Raquela’s Seder by Joel Edward Stein

Raquela’s Seder

Joel Edward Stein, Author

Sara Ugolotti, Illustrator

Kar – Ben Publishing,  Fiction, Feb. 1, 2022

Suitable for ages: 5-9

Themes: Passover, Seder, Jews, Spain, Inquisition

Opening: “Raquela had a secret. On Friday nights, she followed her parents down to the wine cellar under their house. There, her mother would light Shabbat candles, and her father would say a prayer over the wine. That secret room was the only place the Rivera family could celebrate Shabbat.”

Synopsis:

Raquela longs to celebrate Passover, even though Jews are not allowed to practice their religion in Inquisition-era Spain. King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella punish those who are caught observing Jewish customs or celebrating Jewish holidays. 

Raquela’s papa is the best fisherman in town. He knows that “you must think like a fish” and finds their best hiding places. He understands Raquela’s wish to celebrate a Passover and he has the perfect place.  Before Passover begins, he asks Mama to bake flat matzah and mix some dried fruit with nuts and spices and asks Raquela to gather some other items, including a table cloth.

The next day before sundown, Raquela and Mama quietly meet Papa at the beach and they sail to Papa’s favorite fishing hole. There he creates a unique Passover seder for the family, safe from any spies. And Raquela celebrates her first seder under the starry night. Papa explains the meaning of the foods and tells the Passover story in remembrance of the enslaved Jews in Egypt and their exodus to freedom. He also has a hope that “one day we will also be free in Spain — free to live as Jews.”

Why I like Raquela’s Seder:

Joel Edward Stein seamlessly weaves together two historic time periods of Jewish oppression into a moving Passover story of hope and freedom. His gentle text will engage children and will leave them feelings hopeful. Sara Ugolotti’s beautiful illustrations compliment the story, especially her stunning double-spreads of the family celebrating under a starry night. She cleverly includes some historic scenes of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. And look at that stunning cover!

I must admit, I didn’t know about how the Jews were treated in Spain. Make sure you check out the author’s Historical Note about the Spanish Inquisition, which lasted more than 350 years, ending in 1834. There is also a more detailed discussion about the Passover celebration. This book is certainly one to add to a home library. It is such a moving tale and relevant in today’s world.

Activities: This book would pair well with Pippa’s Passover Plate by our PPBF author/friend, Vivian Kirkfield. Explain the significance of each of the items on a seder plate and encourage your child to draw, cut, and glue their own plates with construction paper.   

Joel Edward Stein is a former staff writer for CTB/McGraw-Hill. A member of the Society of Chidlren’s Book Writers and Illustrators, he lives in Florida with his wife, son, two birds, and a tortoise. His books include A Hanukkah with Mazel, The Pigeon Man, and The Capture of Rafael Ortega.

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 library book.

 

 

The Pig War by Emma Bland Smith

The Pig War: How a Porcine Tragedy Taught England and America to Share

Emma Bland Smith, Author

Alison Jay, Illustrator

Calkins Creek, Nonfiction, Nov. 10, 2020

Suitable for ages: 7-10 

Themes: Pig, San Juan, Settlers, Americans, British, War, Sharing

Opening: “On this spring day, an American settler name Lyman Cutlar looked out of his window and spied a large pig rooting in  his potato patch. The pig was British. Or at least its owner was.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

In 1859, the British and Americans coexist on the small island of San Juan, located off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. They are on fairly good terms–until one fateful morning when an innocent hog owned by a British man has the misfortune to eat some potatoes on an American farmer’s land. In a moment of rash anger, Lyman Cutlar shoots Charles Griffin’s pig, inadvertently almost bringing the two nations to war. Tensions flare, armies gather, cannons are rolled out . . . all because of a pig!

Emma Bland Smith’s humorous text and Alison Jay’s folksy illustrations combine in this whimsical nonfiction picture book that models the principles of peaceful conflict resolution. 

