The Christmas Owl by Ellen Kalish and Gideon Sterer

The Christmas Owl

Ellen Kalish & Gideon Sterer, Authors

Ramona Kaulitzki, Illustrator

Little Brown and Company, Fiction, Oct. 5, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Owl, Rockefeller Christmas Tree, Rescue center 

Opening:  “Once in a little town, in a little front yard, lived a little owl, high in the branches of a very big tree.” 

Synopsis:

When Little Owl’s home is cut down by people saying it will make a beautiful Christmas tree, she’s not sure she wants anything to do with Christmas, whatever that means.  Hiding in its branches, the rope traps Little Owl.  The tree is loaded on a truck and she rides for hours until it reaches the Rockefeller Center.

A worker finds the owl her and calls a woman named Ellen at Ravensbeard Wildlife Center who takes Little Owl, who is hungry and dehydrated.  Ellen, whose house is merrily decorated for the holiday and filled with birds who need someone to care for them. Surrounded by kindness and helpful new friends, Little Owl begins to wonder if Christmas might not be such a bad thing after all…

Why I like this book:

A beautiful book that is based on a true story that captivated the country in November 2020. This charming story is cowritten by Ellen Kalish, caretaker of the real owl found inside the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. 

Told in the voice of Little Owl, children will enjoy hearing about his long journey on the truck to NYC, being discovered in its branches and his rehabilitation with Ellen. Ramona Kaulitzki’s illustrations are simply stunning. Just look at the cover!  They compliment the story and kids will have fun pouring over the gorgeous artwork and telling the story themselves.

There is so much compassion in this story. Make sure you check out the end pages. There is a special Note from Ellen Kalish about her work to rescue and rehabilitate her first love — birds.  There is a close up picture of the owl she named “Rocky.” On the opposite page is The Real Story of Rockefeller, with a photo of Ellen releasing Rocky back into the wild. And at the front of the book you can see a map of Rocky’s journey to NYC.

Resources:  Go for a walk in the woods with your parents and listen to all of the winter birds living there. You might just hear an owl hoot.  Visit a bird rehabilitation center near you.  Introduce your kids to the annual Christmas Bird Count December 14 – Jan. 5, 2021,  and The Great Backyard Bird Count in February. Visit the Audubon website for a list of count circles near you.  And visit the Sonoma Birding website and the eBird website to do your own bird count any day of the year and track your counts. 

Ellen Kalish is the executive director of Ravensbeard Wildlife Center, a rehabilitation and educational center that focuses on rescue and release for wild birds. She served on the board for the New York State Wildlife Rehabilitation Council and is the recipient of the William R. Ginsberg Stewardship Award from the Woodstock Land Conservancy. Ellen has released thousands of birds back into the wild, but every releas is special. She invites you to visit her online at Ravensbeard.

Gideon Sterer is the author of From Ed’s to Ned’s, Not Your Nest!, The Nigh Knights, and The Midnight Fair, among others. Gideon grew up in the woods of upstate New York, where his parents owned a little zoo i which he would run around after-hours and let the animals out. He now lives in the Hudson Valley and invites you to visit him online at his website and @gideonsterer

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.

 

Daughter of the Deep by Rick Riordan

Daughter of the Deep

Rick Riordan, Author

Disney – Hyperion, Fiction, Oct. 26, 2021

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Adventure, Underwater exploration, Marine sciences, High schools, Orphans, East Indian Americans

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Ana Dakkar is a freshman at Harding-Pencroft Academy, a five-year high school that graduates the best marine scientists, naval warriors, navigators, and underwater explorers in the world. Ana’s parents died while on a scientific expedition two years ago, and the only family’s she’s got left is her older brother, Dev, also a student at HP. (And they’ve heard all the Harry Potter jokes already, so don’t go there.)

Ana’s freshman year culminates with the class’s weekend trial at sea, the details of which have been kept secret. She only hopes she has what it’ll take to succeed. All her worries are blown out of the water when, on the bus ride to the ship, Ana and her schoolmates witness a terrible tragedy that will change the trajectory of their lives.

