Dream, Annie, Dream by Waka T. Brown

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month – May 1 – 31, 2022

Dream, Annie, Dream

Waka T. Brown, Author

Quill Tree Books, Fiction, Feb. 8, 2022

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Japanese Americans, Differences, Diversity, Middle School, Theater, Racism, Friendships

Book Jacket Synopsis:

You can be anything you want to be.

Armed with her sixth-grade teacher’s parting words of encouragement, incoming seventh grader Annie Inoue was ready to take on the next year of her life doing just that: following her dreams.

As seventh grade unfolds, so do the opportunities for dreaming. There are basketball tryouts, Annie’s first  crush, and most importantly, auditions for a huge middle school production of the The King and I that Annie is dying to be in. So when she lands a prominent role in the play, she’s ecstatic…until she hears murmurs around school that she only got the role because it’s an Asian play with Asian characters. Then, she’s stunned. This was her dream, and now her classmates want to take it away from her? 

Devastated but determined, Annie channels her hurt into a new dream: showing everyone what she’s made of.  

Waka T. Brown, author of While I Was Away, delivers an uplifting coming-of-age story about a Japanese American girl’s fight to make space for herself in a world that claims to celebrate everyone’s differences but doesn’t always follow through.

Why I like Dream, Annie, Dream:

Waka T. Brown has written a captivating book that is so full of heart and big dreams. But it also tells a story of how American Asians are stereotyped and diversity is not necessarily welcome — an important theme running throughout the story. Set in 1987, there weren’t many people of color in movies, on TV or in books at that time.

I fell in love with Annie (Aoi Inoue) right away. Like Annie, I loved theater, music and the arts in middle grade and high school, so it stirred up many fond memories. I believe her big dreams will appeal to students who love the theater. Annie also loves playing on the basketball team, even though she’s short. Readers will love her spirit, enthusiasm and work ethic. They will identify with her dreams of being on Broadway or playing in the NBA.  But middle school is tough, especially when her best friends, Jessica and Ben unfairly turn on her because of the racism present. But this talented 12-year-old is determined to remain true to herself no matter what others think. The author nailed the middle school drama. 

I enjoyed how the director, Sam, involves both the middle school and high students in The King and I. It allows the students to bond and Annie learns a lot about high school dances, Homecoming, and Friday night football games.  They end up idolizing some of the high school actors. Well done.

Annie’s family is strict, but loving and supportive in an interesting way. They understand what Annie is up against and are concerned that her aspirations are a dead end for her. Her father is a mathematics professor and and her mother is a stay-at-home mom, who isn’t comfortable socializing.  Readers will learn learn a lot about Annie’s culture. I enjoyed the role Annie plays in inspiring her mother to pursue her own dream of becoming a nurse.

Dream. Annie, Dream is a delightful read that will also open readers to many interesting discussions that impact our world today. I also recommend you read the Author’s Note at the end of the book. It will give readers insight into the story.

Waka T. Brown was the first American born in her family. She is a Stanford graduate with a master’s in secondary education. With her background, she’s worked to further US-Japan relations and promoted cultural exchange and awareness. She’s currently  an instructor at Stanford Program on International and Cross Cultural Education (SPICE), authoring curriculum on several international topics and winning the Association for Asian Studies’ Franklin R, Buchanan Prize. Waka’s also been awarded the US–Japan Foundation and Engage Asia’s 2019 Elgin Heinz Outstanding Teacher Award for her groundbreaking endeavors in teaching about US–Japan relations to high school students in Japan. While I Was Away was her debut memoir and is followed by Dream, Annie, Dream, her first work of fiction. She lives with her family in the Portland, Oregon area. To learn more about Waka, visit 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.

 

The View from the Very Best Place in Town by Meera Trehan

The View from the Very Best House in Town

Meera Trehan, Author

Walker Books US, Fiction, Feb. 8, 2022

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes:  Autisim spectrum, Diversity, Friendship, Mansion, Classism, Mystery, 

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Part thriller, part friendship story, part real estate listing, this witty and inventive debut explores the nature of friendship and home.

