The Last Fallen Moon by Graci Kim

The Last Fallen Moon: A Gifted Clans Novel (#2)

Graci Kim, Author

Rick Riordan Presents/ Disney-Hyperion, Fiction, Jun.14, 2022

Pages: 384

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Spiritrealm, Quest, Fantasy, Korean Mythology, Magic, Korean Americans, Sisters, Family, Diversity, Multicultural

Publisher’s Synopsis:

For Riley Oh, life as the Godrealm’s last fallen star is not all it’s cracked up to be. Her new divine heritage doesn’t even come with cool magical powers; half of her friends and family (including her parents) can’t remember her; and to top it all off, the entire Gom clan is mad at her for killing the Cave Bear Goddess and stripping away their healing abilities.

But when their anger boils over and a group of witches curse Riley’s home, she knows it’s up to her to restore magic back to her clan – even if it means sneaking into the Spiritrealm.

Luckily, Riley has some backup. Along with her sister, Hattie, Riley meets Dahl, a heaven-born boy with shockingly white hair and a fondness for toilets, who might not be telling the whole truth about who he is. Together they’ll fight vicious monsters, discover dark underwater worlds, and race to save the land of the dead from a fate that no one could have foreseen.

And this time, Riley won’t let anything get in her way. Because she can’t shake the feeling that something terrible is coming their way – and the gifted community is going to need all the powers they can get.

Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents the second book in Graci Kim’s New York Times best-selling Gifted Clans trilogy.  “Graci Kim does such an amazing job of blending Korean mythology into the modern world, I am now wondering how I ever lived without knowing all this cool information.”New York Times #1 best-selling author Rick Riordan.

Why I like this book:

Another compelling Korean mythological fantasy in the Gifted Clans series by Graci Kim. Her illustrious writing skills and fascinating world-building are perfect for this action-packed adventure that is magical, realistic, humorous, and dangerous. 

After the death of the Cave Bear Goddess in The Last Fallen Star, Riley decides to travel to the Spiritrealm and find the patron, Saint Heo Jun, and restore the magic and healing powers to the Gom Clan. That means Riley must leave the real world behind (won’t tell you how) and journey into the afterlife, where souls pass through an interim period between life and death — seven stages of hell — before they can move into heaven. (View the realms inside the book cover.)  Kim’s inclusion of the seven trials really makes this a rich reading experience as it expands the first book. It also introduces readers to this fantastical realm, new mythological creatures, danger and a lot of humor. (No more spoilers.)    

What makes this story sing is Kim’s well-drawn characters that leap off the pages. Riley, an adopted protagonist, who can’t do magic or heal, makes a lot of mistakes in the first part of the story. But then her character growth takes off and she surpasses her sister by the end. Hattie is the best sister ever and takes risks of her own to be by Riley’s side in the Spiritrealm. Her presence reminds readers of the strong family relationships in the story. And there are new characters like Dahl, a delightful, witty, white-haired 13-year-old who claims to be a janitor  and tour guide and helps Riley navigate the realm. There is so much more to his story (no spoilers) and he’s never incarnated. There are many more characters like the incompetent mayor and creatures who aren’t who you think they are — some loveable and and others are dark —  but they will find their way into the hearts of readers in unexpected ways.

The plot is skillfully executed and readers will think they know where the story is headed, but will experience many different twists and turns.  And they will be surprised and satisfied with the resounding ending,  

Additional thoughts: If you enjoyed the first book, you will probably enjoy reading The Last Fallen Moon. I will admit that it took me a while to get into this story, but I am glad I hung in because it was worth the my time to really understand Korean mythology and the various rituals that still exist today in Korea. I do recommend you read the books in order, even though there is a short summary of the previous book to bring readers up to speed, I really loved The Last Fallen Star, so you don’t want to miss it! There will be a final book in the trilogy. 

Gracie Kim is the national best-selling author of The Last Fallen Star, the first book in the Gifted Clans trilogy.  a Korean Kiwi diplomat turned author who writes about the magic she wants to see in the world. In a previous life she used to be a cooking-show host, and once ran a business that turned children’s drawings into plushies. When she’s not lost in her imagination, you’ll find Graci drinking flat whites, eating ramyeon, and most likely hugging a dog.  She lives in New Zealand with her husband and daughter. Follow her on Twitter @gracikim and Instagram @gracikimwrites. 