But wait, there’s more. The professor accompanying them informs Ana that their rival school, Land Institute, and Harding-Pencroft have been fighting a cold war for a hundred and fifty years. Now that cold war has been turned up to a full broil, and the freshman are in danger of becoming fish food.

In a race against deadly enemies, Ana will make amazing friends and astounding discoveries about her heritage as she puts her leadership skills to the test for the first time.

What I love about this book: I am only going to leave bullet comments, because I know this book will be a popular gift for many teens over the holidays. So, no spoilers! 

Rick Riordan has captured my heart with Daughter of the Deep. The brilliantly crafted novel is action-packed, fast-paced, and full of unexpected surprises, right from the start. His storytelling is magnificent. And take a good look at that stunning book cover!

Daughter of the Deep is inspired by Jules Vern’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I believe fans of Vern will find this modern take a thrilling read with a new spin on Captain Nemo and his submarine the Nautilus. Riordan takes world-building to another level. And the believer in me sees the potential for a  series. 

Riordan has created a cast of characters who are complicated, original and represent a wide range of ethnicities, faiths and abilities. Ana Dakkar is very relatable, believable and will capture reader’s hearts. She’s thrown into a situation she didn’t ask for. But her courage shines in the face of what she faces on an emotional level. She quickly gains the respect of the other students, and has a strong team of friends in Nelinha, Ester, Gem and many other HP students. And I love Jupiter the orangutan chef who communicates through sign language. He adds some humor and lightness to the story. First time I’ve seen attention given to menstrual cramps in novel.      

This high-stakes undersea adventure, re-imagines technologies so far advanced that readers will keep turning pages. STEM students will especially love this book — especially those who dream of about the world beneath the ocean and the advanced technologies of the future. But readers will also be challenged to think about the caution required in using them. Who do these advanced technologies belong to and how will they be used for the good of all mankind and nature? Which makes this a perfect discussion book.

Rick Riordan, dubbed “storyteller of the gods” by Publishers Weekly, is the author of five New York Times #1 best-selling middle grade series with millions of copies sold throughout the world: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the Heroes of Olympus, and the Trials of Apollo, based on Greek and Roman mythology; the Kane Chronicles, based on ancient Egyptian mythology; and Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, based on Norse mythology. Rick collaborated with illustrator John Rocco on two New York Times #1 best-selling collections of Greek myths for the whole family: Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods and Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes. He is also the publisher of an imprint at Disney Hyperion, Rick Riordan Presents, dedicated to finding other authors of highly entertaining fiction based on world cultures and mythologies, and a contributor to an RRP short story anthology, The Cursed Carnival and Other Calamities. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts, with his wife and two sons. He’s even known to go scuba diving on occasion. Rick’s Twitter handle is @RickRiordan.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

When Grandfather Flew by Patricia MacLachlan

When Grandfather Flew

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Chris Sheban, Illustrator

Neal Porter Books, Fiction, Jul. 27, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Bird watching, Grandfathers, Nature, Grief

Opening: “When we were younger — before his hair turned white and when he could still see — my older brother, Aidan, and I called him “birdman.”

Synopsis:

Grandfather loves birds and spending time with his youngest grandson, Milo. Together they marvel over the brisk wing beat of the sharp-shinned hawk, the hovering kestrel, and Grandfather’s favorite, the soaring bald eagle. But in time Grandfather’s eyes grow dim, and he needs to rely on his sharp ears and the eyes of others to help him identify the cedar waxwing, the bluebird, and the junco. But one day when Milos comes home from school, his grandfather isn’t there. 

Why I like this book:

When Grandfather Flew is such a loving tribute to a grandfather, who shared his passion of bird watching and nature with his grandchildren, Aiden, Emma and Milo. Patricia MacLachlan’s text is poetic and fills readers with many joyful moments. The moments become memories that deliver a beautiful response at the end.  

This is  heartwarming tale is narrated by Emma. Milo, is the youngest, and he carefully listens to everything his grandfather teaches them about birds, their beaks, wings, and their songs. They quietly step into nature and enjoy their time together outdoors observing the birds on the farm. Grandfather’s favorite bird is the high-soaring bald eagle. “Look up,” he’d say to Milo. “The eagle sees the full sky, he sees the world.”  

