The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim

The Last Fallen Star: A Gifted Clans Novel

Graci Kim, Author (Rick Riordan Presents)

Disney Hyperion, Fiction, May 4, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12 

Pages: 336

Themes: Witchcraft, Sisters, Quest, Goddesses, Korean Mythology, Korean Americans, Fantasy

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Riley Oh can’t wait to see her sister, Hattie, get initiated into the Gom clan — a powerful lineage of Korean healing witches their family has been part of for generations. Hattie will get her Gi bracelet and finally be able to cast spells without adult supervision. Although Riley is desperate to follow in her sister’s footsteps when she herself turns thirteen, she’s a saram – a person without magic. Riley was adopted, and despite having memorized every healing spell she’s ever heard, she often feels like the odd one out in her family and the gifted community.

Then Hattie gets an idea: What if the two of them could cast a spell that would allow Riley to share Hattie’s magic? Their sleuthing reveals a promising incantation in the family’s old spell book, and the sisters decide to perform it at Hattie’s initiation ceremony. If it works, no one will ever treat Riley as an outsider again. It’s a perfect plan!

Until it isn’t. When the sisters attempt to violate the laws of the Godrealm, Hattie’s life ends up hanging in the balance. To save her, Riley has to accomplish an impossible task: find the last fallen star. But what is the star, and how can she find it? 

As Riley embarks on her search, she finds herself meeting fantastic creatures and collaborating with her worst enemies. And when she uncovers secrets that challenge everything she has been taught to believe, Riley must decide what it means to be a witch, what it means to be family, and what it means to belong.

What to love about this book:

Since Graci Kim’s book is newly released and is sure to be a bestseller and favorite among readers, I will be careful not to give away any spoilers.

I was mesmerized by The Last Fallen Star!  I could not put it down. I normally take notes or put tabs in parts of a book I want to share, but I was so engrossed, I forgot. Her illustrious writing skills and beautiful world-building are perfect for this thrilling action-packed adventure that is magical, realistic, humorous, and dangerous. What an exciting way to learn about Korean mythology, witch clans, goddesses, and magical creatures with a contemporary Korean-American twist! I fell in love with this world right away! And I can’t forget to mention all the savory Korean food. 

What makes this story sing is Kim’s well-drawn characters that leap off the pages. Riley is an outcast because she is adopted and not gifted with a magical talent. Her heart longs to really belong to the Gom Clan. She wants to be a healer one day, but she’s vulnerable. She faces prejudice from both adults and peers. But what she really wants is to be accepted for who she truly is. Hattie is the best sister ever and loves Riley so much that she takes dangerous risks to share her own power with Riley. Riley couldn’t ask for a better friend in Emmett, who is somewhat of an outcast since his mother was a witch and his father a saram. He really understands Riley and supports her —  and he is funny, brave and loyal! There are many more characters and creatures that are lovable and evil, but they will find their way into the hearts of readers. In fact, I would love to have Boris in my life. You’ll have to read the novel to know who/what Boris is!

The fast-paced plot is complex with so many turns, that readers will enjoy being surprised! It is hard to guess what will happen next. And I didn’t see the ending coming at all — in fact I didn’t know what to expect. Readers will be interested in knowing that there will be more to Gifted Clans series with The Last Fallen Moon scheduled for release in the summer of 2022.  There is a lot more territory to cover in this mythical world. Make sure you read the introduction by Rick Riordan and check out his short interview with Graci Kim below.

Gracie Kim is a Korean Kiwi diplomat turned author who writes about the magic she wants to see in the world. The Last Fallen Star is her middle grade debut. In a previous life she used to be a cooking-show host, and once ran a business that turned children’s drawings into plushies. When she’s not lost in her imagination, you’ll find Graci drinking flat whites, eating ramyeon, and most likely hugging a dog.  She lives in New Zealand with her husband and daughter. Follow her on Twitter @gracikim and Instagram @gracikimwrites. 

Rick Riordan is the author of five New York Times #1 best-selling middle grade series, including Percy Jackson and the Olympians, which brings Greek mythology to life for contemporary readers. The goal of Rick Riordan Presents is to publish highly entertaining books by authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds, to allow them to tell their own stories inspired by the mythology, folklore, and culture of their heritage. Rick’s Twitter handle is @RickRiordan. Visit him at his 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.

