‘Flirting with Fate’ by J. C. Cervantes is a lovely story of destiny, love, and family

Flirting with Fate by J. C. Cervantes

While “Flirting with Fate” by J. C. Cervantes is a young adult fantasy about love and fate, it’s not quite as light and frothy as that might indicate. It’s a touching story, and I actually needed a tissue as I finished reading it because of the evocation of strong emotions at the ending. As might be surmised from the title, the story is about the fickle nature of fate, and whether there is something like destiny and “meant to be.”

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‘The Sign for Home’ by Blair Fell is a touching, compelling story of love, independence, and helping others in the face of incredible cruelty

The Sign for Home

Novels like “The Sign for Home” are powerfully important reading experiences for many reasons. It’s often through reading that we are exposed to people whose lifestyles, culture, or religion are vastly different from ours. Author Blair Fell accomplishes that sometimes difficult task of introducing us to a community of DeafBlind in a seemingly effortless manner by relating the story of Arlo Dilly, a DeafBlind young man who lives with his guardian, an elder in Jehovah’s Witness. The story is told from a dual perspective: from Arlo’s point of view, and the point of view of Cyril, who is an ASL interpreter, and who ends up working with Arlo. It’s that experience that changes both their lives.

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Nonfiction picture books to inform and entertain

Picture books aren’t just for little kids. Savvy educators and parents use picture books as a way to share information with kids as old as middle schoolers. Because picture books are fun, quick, and colorful. And like the picture books listed below, they can be filled with information. Reading a picture book about something like, say, mushrooms, just might lead to a curious child’s exploration into the world of fungi. Here are some great choices that might just pique inquisitive minds.

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‘Lessons in Chemistry’ by Bonnie Garmus is not just delightful, it’s a lesson in the reality of being a woman in the 50s and 60s

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

It’s not necessary to love chemistry, or even science, to enjoy “Lessons in Chemistry.” Debut author Bonnie Garmus takes us back to the late ’50s and early ’60s as we experience life through the eyes of a capable, intelligent, scientist who happens to be a woman. The fact that she’s a woman? It’s important because in that time, opportunities for women were extremely limited. Let’s face it, 60 years later we are still proud of the fact that we (finally) have a woman vice president. Sixty years ago, women weren’t accepted into what were typically thought of as “male” endeavors. Chemistry was definitely a field for men, no matter how brilliant, how dedicated, how hard-working a supremely qualified woman may have been.

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‘Memphis’ by Tara M. Stringfellow is an ode to generations of Black women and a view into the conflicting issues of motherhood

Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow

In her historical fiction novel “Memphis,” Tara M. Stringfellow introduces us to three generations of women. We meet Hazel, who was born in 1921; Miriam, born in 1957; her sister August, born in 1963; and Miriam’s two daughters, Joan and Mya, born in the mid 1980s. It’s through the eyes and words of four of these women that we learn the story of one Memphis family, and this family—these strong women who suffer through so much adversity yet remain pillars of strength—is based on Stringfellow’s family and her ancestors.

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‘Must Love Dogs: Lucky Enough’ by Claire Cook is the latest entry in that popular and charming series

Must Love Dogs: Lucky Enough
by Claire Cook

Some books you read because they teach you something, some books are read for lengthy book club discussions, and some books, like “Must Love Dogs: Lucky Enough,” the eighth book in this engaging and humorous series, you read simply to escape from reality and jump into the life of Sarah Hurlihy as she navigates her at-times fraught relationship with John, with their ever-growing menagerie of pets, and with her often-crazy extended Irish family. Sarah’s life is never dull, and when you factor in her job as a preschool teacher with some very precocious children and their very suburban parents, you get lots of humor as well as many touching moments.

