Hope Is an Arrow by Cory McCarthy

Hope Is An Arrow: The Story of Lebanese American Poet Kahlil Gibran

Cory McCarthy, Author

Ekua Holmes, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Biography, July 5, 2022

Suitable for ages: 6-9

Pages: 40

Themes: Kahlil Gibran, Biography, Artist, Poet, Biography, Conflict, Hope, Multicultural

Opening: “There once was a boy shot from a bow like an arrow. Strong and straight, he flew across the world, connecting many people with the power of his words. But not right away.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Before Kahlil Gibran became the world’s third-best-selling poet of all time, he was Gibran Khalil Gibran, an immigrant child from Lebanon with a secret hope to bring people together despite their many differences.

Kahlil’s life highlights the turn of the twentieth century, from the religious conflicts that tore apart his homeland and sent a hundred thousand Arab people to America, to settling in Boston, where the wealthy clashed headlong with the poor.

Throughout it all, Kahlil held on to his secret hope, even as his identity grew roots on both sides of the Atlantic. How could he be both Kahlil Gibran, Arab American, and Gibran Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese boy who longed for the mountains of his homeland?

Kahlil found the answer in art and poetry. He wrote The Prophet, an arrow of hope as strong as the great cedars of Lebanon and feathered by the spirit of American independence. More than a hundred years later, his words still fly around the world in many languages, bringing people together.

Why I like Hope Is an Arrow:

Cory McCarthy’s lyrical text, mingles with beautiful quotes from Gibran’s poetry, to create this inspiring  biography of Kahlil Gibran for children. Ekua Holmes stunning collages and acrylic illustrations are rich in detail and capture Gibran’s remarkable journey from childhood to adulthood. 

Children will see how adversity and loss inspired Gibran’s dreams of a better world. He was troubled by the deep religious divisions among the people in Lebanon. His father was imprisoned and his family lost their home, They immigrated to America, where he continued to see division between the wealthy and the poor in Boston’s South End. The young Gibran held a secret hope of peace within him, but he couldn’t find the words in English or Arabic to write them down. So he began to draw. Teachers and artists encouraged him. Later in life he began to write poetry to help people celebrate their many differences. 

Gibran’s secret hope is a still timely book called The Prophet. It is published in 40 different languages and  resides in libraries around the world where young and old alike revel in his hope.

Make sure you check out the four pages of of additional stories about Gibran’s life and work at the end of the book.  Each entry is related to the inspiration behind the beautiful quotes shared throughout the story, including :

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, 

And let the winds of the heavens dance

between you.

Love one another, but make not a 

bond of love: 

Let it rather be a moving sea between

the shores of your souls.”

Resources: Ask children if they have a special hope or dream to help a family member, friend, or community, Encourage them to draw or write about their hopes/dreams. There are no right or wrong answers so let them be creative. For starters: planting more trees in their city, helping a disabled friend, and rescuing animals, 

Cory McCarthy is an acclaimed, best-selling author of books for young readers. They studied poetry and screenwriting before earning and MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where they now serve on the faculty. Like Kahlil Gibran, their family emigrated from Lebanon and settled in New England. Learn more about their books at this website.

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

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

Love in the Library by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

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

Love in the Library

Maggie Tokuda-Hall, Author

Yas Imamura, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Historical Fiction, Feb. 8, 2022

Themes; Japanese Americans, Relocation camps, Library, World War II, Love, Hope

Suitable for ages: 6-9

Opening: “Tama did not like the desert. She brushed the dust from her eyes as she walked to the library. The barbed wire fences and guard towers cast long shadows over her path. She always did her best not to look at the guards.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

“The miracle is in us. As long as we believe in change, in beauty, in hope.”

Tama works in the library at the Minidoka incarceration camp, where she is imprisoned because she is Japanese American.  Life in the Idaho camp is relentless and getting through each day is hard. Tama prefers to escape into her books, with their stories of honor and adventure. 

But every day, George is there, too — with a smile, yet another stack of books, and his comforting presence. It is George who helps Tama understand that she isn’t alone, and in that realization, hope if found.

