadena, California, where she enjoys spending time with her family, walking her dog, and baking really good chocolate cakes. Connect with her at margaretfinnegan.com or on Twitter at @FinneganBegin.

Interview: Tamara Bundy re: PIXIE PUSHES ON

Hi, Tamara! Thank you so much for joining us today. I loved PIXIE PUSHES ON, your new middle grade novel that comes on on January 14th. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Thank you, Kathie! And thank you for having me today.

Pixie Pushes On, tells the story of Pixie, a young girl in the 1940’s and the bittersweet lessons she learns from farm life as well as life without her sister who is hospitalized with polio.  Pixie’s mother has recently passed away, too –so Pixie is convinced the world would be better off if she never got close to anyone again. This is the story of her finding out everyone has something they are going through –and maybe, just maybe– it’s easier if you let people in. 

What was it like for you to write your second MG novel?

Writing my second middle grade novel was wonderful and scary all wrapped up in one. With my first, Walking with Miss Millie –the idea had formulated and percolated in my mind for so long, it became a part of me. Then that novel was born into the world and it was time to sit down and write another. On one hand, I felt like I had been to a very special school to have worked with the amazing Nancy Paulsen on Millie –and therefore my next manuscript could only get better. But on the other hand, I worried that it wasn’t all going to happen again. What if the creativity was all dried up? What if I was a one-hit-wonder? (We writers are a needy bunch!) But once I got out of my own head –I really did enjoy the process.  And working with Nancy Paulsen once again was an absolute gift.  

I’ve loved so many of the books in which Nancy has been involved. I know this is a personal story that is connected to your family history. Would you share a bit about the inspiration for it with our readers?

Writing Pixie Pushes On was so special to me! Since my mom and dad both grew up on farms, they would tell me stories about their childhoods. From my perspective as a city-kid, I was amazed at their tales–especially my mom’s stories of her favorite lamb, Buster. But it wasn’t until I was writing this novel that I sat down and asked them detailed questions I never thought to ask before about the logistics and particulars of their lives during that time. This coincided with my dad being in the hospital and I swear I could see both him and my mom grow visibly younger while recounting the long-lost days of their childhoods. It was such a gift to us all. And now that my dad has since passed away, those days, those memories are more precious than ever.

I love the cover of this book. Can you tell me a bit about the design team, and whether or not you had input on the process?

Oh, I so love the cover! The illustrator, Matt Saunders, captured so beautifully the nostalgia of the novel. The colors are so warm and inviting–like a perfect sunset! The funny thing is, the cover actually necessitated a title change. My original title was And the Creek Don’t Rise (based on the way Pixie and her sister sign off their letters). But when the illustrator came up with this cover –and we loved it –but there was no room for a creek, we decided it needed a new title. We honestly went through about 30 suggested titles before we landed on Pixe Pushes On!

Do you have a favorite character or relationship in this story?

I am in love with Granddaddy! The way he is so wise and calm -such a tower of strength for Pixie, makes me happy. I really don’t think of myself as giving him the words. I feel he tells me what to say. So I can honestly say when he speaks sometimes, I tear up. It’s like I’m eavesdropping on two people. (again –this probably says more about the personality of us writers! We are an interesting species.)

Granddaddy was a favorite character for me, too. If there’s one thing you’d like our readers to know about PIXIE PUSHES ON, what would it be?

I hope that after reading Pixie –and finding out how the story came to be –readers will take the time to really get to know their older relatives.  If they are lucky enough to have a grandparent, great-grand parent –anyone –I want them to ask them about their childhoods –and listen –really listen, before it’s too late. If I can get just one more person to connect in that way with someone, I’ll be thrilled. 

Do you have another writing project on which you’re working right now?

I’m super excited about a novel-in-verse project that is based on a true story I experienced that is currently on submission. And, I am thrilled to say I have my debut picture book coming out next year! Details coming soon!

Congratulations, that’s great news! I personally would LOVE to read a novel in verse by you; your writing is so poetic. Where can our readers find you if they want to know more about you and your writing?

My website is https://www.tamarabundy.com/

I am on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as well. 

Thank you so much for joining us today, Tamara, and all the best on your book’s launch next week!