My Red Hat by Rachel Stubbs

My Red Hat

Rachel Stubbs, Author/Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Feb. 2, 2021

Suitable for ages:  3-7

Themes: Grandfather, Red hat, Intergenerational, Memories, Possibilities

Opening: “I give you my hat.  It will keep you warm and dry or help keep you cool.”

Synopsis:

 A grandfather gives his red hat to his granddaughter, as he shares with her its many uses.  The hat will keep her warm and dry. It can help her stand out in a crowd or blend in. It can hold her dreams or hide her secrets. The hat will be ready for any adventure, hold her memories, give her strength and courage and bring her back home. It will also serve as a water bowl for her dog — love the witty humor.  

Sure to put a smile on any child’s face, this story is a beautiful intergenerational tale about the sweet and important role a grandparent plays in a grandchild’s life. The language is simple and the grandfather’s words are conveyed with love. I will admit I was prepared for the child’s return home with the grandfather no longer there. But the author pleasantly surprised me, making the ending even sweeter. This is a lovely bedtime read. 

The whimsical illustrations are done in ink and graphite, with a pallet of gray, blue and splashes of red throughout. The simple lines convey a lot of expression and love. 

Resources: Do you have a something that your grandparent gave to you? It must be something important if they want you to have it. A quilt? A favorite toy? A book? A piece of jewelry? A stamp collection? A treasure box? Does it have a special story? Talk about what it means to you. It must be something important if they want you to have it. Draw a picture of the item.     

Rachel Stubbs has a master of arts in illustration from the UK’s Cambridge School of Art and is a recipient of the Sebastian Walker Award for illustration, named for the founder of children’s book publishing companies Walker Books and Candlewick Press. Rachel Stubbs makes her home in London.

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 Candlewick in exchange for a review.

 

The Secret Starling by Judith Eagle

The Secret Starling

Judith Eagle, Author

Jo Rioux, Illustrator

Walker Books US, Fiction, Jun. 8, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Orphans, English Manor, Adventure, Family, Mystery, Secrets, Murder

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Clara Starling lives at Braithwaite Manor with her cold Uncle Edward Starling. Her life is full of dull rules, deadly routines, boring lessons with a governess and flavorless meals under her mean-spirited uncle’s strict regime. Clara’s mother died in childbirth. Clara knows she has a father somewhere, but Uncle tells her “he doesn’t know she exists.” End of question.  Clara’s only salvation is Cook, who she chats with her on the rare occasions Uncle leaves the manor. And she has her mother’s books to comfort her. 

Clara begins to notice things disappearing — portraits, china, and silver bowls.  Uncle fires staff, including Cook. One day Uncle informs Clara they are leaving the manor and orders her to pack a suitcase. He drops her off in the village, while he runs some errands. He hands her a thick wad of 10-pound notes and disappears. Clara spends the afternoon in a café and soon realizes that she’s been abandoned. Not wanting to end up in an orphanage, she trudges back to the old manor. She’s on her own now and no one is going to order her around anymore.  The manor is hers, even if there is a “For Sale” sign in the yard.  

When she arrives home, she finds a streetwise orphan, Peter Trimble and his rescue cat, waiting for her outside. He’s been sent to stay at the manor by his granny while she recuperates. The children seize the  chance to live by their own rules. But when the pair’s wild romps through the halls of Braithwaite Manor reveal a single, worn ballet slipper, they are hurled into a mystery that will lead to London’s glittering Royal Opera House, Russian dancers  and the unraveling of twisted Starling family secrets of poison, a villainous ex-ballet dancer, passion, and murder.

What to like about this story

Readers are in for a treat with Judith Eagle’s fast-paced adventure that is full of plot twists and surprises. The story is original and an exciting read. Even the cheerless opening will intrigue readers. And the run-down manor with feel like they’ve stepped into the late 19th century.

The relationship between Clara and Peter is intriguing. They both have pasts that are kind of a dead end. Peter was abandoned in a train station and adopted by a cleaning woman he calls Granny.  Peter loves the ballet and dances all over the manor. And Clara never knew her mother or has seen a picture of her. Uncle won’t tell her anything. But together they compliment one another. It’s fun to watch Clara’s growth, determination and bravery.

