Born Behind Bars by Padma Venkatraman

Born Behind Bars

Padma Venkatraman, Author 

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, Sep. 7, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: India, Prisoners’ families, Homeless persons, Street children, Friendship, Social justice issues, Hope

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Kabir Khan has been in jail since the day he was born because his mom is serving time for a crime she didn’t commit. Their cellmates are his only friends, and he’s never even met his dad. The one place he feels a little bit free is the prison classroom, where his teacher delights him with stories of the outside world’s wonders.

When the new warden announces that Kabir is too old to stay, he’s suddenly released — without his mom — to fend for himself on the city streets of Chennai. Fortunately, Rani, another street kid, takes him under her wing and helps him eke out a living, even sharing the tree she calls home. Plotting their future is difficult and dangerous in a world that doesn’t value low-caste kids like them, but Rani has enough confidence for two, plus a trusty slingshot that comes in handy for hunting meals and handling bullies. And she has a clever parrot, Jay, that talks.

This isn’t quite the life Kabir dreamed of; still, he’s discovered he’s not the type to give up. Justice needs to be served, and he’s determined to show the world that he — and his mom — deserve a place in it.

Why I like this book:

Padma Venkatraman’s compelling and hopeful novel sheds light on the life of children born to mothers in India’s prisons. Her powerful storytelling and vivid imagery draws readers into Kabir’s sheltered life in the prison and the extraordinary journey he embarks upon to find his family in Bengaluru. His story will touch readers’ hearts.

The setting is culturally rich. Venkatraman is a lyrical writer and there are many poetic turns of phrase. The chapters are short (three pages), which quickly moves the story and is perfect for that slightly younger group of middle-graders and reluctant readers.  For fans of The Bridge Home, a character from the story makes an appearance. 

The plot is dangerous and suspenseful from the moment Kabir leaves the prison. The police release him to a man who claims to be Kabir’s uncle. Something feels “off” from the start, and Kabir has to plan a fast escape from this fake uncle. Kabir meets Rani, a street-smart homeless girl who makes a living telling fortunes — she’s from the Roma community in India. She has a talking parrot, Jay, perched on her shoulder. Jay offers many moments of comic relief. Rani shares her home with Kabir — a Banyan tree inside the gates of a haunted mansion. Kabir discovers he can use his voice to earn money and his instincts to judge the people he can trust on the outside.  

Venkatraman exposes India’s broken justice system and it’s impact on children and families who are considered lower caste. They live in extreme poverty and are forgotten. She also shows the tension that exists between the Hindus and Muslims, and problems over water shortages due to climate change and draught. 

Growing up in India, Venkatraman’s memories of starving children provide the inspiration for her novels, Born Behind Bars and The Bridge Home.  Her stories are well-researched and she draws her stories from the tales of the children she meets while doing volunteer work with her mother at respectable children’s homes and schools. Most important, I love that she writes about a culture she knows so well. I hope we see more uplifting novels from her in the future.

Make sure you check out the Author’s Note at the end to learn more about Born Behind Bars.

Padma Venkatraman was born in India and became an American after living in five countries and working as an oceanographer. She is also the author of The Bridge Home, A Time to Dance, Island’s End and Climbing the Stairs. She lives in Rhode Island. Visit her at her website, and on Twitter: @padmatv, Instagram: Venkatraman.padma

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 purchased copy.

 

The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillio

The Beatryce Prophecy

Kate DiCamillo, Author

Sophie Blackall, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 28, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes:  Girl, Goat, Monk, King, Prophesy, Medieval, Folktale, Love, Friendships  

Publisher’s Synopsis:

In a time of war, a mysterious child appears at the monastery of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. Gentle Brother Edik finds the girl, Beatryce, curled in a stall, wracked with fever, coated in dirt and blood, and holding fast to the ear of Answelica the goat. As the monk nurses Beatryce to health, he uncovers her dangerous secret, one that imperils them all—for the king of the land seeks just such a girl, and Brother Edik, who penned the prophecy himself, knows why.

And so it is that a girl with a head full of stories—powerful tales-within-the-tale of queens and kings, mermaids and wolves—ventures into a dark wood in search of the castle of one who wishes her dead. But Beatryce knows that, should she lose her way, those who love her—a wild-eyed monk, a man who had once been king, a boy with a terrible sword, and a goat with a head as hard as stone—will never give up searching for her, and to know this is to know everything. With its timeless themes, unforgettable cast, and magical medieval setting, Kate DiCamillo’s lyrical tale, paired with resonant black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall, is a true collaboration between masters.

We shall all, in the end, be led to where we belong. We shall all, in the end, find our way home.