Thank you so much for talking with me today –and for all you do for reading! 

Book Review: DIANA: PRINCESS OF THE AMAZONS, by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and Victoria Ying

Although so many of us are, or know, superhero fans, there are not enough female superhero anything (books, costumes, figurines, movies, and the list goes on!) for elementary and middle grade kids.  There are even fewer female superhero stories written by authors that propose the very true reality that so many need to accept: books are for readers, regardless of gender. Shannon and Dean Hale’s Diana: Princess Of The Amazons services both these needs with a story that is relevant and engaging for readers of all ages and genders.

Readers meet a very young Diana living on the island Themyscira, the only Amazonian that isn’t thousands of years old.  As there is no alternative but to feel lonely, surrounded by aunties who can’t possibly remember what it means to be a kid, Diana depends on the company and attention of her mom, Hyppolita, the queen of Themyscira, to feel truly connected.

What happens next is all too relatable for kid and adult readers; adults get busy, kids feel ignored and unloved, then secrecy, self-doubt, anger, and bad decisions usually follow.  Through what seems a magical miracle, Diana wishes for a friend and Mona comes into the picture. Not exactly an Amazonian girl, but a girl Diana’s age nonetheless, and so it begins.

One of the powers of story is the ease with which readers can reflect on their behavior without pointing a finger towards themselves.  Diana offers readers the possibility of reflecting on past bad decisions or future decisions to be made, when feeling ignored by those we love, be it family or friends.  Is the act of ignoring a conscious decision or is it the result of overwhelming circumstances or a slip into the hustle of daily life? Should we question what we mean to family and friends because of the feeling of loneliness they are creating or should we be brave and talk it out?  The opportunity to also reflect on going against our values or better judgement because of new friendships and how they make us feel less alone is also made possible as we follow Diana’s story and the evolution of her friendship with Mona.  

Adult readers have much opportunity to reflect about their part in the decisions young people make and the value they place on their ideas and suggestions.  Witnessing how Diana does things she knows are not right due to the dire need she feels for friendship and acceptance when Hippolyta is preoccupied with ruling Themyscira is a cautionary tale.   Diana’s young age and zestfulness are used to measure the importance of her observations and suggestions, making Hippolyta and others almost miss opportunities to better care for the island and its inhabitants.

Whether young and adult readers enjoy Diana’s story separately or together, this fast paced graphic novel that ends in an EPIC battle offers so much to glean about self, family dynamics, the power of honest conversation and reparations, that it should be made available to readers of all ages, at home, in the library and at school.

Ro Menendez is a picture book collector and teacher-librarian in Mesquite, TX.  After thirteen years in the bilingual classroom she decided to transition to the library where she could build relationships with ALL readers on her campus. She enjoys the daily adventure of helping young readers develop their reader identity by connecting them with books that speak to their hearts and sense of humor! Ro’s favorite pastimes include reading aloud to children and recommending books to anyone who asks! She is also very passionate about developing a diverse library collection where all readers learn about themselves and those around them. You can find her on Twitter at @romenendez14.

Interview: Lyla Lee

Hello, Lyla! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village as part of your blog tour celebrating the launch of the first two books in your Mindy Kim series! Would you care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Hi! I’m Lyla, the author of the Mindy Kim series for younger readers, as well as I’LL BE THE ONE, a young adult novel that comes out in June. After working various jobs in Hollywood and studying Psychology and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, I now live in Dallas, Texas. When I’m not writing, I’m teaching kids, petting cute dogs, and searching for the perfect bowl of shaved ice.

The Mindy Kim books constitute your debut. Can you tell us a bit about your journey to the printed page?

My journey is a REALLY long one but it all began in fourth grade, when I had a really great teacher that inspired me to become a writer through her own stories. I was an avid reader all throughout my childhood, mostly because I moved around a lot as a kid and books were my only constant friends. In eighth grade, I finished my first book and started submitting it to literary agents. I finished and queried four more (out of many more incomplete manuscripts) books off and on from 8th grade to college. The last of these books was a novel adaptation of the script I wrote for a final project in my university screenwriting class. This book got me my agent three months after college graduation. Unfortunately, my journey wasn’t over then. In the next two years, two of my books got rejected by publishers. I wrote two more books, and the second one was a middle grade book I tried writing on a whim. It sold in a few days. That was MINDY KIM AND THE YUMMY SEAWEED BUSINESS, the first book of the Mindy Kim series.