Based on the experience of author Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s own grandparents, who met in Minidoka during World War II, this is a wrenching and beautiful tale of two people who find each other during a time of extreme darkness, and the family born out of their love. 

Why I like Love in the Library:

Love in the Library is an inspiring book for young readers who are introduced to one of America’s darkest periods in history — the internment of Japanese American families living on the West Coast. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, children and babies, shared single rooms in these prison camps. This is an important story to tell because of the fear that pervaded our country during World War II and the social injustices that occurred.

The material is age-appropriate, very factual and allows for a lot of discussion. The lovely gouache and watercolor illustrations will give children a peek into the stark and dreary camps and offer a glimpse of hope.

Even though this is based on the true story, the author helps readers understand how important it is to hope and dream, even under the worst circumstances. It is difficult for Tama to leave college life, but she finds a way to cope by working in the library. It is a place she can escape to and find books that lift her spirit. They are a constant companion, as is the daily visitor, George, who checks out stacks of books. They fall in love in a prison camp where people feel less than human and show their deep inner strength during a challenging time.   

Resources: Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end of the story. There is a picture of Tama and George Tokuda. This book is a timely read for students today with so much pain and suffering going on in the world around them. It will lead to many interesting discussions. Ask children what helps them cope when they face a difficult situations? Make a list. 

Maggie Tokuda-Hall is Tama and George’s granddaughter, Wendy and Richard’s daughter, and Mikka’s sister. She’s the author of the Parents’ Choice Gold Award-winning picture book Also an Octopus; the YA novel, The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea; and the graphic novel Squad. She lives in Oakland, California, with her son, husband, and dog.

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.

 

Ani’s Light byTanu Shree Singh

Ani’s Light

Tanu Shree Singh, PhD, Author

Sandhya Prabhat, Illustrator

Magination Press. Fiction, Jun. 23, 2020

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Mothers, Parental illness, Depression, Hope, Love 

Opening: On a night when the moon shone and little specks of light danced on the ceiling, Ani Lay awake. “It’s dark,” he said.

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Ani’s stuck in a dark cloud because his mother hasn’t been home. His friends and family try to brighten his mood, but nothing helps. When Mama finally comes back, but with her hair missing, Ani’s light gets brighter and brighter, chasing away his darkness. The unconditional love between Ani and his mother shines through as the two enjoy their precious time together, whether it’s forever, or just for now.

This sensitive, hopeful story will help kids explore their sadness when a close family member is undergoing medical treatment, while highlighting sources of light that can bring stability during uncertain times. It is also a terrific resource for anyone who wants to understand the ups and downs of coping with a parent’s illness.

Why I like Ani’s Light:

Ani’s Light is a realistic and heartfelt story about a boy dealing with his mother chronic medical illness. I am thrilled to share this book with you because I’ve only reviewed a few picture books about a parent dealing with cancer. Unfortunately, there need to be more books. This is a good book to have in your home library.

I love Tanu Shree Singh’s brevity of words and her lyrical text. It is enough to know that Ani’s mother is gone and he is very sad. Reader’s only know when she returns home that “Mama’s hair is gone.” This book could be used for many other medical issues (including COVID) that occur among family members, including grandparents.

I like the contrast between darkness and light, which Sandhya Prabhat uses beautifully to show the dark cloud surrounding Ani. But, when his mother returns home a cloud of light envelopes mother and son, and Ani is hugging his mother — his source of light — and offers to shave his head. The world is once again full of color. She sets the story in India. Just look at that gorgeous book cover!

My favorite line is when Ani’s expresses he was scared she’d never come back, and his mother responds “I’m here now and so are Dobby, Nani and your friends.”  “As long as you let others love you,” Mama said, “you will be okay.”

Resources: Ani’s Light includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers explaining ways to help a child through a parental illness. It is written by the Singh, a professor of psychology. She says it is important to honest. It’s okay not to know all the answers. And it’s important to help kids deal with their emotions. A good book to have in a home or school library.

Tanu Shree Singh, PhD, is an assistant professor of psychology in the Department of Higher Education, Haryana, India. She completed her studies in positive psychology at Maharshi Dayanand University and writes extensively on issues related to parenting. Her passion for reading and getting more children to read led her to set up two libraries in Faridabad and Tirthan Valley. She lives in Faridabad, India. Visit her on Twitter @tanu75 and Instagram @tanu.shree.singh.

