Today I am sharing a batch of mini book reviews for the books I read in March in honor of #MiddleGradeMarch.
*Books included in this batch of mini book reviews: The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1) by Sayantani Dasgupta, Game of Stars (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #2) by Sayantani DasGupta, The Sky at Our Feet by Nadia Hashimi, Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly, & A Boy Called Bat by Elena Arnold
» The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1) by Sayantani Dasgupta
Also counts for #YARC2019
The Serpent’s Secret starts off with 12-year-old Kiranmala discovering that there might be some truth to all the fairy tales her parent have been telling her all her life. When her parents go missing, Kiran must travel to another dimension to save them.
Rooted in Indian folklore, The Serpent’s Secret includes mythical creatures like pakkhiraj (flying horses), rakkhosh (flesh eating monsters), serpent kings, etc. Make sure to read the author’s note at the end of the book where Dasgupta talks more about the folklore represented in this book & why this book was so important for her to write.
I would also like to note that the cover for this book is absolute perfection! I was so happy to see that a brown main character, Kiran, is featured on the cover. She looks like a total bad ass! This is what young girls need to see: strong girls of every color on book covers!
Speaking of Kiran, I highly enjoyed her as our main character. First off I’d like to mention that I appreciated that she felt age appropriate. Often, I’ll read a “middle grade book” where a 12-year-old feel aged up. Kiran is such a wonderful MG lead! She’s clever, sassy, witty, and determined. I also enjoyed watching Kiran grow & appreciate her heritage as the book progresses.
A few things I struggled with…
First off, I listened to the audiobook for this one and I think that might have been a mistake. The narrator went a little too overboard with the whiny pre-teen voice. I can’t help but feel I would have enjoyed this much better in print form.
The plot felt rushed & the transitions were a bit messy at times. We don’t really get much about Kiran before jumping into the Kingdom Beyond, which I think may have helped me connect more with her as a character. Basically the plot is action packed from start to finish. I would have liked for the author to have slowed it down a bit, so the plot didn’t feel like it was jumping all over the place.
The dialogue & humor felt forced at times. The rhyming throughout was overdone – this could have bothered me because of the audiobook narration.
I didn’t care for the princess & “girly girl” hate. While it is perfectly okay for a girl to not be into princesses, pink, dresses, etc, it is not okay to hate on those that do like those things. It is okay for a girl to wear jeans and converse. It is okay for girls to wear pink dresses and a tiara.
Despite my issues with the book, I will be continuing on with the second installment, Game of Stars.
» Game of Stars (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #2) by Sayantani DasGupta
Also counts for #YARC2019
My favorite aspect about this series is that it is a MG fantasy series rooted in Indian folklore & mythology. If I am being honest, this was really the only reason I continued on with the second book, despite not loving the first book.
Many of the issues I had with the first book, The Serpent’s Secret, were present in the second book too: rushed plot with non-stop action and the forced dialogue. Don’t get me wrong, I actually think the action-packed format will probably appeal to the middle grade target audience, however for me there just wasn’t enough development in the characters, story line, or world building.
I feel like this series will most appeal to those that are familiar with Indian culture & mythology. These books are probably very nostalgic for those familiar with or that have grown up hearing Indian folklore. Since I was not familiar beforehand, I feel like some of the Indian culture & mythology references went over my head. At times when DesGupta made references to Indian food, articles of clothing, and mythical creatures, I needed a little more description for these things to be able to understand them & picture them in my mind.
This may just be one of those instances where it was me, not the books. I definitely think this series is worth while, and would still recommend people give it a go if they are interested.
» The Sky at Our Feet by Nadia Hashimi
Also counts for #YARC2019
While scanning Hoopla for my next book club selection, I saw the cover for The Sky at Our Feet and immediately read the book description. When I read that it was about an illegal immigrant mother facing possible deportation with a son that was born in the United States, I instantly downloaded it. Not only was this book going to count for #MiddleGradeMarch, but it was also going to count for #YARC2019 because the main character is Afghan-American. This is also an #OwnVoices book since the author herself is Afghan-American & the daughter of Afghan immigrants.
While this book is very much about Jason D. & his story as the son of an illegal immigrant, this is also very much a friendship story. I loved the friendship between Jason & Max, a young girl with a medical condition. I feel like it is a mild spoiler to divulge which medical condition Max has, so I’ll leave it out. I don’t have any experience with this particular medical condition, but I had never read a character with this condition before, so I really enjoyed reading a new perspective. Since the author is a pediatrician, I am going to assume the representation of this condition is well done. It felt authentic.
