The Robin and The Fir Tree by Jason Jameson

The Robin & The Fir Tree

Retold by Jason Jameson, Author and Illustrator

Templar Books (Imprint Candlewick), Fiction, Nov. 21, 2021 (US edition)

Suitable for ages: 4-10

Pages: 64

Themes: Fir Tree, Robin, Animals, Friendship, Folktale, Legends, Holidays

Opening: “Long ago, in the North, there stood a forest. The trees of the forest grew tall and old, and many animals made their homes in and beneath them.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

In a forest far away from the hustle and bustle of town grows the Fir Tree. The meadow he lives in is beautiful and serene, but the Fir Tree yearns for the excitement of the outside world. His friend the Robin brings him gifts and tells him stories of the places she’s been, the people she’s flown over, and the many things men construct out of wood.

The Fir Tree dreams of adventure and wishes to be something more. He imagines a new life as a ship’s mast, traveling the world by sea. When men come to the meadow with axes one day and cut him down, the Fir Tree is eager to be chosen for a new purpose. But the Robin worries. What will become of her strong, beautiful friend? In a lyrical story of friendship and rebirth, Jason Jameson brings a Christmas classic to beautiful new life.

The retelling of the little Fir Tree is both beautiful and heartbreaking. He lives in a magnificent meadow that is peaceful and surrounded by a wide variety of trees that change colors with the seasons, as his needles remain green.  And there are creatures large and small, including his friendship with Robin, who decorates his home with roses in the Fir Trees branches. But the Fir Tree is not content with everything remaining the same and longs to know what lies beyond the meadow. 

When the Fir Tree is selected for the town Christmas tree, he’s excited that people will be able to admire his beauty. But, his moment of glory is short-lived. Robin is a true friend and stays with his friend through the rest of the story. It is a sad story, but it also is a story of rebirth.  And the ending is hopeful.  

This is a beautifully packaged book with a heavy cover that is decorated in gold. The first letter of each new page is ornately designed. Jameson’s illustrations are stunning, with much detail for young readers to explore. This is a holiday book families will treasure for years to come. It also makes a perfect holiday gift.

Resources: This story is perfect to read after families decorate their trees.  If read in the classroom, teachers may want to compare Hans Christian Anderson’s story with this new retelling. It may make for some interesting discussions.  And, it would be interesting to ask kids to think about the message in this story. Have they ever felt like the fir tree?

Jason Jameson studied animation at the Royal College of Art and has more than fifteen years of experience in character development, design, and animation direction. He is the cofounder and creative director of Unanico Group, an award-winning media company, and has produced and animated several short films. He lives in London.

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

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

Birdie’s Bargain by Katherine Paterson

Birdie’s Bargain

Katherine Paterson, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 19, 2021

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Themes: Moving, Separation, Iraq War, Crisis of faith, Friendship

Opening: “If you are wearing a T-shirt that says in big capital letters I ♥ JESUS, you shouldn’t be standing in the middle of the street bawling your eyes out. But that is exactly what Birdie was doing.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

In a poignant and unflinching new realistic novel from the Newbery Medalwinning author of Bridge to Terabithia, a ten-year-old girl makes a deal with God for her father’s safe return from the Iraq War.

Birdie has questions for God. For starters, why couldn’t God roll history back to September 10, 2001, and fix things—so the next day was an ordinary sunny day and not the devastating lead-in to two wars? Daddy has already been to Iraq twice. Now he’s going again, and Birdie is sure he’ll die. At the very least, she won’t see him again for a year, and everything will not be OK. (Why do grown-ups lie?)

To save money, she, Mom, and baby Billy have moved to Gran’s, where shy Birdie must attend a new school, and no one but bossy Alicia Marie Suggs welcomes her. Doesn’t God remember how hard it was for Birdie to make friends at Bible Camp? Counselor Ron taught about Judgment there—and the right way to believe. Has Birdie been praying wrong? Why else would God break their bargain?

Readers of all faiths and backgrounds, especially children of military families, will identify with and root for the unforgettable Birdie, given inimitable voice by a master storyteller.

Why I like this book:

What a great opening (above). Katherine Paterson is known for her spectacular storytelling and great “first pages” that quickly draw readers into the story. You just have to know the “why” and keep on reading. But she’s also thoughtful and it shows in the depth of her characters, her plot and her glorious prose. 

Paterson’s keen sensitivity, compassion and penetrating sense of drama brings readers a moving story about Birdie’s father’s third deployment to the middle east and her fear for his safety. Separation is tough on military children and their families both emotionally and financially. Birdie’s mad at the world, refuses to go to the airport to say goodbye, and fears her dad’s luck has run out and  he won’t return home this time. So she is angry and has big questions for God — if there is a God. Readers will go through Birdie’s crisis of faith with her. 

