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.

Franklin Endicott and the Third Key by Kate DiCamillo

Franklin Endicott and the Third Key: Tales from Deckawoo Drive Vol. 6

Kate DiCamillo, Author

Chris Van Dusen, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Jun. 8, 2021

Suitable for ages: 6-9

Themes:  Worry, Courage, Mystery, Humor, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Frank Endicott is a worrier. He worries about lions, submarines, black holes, leprosy, and armadillos. He lists his worries alphabetically in a notebook and suffers vivid nightmares that even a certain neighborhood pig can’t dispatch.

When Frank accompanies Eugenia Lincoln on an errand to duplicate a key at her favorite dark and dusty thrift shop, Frank earns fresh cause for alarm. Greeting them through the window is a headless mannequin, with a dead toothy weasel sitting on its shoulder. Miss Lincoln leaves Frank to wait alone with the shop’s proprietor, odd Buddy Lamp,  while she runs some errands.  As Frank browses while he waits, he spots an piece of amber with a dead insect inside and a jar full of eyeballs.

When Mr. Lamp presents Frank with the original key and its copy, he’s surprised to find a mysterious third key in the envelop. He tries to return the key, but Mr. Lamp insists that he’s never seen the key before and refuses to take it back. Will Frank be able to bravely face his fears and deal with the unexpected key. After all there is a mystery to solve. With a little help from friends (old and new), hot cocoa, and some classic short stories read aloud, the prognosis is good.

The latest tale from Deckawoo Drive—and New York Times best-selling creators Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen—is a balm for young worrywarts facing the unknown.

What’s to like about this book:

Kate DiCamillo’s delivery style is unique and appealing for young readers. She writes beautifully but thinks simply in her chapter books. Her simple sentences are packed with big words that challenge readers. It is a fun and engaging book for emerging readers.

This is volume six in the Tales from Deckawoo Drive. Franklin Endicott is a worrier and many children will identify with his story as he learns he has more courage than he gives himself credit. Many of the same characters reappear in each of the stories, including Eugenia Franklin, a quirky neighbor who nudges Franklin to take risks. Buddy Lamp is also has a strange way about him. I mean, who collects eyeballs. But it works well in this story! And of course, Mercy Watson the pig makes an appearance.

Van Dusen’s frequent illustrations add so much to the story and capture with wonderful exaggeration all the drama, humor and emotions of Franklin’s journey. 

Kate DiCamillo is the beloved author of many books for young readers, including the Mercy Watson and Tale from Deckawoo Drive. Her book Flora & Ulysses and the Tale of Despereaux both received Newberry Medals. A former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Kate DiCamillo 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 Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen

The Rock from the Sky

Jon Klassen, Author/Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 13, 2021

Pages: 96

Suitable for ages: 4-8

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

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

Publisher’s Synopsis

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

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

I’m A Hare, So There! by Julie Rowan-Zoch

I’m A Hare, So There!

Julie Rowan-Zoch, Author Illustrator

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Mar. 16, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes: Hare, Animals, Similarities, Differences, Humor

Opening: “Hello, Rabbit.”… “Rabbit? Did you say…rabbit?”

Synopsis:

Rabbit? Did you say…rabbit?  I’m not a rabbit! I’m a hare, so there!

You may have heard that we hares can outrun turtles. Oh, wait — I mean tortoises…They are similar; but not the same. Still, we hares are speedy, and we can look out for ourselves.  Good thing, too, because you never know what you might come across in the desert…

Why I like this book:

This is a smart, witty and simple story about a feisty rabbit — I mean Hare — with attitude.  Readers of all ages will enjoy the author’s clever wordplay and jovial banter between Hare and Chipmunk — I mean ground squirrel — about the important differences between a hare and a rabbit.  Hares are born with hair. They are larger and have long ears and big feet. They change colors during the winter.

Children will find the author’s sense of humor hilarious, as they watch Hare jump all around the desert, oblivious to the fact he’s being tracked by a Jackal — I mean coyote. They will enjoy the repetition. It is a perfect read aloud for at home and school.

The text is spare and allows Julie Rowan-Zoch to showcase Hare’s story with exuberant and cheeky artwork against the desert backdrop. Hare’s facial expressions and body language really make this story! Kids will want to draw just like Julie!