There are other lively characters in the story, Cook’s three grandchildren, who come to play at the manor when Uncle disappears. The manor now feels like a real home and that makes Clara feel happy and hopeful. It’s uplifting to see the children in charge and having a ball exploring, hiding and eating what ever they want. They also are clever and outsmart the grown-ups by destroying the yard sign and tricking realtors. They are the rulers of the manor…for now.

There is so much more to the story once Clara and Peter identify the owner of the ballet slipper. Sorry, no spoilers. The story speeds up and readers will be caught up in a mystery that takes them on a thrilling journey. 

Readers will also enjoy Jo Rioux’s eight full-page, pen and ink illustrations, which contribute significantly to the storytelling.

Judith Eagle’s career thus far has included stints as a stylist, fashion editor, and features writer. She currently works in a secondary school library and lives in South London with her family and Stockwell the cat. The Secret Starling is her first novel.

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 Walker Books US in exchange for a review.  

 

I’m A Hare, So There! by Julie Rowan-Zoch

I’m A Hare, So There!

Julie Rowan-Zoch, Author Illustrator

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Mar. 16, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes: Hare, Animals, Similarities, Differences, Humor

Opening: “Hello, Rabbit.”… “Rabbit? Did you say…rabbit?”

Synopsis:

Rabbit? Did you say…rabbit?  I’m not a rabbit! I’m a hare, so there!

You may have heard that we hares can outrun turtles. Oh, wait — I mean tortoises…They are similar; but not the same. Still, we hares are speedy, and we can look out for ourselves.  Good thing, too, because you never know what you might come across in the desert…

Why I like this book:

This is a smart, witty and simple story about a feisty rabbit — I mean Hare — with attitude.  Readers of all ages will enjoy the author’s clever wordplay and jovial banter between Hare and Chipmunk — I mean ground squirrel — about the important differences between a hare and a rabbit.  Hares are born with hair. They are larger and have long ears and big feet. They change colors during the winter.

Children will find the author’s sense of humor hilarious, as they watch Hare jump all around the desert, oblivious to the fact he’s being tracked by a Jackal — I mean coyote. They will enjoy the repetition. It is a perfect read aloud for at home and school.

The text is spare and allows Julie Rowan-Zoch to showcase Hare’s story with exuberant and cheeky artwork against the desert backdrop. Hare’s facial expressions and body language really make this story! Kids will want to draw just like Julie!

Be sure to check out the backmatter. The book is educational and kids will learn in the “SIMILAR but not the same” section that there are significant differences between similar animals, like turtles and tortoises, frogs and toads, wasps and bees, and lizards and salamanders. And there is also a page where kids are asked to choose and place the animals that will most likely be able to survive in the desert.

Resources:  Have children draw pictures of Hare or any of the other desert animals. This story may also have other applications in real life. For instance, my adopted son is from India, but is frequently mistaken for other ethnicities. Many kids have beautiful names that students may not know how to pronounce correctly. These can be hurtful, in the same way Hare experiences being called a rabbit.

Julie Rowan-Zoch grew up collecting freckles and chasing hermit crabs in New York, and spent years slicing rich breads in Germany before waking up to 300 days of blue Colorado skies. If she doesn’t answer the door, look in the garden. She is also illustrated Louis, authored by Tom Lichtenheld. Visit her online at her website, and on Instagram at @jrzoch. 

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

Amanda in Malta by Darlene Foster

Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady (The Amanda Travels Series 8)

Darlene Foster, Author

Central Avenue Publishing, May 11, 2011

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Malta, Travel, Adventure, Mystery, Theft, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Amanda receives a postcard from her best friend, Leah, and is surprised to learn that she is in Malta with her Aunt Jenny. Reading between the lines, she senses Leah is in trouble. Desperate to help her, Amanda strikes the lottery when she’s invited to travel to Malta with her classmate Caleb Sorenson and his parents.

Amanda is intrigued by this exotic island in the middle of the Mediterranean, full of colourful history, sun-drenched limestone fortresses, stunning beaches and fascinating birds. But…who is killing the protected birds? Who stole a priceless artifact from the museum? And why is Leah acting so strange? She couldn’t possibly be involved in these illegal activities, or could she?

Join Amanda and her friends as they visit ancient temples, an exciting falconry and the enchanting Popeye Village, as they try to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Sleeping Lady.

