Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke

Anna Hibiscus 

Atinuke, Author

Lauren Tobia, Illustrator

Candlewick Press edition, Fiction, Apr. 12, 2022

Suitable for ages: 6-9

Themes: Africa, Nigeria, Family, Traditions, Economics, Class, Poverty, Vacations 

Publisher’s Synopsis:

From acclaimed Nigerian storyteller Atinuke, the first in a series of chapter books set in contemporary West Africa introduces a little girl who has enchanted young readers.

Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa, amazing Africa, with her mother and father, her twin baby brothers (Double and Trouble), and lots of extended family in a big white house with a beautiful garden in a compound in a city. Anna is never lonely—there are always cousins to play and fight with, aunties and uncles laughing and shouting, and parents and grandparents close by.

Readers will happily follow as she goes on a seaside vacation, helps plan a party for Auntie Comfort from Canada (will she remember her Nigerian ways?), learns firsthand what it’s really like to be a child selling oranges outside the gate, and longs to see sweet snow.

Nigerian storyteller Atinuke’s debut book for children and its sequels, with their charming (and abundant) gray-scale drawings by Lauren Tobia, are newly published in the US by Candlewick Press, joining other celebrated Atinuke stories in captivating young readers.

What to I like about Anna Hibiscus:

Such a delightful and entertaining chapter book that contains four individual stories about Anna and her family and their life in West Africa. Children will be happily introduced to Anna’s very large Nigerian family, their traditions, economics and the differences between classes in an age-appropriate way. Pen and ink illustrations wonderfully compliment the stories. 

Children in North America don’t live in extended families. They will be intrigued to learn how important family is to Anna’s family. There are many aunties who work together to shop, prepare food, care for the children, uncles who work, and grandparents who are wise. No matter how noisy and rambunctious, family is everything!

Anna learns that first hand in the very first story when she goes on seaside vacation with her parents (Canadian mother, African father) and her two brothers. It’s boring. It’s a lot of work for her mother. And Anna’s is run ragged babysitting her twin brothers, Double and Trouble. The arrangement isn’t working and soon the entire extended family members begin to arrive at the cottage. And then the fun begins.

I am pleased that Candlewick is now publishing the Anna Hibiscus series of books in the US. Anna is such a spunky and curious character with a big heart. She will take young readers on a journey through Nigeria where they will learn about how other children live.  

Atinuke was born in Nigeria and spent her childhood in both Afria and the UK. She works as a traditional oral storyteller in schools and theaters all over the world. Atinuke is the author of many children’s book, including the Anna Hibiscus series, the No. 1 Car Spotter series, Too Small Tola, Africa, Amazing Africa: Country by Country, and Catch that Chicken. Atinuke lives on a mountain overlooking the sea in West Wales.

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.

 

Love You by Heart by Peter H. Reynolds

Love You by Heart 

Peter H. Reynolds, Author and Illustrator

Orchard Books, Fiction, Jan. 4, 2022

Suitable for ages: 3-5

Themes: Unconditional love, Children, Family, Friendship 

Opening: “I loved you by heart / even before I met you. / I loved you always. / I’ve always loved you.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

I love every smile, every blink,

I love you by heart.

I love your toes, your head, your nose,

I love you by heart.

Celebrated, bestselling creator Peter H. Reynolds brings to life this ode to unconditional love with a delightful and poetic tribute to the rare and beautiful love that binds us together. From the intimate and unbridled love parents and caregivers have for their little ones, to the tremendous love of a lifelong friendship, and the boundless love of a grandparent — this is a heartfelt message to share with the people we cherish; like a song we have known all our lives, we love them by heart.

Peter H. Reynold’s whimsical and charming art conveys this deep expression of love with humor, tenderness, and heart. Love You by Heart is the perfect gift for Valentine’s Day and any day of the year and will become a bookshelf staple. Just right for new and expectant parents, baby showers, birthdays, graduations, and anytime you want to share a most heartfelt message of L-O-V-E!

