Marshmallow reviews Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Today Marshmallow reviews Front Desk, the 2018 book by Kelly Yang.

Marshmallow reviews Front Desk by Kelly Yang.
Marshmallow reviews Front Desk by Kelly Yang.

Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you like reading books to learn about different people’s lives, or if you simply want to read about an immigrant girl and her life (in school and elsewhere), then this might be the book for you. 

Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): Mia Tang and her family immigrated to America with dreams of a large house with a dog and lots of hamburgers.

“My parents told me that America would be this amazing place where we could live in a house with a dog, do whatever we want, and eat hamburgers till we were red in the face. So far, the only part of that we’ve achieved is the hamburger part, but I’m still holding out hope. And the hamburgers here are pretty good.”

When Mia’s parents, who had been searching for a job, find out that the Calivista Motel needs a manager, and that the job comes with free boarding, they take the job. Unfortunately, they soon learn that the owner, Mr. Yao, is a very unpleasant man. He doesn’t want them to use the pool, as it might “encourage” the customers to swim, which he claims is bad for the environment. (The real reason is that keeping the pool clean costs money.) If anything breaks, Mr. Yao has Mia’s parents pay for it. He also has a son named Jason, who tries to emulate his father’s behavior and is rude to Mia.

One of the good things about the Calivista Motel is that Mia gets to help with the managing. She works at the front desk and presses the button to let people in to the motel. When she gets this assignment, Mr. Yao tells her to make sure not to “let bad people in”. As the book progresses, we learn that Mr. Yao meant “black people” when he said bad people. However Mia and her family are a lot more open minded. Over time, Mia starts to become friends with the weeklies, people who stay in the motel long term, in a way that is almost like renting. And Mia’s parents eventually start to let immigrants stay in the Calivista Motel for free. The immigrants tell their stories to Mia and her parents. One of them is now in debt to loan sharks. Another one’s previous boss took their IDs and passports. Some of them are looking for jobs. Many of them are facing a lot of challenges in their lives.

Marshmallow is reading Front Desk by Kelly Yang.
Marshmallow is reading Front Desk by Kelly Yang.

Mia starts school, and makes friends with a girl named Lupe. Unfortunately, Mr. Yao’s son Jason is also in Mia’s class. Mia pretends that she has a house with a pool and her family has a golden retriever.

At some point, Mia finds out about a contest to win a motel. Her family is not getting a fair amount of money, so the possibility of owning her own motel seems incredible to Mia. However, the contest is an essay contest, and Mia has been having trouble with the tenses. Will she be able to win the motel?

Here is the author’s introduction to the book:

Front Desk by Kelly Yang (posted by Scholastic on YouTube).

Marshmallow’s Review: I think that Front Desk is a great book. It is realistic and moving. I think that the author, Kelly Yang, did a great job of writing a book that evokes so many feelings in the reader. I have learned that the author actually based this book off of her own experiences. Maybe that is one of the reasons everything is so convincing and touching.

I also enjoyed it when, later in the book, Mia takes matters into her own hands and writes letters to people in order to change her friends’ lives for the better. She writes as the manager of the Calivista Motel, but also, once, as a lawyer (though she is of course not a lawyer). Still her writing plays an important role, throughout the book. Even though Mia enjoys English a lot at school, her mother thinks that she should stick to math: she tells her, “You know what you are in English? You’re a bicycle, and the other kids are cars.” It is good to see that her writing turns out to be so valuable in the end!

Marshmallow’s Rating: 100%.

Marshmallow rates Front Desk by Kelly Yang 100%.
Marshmallow rates Front Desk by Kelly Yang 100%.

Marshmallow reviews Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

Today Marshmallow reviews Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson, published in 2017.

Marshmallow reviews Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson.
Marshmallow reviews Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson.

Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you like books about art or school, then this might be the book for you.

Marshmallow’s Summary (with Spoilers): Jade Butler has been taught that she needs to take every opportunity she is offered, which is why she is still going to St. Francis High School. St. Francis is a private school, and when Jade was accepted with a scholarship, she knew that it was an opportunity, so as her mother taught her, she took it. When the book starts, she has been at St. Francis for two years. But being at St. Francis also means being away from her old friends and almost everyone she knows. Jade has few friends at school and her art is one thing she takes strength from.

