Baby Blue by Judi Abbot

Baby Blue

Judi Abbot, author/illustrator

Magination Press, Feb. 9, 2021

Suitable for ages: 3-6

Themes: Children, Color, Curiosity, Diversity, Emotions, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Baby Blue lives in a blue world— everything is blue, from the trees, to the flowers, to the animals. When he accidentally tears a hole and a strange light pours in, he can see someone that isn’t blue—another little person like him, only they are yellow. Scared but curious, he overcomes his fear and introduces himself to Baby Yellow. With his new friend, he realizes that the world is full of new and wonderful things to discover. This sweet story encourages children to conquer their fear of the unknown and take a chance on new and different things.

Why I like this book:

Judi Abbot has written and illustrated a beautiful book for young children about being curious and brave as they explore their surroundings. Her use of color has many meanings in the book. First of all it is a way to teach little one colors. It also shows how curious little kids are and how it scary it be to meet someone new —  especially if they don’t look different. Baby Blue doesn’t know what to do when he meets Baby Yellow, Baby Green and so on. I love how Abbot tackles diversity through her colorful artwork.  Abbot’s text is spare for young children and her illustrations are filled with colorful shapes that are simply gorgeous and will keep kids turning the pages!  

This book is the perfect gift book for new parents and toddler birthdays! It is a welcome addition to any home or school library because it introduces children to the many new and beautiful people they will meet as they begin preschool and school.

Resources: Encourage kids to name the colors.  Give them crayons and ask them to draw a picture of themselves, a friend or a favorite pet in any color they wish.

Judi (Giuditta) Abbot went to art school in Italy. She is the author/illustrator of I Am, We Are Family, Snow Kissess, I Love you, Baby, Hugs and Kisses, and My Grandparents Love Me.  She has illustrated many more and many of her  published books have been translated around the world. Judi’s highly recognizable style features simple shapes and bright colors rendered in acrylics, colored pencils, and digitally. She lives in London, UK. Visit Abbot’s website and visit her on Facebook @judiabbotbooks and on Instagram @judiabbot.

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 The Pig War: How a Porcine Tragedy Taught England and America to Shareauthor Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

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

Houndsley and Catina at the Library by James Howe

Houndsley and Catina at the Library

James Howe, Author

Marie-Louise Gay, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, 2020

Pages: 42

Suitable for ages: 5-8

Themes: Animals, Library, Change, Friendship

Synopsis:

It’s Saturday, and friends Houndsley, Catina, and Bert always go to the library. But when the trio arrives, librarian Trixie is sad. She doesn’t tell a joke or recommend a book. That’s when the friends find out the bad news: the library is closing because with Trixie retiring and off to circus school, there’s no one to take her place as head librarian. Or is there?

James Howe and Marie-Louis Gay have created another inspiring tale about being a supportive friend and how it’s never too late to try something new.

Why I like this book:

This is a perfect story for emerging readers and a fun summer read. Houndsley, Catina and Bert are friends and they always spend their Saturdays at the library. When they arrive, Trixie, the librarian, doesn’t greet them with a smile or as joke. In fact she looks sad. It turns out that Trixie is retiring and changing careers and the library will be closing it’s doors.

The story also involves themes that deal with change. What will they do without a library? It is their community gathering place. Houndsley teaches reading to those who don’t know how to read. Catina teaches a yoga class. and Bert returns books to shelves. But when the threesome stop by Trixie’s house to find out why the library is closing, they find her happily jumping on a trampoline. They discover Trixie is changing too — she wants to join the circus. 

There are three chapters in the book, with Marie-Louise Gay’s colorful pastel illustrations  set the tone and compliment the story. Make sure your young reader checks out the other entertaining books in this Houndsely and Catina series.

James Howe is the author of many books for children, including the Bunnicula series and the Misfits series. He is also the author of the Houndsley and Catina books, as well as Otter and Odder, illustrated by Chris Raschka; Brontorina, illustrated by Randy Cecil; and Big Bob, Little Bob, illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson. James Howe lives outside of New York City.

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.  

The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen

The Rock from the Sky

Jon Klassen, Author/Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 13, 2021

Pages: 96

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Animals, Falling rocks, Sky, Friendship, Humor

Opening: “I like standing in this spot. It is my favorite spot to stand. I don’t want to stand anywhere else.” 

