The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

Invisible Boy 9781582464503_p0_v1_s260x420The Invisible Boy

Trudy Ludwig, Author

Patrice Barton, Illustrator

Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House for Kids, Fiction, Oct. 8, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes: Feeling invisible and left out, Popularity, Friendship, School

Opening: “Can you see Brian, the invisible boy?  Even Mrs. Carlotti has trouble noticing him in her classroom.  She’s too busy dealing with Nathan and Sophie.”

Synopsis:  Brian feels invisible to his teacher and friends at school.  He is with them, but  not really.  At lunch he eats alone.  At recess the other kids don’t pick him to play on their kick-ball team.  During class when the other children play board games and read, Brian draws dragons, pirates, space aliens and super heroes.   When Mrs. Carlotti introduces Justin, a new student to the class, the other kids poke fun at his Korean lunch.  Brian draws Justin a special picture to make him feel better.  Justin invites Brian to work with him on a school project.  Brian’s artwork shows his unique talent and the students notice.

What I like about this story:  What child has not felt invisible at some time in school.  Trudy Ludwig masterfully tells a heartfelt story about a boy who wants to belong, but is ignored by others.  Even his teacher doesn’t pay a lot of attention to Brian because she has to deal with other high-maintenance children in the classroom.  Brian is kind-hearted and finds his own way to make a friend and gain the acceptance of the other students.  Ludwig’s book is an excellent resource for any parent or teacher looking for material that addresses shy and quiet students.  It is isn’t preachy and Brian solves his own problem.  Patrice Barton’s artwork is creative and perfect for the book.  The cover is in muted pastels which sets the tone for the story.  In the beginning pages, Brian is a black and white sketch, while the classroom is shown in full color.  When Justin befriends Brian, a little color begins to appear.  As Brian asserts himself in the class project he is revealed in full color.  This a great collaborative effort between Ludwig and Barton.

Resources:  Ludwig has included a backpage of questions for classroom discussion and suggested reading lists for adults and children.  I received a poster with an educator’s guide, activities and questions for group discussions and goal-setting.  Ludwig is a nationally known author whose work focuses on helping children cope with and thrive in the social world.   She is an active member of the International Bullying Prevention Association and a sought-after-speaker.  Visit Trudy Ludwig at her website.  Random House has created a free Bullying Discussion Guide for teachers and librarians to use with Ludwig’s books.  It includes ready-made lesson plans and activities that follow the common core state standards.

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

The Power of One by Trudy Ludwig

The Power of One: Every Act of Kindness Counts

Trudy Ludwig, Author

Mike Curato, Illustrator

Alfred A. Knopf, Fictions, Aug. 25, 2020

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Kids making a difference, Kindness, Listening, Friendship, Community

Opening “Sometimes One can feel like a small and lonely number. But don’t let this little number fool you.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Change begins with one person standing up for what is right. And one act of kindness can start a chain reaction: One shy smile can lead to a friendship. One good listener can make even the smallest voice heard. One thoughtful idea can bring a community together.

From the acclaimed author of The Invisible Boy comes a  lyrical tale as simple — and simply inspiring — as the the golden rule, beautifully brought to life by Mike Curato’s bold multimedia artwork.

Why I like this book:

Trudy Ludwig and Mike Curato team up to create this beautiful picture book that will capture your heart! Ludwig’s fluid and sparse text and Curato’s spacious illustrations really SHOW this story. Several double-spreads pages have no text, but are brimming with feeling and meaning! Curato uses white space well to make his artwork pop with color! Gorgeous!

Children will recognize themselves in the young girl who is teased on the playground. A friendly bystander (one girl) steps away from her friends to reach out to the girl in loving kindness to let her know that she cares. This ONE act of kindness has a ripple effect at school and in the community and is a giant leap towards making the world a better place to live in.

This is a perfect book for teacher’s to read to their classrooms at the beginning of the school year! It is a treasure.

Resources: This book is a wonderful resource to get children sharing stories. Ask kids if they’ve seen someone sad or lonely; heard someone tease another student; or seen a child excluded from an activity. Have any of these things happened to them?  Ludwig includes an Author’s Note and recommends many websites that teachers and parents may find helpful like the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.