What do you hope your readers — especially the young ones — take away from the Mindy Kim books?

I hope readers (especially young ones!) learn the value of open-mindedness and friendship. Mindy is all alone and sad in the beginning of the book, but ONE friend takes a chance on her and that makes all the difference. Mindy herself is scared of the kids at her new school at first but she finds the courage to actively seek out the other kids’ friendships. The other kids gradually take a chance on her as well, despite the fact that she isn’t like them. And that makes the world of a difference for Mindy. We really need more open-mindedness like this in our society today.

Many of our site’s readers are teachers and librarians. Is there anything you’d like to say to them — in particular those planning to add the Mindy Kim books to their classrooms and libraries?

The Mindy Kim books are fun to read aloud to kids as it has really cute illustrations. At its core, the series entails the slice of life family adventures of a second grader navigating through life in a new town with her father, but it also has lots of fun aspects of Korean culture like yummy food and games that can be played in a classroom setting. We pitched the series as FRESH OFF THE BOAT meets JUNIE B. JONES. The third one is coming out in May and there’s another one coming out this fall.

Where can readers find out more about you and your work?

Readers can visit me at my website: lylaleebooks.com! There, I have a contact page where readers can reach me. I am also on Instagram and Twitter (@literarylyla), if more grown up readers would like to contact me through there.

Meet Mindy Kim: the plucky protagonist of a new chapter book seriesthat is like Fresh off the Boat meets Junie B. Jones. Mindy Kim tackles the everyday experience of millions of Asian-American kids—sorely underrepresented in chapter books—with tenacity and heart.

Mindy’s first day of school goes awry in MINDY KIM AND THE YUMMY SEAWEED BUSINESS (Aladdin | On Sale 1/14/20). Mindy’s grateful when her new friend Sally is able to make her initially unpopular dried seaweed snacks seem totally delicious to her new classmates. But when someone tries to sabotage Sally and Mindy’s Yummy Seaweed Business, Mindy wonders if she’ll ever fit in. Starting a new school is hard for any kid, but for Mindy, who finds herself at a school without any kids who look like her for the first time, starting anew means finding the courage to stay true to oneself even when it seems like no one can understand. Kirkus Reviews gave this “lovingly authentic debut” a star, raving that “Lee takes on a number of issues with a new school, microagressions, friendships, and grief, and she manages to artfully balance it all.”

In MINDY KIM AND THE LUNAR NEW YEAR PARADE (Aladdin | On Sale 1/14/20), it’s Mindy’s first Lunar New Year without her mom and she’s determined to enjoy the day. When Mindy decides to make traditional Korean New Year food to celebrate, things don’t go according to plan. But with the help of her family and friends, Mindy finds a way to celebrate her old traditions and create new ones along the way, discovering that she can find her own way of being Korean-American.

This series is for every new kid, every kid missing a parent, every kid picking themselves up after facing a challenge—but it’s vital that Mindy isn’t just any kid. Korean-American author Lyla Lee writes Mindy from her own experience as the new kid at a predominately white school.

Mindy Kim speaks directly to Korean-American kids who have never seen themselves on the page, inviting readers to both express their cultural identity with pride, and celebrate identities unlike their own.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

LYLA LEE is a writer of many things. After working various jobs in Hollywood and studying psychology and cinematic arts at USC, she now lives in Dallas, Texas. When she is not writing, she is teaching, watching Korean dramas and other TV shows, and eating all kinds of good food. Visit her online at lylaleebooks.com and on Twitter and Instagram at @literarylyla.

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR

DUNG HO was born and raised in Hue, Vietnam, where she studied graphic design at the Hue University College of Arts. After graduating, she worked in the design and advertising industries before discovering a great passion for illustration and picture books and becoming a freelance illustrator. Currently, she lives and works in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Ho draws inspiration from nature and the interaction between people and nature and especially loves to draw children. When not drawing, she enjoys cooking and watching movies. Visit her online at dungho.me and on Instagram @dunghanhho.