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.

 

Unicorn Island: Beneath the Sand by Donna Galanti

Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath the Sand (Vol. 2)

Donna Galanti, Author

Bethany Stanecliffe, Illustrator

Andrews McMeel Publishing, Mar. 8, 2022

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Unicorns, Mythical creatures, Mysterious Island, Adventure, Fantasy, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Samantha’s (Sam) life couldn’t get much better. Since coming to Foggy Harbor to stay with her Uncle Mitch while her mother tours with an orchestra, she’s discovered a magical island full of unicorns and is learning how to protect them with her new friend, Tuck by her side. Foggy Harbor is finally starting to feel like home,

But just when everything seems perfect, a mysterious illness befalls the unicorn herd and threatens to rob them of their immortality. As Sam and Tuck race to help find a cure, she must confront a dark secret that her Uncle Mitch has spent her entire life trying to protect her from — a secret that links her own past to the future of the herd.

learns the truth behind Aunt Sylvie’s disappearance and her own connection to the island. With determination, courage, and fierce loyalty to one another—and to their code as unicorn protectors—the kids set out to protect the island’s secrecy and the unicorns’ very existence.

Why I like this book:

Donna Galanti’s Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath Sand is the second volume in this enchanting contemporary fantasy, which is packed with adventure, mystery and tension. It will captivate readers’ imaginations and lure them into a magical world of mythical beasts where they can learn to become “unicorn protectors.” 

The characters are diverse and believable. Samantha (Sam) is a curious and resilient protagonist who longs to become a unicorn protector. She befriends Tuck, the veterinarian’s son, is very resourceful during difficult situations and a supportive friend. Uncle Mitch is somewhat stern and elusive at first, but welcomes their help when he needs rescuing.  Sam can’t help but feel that Uncle Mitch is keeping secrets from her. 

Galanti’s narrative is engaging and immersive,  Her plot is solid with elements of danger that will keep readers quickly turning pages. The story also has a strong element of realism. This is the second volume with four books to follow. And it ends with some interesting cliffhangers.

Although Unicorn Island is for students 8-12, it will also appeal to younger readers (7-10) who aren’t quite ready for wordy and lengthy MG fantasy novels. The book has a large type face and includes many gorgeous colorful illustrations by Bethany Stancliffe, which add to the magic.  I believe this book would also appeal to reluctant readers and kids with dyslexia.

Make sure you check out the great backmatter at the end of the book. Galanti shares some history about horns and hooves, secret rooms and passageways, invasive species, and healing salves. 

Donna Galanti wanted to be a writer ever since she wrote a screenplay at seven years old and acted it out with the neighborhood kids. She attended an English school, housed in a magical castle, where her wild imagination was held back only by her itchy uniform (bowler hat and tie included!). She now lives with her family and two crazy cats in an old farmhouse and is the author of the middle-grade fantasy adventures Joshua and The Lightning Road and Joshua and the Arrow Realm.

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.

 

Healer and Witch by Nancy Werlin

Healer & Witch 

Nancy Werlin, Author

Candlewick Press, Apr. 12, 2022

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Pages: 304

Themes: Healer, Witch, Magic, Danger, Deceit, Trusting one’s self, Historical fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Sylvie and her mother and grandmother are beloved, trusted healers in their medieval French village at the end of the Middle Ages, though some whisper that fifteen-year-old Sylvie and her grand-mere deal in more than herbs and medicines. Perhaps they’re a bit . . . witchy? After her grandmother dies, and an attempt to use magic to heal her mother’s grief yield tragic consequences, Sylvie leaves her village in search of a teacher. Accompanied by Martin, the farrier’s youngest son, Sylvie finds herself on a journey rife with strange alliances, powerful temptations, danger and deceit.

In the end, there may be only one wise woman Sylvie can trust in a world that would define her limits: herself. 

Steeped in the healing arts and magic, award-winning author Nancy Werlin’s first novel for younger readers is a beautifully crafted, quietly powerful story that follows a young woman gifted with magic as she struggles to manage her powers — and claim her strength — without violence.