Why I like this book:

Emma Bland Smith has written a delightful story about a nugget of history few people know about. It is a true story about how two great nations almost went to war over a poor pig that paid the ultimate price. Smith’s humor and whimsical storytelling makes for an intriguing read.  “Maybe Lyman hadn’t had his coffee. Maybe he’d slept poorly. Maybe he was thinking of the many painful miles he’d rowed to buy the potato seed. But for whatever reason, when he saw that pig, he got cranky.”  Tempers flare between the two neighbors and result in the deployment of the Queen’s military and American battleships. “Oh dear. What started as Pig Incident and turned into a Pig Argument was fast escalating into a Pig Situation.” Eventually both sides put down their weapons and islanders agree to look beyond their differences and share.

Alison Jay’s illustrations are rendered in a crackle glaze varnish which give each illustration a mid-19th century feel to the story. Her folksy illustrations are warm and invite readers into this fun and humorous story.

Resources: This is a great discussion book! Make sure you check out the Author’s Note that goes into more detail about the incident and what the Pig War teaches readers today about sharing resources and solving problems peacefully. She shares historical pictures of the U.S. Army soldiers and the Royal Marines. 

Emma Bland Smith is a children’s librarian and professional writer. Her first picture book, Journey: Based on the True Story of QR7, the Most Famous Wolf in the West, won Bank Street College’s Cook Prize and Northland College’s SONWA award. She is also the author of To Live on an Island and the Maddy McGuire, CEO, chapter book series. Many of her books feature real-life animals. She lives with her husband and two kids in San Francisco. Visit her 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.
 
*Reviewed from a library copy.

War is Over by David Almond

War is Over

David Almond, Author

David Litchfield, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, May 12, 2020

Pages: 128

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Themes: Children, Effects of War, Women, WW I effort, Homefront, Community

Synopsis:

It’s 1918, and war is everywhere. John’s father is fighting in the trenches far away in France, while his mother works in a menacing munitions factory just along the road. His teacher says that John is fighting, too, that he is at war with enemy children in Germany. But John struggles. “I am a child. How can I be at war?”

One day, in the wild woods outside town, John has an impossible moment: a dreamlike meeting with a German boy named Jan. John catches a glimpse of a better world, in which children like Jan and himself can one day scatter the seeds of peace.

David Almond brings his ineffable sensibility to a poignant tale of the effects of war on children, interwoven with David Litchfield’s gorgeous black-and-white illustrations.

What I like about this book:

David Almond’s short novel, War is Over, is a both a poignant and sensitive novel. It explores the emotions of a boy and the attitudes of his community about war and peace. This novel raises many questions for readers and is a timely discussion topic in classrooms.

John is conflicted about the war. His father has been gone so long that he can’t remember what he looks like. He just wants the war over. So he writes letters to the King of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury and asks them when the war will end — no answers.

The book addresses the impact of the war on the homefront. There is fear and hatred for the Germans that carries over into the classroom. Especially when the teacher tells his students “they are children at war” and makes John and his classmates march like soldiers as they go on an outing to visit the munitions factory, where most of their mothers work making bombs. Some of the boys play war after school, but not John.

John and his classmates encounter a friend’s Uncle Gordon, who is ridiculed because he’s a conscientious objector. Uncle Gordon traveled to Germany before the war, and has a fist full of drawings of young German children. He impresses upon the students that “children aren’t monsters and are children like you.” John manages to snatch a picture of a boy named “Jan from Düsseldorf.” He writes Jan a friendly letter. He dreams of Jan and a better world. He imagines seeing Jan in the forest, which becomes a coping mechanism for John until the war ends.

Almond’s lyrical text meanders around the beautiful pen and ink drawings by David Litchfield, which fill  every page. Doves fly above and turn into falling bombs and tears turn into shrapnel. His artwork shows the starkness of the factory as shifts begin and end and women make their way home. A somber topic, but presented so sympathetically and poetically.

David Almond is the acclaimed author of many award-winning novels for children, including Skellig, Kit’s Wilderness, and My Name is Mina. David Almond’s books are beloved all over the world, and in 2010 he was the recipient of the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award. He lives in England.

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.