Chris Sheban’s soft watercolor and pastel illustrations make this book breathtaking celebration of life. Make sure you check out the endpapers with the gorgeous drawings of a variety of birds.  When Grandfather Flew may be a gentle and reassuring story for children who’ve lost a close family member. It is an inspiring  story that focuses on so many beautiful memories. I plan to give this book to great grandchildren.  

This book is also a timely book to introduce children to bird counting and conservation. The 122nd annul Christmas Bird Count is inspired by a national citizen science project in which everyone can participate. This year it runs from Dec. 14 until Jan. 5, 2022.  Many hold special Christmas bird counts for kids. And there is a Great Backyard Bird Count  a February 18-21, 2022 and many other counts throughout the years.

Resources: Take children bird watching. Sometimes you only need to look in your own backyard. Ask them what’s their favorite bird. Have them draw a picture. They can check out the endpapers to see Sheban’s pencil drawings. Remember to introduce your kids to the annual Christmas Bird Count and The Great Backyard Bird Count. Visit the Audubon website for a list of count circles near you.  And visit the Sonoma Birding website and the eBird website to do you own bird count any day of the year and track your counts. 

Patricia MacLachlan is the author of many novels for children, including the Newbery Medal-winning Sarah, Plain and Tall; Baby; Waiting for Magic; and The Truth of Me. Among her picture books are  Snowflakes Fall, The Iridescence of Birds, Someone Like Me, and What You Know First. She lives in Western Massachusetts.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Sona Sharma, Very Best Big Sister? by Chitra Soundar

Sona Sharma, Very Best Big Sister?

Chitra Soundar, Author

Jen Khatun, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 14, 2021

Suitable for ages: 6- 9

Themes: New baby, Big sister, Hindu religion, Naming ceremony, Indian culture,

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Can Sona be the best big sister ever when she’s not sure she even wants a baby sister or brother? 

Sona Sharma’s house is full of three generations of people who joke often and argue sometimes. Relatives come over unannounced, the phone rings frequently, and friends drop by all the time. Then one day Amma tells Sona that she is going to have a baby.

Is that good? Sona isn’t so sure. She doesn’t want to share her room or her things with a new baby, not to mention the attention of Amma, Appa, Thatha, and Paatti. And despite Amma’s assurance that the sky always has room for new stars, Sona doesn’t feel stretchy or bighearted like the sky. But when she learns there will be a baby-naming ceremony, she’s determined to find the best name for her new brother or sister—one as nice as her own, a Hindi word for “gold.” Perfectly pitched to young readers, this tale of warming up to change is followed by a glossary of words from India to explore in the story.

Why I like this book:

This is a perfect chapter book for young readers who about to become a big sister/brother. A charming story that can be read aloud or alone. It addresses the issue of being an only child and welcoming a new baby. Sona likes being the center of everyone’s attention and is not so sure she wants to share that with a new sibling. Especially since she lives in a typical extended Hindu family with a lot of grandparents and aunts and uncles around.

The book is particularly special because it will teach readers all about the custom of welcoming a Hindu baby in India. Readers will observe how the entire family gets involved in the upcoming birth. And they will learn about the wonderful naming ceremony for the baby — the highlight of the story. I was not familiar with the name ceremony and was very intrigued with the meaning of finding the right name. The ceremony involves the parents and grandparents on both sides of the family.

Each page is adorned with sweet pen and ink illustrations that highlight India’s culture, food and traditions. I especially like the layout of the book with seven chapters, each bearing an important theme in the story. This chapter book is a lovely addition to any school library, and it may inspire families to create or share some of their own family traditions about the birth of a child.

Chitra Soundar grew up in Chennai, India. An award-winning author of more than forty books for children, she travels the world visiting schools and appearing at festivals to bring Indian stories to children everywhere. She lives in London. 

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.

Our Table by Peter H. Reynolds

Our Table

Peter H. Reynolds, Author and Illustrator

Orchard Books, Fiction, Nov. 2, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Table, Memories, Family, Togetherness, Technical devices, Creativity, Fable 

Opening: “Violet fondly remember the table.”

