Children - Fantasy/Sci-Fi
179 Pages
Reviewed on 07/25/2023
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Shrabastee Chakraborty for Readers' Favorite

Born in the middle of the year, a middle child, Jazz’s life had always been exceptionally mediocre. Be it her grades or her extracurricular performances, she was always in the middle of the spectrum. However, when her estranged uncle barged in on her ninth birthday party and declared that she possessed a magical power called Zest, it seemed her life would start anew. The Zest introduced her to an amazing world hidden from ordinary people. Yet, the day turned sour when a boy tried to harm her with his Zing, a malicious version of Zest. Can Jazz save herself? Or will she lose her gift on the very first day? Find out in Zest, a children’s book written and illustrated by Ms. Wilden.

This quirky, enchanting read is one of the best books I have read this year. Ms. Wilden seemed to brush her readers with pixie dust, opening a portal to a magical world. Her world-building is commendable, with multitudes of magical creatures around every turn. From dragons and trolls to fairies and pixies, the book had everything. Stunning illustrations adorned every page, depicting mundane and supernatural beings with exquisite charm. I loved how Ms. Wilden provided the meanings of many words, often including a little sketch for added clarity. Despite being a lighthearted book, Zest taught us some profound lessons. It encouraged us to dream, empathize with others, and process every emotion. Zest lets us hope that no matter how consuming grief is, a little love can fill our lives with light. I recommend this thoroughly enjoyable book to anyone seeking a magical getaway.

Carmen Tenorio

Zest is a children's book written and illustrated by Ms.Willden, and it's a story about Jazz, a kid who never really felt special with her family, friends, or in school. She vowed that things would be different for her ninth birthday, and her simple but heartfelt birthday wish was to be special as she blew out the candle on her cake. Suddenly, her long lost Uncle Les unexpectedly shows up to tell his niece that she will receive her Zest or the power enabling her to be part of a hidden magical world, just like him. Everybody does not get this when they turn nine; she must only use it for good. In addition, reversing her Zest into a Zing or harmful power will be subject to forfeiture, he warns. With her new dragon buddy named Whisper, Jazz goes on an adventure to explore her unique gift, only to see another gifted person using his Zing to destroy everything he sees. Jazz desperately wanted to help and understand him. Will she befriend and help this angry young boy overcome his destructive behavior before his endangered magic is forfeited by the black unicorns of their hidden world?

Zest by Ms.Willden undoubtedly shows her passion for guiding and teaching young independent readers to appreciate reading, learning, and even writing. She utilizes font styles and fun-looking spot illustrations to introduce new vocabulary and sketches to supplement story elements, especially when showing the characters' emotions. Having a glossary further emphasizes the new words. The language is simple, and the pages and chapters aren't too long to read. The author even has a mailing list for her free zesty activity pack. The story tells us that giving importance to mindfulness, empathy, kindheartedness, grief, self-awareness, self-transformation, and hope is a step above the ordinary, a cut above the rest. It makes you special, creative, and zesty—highly recommended for imaginative or even reluctant young readers into stories of fantasy, adventure, compassion, courage, and true friendship.

Emily-Jane Hills Orford

Do you know what zest is? Jazz doesn’t, at least not at first. She’s so concerned about today being her ninth birthday, and no one remembers even to wish her a happy birthday. Being in the middle of everything and often forgotten (like on birthdays), Jazz lacks confidence, a sense of purpose, and zest. That special type of magic allows you to see the world in a different light. You can read about Jazz and her zest in Ms. Willden’s middle-grade novel, Zest. It’s a great read to inspire all young people to find their special place—preferably not in the middle of anything.

A special teacher herself, Ms. Willden knows how to weave a story full of magic. Zest provides the enchanting tale of a young girl who finds her inner magic and presents a profound sense of the importance of accepting who we are and recognizing our hidden talents. We are all special, even if, like Jazz, we’re stuck in the middle. The plot follows Jazz’s ninth birthday as she forces her family to recognize her big day, only to discover that it is full of zest and much more. The story is illustrated, and although the author uses some big words, she provides a running list of vocabulary and definitions, simplified so young readers will understand. It’s interesting how she gives these definitions: on a little scroll complete with fairy mentors in the page's sidebar where the word appears, emphasizing the importance of these new words and their meanings. The author’s power of the written word is her “zest,” her magic, as she enchants young readers in her quest to encourage them to read more. Loved it!