Why I like Healer & Witch:  

Nancy Werlin has written an enthralling adventure about a girl’s journey of self-discovery, believing in herself, finding courage in the midst of danger, and taking her place in the world.  Werlin’s writing is original, lyrical and magical, despite the themes of danger, deceit and evil.  Readers will enjoy spending time in medieval France where healers are considered witches and could face Inquisition, This story will encourage readers to form their own opinions about the differences between healing and witchcraft. 

The characters are compelling and unforgettable as they reveal their good and evil natures along the way. Sylvie is a 15-year-old healer who has made a terrible mistake. Sylvie is a sensitive and deeply caring individual who knows that her gift is from God and that she must use it for good. Since she no longer has her Grand-mère to guide her, she embarks upon a journey to find a teacher who can help her understand and use her gift. Eight-year-old Martin, is a cheerful, barefoot boy who wants to see the world instead of becoming a farrier alongside his father. He joins Sylvie and his presence offers an unexpected perspective to the story. Along the way they meet Ceciline, a wise women, Monsieur Robert Chouinard, a merchant and businessman, and Madame du Bois, an astrologer. Each character will reveal their true nature and help Sylvie make new discoveries about herself.

The short chapters make for easy reading, and Sylvie’s gripping journey will keep even reluctant readers turning pages just to find out what’s going to happen next. I was surprised by the ending, which is satisfying and hopeful.

Nancy Werlin is the author of several books for teens, including, Zoe Rosenthal Is Not Lawful Good, the National Book Award Finalist The Rules of Survival, the Edgar Award winner The Killer’s Cousin, and the New York Times bestseller Impossible. About Healer and Witch, her first novel for middle-grade readers, she says, “Reading historical fiction was my very first love.” Nancy Werlin lives outside Boston.

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.

 

Haven: A Small Cat’s Big Adventure by Megan Wagner Lloyd

Haven: A Small Cat’s Big Adventure

Megan Wagner Lloyd, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Aug. 16, 2022

Pages: 144

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Adventure, Cat, Fox, Animals, Love, Loss, Self-confidence, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis:

When her cherished human, Ma Millie falls ill, a timid housecat ventures into the wild to seek help in this adventure about love, loss, and finding the truest version of ourselves.

A warm, cozy lap. The toasty smell of baking bread. Tasty food served in a bright-blue bowl. These and other comforts make Haven’s life as an indoor pet heaven. All thanks to her beloved human and rescuer, Ma Millie. But when Ma Millie becomes too sick to care for her, the cat’s cozy life is turned upside down, and Haven decides she must seek out another human for help. Anything for Ma Millie! Her vow pulls her out of her safe nest into the shadowy forest and down unfamiliar and dangerous roads. When her first plan fails, Haven meets a wilderness-savvy fox who volunteers as an ally, and their perilous journey together brings some victories. But Haven finds herself pitted against creatures far wilder than she ever could be, testing her strength and spirit to their limits. Will her loyalty to Ma Millie—and her newfound confidence in herself—be enough to help Haven see the quest through to its conclusion? Can she stand up against the fierce predator that is tracking her every move?

Why I like Haven:

This is a sweet and heartfelt story for animal lovers about the unbreakable bond between Haven and Ma Millie, who finds the abandoned kitten on her front porch and nurses her back to health. Haven leads a pampered life with her human. When her beloved Ma Millie becomes ill, it’s Haven’s turn to get help.  

I like the unlikely pairing of a cat with a fox. It adds an element of danger to the plot. She meets a fox who could trick her and fill his belly, but he is intrigued by Haven’s courage and decides to help her.  After all his life is rather dull. “Sleep, wake. Hunt, eat. Repeat.” They could stick to the road and risk being hit, but venture into the wild forest where danger lurks around every corner  — especially a bobcat tracking the fox.    

Readers will be glued to Haven’s courageous adventure. Haven and the fox rely on and learn from each other. As her self-confidence grows, this pampered cat may have some tricks that will save the fox. This cat may be small, but she has a big heart.

This book is a perfect story for readers just beginning middle grade books — and for older reluctant readers. The chapters are very short, sometimes just one page. The third person narrative gives readers insight into Haven’s thoughts, as well as the other animals she meets along her journey in the wild forest. 

Megan Wagner Lloyd is the author of the graphic novel Allergic, as well as the picture books Finding WildFort-Building TimeBuilding Books, and Paper MiceMegan Wagner Lloyd lives with her family in the Washington, DC, area.

