The Elephant in the Room by Holly Goldberg Sloan

The Elephant in the Room

Holly Goldberg Sloan

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Mar. 2, 2021

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Immigration, Turkish Americans. Separation, Elephants, Rescue, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis:

It’s been almost a year since Sila’s mother traveled halfway around the world to Turkey, hoping to secure the immigration paperwork that would allow her to return to her family in the United States.

The long separation is almost impossible for Sila to withstand. But things change when Sila accompanies her father (who is a mechanic) outside their Oregon town to fix a truck. There, behind an enormous stone wall, she meets a grandfatherly man, Gio Gardino, who only months before won the state lottery. Their new alliance leads to the rescue of a circus elephant named Veda, and then to a friendship with an unusual boy named Mateo, proving that comfort and hope come in the most unlikely of places.

A moving story of family separation and the importance of the connection between animals and humans, this novel has the enormous heart and uplifting humor that readers have come to expect from the beloved author of Counting by 7s.

What I like about this book:

Holly Goldberg Sloan hit a sweet spot with her novel, The Elephant in the Room. It is such an uplifting story because it is charming and sad, unique and creative. But most of all the story it is filled with heart and it will put a smile on readers’ faces. Her storytelling is captivating. 

The characters are realistic. Sila Tekin really struggles without her mother. She’s quiet in the classroom, her studies are falling behind and she eats lunch alone. The school notices and pairs her with another bilingual student, Mateo Lopez, who is on the autism spectrum. It’s an awkward pairing at first, but I love that Sila accepts Mateo without judgement. Their friendship is sealed when Sila invites Mateo to visit the Veda, the elephant Gio Gardino rescues. Sila and Mateo’s  world revolves around caring for the elephant. And it is always heartwarming to see the bond that forms between animals and humans. They become a family.  

Sloan deals with some major topics — deportation, separation, animal cruelty and autism — which add a lot of depth to the story. Readers will learn a lot about the rescue and care for circus elephants. A lot happens in the story and the viewpoint changes frequently among the different characters, which is told in third person. I really enjoyed Veda’s voice in some of the chapters. The ending is very satisfying.   

Holly Goldberg Sloan spent part of her childhood living in Istanbul, Turkey. After graduating from Wellesley College, she working in commercial production in Los Angeles and in her twenties began writing family feature films, including Angels in the Outfield and Made in America. She was the first woman to direct a live action film for the Walt Disney Company when she directed (and wrote) The Big Green. She is the author of six novels, including the E. B. White Read-Aloud Honor book Counting by 7s, the New York Times best seller Short, and the highly praised To Night Owl from Dogfish. She is the mother of two sons and lives with her husband in Los Angeles. You can visit Holly 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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

A Feel Better Book for Little Sports by Holly Brochmann and Leah Bowen

A Feel Better Book for Little Sports 

Holly Brochmann and Leah Bowen, Authors

Shirley Ng-Benitez, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Aug. 24, 2021

Suitable for ages: 2-5

Themes: Sportsmanship, Teamwork, Resilience, Fun, Rhyme

Opening: All over the world, / in all different places, / people of all ages, genders, and races… / Share a love for SPORTS — they’re so much fun! / Yippee! Hooray! / Your team has won!

Book Jacket Synopsis:

The acclaimed Feel Better Books for Little Kids series now offers an upbeat rhyming story that tackles the fun and the not-so-fun parts of sports: winning, losing, being a good sport, and even resilience. This is a helpful book for little ones who are just entering the world of competitive play, so that they can get the most out of their activities.

Why I like this book:

Brochmann and Bowen’s picture book  is a perfect read for young children who get involved in sports at an early age. What child doesn’t like to run, swim, dance, skateboard, and play soccer, baseball, football, and tennis?  Sports can be a BIG deal for a little child, especially if they have older siblings who are sport enthusiasts!

What I love about this book is that it focuses more on what sports do for children and not so much on winning — although that’s fun too. It brings kids together. It helps them exercise their body and brain and work on their coordination. It teaches kids respect and consideration for others, especially when they win and an opponent loses. This is a very balanced and important book for at home or school.

The rhyming text is snappy and Shirley Ng-Benitez illustrations are lively and colorful. The children represent a diverse group of sport enthusiasts and those who are differently-abled. 