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

Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring by Nancy Churnin

Happy Juneteenth 2020!

Beautiful Shades of Brown: The Art of Laura Wheeler Waring

Nancy Churnin, Author

Felicia Marshall, Illustrator

Creston Books, Biography, Feb. 4, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 6- 11

Themes: Laura Wheeler Waring, Artist, African American, Biography

Opening: “Laura loved the color brown. She loved her mother’s chocolate-colored hair, her father’s caramel coat, and all the different browns in the cheeks of her younger sister and brothers.”

Synopsis:

As a 10-year-old girl, Laura spent hours mixing and blending colors to find the perfect shades of brown to paint pictures of her parents, brothers and sister and friends. She dreamed of being an artist and exhibiting her artwork in museums. But she didn’t see any artists who looked like her. In 1897 she didn’t see artwork of African Americans. So she created her own gallery, and hung her painting on the walls of her room where her family could view her art.

Her dreams continued to grow. By the time she finished high school, she applied to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She was accepted. Her dreams didn’t stop there. After she graduated she went to Paris to study art and the great artists.  Word of her talent spread and she was commissioned to paint the portraits of accomplished African Americans — poets, authors, diplomats, activists and singers, including her inspiration, Marian Anderson.

Today Laura Wheeler Waring’s portraits hang in Washington D.C.’s National Portrait Gallery, where children of all races can admire the beautiful shades of brown she captured.

Why I like this book:

Well done Nancy Churnin! Beautiful Shades of Brown is a celebration of brown Americans, as readers will discover in Churnin’s polished and richly textured narrative about Laura Wheeler Waring’s ordinary, but extraordinary life. Children will find her journey inspiring.

Waring is the perfect role model for little girls who have big dreams. Determined and committed to pursuing her passion, young Laura began to manifest her dreams. She was self-confident, believed in her gift, and welcomed each opportunity that came her way. Most important, she was paving the way for girls and women to live their dreams.

Felicia Marshall’s illustrations are rich, beautiful, expressive and soulful. My favorite illustration shows the joy Waring feels as she paints Marian Anderson’s red gown and remembers the day she first heard her sing.

There’s an informative Author’s Note, and the book is further enhanced by reproductions of seven of Waring’s portraits from the National Portrait Gallery.

Resources: Encourage children to draw or paint a picture of a family member. If they use paints, suggest that they mix colors together to create more interesting faces, hair and clothing.

Nancy Churnin is the author of several picture book biographies, including South Asia Book Award winner Manjhi Moves a Mountain and Sydney Taylor Notable Irving Berlin, the Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing, both Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. Visit Churnin 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.

Warren and Dragon: Scary Sleepover by Ariel Bernstein

Warren and Dragon: Scary Sleepover, Book 4

Ariel Bernstein, Author

Mike Malbrough, Illustrator

Viking Books for Young Readers, Jun. 25, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Pages: 90

Themes: Sleepover, Fears, Homesickness, Family relationships, Imaginary friends

Opening: Some people might think that having a dragon for a pet is scary. I guess it sounds like it might be scary, because of the fire breathing and all, but I have a dragon for a pet and most of the time it’s pretty normal. Except when Dragon does his weird dancing jig. That’s always terrifying… He’s my pet.

Book Synopsis:

Warren’s friend Michael just got a cool new tent as a present. It’s too cold to go camping outdoors, so Michael invites Warren over for a sleepover where they can camp inside.

At first Warren is excited. They’ll order pizza, play foosball, and make ice-cream sundaes! Then they’ll  go down to the basement, crawl into their sleeping bags inside the tent and tell scary stories. Gulp! The more Warren thinks about sleeping somewhere besides his own safe bed, the more worried he gets. And his sidekick, Dragon, isn’t exactly reassuring.

But when Warren confesses his concerns to his friend Alison, he realizes that he isn’t the only kid nervous about sleepovers. The two of them make a pact to face their fears.  But will Warren be brave enough to camp in a dark basement that creaks and groans and listen to Michael’s scary stories?