Publisher’s Synopsis

There is a spot.
It is a good spot.
It is the perfect spot to stand.
There is no reason to ever leave.
But somewhere above there is also a rock.
A rock from the sky.

Here comes The Rock from the Sky, a hilarious meditation on the workings of friendship, fate, shared futuristic visions, and that funny feeling you get that there’s something off somewhere, but you just can’t put your finger on it. Merging broad visual suspense with wry wit, celebrated picture book creator Jon Klassen gives us a wholly original comedy for the ages.

Why I like this book:

Classic Jon Klassen absurdity and dark, dry humor that children will find silly and beg for more. It is also a story about inflexibility, fate, premonitions/feelings, imagination and friendship. There are three quirky, big-eyed characters — turtle, armadillo and a snake — all sporting hats.

The book text is spare and is written in five chapters — The Rock, The Fall,, The Future, The Sunset and No More Room — although each chapter feels more like a vignette. 

The illustrations are classic Klassen with his muted pallet — a desert-like setting, two plants, a big open sky and two big rocks that fall from the sky. A fun read for the entire family or in the classroom.

Jon Klassen is the creator of the #1 New York Times best-selling I Want My Hat Back, which won a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor, and its companions This Is Not My Hat, which won a Caldecott Medal and a Kate Greenaway Medal, and We Found a Hat, named a Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book of the Year. He is also the illustrator of Extra Yarn, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, Triangle, and Square, all by Mac Barnett, and House Held Up by Trees by Td Kooser. Originally from Nagara Falls, Ontario, Jon Klassen now lives in Los Angeles.

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. 

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.

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.

 

 

New Handbooks for Teens – Friendship, Hero Journey, and Managing Anger

All three of these Magaination Press guides or handbooks are perfect for teens ranging from middle grade to high school. The books are expertly written yet accessible for readers. The friendly tone in each book will engage and empower readers with sound advice from experts. Educators, school counselors and caregivers everywhere need resources for teens that help them become their best selves.  All three of these books belong in every school library.

The Friendship Book

Wendy L. Moss, PhD, Author

Magination Press, Nonfcition, Feb. 16, 2021

Suitable for ages:  8-12

Synopsis:  Do you know what it takes to be a good friend and make new ones?

Take a peek inside to see how your friends can help you feel accepted and connected through your shared time together and ways to make sure you are giving back the same appreciation and support in your friendship, so you can be a good friend too!

Teens will read about the definition of a friend, how you can make sure you are ready to be a good friend and the complications and joys of having a best friend. The book starts with a quiz for teens about what they want in a friendship, followed by the results which gives them a starting point as they begin to read. Throughout the book, readers will learn about how other kids have made and kept friends even though a variety of situations: bullying, peer pressure, trust, competition, changing interests, mistakes and forgiveness, And more quizzes at the end of each chapter.

The Hero Handbook

Matt Langdon, Author

Magination Press, Nonfiction, Jan. 27, 2021

Suitable for ages: 9-13

Publisher’s Synopsis: Heroes inspire us to take chances, do hard things, and sometimes even change the world. Heroes are all around us, so how can you be the hero of your own story?

To become a hero, kids can surround themselves with supportive people, boost their self-esteem and self-awareness, find their passion, and have the courage make things happen. This book shows them how to be the hero of their own story and discover their own hero journey.

What makes a hero? Activists. advocates, allies, and friends. Sometimes heroes are our parents, teachers, or siblings. The truth is, heroes are inside everyone, and kids can and discover their inner hero, too!

The Hero Handbook guides you on your own hero journey, helps you identify your goals, and gets you powered up to achieve them. Get ready and GO make a difference in your world!

Zero to 60: A Teens Guide to Manage Frustration, Anger, and Everyday Irritations

Michael A. Tompkins, PhD, Author

Magination Press, Nonfiction, Nov. 10, 2020,

Suitable for ages: 12-18

Publishers Synopsis: High-performance cars can go from zero to  60 in just a few seconds. Anger can feel a lot like that. One minute you are calm, but the next, something sets you on a course to speed out of control. Getting to anger’s edge too fast can cause problems with friends, family school and event self-esteem.