Resources: The author offers an insightful Note to Parents and Caregivers at the end of the book with more information about ways to help kids get the most out of sports while they have fun learning.

Holly Brochmann  and Leah Bowen are sisters and co-athors. This is the sisters’ fourth book in the Feel Better Books for Little Kids series: For Little Tears, For Little Worriers, Little Poopers, and For Little Tempers. Leah is a licensed professional counselor and registered play therapist. Holly has a degree in journalism and has a career in public relations. Both sisters live in Texas. You can visit them at their 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 the publisher in exchange for a review.”

The Thief of Worlds by Bruce Coville

The Thief of Worlds

Bruce Coville, Author

Random House, Fiction, Apr. 27, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Winds, Fantasy, Magic, Other worlds, Global disaster

Book Jacket Synopsis:

What happens when the wind stops? The air grows hot and still and hard to breathe. Hospitals fill with patients. The sky becomes hazy as dust clings to the air. The world begins to panic.

For Hurricane, the global disaster strikes at his core. He got his name because he was born during a hurricane, and he has always felt a strangely intense connection to the wind. And now his mother is one of the sick people in the hospital. But what can he do? He’s just a kid.

Then an old bearded man, Zephron Windlord, shows up from another world claiming he is in charge of making the wind. He seeks Hurricane’s help to find the wind thief and rescue the magical horn that will fix everything. In fact, the Windlord claims that Hurricane is the only one who can do it. Is he delusional? Can magic be real? And how can finding the magical horn rest on Hurricane’s twelve-year-old shoulders?

When all this turns out to be true, Hurricane embarks on the adventure of his life: a journey to different worlds where he will make friends unlike any people he has ever known. He will discover courage, strength, humor and ability to bring people together.

The classic epic fantasy from beloved author Bruce Coville will enthrall readers while it reminds them that magic lies in friendship — and that friendship just might have the power to save the world.

Why I like this book:

The Thief of the Worlds is a riveting, richly imagined epic tale of loyalty, bravery and friendship that will make your heart soar. It is an action-packed adventure with many complex plot twists that will keep readers guessing what will happen next. Then ending was a complete surprise. That’s a good story. 

The characters are rich, memorable and quirky. Hurricane is a 12-year-old Black boy from Chicago. His neighbors call him  “Breezeboy” and laugh about how he dances with the wind. So when the wind suddenly stops, he feels like he’s lost his best friend — until an odd bearded old man, Zephron Windlord, appears at his door and asks Hurricane to help  rescue a stolen horn that he uses to start the winds. Hurricane thinks he’s crazy, but travels with the Windlord to the top of the world on the back of a huge magical tiger with wide ebony wings. 

On Hurricane’s journey to find the horn, he enters different worlds. He meets Lura, the blue goddess of water, who is in search of a stolen basin from her world that has caused a drought; and Amberjon, a three-foot-tall man, who is seeking the lost spirit flame that lights and warms his frozen world. Together they realize that the environmental suffering everywhere is being caused by the same dangerous villain, so they join forces and search for him together.

Coville’s storytelling is brilliant and he amazingly builds four very unique worlds in a single novel. His writing is polished and his narrative will inspire readers to think about how friendship and listening to the pain of others may be the key to saving the world. 

Bruce Coville is the author of more than 100 books for children and young adults, including the international bestseller My Teacher Is an Alien and the wildly popular Unicorn Chronicles series. He has been a teacher, a toy maker, a magazine editor, a gravedigger, and a cookware salesman. He is also the founder of Full Cast Audio. Bruce lives in Syracuse, New York, with his wife, author and illustrator Katherine Coville.

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.

Mr. Quigley’s Keys by Barbara Gruener

Mr. Quigley’s Keys

Barbara Gruener, Author

Audrye Williams, Illustrator

EduMatch Publishing, Jun. 8, 2021

Suitable for ages: 5-10

Themes: Handyman, Deaf, School, Work ethic, Kindness, Empathy, Service 

Opening: “He’s almost heeeeere!” I called out cheerfully as soon as I heard the clanging cadence of Mr. Quigley’s keys.” 