What to like about this Amanda in Malta:

Readers who dream of visiting exotic places, will be captivated by Darlene Foster’s lively adventure story to Malta where there is so much history, unusual places to explore, problems to solve and a dangerous mystery. Fans of the Amanda Travels series will be thrilled with this fast-paced story set in paradise.

Amanda is an upbeat, inquisitive, caring and memorable character that teens will want to befriend — especially since she has keen radar and really enjoys solving a good mystery. And she has a knack for mishaps, like getting stung by a jellyfish her first day in Malta. It’s fun to see Amanda reunited again with her best friends Leah and Caleb. Leah is caught up in a dangerous situation with her Aunt Jenny, an archeologist, and is trying to outrun and outsmart some really bad guys. Although Caleb is deathly afraid of fish, he is a great super sleuth, the group photographer and a good balance for Amanda through some awkward moments. 

I find Foster books educational for young readers and adults as Amanda, Leah and Caleb learn about the history, geography, architecture, local cuisine, and visit some very cool sites in Malta that include:  

  • Ghar Dalam, “cave of darkness, ” that is over 500,000  years old. It holds evidence of the first humans on the island, such as Neanderthal teeth, from 7,400 years ago.
  • A boat trip through the Blue Grotto Caves where the crystal clear waters change colour from the reflections off the cave walls. Simply paradise.
  • The Falconry Center for many rescued birds of prey. The Maltese falcon is known for its speed as it can reach over 320 kilometers per hour or 200 miles per hour. It is an endangered species in many places of the world. Storks nesting on the St. Lucian Tower.
  • The Popeye Village in Anchor Bay, the location where Robert Williams’ filmed the movie in 1980. 
  • St. John’s Cathedral, built by the Knights in 1572. As each knight gained wealth, he and his family donated art and decorations. The inlaid marble graves show where many knights were buried.
  • The Museum of Archeology, where there is a 4,000-year-old sculpture of the sleeping lady. 

Resources: Make sure you check out the discussion questions at the end of the book.

Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady is the eighth book in the Amanda Travels serves: Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask; Amanda in Spain: The Girl in the Painting; Amanda in England: The Missing Novel; Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone; Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music; and Amanda in New Mexico : Ghosts in the Wind; and Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action. Foster has written the books in such a manner that they can be read in any order, but I recommend you start with the first book.

Darlene Foster was brought up on a ranch in southern Alberta. She dreamt of writing, travelling the world and meeting interesting people. She believes everyone is capable of making their dreams come true. It’s no surprise that she’s now the award-winning author of a children’s adventure series about a travelling twelve-year-old girl. A world-traveller herself, Darlene spends her time in Vancouver, Canada and Costa Blanca in Spain with her husband and her amusing dogs, Dot and Lia. Visit her at her website or on Twitter @supermegawoman.

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 publisher in exchange for a review.

Peace Train by Cat Stevens and Peter H. Reynolds

Peace Train

Cat Stevens, Author

Peter H. Reynolds, Illustrator

Harper Collins, Fiction, May 11, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Train, Peace, Harmony, Lyrics, Cat Stevens

Opening “Now, I’ve been happy lately, / thinking about the good things to come, / and I believe it could be / something good has begun.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Everyone jump up on the Peace Train!

Join friends from around the world as they board a train heading straight for peace.

Featuring the inspiring lyrics of Cat Steven’s beloved anthem and New York Times bestselling illustrator Peter H. Reynolds’s heartwarming interpretation, this moving and joyous book invites us all to sing out for peace.

Fans old and new can now enjoy, share, sing and read aloud the lyrics to “Peace Train’ in picture book format for the first time.

What’s to love about this book:

This inspirational collaboration between Cat Stevens and Peter H. Reynolds will introduce new generations to the song writer’s lyrics. It is so uplifting that it will encourage children to want to join the cause of cultivating peace in the world.

Reynolds’s vibrant illustrations show a boy with guitar in hand on his way to board the Peace Train, which is packed with a diverse group of children singing, playing musical instruments, and swaying to the music. “Now, I’ve been crying lately, thinking about the world as it is. / Why must we go on hating? / Why can’t we live in bliss?” 

Timely topic and a perfect moment in our history to talk about peace, love, kindness, cooperation and compassion. When the lyrics were written and performed by Stevens in the 1970s, we were focused on the importance of our global family. Today it is crucial to teach our children and grandchildren that peace begins in our relationships with ourselves, families, communities, nation and world. This is a perfect book for teachers to use in classrooms and for reading and discussing at home. 