Synopsis:

Violet reminisces about the many meals that she shares around the table with her family. She remembers the time they spend setting the table, preparing meals and sharing their days. Gathering with her family was a joyful part of Violet’s day.

Things begin to change and her father is planted in an over-sized chair in front of his big screen. Her mother sits on the stairway texting friends. And her brother is in his room playing games with friends. Her family is not communicating with each other. Violet is lonely as she sits at the table by herself. 

One day Violet notices that the table looks smaller. Everyday she checks the table and it continues to shrink and NO ONE in her family seems to notices because they are involved with their technical devices. Then one day “poof” the table is gone. Violet is courageous and comes up with a creative plan (a big idea) to help her family connect with one another again. She begins by climbing onto her father’s lap and asks if they can watch a special program together… (No Spoilers beyond this point.)

Why I love this book:

Our Table is a modern fable that is timeless for children and adults. It is a heartfelt, uplifting and important message for all families to balance their time connecting with each other and setting limits on their use of technical devices.  

Reynolds is a master at using spare text with his emotive illustrations that really show the story. At the beginning of the story when Violet remembers her good memories of family gatherings around the table, the illustrations are full color. When her family begins to drift, the watercolor illustrations are painted in shades or purple, showing the depth of Violet’s despair. But, Reynolds writes hopeful stories, so the illustrations return to joyous color at the end.  Our Table is an important story about human connections. With the holidays quickly approaching it offers an opportunity to be grateful. I love the quote on the back cover of the book: Remember the gift of time shared together.

Resources: Talk about fun memories you share at your table. I remember that the table in my home was the center for all family meals and talking about our day. There was always after-school treats waiting on the table. We did homework, played board and card games, did artwork projects, made homemade pinatas, gingerbread houses, baked Christmas cookies, and made gratitude trees. What are some of the memories you have about your table? 

Peter H. Reynolds is the author and illustrator of many books for children, parents, and educators alike, including The Dot, Ish, the New York Times bestseller The Word Collector and The Peace Train. He lives in Dedham, Massachusetts, where he owns a bookshop, the Blue Bunny. Learn more about Reynolds at his website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.
 
*Reviewed from a purchased copy.

Birdie’s Bargain by Katherine Paterson

Birdie’s Bargain

Katherine Paterson, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 19, 2021

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Themes: Moving, Separation, Iraq War, Crisis of faith, Friendship

Opening: “If you are wearing a T-shirt that says in big capital letters I ♥ JESUS, you shouldn’t be standing in the middle of the street bawling your eyes out. But that is exactly what Birdie was doing.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

In a poignant and unflinching new realistic novel from the Newbery Medalwinning author of Bridge to Terabithia, a ten-year-old girl makes a deal with God for her father’s safe return from the Iraq War.

Birdie has questions for God. For starters, why couldn’t God roll history back to September 10, 2001, and fix things—so the next day was an ordinary sunny day and not the devastating lead-in to two wars? Daddy has already been to Iraq twice. Now he’s going again, and Birdie is sure he’ll die. At the very least, she won’t see him again for a year, and everything will not be OK. (Why do grown-ups lie?)

To save money, she, Mom, and baby Billy have moved to Gran’s, where shy Birdie must attend a new school, and no one but bossy Alicia Marie Suggs welcomes her. Doesn’t God remember how hard it was for Birdie to make friends at Bible Camp? Counselor Ron taught about Judgment there—and the right way to believe. Has Birdie been praying wrong? Why else would God break their bargain?

Readers of all faiths and backgrounds, especially children of military families, will identify with and root for the unforgettable Birdie, given inimitable voice by a master storyteller.

Why I like this book:

What a great opening (above). Katherine Paterson is known for her spectacular storytelling and great “first pages” that quickly draw readers into the story. You just have to know the “why” and keep on reading. But she’s also thoughtful and it shows in the depth of her characters, her plot and her glorious prose. 