This year, Jade is hoping that she will be chosen to be one of the group of people who will get to go to Costa Rica, to study abroad. But she is told that she has, instead, been selected to participate in a program called Woman to Woman. In Woman to Woman, Jade is assigned a mentor, like all of the other girls in the program. The program is supposed to help girls with issues. However, Jade’s mentor, a woman named Maxine, does not show up to the first meeting of the Woman to Woman program. Jade finds herself wondering, will this new Woman to Woman program actually help?

Marshmallow is reading Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson.
Marshmallow is reading Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson.

Marshmallow’s Review: I really enjoyed reading Piecing Me Together, but I want to say that I would recommend that younger bunnies wait until they are a little older before reading this book. It has some mature topics, and parents might want to wait until the bunnies are older. I think that the age group I would recommend Piecing Me Together the most to would to 12-year-old bunnies and up. But if course, if a parent has read it and thinks that their child should read it, Piecing Me Together is a great book.

I think that the author, Renée Watson, is very successful in creating realistic characters. Even if you haven’t been in all of the situations that the characters are in, you can identify or relate with them. Not only are the characters realistic, the book shows some issues in realistic ways. For example at some point, a salesclerk asks if she can take Jade’s purse, so she can make sure that Jade is not stealing anything. The salesclerk claims it is store policy, but Jade sees that several white women in the store still have their bags. The salesclerk claims it is because her bag is larger than theirs, but her bag is not actually that much larger. Through Jade’s eyes, the reader witnesses several such instances of racism.

The book is written in 76 short chapters. Each starts with a word in Spanish and its English translation. Jade is learning Spanish at school, and the words connect to the themes of the chapters well.

Marshmallow’s Rating: 95%.

Marshmallow is reading Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson.
Marshmallow rates Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson 95%.

Marshmallow reviews Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

Today Marshmallow reviews Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park. Sprinkles is asking questions and taking notes.

Marshmallow reviews Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park.
Marshmallow reviews Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park.

Sprinkles: So Marshmallow, tell us about this book. What is it about?

Marshmallow: Well, this book is about a girl named Hanna who dreams of becoming a dressmaker. But the thing is that she is part Chinese: her father is white and her mother was Chinese-Korean, and she is living in a very white place in the Dakota territory.

S: It sounds like something happened to her mother.

M: Yes, sadly Hanna’s mother died when she was a little younger.

S: That is very sad.

M: But before that happened, she taught Hanna a lot about sewing and stuff. So now Hanna is really good at making clothes. But this book is placed in, I think, 1880. She can sense that the people at the town she just moved into wouldn’t treat her well if they knew she was part Chinese, so she hides her face. But once they discover her heritage, they start being mean to her.

S: Today too, we see anti-Asian hate, and in fact we have been seeing it get stronger this last year. But the book is about a time that is quite a few years earlier, you mentioned the Dakota Territory, in 1880. Racism and this kind of bigotry might have been even more common.

M: Yes. Hanna’s father came to open a store in the town, and she is worried people might not want to go to their store. And people call her mean names sometimes, and even the kids at her new school are cruel to her.

S: This sounds like a pretty bleak story. Do good things happen to Hanna ever?

M: Well, she does have some friends and some people treat her well. So it is not always that sad. But I do think this might be a book appropriate for older bunnies. Younger ones might find it too sad or scary.

S: Scary? Why do you say that?

M: At some point people try to hurt Hanna physically because she is Asian. It can be scary, especially for little bunnies.

S: I see.

Marshmallow is reading Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park.
Marshmallow is reading Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park.

M: But don’t worry. It is not a completely depressing book.

S: Oh?

M: You can read about how Hanna enjoys dressmaking and the ending is happy.

S: Well, so one has to wait till the end to get a sweet flavor?

M: No no no. It is a good story and you learn about that time in American history a bit, through the eyes of a young person who does not quite “fit in”.

S: As you are telling me the plot, I am realizing I do not know too much about that part of the history of the United States. Maybe we should read up on it together?

M: Yes, maybe. I am also reading other books in school that are about people living during that period of early American history. Maybe I can review some of them for the blog some time?