Why I like this book:

The Beatryce Prophecy is an engaging medieval folktale and adventure that is exquisitely imagined by Kate DiCamillo. Her language is lyrical and her powerful storytelling will captivate the hearts of readers. The fast-paced plot is packed with tension, yet offset by the right amount of humor. It is a very special book that is soulful and moving.  

Captivating and lovable main characters are pitted against an evil king. Beatryce is a girl who can read and write, which is forbidden in the kingdom. She has suffered a trauma that is so terrible that she has tucked the memory away. She only knows her name. She’s smart, clever and wise beyond her years. Brother Edik is a monk in the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing who sees beauty everywhere and paints that beauty into his letters, despite a war and violence that surrounds the kingdom. He is a compassionate soul who is the ideal protector for Beatryce along with the strong and playful goat, Answelica, who can send the monks flying with a single butt. But the goat loves Beatryce and appears to communicate with her in a way that only the two understand. A brave orphan boy, Jack Dory, becomes her friend and helps Beatrice escape when the king’s soldiers search the kingdom for the “girl in the prophecy.” Jack, Answelica and Beatrice embark upon a dangerous journey to confront the king and find her mother. 

The Beatryce Propheccy is divided into “six books” with very short chapters, making this fable a perfect bedtime read for younger children. Each chapter begins with an ornately designed letter, much in the style of Brother Edik’s luminous letters. Sophie Blackall’s beautiful black-and-white illustrations pull readers into this medieval adventure and give readers a peek at Beatryce’s world. Verdict: This timeless fable will become a favorite among readers.

Kate DiCamillo is the author of Because of Winn Dixie, The Tiger Rising, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Tale of Despereaux, The Magician’s Elephant, Flora & Ulysses, and the Raymie Nightingale series. She also is the author of the chapter books series Mercy Watson and the Tales from Deckwoo Drive. A former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, she lives in Minneapolis.

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 Elephant in the Room by Holly Goldberg Sloan

The Elephant in the Room

Holly Goldberg Sloan

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Mar. 2, 2021

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Immigration, Turkish Americans. Separation, Elephants, Rescue, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis:

It’s been almost a year since Sila’s mother traveled halfway around the world to Turkey, hoping to secure the immigration paperwork that would allow her to return to her family in the United States.

The long separation is almost impossible for Sila to withstand. But things change when Sila accompanies her father (who is a mechanic) outside their Oregon town to fix a truck. There, behind an enormous stone wall, she meets a grandfatherly man, Gio Gardino, who only months before won the state lottery. Their new alliance leads to the rescue of a circus elephant named Veda, and then to a friendship with an unusual boy named Mateo, proving that comfort and hope come in the most unlikely of places.

A moving story of family separation and the importance of the connection between animals and humans, this novel has the enormous heart and uplifting humor that readers have come to expect from the beloved author of Counting by 7s.

What I like about this book:

Holly Goldberg Sloan hit a sweet spot with her novel, The Elephant in the Room. It is such an uplifting story because it is charming and sad, unique and creative. But most of all the story it is filled with heart and it will put a smile on readers’ faces. Her storytelling is captivating. 

The characters are realistic. Sila Tekin really struggles without her mother. She’s quiet in the classroom, her studies are falling behind and she eats lunch alone. The school notices and pairs her with another bilingual student, Mateo Lopez, who is on the autism spectrum. It’s an awkward pairing at first, but I love that Sila accepts Mateo without judgement. Their friendship is sealed when Sila invites Mateo to visit the Veda, the elephant Gio Gardino rescues. Sila and Mateo’s  world revolves around caring for the elephant. And it is always heartwarming to see the bond that forms between animals and humans. They become a family.  

Sloan deals with some major topics — deportation, separation, animal cruelty and autism — which add a lot of depth to the story. Readers will learn a lot about the rescue and care for circus elephants. A lot happens in the story and the viewpoint changes frequently among the different characters, which is told in third person. I really enjoyed Veda’s voice in some of the chapters. The ending is very satisfying.   

Holly Goldberg Sloan spent part of her childhood living in Istanbul, Turkey. After graduating from Wellesley College, she working in commercial production in Los Angeles and in her twenties began writing family feature films, including Angels in the Outfield and Made in America. She was the first woman to direct a live action film for the Walt Disney Company when she directed (and wrote) The Big Green. She is the author of six novels, including the E. B. White Read-Aloud Honor book Counting by 7s, the New York Times best seller Short, and the highly praised To Night Owl from Dogfish. She is the mother of two sons and lives with her husband in Los Angeles. You can visit Holly at her website.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Too Shy to Say Hi by Shannon Anderson

Too Shy to Say Hi

Shannon Anderson, Author

Hiroe Nakata, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 9, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Bashfulness, Anxiety, School, Friendship, Rhyme 

Opening: My dog and I walk every day, just the two of us. We pass some kids out playing ball — “Let’s GO Barnabus.”