Paterson’s keen sensitivity, compassion and penetrating sense of drama brings readers a moving story about Birdie’s father’s third deployment to the middle east and her fear for his safety. Separation is tough on military children and their families both emotionally and financially. Birdie’s mad at the world, refuses to go to the airport to say goodbye, and fears her dad’s luck has run out and  he won’t return home this time. So she is angry and has big questions for God — if there is a God. Readers will go through Birdie’s crisis of faith with her. 

Paterson creates realistic and memorable characters readers will love spending time with. Birdie is caring and resilient. She isn’t popular in her  new school and longs for a friend. She is befriended by Alicia Maria Suggs (Alice May) who claims to have a famous mother who is an actress. Their relationship is exhausting for Birdie. Alicia is bossy, obnoxious, and controls her. Birdie suspects something is seriously wrong at Alicia’s house and that her mother may be abusive. That would explain Alicia wearing make-up. So Birdie  has to make some hard decisions about how she can help Alicia. Thankfully she has Gran who is the rock in their family and is always ready to listen. She’s kind, patient and tough when she needs to be. Her teacher Mr. Goldberg is another kind and positive influence for Birdie.

I love that Birdie finds a diary her father gave her for Christmas. It’s been buried in an unpacked box. She calls is “Betsy Lou.” There’s a note inside from her dad that moves her. So she begins to write down all of the things that she’s doing so she can share everything he misses while he’s deployed. It also helps her count down the days until he returns. Readers will be able to explore Birdie’s deepest thoughts, anguish and fears. It helps Birdie cope during some challenging moments in the story. (Sorry, no Spoilers.) But readers are going to cheer for Birdie. 

Birdie’s Bargain is an excellent choice for middle grade libraries. 

Katherine Paterson, a two-time winner of the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award, has written more than thirty books, including Bridge to Terabithia, My Brigadista Year, and The Great Gilly Hopkins. A recipient of the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award and a former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, she lives in Montpelier, Vermont.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.   

My Story Friend by Kalli Dakos

My Story Friend

Kalli Dakos, Author

Dream Chen, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, May 2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Boy, Compassion, Listening, Self-acceptance

Opening: “There is the person who tells the story. This is the story teller. / And there is the person who listens to the story. This is the story friend.”

Publisher’s Synopsis

When a child treks across the land in search of someone to tell his sad story to, he meets a gruff mountain man who can’t stand unhappy stories and a too busy to be bothered farmer.  Finally he meets an old woman, who tells stories herself and is willing to  listen. She becomes his story friend. The act of telling the story leads the child to look at the other side and make what was dark lighter and full of hope and positivity.

The true potency of needing to express one’s unhappiness and the power of having someone else listen and help is a strong message for young readers. Like a favorite teacher or mentor, they may not be around forever, just for a short but meaningful time.

What I like about this story:

My Story Friend is beautifully written in free verse by poet Kalli Dakos. Her gentle and compelling storytelling will capture the hearts of readers of all ages. Kids will cheer for the boy when he finds the old woman who will let him unload his burden. When the old woman patiently listens, the boy gains some of his own insights about himself. Dream Chen’s textured illustrations are colorful and emotive and perfectly suit the boy’s journey.

Everyone has a story to tell, whether it is sad, joyful, or humorous. Everyone needs to have someone to listen. Dakos’s story encourages  children to listen with empathy and compassion when their friends and siblings need to talk. And it also encourages readers to seek out a trusting friend or tteacher if they want to share something that is troubling them. 

Favorite quote: “We talked all afternoon, and I learned that when we tell our stories over and over again to someone who listens with a big heart, then our stories become softer like butter melting in the sun, and if we are really lucky, the story tells us what to do.”

Resources: This is a perfect classroom book. Encourage children to write about their own lives. Sharing is up to them. But, pairing kids with a buddy might work well. It is also an excellent book for parents to use if they think their child is being bullied or is troubled about something. The book will guide discussions.

Kalli Dakos is a children’s poet and educator. She visits schools across the United States and Canada to encourage children and teacher to write about their own lives. She has written many collections of school poems that include six ILA?CBC Children’s Choice selections, such as If You’re Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand, and They Only See the Outside. She lives in Ottawa Canada, and has an office in Ogedensburg, NY.  Visit her Dakos at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Review copy provided by Magination Press in exchange for a review.