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.

 

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. 

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.

 

In a Flash by Donna Jo Napoli

In A Flash

Donna Jo Napoli, Author

Wendy Lamb Books, Historical Fiction, Jan. 5, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12 years

Themes: Sisters, Italian, World War II, Japan, Survival, Courage, Hope

Book Jacket Synopsis:

In 1940, when Simona is eight and her sister, Carolina, is five, their father becomes the cook to the Italian ambassador to Japan, and the family leaves Italy for Tokyo. The girls learn perfect Japanese, make friends, and begin to love life in their new home. But soon Japan is engaged in a world war.

In 1943, when all Italians in Japan are confined to internment camps as enemy aliens, Papà and the girls are forced to part, and Simona and Carolina embark on a dramatic journey. Anyone who aids them could be arrested for treason. All the sisters have is each other: their wits, courage, and resilience, and the hope that they will find people who see them not as the enemy, but simply as children trying to survive.

In this gripping, deeply moving story, Donna Jo Napoli gives readers an unforgettable and authentic new perspective on World War II.

Why I like this book:

Donna Jo Napoli’s In a Flash is a dramatic and original story about two Italian sisters who are separated from their father and trapped in Japan during World War II. Napoli’s powerful storytelling captures their harrowing journey to survive and will tug at reader’s heart-strings. 

I was immediately drawn to their gripping story because it’s a piece of history I knew nothing about. There were many Italians living in Japan during the war. And it is researched and well-documented by Napoli. Make sure you read her historical comments at the end of the novel because she sheds more light on this time period. The narrative is in Simona’s strong voice. The setting is vivid, realistic and rich in detail. Readers will get a very strong sense of the beautiful Japanese culture in the first third of the novel — the customs, family life, the pace of life, the abundant markets, and foods — before the bombings begin and the country is thrown into mayhem. The plot is suspenseful, heart-wrenching and hopeful. The ending will surprise readers.

The story is character driven. Readers will be captivated by Simona and Carolina’s spirits and strong wills. The acclimate to the culture and quickly become fluent in Japanese. Tokyo becomes home, even though they live inside the Italian embassy. When Italy changes sides during the war, Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, and America begins bombing Japan, tension rises. The girls and their papa, the Italian ambassador and all Italians living in in Japan are sent to internment and secret prison camps. Simona and Carolina escape a camp and find safe havens among very generous and loving cast of Japanese characters who love and keep them alive during their journey;  three female manga artists, beggars, a washer woman, a professor and German priests. 

Readers will be able to experience the human side of war through Simona and Carolina. This is an important addition to children’s historical fiction and deserves a place in school libraries. 

Donna Jo Napoli has published more than eighty books for young readers, including picture books, early readers, and young adult and middle-grade novels. Her work has been translated into nineteen languages and has won many awards at the state and national levels. She is a professor of linguistics and social justice at Swarthmore College, and she brings her research skills and her profound interest in language to bear on her novels, particularly the historical ones. She and her husband live in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. 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.

When Water Makes Mud: A Story of Refugee Children by Janie Reinart

When Water Makes Mud: A Story of Refugee Children

Janie Reinart, Author

Morgan Taylor, Illustrator

Blue Whale Press, Fiction, Jun. 1, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Children, Refugee settlement, Play, Imagination, Hope, Uganda

Opening: “We come, little sister and me, with nothing…but our dreams.”

Synopsis

When war forces two sisters to fee their home in South Sudan with nothing but the clothes they are wearing, Big Sister strives to help Little Sister smile again at the refugee settlement in Uganda. But as quickly as Little Sister’s smile appears, it disappears: that is until water makes mud. In the end, Big Sister’s artistry and kindness brings hope to their situation. 

This title is a tribute to the resourcefulness of children who have no toys, but continue to play and is dedicated to the 200,000 refugee children living at the Bidibidi settlement in Uganda.