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Adapted from the real-life story of an unsung hero, Mr. Quigley’s Keys invites you to walk in the work shoes of a beloved handyman as he quietly jingles through the school hallways, listening for ways to serve and connecting by heart.

Bask in the admiration and pride that the students feel for their Navy veteran, whose war injury left him deaf, and watch as his every move models the school’s keys to connection: love, perseverance, work ethic, empathy, goodness, and peace.

Spend a birthday in the cafeteria and experience the joy of receiving a Quigley creation, then savor the sweetness as the can-doer classmates turn the tables to thank their faithful fix-it friend. Turn the final page for a key twist that’ll wrap you up in a huge hug of gratitude and love.

What’s to love about this book:

Barbara Gruener has written an inspiring story that is full of heart, kindness, humor and connection. Her narrative is rich and lyrical. And to hear Gruencer read her book aloud is a special experience (video trailer below). Audrye Williams’s bright and cheery illustrations illuminate Gruener’s storytelling. This picture book belongs in every classroom because there are many themes that will lend themselves to important classroom discussions.

Mr Quigley’s Keys is based on the life of a beloved school maintenance man who spends his days interacting with students through his acts of kindness and compassion. Mr. Quigley is deaf, but that doesn’t interfere with his ability to connect with students. He is very sensitive to emotions, doesn’t mind tying a shoe lace, and makes sure every student has a hand-drawn card on their birthday.  

You can feel the students’ excited anticipation when they hear Mr. Quigley’s keys jingle in the hallway before he enters their classroom to help fix a problem. His keys are special, because each is engraved with positive traits that fit him perfectly. The students  love him so much they want to do something very special for his upcoming birthday. It’s a BIG surprise!

Mr. Quigley’s deafness touched me immediately. There are few books where deaf or hearing impaired children can see themselves represented. And to have Mr. Quigley as a role model is very special. His story reminded me of our daughter, who grew up with a hearing impairment and wore hearing aids. I noticed very early that she studied people, could sense their emotions and read lips from a distance. She perceived things at a rapid rate — long before most people. And I sensed that same special gift in Mr. Quigley and so much more. I can hardly wait to share this book with my grown daughter.    

Resources: Make sure you check out the end pages, where teachers and parents will find wonderful activities: Comprehension Curiosities, Key Character Questions, and Writing Prompts. There is a page with American Sign Language Alphabet and Numbers and New Vocabulary. There is a picture of Don Pittman, whose real-life story inspired this book. And there is a special message from the Quigley family. There are many themes that will lend themselves to important discussions at home and school.

Barbara Gruener is the author of the Corner on Character blog and the book What’s Under Your Cape? She is a beloved school counselor, speaker, mentor and coach who works passionately to influence school culture and climate change, while helping to foster healthy habits and nurture caring connections among school families and their stakeholders. She positively thrives on encouraging empathy. In addition to spending time connecting with family and friends, Barbara loves inspiring people to savor being in the moment as they unwrap the present with gratitude and hope. She and her husband live in Friendswood, Texas, where they raised their three children.

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 publisher in exchange for a review.

Orangutan Hats and Other Tools Animals Use by Richard Haynes

Orangutan Hats and Other Tools Animals Use

Richard Haynes, Author

Stephanie Laberis, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Nonfiction, Apr. 13, 2021

Suitable for ages: 7-10

Themes: Animals, Tools, Nature

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Move over, humans! We’re not the only creatures who can invent and use tools to keep ourselves fed, warm, safe, healthy, comfortable — and even entertained. Thanks to the careful observations of biologists working in the field, we now know that elephants use sunscreen, long-tailed macaques floss their teeth, assassin bugs use bait to lure their prey, orangutans make pillows, and crows will go sledding just for fun. Who’s the clever one now, eh?

Join writer Richard Haynes and illustrator Stephanie Laberis for a walk on the wild side and get ready to be astonished, and delighted by this fascinating look at tool use among animals around the world. 

Why I like this book:

Richard Haynes’s engaging book will amuse animal lovers and those who like to learn fascinating animal facts.  Don’t be so surprised that humans aren’t the only ones who are intelligent enough to invent and use tools to assist in their daily lives. Wildlife having been doing the same thing globally, only now biologists and zoo keepers have been observing and documenting their findings. 