Be sure to check out the backmatter. The book is educational and kids will learn in the “SIMILAR but not the same” section that there are significant differences between similar animals, like turtles and tortoises, frogs and toads, wasps and bees, and lizards and salamanders. And there is also a page where kids are asked to choose and place the animals that will most likely be able to survive in the desert.

Resources:  Have children draw pictures of Hare or any of the other desert animals. This story may also have other applications in real life. For instance, my adopted son is from India, but is frequently mistaken for other ethnicities. Many kids have beautiful names that students may not know how to pronounce correctly. These can be hurtful, in the same way Hare experiences being called a rabbit.

Julie Rowan-Zoch grew up collecting freckles and chasing hermit crabs in New York, and spent years slicing rich breads in Germany before waking up to 300 days of blue Colorado skies. If she doesn’t answer the door, look in the garden. She is also illustrated Louis, authored by Tom Lichtenheld. Visit her online at her website, and on Instagram at @jrzoch. 

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.

Louis by Tom Lichtenheld and Julie Rowan-Zoch

Louis

Tom Lichtenheld, Author

Julie Rowan-Zoch, Illustrator

HMH Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Oct. 6, 2020

Suitable for ages: 4-7

Themes: Boy, Teddy Bear, Underappreciated, Humor, Love

Opening: “From day one…things have gone downhill. I’ve been a pillow… a hankie…”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Louis the bear has had enough. He feels overlooked and underappreciated.  If he’s not being used as a hankie, he’s being hung out to dry — literally. This teddy can BEAR it no longer, so he’s sneaking away just as soon as he can!

Then again, there’s no use running off in the rain. Or during show-and-tell. Or when there are delicious snacks to be had. Maybe Louis has something to lose, after all…

New York Times best-selling creator Tom Lichtenheld and newcomer Julie Rowan-Zoch’s hilarious peek into a teddy’s secret life is salty and sweet, grumpy and tender, and a heartfelt tribute to those we cherish.

Why I like this book:

Tom Lichtenheld’s Louis is packed with kid appeal! His text is spare, but delivers bear’s grumpy comments with humor and fun wordplay. Most children have a beloved Teddy Bear or favorite comfort animal they drag around and love to death. How clever to tell the story from the bear’s perspective. Children will giggle at his comments.  But they just may think about how they treat their own favorite bear. Golly, aren’t bears and comfort animals meant to be loved and squeezed to death — literally?  Louis is a fun read aloud at bedtime or in the classroom. Will bear ever have a change of heart?

Julie Rowan-Zoch’s colorful and expressive illustrations are a nod to children that this bear is upset and had enough! Bear’s body language is priceless — the look of utter disgust at having his paw used as a hankie, tightly closed eyes as he’s poked with needles, the dismay at being left on the school bus, and the frowns and forehead wrinkles.  Rowan-Zoch’s creative use of white space make each adorable illustration pop. Make sure you check out the end papers.

Resources: Draw a picture of your own bear or favorite stuffed animal. Name three things you love most about your bear. What are three things you like to do with your bear?  Do you think your bear get’s lonely?

Tom Lichtenheld might seem a little old to have a teddy bear, but he’s a kid at heart and I like hanging out in his studio. To pay him back for many years of free crayons, a warm bed, and chocolate-strawberry cupcakes, I decided to let him write a book about me. You can learn about his other  — less interesting — books by checking out his website.

Julie Rowan-Zoch grew up collecting freckles and chasing hermit crabs in New York, and spent years slicing rich breads in Germany before waking up to 300 days of blue Colorado skies. If she doesn’t answer the door, look in the garden! Visit Julie online at her website or on Instagram @jrzoch. She has authored and illustrated a debut picture book, I’m a Hare, So There!

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.

Don’t Call Me Fuzzybutt! by Robin Newman

Don’t Call Me Fuzzybutt!

Robin Newman, Author

Susan Batori, Illustrator

Sleeping Bear Press, Fiction, Mar. 15, 2021

Suitable for ages: 5-8

Themes: Bear, Woodpecker, Forest animals, Interpersonal relationships, Name-calling, Gossip, Humor

Opening: “Bear needed a lot of sleep. Two hundred and forty-three and a half days, to be precise. Anything less and he turned grizzly.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Bear is tired. The weather is getting cool and he’s ready for a nice long nap–he’s got earmuffs and a brand-new door to keep out the noise, plus a pair of fluffy bunny slippers. Meanwhile, real estate mogul Woodpecker finds his recent homes…missing. And he follows the trail of debris right to Bear’s new front door. When he “tap tap taps” to talk to Bear about it, the two engage in a feisty exchange of name-calling and gossip with the rest of their forest neighbors. Can they patch it up–literally–before Bear loses too much sleep?