The author offers tips and tricks to help stall anger and leave it by the side of the road. Teens will learn how to calm their body, derail thoughts that fuel anger, and learn how to communicate and de-escalate situations. The book contains teen-appropriate examples, strategies, fun exercises, journaling, a heads-up plan, and vivid illustrations that will help teens improve their relationships, boost self-esteem and manage their anger.

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 copies provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles

Take Back the Block

Chrystal D. Giles, Author

Random House Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jan. 26, 2021

Pages: 240

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Community, Social Justice, Family, Neighborhoods, Gentrification, Friendship, African Americans

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Brand-new kicks, ripped denim shorts, Supreme tee–

Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That–and hanging out with his crew (his best friends since little-kid days) and playing video games–is what he wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year, not the protests his parents are always dragging him to.

But when a real estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood Wes has lived in his whole life, everything changes. The grownups are supposed to have all the answers, but all they’re doing is arguing. Even Wes’s best friends are fighting. And some of them may be moving. Wes isn’t about to give up the only home he’s ever known. Wes has always been good at puzzles, and he knows there has to be a missing piece that will solve this puzzle and save the Oaks. But can he find it before it’s too late?

Why I like this book:

Chrystal D. Giles has written a timely and powerful novel for middle grade students that hits a sweet spot for me — kids making a difference in their communities and fighting for what they believe in. It celebrates the joy of family, friendship and community and will captivate readers from the start.  The plot is daring and hopeful. It is “loosely based on Giles’s hometown.

There is a  delightful cast of characters, with Wes Henderson leading his crew of best friends: Jasper (Jas), Mya, Alyssa, Takari (Kari) and Brent. They live in Kensington Oaks and are typical 6th graders, interested in video games, movies, school and birthday parties. Wes is a lovable and outgoing narrator, who is afraid of public speaking — especially when his social studies teacher, Mr. Bates, assigns each student to research a social justice issue, write a report and do a 10-minute presentation. He’s doomed.

Thumbs up to Wes’s parents for introducing him to social activism. His mother is an active community leader and takes Wes to a peaceful protests so that he understands what is happening in nearby neighborhoods that are being torn down for new shopping areas. This exposure is handy when the Oaks becomes the new target of a development group who wants to build condos and shops. There is no way Wes can leave the only home he’s ever known and holds his family’s history.

While the adults in the community are arguing, some selling their homes and others giving up, Wes knows he has to do something. A fire burns in his belly and he gathers his friends to fight for the survival of the Oaks. They enlist the support of a local group, Save Our City. Suddenly, Wes has his school social justice project, and Mr. Bates proves to give good advise and knows people. He allows Wes and his friends to meet in his classroom after school as they research and strategize each move. No more SPOILERS.

Take Back the Block deals with a topic that I haven’t seen addressed in children’s books — gentrification, the unfair displacement of families in lower income neighborhoods. Development companies buy up homes cheap, tear them down and replace them with high-end housing and shopping areas.  Most families can’t afford to live in the developments and are forced to find housing elsewhere. This is common in many Black communities.

This is an important book for a classroom to read together. Wes and his friends are the new faces of social justice and youth activism, whether it is gun control, climate change and equality. And student interested in social justice issues may gain courage from Wes.

Chrystal D. Giles is making her middle-grade debut with Take Back the Block. Chrystal was a 2018 W Need Diverse Books mentee, and her poem “Dimples” appears in the poetry anthology Thanku Poems of Gratitude. Chrystal lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and son. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter @CREATIVELYCHRYS.

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.

Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away by Meg Medina

Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away

Meg Medina, Author

Sonia Sánchez, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Sep. 8, 2020

Suitable for ages: 5-7

Themes: Best friends, Moving, Separation, Memories,

Opening: “Evelyn Del Re is my mejor amiga, my número uno best friend. “Come play, Daniela,” she says, just like she always does. Just like today is any other day.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Evelyn Del Rey is Daniela’s best friend, her mejor amiga. But after today, everything will be different. After today, Evelyn won’t live in a mirror-image apartment across the street. Today Evelyn Del Rey is moving away.

The two girls spend on last afternoon together in Evelyn’s apartment, playing among the boxes, until the apartment is empty and it’s time to say their goodbyes. They promise to visit and keep in touch, and, though they will be apart, they know they will always be each other’s first best friend, their número uno.