Why I like this book:

This clever new chapter book series is realistic, heartfelt and delightful.  It is the fourth Warren & Dragon chapter book by Ariel Bernstein this past year. Sleeping overnight at a friend’s house for the first time can create a lot of anxiety for children. What if I get homesick? What if I get scared? What if I embarrass myself if I want to go home?  This fast-paced book is the perfect read-aloud at home or school. It is a great discussion starter for kids nervous about sleepovers.

Bernstein tackles this early right-of-passage with humor and authenticity. Warren’s character is a tad quirky and naïve, but believable. He is opposite of his outgoing twin sister. Warren’s imaginary marshmallow-loving, side-kick, Dragon, is quite the prankster and is good for many chuckles. Warren’s friendship with Alison is supportive as they come up with a pact and a plan. Mike Malbrough’s pen and ink illustrations are expressive and fun.

I like that the author shows diverse families with Warren’s friend, Michael, having two moms.  It’s always special when kids can see a family like theirs, whether it is a single parent, grandparent, two dads, or in this case two moms. Kudos to the author.

Ariel Bernstein loved sleepovers growing up, and was only afraid there wouldn’t be enough pizza and ice cream. Other books in the series include: Warren & Dragon 100 Friends; Warren & Dragon Weekend with Chewy; and Warren & Dragon Volcano Deluxe. She is also the author of I Have a Balloon and Where is my Balloon? Visit Bernstein 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.

*Copy reviewed from a library copy.

My Grandfather’s War by Glyn Harper

My Grandfather’s War

Glyn Harper, Author

Jenny Cooper, Illustrator

EK Books, Fiction, Jun. 12, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Intergenerational relationships, Grandfathers, Vietnam War, Memories, PTSD

Opening: “This is my Grandfather. He came to live with us just after I was born. I call him ‘Grandpa’ but his real name is Robert.”

Synopsis:

Sarah loves spending time with her grandfather, but she knows that there are times when he is sad and keeps to himself. She senses his pain. Curious to find out the cause of her grandfather’s unhappiness, the child innocently asks him questions and unknowingly opens old wounds. Her grandfather is very open with Sarah and tells her about going to war in Vietnam. He tells her that his leg was hurt and that’s why he walks with a limp. But he also shares with her that some of his friends were hurt even more and some even died in Vietnam. He talks about the heat, the jungle and the chemicals that made many sick. He explains that the Vietnamese people didn’t want the soldiers there. When they came home from war no one thanked them for their service. Sarah discovers her grandfather’s sadness is a legacy of the Vietnam War and his experiences there.

Why I like this story:

Glyn Harper, a Professor of War studies, has written My Grandfather’s War to mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War’s longest battle, Khe Sanh.  It is a compelling story that sensitively tackles difficult topics about painful memories, PTSD, the legacy of war and the treatment of returning Vietnamese Veterans. It is a story brimming with heart. Harper’s goal is to get children “hooked on history.”

     Courtesy of the publisher.

Jenny Cooper’s illustrations are realistic and expressive. Yet her warm and soft palette of colors is soothing for children.  As Sarah’s grandfather talks about his time in Vietnam, Cooper shows Grandfather’s war memories of the jungle, battle, the reaction of the Vietnamese people to the soldiers presence, and the protests by Americans on opposite pages. The illustrations aren’t frightening and will encourage kids to ask questions about this “unpopular” war.

     Courtesy of the publisher.

There are no books for children about the Vietnam war, as Sarah discovers when she looks in her school library. This is the first book that I’ve seen that delicately explains the war in an age-appropriate manner for children. I am very excited to share this book because my brother, my cousin and many friends spent time in Vietnam, while I was in college dodging protests and the National Guard presence on campus. It was a confusing time for everyone. That’s why this book is an important addition to any school library.

Resources: There is a history of the Vietnam War at the end of the book. This is an opportunity to teach children about the complexities of war, and how it impacts and shapes people’s lives. You see it in the expressions of the grandfather and the people of Vietnam. There is also a Teachers Guide that can be downloaded from EK Books.

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.