Make sure you read Cat Steven’s “Author’s Note” at the end. Inspiring!

Resources:  Introduce your children to the song before you read the book. Sing it loudly. It has such a fun beat that kids will love singing it repeatedly. Encourage them to draw their own peace train or a picture of what peace means to them. Get children involved in solving local hunger and clothing issues. Visit Steven’s charitable website for ways to help.

Cat Stevens is one of the most influential Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame and Grammy-nominated singer-songwriters of all time. He is known worldwide for his hits “Peace Train,” “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out,” “Wild World,” “Father and Son,” “The First Cut, is the Deepest,” and many more. He is a recipient of the World Social Award and the Man of Peace award. In 2020, he launched the Peacetrain initiative, which delivers relief, medical aid and education globally.

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

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

 

The Midnight Fair by Gideon Sterer

The Midnight Fair

Gideon Sterer, Author

Mariachiara Di Giorgio, Illustrator

Candlewick, Fiction, Feb. 2, 2021

Suitable for ages: 3-7

Themes:  Animals, Fairgrounds, Fantasy, Magic, Bedtime dreams, Wordless

Publisher’s Synopsis:

As darkness falls on the fairgrounds, the animals venture out of the woods for one magical, memorable night! An exhilarating wordless picture book.

Far from the city, but not quite the countryside, lies a fairground. When night comes and the fair is empty, something unexpected happens. Wild animals emerge from the forest, a brave raccoon pulls a lever, and the roller coasters and rides explode back into bright, neon life. It’s time for the woodland creatures to head to the fair!

In a gorgeous wordless picture book, author Gideon Sterer and illustrator Mariachiara Di Giorgio offer an exuberant take on what animals are up to when humans are asleep. Suffused with color and light, the panel illustrations celebrate the inherent humor and joy in deer flying by on chair-swings, a bear winning a stuffed bear, three weasels carrying a soft pretzel, and a badger driving a bumper car. With thrills both spectacular and subtle, Midnight Fair will have readers punching their tickets again and again to revel in this fantastic nocturnal world. 

What to love about this book:

Gideon Sterer’s wordless picture book is magical and entertaining. It encourages children to use their BIG imaginations to tell the story in their own words!  And each story will be very different because there is so much lively and subtle detail to explore. Each page reveals surprise after surprise, with a very memorable moment at the end. 

Mariachiara Di Giorgio’s whimsical watercolor, gouache and colored pencil illustrations celebrate the wild animal’s night of magic, their lively and playful adventure, and the beautiful natural world they call home. This story is perfect for bedtime dreaming! It also is a nod that summer is here and it’s time to go to the fair!

Resources: Take your kids to a local summer fair. The entire book is a resource that will inspire creativity for kids. Provide crayons and let them draw their favorite scene. They may want to draw their favorite animal doing a different task at the fair, like making cotton candy  or taking tickets. Maybe they want to draw their own pet at the fair. After all, it is their story to imagine what is happening in the story. 

Gideon Sterer is the author of many books for children. He grew up in the woods of upstate New York, where his parents owned a small zoo. After hours, he would often run around and let the animals out of their cages. Who knows what sort of might mischief they got up to? Gideon Sterer lives in Brooklyn.

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 Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.

 

Sunshine by Marion Dane Bauer

Sunshine

Marion Dane Bauer

Candlewick Press, Fiction, May 18, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  Summer vacation, Visiting mom, Northern Minnesota wilderness, Imaginary dog, Forgiveness

Publisher’s Synopsis

Since as far back as Ben can remember, it’s been him, his devoted dad, and Sunshine — Ben’s imaginary dog. Even when Ben feels like his dad doesn’t understand him, or Sunshine, he knows his dad loves him. But with his mom, Ben isn’t so sure. She left one day when he was three and he’s never really understood why. He often wonders if he did something that made her suddenly leave. He can’t remember her face. The only thing he remembers is that she made big animal pancakes for him.