Why I like this book:

Robin Newman’s Don’t Call Me Fuzzybutt!” is an irresistibly funny picture book.  Rich with Newman’s hilarious text and Susan Batori’s lively and expressive illustrations, Bear’s story shows children how hurtful name-calling can be and how important it is to compromise and apologize. Woodpecker’s exuberance plays off Bear’s grumpiness.  At the height of their confrontation, large illustrations brilliantly show Bear and Woodpecker’s anger — nose to beak!  The humor is spot-on and children will ROAR with laughter!

Newman has a distinct and clever voice as an author. She uses kid-pleasing sounds (GROWL SNARL, ROAR, PECK, PEST), repetition, witty wordplay and fun reiterations of butt.  Newman hit a home run with Don’t Call Me Fuzzybutt!  It’s her best picture book yet! Don’t Call Me Fuzzybutt! is an entertaining read-aloud for home or in the classroom. Make sure you watch the trailer below!

Resources: Engage children in a discussion about name-calling, using Bear and Woodpecker as examples. Ask kids if they’ve  ever called someone a name? Have they ever been called a name? How did it make them feel — mad, hurt, bullied, or surprised? Help children make a list of what they can do to stop name-calling. Encourage kids to draw a picture of their favorite scene in Don’t Call Me Fuzzybutt!

Robin Newman was raised in New York City and Paris where she was a practicing attorney and legal editor, but she now prefers to write about witches, mice, pigs, peacocks, bears and woodpeckers. She is the author of the popular chapter books Griswold and Wilcox Mystery series, and picture books No Peacocks! and Hilde Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep. She lives in New York with her husband, son, goldfish, and two spoiled English Cocker Spaniels, and one French Bulldog. Visit her at 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 author is exchange for a review.

How to Take Care of Your Dinosaur by Jason Cockcroft

How to Take Care of Your Dinosaur

Jason Cockcroft, Author-Illustrator

Nosy Crow, Fiction, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 2-5

Themes: Dinosaur, Pet, Owner’s Guide, Humor, Friendship Imagination

Opening: Congratulations on your new dinosaur! When you first meet him, you might find that he is surprisingly shy. But don’t worry. He’ll soon come out of his shell!

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Taking care of your very own dinosaur can be a bit tricky at first. But if you follow a few simple guidlines, like making sure he gets plenty of food and exercise and remembering to clean up his gigantic poop, you may find you’ve made a lifelong friend.

Why I like this book:

What a hoot! How to Take Care of Your Dinosaur is both utterly delightful and an imaginative picture book for young children. Which means kids will be tickled by all the things the boy must do to care for his gigantic pet — starting with a healthy breakfast and trying to figure out how a shovel BIG dinosaur poop into a wheel barrel.

The text is written like a manual for owning and taking care of a pet, which can easily be translated into a guide for any child thinking about getting a new dog, hampster or cat.

The illustrations are oversized, as is the large green dinosaur, with his short legs and long tail. Each page is packed with fun details that children will have a grand time exploring. My favorites include the boy’s dog’s reaction to meal times, the poop, bath time and bedtime. Hilarious! And, make sure you check out the funny end papers of the delivery man.

Resources: This is a great read aloud at home or school!  Let kid’s imaginations soar as you encourage them to draw a colorful picture of the dinosaur they might like to own. What color of dinosaur would they pick? What would they name their dinosaur? Where would their dinosaur live? Would they really want a dinosaur for a pet? Or would they prefer another animal for a pet like a crocodile, horse, giraffe, or elephant. Have fun with this book!

Jason Cockcroft was born in New Zealand and raised in England. He is the illustrator and author of more than forty books for children, and he illustrated U.K. covers for the last three books in the Harry Botter series. He’s very happy to live in Addingham, England, a beautiful city that sounds like church bells, smells like chocolate, and is invaded by Vikings all year round.

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.