Sam and Asha. Asha and Sam. Their friendship is so long established, they take it for granted. Just as Asha takes for granted that Donnybrooke, the mansion that sits on the highest hill in Coreville, is the best house in town.

But when Sam is accepted into snobbish Castleton Academy as an autistic “Miracle Boy,” he leaves Asha, who is also autistic, to navigate middle school alone. He also leaves her wondering if she can take anything for granted anymore. Because soon Sam is spending time with Prestyn, Asha’s nemesis, whose family owns Donnybrooke and, since a housewarming party gone wrong, has forbidden Asha to set foot inside.

Who is Asha without Sam? And who will she be when it becomes clear that Prestyn’s interest in her friend isn’t so friendly?

Told from the points of view of Asha, Sam, and Donnybrooke itself, this suspenseful and highly original debut explores issues of ableism and classism as it delves into the mysteries of what makes a person a friend and a house a home.

Why I like The View from the Very Best House in Town:

Meera Trehan has penned a compelling and suspenseful story that involves vivid characters a a fast-paced plot. It is told from three different viewpoints — Asha, Sam and Donnebrooke, (the mansion) — that provide valuable insight into the story. Trehan’s storytelling is captivating and her beautiful writing will draw readers into the story.

Asha and Sam are memorable characters and have been best friends since they were young. They are on the autism spectrum, each with their own gifts. Asha is of East Indian heritage. She loves architecture and is enthralled with the quirky features of Doneybrooke, the mansion that overlooks the town. Sam is obsessed with killing monsters in his favorite Househaunt game. They compliment one another, making his attendance at Castleton Academy hard for the twosome. Prestyn lives at Donneybrooke and attends Castleton, where she befriends Sam for the wrong reasons — to hurt Asha. Prestyn is mean and scary. She manipulates Sam with dangerous psychological games, making this story a real thriller.

Donneybrooke views itself in a class of it’s own — a mansion like no other. It is boastful and filled with pride, but over time it softens and only wants to be a home that is loved and cared for by it’s owners. Donneybrook likes Asha best because she appreciates its unique beauty. There is a lot of growth in the characters, as each forges a path forward, including Donneybrooke. The book would be a great read aloud at home or school. There are many themes to think about and discuss.

Meera Trehan grew up in Virginia, just outside Washington, DC. After attending the University of Virginia and Stanford Law School, she practiced law for over a decade before turning to creative writing. She lives in Maryland with her family. The View from the Very Best House in Town is her debut novel.

Meera Trehan grew up in Virginia, just outside Washington, DC. After attending the University of Virginia and Stanford Law School., she practiced law for over a decade before turning to creative writing. She lives in Maryland with her family.  The View form the Very Best House in Town is her debut novel.

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

*Review copy provided by Walker Books in exchange for a review. 

Book Buddies: Marco Polo Brave Explorer by Cynthia Lord

Book Buddie: Marco Polo Brave Explorer

Cynthia Lord, Author

Stephanie Graegin, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Mar. 29, 2022

Suitable for ages; 6-9

Themes: Library, Borrowing books, Repurposing toys, Friendship, Bravery

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Marco Polo is a small felt mouse who used to be a Christmas ornament on Anne the Librarian’s tree. But now he’s one of the Book Buddies, toys that can be checked out just like books. Marco  Polo may be small, but he’s also a brave explorer looking for adventure — if only someone would check him out of the library.

Seth is a boy who visits the library with his dad and younger brother. He wishes he could be a little more brave especially when he goes on his first sleepover. But maybe a small explorer like Marco Polo is just the kid of friend he needs.

From Newbery Honor winner Cynthia Lord and celebrated artist Stephanie Graegin, here is the second title in a heartwarming series about a group of friendly toys at the library and the children who borrow them.

Why I like this Marco Polo Brave Explorer:

Children will be captivated by Cynthia Lord’s heartwarming Book Buddies chapter book series.  Marco Polo Brave Explorer is the second book, preceded by Ivy Lost and Found. It is the first series I’ve seen 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.