Paterson creates realistic and memorable characters readers will love spending time with. Birdie is caring and resilient. She isn’t popular in her  new school and longs for a friend. She is befriended by Alicia Maria Suggs (Alice May) who claims to have a famous mother who is an actress. Their relationship is exhausting for Birdie. Alicia is bossy, obnoxious, and controls her. Birdie suspects something is seriously wrong at Alicia’s house and that her mother may be abusive. That would explain Alicia wearing make-up. So Birdie  has to make some hard decisions about how she can help Alicia. Thankfully she has Gran who is the rock in their family and is always ready to listen. She’s kind, patient and tough when she needs to be. Her teacher Mr. Goldberg is another kind and positive influence for Birdie.

I love that Birdie finds a diary her father gave her for Christmas. It’s been buried in an unpacked box. She calls is “Betsy Lou.” There’s a note inside from her dad that moves her. So she begins to write down all of the things that she’s doing so she can share everything he misses while he’s deployed. It also helps her count down the days until he returns. Readers will be able to explore Birdie’s deepest thoughts, anguish and fears. It helps Birdie cope during some challenging moments in the story. (Sorry, no Spoilers.) But readers are going to cheer for Birdie. 

Birdie’s Bargain is an excellent choice for middle grade libraries. 

Katherine Paterson, a two-time winner of the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award, has written more than thirty books, including Bridge to Terabithia, My Brigadista Year, and The Great Gilly Hopkins. A recipient of the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award and a former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, she lives in Montpelier, Vermont.

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.  

What Boys Do by Jon Lasser

What Boys Do

Jon Lasser, Author

Robert Paul Jr., Illustrator

Magination Press,  Fiction, Nov. 9, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Boys, Embracing individuality, Diversity, Self-esteem, Kindness, Friendships, Rhyme

Opening “There are many ways to be a boy, and so many more ways to be you!”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

What exactly do boys do?

The answer is ANYTHING and EVERYTHING!

From eating to dreaming, making mistakes to exploring, to hurting and loving, there is more to being a boy than meets the eye.

In this fun, affirming book that holds no restraints to traditional norms about what it means to be a boy, readers will rejoice at all of the possibilities.

Why I like this book:

Jon Lasser’s inspiring book celebrates boyhood and encourages boys to embrace all the many things that make them each unique.  Readers will meet boys who love to create, explore, try new things, ask questions, share feelings, team-up with others, pursue dreams and do things they’ve never tried. It’s all about letting go and being themselves.

The rhyming is exceptional, with each sequence ending in a question to readers. What a clever way to encourage discussion on every page. “Do you share a story or something to eat? / Notice your feelings when you gather and meet?” Do they listen to others? Are they kind? Can they overcome hardships. Are they okay with being different? Are they making a difference in their world? This is definitely a read aloud.

This is book speaks to boys, but Robert Paul’s illustrations are inclusive and represent all kinds of kids — even girls. His large expressive and vibrant illustrations include a diverse cast of characters representing different cultures and those who are differently abled. And look at that spectacular cover!

Resources: This book is a resource and will spark many interesting discussions at home and in the classroom. Make sure you check out the Reader’s Note at the end which includes information on how gender role stereotypes can be harmful to boys and how parents and teachers can “support healthy emotional development in boys by supporting their personhood rather than a more narrowly defined boyhood.”

Jon Laser is a school psychologist and professor at Texas State University in San Marcos. Jon is the co-author of Grow Happy, Grow Grateful, and Grow Kind. He lives in Martindale, Texas. Visit him @JonSLasser on Twitter.

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 Magination Press in exchange for a review.

Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle

Cathy Ballou Mealey, Author

Kelly Collier, Illustrator

Kids Can Press, Fiction, May 4, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Animals, Bicycle, Job, Pickles, Differences, Teamwork, Friendship

Opening: “Sloth. I want a bike,” said Squirrel. “I want a bike just like that. We could go FAST!” Sloth nodded s-l-o-w-l-y. 

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Sloth and Squirrel want to buy a bicycle that goes FAST.

So, they get a job. Squirrel works fast, really fast. And Sloth works…s-l-o-w-l-y. It turns out that getting a bikes is harder than they thought.

Starring two lovable and unlikely friends, this hilarious story is a celebration of teamwork, ingenuity and pickles. 

Why I love this book:

Opposites attract. Squirrel is quick and full of energy and speed. Sloth moves a lot more slowly, but is very deliberate. There are many obstacles along the way as they try to earn money to buy a bike. Eventually they come up with a very clever plan that suits them both.

Cathy Mealey’s message is simple, quirky and hilarious for children. It encourages kids to not to make swift judgements about someone else. Everyone has a different strength, a different pace and an unknown talent that may compliment the teamwork. This certainly is the case for Squirrel and Sloth. 

The narrative is delightful and full of fun words. Kids will gasp, they will commiserate with antics and failed attempts to pack pickles, and they will cheer as the two unlikely friends find their way through this pickle. The ending is endearing and funny as Squirrel and Sloth realize their dream in a very big way. A wonderful story about problem-solving and friendship!