I, Cosmo by Carlie Sorosiak

I, Cosmo

Carlie Sorosiak, Author

Walker Books, Fiction, Dec. 24, 2019

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Dogs, Golden retriever, Family relationships, Divorce, Humor

Publisher Synopsis:

Ever since Cosmo became a big brother to Max ten years ago, he’s known what his job was: to protect his boy and make him happy. Through many good years marked by tennis balls and pilfered turkey, torn-up toilet paper and fragrant goose poop, Cosmo has doggedly kept his vow.

Until recently, his biggest problems were the evil tutu-wearing sheepdog he met on Halloween and the arthritis in his own joints. But now, with Dad-scented blankets appearing on the couch and arguing voices getting louder, Cosmo senses a tougher challenge ahead.

When Max gets a crazy idea to teach them both a dance routine for a contest, how can Cosmo refuse, stiff hips or no? Max wants to remind his folks of all the great times they’ve had together dancing — and make them forget about the “d” word that’s making them all cry. Told in the open, optimistic, unintentionally humorous voice of a golden retriever, I, Cosmo will grab readers from the first page — and remind them that love and loyalty transcend whatever life throws your way.

Why I like this book:

Cosmo is a grand narrator for Carlie Sorosiak’s humorous story about a golden retriever protecting and loving his human family through many life challenges — including his own aging. This story will engage readers and make them laugh as they experience the world through Cosmo’s eyes and senses.

When parents are fighting, there is nothing like a dog like Cosmo, to comfort and ease the anxiety for children. Cosmo is always there for twelve-year-old Max and five-year-old Emmaline, when their parents argue. He’s their best friend, fiercely loyal, and good for hugs. Readers will relate to this heartfelt story of unconditional licks of love.

Dog lovers will fall deeply in love with Cosmo — even adults. We all wonder what our dogs think as they watch us silly humans go about our business — pardon the pun.  We learn very quickly about everything Cosmo thinks. First of all he hates Halloween and the silly costumes he’s made to wear. But he likes bacon and sausage over kibbles. He dislikes the spoonful of peanut butter that Mom feeds him with his meds hidden in the center. When she turns her back, he hides his pill. He’s puzzled by how inferior human noses are. He loves to  sniff and roll in fresh animals scents, swim in the ocean play hide-and-seek, watch dog shows, but also the movie Grease. But as his aches and pains increase with age, Cosmo’s not fond of snow and ice, and jumping on people to greet them.

Carlie Sorosiak grew up in North Carolina and holds two master’s degrees: one in English from the University of Oxford and another in creative writing and publishing from City, University of London. Her life goals include traveling to all seven continents and fostering many polydactyl cats. She currently splits her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, hoping to gain an accent like Madonna’s. Visit her online at 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.

*Review copy from the publisher. Or I won it in a giveaway.

The Runaways by Ulf Stark

The Runaways

Ulf Stark, Author

Kitty Crowther, Illustrator

Gecko Press, Fiction, Apr. 2, 2019

Pages: 144

Suitable for Ages: 6-11

Themes: Grandfather, Illness, Hospital, Lying, Runaways, Multigenerational families, Loss

Synopsis:

Grandpa is in the hospital and hating it. He swears at the nurses and makes trouble for everyone. Dad finds it too stressful to visit. But Gottfried Junior loves his Grandpa and visits him as often as he’s allowed, and when he’s not allowed, he goes anyway. He even sneaks him forbidden foods and beverages.

Grandpa thinks only of the place he was happiest — the island where he lived with Grandma. He wants to go back one last time, but they won’t let him out of the hospital.

Gottfried Junior and Grandpa take things into their own hands. If running away is the only way to the island, then they’ll be runaways.

Why I like this book:

I have to admit the title and cover of this book caught my eye. As I leafed through the pages, I knew that it would be a book that would resonate with children who have ailing grandparents and perhaps children who are ill. It’s packed with adventure, some clever planning, a good dose of humor, and sweet memories.

Every grandparent deserves a compassionate and loyal grandchild like Gottfried Junior, who outsmarts his parent to find ways to make secret trips to visit his grandpa at the hospital. Gottfried listens to his grumpy grandpa, his angry rants about the horrible food and being confined to a bed after he broke his leg twice. But Gottfried also remembers all the fun adventures he had with his grandpa. Together they hatch a plan to spring Grandpa from the hospital for two days, without Gottfried’s parents knowing.