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. 

Linked by Gordon Korman

Linked

Gordon Korman, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Jul. 20, 2021

Pages: 256

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Hate, Tolerance, Holocaust, Jews, KKK, Self-discovery, Friendship, Community 

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Link, Michael, and Dana live in a quiet town in Chokecherry, Colorado. But it’s woken up very quickly when someone sneaks into middle school and vandalizes it with a swastika.

Nobody can believe it. How could such a symbol of hate end up in the middle of their school? Who would do such a thing?

Because Michael was the first person to see it, he’s the first suspect. Because Link is one of the most popular guys in school, everyone’s looking to him to figure it out. And because Dana’s the only Jewish girl in the whole town, everyone’s treating her more like an outsider than ever.

The mystery deepens as more swastikas begin to appear. Some students decide to fight back and start a project to bring people together instead of dividing them further. The closer Link, Michael, and Dana get to the truth, the more there is to face-not just the crimes of the present, but the crimes of the past.

With Linked, Gordon Korman, the author of the acclaimed novel Restart, poses a mystery for all readers where the who did it? isn’t nearly as important as the why?

Why I liked Linked:

Gordon Korman’s inspiring novel is about students working together to make a statement that HATE will not be tolerated in their middle school. Korman’s contemporary story is a timely read for young people. It connects the past, present and future into a powerful and important MUST read novel about hope.

Alternating voices allows readers to really get into the thoughts and emotions of well-developed  and believable main characters — Link, Michael, Dana, Caroline, Pouncey — and many more supporting characters. Link is the popular athlete, known to pull pranks with his group of friends, until a sobering family secret emerges. Dana is the only Jewish girl in school and feels like an outsider.  Michael is president of the art club and Pouncey’s grandfather is rumored to have been a member of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), Everyone is suspect, especially after 26 more swastikas continue to appear.

Together the students decide to make a statement and make a paper chain with six million links, each honoring a Holocaust victim. Before long, the entire community, country and world are involved in the paper chain project about tolerance and remembrance — thanks to a popular and questionable  “YouTube” video blogger who covers the events. There are many more moments in this story that demonstrate how kids can make a difference.

The plot is strong, realistic and relevant today.  Kudos to the author for writing a story that introduces readers to the horrors of the Holocaust, racism and the KKK in an understandable way. He shows how the past still can influence the present and how hate is not acceptable. There are many dark secrets and major twists and turns in this engaging mystery. The ending surprised me. The most important takeaway for readers is that the stories of the Holocaust and its victims must be told to each new generation and not forgotten.  

This story has a lot of heart and is one of my favorite reads this year. Although the subject of hate may seem heavy, it is balanced well with the students’ response and Korman’s uplifting writing and sense of humor throughout the story. And of course there is a lot of typical middle school drama in the mix. Make sure you read the author’s note about the story at the end.

Gordon Korman is the #1 bestselling author of such modern classics as Restart, War Stories, Slacker, Whatshisface, Ungifted, and This Can’t be Happening at Macdonald Hall (published when he was fourteen). He lives in New York with his family. Visit Korman at his 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. 

*I won this review copy of Linked on Greg Pattridge’s website Always in the Middle

 

 

My Own Lightning by Lauren Wolk

My Own Lightning

Lauren Wolk, Author

Dutton Children’s Books, Fiction, May 3, 2022

Suitable for ages: 10-12

Pages: 320

Themes:  Storms, Family relationships, Farm life, Child abuse, Animal abuse, Animal rescue, Friendship

Opening: “I didn’t know a storm was coming. Had I known, I might have done things differently.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

It’s been several months since the tragic events set in motion by bully Betty Glengarry, and the routine of daily life in Wolf Hollow has slowly returned. But for Annabelle McBride it’s hard to move forward and make peace with what feels like threadbare justice.

Newly warm summer days are about to bring a jolt of change on the winds of a powerful storm. In its wake, the search for her brother’s missing dog will set Annabelle on a new path that brings her to unfamiliar doorsteps and reunites her with a too-familiar adversary—Andy Woodberry, who was complicit in Betty’s most terrible acts. Growing up and blazing her own trail will soon force Annabelle to reexamine deeply felt truths—about people, about justice, about herself—that had once seemed so uncomplicated.