This beautifully crafted book is for older children, but an ideal read for the entire family. It is packed with details. The book is divided into six chapters which provide an entertaining looks at how animals use tools. There are Tools for Staying Neat and Clean (napkins, floss, nose picker, toothbrush); Tools for Health and Healing (sunscreen, pain relief, tick removal); Tools for Defense (weapons, shield, deception); Tools for Hunting, Harvesting, and Eating (hammers, shovels, bait, nose guard, gloves); Tools for Comfort (umbrellas and hats, flyswatters, bedding, dolls); and Tools for Joy (sledding, games, ice-skating). 

Stephanie Laberis’s expressive and realistic illustrations highlight Hayne’s text and give readers time to really explore how each tool is used by these inventive wild animals. They will enjoy pouring over each illustration!

This book is a perfect resource book for kids, as well as an entertaining read.  Make sure you check out the map and table of contents at the front of the book. There is a glossary, a bibliography, and an index are included in the back matter. It belongs in every school library.

Richard Haynes grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, one of nine children. Every day of the boyhood was filled with adventure, much of it in the great outdoors. He is the author of the early chapter book Slingshot and Burp. He lives in Northern California with his wife, the writer Megan McDonald. 

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 the Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.”

Too Shy to Say Hi by Shannon Anderson

Too Shy to Say Hi

Shannon Anderson, Author

Hiroe Nakata, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 9, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Bashfulness, Anxiety, School, Friendship, Rhyme 

Opening: My dog and I walk every day, just the two of us. We pass some kids out playing ball — “Let’s GO Barnabus.”

Synopsis:

School is coming up and Shelli really wants to be less shy. At home, she relates more to her bashful pet fish who hides in his cave than she does to her outgoing dog, who wants to greet everyone in sight. Even her parrot squawks a “Hi! Hiiii! Hello!” Shelli wants to make new friends and meet new people, but she is just too shy to say hi!

“When I am back at school next week / I want to give it a go! / Will someone want to play with me? / There’s only one way to know.”

Why I like this book

Shannon Anderson has written a charming and helpful book for children who are bashful or painfully shy. Her rhyming text is snappy and upbeat as Shelli takes itsy bitsy steps to prepare for her first day at school, like practicing waving and saying “hello” into a mirror, 

I like how Shelli realizes that her shyness interferes with her ability to make friends. There are no adults in the background encouraging her or giving her suggestions. She’s very introspective and bravely figures out how to step outside of her comfort zone and ask Lupita if she can sit next to her in the classroom and play together during recess.  

Shelli’s journey is supported by Hiroe Nakata’s expressive and lively illustrations. My favorite illustration is the look of surprise on Shelli’s face when she first speaks to Lupita. You can see how proud she is of herself and relieved that she made the effort.

Making new friends may be tough for children. This is a great read aloud book for parents and teachers to have on hand for kids who are anxious in social situations like school. 

Resources: There is a Readers Note for parents and teachers about ways to work with children who are very shy and not interacting with friends or participating in activities they would really enjoy. 

Shannon Anderson has taught first grade through college level and loves to write books for child and teachers. In 20019, Shannon was named one of the Top 10 Teachers who inspired The Today Show. She was named the JC Runyon Person of the Year for her work writing and speaking about social and emotional issues for kids. She lives in Indiana. Visit Shannon at her website,  on Facebook @AuthorShannonAnderson and Twitter @ShannonTeaches.

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.

The World Between Blinks by Amie Kaufman and Ryan Graudin

The World Between Blinks

Amie Kaufman and Ryan Graudin, Authors

Quill Tree Books, Fiction, Jan. 5, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes:  Cousins, Family vacation, Loss, Fantasy, Adventure, Mystery, History 

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Whenever Jake and Marisol get together, adventure follows. They have their late Nana to thank for that. Her epic trips and treasure hunts were the stuff of family legend.

This summer, with the whole family reuniting for one last summer vacation at Nana’s home in South Carolina, the cousins are in for a legendary trip of their own.