Trudy Ludwig  is a nationally acclaimed speaker and an award-winning author of ten books, including The Invisible Boy and My Secret Bully. Through her work with the International Bullying Prevention Association, Sesame Street Workshop, Committee for Children, and ConnectSafely, Trudy is committed to helping kids connect with their peers in kinder, more inclusive ways. Visit her at her website or follow her on Twitter at @TrudyLudwig.

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 author in exchange for a review.

Quiet Please, Owen McPhee! by Trudy Ludwig

Quiet Please, Owen McPhee!

Trudy Ludwig, Author

Patrice Barton, Illustrator

Alfred A. Knopf, Fiction, Jul. 3, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Talking too much, Being a good listener, Social skills

Opening: Owen McPhee doesn’t just like to talk. He loves to talk, morning, noon, and night.

Synopsis:

Owen spends every waking minute chattering away at his teachers, his classmates, his parents, his dog, and even himself. But all that chatter can get in the way of listening to important instructions from the teacher during a science experiment. Not only does he mess up his own project, he messes up another group’s project. His chatter spoils story time. Even his classmate are annoyed and yell “quiet” when they’ve had enough and exclude him from playtime.

When Owen wakes up with a bad case of laryngitis, he resorts to writing down the things he wants to tell his classmates. When he can’t write fast enough, it gives him a perfect opportunity to observe and listen to what others have to say. He may just learn something or have something to offer in a different way.

From the author-illustrator team behind The Invisible Boy comes a bright and lively picture book that captures the social dynamics of a busy classroom while delivering a gentle message about the power  and importance of listening…not only with your ears but with your heart.

Why I like this book:

Trudy Ludwig’s newest treasure, “Quiet Please, Owen McPhee!” is the perfect resource for home and classrooms. Many children — and adults — talk to much. And their nonstop chatter may cause problems, that include loneliness because everyone wants to avoid a chatterbox. But, Ludwig tackles this subject with humor and wisdom as she lets a spirited Owen find his own way of learning to listen to others. Owen doesn’t change overnight, but he realistically works hard to control his chatter. This story also reminds readers that it’s important to put others first. There is so much heart in Owen’s journey.

Ludwig once again teams up with illustrator Patrice Barton, whose colorful pastels are lively and dramatic. Barton brilliantly captures the dynamics between Owen and his classmates through page after page of priceless expressions! Children will also enjoy the great use of speech bubbles, which show how chatty Owen is. Check out the book endpapers.

Resources: The author has prepared Questions for Discussion that teachers can use in the classroom to personalize Owen’s story. Parents will also find the  discussion questions useful.

TRUDY LUDWIG is a nationally acclaimed speaker and an award-winning author who specializes in writing children’s books that help kids cope with and thrive in their social world, including My Secret Bully, Confessions of a Former Bully, and The Invisible Boy. An active member of the International Bullying Prevention Association and a contributor to Sesame Workshop, Trudy has received the Mom’s Choice Gold Award, the IBPA Gold Benjamin Franklin Award, and the NAPPA Gold Medal, and also been recognized as NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Books for Young People. Visit her at Trudy Ludwig on her website. Follow her on Twitter at @TrudyLudwig.

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 author.

Out of My Heart by Sharon Draper

Out of My Heart

Sharon M. Draper, Author

Atheneum/A Caitlyn Diouhy Book, Fiction, Nov. 9, 2021

Pages: 352

Suitable for ages: 10 and up

Themes: Cerebral palsy, Summer camp, Differently abled kids, Self-confidence, Emotions, Social themes, Friendships

Book Jacket Synopsis

Melody, the huge-hearted heroine of Out of My Mind, is a year older, and a year braver. And now with her Medi-talker, she feels nothing’s out of her reach, not even summer camp. There have to be camps for differently-abled kids like her, and she’s going to sleuth one out. A place where she can trek through a forest, fly on a zip line, and even ride on a horse! A place where she can make her own decisions, do things herself, and maybe maybe maybe, finally make a true friend. 