River Magic by Ellen Booraem

River Magic

Ellen Booraem, Author

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Apr. 27, 2021

Suitable for ages: 10-13

Themes: River, Grief, Fantasy, Dragon, Neighbors,  Greed, Friendships, Family

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Donna’s always loved her life by the river. Aunt Annabelle taught her there was more to the world than meets the eye, and the two of them built tiny shoreside houses for fantastical creatures Annabelle insisted were real. But now Annabelle has died in the very river she claimed was magic, and nothing feels wondrous to Donna anymore. Money is tight with Annabelle gone. Her mom, “Mim,” and sister, Janice, work all the time, and her best friend, Rachel, spends way more time with her basketball teammates than she does with Donna.

When a strange old woman moves in next door and needs help cleaning her filthy home, Donna figures this is the perfect opportunity to forget her friendship troubles and help her family. Especially since the woman pays in gold. Turns out, Donna’s new neighbor is an ancient, ornery thunder mage, and it doesn’t take muck to make her angry. Before Donna knows it, Rachel’s in danger and Donna’s family is about to lose their home. Even Annabelle’s voice, an unexpected guiding presence in Donna’s mind, can’t fend off disaster. To save the day, Donna will need the help of a caring new friend and the basket-ball team…plus the mysterious, powerful creature lurking in the river.

Why I like this book:

Ellen Booraem has written a compelling contemporary fantasy that is thrilling, dangerous, action-packed, realistic and humorous. Take a moment to look at the gorgeous book cover of Donna and her friend Hillyard. It makes you want to peek into that river with them.

There is a lot going on in the fast-paced plot — the death of a beloved aunt, a family on the brink of financial collapse, shifting friendships, an angry and greedy magical neighbor, and a cunning dragon living in the river behind the house. That being said, Booraem manages to pull it all together and create an exciting and believable magical adventure story for readers. 

What makes this story strong is its cast of memorable characters who leap off the pages. Donna is a curious and resilient character who begins to hear dead Aunt Annabelle’s voice (in her head) guiding her. She share’s her aunt’s love of the river and believes in the magic surrounding it. So moving to live with Aunt Betty’s, is not a choice for Donna. She’s not old enough to get a real job. But one appears when a very odd woman, Vilma Bliksem, moves into the house next door. Things really start to get weird. Vilma is beguiling, greedy and dangerous. Donna also develops a relationship with a new quirky friend, Hillyard, who is the perfect side-kick for Donna. He sports unusual outfits, like a  purple-and-pink tie-dyed T-shirt, leather vest, battered leather shoes laced on the side, and a brightly colored yellow scarf with orange strips wrapped around his neck. His hair is pulled back into a short pony tail. Being friends with Hillyard won’t be cool at school, but he is clever and helps Donna figure out how to outwit their wicked neighbor. Together they survive some dangerous moments and release some spells Vilma has cast.    

I highly recommend this magical story to readers who are looking for an exciting adventure that will keep them glued to the pages and guessing what will happen next.  I love not being able to guess the ending and I was careful not to give away any SPOILERS.

Ellen Booraem, born in Massachusetts, now lives in Downeast Maine. She is the author of The Unnameables (an ALA Best Book for Young Adults),  Small Persons with Wings, and Texting the Underworld. All of Ellen’s books have been chosen by Kirkus Reviews as Best Books of the Year, among other awards. In addition to being a writer, Ellen is a writing coach at her local elementary school. She lives with a cat, a dog, and an artist in a house they (the humans) built with their own hands.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.  

What Boys Do by Jon Lasser

What Boys Do

Jon Lasser, Author

Robert Paul Jr., Illustrator

Magination Press,  Fiction, Nov. 9, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Boys, Embracing individuality, Diversity, Self-esteem, Kindness, Friendships, Rhyme

Opening “There are many ways to be a boy, and so many more ways to be you!”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

What exactly do boys do?

The answer is ANYTHING and EVERYTHING!