Following a map Nana left behind, Jake and Marisol sneak out to a nearby lighthouse hoping to search for treasure. —they accidentally slip into another world! The World Between Blinks is a magical place, where all sorts of lost things and people wind up. Everywhere they turn, the cousins find real mysteries from history and a few they thought were just myths, from pilot Amelia Earhart to the fabled city of Atlantis. Proof to Marisol that the world is as as weird and wondrous as Nana has always claimed.

But the man who holds the key to Jake and Marisol’s journey home doesn’t want to be found . . . and if the cousins don’t catch him fast, they could end up lost in this world good.

Why I like this book:

The World Between Blinks is  heartwarming story about family, love, loss and memory. It’s an entertaining and magical summer adventure into a world where lost people, places and things go when they are lost or forgotten. If you ever wanted to see dinosaurs, London’s Crystal Palace, Atlantis, and the Loch Ness Monster, or meet Queen Nefertiti and Amelia Earhart, or hold the Great Mogul Diamond, than this book is for you — history made fun.

The world-building is magical. The plot is clever and imaginative. The authors take readers on a journey that will surprise them at every turn. Readers will discover what happens to the memories of the lost people who are living in this magical world. They will encounter the Curators who document every new arrival. I appreciated how seamlessly everything was woven together. 

Chapters alternate between Marisol’s and Jake’s voices, giving great insight into the reasons why they embark upon their journey. Marisol struggles with the grief of losing not only Nana, but her beach house which holds so many good memories. The family members want to sell and don’t want to deal with the upkeep. On the other hand, Jake is sad because he is constantly saying goodbye to friends, schools, and homes — his mother is a traveling diplomat. And there is a mysterious villain who convinces the cousins he can get them home if they steal a special ledger for him.    

Make sure you check out the Curators’ Files that has catalogue entries on just a few of the people and places you’ll find in The World Between Blinks. There are many more fun details added.

Favorite Quote: “The world between blinks is always there. It is everywhere and it is nowhere…People see it every day, but they rarely pay attention. The grown-ups are too busy doing grown-up things to stop and look, really look. Most kids are too distracted to examine it for long…But there are those who pause a little longer. The daydreamers….They stare into the dark places: blink, blink. They see.”  

Amie Kaufman and Ryan Graudin are two bestselling, award-winning authors united by their love of history, adventure, magical stories and lost places. Ryan has explored the ruins of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, and Amie has picnicked in the lost Roman city of Ostia Antica. When the learned about a vanishing island off the coast of South Carolina and the lighthouse left rising alone from the waves, the knew they had a story to tell. Amie lives in Melbourne, Australia, and Ryan lives in Charleston, South Carolina. You may visit Annie and Ryan at their websites. 

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.

Rescue at Lake Wild by Terry Lynn Johnson

Rescue at Lake Wild

Terry Lynn Johnson, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Apr. 27, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Animals, Beaver kits, Orphaned, Wildlife rehabilitation, Adventure, Mystery

Synopsis:

Everyone knows that twelve-year-old Madison Lewis is not allowed to bring home anymore animals. After harboring hairless mice, two birds, a rabbit, and a tomcat that ended up destroying the front porch, Madi is forbidden from inviting one more stray into the house. If she does, she risks her chance to meet her hero, Jane Goodall, at a gala during the summer. 

But when she and her best friends Aaron and Jack find two beaver kits whose parents were killed, they know the kits will die without their help. They know, too, that more beavers will die unless someone can solve the local environmental crisis that is brewing because of the dams flooding the town roads and crops. 

Can Madi find a way to show everyone how smart and amazing and vulnerable beavers are in time to save them? Can she show the community how humans can live in harmony with wild creatures?

Why I like this book:

Terry Lynn Johnson’s Rescue at Lake Wild is a fun and engaging adventure story for readers who are interested in wildlife rehabilitation. They will learn from a budding young naturalist, Madison, who has inherited her late grandmother’s passion and gift of caring for injured and orphaned wildlife. Like her grandmother, she listens to and observes animals.

Animal lovers will enjoy getting to know about beaver kits. Madi is an excellent teacher. Much of what she learns is through her observations, which she faithfully records in a journal. Who knew beaver kits are so intelligent, sociable, bond with other orphans from other lodges, like to cuddle and hug, chatter with each other, problem-solve, and eliminate themselves only in the water. Readers will cheer Madi’s journey with the beavers. 