Bestselling author Lauren Wolk (Beyond the Bright Sea, Echo Mountain) returns to World War II–era Western Pennsylvania in this luminous sequel to her Newbery Honor–winning debut, Wolf Hollow, proving once again why her acclaimed novels have been celebrated as “historical fiction at its finest.”

Why I like My Own Lightning:

My Own Lightning is a captivating sequel to Wolf Hollow. It is a brilliantly crafted novel that is gripping from the start. Lauren Wolk’s rural 1943 setting, memorable characters, engaging plot and gorgeous imagery are so brilliantly intertwined so that they create a wonderful experience for readers. My Own Lightning is definitely a gift to her fans.

The story follows Annabelle McBride and her life in Wolf Hollow months after the tragic deaths of her kind-hearted friend, Toby, and the school bully, Betty Glengarry. Annabelle is still trying to process all that has happened and how she will move forward with Andy Woodberry, who still lives nearby in the hollow.  Annabelle is kind-hearted to her very core, resilient and wise.  

Annabelle’s new journey begins with a fierce thunderstorm that she can’t out run. She’s struck by lightning and her only memory is of someone’s rough hands pounding on her chest to jumpstart her heart and save her life. Who is this hero? Her recovery is swift, but she is left with heightened senses of smell, sight and sound and a new understanding of animals’ feelings.

Since the storm, many animals including her brother’s dog Buster are missing. Her new “powers” lead her down a path of helping lost and neglected animals. They also bring her face-to-face with Andy Woodberry. There are other new characters, like Mr. Edelman and his daughter, Nora, who are rescuing animals and treating them in their barn. She also crosses paths with a true villain in Mr. Graf, who is searching for his lost bull terrier, Zeus.

I also enjoyed the strong themes of family, friendship, and forgiveness. Readers will experience  Annabelle’s extended family living under one roof preparing meals together and all pitching in to help with the chores of running a farm. There is safety and healing that extends beyond the family to others in the community.  

Annabelle  (and readers) is challenged to explore many complicated situations and characters in her life and discern for herself what is true and what really matters. This is a story full of depth and a good dose of hope. And animal lovers will enjoy this story. 

Note: If you haven’t read Wolf Hollow, it would be helpful to understand the past before you read My Own Lightning.  Wolk’s body of work is “a result of everything she’s ever experienced.” 

Lauren Wolk is an award-winning poet, artist, and author of the adult novel Those Who Favor Fire, the Newbery Honor-winning novel Wolf Hollow, and the Scott O’Dell Award-winning novel Beyond the Bright Sea, and the acclaimed Echo Mountain, an NPR Best Book of the Year, a Horn Book Fanfare Selection, a Kirkus Best Book of the Year, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, and a Chicago Public Library Best Book of the Year. She was born in Baltimore and has since lived in California, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Canada, and Ohio. She now lives with her family on Cape Cod.

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 copy.

 

She Persisted: Sally Ride by Atia Abawi

She Persisted: Sally Ride

Atia Abawi, Author

Gillian Flint, Illustrator

Philomel Books, Nonfiction, 2021

Pages: 80

Suitable for ages: 6-9

Themes: Sally Ride, Biography, Women, Astronauts Physicists

Synopsis: As the first woman in space, Sally Ride broke barriers and made her dreams come true. But she wanted to do even more! After leaving NASA, she created science and engineering programs that have helped other girls and women make their dreams come true as well.

Why I like this book and the entire She Persisted chapter book series:

Young girls need role models who share their interests and dreams. Sally Ride is particularly interesting because she was curious, active, determined and an athletic. She thrived in sports and grew up with dreams of being a shortstop for the Los Angele Dodgers. In later years she discovered she was an exceptional tennis player. And she loved science and had her own telescope. Becoming an astronaut was not something on her radar.

I appreciated that the author shows readers how dreams change. Even though Sally loved playing tennis in college, she decided to put her studies on hold and went home to California to focus on becoming a professional tennis player. She me and trained day and night, and was recruited to play for Stanford. Doors began to open as found her love of physics.

Abwai also shows readers how hard it was for girls in 1969 to study a subject like physics in college. She wasn’t accepted by male professors who though “girls were taking jobs away from men.” I was in college at the same time and remember the challenges women faced. In many cases there were few role models in specific fields.       