Why I like Love You by Heart

Reynolds’s sweet book embraces the unconditional love of people we cherish in our lives. It celebrates the love new parents have for their little ones. “I love your good days…your blue days…your funny days…your grumpy days. Unconditional love is just that — a gift of the heart with no expectations.

Written in verse using simple phrases, the book is a perfect read aloud for young children before bedtime and will reassure them how much they are loved. Such a sweet way to put your child to bed. Reynolds’s beautiful and simple illustrations of hearts are ideal for very young children to grasp, without overwhelming them. This is a perfect gift book, which I sent to my two-year-old great granddaughter just before Valentines Day.

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

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

 

 

 

 

Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen by Kate McGovern

Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen

Kate McGovern, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 12, 2021

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Themes: Dyslexia, Secrets,  Learning differences. Bullies, Friendship, Family, Hope, Multicultural

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Maple is in fifth grade—again. Now everyone will find out she struggles with reading—or will they? An engaging read for anyone who has ever felt different.

Maple Mehta-Cohen has been keeping a big secret: she can’t read well. She has an impressive vocabulary and loves dictating stories into her recorder—especially the adventures of a daring sleuth who’s half Indian and half Jewish like she is—but words on the page just don’t seem to make sense to her. Despite all Maple’s clever tricks to hide her troubles with reading, her teacher sees through them all, and now she is repeating fifth grade.

Maple is devastated—what will her friends think as she starts the school year? Will they forget about her? She uses her storytelling skills to convince her new fifth grade classmates that she’s staying back as a special teacher’s assistant (because of budget cuts, you know).

But as Maple navigates the loss of old friendships, the possibility of new ones, and facing her reading challenges head-on, her deception becomes harder to keep up. Can Maple begin to recognize her own strengths, and to love herself—and her brain—just the way she is? Readers who have faced their own trials with school and friendships will enjoy this heartwarming story and its bright, creative heroine.

Why I like this book:

Thank you Kate McGovern for writing a realistic and heartwarming middle grade story for students who have reading and learning differences. It’s important that they see themselves in a smart, clever and witty main characters like Maple, who deals with the emotional and social impact of her reading difficulties. She’s embarrassed. Her long-time friends ignore her. She’s bullied. But she’s resilient.  

Maple is a creative and compassionate main character. She is a girl who loves big words and is an excellent storyteller. Her favorite author is Agatha Christie and she always has a mystery she’s writing and recording. But her BIG secret becomes too stressful to keep. She has to figure things out for herself. Her journey is believable as she learns to embrace her dyslexia and use it positively. It is an inspiring story about family, friends and hope.

I also love that Maple is Indian and Jewish (Hin-Jew as she calls herself) and constantly feels caught in between — never fully belonging on one side. Many readers will identify with her mixed ethnicity. 

Learning differences present in many forms, including dyslexia. To learn more information, McGovern suggests readers check out the  website Understood to learn about the 1 in 5 Americans who learn and think differently. And you’ll have to read McGovern’s book to discover the famous people who have learning differences.

Kate McGovern is the author of the young adult novels Rules for 50/50 Chances and Fear of Missing Out. She has worked in schools and education nonprofits in Boston, London, and New York City, including at the Harlem Children’s Zone, where she served as a reading specialist and directed Shakespeare productions with middle-schoolers. Her daughter, Priya, is the original “Hin-Jew” kid that Maple is written for. Kate McGovern lives in an Indian-Jewish household in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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. 

Where Snow Angels Go by Maggie O’Farrell

Where Snow Angels Go

Maggie O’Farrell, Author

Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Nov. 16, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Pages: 72

Themes: Snow Angel, Illness, Family, Friends, Fable, Magical

Opening“Have you ever woken suddenly, in the middle of the night, without knowing why?”

Book Jacket Synopsis:  One night, Sylvie wakes up and is astonished to see, standing beside her bed, a figure in white with enormous feathery wings.  Is it possible that something extraordinary has happened? Could this be the angel she made last winter in the snow? 