Madi is so lucky to have two great friends in Jack, who is hot on a trail with his dog to track down the individuals who are killing the beavers, and Aaron who has excellent engineering and observation skills. They make a perfect team and know how to use their skills to make a difference in their community.

Make sure you read Johnson’s author’s note at the end, because you will discover many scenes in the book are inspired by stories shared with Johnson from experts who have experience rehabilitating beaver kits. In true Johnson style, she also includes “The Dos of Wildlife” for readers who may find a baby animal in need of rescuing. This is important for readers to know before they take a lost bunny home.

Rescue at Wild Lake is written for younger middle grade students. There are shorter chapters and and the narrative is perfect for bedtime read aloud with younger children. Adults will also enjoy this book because of the backmatter. It’s just a feel-good story for the entire family.

Terry Lynn Johnson writes about the wild with the wisdom and passion of someone who has spent her life working to preserve and protect it — both as a back country canoe ranger in Quetico Provincial Park and in her current job as a conservation officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. She lives at the edge of a lake in northern Ontario, Canada, where she loves watching all wildlife, including beavers. She is the author of Dog Driven, Sled Dog School, Ice Dogs, and four Survival Diaries. Visit her 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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

These Unlucky Stars by Gillian McDunn

These Unlucky Stars

Gillian McDunn, Author

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, Fiction, Mar. 2, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Self-confidence, Sibling rivalry, Intergenerational relationships, Friendship, Luck

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Annie has always been the odd one out in her family. Her dad and brother just don’t understand her creativity or spontaneity. They are so practical…so predictable. And ever since her mother left a few years ago, Annie has been reluctant to get close to anyone. She keeps to herself.

When a poor decision lands Annie in hot water, she must make amends by checking in daily with her elderly neighbor and helping with her weird dog all summer.  As Annie begins to connect with her neighbor Gloria, it becomes clear that Gloria won’t be able to live on her own for much longer. But it’s this brief and important friendship that gives Annie the confidence to let people in and see how rich life can be when you decide to chart your own path to happiness. 

Why I like this book:

Gillian McDunn has written a sensitive and charming novel about Annie, who has an artist’s heart. McDunn’s narrative beautifully captures the drama and emotion of middle grade students. Her memorable characters and deliberate pacing will keep readers fully engaged.

Annie is convinced she is the unluckiest person ever. She’s somewhat of a loner. She loves to crawl out her bedroom window and sit on the roof and stare at her beautiful mountains. She captures their shimmering sunrises and sunsets with her colored pencils. Neither her predictable and hardworking father and brother, Ray, appreciate her artistic talent. They see her as careless and worry about her safety. Ray is popular at school and is good at everything.  Annie is not Ray, so this makes for some interesting sibling rivalry.

When Annie accepts a dare to play “ding dong ditch” on an elderly woman, she causes her to fall and break her wrist. More bad luck. It only seems right that Annie helps Gloria everyday and cares for her dog, Otto, while the feisty old woman recovers — perfect for Annie. The intergenerational bond that forms between Annie and Gloria, makes this novel really shine! Annie begins to believe in herself and her talents, interact with other people, and creates her own life. 

The setting of Oak Branch, North Carolina, is so beckoning and rich with character. Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, the small town smells of fresh pine. Readers will want to stroll through the small town and purchase hot muffin’s from Lulu’s bakery, stop at the book store and visit JoJo and The Earl’s for some serious North Carolina BBQ. And there are many more interesting characters to meet along Main Street.

The novel is divided into five parts with short chapters that are perfect for reluctant readers. Scattered throughout the novel are Annie’s drawings, which give a great deal of insight into her feelings and chart her growth.

Gillian McDunn is the author of The Queen Bee and Me and Caterpillar Summer, which was selected for the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List and the Parents magazine Best Books of the Year list. She has lived in three time zones and is a fan of Eastern and Western barbecue. When she isn’t reading or writing, she is probably cooking, traveling, or spending time with her family. She lives near Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband and children, and a very silly dog named Friday.  Visit her 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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Oranges for the Sunsets by Tina Athaide

Orange for the Sunsets

Tina Athaide, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Fiction, 2019

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Friendship, Social class, Ethnic relations, East Indians, Uganda, Family life, Idi Amin, History

Publishers Synopsis:

Asha and her best friend, Yesofu, never cared about the differences between them: Indian. African. Girl. Boy. Short. Tall.