By the light of flickering campfires and the power of thunderstorms, through the terror of unexpected creatures in cabins and the first sparkle of a crush, Melody’s about to discover how brave and strong she really is. 

What I love about Out of My Heart:

Sharon Draper has hit a sweet spot in her sequel, Out of My Heart.  Melody Brooks has found her voice, expresses her feelings, shows her humorous side and has outwitted some serious bullies in the past year. Now she wants some independence to see what she can do. Topping her list — she wants to be with others who understand her, feel like she’s part of a group and develop some friendships.  

When Melody decides she wants to go to a summer camp for girls and boys who are differently abled, she is catapulted into some exciting new adventures that challenge her to find out more of who she is and what she can do. She has set on the sidelines of life watching others, now it’s time for Melody to fly. She courageously learns to fly on a zip line, swim, ride in a boat, paint a mural, participate in races, break some camp rules (her best day ever), and attends the best campfires every night. She sees some really cool wheelchairs and devices. And has a first crush.   

Another bonus to camp, there are no helicopter parents hovering over her every move. Just one young counselor assigned to each camper to help ease her needs. Melody likes her counselor, Trinity, and the three other memorable girls: Karyn (spina bifida), Athena (Down syndrome), and Jocelyn (maybe autism spectrum). Towards the end of the week the four girls ask for their own space — without counselors — where they can chat, giggle and really become friends. Melody gives them each a friendship bracelet.    

Melody can’t walk, talk, and use her hands and fingers like most people. Yet she is smart, strong-willed, and determined. I was surprised to read a few disappointed reviewers, who wanted to connect with her hurt and pain, as they did in Out of My Mind. As someone who suffered a brain injury years ago and had to learn to walk, talk and use my hands again, I wanted to see Melody move forward and find out what was possible for her without anyone adding limitations. That’s why I am so thrilled with Melody’s real spunk to learn about herself and take some risks that will lead her to a healthier and happier future.  

And there are some important things I believe Melody would want you to remember from Out of My Mind when meeting or working with a child who is differently abled. Don’t talk about them as if they are invisible. Don’t assume that they are brain-damaged and aren’t intelligent. Always assume they can hear or understand you even if they can’t communicate. Look directly into their eyes and talk to them as if they understand you. Treat them with respect and dignity. Don’ talk in a loud voice, talk normally. Don’t look away if you feel awkward. Smile and say hello. Be friendly.

There is no feeling sorry for Melody Brooks in Out of My Heart. Hooray for Melody! Let’s hope Sharon Draper has it in her heart to carry Melody’s journey forward in a future sequel. Melody is not finished, she’s just begun!  Melody’s story belongs in every middle school classroom as a new generation of kids will want to read and discuss her story.

Sharon M. Draper has written more than thirty books, including the New York Times bestsellers Out of My Mind, Blended, and Stella by Starlight and Coretta Scott King Award winners Copper Sun and Forged by Fire. When she’s not busy creating, she’s walking on the beach with her children and grandchildren, playing the piano, and ballroom dancing. She lives in Florida. Visit this award-winning author, educator, speaker, poet and National Teacher of the Year at her online wbsite.

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.

 

The Wolf’s Curse by Jessica Vitalis

The Wolf’s Curse

Jessica Vitalis, Author

Greenwillow Books, Fiction, Sep. 21, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Death, Grief, Rites and ceremonies, Orphans, Wolves, Grandfathers, Fantasy

Book Jacket Synopsis:

The Wolf is not bound by the same rules as you are.

The Great White Wolf is very, very old. And she is tired. After living through 700 winters, she id searching for someone to take her place. But she is invisible to most people. In all those years, only three have seen her. One died young. One said no. One is still alive a — a twelve-year-old boy named Gauge.

Gauge lives in the fictional French village of Bouge-by-the-Sea with his grandfather, Bastien the Carpenter, and works hard as his apprentice. He’s been hiding much of his life in his grandfather’s shop, just because he once saw the invisible Wolf — and right after that the Lord Mayor’s wife died. Now his only protector, his beloved grandpapá, has died.