Synopsis:

School is coming up and Shelli really wants to be less shy. At home, she relates more to her bashful pet fish who hides in his cave than she does to her outgoing dog, who wants to greet everyone in sight. Even her parrot squawks a “Hi! Hiiii! Hello!” Shelli wants to make new friends and meet new people, but she is just too shy to say hi!

“When I am back at school next week / I want to give it a go! / Will someone want to play with me? / There’s only one way to know.”

Why I like this book

Shannon Anderson has written a charming and helpful book for children who are bashful or painfully shy. Her rhyming text is snappy and upbeat as Shelli takes itsy bitsy steps to prepare for her first day at school, like practicing waving and saying “hello” into a mirror, 

I like how Shelli realizes that her shyness interferes with her ability to make friends. There are no adults in the background encouraging her or giving her suggestions. She’s very introspective and bravely figures out how to step outside of her comfort zone and ask Lupita if she can sit next to her in the classroom and play together during recess.  

Shelli’s journey is supported by Hiroe Nakata’s expressive and lively illustrations. My favorite illustration is the look of surprise on Shelli’s face when she first speaks to Lupita. You can see how proud she is of herself and relieved that she made the effort.

Making new friends may be tough for children. This is a great read aloud book for parents and teachers to have on hand for kids who are anxious in social situations like school. 

Resources: There is a Readers Note for parents and teachers about ways to work with children who are very shy and not interacting with friends or participating in activities they would really enjoy. 

Shannon Anderson has taught first grade through college level and loves to write books for child and teachers. In 20019, Shannon was named one of the Top 10 Teachers who inspired The Today Show. She was named the JC Runyon Person of the Year for her work writing and speaking about social and emotional issues for kids. She lives in Indiana. Visit Shannon at her website,  on Facebook @AuthorShannonAnderson and Twitter @ShannonTeaches.

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 Magination Press in exchange for a review.

These Unlucky Stars by Gillian McDunn

These Unlucky Stars

Gillian McDunn, Author

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, Fiction, Mar. 2, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Self-confidence, Sibling rivalry, Intergenerational relationships, Friendship, Luck

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Annie has always been the odd one out in her family. Her dad and brother just don’t understand her creativity or spontaneity. They are so practical…so predictable. And ever since her mother left a few years ago, Annie has been reluctant to get close to anyone. She keeps to herself.

When a poor decision lands Annie in hot water, she must make amends by checking in daily with her elderly neighbor and helping with her weird dog all summer.  As Annie begins to connect with her neighbor Gloria, it becomes clear that Gloria won’t be able to live on her own for much longer. But it’s this brief and important friendship that gives Annie the confidence to let people in and see how rich life can be when you decide to chart your own path to happiness. 

Why I like this book:

Gillian McDunn has written a sensitive and charming novel about Annie, who has an artist’s heart. McDunn’s narrative beautifully captures the drama and emotion of middle grade students. Her memorable characters and deliberate pacing will keep readers fully engaged.

Annie is convinced she is the unluckiest person ever. She’s somewhat of a loner. She loves to crawl out her bedroom window and sit on the roof and stare at her beautiful mountains. She captures their shimmering sunrises and sunsets with her colored pencils. Neither her predictable and hardworking father and brother, Ray, appreciate her artistic talent. They see her as careless and worry about her safety. Ray is popular at school and is good at everything.  Annie is not Ray, so this makes for some interesting sibling rivalry.

When Annie accepts a dare to play “ding dong ditch” on an elderly woman, she causes her to fall and break her wrist. More bad luck. It only seems right that Annie helps Gloria everyday and cares for her dog, Otto, while the feisty old woman recovers — perfect for Annie. The intergenerational bond that forms between Annie and Gloria, makes this novel really shine! Annie begins to believe in herself and her talents, interact with other people, and creates her own life. 

The setting of Oak Branch, North Carolina, is so beckoning and rich with character. Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, the small town smells of fresh pine. Readers will want to stroll through the small town and purchase hot muffin’s from Lulu’s bakery, stop at the book store and visit JoJo and The Earl’s for some serious North Carolina BBQ. And there are many more interesting characters to meet along Main Street.

The novel is divided into five parts with short chapters that are perfect for reluctant readers. Scattered throughout the novel are Annie’s drawings, which give a great deal of insight into her feelings and chart her growth.