What to love about this book:

A hopeful and heartfelt story about Big Sister helping Little Sister overcome the scarcity, poverty, starvation, and harsh reality of living in a refugee camp — through imagination.  If you can imagine and dream, you can create anything. With a stick Big Sister draws a story from home in the dirt. Pebbles become a puzzle. A bag becomes a balloon. A cardboard box becomes a car. And with mud, you can make just about anything and put a smile on Little Sister’s face. Big Sister makes joy out of nothing. 

Janie Reinart’s writing is lyrical as she draws readers more deeply into the difficult life of children displaced by war around the world. This is an excellent classroom discussion book for students to learn about the refugee situation. Children are resilient and resourceful, as Big Sister demonstrates. All kids need time to play and have fun. 

Morgan Taylor’s bold and colorful illustrations show both the sadness of the situation and the joy found in play.

An important reason to purchase a copy of When Water Makes Mud, is that that the publisher’s profits are being donated to Unicef.  

Resources: There are free downloadable resources at http://www.janiereinart.com under the Books tab. Think about all the things you could do with mud. You could make mud pies, mud balls to throw at targets, mud bricks to build a small fort, paint with mud, slide in mud, and make pretend mud cookies. Use your imagination like Big Sister does.

Janie Reinart is also the author of Love You More Than You Know, a book for military families. She has worn many hats, performing as a clown in children’s hospitals, sharing original tales in schools as a musical storyteller, and helping children find their voice as a poet in residences. But most of fall, she loves writing for children. She lives in Ohio with her husband and delights in playing with her 16 grandchildren. To learn more about Janie, visit her website. 

Morgan Taylor is a Philadelphia-area native who graduated from Arcadia University’s Bachelor of Arts Program for illustration. She enjoys working mainly in oil paint and digital mediums. Her main focus is portraiture, nature, and things from everyday life. She lives in eastern Pennsylvania. You can learn more about her by visiting her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.
 
*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review. 

We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez

We Are Not From Here

Jenny Torres Sanchez, Author

Philomel Books, Fiction, May 19, 2020 

Suitable for ages: 14-17

Awards: A Pura Belpré 2021 Young Adult Author Honor Book and a School Library Journal Best Book of 2020

Themes:  Child Refugees, Immigration, Guatemala, Journey, Courage, Hope, Resilience

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Pulga has his dreams. Chico has his grief. Pequeña has her pride.

And these three teens have one another. But none of them have illusions about the town they’ve grown up in and the dangers that surround them growing up in Puerto Barrios. Even with the love of family, threats lurk around every corner. And when those threats become all too real, the trio knows they have no choice but to run: from their country, from their families, from their beloved home.

Crossing from Guatemala through Mexico, they follow the route of La Bestia, the perilous train system that might deliver them to a better life–if they are lucky enough to survive the journey. With nothing but the bags on their backs and desperation drumming through their hearts, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña know there is no turning back, despite the unknown that awaits them. And the darkness that seems to follow wherever they go.

In this striking portrait of lives torn apart, the plight of migrants at the U.S. southern border is brought to light through poignant, vivid storytelling. An epic journey of danger, resilience, heartache, and hope.

Why I like this book:

Jenny Torres Sanchez challenges readers beyond their comfort zone. Her  powerful novel is timely and relevant today. It is about two brothers and a female cousin fleeing from dangerous drug trafficking gangs in Guatemala and making the treacherous journey north to the United States. There are no guarantees that they will survive. Their story is heartbreaking, but it underscores the problem of why many Central American children illegally immigrate to America alone.

This is a character driven story. There are three main characters but the story is told from the alternating viewpoints of Pulga (15) and Pequeña (17). Pulga is sensitive and cares deeply about people and doing what’s right. His father was a musician in California and he wants to be a musician. He watches out for his younger brother Chico (13), who lost his mother in a gang shooting. But for years, Pulga has been researching, gathering maps, supplies, money and everything he and Chico need to run. Pequeña is their cousin. She’s quiet and secretive, but resilient in her own way. She is pregnant but wants no involvement when the baby is born because his father, Rey, is a top gang member in the Barrios. He raped her and wants to own her. When Pulga and Chico observe Rey’s gang murder a beloved community grocer, they know that Rey and his gang will come for them — kill them or force them to join the gang. It’s time to leave for the United States where Pulga has an uncle. 

