Five Reasons to Read: Falling Into Rarohenga by Steph Matuku – An Exciting Portal Fantasy that Celebrates Māori Mythology, Māoritanga, and Siblinghood

Synopsis:

It seems like an ordinary day when Tui and Kae, sixteen-year-old twins, get home from school – until they find their mother, Maia, has disappeared and a swirling vortex has opened up in her room. They are sucked into this portal and dragged down to Rarohenga, the Māori Underworld, a shadowy place of infinite dark levels, changing landscapes and untrustworthy characters. Maia has been kidnapped by their estranged father, Tema, enchanted to forget who she really is and hidden somewhere here. Tui and Kae have to find a way through this maze, outwit the shady characters they meet, break the spell on their mother, and escape to the World of Light before the Goddess of Shadows or Tema holds them in Rarohenga forever.

Growing up and living in Aotearoa (New Zealand), it’s not often I get the pleasure of reading a book where I get to see the slang and reo that I grew up immersed and references to Kiwiana reflected on the page. I mean, how often do we get to see a sibling call their sibling ‘an egg’, something that all kids growing up Aotearoa have definitely called each other at some point? Or, how often do I get to see the flora, fauna, and all things that feel quintessential to Aotearoa – ruru, huia, glow worms, Rotorua hot pools – mentioned casually yet endearingly in a story?

So, when I read Falling into Rarohenga by Steph Matuku, I had such a wonderful time. I loved that this story felt so familiar to me and felt like a piece of my home. Just as importantly, I had so much fun reading this gem, and I cannot wait to share with you all my five reasons of why you should pick up this taonga.

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Five Reasons to Read: Danny Chung Sums It Up by Maisie Chan – Maths and Art Collide in this Sweet Story about Grandmothers, Language Barriers, and Kindness

Danny Chung Sums It Up by Maisie Chan, illustrated by Natelle Quek. Reviewed by CW, The Quiet Pond
Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Danny’s life is turned upside down when his Chinese grandmother comes to live with his family in England. Things get worse when Danny finds out he’ll have to share his room with her, and she took the top bunk!

At first, Danny is frustrated that he can’t communicate with her because she doesn’t speak English—and because he’s on the verge of failing math and Nai Nai was actually a math champion back in the day. It just feels like he and his grandmother have nothing in common. His parents insist that Danny help out, so when he’s left to look after Nai Nai, he leaves her at the bingo hall for the day to get her off his back. But he soon discovers that not everyone there is as welcoming as he expected . . .

Through the universal languages of math and art, Danny realizes he has more in common with his Nai Nai than he first thought.

One of my favourite things about middle-grade stories is how they explore the close relationships that we have with people, especially with our friends and family. Siblings are different now, friendships are changing, and even the character themselves are growing up too. So, what about a story about a young Chinese-British boy who has to suddenly become roommates with a grandmother he’s never met before and that he doesn’t understand?

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Five Reasons to Read: Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez – A Stunning Testament to the Strength of Girls and Women and One Girl’s Passion for Fútbol

Synopsis:

In Rosario, Argentina, Camila Hassan lives a double life.

At home, she is a careful daughter, living within her mother’s narrow expectations, in her rising-soccer-star brother’s shadow, and under the abusive rule of her short-tempered father.

On the field, she is La Furia, a powerhouse of skill and talent. When her team qualifies for the South American tournament, Camila gets the chance to see just how far those talents can take her. In her wildest dreams, she’d get an athletic scholarship to a North American university.

But the path ahead isn’t easy. Her parents don’t know about her passion. They wouldn’t allow a girl to play fútbol—and she needs their permission to go any farther. And the boy she once loved is back in town. Since he left, Diego has become an international star, playing in Italy for the renowned team Juventus. Camila doesn’t have time to be distracted by her feelings for him. Things aren’t the same as when he left: she has her own passions and ambitions now, and La Furia cannot be denied. As her life becomes more complicated, Camila is forced to face her secrets and make her way in a world with no place for the dreams and ambition of a girl like her.

One of the most powerful things that a book can do is pull you into a world that you have never known and take you on a journey where you live the highs and lows through the eyes of another person. For instance, I’ve never been a fútbol (soccer) person and never ‘understood’ the hype. But then, I read Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez, a phenomenal YA contemporary that just pulled me right into its unforgettable story and, even though I’ve long since finished it, I still feel its hold on me. Through the eyes of Camila, known as La Furia on the field, I came to understand her passion for fútbol and the love someone can have for the sport.

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Five Reasons to Read: Partly Cloudy by Tanita S. Davis – A Slice of Life MG Novel about Loneliness, Starting Over, and Extended Family

Synopsis:

Lightning couldn’t strike twice, could it? After a terrible year, Madalyn needs clear skies desperately. Moving in with her great-uncle, Papa Lobo, and switching to a new school is just the first step.

It’s not all rainbows and sunshine, though. Madalyn discovers she’s the only Black girl in her class, and while most of her classmates are friendly, assumptions lead to some serious storms.

Papa Lobo’s long-running feud with neighbor Mrs. Baylor brings wild weather of its own, and Madalyn wonders just how far things will go. But when fire threatens the community, Madalyn discovers that truly being neighborly means more than just staying on your side of the street— it means weathering tough conversations—and finding that together a family can pull through anything.

Cuddle's review:

The end of summer is a time filled with transitions, especially for kids and teens who are returning back to school. For Madalyn, a Black seventh grade girl, there are even more transitions, as she moves in with her great-uncle, Papa Lobo, as her parents who are geographically separated are doing their best to provide for their family. She starts at a new school where she is the only Black student in her class, has to become reacquainted with Papa Lobo and his neighbors, and fears the wildfires that threaten the landscape of the Pacific Northwest yearly.

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Five Reasons to Read: Josephine Against the Sea by Shakirah Bourne – A Spirited Adventure in Barbados about Grief, Magical Stepmothers, and Carribean Mythology

Josephine
Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Josephine knows that no one is good enough for her daddy. That’s why she makes a habit of scaring his new girlfriends away. She’s desperate to make it onto her school’s cricket team because she’ll get to play her favorite sport AND use the cricket matches to distract Daddy from dating.

But when Coach Broomes announces that girls can’t try out for the team, the frustrated Josephine cuts into a powerful silk cotton tree and accidentally summons a bigger problem into her life . . .

The next day, Daddy brings home a new catch, a beautiful woman named Mariss. And unlike the other girlfriends, this one doesn’t scare easily. Josephine knows there’s something fishy about Mariss but she never expected her to be a vengeful sea creature eager to take her place as her father’s first love! Can Josephine convince her friends to help her and use her cricket skills to save Daddy from Mariss’s clutches before it’s too late?

I received a digital advanced readers copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

After reading Josephine Against the Sea, I felt like I had traveled all the way to the small village in Barbados where Josephine lives, and that I had gone on an unforgettable journey with her. Josephine Against the Sea reminds me so much of the middle-grade books that I used to read as a younger reader – a story filled with mischief, a little danger, but is ultimately a simple and fun adventure with so much heart.

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