The snow angel has returned to her, with a very important mission: to save her life. Sylvie is ill and the snow angel awakens her mother. He assures Sylvie that she will forget all about him as soon as she goes to sleep, but somehow, she doesn’t. Sylvie then tries everything she can think of to bring him back to earth, but nothing works. Until one winter’s day, when Sylvie looks around and wonders whether her friends and family have their own protective angel. How can she convince her Snow Angel to help with this monumental task?

Why I like this book:

Maggie O’Farrell’s is a modern fable/fairy tale that will fill kids with wonder. It is a cozy bedtime read aloud that reminds me a bit of the books that were read to me as a child. The narrative is a bit lengthy, but lends itself to the author’s beautiful lyrical prose. I love that the story began with a bedtime story she made up for her own children. Where Snow Angels Go will lead to many meaningful discussions.

Sylvie is a compassionate and selfless character who wants to make contact with her snow angel after she recovers from a lengthy illness. Sylvie faces some other dangerous challenges and she senses the snow angel is with her in different forms. She realizes that the snow angel is her protector and she wants to make sure that her family and other children have protectors. This story will warm your heart.

The cover on the book is stunning. The swirls around Sylvie are in silver, adding to the book’s appeal. Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini’s dreamy illustrations are magical and capture the wonder in O’Farrell’s story. I have many favorite scenes, but I love the ones of Sylvie with her snow angel. Children will enjoy pouring over the pages.

Resources/Activities: Winter is here, a time of adventure for children. After the next snow, go outside with your children and make your own snow angels.  Take pictures of your snow angels. You may even want to draw pictures.

Maggie O’Farrell was born in Northern Ireland. She is the author of nine books for adults, one of which won the Costa Novel Award. Where Snow Angels Go is her first book for children. She lives in Edinburgh with her three children, many cats and a mysterious tortoise.

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.

 

The Genius Under the Table by Eugene Yelchin

Please note that this will be my last review of 2021!  I will return on Jan. 3, 2022.  Enjoy your holidays!

The Genius Under the Table: Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain

Eugene Yelchin, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Memoir, Oct. 12, 2021

Suitable for ages: 10-15

Pages: 208

Themes: Soviet Union, Family, Communal living, Poverty, Surveillance, Talent, Memoir  

Opening: “The first time I saw real American tourists, they hopped out of a tourist bus in Red Square in Moscow and cut in front of us in line. “Nice manners!” my mother shouted. “We’ve been freezing our butts off for hours and they just breeze in like that?”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Everyone in communist Russia is keeping secrets — including Yevgeny. By day, he longs to become an athlete, like his brother, or a dancer, like his mother’s beloved Mikhail Baryshnikov, an icon with secrets of his own. By night, however, Yevgeny’s world comes alive on the underside of his grandmother’s heavy oak table, where he uses his father’s stubby pencil to sketch out all the drama, confusion, and difficulty of life in the USSR. Grappling with the looming threats of surveillance and poverty — an armed with only his pencil and a tendency to ask difficult questions — Yevgeny is on a quest to understand his society, in a tale heartbreaking and hilarious in equal measure.

Why I like this book:

Eugene Yelchin has written a witty and dark memoir about life in the Soviet Union in the 1960s-1970s. He lived in Leningrad as a child, which makes his story even more believable for readers. And it reads like a piece of fiction. Yelchin’s artwork graces nearly every page of the story, perfectly complementing the text. 

Life is hard in the Soviet Union. Extended families live in communaka (communal) one-room apartments. They share the bathroom, hallways and kitchen with other dwellers. Food is rationed. Many books and artwork are banned. There are paid spies in every communalka. Everything about life is based on rules. Freedom of speech is forbidden. Antisemitism is still prevalent.