Make sure you read the Prologue as it really puts the choices made by desperate youth into razor sharp focus. Especially when the UN reports that there are more than 10 million refugees world-wide. “When you live in a place like this, you’re always planning your escape. Even when you don’t know when you’ll go. Even when you are looking out your kitchen window, looking for a reason to stay.” No matter how many wonderful memories these young people have of home and family, they are surrounded by danger. The government is corrupt and turns its head. 

The plot is multilayered, gripping and complicated. The trip is long and hazardous, which Sanchez handles with care. The threesome dodge gangs, bandits, and immigration officers. Food and water is scarce. The heat is suffocating. They rest at safe houses, recover from injuries, lice and exhaustion. They learn survival techniques and how to hop the notorious freight train (La Bestia) and ride on top the cars as they travel north through Mexico to the border. Their final challenge will be to find the right smuggler (coyote) who will help them safely cross the desert at night. 

The richly textured Latino text is peppered with Spanish words and expressions, which contribute to the reader’s experience. At the end of book there are Discussion Questions to use in the classroom. This is an important book for high school classrooms/libraries to help students gain a better understanding of refugees, immigration and the reasons they risk their lives for a better life. This book is listed as a Teacher’s Pick.

Jenny Torres Sanchez is a full time writer and former English teacher. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, but has lived on the border of two worlds her whole life. She is the author of We Are Not From Here; The Fall of Innocence; Because of the Sun; Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia; and The Downside of Being Charlie. She lives in Orlando with her husband and children.  Visit Sanchez at her website and follow her on Twitter @jetchez and on Instagram @jennytsanchez. 

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.

 

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Fighting Words

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Author

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Aug. 11, 2020

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Sisters, Childhood sexual abuse, Homelessness, Foster care, Mental Health, Healing, Courage, Hope

Book Jacket Synopsis:

“Sometimes you’ve got a story you need to find the courage to tell.”

Ten-tear-old Della has always had her older sister, Suki: When their mom went to prison, Della had Suki. When their mom’s boyfriend, Clifton, took them in, Della had Suki. When that same boyfriend did something so awful they had to run fast, Della had Suki. Suki is Della’s own wolf–her protector. But who has been protecting Suki?

Della might get told off for swearing at school, but she has always known how to keep quiet where it counts. Then Suki tries to kill herself, and Della’s world turns so far upside down, it feels like it’s shaking her by the ankles. Maybe she’s been quiet about the wrong things. Maybe it’s time to be loud.

In this powerful novel that explodes the stigma around child sexual abuse and leavens an intense tale with compassion and humor, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley tells a story about two sisters, linked by love and trauma, who must find their own voices before they can find their way back to each other.

Why I like this book:

Wow! Kimberly Brubaker Bradley hit a home run with this novel! I can’t think of anything more timely and desperately needed for the many children silently suffering from sexual abuse. Fighting Words is heartbreaking and hopeful. Bradley writes with sensitivity and compassion. The plot is courageous and gripping. Her deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged. This is a story that will stay with readers because of her profoundly human characters and the hopeful ending.

The characters are complex and multi-layered. Della (Delicious) is a 10-year-old spunky, outspoken and resilient narrator. Her superpower — she doesn’t take snow from anyone.  She warns readers from the start that something bad has happened and she will share her story in time. Suki is 16 years old, has been forced to grow up too fast, puts up a tough front and fiercely protects Della. They are placed in foster care with Francine, who isn’t very motherly, but provides the girls with a home, bedroom, meals, and clothing. That works well because Francine gives the girls “space” to work on themselves. Now that they are safe, Suki begins to suffer nightmares, is depressed and tries to cut her wrists. When Suki is hospitalized for a while, Della begins to find herself without Suki hovering. She finds the courage to stand up to a school bully and uses her voice to help Suki. Francine is there to support and encourage them.

I like that Bradley dedicates her story — “For any child who needs this story: You are never alone.” And this is exactly how it should be. There are many children keeping a BIG secret about being sexually abused — it has no boundaries (age, gender, race, socio-economic level and so on. These are the children and youth that need to know they aren’t alone and that abuse isn’t their fault. Bradley is upfront with her readers and lets them know that it happened to her and that she was able to heal.