Kelly Collier’s comical and colorful illustrations bring each character to life in a unique way. Be prepared to laugh out loud!

Resources: Do you like pickles? What is your favorite kind of pickle?  Like Sloth and Squirrel, can you think of the other ways that you can use pickles? Draw a picture of your idea. And if you wanted to buy a bike, how would you raise the money? Share your ideas. 

Cathy Ballou Mealey has never picked a peck of pickles, but she has been a crossing guard, pet-sitter and professional gift-wrapper, among many other jobs. Her favorite pickle is a crisp, tangy bread-an-butter chip. She lives with her family north of Boston, where she delights in watching silly squirrel antics and is waiting patiently for a sloth to appear. 

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.

Ivy Lost and Found by Cynthia Lord

Book Buddies: Ivy Lost and Found

Cynthia Lord, Author

Stephanie Graegin, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 28, 2021

Suitable for ages: 6-9

Themes: Library, Borrowing books, Repurposing toys, Friendship 

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Ivy the doll is the newest Book Buddy — a toy that can be checked out just like a book — at Anne’s library. But Ivy isn’t sure she wants to be borrowed.  She’d rather go back to when Anne was a little girl and Ivy was her favorite toy.  Fern, a child who visits the library with her stepfamily, also wishes things could go back to the way they were, when Fern had her dad all to herself. When Fern takes Ivy home, an unexpected outdoor adventure helps both of them find confidence and belonging in their changing worlds. 

This  is the first book of a charming new illustrated series about library toys and the children who borrow them, written by Newbery Honor winner Cynthia Lord and illustrated by Stephanie Graegin. 

Why I like this book:

Children will fall in love with Lord’s heartwarming chapter book — the first book in a series that pairs friendly toys with children who may need them to work through a difficult time. I love the idea that the toys are repurposed and given a chance to be loved again by more children. Such a great idea to check out a toy along with a book from a library.

I love that the book is narrated by Ivy. She shares her memories of playing with Anne in the garden, attending birthday parties, receiving new clothes Anne sewed for her, and cuddling with Anne on winter nights. But Anne grows up and Ivy spends lonely nights on a shelf, until she’s packed away in a box in the attic.  “Missing someone hurts,” says Ivy, who echoes Fern’s feelings with her new stepfamily. Many children will identify and find comfort in Ivy Lost and Found.  

The short chapters will engage children, as will Graegin’s lovely pen and ink illustrations on nearly every page. I look forward to more Book Buddy adventures with new borrowers. 

As I write, my grown daughter’s favorite bear, “Dink,” is resting on the bed behind my desk. He went to camp with her and was her best buddy! Maybe he is lonely and needs repurposing. 

Cynthia Lord is the author of award-winning middle grade fiction titles such as the Newbery Honor Book Rules, and most recently Because of the Rabbit. She is also the author of Shelter Pet Squad chapter book series. She lives in Maine.

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 in exchange for a review.

Twitchy Witchy Itch by Priscilla Tey

Twitchy Witchy Itch

Priscilla Tey, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Jun. 24, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Witches, Tea Party, Cleaning, Being yourself, Friendship

Opening: “In just ten minutes, the clock would chime tea o-clock. In just ten minutes, Itch the witch would have two witchy neighbors over for tea.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Tick, tock! / Three cups. / Tick tock! / Three saucers.

With nine minutes left, everything is ready. Or is it? As the clock counts down to tea o’clock, Itch the witch’s mind is in a tizzy: Is her house too twitchy? If her home to itchy? Zippity-zoom! Itch grabs a duster and broom. What spell will she say? The guests are already on their way!

Why I like this book:

Priscilla Tey’s charming story carries a sweet message for kids about how important it is to be yourself at all times. Witchy Itch’s neighbors love her home just as it is and have a grand time at tea.  

The language is entertaining and repetitive, includes a few tongue twisters and a lot of fun words: Swish, swash,  zipity-zoom, kaboom, witchity-woosh, ka-boosh, itchy, and twitchy. This will make for a delightful read aloud. It is a perfect seasonal read with Halloween approaching.

Tey’s lively illustrations are quirky colorful, and a tad eccentric. Just look at that cover! The expression on Itch’s face shows the growing panic she feels as spells go wrong and mayhem wins. I also love the mice, bugs, spiders. lizards and cute monkey that live in her home. Make sure you study each page because there may be some other hidden animals.

Resources: With Halloween approaching encourage kids to draw a picture of a witch doing something unusual and fun: having a pajama party, riding a skateboard, racing a car/broom, or sitting by a campfire roasting something. Be creative.

Priscilla Tey is a graduate of the  Rhode Island School of Design. Her first book for children, In-Between Thing, was called “unique and thought-provoking” by School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly praised her “quirky, ingenious, and highly disciplined” aesthetic. A native of Singapore, Priscilla Tey returned home after completing her degree and splits her time between illustrating and teaching.

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

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

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.

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*Reviewed from a library copy.