From eating to dreaming, making mistakes to exploring, to hurting and loving, there is more to being a boy than meets the eye.

In this fun, affirming book that holds no restraints to traditional norms about what it means to be a boy, readers will rejoice at all of the possibilities.

Why I like this book:

Jon Lasser’s inspiring book celebrates boyhood and encourages boys to embrace all the many things that make them each unique.  Readers will meet boys who love to create, explore, try new things, ask questions, share feelings, team-up with others, pursue dreams and do things they’ve never tried. It’s all about letting go and being themselves.

The rhyming is exceptional, with each sequence ending in a question to readers. What a clever way to encourage discussion on every page. “Do you share a story or something to eat? / Notice your feelings when you gather and meet?” Do they listen to others? Are they kind? Can they overcome hardships. Are they okay with being different? Are they making a difference in their world? This is definitely a read aloud.

This is book speaks to boys, but Robert Paul’s illustrations are inclusive and represent all kinds of kids — even girls. His large expressive and vibrant illustrations include a diverse cast of characters representing different cultures and those who are differently abled. And look at that spectacular cover!

Resources: This book is a resource and will spark many interesting discussions at home and in the classroom. Make sure you check out the Reader’s Note at the end which includes information on how gender role stereotypes can be harmful to boys and how parents and teachers can “support healthy emotional development in boys by supporting their personhood rather than a more narrowly defined boyhood.”

Jon Laser is a school psychologist and professor at Texas State University in San Marcos. Jon is the co-author of Grow Happy, Grow Grateful, and Grow Kind. He lives in Martindale, Texas. Visit him @JonSLasser on Twitter.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Review copy provided by the Magination Press in exchange for a review.

Crashing in Love by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Crashing in Love

Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 2021

Suitable for ages:10-14

Themes: Summer vacation, Divorce, Family relationships, Romance, Mystery 

Publisher’s Synopsis:

When Peyton comes across the victim of a hit-and-run, she knows it’s destiny. But what exactly does fate have in store for her and the boy in the coma?

Guided by her collection of inspirational quotes and her growing list of ideal boyfriend traits, Peyton is convinced that this summer will be the perfect summer, complete with the perfect boyfriend! But when she discovers a boy lying unconscious in the middle of the road, the victim of a hit-and-run, her perfect summer takes a dramatic detour.

Determined to find the driver responsible, Peyton divides her time between searching her small town for clues and visiting the comatose (and cute!) boy in the hospital. When he wakes up, will he prove to be her destiny? Or does life have a few more surprises in store for Peyton?  

Why I like this book:

Jennifer Richard Jacobson has written a heartwarming story about a 12-year-old girl navigating the process of growing up with all the angst of losing a best friend, hoping to find a boyfriend, dividing her time between her divorced parents’ homes, family drama, and trying to solve a real-life hit-an-run mystery.

I smiled at Peyton’s ever-changing checklist of what she hopes to find in a boyfriend, perhaps a result of having divorced parents and needing to find some sense of security and order in her life. Gray, the boy in a coma becomes her idealized boyfriend as she visits him at the hospital. But that too changes as she realizes that the more she tries to define things perfectly, it’s harder to see the truth and how things really are in life.  

The plot keeps the story moving forward as readers wonder if Gray will recover and if Peyton or the police try to solve the hit-and-run accident. Everyone is suspect and there are many humorous moments and awkward situations. Peyton’s eager search for answers teaches her many valuable lessons about not jumping to conclusions too quickly.  

The characters are all memorable and believable. Peyton narrates and her voice is authentic and full of curiosity. The mother’s career as a journalist plays into the story, as does the over-possessive relationship between Peyton and her paternal grandmother. The Maine coastline setting, the characters, and the mystery will keep readers engaged in the outcome. This is a satisfying coming-of-age story.  

Jennifer Richard Jacobson is the author of the middle-grade novels Small as an Elephant, Paper Things, and the Dollar Kids, which is illustrated by Ryan Andrews. She is also the author of the Andy Shane chapter book series, illustrated by Abby Carter. Jacobson lives in Maine. Visit Jacobson at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.