The fact that this story is a adventure/journey story will appeal to the middle grade audience. I really enjoyed following Jason & Max as they go on their adventure around New York City.
The Sky at Our Feet covers some very serious themes: the immigrant experience, illegal immigration, the turmoil in Afghanistan, and a childhood medical condition. Hashimi does such a wonderful job tackling these heavy topics in a very appropriate way that middle grade readers can understand.
» Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly
When I noticed the cover for Song for a Whale on the upcoming middle grade new releases, I immediately knew this was going to be a book I HAD to read. Song for a Whale is a middle grade novel about a deaf girl on a mission to communicate with a whale unable to communicate with other whales.
I was very excited to read a book with a deaf main character. Since the author works as a sign language interpreter, I think it is probably safe to say the representation is well-done. I never really considered how isolating it would feel to be deaf. Iris especially feels isolated since she goes to a mainstream school – where teachers will take to her interpreter instead of to her – and has a father that never fully learned sign language. I was also shocked to read how many people assumed or expected Iris to read lips… I can only assume this happens frequently for deaf individuals. This definitely gave me a new perspective on deafness, and how I take my own ease of communication for granted. Sign language has always interested me, and this book definitely reignited that interest. The fact that sign language & communication was such a big part of this story was one of my favorite aspects.
Iris was an excellent main character. She is tenacious, resourceful, & compassionate. I loved how innovative she was, and her interest in repairing old radios. It isn’t often we see a female middle grade character that frequents junkyards and antique stores.
I love books that include animals, so I really enjoyed the inclusion of Blue 55, a whale that is unable to communicate with his fellow whales. I really enjoyed the few chapters throughout the book from Blue 55’s perspective in 3rd person. I really think it was a wonderful addition to the plot. I loved Iris’s determination to help Blue 55, since she too knows what it’s like to go through life with others that do not understand you. HOWEVER my biggest critique about Song for a Whale was that the “climax” felt a little underwhelming and implausible. Whereas I was expecting this book to be more about the whale, it is very much about Iris.
Another wonderful aspect about this book was that it centered around a grandmother-grandaughter relationship. After Iris’s grandfather passes away, her grandmother starts withdrawing into herself. It was lovely to watch Iris & her grandmother go on this adventure together, and watch her grandmother discover a new thirst for life.
Song for a Whale is a beautiful “coming of age” story about the importance of communication & interaction.
» A Boy Called Bat by Elena Arnold
A Boy Called Bat is a lovely middle grade novel with a main character on the autism spectrum where the focus is not on the character having autism! It is never explicitly stated that Bat is on the autism spectrum, but an adult reader can infer from his thoughts and actions. I really appreciated that Bat’s autism is NOT a plot point. I feel the representation was very well done and handled in a realistic and sensitive way.
The only thing I worry about would be that since it is never stated that Bat is autistic, would the target audience of 3rd grade aged children be able to pick that up? I’m sure a few children with experience with autism might, but not every child. My fear would be that a child reading this book would assume that BAT was “odd” and that he behaved badly at times. I think it would be best to read this book with your children to allow for questions and discussion. It could also definitely be used in a classroom setting.
I always appreciate middle grade books that include animals/pets. Pets are very special, but I feel like they are even more special to children. The fact that this book included an unlikely pet, a skunk, was adorable. Bat’s passion & determination to keep the baby skunk was heartwarming.
A Boy Called Bat also included complicated family dynamics. Bat’s parents are divorced, so Bat must spend every other weekend at his father’s apartment. The disruption of Bat’s schedule is something he struggles with, as well as the fact that he doesn’t feel like his dad understands him. Also, A Boy Called Bat touches upon sibling relationships and how they can be love or hate at any given moment. Bat’s relationship with his older sister is definitely something that kids reading this book will relate to.
My biggest issue with this book is that I felt like the plot could have been a little more complex. While I understand this book is targeted to younger readers on the middle grade scale AND that it is a series, but I think the plot could have included a little more action. While I appreciate this book for what it is as an adult, I worry that middle grade readers won’t be as engaged with the story.
Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think?
What did you read for #MiddleGradeMarch?
Comment below & let me know 🙂