S: That would be awesome Marshmallow! So let us wrap this up then. Would you recommend this book to other bunnies?

M: Yes! But as I said, not the really young bunnies, but those who are a little older. And a parent bunny might want to read it too before to see if they think their little ones might appreciate the book.

S: That sounds good to me. So how do you rate this book?

M: I rate it 95%. You really get to feel for Hanna and have a good sense of life back then for people of different backgrounds.

Marshmallow enjoyed reading Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park and rates it 95%.
Marshmallow enjoyed reading Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park and rates it 95%.

Caramel reviews A Kids Book About Racism by Jelani Memory

Caramel has already reviewed two books from the A Kids Book About ... series: A Kids Book About Change by David Kim and A Kids Book About Empathy by Daron K Roberts. (You can read more about the series here.) Today he is reviewing the first book in the series: A Kids Book About Racism, written by Jelani Memory. Sprinkles is asking questions and taking notes, as usual.

Caramel reviews A Kids Book About Racism by Jelani Memory.
Caramel reviews A Kids Book About Racism by Jelani Memory.

Sprinkles: So Caramel, we just read the book together. Can you tell our readers what this book is about?

Caramel: It’s about racism. That’s what it says on the cover too.

S: That’s true. So what does it tell you about racism?

C: It tells you what racism is.

S: So what is racism?

C: Someone may be mean to someone else because of the color of their skin. Here is the definition the book gives:

“Racism means to hate someone, exclude them or treat them badly because of their race or because of the color of their skin.”

Caramel is rereading the definition of racism in A Kids Book About Racism by Jelani Memory.
Caramel is rereading the definition of racism in A Kids Book About Racism by Jelani Memory.

S: The book makes it clear that racism is about treating people badly because they are different. But it also says that being different is actually good. Right?

C: Yes. Because if we are different we can offer other people more. Like.. let me read from the book: “help, ideas, strengths, skills, creativity..”

S: So what does that mean? Is being different better, like if you are different from others, then are you better than others?

C: No, that’s not what this means. This means if people are different from one another, then they have more ideas, they can help one another, and they can share.

S: Yes! I agree. I too interpreted that part the same way. Being different allows you to see things differently. And then you can bring a new perspective to a problem, you can share experiences that others may not have had, so they will be able to learn from you. And similarly you can learn from them. But the book also tells us how it makes someone feel to face racism, how people are sometimes made to feel so small just because they are different. How can you try and help people who are being treated badly because of racism?

C: You can try to include friends who look different when you are playing. Or when someone is mean to them, or exclude them from their game. You can invite them to join yours.

S: I like those ideas Caramel. A while back, we read a book by Sonya Sotomayor called Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You which was also about how being different can be a valuable thing, right?

C: And Marshmallow reviewed a book called Wonder about a kid who looked very different and so his friends did not treat him too nicely. A lot of people are different in different ways. And it is not nice to treat them differently just because they are different. Why can’t you just treat everyone nicely?

S: Good question Caramel. It seems like people are a bit scared of others who are different.

C: I guess so. But it is not a good thing to do that!

S: Agreed. So let us wrap up our review with your three words for this book.

C: Helpful. Because it makes me think about different people. And let me see. Other words… Hmm. Black and white and red and orange and brown.

S: Hmm, that makes more than three words, but those are the main colors that show up in the book. You are right. I’d also say it could be a good starting point for little bunnies and their adults to talk about some difficult topics. Because racism is still around us —

C: Yes, there is that one page where there are a lot of “racism”s copied and pasted all over the place.

S: That’s true. That is a good way to show visually that racism is everywhere, pretty visible to many people who have to face it every day. But then there is also a page with 242 “really”s, and that page was fun, right?

C: Yes. It was fun to count! We counted them together!

S: Well, we did some basic arithmetic, so hopefully we got it right. But anyways, I do think this book could be a good conversation starter. So what do you say to end this review?

C: Stay tuned for more book bunny reviews!

Caramel appreciated reading A Kids Book About Racism by Jelani Memory and thinks he has a better sense of what racism means now.
Caramel appreciated reading A Kids Book About Racism by Jelani Memory and thinks he has a better sense of what racism means now.