Everyone in the village is superstitious about death and believes that Gauge is a Voyant — witch. Gauge wants nothing to do with the Wolf, but the Wolf visits the boy regularly. The Wolf has an offer. She can save him the pain of growing up. Now that he’s all alone in the world, it may be the only way to escape the bounty on his head. If only his grandpapá’s last words hadn’t been, Stay away from the Wolf.

Why I like The Wolf’s Curse:

Jessica Vitalis’s debut novel, The Wolf’s Curse, is a captivating and unforgettable fantasy about about death, grief, loneliness, superstitions, magic, and friendship.  The storytelling is exceptional and full of depth. The plot is risky and engaging. And the ending is perfection. This is a story that will remain with readers. 

This beautiful tale is narrated by a snarky female Wolf, who has her own back story to tell. She’s old and tired and has set her hopes on Gauge taking her place to free the souls of Gatineau from their bodies and help them on their journey to a place of rest. The Wolf is not harmful. The Wolf also tells the stories of the the other characters and brings some humor to the story. Fans of The Book Thief may enjoy this novel.

Gauge is a relatable character who has endured isolation, loneliness and anger because of  how he’s been treated by the villagers. But, he’s also courageous and wise. When his grandpapá dies, he has no choice but to emerge from hiding and deal with his releasing ceremony alone.  With a bounty on his head, no one seems to care about Gauge, except Roux, the Blacksmith’s kind and smart daughter. They hide Gauge in their home while the authorities hunt for him. When Roux loses her father to lung disease, the two friends begin to question the village’s long-held beliefs and rituals, and search for the truth. In doing so, they bravely expose corruption.

The Wolf’s Curse addresses difficult and thought-provoking topics with a wonderful sense of hopefulness. It will enable readers to discuss death in a way that is less scary.

Jessica Vitalis is a full-time writer with a previous career in business and an MBS from Columbia Business School. An American expat, she now lives in Canada with her husband and two daughters. This is her first novel. 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.

*Review copy won on Natalie Aguirre’s website Literary Rambles, where she interviews authors and agents weekly and offers many giveaway opportunities to her readers. Make sure you check out her wonderful site and read her fascinating interview with Jessica Vitalis.

 

 

 

 

Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Black Brother, Black Brother

Jewell Parker Rhodes, Author

Little Brown and Company, Fiction, Mar. 3, 2020

Suitable for ages:

Themes: Fencing, African Americans, Brothers, Racism, Preparatory schools, Family life, Friendship

Opening: I wish I were invisible. Wearing Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak or Frodo Baggins’s Elvish ring. Whether shrouded in fabric or slipping on gold, it wouldn’t matter to me. I’d be gone. Disappeared.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

“Framed. Bullied. Disliked. But I know I can still be the best.”

Sometimes, 12-year-old Donte wishes he were invisible. As one of the few black boys at Middlefield Prep, most of the students don’t look like him. They don’t like him either. Dubbing him “Black Brother,” Donte’s teachers and classmates make it clear they wish he were more like his lighter-skinned brother, Trey.

When he’s bullied and framed by the captain of the fencing team, “King” Alan, he’s suspended from school, arrested and taken to jail for something he didn’t do. Just because he is black.

Terrified, searching for a place where he belongs, Donte joins a local youth center and meets former Olympic fencer Arden Jones. With Arden’s help, he begins training as a competitive fencer, setting his sights on taking down the fencing team captain, no matter what.

As Donte hones his fencing skills and grows closer to achieving his goal, he learns the fight for justice is far from over. Now Donte must confront his bullies, racism, and the corrupt systems of power that led to his arrest.

Powerful and emotionally gripping, Black Brother, Black Brother is a careful examination of the school-to-prison pipeline and follows one boy’s fight against racism and his empowering path to finding his voice.

Why I like this book:

Jewell Park Rhodes’s Black Brother, Black Brother is a timely, intelligent and well-executed novel for children and adults. Rhodes masterfully captures the pain of racial injustice for a 12-year-old black boy attending an all-white prep school outside of Boston. It is also a story about hope, believing in yourself, and choosing a higher path.