But when Ugandan President Idi Amin announces that Indians have ninety days to leave the country, suddenly those differences are the only things that people in Entebbe can see—not the shared after-school samosas or Asha cheering for Yesofu at every cricket game.

Determined for her life to stay the same, Asha clings to her world tighter than ever before. But Yesofu is torn, pulled between his friends, his family, and a promise of a better future. Now as neighbors leave and soldiers line the streets, the two friends find that nothing seems sure—not even their friendship. And with only days before the deadline, Asha and Yesofu must decide if the bravest thing of all might be to let each other go.

Why I like this book:

Tina Athaide’s powerful novel is gripping as it explores the 1972 expulsion of 50,000 Asians from Uganda. Athaide portrays the vast disparity between the two ethnic groups in Uganda through the daily lives of Asha Gomez, an Indian Ugandan, and Yesofu, an African Ugandan. Their friendship is depicted within the backdrop of historical events, a brutal dictator, social class, ethnic relations, family relationships, and hope. 

The narrative is told in the alternating voices of Asha and Yesofu, which is very effective because readers will understand the emotions each character has to confront individually and together as friends. All of the successful businesses, farms, schools, homes and churches are owned by Indians, while the Africans work hard labor in the sugar cane fields and are servants in Asian homes. Few African can get loans to buy land or start businesses.

Asha was born in Uganda and knows no other home. Her father is from Goa, India, and works in the Ministry of Tourism and they entertain foreign dignitaries. Her family is wealthy. She lives in a two-story house with a wraparound front porch. They can afford to eat kulfi or ice cream and serve their tea on beautiful silver trays. Her family have African servants, including Yesofu’s mother, Fara, who works as a housekeeper and cook. Asha is a compassionate, caring, brave and determined character. But she’s also very naive to the social injustices.  She never has visited Yesofu’s home or thinks to ask Yesofu about his life. 

Yesofu’s life is a stark contrast to Asha’s. His family lives in a two-room shack made of “wattle and daub — woven rods and twigs plastered with clay and mud and topped with a grass roof.” Yesofu sleeps on a woven mat and gathers branches for firewood and hauls water from the well twice daily. His mother has very little education and his Baba works in the fields all day. Yesofu’s and his brother Esi’s education is paid for by Asha’s father. Yesofu dreams of getting a scholarship to attend college and playing professional cricket.  At first, Idi Amin’s talk about a brighter future for Africans excites Yesofu. His Baba may be able to buy land. He may be able to attend college and have a better life. So he joins his friends and family in support the actions of Amin.

This is a period in history I wished I’d followed more closely in the 70s. So I’m very grateful to gain some understanding through Athaide’s novel, which is loosely based on her own life there. Her novel is well-researched. It really will help readers understand what happens when racial nationalism is used to rid a country of other ethnicities. President Idi Amin promises to help African Ugandans. But he seizes Indian properties, businesses, bank accounts. He is violent and commits torture and murder. Friends become enemies. There are no winners. And Yesofu begins to sees a darker side to Imin’s promises. Yesofu’s comment says it all: “Idi Amin had promised change would come to Uganda. And he was right. Everything had changed. No Asha. No Akello. No jobs. No money for school fees. No food, Dada Amin had promised a great future, but a future is hard to build when there’s nothing left.” 

I highly recommend Orange for the Sunsets. Readers won’t be able to put it down. Make sure you read her Author’s Note, the 90 Days in History, additional resources and view her personal family photos.

Review:For those wondering how to discuss the dangers of manipulative and toxic nationalism with children, this delicately told story is it. Orange for the Sunsets is a nuanced and balanced way to see politics through a child’s eyes.”— Nadia Hashimi, M.D., author of The Sky at Our Feet and One Half from the East.

Tina Athaide was born in Uganda and grew up in London and Canada. While her family lift Entebbe just prior to the expulsion, she has memories of refugee family and friends staying with them in their London home. The stories and conversations she listened to through the years became the inspiration for this book. Tina now lives in California with her husband, Ron, and their daughter, Isabella.

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.