The story is narrated in third person. Seth has been invited to Ben’s birthday party and sleepover and he’s not feeling very brave. What if he hears funny noises or wants to go home?  He doesn’t dare take his worn rabbit. Ben may think he’s silly or childish. Seth goes to the library to pick out a book and listen to the story time. The children are invited to find a book buddy and Seth spots tiny Marco Polo,  Anne the Librarian thinks Marco Polo is perfect for Seth and says that “brave explorers have big adventures.” And Marco Polo does have a big adventure when the Ben’s cat takes him off Seth’s pillow. He’ll have a big story to tell!  

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. 

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 and the Book Buddies 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.

 

Out of My Heart by Sharon Draper

Out of My Heart

Sharon M. Draper, Author

Atheneum/A Caitlyn Diouhy Book, Fiction, Nov. 9, 2021

Pages: 352

Suitable for ages: 10 and up

Themes: Cerebral palsy, Summer camp, Differently abled kids, Self-confidence, Emotions, Social themes, Friendships

Book Jacket Synopsis

Melody, the huge-hearted heroine of Out of My Mind, is a year older, and a year braver. And now with her Medi-talker, she feels nothing’s out of her reach, not even summer camp. There have to be camps for differently-abled kids like her, and she’s going to sleuth one out. A place where she can trek through a forest, fly on a zip line, and even ride on a horse! A place where she can make her own decisions, do things herself, and maybe maybe maybe, finally make a true friend. 

By the light of flickering campfires and the power of thunderstorms, through the terror of unexpected creatures in cabins and the first sparkle of a crush, Melody’s about to discover how brave and strong she really is. 

What I love about Out of My Heart:

Sharon Draper has hit a sweet spot in her sequel, Out of My Heart.  Melody Brooks has found her voice, expresses her feelings, shows her humorous side and has outwitted some serious bullies in the past year. Now she wants some independence to see what she can do. Topping her list — she wants to be with others who understand her, feel like she’s part of a group and develop some friendships.  

When Melody decides she wants to go to a summer camp for girls and boys who are differently abled, she is catapulted into some exciting new adventures that challenge her to find out more of who she is and what she can do. She has set on the sidelines of life watching others, now it’s time for Melody to fly. She courageously learns to fly on a zip line, swim, ride in a boat, paint a mural, participate in races, break some camp rules (her best day ever), and attends the best campfires every night. She sees some really cool wheelchairs and devices. And has a first crush.   

Another bonus to camp, there are no helicopter parents hovering over her every move. Just one young counselor assigned to each camper to help ease her needs. Melody likes her counselor, Trinity, and the three other memorable girls: Karyn (spina bifida), Athena (Down syndrome), and Jocelyn (maybe autism spectrum). Towards the end of the week the four girls ask for their own space — without counselors — where they can chat, giggle and really become friends. Melody gives them each a friendship bracelet.    

Melody can’t walk, talk, and use her hands and fingers like most people. Yet she is smart, strong-willed, and determined. I was surprised to read a few disappointed reviewers, who wanted to connect with her hurt and pain, as they did in Out of My Mind. As someone who suffered a brain injury years ago and had to learn to walk, talk and use my hands again, I wanted to see Melody move forward and find out what was possible for her without anyone adding limitations. That’s why I am so thrilled with Melody’s real spunk to learn about herself and take some risks.   

And there are some important things I believe Melody would want you to remember from Out of My Mind when meeting or working with a child who is differently abled. Don’t talk about them as if they are invisible. Don’t assume that they are brain-damaged and aren’t intelligent. Always assume they can hear or understand you even if they can’t communicate. Look directly into their eyes and talk to them as if they understand you. Treat them with respect and dignity. Don’ talk in a loud voice, talk normally. Don’t look away if you feel awkward. Smile and say hello. Be friendly.

There is no feeling sorry for Melody Brooks in Out of My Heart. Hooray for Melody! Let’s hope Sharon Draper has it in her heart to carry Melody’s journey forward in a future sequel. Melody is not finished!  Melody’s story belongs in every middle school classroom as a new generation of kids will want to read and discuss her story.

Sharon M. Draper has written more than thirty books, including the New York Times bestsellers Out of My Mind, Blended, and Stella by Starlight and Coretta Scott King Award winners Copper Sun and Forge by Fire. When she’s not busy creating, she’s walking on the beach with her children and grandchildren, paying piano, and ballroom dancing. She lives in Florida. Visit this award-winning author, educator, speaker, poet and National Teacher of the Year at her online wbsite.