This summer, Ben will be spending a whole week with his mom in the wilderness and he’s determined to find answers.  She lives by herself in a messy cabin without electricity or phone on a remote island in northern Minnesota, something that is way out of Ben’s comfort zone. His mom isn’t afraid of anything. Ben is a “what if kid,” afraid of the dark, heights and getting lost. But Ben will learn to camp, paddle a canoe, explore, use a stinky outhouse and confront his fears. And will he ever be able to ask his mom BIG questions. Will she want to come home and be his mom? When a forest fire threatens his mom’s home, Ben finally realizes everything he’s been trying to forget and learns how to forgive his mom — and himself. 

Why I like this book

Marion Dane Bauer has penned a heartfelt story that is filled with hope as Ben reconnects with his mother for the first time. The narrative is lyrical and completely character driven. And there is a big dose of love and forgiveness.

The characters are believable and authentic. Ben’s fears and worries are reflections of the anger he holds deep within. As is his need to create an imaginary dog to comfort him on his journey. Bauer keeps the reader guessing why Ben’s mother left her family until the end. His mom is physically strong and likable. And she asks Ben a lot of questions about Sunshine and compares him to a guardian spirit who watches over Ben. She never tells him he’s too old to have an imaginary dog. We do learn that his mother was abused as a child and has her own demons. And Sunshine feels so real in the story, that dog lovers will find this story interesting.

Readers who enjoy the outdoors, will find Ben and his mother’s exploration of this pristine an remote island appealing — like Ben’s first encounter with the lake’s loons and a mother bear and her baby. The week is one big adventure for Ben and he discovers he can be resourceful and brave. This is a good summer read for middle grade readers.

Marion Dane Bauer is an award-winning author of more than one hundred books for young people, including the Newbery Honor Book On My Honor and The Stuff of Stars. Marion Dane Bauer lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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

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

Sweet Pea Summer by Hazel Mitchell

Sweet Pea Summer

Hazel Mitchell, Author & Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 13, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Family, Gardening, Nature, Intergenerational relationships, Separation, Health 

Opening: “Mom had to go into the hospital, so Dad was taking me to Grandpa and Grandma’s house for summer vacation.”

Publisher’s Synopsis

A young girl must stay with her grandparents while her mother is in the hospital. At first, it’s hard at first to focus on anything but missing and worrying about her mom. But then Grandpa suggests that she help out in his garden. And what a garden it is! There are rows and rows of vegetables and all kinds of flowers, but the most beautiful of all are Grandpa’s sweet peas. Maybe, Grandpa suggests, she can take care of them over the summer and enter them into the flower show.

Nothing seems to go right with the sweet peas. No matter what she does, the flowers keep dying. Until finally, the mystery is solved—but will the sweet peas bloom in time for the show? If only her mother were there . . .

With warm, child-friendly illustrations and a simple narration, author-illustrator Hazel Mitchell tells a timeless story about holding on to hope in hard times and finding the strength and determination to see it through. A brief author’s note at the end offers a bit of history and a few details about sweet peas for aspiring gardeners.

What’s to love about this story

Hazel Mitchell has written and illustrated a book that is full of heart and joy. It is a timeless story about a girl finding hope during a challenging time in her life. Readers aren’t told what is wrong with her mother, so it leaves this story wide-open for discussion about short parent-child separations.  

The intergenerational relationship between the girl and her grandfather shines. He puts her in charge of the sweet pea garden and shows her how to remove old seedpods, tie stems to canes, weed and water the plants with his secret formula. The girl takes pride in her work.

When there is a problem with the sweet peas, it is the girl who researches gardening books, wraps the plants with blankets, and shades the plants from the sun with her Grandma’s umbrellas. When nothing makes a difference, she puts on her thinking cap and discovers why the blooms are fulling off and dying.

Mitchell’s warm and happy illustrations capture an English countryside with cottages surrounded by low stonewalls, friendly neighbors chatting, and children walking dogs. And grandpa’s garden is a wonder to behold for any child eager to help. Mitchell’s artwork is plump with details that kids will enjoy. This book is a perfect gift book and summer read.  

Resources: Encourage kids to help in the flower or vegetable garden, if you have one. If you don’t have a garden, pick out some flower pots and grow tomatoes plants or flowers, including sweet peas. Make sure they know all about what they are planting and put them in charge of watering and weeding.  At the end of the book, Mitchell includes a special note about Sweet Peas. 

Hazel Mitchell is the author-illustrator of Toby, as well as the illustrator of numerous books for children. Originally from Yorkshire, England, she now lives in Maine.