The story-like text moves along at a quick pace, relating important information that readers will find appealing. There are six chapters in each book. It is well-targeted for its intended audience. At the end, Abawi includes a section for readers about “How You Can Persist” and follow in the footsteps of Sally Ride.  Gillian Flint’s expressive and simple pen and ink drawings compliment the story for readers and give them a peek into Sally’s early life.

Inspired by the #1 New York Times bestseller She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger comes a chapter book series about women who stood up, spoke up and rose up against the odds!  

Atia Abawi is among a group of authors who have been invited by Chelsea Clinton to write chapters books for young readers about the childhood and lives of remarkable women. Clinton has selected a “sisterhood” of authors to write each book. If you are looking for biographies of famous girls/women to inspire young readers, this series is a perfect choice. 

There are 20 books about American women have been released monthly from 2021 to 2022. They include Harriet Tubman, Claudette Colvin, Sally Ride, Virginia Apgar, Nelly Bly, Sonia Sotomayor, Florence Griffith Joiner, Ruby Bridges, Clara Lemlich, Margaret Chase Smith, Maria Tall Chief, Helen Keller, Oprah Winfrey and Coretta Scott King, Temple Grandin, and Mala Yousafzai. Marian Anderson, Maya Lin, Rosalind Franklin and Wangari Maathai will be released in coming months. They may be purchased individually in paperback, or in a chapter book collection. And, they can be found in libraries. This entire series belongs in every school library. 

Atia Abawi is a foreign news correspondent who spent ten years living and working in Afghanistan and then the Middle East. She was born to Afghan parents in West Germany and was raised in the United States. She is the critically acclaimed author of The Secret Sky and A Land of Permanent Goodbyes. She currently lives in California with her husband, Connor Powell, their son Arian, and their daughter, Elin.

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 Way I Say It by Nancy Tandon

The Way I Say It

Nancy Tandon, Author

Charlesbridge, Fiction, Jan. 18, 2022

Pages: 240

Suitable for ages: 10-12

Themes: Speech impediment, Brain Injury, Best friends, Bullying, Emotions, Courage 

Opening: “I can’t say my name. Not because it’s a secret or anything. Honestly I’d shout it into a microphone right now if I could. I’d give up anything to be able to do that.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Sixth-grader Rory still can’t his r’s. He’s always gone to speech therapy at his elementary school, and now he has to continue in middle school. But that’s just the beginning of his troubles.

Rory’s former best friend, Brent, now hangs out with the mean wrestling-team kids, who make fun of Rory. And Rory’s mom doesn’t understand why he and Brent aren’t friends anymore.

Still, Rory and his other friends are finding their way in middle school, and Rory and his new speech teacher, Mr. Simms, discover that they share a love of hard rock and boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Things are looking up.

But then Brent is in a terrible accident and suffers a brain injury. After winter break, Brent returns. He’s not the same and everything is difficult for him.  Rory is challenged to stand up for his old friend — even though Brent never did that for him.

Why I like The Way I Say It:

I am thrilled that Nancy Tandon has written an inspiring book for children who deal with a variety of speech impediments. It’s a real life issue and they need to see themselves in uplifting and hopeful stories. Books on speech impediments and stuttering are the most searched topic on my website. There are many children who have difficulty with speech. Yet, there are so few books for kids dealing with such a big issue in their young lives. Our daughter was hearing impaired and required speech therapy into middle school. 

The narrative is written in first person and gives the reader deep insight into Rory and his coping strategies, including how he chooses words without the letter “r” when he speaks. Readers will learn some interesting things about how important the positioning of tongue is in speech. Tandon gives the right amount of information about speech and exercises. I enjoyed Rory’s relationship with his quirky and unconventional speech therapist, Mr. Simms. They bond over their love of heavy metal music, guitars and a famous boxer, Muhammad Ali, who becomes a motivator for Rory as he moves forward in his growth. Every kid needs a Mr. Simms in their academic life.