The only way to succeed and get out of poverty is to have a talent, like Yevgeny’s brother, Victor, who is a talented ice skater and athlete. I was fascinated at how the USSR used talent as a secret weapon against the United States during the Cold War. Yevgeny doesn’t appear to have a special talent. His mother wants him to be a great ballet dancer like Baryshnikov. But he DOES have a talent that even he’s not aware of.

I especially enjoyed how Yelchin weaves the famous Baryshnikov (and his defection) into this story. Yevgeny’s mother works at the Vaganovka Ballet Academy for where Baryshnikov studied dance as a child. She has an interesting relationship with the artistic world. She takes Yevgeny to see her beloved “Misha”  dance at the Kirov Ballet Theater, where they stand in the wings and watch him perform. (And, yes there is a secret backstory about his mother and ballet.)

Yevgeny’s father is a committed communist and has a deep love for poetry — much of which is banned in the USSR because poetry tells the truth. In the USSR it is dangerous to tell the truth or criticize the government. Artists who survived learned to make art by the rules. Readers will learn about how people keep secrets, especially about family members. They even cut pictures of loved ones out of photographs. And Yevgeny really wants to know what happened to his grandfather, but his grandmother remains silent.

I was drawn to this story because I’ve always been fascinated with Russian history and political science and studied Russian in college in the 70s. There are no tidy endings to this story, as Yelchin’s memoir represents his family’s experience of living behind the Iron Curtain.

Eugene Yelchin is the the coauthor and illustrator of the 2018 National Book Award finalist The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, cowritten with M.T. Anderson. He is also the author and illustrator of the Newbery Honor Book Breaking Stalin’s Nose, and the recipient of a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Tomie dePaola illustrator Award. Eugene Yelchin lives in Topanga, California, with his family.

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.

River Magic by Ellen Booraem

River Magic

Ellen Booraem, Author

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

Suitable for ages: 10-13

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

Book Jacket Synopsis:

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.  

Is It Over? by Sandy Brehl and Rebecca S. Hirsch

IS IT OVER?

Sandy Brehl, Author

Rebecca S. Hirsch, Illustrator

Pen It! Publications, Fiction, Jul. 6, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Storms, Weather, Fear, Self-esteem, Self-reliance, Family, Parents

Opening: Clouds tower! Waves crash! “DADDY!”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

IS IT OVER? celebrates the power of love and storytelling to overcome fear. A prowling, growling thunderstorm sends Risa running to Daddy, begging him to make it stop.

When the storm worsens, Risa asks for a story, but Daddy’s time as a soldier changed his childhood view of storms. Inspired by her stuffed toy elephant, Ivan, Risa summons the courage to find her own story in the storm one that helps them both.

What’s  to like about this book:

With hurricanes, tropical storms and tornados already beginning, Sandy Brehl’s book about storms is very timely. It is a quiet book that will help soothe children’s fears about the storms that pop up when they are least expected. I will have to admit I love storms and find her story very creative!   

Brehl’s text is very lyrical and is packed with noisy words: RRROAR!…CRRRACK!…KA-BOOM! The story is very visual, which will delight readers. Even Daddy has a moment when his heart races, but he admits to Risa that he loved storms when he was kid, because he saw stories in the storm shapes. But it requires imagination. Risa watches the clouds and suddenly she begins to see her own storm pictures. Such a creative way to help kids through a noisy storm. It is an excellent book to read aloud.

Rebecca S. Hirsch vibrantly illustrates IS IT OVER? with double-page spreads. The words and the illustrations depend upon one another. They show emotion and imagination. Her artwork seamlessly flows with the strength of the storm and is bright and cheery at the end. The entire book is gorgeous and will be a winner with families.

ResourcesIS IT OVER? is a resource for families and teachers. But you can also check out Teacher Resources on Brehl’s website. Encourage kids to talk about how storms make them feel. Watching clouds turn into shapes was one of my favorite things to do as a child. Have kids share what they do to help them deal with a storm. Do they play in the puddles when the storms are over?