The characters are multi-layered and complex. The bond between brothers Donte and Trey is strong. Donte’s skin is like their African-American mother, and Trey’s is like their Norwegian father. Trey is a star athlete at school; Donte is not.  But what really stands out is the love and support they share as brothers. Their bond is unbreakable. And their parents are right there with them. Then there is a privileged  Middlefield Prep student, Alan, who punishes Donte for being darker than his brother. Alan is filled with so much hate and taunts Donte by calling him “Black Brother.”

Black Brother, Black Brother is also an engaging sports story. Readers will find fencing fascinating, as it requires skill, focus, honor, respect, patience and intuition.  Learning the sport from Arden Jones, an African-American national fencing champion, helps Donte find his voice and embrace who he is. For me, Donte’s relationship with “Coach” is the best part of the story. And it becomes clear that both coach and student need each other. They practice at the Boston Boys and Girls Club along with black twins, Zion and Zarra. Trey joins their small team in support his brother and learn the sport.

This is a compelling book to use to jump start the discussion about racism, privilege, and bias in our country — especially at school. Readers will be able to gain insight into the everyday experiences of their friends of color. It will help them develop empathy for others and hopefully encourage them to stand up for fairness and respect when they observe injustice at school and in their communities. If you are reading this book, it means you can make a difference! I hope this book becomes required reading in middle schools because it offers an opportunity for important dialogue among students.

*This book hit home for me, because we adopted a 13-year-old son from India in the 1985. He was darker than many black people and had shiny black hair. Everyday he dealt with questions like, “What are you?” Fortunately some white neighbor boys his age befriended him and had his back with school bullies. They remain his best friends today. As a successful adult, he still deals with racial profiling.

Jewell Parker Rhodes is the author of Ninth Ward, winner of a Coretta Scott King Honor, Sugar, winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, and the New York Times bestselling Ghost Boys, as well as Bayou Magic and Towers Falling.  She has also written many award-winning novels for adults. When she’s not writing, Jewell visits schools to talk about her books and teaches writing at Arizona State University.

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

*Reviewed from a library book.

I See You by Michael Genhart

I See You

Michael Genhart, PhD, Author

Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Oct. 9, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Homelessness, Poverty, Child’s reaction, Empathy, Kindness, Social Justice

Synopsis: I See You is a wordless picture book that depicts a homeless woman who is invisible to everyone around her—except for a little boy. Over the course of a year, the boy observes the woman sitting at a bus stop bench, walking down the street, being barked at by dogs, rummaging through trash cans, receiving scowls from customers in a café, and shivering on a snowy bench in the winter. He is a witness to her life on the streets and all that she endures to survive. In a beautiful gesture of compassion, the boy acknowledges her through an exchange in which he sees her and she experiences being seen.

What I like about this book:

Michael Genhart’s wordless picture book is about heart, compassion and connecting with others. It is the a perfect medium to open the door for children and parents to begin a conversation about the many kinds of  homelessness. It also encourages children to study the detailed illustrations a little more carefully and use their imaginations to tell the story.  The boy is an inspiration and reminder of a child’s untainted generosity.

The emotion and candor captured by this story are beautifully brought to life in Joanne Lew-Vriethoff’s heartfelt and vivid illustrations. They are particularly important in evoking the necessary caring response from the boy and the annoyance of strangers.

Resources: In a Note for Parents, Educators, and Neighbors, there are discussion questions and additional resources about helping the homeless.  There is also a section on how children can get involved by making very simple Care Bags. There are many activities kid can do to help the homeless:  donate to local food pantries, donate clothing and toiletry items, books, clean toys to shelters. Visit Michael Genhart at his website.

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

The Castle in the Mist by Amy Ephron

The Castle in the Mist

Amy Ephron, Author

Philomel Books, Fiction, Feb. 7, 2017

Pages: 167

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Castles, Wishes, Magic, Family relationships, Siblings

Book Synopsis:

Tess and her brother, Max, are sent for the summer to their aunt’s sleepy village in the English countryside, where excitement is as rare as a good wifi signal. So when Tess stumbles upon an old brass key that unlocks an ornately carved gate, attached to a strangely invisible wall, she jumps at the chance for adventure. And the world beyond the gate doesn’t disappoint. She finds rose gardens, a maze made of hedges, and a boy named William who is just as lonely as she is.