A significant theme in the story is how relationships begin to change from elementary school to middle school, which many times results in betrayal and hurt. Rory is baffled when his best friend Brent turns on him in middle school, calls him a looser and hangs out with the mean kids. Their relationship becomes even more complicated when Brent suffers a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) — another topic rarely addressed and something I can relate to — at the beginning of the school year. Rory’s lack of empathy may seem a bit troubling, but he is working through a lot of anger and hurt. Brent returns to school in the New Year and they end up together in speech therapy with Mr. Simms and as partners on a class project. Rory really faces some personal challenges which require a lot of courage and patience. Tandon did her homework on brain injuries and nailed the unpredictable side effects, which I think are important for readers to understand.

The plot is interesting and has its moments of humor, with Rory’s friends sweet Jenna, Tyson and Jetta. There is plenty of tension to keep readers turning pages. Make sure you check out the interesting note about speech development at the end of the book. Thank you Nancy Tandon for writing this book!

Nancy Tandon is a former teacher, speech-language pathologist (SLP), and adjunct professor of phonetics and child language development. As an SLP, she worked with many clients who had difficulty pronouncing sounds specific to their names, as well as people recovering from brain injury. Nancy lives in Connecticut with her husband and two children. The Way I Say It is her first novel. Visit Nancy 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.

 

The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat

The Last Mapmaker

Christina Soontornvat, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 12, 2022

Pages: 368

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Fantasy, Mapmaking, Explorers, Ship, Adventure, Dragons

Book Jacket Synopsis:

In a fantasy adventure every bit as compelling and confident in its world building as her Newbery Honor Book A Wish in the Dark, Christina Soontornvat explores a young woman’s struggle to unburden herself of the past and chart her own destiny in a world of secrets. As assistant to Paiyoon, Mangkon’s most celebrated mapmaker, twelve-year-old Sai plays the part of a well-bred young lady with a glittering future. In reality, her father, Mud, is a conman.  In a kingdom where the status of one’s ancestors dictates their social position, the truth could ruin her.

Sai seizes the chance to join an expedition to chart the southern seas, but she isn’t the only one aboard with secrets. When Sai learns that the ship might be heading for the fabled Sunderlands—a land of dragons, dangers, and riches beyond imagining—she must weigh the cost of her dreams. Vivid, suspenseful, and thought-provoking, this tale of identity and integrity is as beautiful and intricate as the maps of old.

Why I like The Last Mapmaker:

Set in a Thai fantasy world, The Last Mapmaker is a suspenseful and thrilling high-seas adventure that will captivate readers, It will introduce them to some history of early colonizers exploring uncharted countries and staking their claims. And sometimes there are environmental consequences that are detrimental to the country.  

Soontornvat’s richly textured novel is original, fast-paced and tightly plotted with surprise twists, secrets, and betrayals that will keep readers engaged. Her prose is lyrical and visual. Readers will experience both the beauty and wrath of the sea, deal with sea sickness, smell the salty air, and enjoy the time in ports.

The diverse cast of characters are complex, messy and real. Sai is a determined and resourceful character who dreams big. She gets her chance when the aging mapmaker, Paiyoon, invites Sai to assist him on expedition to chart and discover the fabled Sunderlands for the Queen. His handwriting has become shaky and Sai can duplicate his writing without anyone knowing — their secret. He is somewhat fatherly toward Sai. The Captain of the ship is a female war hero, Anchalee Sangra, who is professional and aloof. Sai connects with the Captain’s friend Rian Prasomsap, who takes her under her wings, but she has her own agenda. Readers will enjoy seeing women in leadership roles.  Sai recognizes a crew member on the ship, Grebe, who could reveal some of her own secrets. And Sai’s relationship with with a colorful pickpocket/stowaway, Bo, could get her in a lot of trouble. 

When the Captain suddenly falls ill, the voyage takes a dramatic turn and the captain’s friend, Rian takes command of the ship. She convinces the crew to chart a course for the fabled Sunderlands, a place thought to be beseeched by dragons. 

This story deals with some serious themes written in a way that is relatable to middle grade students. It has a contemporary takeaway for readers about being true to yourself and charting the right course in your life when others disagree — much like navigating a course through an unmapped ocean.  It is easy to lose yourself in The Last Mapmaker. I highly recommend this story to those who enjoy fantasy, adventure and history. I will be reading this gem again!

Christina Soontornvat is the award-winning author of more than a dozen books for children of all ages, including A Wish in the Dark and All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team, both of which received Newberry Honors. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, two young children and one old cat.