If you are a parent of a middle grade child and are concerned about letting them read Della and Suki’s story, I suggest you read the book first. This book reminded me of the U.S. gymnastic team members who were sexually abused for years by their team doctor. It’s a perfect opportunity for parents to say “no one can touch you inappropriately and if they do, you can tell us.” This book is much needed!

Resources: Make sure you read the Author’s Note, where she shares her own experience and talks about how important it is to talk about. She also includes discussion points that readers may want to explore with their friends or parents.

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is the author of several middle grade novels, including the widely acclaimed Jefferson’s Sons and the New York Times bestsellers The War I Finally Won and The War That Saved My Life, which also earned a Newbery Honor and a Schneider Award. She and her husband have two grown children and live with their dog, several ponies, a highly opinionate mare, and a surplus of cats on a fifty-two acre farm in Bristol, Tennessee.  You can learn more about Kimberly on her website, and connect with her on Twitter: @kimbbbradley and on Facebook: kimberly.b.bradley.5.

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

*Reviewed from a library book.

Mananaland by Pam Munoz Ryan

Mañanaland

Pam Muñoz Ryan

Scholastic, Fiction, Mar. 3, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Refugees, Oppression, Loss, Underground movements, Adventure, Courage, Hope, Freedom

Synopsis:

Maximiliano Córdoba loves stories, especially the legend Buelo tells him about a mythical gatekeeper who can guide brave travelers on a journey into tomorrow.

If Max could see tomorrow, he would know if he’d make Santa Maria’s celebrated fútbol team and whether he’d ever meet his mother, who disappeared when he was a baby. He longs to know more about her, but Papá won’t talk. So when Max uncovers a buried family secret–involving an underground network of guardians who lead people fleeing a neighboring country to safety–he decides to seek answers on his own.

With a treasured compass, a mysterious stone rubbing, and Buelo’s legend as his only guides, he sets out on a perilous quest to discover if he is true of heart and what the future holds.

This timeless tale of struggle, hope, and the search for tomorrow has much to offer today about compassion and our shared humanity.

Why I like this book:

Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Mañanaland is a beautifully crafted novel that sweeps readers into a fantasy world that feels oddly familiar, but is set in the Americas, past or future.  The setting, the characters, the courageous plot and the gorgeous imagery are carefully intertwined and create a thrilling experience for readers.

Max’s family are masons who have built 200  bridges all over the country.  But there is a secret that links the bridges to people who need to escape from oppression to a neighboring country. Max discovers his Papá and Buelo are part of the underground network dedicated to helping people. I love the symbolism of the bridges they build.

Readers will admire 12-year-old Max and his brave resolve to take on a dangerous and arduous journey to help a young girl, Isadora, escape abuse and meet up with her sister in Mañanaland. His father and Buelo are gone and wouldn’t approve. Max may be inexperienced as a guardian, but he is smart, brave, and resourceful. He is determined to prove that he can responsibly and safely guide Isadora to Yadra, the next guardian. Yadra is a towering woman with long silver hair, who lives beneath a secret bridge. Max also hopes she may shed some light on his mother’s disappearance, which his Papá has kept a secret. Is his mother in Mañanaland?

The story parallels our world today with a timely and relevant message that will introduce readers to the refugee crisis, without pinpointing a location. The role of guardians is to help those who are seeking asylum because they are abused, marginalized, and oppressed by a dictator and his military. Many have lost  loved ones and families have been split. However, as Max learns along his journey, “Mañaland is not a destination. It’s a…way of thinking.” (Page 209)

The plot is dangerous with many harrowing moments. Ryan’s deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. She nicely pulls everything together in a realistic and satisfying ending.

Pam Muñoz Ryan is the recipient of the NEA’s Human and Civil Rights Award and the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award for Lifetime Achievement. Her celebrated novels –Echo, Esperazna Rising, The Dreamer, Riding Freedom, Becoming Naomi León, and Paint the Wind — have received countless accolades are are treasured by readers around the world. Ryan lives near San Diego, California, with her family.

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

*Reviewed from a library book.