But at William’s castle, strange things begin to happen. Carnival games are paid for in wishes, dreams seem to come alive, and then there’s William’s eerie warning: Beware of the hawthorn trees. A warning that chills Tess to the bone.

In a magical, fantasy world that blurs the line between reality and imagination, readers are left to wonder exactly what they’d wish for if wishes could come true. Perfect for fans of Half Magic and The Secret Garden—and for anyone who’s ever wondered if magic is real.

Why I like this book:

Amy Ephron’s world building in this fantasy is magical and readers will feel like they’re in the middle of the action. I was enchanted with the idea of a huge castle hidden in the mist behind an invisible wall that can’t be penetrated. The grounds are large and beautiful with a pond with swans, a hedge maze, an odd sculpture garden, a carousel and stables.

Tess and Max are the grounding factors in the fantasy. They are separated from their parents, having finished boarding school in Switzerland and then sent to their Aunt Evie’s for the summer. Like most siblings they have their squabbles, but they have a strong bond and depend upon one another. William is the lonely and mysterious boy who lives at the castle. He warns Tess from the start to stay away from the Hawthorne trees, but never explains why. Tess and Max wonder about William’s identity and the odd things that happen at the castle. William introduces the siblings to a world where they question the real from the imagined and wonder “did that just happen?”

The entire story is an enjoyable fantasy from beginning to end. The plot is imaginative and fast-paced. There are unexpected twists, like the scenes surrounding the carousel and the overlapping blue, blood and super moons that occur together that influence the story. My only wish was that the book had been a little longer. The book ends with the potential for a sequel. However, Ephron has written a companion book, Carnival Magic, with Tess and Max returning in a new summer adventure with Aunt Evie. It will be released May 1, 2018.

Amy Ephron is the internationally bestselling author of several books written for adults, including the award-winning A  Cup of Tea. She is also a film producer, an essayist, and a contributor to Vogue and Vogue.com. The Castle in the Mist is her first book for children. You can visit Amy at her website.

For the next few months Greg Pattridge will be hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Author Shannon Messenger will be on a whirlwind tour promoting her sixth book, Nightfall, in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, which will be released November 7. Thank you Greg!

The Thing About Leftovers by C.C. Payne

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The Thing About Leftovers

C.C. Payne, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, Jul. 19, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Themes: Divorce, Family Relationships, Cooking Contest, Friendships

Synopsis: 12-year-old Fizzy is dealing with a lot of change in her life since her parents divorce, including a new stepmother. She’s moved to a new town, Lush Valley, where yards are manicured and the girls at school dress like models. Fizzy doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere — at home with her mother’s new boyfriend or her father’s perfect wife. She also is on the wrong side of the principal and her math teacher because she’s always tardy; her mother always runs late. Fizzy’s life seems to focus around constantly packing and unpacking her suitcase as she is shuffled back and forth between her parents homes every week. She feels like a leftover, no matter how hard she tries to be perfect.

Fizzy is luck to have her Aunt Liz, who shares Fizzy’s passion for southern cooking. When her aunt tells her about the Southern Living Cook-Off, Fizzy is fired up. Cooking is a distraction for Fizzy. So she and her aunt begin sorting through possible family recipes. Fizzy is talented at taking a recipe and making it her own.  She’s excited about the famous cooking contest, her new friendships with Miyoko and Zach, and her dream of winning. If she succeeds, maybe her parents will notice and love her.

Why I like this book:

C.C. Bell has written a novel that will have universal appeal for teens dealing with the complexities of divorce, separation, parental loss, step-parents and blended families. Payne’s skillfully weaves the metaphor of left-overs throughout the story to depict Fizzy’s predicament. People aren’t crazy about eating left-overs, just as Fizzy feels like she’s “the left-over kid from a marriage and a family that no longer exists.” Her parents are so preoccupied with their own lives, she feels invisible and not appreciated.