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.

 

Pighearted by Alex Perry

Pighearted

Alex Perry, Author

Little Brown Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Oct. 26, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Pages: 304

Themes: Animals, Chronic illness, Family life, Pig, Science, Ethics, Humor, Friendship

Synopsis:

Jeremiah’s heart skips a beat before his first soccer game, but it’s not nerves. It’s the first sign of a heart attack. He knows he needs to go to the hospital, but he’s determined to score a goal and not let his heart condition get in the way.  Charging after the ball, he refuses to stop…even if his heart does.

J6 is a pig and the only one of his five brothers who survived the research lab. Even though he’s never left Room 23, where he has a bed, good food and a TV, he thinks of himself as a therapy pig, a scholar, and a bodyguard. But when the lab sends him to live with Jeremiah’s family, there are two other new titles he’s desperate to have: brother and family.

At first, Jeremiah thinks his parents took in J6 to cheer him up. But before long, he begins to suspect there’s more to his new curly-tailed companion than meets the eye. When the truth is revealed, Jeremiah and J6 must protect each other at all costs—even if their lives depend on it.

Why I like Pighearted:

Alex Perry’s novel is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, but it is the most original and entertaining story I’ve read in a while. It is a story about a boy with a fatal heart condition and a pig with a heart that could save his life. It is also a contemporary story that tackles difficult topics and pushes the boundaries of science and medical ethics, making it an excellent classroom discussion book. 

The story is narrated in the alternating views of the boy, Jerimiah, and the pig, J6. Jeremiah is a relatable character, especially children with chronic illnesses. Even though he has a fatal heart condition, he is a bright and compassionate boy who wants to be a normal kid. After the heart attack, a device is implanted inside his chest to help his heart pump. There are strict rules he has to follow to protect the device.  

J6’s pigs-eye view of the world is hilarious, since much of what he’s learned is by watching TV. (For me, J6 steals the show.) He may have a human heart, but he also may have a human brain. He is mischievous, cheeky, smart and opinionated. He has a lot to say, but the only sound that escapes him is: OINK. He will leave readers chuckling throughout the story with his pig-hearted narrative. It is Jeremiah’s little sister who teaches J6 to read and communicate with letter cards. He loves Jeremiah and they swiftly develop a brotherly bond. When J6 realizes that his mission in life is to give his heart, he worries about becoming “pulled pork on a bun served with French fries.” 

There is never a dull moment in this fast-paced, action-packed story. There are hospital trips, escape plans, searches for a refuge for J6, festival antics, hurricanes and floods. And there is a large cast of memorable characters who all play a significant support role in the story — especially his sisters, Jazmine and Justus, and friends, Adnan and Paloma. 

Pighearted is a hopeful story, with heart at its very center. The unselfish bond between Jeremiah and J6 is unbreakable. It involves a sacrifice each is willing to make for the other. But, I won’t say anymore. The ending is a whirlwind that I did not anticipate. Sorry, no more spoilers. This is a fun and engaging middle grade book, suitable for all ages!

Alex Perry used to teach middle schoolers in Houston, but now she writes books for kids everywhere. When she was six, she babysat a potbellied piglet, and she’s been obsessed with his cuteness ever since. She just had to get the messy little guy into a book, and now she has. She lives in Arkansas with a messy little human baby, her husband, and two huge dogs. Pighearted is her debut novel. She invites you to visit her website, or follow her on Twitter @Alextheadequate.

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.

*Copy reviewed from a library book.

Love You by Heart by Peter H. Reynolds

Love You by Heart 

Peter H. Reynolds, Author and Illustrator

Orchard Books, Fiction, Jan. 4, 2022

Suitable for ages: 3-5

Themes: Unconditional love, Children, Family, Friendship 

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

Publisher’s Synopsis:

I love every smile, every blink,

I love you by heart.

I love your toes, your head, your nose,

I love you by heart.

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

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

Why I like Love You by Heart

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen by Kate McGovern

Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen

Kate McGovern, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 12, 2021

Suitable for ages: 9-12

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

Publisher’s Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.