*Copy provided by the publisher.

Genevieve’s War by Patricia Reilly Giff

Genevieve’s War

Patricia Reilly Giff, Author

Holiday House Book, Historical Fiction, Mar. 30, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: WW II, France, Underground movements, Intergenerational Relationships, Love, Courage, Friendship

Synopsis: French American Genevieve, 13, and her older brother, André, are spending the summer of 1939 in Alsace, France, helping the grandmother they’ve never known with the family farm. Mémé turns out to be prickly, tough, disagreeable, and a taskmaster.

At the end of the summer, André returns to New York. Genevieve is set to leave on the Normandie, on what may well be the last passenger ship leaving France before the anticipated invasion of France by Germany. But on the day she leaves for the ship, she impulsively changes her mind and decides to stay in Alsace to help her aging grandmother run the farm. The farm is close to the German border and there are times when she questions her decision. But there is no turning back because World War II has begun and the Germans are infiltrating Alsace. Genevieve and Mémé soon become part of the Resistance when her friend Rémy commits an act of sabotage and they shelter him in an attic room, one story above a bedroom that a German soldier has claimed. In the years that follow, Genevieve learns a lot about survival, trust, the value of friendship, love, and belonging.

Why I like this book:

Patricia Reilly Giff”s beautiful work of historical fiction is impressively written and well-researched from beginning to end. Genevieve’s journey is a captivating and compelling journey about survival, taking risks, doing what is right, and learning who is trustworthy. Not only will teens enjoy this story, so will adults.

Giff’s novel offers readers a different perspective on WWII. It is convincingly narrated by a very Americanized girl of French descent, who is caught up in the middle the war and assisting the Resistance. Readers will fall in love with Genevieve, observe her growth, maturity and transformation over six years and her love and devotion to aging Mémé.  Genevieve is a strong, thoughtful, brave, and wise protagonist. Her story is one of triumph, both personally and for her community.

The setting if vivid and rich in detail. The plot is exciting, full of tension and fast-paced. Giff manages to capture what life is like in an occupied country. Genevieve and Mémé have hidden half of the vegetables they canned from their garden in a secret place behind an armoire. When a German officer billets at their house, there is constant fear. He takes the livestock, the pony and cart and food. The winter is brutally cold, their secret food stash runs out and they live on thin soup and hot water. Yet they are committed to helping the Resistance at great risk. Along the way Genevieve unravels mysteries about her deceased father and family. There are many surprises in this story.

Resources:  There is an Educator’s Guide available for Genevieve’s War with pre-reading suggestions, classroom discussion questions, curriculum connections and internet suggestions. You can download it from the publisher, Holiday House.

Patricia Reilly Giff is the author of many highly acclaimed books for children, including Lilly’s Crossing, a Newbery Honor Book and Boston Globe-HornBook Honor Book, and Pictures of Hollis Woods, a Newbery Honor Book. Her works for works for younger reader include the best-selling Kids of the Polk Street School series and the Hunter Moran books.

For the next few months Greg Pattridge will be hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Thank you Greg for keeping MMGM active while author Shannon Messenger is on tour promoting her sixth book, Nightfall, in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, which was released November 7.

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War I Finally Won

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Author

Dial Books for Young Readers, Historical Fiction, Oct. 3, 2017

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Themes: Overcoming a disability, WW II, Great Britain, Bombings, Rationing, Family relationships, Prejudice

Book Jacket Synopsis: When 11-year-old Ada’s clubfoot has been fixed at last, and she knows now that she’s not what her mother said she was — damaged and deranged. But soon Ada learns that she’s not a daughter anymore either. Who is she now?

World War II rages on, and Ada and her brother move with their guardian, Susan, into a cottage with the iron-faced Lady Thorton and her daughter. Life in the crowded home is tense. Then Ruth moves in. Ruth a Jewish girl from Germany.  A German? Could Ruth be a spy?

As the fallout from war intensifies, calamity creeps closer, and life during wartime grows even more complicated. Who will Ada decide to be? How can she keep fighting? And who will she struggle to save?