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.

 

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre

Carole Boston Weatherford, Author

Floyd Cooper, Illustrator

Carolrhoda Books, Nonfiction,  Feb. 1, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Tulsa Race Riot, African Americans, Greenwood, Racism, Violence, History 

Opening: “Once upon a time near Tulsa, Oklahoma, prospectors struck it rich in the oil fields. The wealth created jobs, raised buildings, and attracted newcomers from far and wide, seeking fortune and a fresh start.”

Publisher Synopsis:

In the early 1900s, Tulsa, Oklahoma, was home to a thriving African American community. The Greenwood district had it’s own school system, libraries, churches, restaurants, post office, movie theaters, and more. But all that would change in the course of two terrible, UNSPEAKABLE DAYS.

On May 31 and June 1, 1921, a mob of armed white Tulsans attacked Greenwood. They looted homes and businesses and burned them to the ground as Black families fled. The police did nothing to protect Greenwood, and as many as three hundred African Americans were killed. More than eight thousand were left homeless.

News of the Tulsa Race Massacre — one of the worst incidents of racial violence in US history — was largely suppressed, and no official investigation occurred for seventy-five years.

Celebrated author Carole Boston Weatherford and acclaimed illustrator Floyd Cooper provide a sensitive and powerful introduction to the Tulsa Race Massacre, helping young readers understand the events of the past so we can move toward a better future for all.  May 31 marks the 100th anniversary of the massacre. 

Why I like this book:

Carole Boston Weatherford begins the story of Greenwood on a celebratory note as she eases readers into the story. Weatherford writes in free verse, which highlights the community pride and softens the violence at the end.  

The setting occupies the first two-thirds of the book. Each page turn begins with “Once upon a time…” and focuses on the beauty and prosperity that a thriving Black community achieves. Segregation laws call for separate neighborhoods, and train tracks divide the Black and white communities. Ten thousand people live in a thirty-five-square block area. Many Black businesses are opened along a one-mile stretch of Greenwood Avenue. The thriving community is self-sufficient and becomes known as the “Black Wall Street.” There are restaurants, grocery stores, furriers, shops, schools, libraries, a hospital, churches, hotel, post office, and railroad and street cars coaches for Black families. The community has 15 doctors, and many lawyers and prominent businessmen. And there are two Black-owned newspapers. The community is totally self-sufficient. Such an amazing achievement for the families who call Greenwood home.

The author introduces the conflict that begins to arise in 1921, when disgruntled white Tulsa residents don’t  appreciate the fact that African Americans can achieve success and wealth. With tensions rising, all it takes is a white female elevator operator accusing a Black man of assault, and violence erupts. Weatherford masterfully moves her readers into the heartbreaking events that follow in an age-appropriate manner.       

Floyd Cooper’s breathtaking oil illustrations show a community of happy children and content adults going about their daily lives. He captures the hustle and bustle of a busy and booming town, and the pride of all who live there. Toward the end of the book is a double spread with a dark page that alerts readers that something is about to change. Cooper’s artwork contributes significantly in the telling of the story and ends with hope. Make sure you check out the  endpaper photograph of a town burned to the ground.

Resources: The author’s and illustrator’s notes include their personal relationship with the story. There is also additional historical information, explanation about the massacre’s longtime erasure from history, historical photographs, and pictures of memorials. Cooper grew up in Tulsa and heard the stories from his grandfather. Make sure you listen to Floyd Cooper’s YouTube comments below. 

Carole Boston Weatherford is the author of numerous books, including Freedom in Congo Square, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, which received a Caldecott Honor; Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, which received a Caldecott Honor and a Sibert Honor; and Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, which won a Caldecott Honor and an NAACP Image Award. Her writing covers such topics as jazz and photography, as well as slavery and segregation eras. The daughter of educators, she has a passion for rescuing events and figures from obscurity by documenting American history. She lives in North Carolina. 

Floyd Cooper received a Coretta Scott King Award for his illustrations for The Blacker the Berry and won Coretta Scott King honors for Brown Honey in Broom Wheat Tea, Meet Danitra Brown, and I Have Heard of a Land. He has illustrated numerous books, including Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey. Born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he first heard about the Tulsa Race Massacre from his grandfather, who survived it as a young man. Floyd now lives in Easton, Pennsylvania, with his wife and two sons.

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.