Why I like this book:

Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away is a touching story of about two best friends playing one last day together. They hide in big empty boxes, romp through the apartment, spin in circles, and hide from the adults.  As the house slowly empties everything familiar begins to disappear. They chat about how the many ways that they will keep in touch and seal their promise with heart stickers they press upon each other’s cheek.  A lovely reminder that best friends will always remain in our hearts even when they are separated by distance.

In Medina’s heartfelt story, she shows how the girls deep bond is mirrored with their similar apartments directly across the street from each other. And Sonia Sánchez’s glorious and emotive illustrations show a string that is strung from one bedroom window to the other — a reminder of their best friend heartstring connection. There is beauty and love on every page. This joyful account of friendship will charm readers.

Resources: Make sure you check out the teacher’s guide, activity guide and free coloring pages at Candlewick.

Meg Medina is the author of the Newbery Medal-winning book Merci Suárez Changes Gears. She is also the author of the award-winning young adult novels and the picture books Mango, Abuela, and Me, illustrated by Angela Dominguez, which as a Pura Belpré Book, and Tia Isa Wants a Car, illustrated by Claudio Munoz, which won the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award. The daughter of Cuban immigrants, she grew up in Queens, New York, and now lives in Richmond, Virginia.

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 copy provided by Candlewick in exchange for a review.

The Space We’re In by Katya Balen

National Autism Awareness Month, Apr. 1 -30, 2021 

The Space We’re In

Katya Balen, Author

Margaret Ferguson Books, Fiction, October 2019

Pages: 208

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Brothers, Autism Spectrum, Family Relationships, Coding, Loss, School, Friendship

Synopsis:

Frank is ten. He loves soccer, codes, riding his bike, and playing with his friends. His brother Max is five. Max on eats foods that are beige or white, hates baths, loud noises, bright lights and if he has to wear a T-shirt that isn’t gray with yellow stripes me melts down down down.

Max is autistic, and Frank longs for the brother he was promised by his parents before Max was born — someone who was supposed to be his biggest fan so he could be the best big brother in the world. Instead, Frank has trouble navigating Max’s behavior and their relationship. But when tragedy strikes, Frank finds a way to try to repair their fractured family, and in doing so learns to love Max for who he is.

Why I like this book:

Katya Balen has written an emotional and sensitive novel about a 10-year-old boy who deals with the challenges of living with a younger autistic brother who is the center of his parents’ attention. Narrated by Frank, readers will gain insight into how deeply affected he is by Max. He feels resentment, anger, and the fatigue of living in a home where he feels dismissed. They will also hear from a Frank who loves Max and is ashamed when he doesn’t stand up for him with school bullies.

The plot is distinctly realistic and then tension is palpable. There is a tragedy (no spoilers) and the story is so sad.  But don’t stop reading. Frank may be vulnerable, but he’s also determined and resilient. Readers will ride Frank’s roller coaster as his world spins out of control, but they will watch his relationship with Max slowly grow as he helps his family move forward in a very creative way.

I love the special bond between Frank and his mother. She keeps the family together, unlike her husband who has difficulty with the chaotic family dynamics. Frank and his mom create their own private way of communicating with each other. They silently tap Morse code messages into each other’s hands. His mother is also a talented artist, but stopped painting after Max was born.  Frank likes to draw and has inherited some of her talent, which is revealed at the end of the story at a time when he uses his talent to help his family heal.

Frank’s love of coding is important part of the story and I was thrilled that the author wrote each chapter title in the “cypher code.” Readers will have fun challenging themselves to break the code. Frank is also fascinated with “the golden ratio” that links space, nature, and people — the spiral galaxy, the swirl of a hurricane, a snail’s shell, and the shape of our ears.

Frank also has a strong relationship with his friends Ahmed and Jamie. They have a special wilderness spot they ride their bikes to and it is the perfect escape for Frank. In the woods they tear off their shirts, rub mud on their faces, swing on ropes, build a den, chase each other with chunks of mud, howl like wolves, and laugh and laugh and laugh!  Before they leave they always scratch ” 23 9 12 4″ (wild) into the earth and their initials, 10 (Jamie)  6 (Frank) and 1 (Ahmed).