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‘Red Thread of Fate’ by Lyn Liao Butler is a beautiful story of love, betrayal, forgiveness, and making a family

The Red Thread of Fate by Lyn Liao Butler

The first sentence of “Red Thread of Fate” is as riveting a first sentence as I’ve ever read. “She was on the phone with her husband when he died.” What?! You can’t stop reading after that kind of first sentence. At the heart of Lyn Liao Butler’s newest novel is the concept that our family is what and who we make it. It might be those who are born into our family, but often our family includes those who are adopted (and they come with two and four legs), those we informally “adopt” as honorary family members, and close friends we trust and love. And while Butler’s book focuses on family, and how Tam, the main character, reacts when she is confronted with an apparent betrayal by her husband and his cousin, she also presents, to a lesser extent, the smaller betrayals we might perpetrate by, for example, not listening to our parents and their stories, by not stopping to listen to those we love, or by thinking only of ourselves and how things affect us.

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Children’s books for Black History Month and every other time of year

Moving Forward by Chris Barton

If I were going to teach a unit on prejudice, I’d start with a fabulous picture book, “Moving Forward: From Space-Age Rides to Civil Rights Sit-Ins with Airman Alton Yates,” by Chris Barton and Steffi Walthall. There are many, many wonderful nonfiction books aimed at middle grade readers, books which are perfect for research projects or just informational reading. A powerful picture book like this one about Alton Yates will elicit many emotions in readers. We admire Yates for his dedication and bravery, we are infuriated on his behalf because of the prejudice and mistreatment he endured after serving our country in the military, and we are inspired by his fight, at times endangering his very life, against the Jim Crow laws of the south. The story is factual and gripping. The illustrations are powerful. Alton is a heroic person, and his story is a wonderful example of how one man fought against injustice. It’s a fight that is ongoing. (Beach Lane Books)

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‘Honor’ by Thrity Umrigar is a heartrending and thoughtful story of love and hatred

Honor by Thrity Umrigar

“Honor” is a perfect title for Thrity Umrigar’s powerful novel about India and the horrors that are perpetrated in rural areas in the name of religion and honor. For while honor is a noble concept, the foul acts perpetrated in its name are not. Umrigar makes it clear that while India is the setting for this tragic story, the prejudice and hatred toward women, toward others of a different religion, toward others who are considered to be less worthy, are not confined to any one country. Such prejudice and hatred are endemic to almost every country.

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‘When Winter Robeson Came’ by Brenda Woods is a beautifully told middle grade historical fiction

When Winter Robeson Came
by Brenda Woods

I don’t think I’d ever read a book about the 1965 riots in Watts, California, until I read Brenda Woods’ beautifully written book, “When Winter Robeson Came.” There is much that is lovely about the verse in this story: the lyrical language, the way Woods compares feelings to tempos in music, the clever way she compares the discrimination in Mississippi to that in California, and how she manages to make us feel the gamut of emotions that the characters display from fear to joy.

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‘The Lock-Eater’ by Zack Loran Clark is an action-filled fantasy with plenty of twists

The Lock-Eater by Zack Loran Clark

In his debut novel, “The Lock-Eater,” author Zack Loran Clark presents us with a very unusual protagonist. Melanie Gate is an orphan, and she lives with other similarly situated girls at the Merrytrails Orphanage for Girls. Mrs. Harbargain is the kindly woman in charge of the orphanage, and she lives with the children and her cat, Abraxas, who is redeemed neither by his looks nor his personality. Melanie has the strange ability of being able to open any door or lock. Other girls in the orphanage have different abilities; one is a talented baker, another is unusually charming, another a gifted storyteller.

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‘City Spies: Forbidden City’ by James Ponti is the third in this thrilling middle grade series about an MI6 group of kid spies

City Spies: Forbidden City by James Ponti

Let me begin by saying I love the “City Spies” series by James Ponti, and his newest entry, “Forbidden City,” is no different. The story is gripping from the start as we read about Paris, one of the young spies, climbing the side of a mansion to return to the billionaire owner a priceless Fabergé egg which, unbeknownst to him, had been swapped for a exact copy containing a bug that allowed British Intelligence to spy on him. He is loaning the priceless treasure to a museum where the deception would surely be uncovered. Paris is named for the city where he was recruited. All the young spies are thusly named, Kat was recruited in Kathmandu, Sydney in that Australian city, Rio in Brazil, and Brooklyn in that New York borough. All live together in a manor home in Scotland with Mother and Monty, two MI6 agents. They attend an exclusive private school and work on spycraft in their spare time. And, in each novel, they have a mission.

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