Sandy Brehl is an award-winning author, member of the Wisconsin chapter of SCBWI, and the Holocaust outreach educator. She is the author of the award-winning Odin’s Promise Trilogy, a middle grade series set in Norway during WW II. Visit here website.

Rebecca S. Hirsch is an illustrator and member of the Wisconsin Chapter of SCBWI. She lives with her husband and daughter in Waukesha, WI. Visit her website.

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

*Review copy provided by the publisher 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.  

 

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.

 

Leonard (My Life As a Cat) by Carlie Sorosiak

Carlie Sorosiak, Author

Walker Books US, Fiction, Apr. 13, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Cat, Alien, Immortal, Family, Friendship, Intergenerational relationships 

Synopsis:  

When 11-year-old Olive rescues a cat from flood waters, she doesn’t know that he’s an alien. Olive names him Leonard and takes him home. Leonard comes from a galaxy where the species don’t have bodies or individual personalities. They exist as one being. When they turn 300 years old, the members have the opportunity to visit planet Earth, become any creature they wish for one month and study the human race. 

Now Leonard’s dreams of living as a human and working as a park ranger at Yellowstone National Park are dashed.  Something goes wrong during his journey to earth and he finds himself covered in fur, with a long tail and unable to communicate. He’s frantic! He’s doesn’t know how to eat, sleep, purr/meow, bathe, walk or use a litter box.  Now he’ll never know what it is like to work as a park ranger, commune with nature, share his knock-knock jokes, hold an umbrella, eat cheese sandwiches, go to a movie theater, or host a dinner party. How will he get home if his rendezvous point with his species is 2,000 miles away and he only has a month to get there?

Olive is visiting her grandmother Norma for the summer at a beach house in South Carolina. While her mom and her new boyfriend travel, Olive worries about whether or not she will have to move to California after they return. Leonard trusts Olive and discovers a way to communicate with her (no spoilers).  Together they must figure out how to get from South Carolina to Yellowstone by the end of the month. As Olive teaches Leonard about the beautiful and confusing world of humans, he starts to realize how much he cares about her. He may have to choose between returning to his planet (where he is immortal) or remain on earth with his new human friend.

Why I like this book:

Leonard is so much more than an alien cat adventure. Carlie Sorosiak charms her readers with her unique and heartwarming tale about love, friendship and the meaning of home. Cat lovers will pounce on Leonard’s story, but so will other readers. The pacing is perfect and will keep readers fully engaged. . 

Leonard narrates the story. There are times Leonard is overwhelmed with all of the loud noises — pots and pans, garbage disposal, shower curtains — and misses the beauty and peacefulness of his planet. At other times he’s in awe of Olive’s tenderness and enjoys his adventures to the aquarium and the annual Save the Sea Turtle hatching event on Turtle Beach. He discovers he can communicate telepathically with Norma’s dog, Stanley, and the penguins at the aquarium. He surprised to discover cats dream and have feelings. But, he will never get used to disgusting hair balls.

I love the quirky characters. Olive is smart, energetic, wears baggy overalls, and loves reciting facts about about animals. “Did you know that three percent of Antarctic ice is penguin urine?” But she’s also lonely and longs for one good friend. She finds that friendship with Leonard. Grandma Norma is stiff, rugged, unconventional and a daredevil. She rides a motorbike. Q is Norma’s best friend — he wears a fish hat and Hawaiian shirts. He runs the aquarium where Olive and Norma help out. Q is the first to figure out Leonard’s identity and he becomes instrumental in helping Olive plan an RV trip to deliver Leonard to Yellowstone Park. He also nudges her to give talks at the aquarium.

Full of laughs and heart, Leonard is a story that will stay with you long after you finish the last page. Readers will identify with his unusual circumstance and wonder how they would respond — making this a fun discussion book. This is a perfect summer read.

Carlie Sorosiak is the author of the middle-grade novel, I, Cosmo as well as two novels for young adults, If Birds Fly Back and Wild Blue Wonder. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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 in exchange for a review.