Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

By Maureen Tai, 8 September 2020

James opened his eyes to the world and saw things that moved and things that were still. … For him the world would always be silent.

I had the good fortune to hear the publisher Arthur A. Levine speak as a panellist on a Zoom video conference recently and he talked about how he was always on the hunt for “beautiful books.” That term stuck with me, and it was almost serendipitous to see Arthur’s name on the inside front flap of the achingly beautiful and hauntingly melancholic picture book, Silent Days, Silent Dreams. I am a big fan of the Japanese-American author and illustrator, Allen Say (see my earlier review of his autobiographical picture book, Grandfather’s Journey) and I am glad to have had his – and Arthur’s – guiding hands in my quest to seek out picture books about lesser known artists. James Castle was one such artist.

Continue reading

Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weekes & Gita Varadarajan

By Maureen Tai, 27 August 2020

“Most people in America cannot pronounce my name.” – Ravi
” My name is Joe, but that’s not what most people call me.” – Joe

In a world that desperately needs to hear diverse voices, especially those that have been traditionally silenced by louder, more strident ones, Save Me A Seat serves up not one but two extremely likeable and authentic voices. This heartwarming middle grade book, a unique and masterfully executed collaboration between two accomplished authors, recounts the events of the first week at Albert Einstein Elementary School, New Jersey, as experienced by two very different fifth graders. Ravi, bespectacled and small-built, “shrimpy” by some accounts, recently arrived with his family from India, and Joe, earbuds in his ears and toweringly tall, “big footed” by other accounts. How will our two main protagonists survive their first week of American cafeteria food, let alone the predations of the hateful class bully?

Continue reading

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

By Ben, 13 August 2020

the-jumbies-cover-530x796When I was in primary school in Malaysia, my best friend and I would scare ourselves silly by reading the Dark Forces series of teen horror story books. The cover art alone was spine-chilling, and woe betide if you read too late into the night. I swear that I saw the long-haired blond girl with the Ouija board in our bathroom a couple of times. Recently, I decided it was time for Ben and I to make our foray into much less scary middle grade chapter books. The Jumbies had been on my reading list for ages. This is what Ben thought of the ghost-infested fast-paced thriller. Continue reading

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

By Maureen Tai, 21 July 2020

“Tree-ear was so called after the mushroom that grew in wrinkled half-circles on dead or fallen tree trunks, emerging from the rotten wood without benefit of parent seed. A good name for an orphan, Crane-man said.” 

IMG_2379 I love fictional middle-grade stories set in an unfamiliar time and place, be it in the past, present or distant imagined future, which also retain a link to people or things that are real or once tangible. In addition to the satisfaction of having read a good yarn, it is exciting to discover something new about the world. It’s a little like finally finding out the use for that doohickey that’s sat in the kitchen drawer for years. Linda Sue Park’s engrossing A Single Shard hits both notes. It tells the story of a possibly 12 year old boy called Tree-ear, and is set in a little village in Korea in the 12th century during a period when Korean celadon pottery was at its zenith. The exquisite jade green colour of this pottery, which also featured delicate inlay work, was achieved through the confluence of skilled artisanship, unwavering dedication, purity of materials and creative innovation. In Tree-ear’s case, he has some helping hands along the way. Continue reading