Ada’s first story, The War that Saved My Life, was a #1 New York Times bestseller and won a Newbery Honor, the Schneider Family Book Award, and the Josette Frank Award, in addition to appearing on multiple best-of-the-year lists. The War I Finally Won continues Ada’s journey of family, faith, and identity, showing us that real freedom is not just the ability to choose, but the courage to make the right choice.

Why I like this book:

Fans of The War that Saved My Life, will be thrilled with Bradley’s captivating and satisfying sequel. The setting, the characters, the plot and the imagery are beautifully intertwined and create and extraordinary experience of how WW II changed British family life amidst the blackouts, midnight fire-watching, air raids, bombings, rationing and loss.

The narrative is in Ada’s voice. She is smart and resourceful, strong-willed and spirited, like the horses she trains. Ada continues her journey of triumph over the demons of her past, learns to trust her guardian, Susan, and discovers a new and stronger inner identity.  There are new experiences, things to learn and healing. Her brother Jamie happily accepts Susan as “mum” and all of her affection.

Lady Thorton is aristocratic and an unlikely character who helps Ada face her past. But my favorite relationship is Ada’s interaction with Ruth, a Jewish girl who escapes Germany and moves into the cottage to study higher mathematics with Susan. She faces a lot of discrimination, especially from Lady Thorton and other adults. Ada stands up for Ruth, who ends up playing an important role in the war.

The plot is riveting and full of tension.  Bradley’s pacing will keep readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. It is a story that will stay with you because of the depth and the profoundly human characters.

This is an excellent discussion book for teachers to use with middle grade students. The author put a lot of research into this novel, so make sure you read her notes at the end about the historical facts woven into the story. You can learn more at Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s website.

For the next few months Greg Pattridge will be hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Thank you Greg for keeping MMGM active while author Shannon Messenger is on tour promoting her sixth book, Nightfall, in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, which will be released November 7.

The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff

The Great Treehouse War

Lisa Graff, Author

Philomel Books, Fiction, May 16, 2017

Suitable for Ages : 8-12

Themes: Parents, Divorce, Interpersonal relationships, Friendship, Tree houses, Humor

Synopsis: On the last day of fourth grade, everything in Winnie’s world changed. That was the day Winnie’s parents got divorced and decided that Winnie would live three days a week with each of them and spend Wednesdays by herself in a treehouse smack between their houses, to divide her time  evenly. Before the divorce, her parents didn’t care much about holidays except Thanksgiving. When her mother realized she was never going to celebrate Thanksgiving with Winnie because it fell on Thursday, she decided to pick a new holiday and celebrate it better. The competition began and soon every day was a special holiday, as each parent tried to outdo the other: Ice Cream Sandwich Day, Underwear Day, National Slinky Day, Talk Like Shakespeare Day, and so on. Winnie was kept so busy, she couldn’t study or finish her homework. Wednesdays in the Treehouse became a sanctuary with her cat, Buttons. When her teacher warned her she was at risk of  not passing fifth grade, Winnie had enough. That’s when Winnie’s seed of frustration with her parents was planted.  That seed  grew until it felt like it was as big as a tree itself.

By the end of fifth grade, Winnie decided that the only way to change things was to barricade herself in her treehouse until her parents come to their senses.  Her friends ,who have their own parent issues,  decided to join her. It’s kids versus grown-ups, and no one wants to back down first. But with ten demanding kids in one treehouse, Winnie discovered that things can get pretty complicated pretty fast!

Why I like this book:

Lisa Graff’s witty storytelling makes The Great Treehouse War a superb summer read for kids. And it will fulfill any child’s dream of wanting to live in a treehouse — especially a two-story treehouse built 15 feet off the ground.  It is equipped with a bathroom, art station, skylights, bookshelves, a toaster oven, shelves full of fruit loops and a zip line escape to Winnie’s Uncle Huck’s house.

It is a cleverly designed book by Graff for kids who are in fifth grade and preparing to move on to middle school. It offers readers both tantalizing prose and humorous drawings and doodles, maps, sticky note comments, how-to instructions, plans, and treehouse rules. It has a comic book appeal to it and is perfect for the intended age group.

