Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Review: Astrid & Apollo

Title: Astrid & Apollo and the Starry Campout (Astrid & Apollo #1)
Author: V.T. Bidania
Illustrator: Dara Lashia Lee
Publisher: Picture Window Books an imprint of Capstone
Pages: 64
Review copy: Digital ARC via Netgalley
Availability: August 1, 2020

Summary: Astrid is afraid of the dark and doesn't want to go on her family camping trip. But her twin brother, Apollo, is excited. When they encounter scary things such as crawly bugs and the creepy dark, Apollo helps his twin through them. And when they encounter the scariest thing of all, Astrid might just be the one to save the starry campout.

Review: I cannot even express how excited I am about this series. This is the first and only early chapter book series to feature a Hmong American family. This first book in the series introduces the eight year old twins and their family as they go on a camping trip.

Along the way, we learn about their Hmong names and their meanings. Astrid, or Gao Nou, is apprehensive about camping, but her twin helps convince her to give it a try by framing it as an adventure. Their cousin Lily had told some horror stories about a camping trip she had been on, but this camping trip is not a horrifying even though they do encounter some intimidating critters at one point.

This is a fun and entertaining beginning chapter book that anyone could enjoy. The mishaps and frights are amusing and so is their little sister and her amazingly noisy screams. My youngest would completely relate to detesting bugs and bathrooms on campouts as Astrid does.

What makes this book more than just a typical chapter book though is the inclusion of Hmong American culture. This is something that will be interesting for other readers, but for Hmong American readers this is filled with many opportunities for connections. Between the smattering of Hmong words, egg rolls, papaya salad, Thai chili peppers, Hmong sausage, and even mention of Hmong Village Mall, there is much that Hmong American students may find familiar. Even though the mall is several hours away in St. Paul, many of my students have been there or know of the mall. The back matter also includes a brief history of how Hmong people came to be in the U.S. which is almost always new information for non-Hmong folks. A list of popular Hmong foods with their descriptions follows the historical notes.

There are many Hmong Americans in our community and across Wisconsin and Minnesota along with several other locations in the U.S. and this book is one way for readers to get a small glimpse into the Hmong American culture or even see themselves reflected on the page.

Recommendation: This is a great early chapter book for any library or home with young readers and it is essential in communities where Hmong Americans are living. The story is engaging and the chapters are brief, but challenging enough for readers just beginning to read chapter books. I cannot wait to share this series with my students, my community, and anyone else I can persuade to read it.

Extra: Author FAQ

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