The execution of the plan rests entirely on Gottfried, who arranges all of the details which include faking an overnight footbal trip; arranging the food; hiring a baker friend to help him wheel Grandpa out of the hospital and driving them to the dock to take a boat to the island. Everything goes off without a hitch, but Gottfried has to wrestle with “is it ever a good thing to lie sometimes?”

It is important for children to see how Gottfried’s grandpa handles the end of his life. He has one wish, to return to the home he built for his wife and spend time there remembering all the good in his life. In making the trip with Grandpa, Gottfried learns that death is not something to fear, that it’s important to remember joyful memories, and find closure with family members. I won’t spoil the beautiful ending.

The Runaways is written by Swedish author, Ulf Stark, and has been translated into English. It has a European feel to it, especially with the beautiful colored-pencil illustrations by Kitty Crowther that grace the chapters and give readers an additional experience.

Quote:

“I’d helped him get to the old house he’d built one last time. He’d been able to breathe in the smell of the sea. And I’d been down to the cellar and collected the last jar of lingonberry jam that he said somehow still had Grandma in it.” Page 72

Ulf Stark was born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1944. He has written around thirty books for children and young adults, translated into more than twenty languages. He has won many prizes in Sweden and internationally, including the German Youth Literature Prize and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

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.

Finding Orion by John David Anderson

Finding Orion

John David Anderson, Author

Walden Pond Press, Fiction, May 7, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 368

Themes: Death, Grandfather, Family relationships, Fathers and sons, Love, Humor

Book Synopsis:

Rion Kwirk comes from a rather odd family. His mother named him and his sisters after her favorite constellations, and his father makes funky-flavored jellybeans for a living. One sister acts as if she’s always on stage, and the other is a walking dictionary. But no one in the family is more odd than Rion’s grandfather, Papa Kwirk.

He’s the kind of guy who shows up on his motorcycle only on holidays handing out crossbows and stuffed squirrels as presents. Rion has always been fascinated by Papa Kwirk, especially as his son—Rion’s father—is the complete opposite. Where Dad is predictable, nerdy, and reassuringly boring, Papa Kwirk is mysterious, dangerous, and cool.

Which is why, when Rion and his family learn of Papa Kwirk’s death and pile into the car to attend his “Funneral” and pay their respects, Rion can’t help but feel that that’s not the end of his story. That there’s so much more to Papa Kwirk to discover. He doesn’t know how right he is.

Why I like this book:

This is one wacky story and it tops my list for the oddest book I’ve ever read. That being said, it’s also charming and funny, and heart-warming and downright bizarre. Anderson takes quirkiness to a new level when a singing clown shows up to tell them Rion’s grandfather, Frank, has died. Who does that? What a great “gotcha” opening for readers. You are compelled to read on.

The plot is hilarious and engaging. The “FUNNeral” is held in the Greensburg, Illinois town park, with speeches, a barbershop quartet, a marching band and food trucks to feed the guests. This is not your normal send-off, but it is original, fulfills Papa Kwirk’s final  wishes and allows the community to come together to share happy memories of “Jimmy,” a man they loved, with his family. Rion’s father is done with all of the untraditional nonsense and ready to head home when Aunt Gertie announces that there is a scavenger hunt to find Papa Kwirk’s ashes. The hunt is important journey in the story. It is an opportunity for everyone in the family to know Papa Kwirk better and to heal the divide between Rion’s father and grandfather.

Rion (Orion) is probably my favorite character because he is a smart and observant narrator, funny and awkward on his path to self-discovery. Rion may feel very ordinary among his odd parents and siblings, but he notices things that others don’t. The remainder of the characters are just plain fun and of course quirky. The sibling dynamics are delightfully normal with all the usual sibling pranks. And not to forget Cass’s pet python named Delilah.

I fell in love with the Kwirk family and their emotional journey as they explore the joy and pain, and regret and recovery of being a family. Readers will discover many laugh-out-loud and irreverent moments. I highly recommend this unforgettable book.

Favorite Quote:

“Seriously?” I shouted, my voice carrying through the amphitheater. “This freakin’ family can’t even die normally.”  Page 140

“One thing could be said for my grandfather, through: he was one of a kind. And there was a whole town full of people who would never forget him.” Page 335

John David Anderson is the author of many highly acclaimed books for kids, including Ms. Bixby’s Last Day as well as Posted, Granted, Sidekicked, and The Dungeoneers. Visit Anderson’s website for more information.

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.