The book is character-driven and the plot is realistic. It is an entertaining read about a tough topic. Fizzy narrates the story. Payne nails Fizzy’s dramatic, sarcastic, and witty voice. She digs deeply into Fizzy’s turmoil and her tendency to internalize her hurt feelings, which is a big problem for her. Instead of talking over her worries with her parents, aunt  or a school counselor, she lets everything simmer until her pain reaches a boiling point. Perhaps readers will learn from Fizzy and make different choices about their own lives. Others will cheer for Fizzy. Verdict: Be ready to both cry and laugh as you read The Thing About Leftovers! It’s a winner!

For teens who enjoy cooking, this book would pair nicely with the Baking Life of Amelie Day, about a girl with Cystic Fibrosis who competes in a cooking contest. Each protagonist has a different challenge, but the cooking themes link these two novels and makes them satisfying reads.

C.C. Payne is the author of Something to Sing About, Lula Bell on Geekdom, Freakdom & the Challenges of Bad Hair.  Visit C.C. Payne at her website.

Note: A special thank you to Rosi Hollinbeck. I won the copy of this novel on her blog, The Write Stuff,  last September. I really enjoyed spending my evenings with Fizzy in The Thing About Leftovers.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

Seventh Wish51YFk8Hy66L__SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Seventh Wish

Kate Messner, Author

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, Fiction, Jun. 7, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Magic, Wishes, Ice Fishing, Irish Dancing, Siblings, Family Relationships

Opening: “I’ve only seen the ice flowers once.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: When Charlie Brennan goes ice fishing on her town’s frozen lake, she’s hoping the fish she reels in will help pay for her dream: a fancy Irish dancing dress for her upcoming competition. But when Charlie’s first catch of the day happens to be a talking fish offering her a wish in exchange for its freedom, her world turns upside down, as her wishes go terribly — and hilariously — wrong.

Just as Charlie is finally getting the hang of communicating with a magical wishing fish, a family crisis with her older sister brings reality into sharp focus. Charlie quickly learns that the real world doesn’t always keep fairy-tale promises and life’s toughest challenges can’t be fixed by a simple wish.

Why I like this book:

Kate Messner’s charming coming of age book, The Seventh Wish, is appropriate for all middle grade students. Her imagery is beautiful as she cleverly weaves magic into the story with Charlie’s catching a talking fish that grants her wishes. The wishes may at first seem like an easy way to help herself and her friends, but she soon discovers that life’s challenges aren’t always easy. Especially when Charlie discovers her older sister has a drug addiction and overdoses.

Messner bravely addresses some meaty issues, like heroin addiction, in an age-appropriate manner. I know this has caused some controversy. But I believe it is an issue that siblings may face with older brothers and sisters. And as in any family health crisis, Charlie feels invisible when her parents’ focus shifts to concern about Abby’s addiction and Abby’s treatment. Because of Abby, Charlie dreams are put on hold as she has to adjust her life, make excuses to her science fair team and dance friends, misses an important Irish dance competition and can’t buy her new glittery costume. I know some families who would appreciate this book.

The story is character-driven, with Charlie narrating. Her voice is an authentic and typical of a middle grade girl and a younger sister. She loves school and is interested in her friends and boys. Her passion is Irish dancing and she’s working hard to move up to higher levels of difficulty. She overcomes her fear of the ice and spends a lot of time ice fishing on the pond with her neighbor, Drew, and his grandmother,  Mrs. McNeill, who bring some balance to Charlie’s life. She catches a lot of perch and realizes that she can earn enough money to buy her first real dance glittery Irish dress.

The strong plot is clever and engaging. In the first half of the story we really get to know Charlie and her relationship with her family and friends. After the fateful call about sister’s overdose, the second half  focuses on Abby and the family in crisis mode. The pace is fast-moving with many unexpected twists that will have reader fully engaged and surprised. This is an excellent book that will help teens to discuss drugs and addiction with family and teachers.

Kate Messner is a former middle-school English teacher and the author of All the Answers, Wake Up Missing, Eye of the Storm, Sugar and Ice, The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. and its e-book companion, The Exact Location of Home, Capture the Flag, Hide and Seek, and All the Answers. She has also written chapter and picture books. Follow Kate Messner at her website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.