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.

Over and Out by Jenni L. Walsh

Over and Out

Jenni L. Walsh, Author

Scholastic, Historical fiction, Mar. 1, 2022

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Family, Cold War, Berlin Wall, Secret police, Oppression, Family Escape

Synopsis:

Sophie has spent her entire life behind the Berlin Wall, guarded by land mines, towers, and attack dogs. A science lover, Sophie dreams of becoming an inventor… but that’s unlikely in East Berlin, where the Stasi, the secret police, are always watching.

Though she tries to avoid their notice, when her beloved neighbor is arrested, Sophie is called to her principal’s office. There, a young Stasi officer asks Sophie if she’ll spy on her neighbor after she is released. Sophie doesn’t want to agree, but in reality has no choice: The Stasi threaten to bring her mother, who has a disability from post-polio syndrome, to an institution if Sophie does not comply. 

Sophie is backed into a corner, until she finds out, for the first time, that she has family on the other side of the Wall, in the West. This could be what she needs to attempt an escape with her mother to freedom — if she can invent her way out. 

Jenni L. Walsh, author of I Am Defiance, tells a page-turning story of a young girl taking charge of her own destiny, and helping others do the same, in the face of oppression.

Perfect for fans of Alan Gratz and Jennifer A. Nielsen, a gripping and accessible story of a young girl from Cold War East Berlin who is forced to spy for the secret police… but is determined to escape to freedom.

Why I like Over and Out:

Over and Out is a courageous and suspenseful tale that has many heart-stopping moments. Expertly researched, Jenni L. Walsh’s story is based on the true stories of real people. Their stories are woven together into a fictionalized tale that involves danger and a desire to save human lives at the risk of losing their own.

Sophie’s story is set in East Berlin around 1973, during the Cold War. The wall was erected in 1961 and came down in 1989. Readers will get a good glimpse of what life is like for those living there. The government provides/owns everything. Luxuries like cars must be requested. People wear what is available in stores. Food is rationed and people stand in long lines daily to get their allowance. People can’t choose their own jobs, they are assigned. Only one middle-class job is permitted in a family. Mail is opened and read. There are listening bugs planted everywhere. Those living in East Berlin can never visit West Berlin, but the same isn’t true for West Berliners. 

The story is driven by a cast of young and brave characters who are multi-layered. Sophie is smart and clever, and loves science and inventing things. She was born in East Berlin — the day the wall went up — even though her family lived in West Berlin. She and her mother are trapped and assume new identities,  so they can fly under the radar for 12 years. Her mother has polio and uses a wheelchair. Her best friends are Katrina and her babysitter, Monika,18. 

Sophie is approached by by the Stasi (secret police) to spy on her friend, Monika who doesn’t like the job she’s been assigned. Sophie is threatened by the Stasi that if she doesn’t co-operate, her disabled mother will be sent to an institution to live. The Stasi uses psychological mind games on children to get them to spy on teachers, family, and friends. This is the turning point for Sophie and she knows she needs to find a way to escape. 

Sophie narrates the story. Her voice is believable and she is very brave. I loved how the author weaves Sophie’s love of science and invention into her escape plan, along with the help from her best friend, Katrina. Together they have to figure out precise distances, gravity, tension, and torsion for their escape.  And they have to find right light-weight materials that are strong enough to carry them to freedom. Sorry, but I won’t divulge her escape plans. You’ll have to read the book. 

Over and Out begs the question for readers — would you have the courage to plan an escape, knowing the odds are against you? Well many did, as the author shares other escape attempts throughout the book — digging underground tunnels, walking tight ropes, derailing a train, flying an ultra-light plane, hiding in a truck of a car and flying homemade hot-air balloons. 

This riveting and fast-paced adventure is a great addition to any classroom and is a timely and important discussion book.

Jenni L. Walsh is the author of the companion to this book, I am Defiance: the She Dared books: Bethany Hamilton and Malala Yousafzai; and many other books for young readers and adults. Her passion lies in transporting readers to another world, be it in historical or contemporary settings. She is a proud graduate of Villanova University and lives in the Philadelphia suburbs with her husband, daughter, son, and a handful of pets. Learn more about Jenni and her books at her website http://jennilwalsh.com,  and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @jennilwalsh.

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.