There are 10 Tulip Street kids with 10 very distinct and quirky personalities, which add to the fun and mayhem. Their diversity is uneventful, because the only way you know they are diverse is by their names like Winifred Malladi-Maraj (aka Winnie). Winnie is a spunky, creative, compassionate and courageous heroine.  She possesses what she and Uncle Huck describe at “artist vision,” where she is able to intuitively observe the needs of others. Her cat, Buttons, is the greatest cat in the world.  Other memorable characters include: Lyle and his tooth collection; Jolee the scrabble champ; Greta and her friendship bracelets; the twins Brogan the acrobat and Logan the jokester; and Tabitha and her lizards.

The plot is wacky and unique because Winnie’s divorced parents have her trapped in the middle of their selfish battle for equal access to their daughter. Any child being pulled in two different directions by divorced parents, will relate to the unfairness of it all.  Graff’s silly and sometimes outrageous approach to divorce is age appropriate and makes the topic easier to digest. There are other unusual subplots that make this book such a clever read, but I won’t spoil it for readers.

Lisa Graff is the critically acclaimed and award-winning author of A Clatter of Jars, Lost in the Sun, Absolutely Almost, A Tangle of Knots, Double Dog Dare, Sophie Simon Solves Them All, Umbrella Summer, The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower, and The Thing About Georgie. You can visit Lisa Graff at her website.

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

The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli

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The Warden’s Daughter

Jerry Spinelli, Author

Alfred A Knopf, Fiction, Jan. 3, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes: Growing up in a prison, Motherless, Grief, Coming of age, Courage

Opening: “It’s a BIRDHOUSE NOW. It used to be a jailhouse. The Hancock County Prison…It looks like a fortress from the Middle Ages…The prison was a city block long. It was home to over two hundred inmates, men and women, from shoplifters to murders. And one family. Mine. I was the warden’s daughter.”

Synopsis: Cammie O’Reilly lives in an apartment above the entrance to the Hancock County Jail in Pennsylvania with her father, the warden. She’s twelve years old and motherless. Her mother was killed in a tragic accident when she was a baby.  Cammie spends much of her time mad at the world and heaven.  She searches for mother figures in the only women she knows — the inmates she spends her mornings hanging out with in the women’s exercise yard. They are not ideal candidates, like the  flamboyant shoplifter named Boo Boo. But she settles on trying to make the family’s housekeeper, Eloda Pupko, her mother figure. Eloda understands Cammie better than anyone. She see’s Cammie’s torment, knows she is headed for trouble, and helps her grieve in an unexpected way.

Why I liked this book:

Spinelli’s novel will tug at reader’s heart-strings from the first page. This compelling and emotionally deep novel is a coming of age story about a troubled teen who has never really dealt with the tragic death of her mother — a mother she never had the chance to know. Instead she’s grown up in an odd and cold atmosphere not meant for a child. And she yearns for the warmth of a loving relationship with a mother and family. The subject of grief is realistically tackled with honesty and sensitivity.

Spinelli’s novel is fast-paced, tightly plotted, and the tension palpable. It will keep readers engaged. The story is driven by a cast of colorful characters who are dealing with their own demons. They add for many somber and humorous moments to the story. Cammie’s narrates the story with her strong voice, fiery personality and a determination that earns her the nickname Cannonball. She’s in danger of lighting the fuse, as her anger reaches a boiling point over the summer.

Readers will enjoy exploring the prison fortress and life behind bars, visiting the death tower with its dangling noose and hanging salamis, spending time in the prison exercise yard and meditation area, and walking the forbidden outside deck.

Jerry Spinelli is the author of many books for young readers, including Stargirl; Love, Stargirl; Milkweed; Crash; Maniac Magee, winner of the Newberry Medal; Wringer, winner of a Newbery Honor; Eggs; Jake and Lily; and Knots in my Yo-yo String, his autobiography.  Visit Jerry Spinelli at his website.

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