This book is an important story for youth who are living with a sibling on the autism spectrum. It’s also a book for parents to read with their kids. It’s a complex situation for families, when they have a child that requires so much attention.  This book will help encourage discussions.

Katya Balen has worked in a number of special schools for autistic children. She now runs Mainspring Arts, a nonprofit that organizes creative projects for neurodivergent people. The Space We’re In is her debut novel. She lives outside of London with her boyfriend and their unbelievably lazy rescue dog.

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 book.

American as Paneer Pie by Supriya Kelkar

American as Paneer Pie

Supriya Kelkar, Author

Aladdin Books, Fiction, Jun. 9, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Indian American, Culture, Bullying, Racism, Family, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis: As the only Indian American kid in her small town, Lekha Divekar feels like she has two versions of herself: Home Lekha, who loves watching Bollywood movies and eating Indian food, and School Lekha, who pins her hair over her bindi birthmark and avoids confrontation at all costs, especially when someone teases her for being Indian.

When a girl Lekha’s age moves in across the street, Lekha is excited to hear that her name is Avantika and she’s Desi, too! Finally, there will be someone else around who gets it. But as soon as Avantika speaks, Lekha realizes she has an accent. She’s new to this country, and not at all like Lekha.

To Lekha’s surprise, Avantika does not feel the same way as Lekha about having two separate lives or about the bullying at school. Avantika doesn’t take the bullying quietly. And she proudly displays her culture no matter where she is: at home or at school.

When a racist incident rocks Lekha’s community, Lekha realizes she must make a choice: continue to remain silent or find her voice before it’s too late.

Why I like this book:

Supriya Kelkar’s American as Paneer Pie is a tender story about an 11-year-old Desi girl, who faces teasing from kids at school and prejudice in her community. Her journey is one of hope and heart. It is also realistic fiction that is based on the author’s own early experiences as an Indian American. This story appealed to me because we adopted a son from India in 1985. I am fascinated with the culture and its beautiful traditions. Our son dealt with a lot bullying and curiosity from others, but he was fortunate to find a group of friends who had his back.

Readers are in for a treat because a lot of the story focuses on details about Lehka’s family dynamics and culture.  Even though her family is the only Indian family in town, they interact with a large Indian community in Detroit. Readers will be introduced to the many celebrations, like Diwali, the five-day Indian Festival of Lights, which is as important to Hindus as Christmas is to Christians. They will also enjoy the food preparations, the spices used in all the dishes, the music and dancing, the Bollywood movies, Indian comic books, and the colorful clothing, bindis and bangles worn during a variety of special events. And there is a recipe for Paneer Pie (similar to pizza) at the end of the book.

It is so easy to love Lekha. She experiences the angst of middle school, but she’s tired of the questions about her heritage, the bullying, and being made to feel different. She just wants to fit in and spends much of her time skirting conflict. When another Indian family moves across the street, Lekah is excited to have a friend like, Avantika. But the relationship is complicated, because Avantika doesn’t share Lekah’s concerns and is proud of her heritage. Lekah’s best friend and neighbor, Noah, brings a lot of fun and humor to the story.

The book is timely because it explores important issues of racism, xenophobia and foreigners through Lekha, who is tired of feeling helpless and not American enough. She begins to find her voice after family members are beaten on the street, a racial slur is sprayed across her family’s garage door, and a newly-elected senator is hostile towards immigrants taking away jobs in Michigan.  There is a lot of growth in Lekha, although most of it is toward the end of the book.

American as Paneer Pie is an important story that Indian American youth will find relatable. And it is a book that can be read in the classroom to create empathy and respect for all cultures. Perfect for school libraries.

Supriya Kelkar was born and raised in the Midwest where she learned Hindi as a child by watching three Hindi movies a week. Supriya is a screenwriter who has worked on the writing teams for several Hindi films and one Hollywood feature. Her books include Ahimsa, That Thing about Bollywood, and American as Paneer Pie, among others. Make sure you visit Kelkar at her website.

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.

*I won an advanced reading copy on Rosi Hollenbeck‘s Kidlit blog, She’s also regularly reviews books for San Francisco and Manhattan Book Reviews. If you haven’t read her blog, please check it out.