Gillian McDunn is the author of The Queen Bee and Me and Caterpillar Summer, which was selected for the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List and the Parents magazine Best Books of the Year list. She has lived in three time zones and is a fan of Eastern and Western barbecue. When she isn’t reading or writing, she is probably cooking, traveling, or spending time with her family. She lives near Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband and children, and a very silly dog named Friday.  Visit her at her website

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Oranges for the Sunsets by Tina Athaide

Orange for the Sunsets

Tina Athaide, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Fiction, 2019

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Friendship, Social class, Ethnic relations, East Indians, Uganda, Family life, Idi Amin, History

Publishers Synopsis:

Asha and her best friend, Yesofu, never cared about the differences between them: Indian. African. Girl. Boy. Short. Tall.

But when Ugandan President Idi Amin announces that Indians have ninety days to leave the country, suddenly those differences are the only things that people in Entebbe can see—not the shared after-school samosas or Asha cheering for Yesofu at every cricket game.

Determined for her life to stay the same, Asha clings to her world tighter than ever before. But Yesofu is torn, pulled between his friends, his family, and a promise of a better future. Now as neighbors leave and soldiers line the streets, the two friends find that nothing seems sure—not even their friendship. And with only days before the deadline, Asha and Yesofu must decide if the bravest thing of all might be to let each other go.

Why I like this book:

Tina Athaide’s powerful novel is gripping as it explores the 1972 expulsion of 50,000 Asians from Uganda. Athaide portrays the vast disparity between the two ethnic groups in Uganda through the daily lives of Asha Gomez, an Indian Ugandan, and Yesofu, an African Ugandan. Their friendship is depicted within the backdrop of historical events, a brutal dictator, social class, ethnic relations, family relationships, and hope. 

The narrative is told in the alternating voices of Asha and Yesofu, which is very effective because readers will understand the emotions each character has to confront individually and together as friends. All of the successful businesses, farms, schools, homes and churches are owned by Indians, while the Africans work hard labor in the sugar cane fields and are servants in Asian homes. Few African can get loans to buy land or start businesses.

Asha was born in Uganda and knows no other home. Her father is from Goa, India, and works in the Ministry of Tourism and they entertain foreign dignitaries. Her family is wealthy. She lives in a two-story house with a wraparound front porch. They can afford to eat kulfi or ice cream and serve their tea on beautiful silver trays. Her family have African servants, including Yesofu’s mother, Fara, who works as a housekeeper and cook. Asha is a compassionate, caring, brave and determined character. But she’s also very naive to the social injustices.  She never has visited Yesofu’s home or thinks to ask Yesofu about his life. 

Yesofu’s life is a stark contrast to Asha’s. His family lives in a two-room shack made of “wattle and daub — woven rods and twigs plastered with clay and mud and topped with a grass roof.” Yesofu sleeps on a woven mat and gathers branches for firewood and hauls water from the well twice daily. His mother has very little education and his Baba works in the fields all day. Yesofu’s and his brother Esi’s education is paid for by Asha’s father. Yesofu dreams of getting a scholarship to attend college and playing professional cricket.  At first, Idi Amin’s talk about a brighter future for Africans excites Yesofu. His Baba may be able to buy land. He may be able to attend college and have a better life. So he joins his friends and family in support the actions of Amin.

This is a period in history I wished I’d followed more closely in the 70s. So I’m very grateful to gain some understanding through Athaide’s novel, which is loosely based on her own life there. Her novel is well-researched. It really will help readers understand what happens when racial nationalism is used to rid a country of other ethnicities. President Idi Amin promises to help African Ugandans. But he seizes Indian properties, businesses, bank accounts. He is violent and commits torture and murder. Friends become enemies. There are no winners. And Yesofu begins to sees a darker side to Imin’s promises. Yesofu’s comment says it all: “Idi Amin had promised change would come to Uganda. And he was right. Everything had changed. No Asha. No Akello. No jobs. No money for school fees. No food, Dada Amin had promised a great future, but a future is hard to build when there’s nothing left.” 

I highly recommend Orange for the Sunsets. Readers won’t be able to put it down. Make sure you read her Author’s Note, the 90 Days in History, additional resources and view her personal family photos.

Review:For those wondering how to discuss the dangers of manipulative and toxic nationalism with children, this delicately told story is it. Orange for the Sunsets is a nuanced and balanced way to see politics through a child’s eyes.”— Nadia Hashimi, M.D., author of The Sky at Our Feet and One Half from the East.

Tina Athaide was born in Uganda and grew up in London and Canada. While her family lift Entebbe just prior to the expulsion, she has memories of refugee family and friends staying with them in their London home. The stories and conversations she listened to through the years became the inspiration for this book. Tina now lives in California with her husband, Ron, and their daughter, Isabella.

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.

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 scary it can be to meet someone new —  especially if they 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.