She Persisted: Oprah Winfrey by Renee Watson

She Persisted: Oprah Winfrey 

Renée Watson, Author

Gillian Flint, Illustrator

Philomel Books, Nonfiction, Dec. 21, 2021

Suitable for ages: 6-8

Themes: Oprah Winfrey, African American, Woman in television, Actress, Activist, Philanthropist, Biography

Synopsis:

When Oprah Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, on January 29, 1954, her young parents named her “Orpah” after a woman in the Bible. But people repeatedly mispronounced her name, so she just decided to be Oprah. 

Her family expected that she would grow up to be a maid, like her grandmother. But Oprah was very smart and was reading by age 3. She lived the first six years of her life on a small farm with her grandparents while her mother moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to find work. Oprah loved telling stories to everyone, especially the chickens and piglets. She also loved memorizing scriptures and entertained her family by repeating the pastor’s sermons. 

When she was six, Oprah joined her single mother and a baby sister in Wisconsin. But life was hard and her mother sent her to live with her father in Tennessee when she was eight. Her father was strict, limited her TV time and made sure she studied. The first time she saw Diana Ross on TV, she dreamt of being on TV one day. At 16 she had the good fortune to work at a radio station, and she later became Nashville’s first Black television host. The rest is history as she worked hard and landed her own show in 1984. She never gave up on her dream. 

Why I like this book:

Young girls will be thrilled with Renée Watson’s sparkling and inspiring chapter book about Oprah Winfrey. The story-like text moves along at a quick pace, relating important information that readers will find appealing. It is well-targeted for its intended audience. At the end, Renée Watson includes a section for readers about “How You Can Persist,” and additional reading about Oprah Winfrey.

Each  of the six chapters begin with a quote from Oprah’s beloved Maya Angelou, instead of a title. For example the first chapter opens with Every Person Is Born with Talent.  Gillian Flint’s expressive and simple pen and ink drawings compliment the story for readers and give them a peek into Oprah’s early world.

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!   

Renée Watson 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 is calling it the “Persisterhood.” If you are looking for biographies of famous girls/women to inspire young readers, this series is a perfect choice. 

There are 14 books about American women released monthly in 2021 and 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. I believe there are more books being written.  This is complete series belongs in every school library. 

Renée Watson is a New York Times bestselling author, educator, and activist. Her young adult novel Piecing Me Together received a Coretta Scott King Award and Newbery Honor. She is the author of several books for young readers, including Ways to Make SunshineSome Places More Than Others, and Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills. Her work has received international recognition and an NAACP Image Award nomination in children’s literature. She has given readings and lectures on the role of art in social justice at many renowned places, including the United Nations Headquarters, the Library of Congress, and the U.S. Embassies in Japan, Korea, and New Zealand. Renée grew up in Portland, Oregon, and currently lives in New York City. Follow her on her website, Twitter @reneewauthor and on Instagram @harlemportland.

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

*Reviewed from a purchased copy. 

The Genius Under the Table by Eugene Yelchin

Please note that this will be my last review of 2021!  I will return on Jan. 3, 2022.  Enjoy your holidays!

The Genius Under the Table: Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain

Eugene Yelchin, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Memoir, Oct. 12, 2021

Suitable for ages: 10-15

Pages: 208

Themes: Soviet Union, Family, Communal living, Poverty, Surveillance, Talent, Memoir  

Opening: “The first time I saw real American tourists, they hopped out of a tourist bus in Red Square in Moscow and cut in front of us in line. “Nice manners!” my mother shouted. “We’ve been freezing our butts off for hours and they just breeze in like that?”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Everyone in communist Russia is keeping secrets — including Yevgeny. By day, he longs to become an athlete, like his brother, or a dancer, like his mother’s beloved Mikhail Baryshnikov, an icon with secrets of his own. By night, however, Yevgeny’s world comes alive on the underside of his grandmother’s heavy oak table, where he uses his father’s stubby pencil to sketch out all the drama, confusion, and difficulty of life in the USSR. Grappling with the looming threats of surveillance and poverty — an armed with only his pencil and a tendency to ask difficult questions — Yevgeny is on a quest to understand his society, in a tale heartbreaking and hilarious in equal measure.

Why I like this book:

Eugene Yelchin has written a witty and dark memoir about life in the Soviet Union in the 1960s-1970s. He lived in Leningrad as a child, which makes his story even more believable for readers. And it reads like a piece of fiction. Yelchin’s artwork graces nearly every page of the story, perfectly complementing the text. 

Life is hard in the Soviet Union. Extended families live in communaka (communal) one-room apartments. They share the bathroom, hallways and kitchen with other dwellers. Food is rationed. Many books and artwork are banned. There are paid spies in every communalka. Everything about life is based on rules. Freedom of speech is forbidden. Antisemitism is still prevalent.

The only way to succeed and get out of poverty is to have a talent, like Yevgeny’s brother, Victor, who is a talented ice skater and athlete. I was fascinated at how the USSR used talent as a secret weapon against the United States during the Cold War. Yevgeny doesn’t appear to have a special talent. His mother wants him to be a great ballet dancer like Baryshnikov. But he DOES have a talent that even he’s not aware of.

I especially enjoyed how Yelchin weaves the famous Baryshnikov (and his defection) into this story. Yevgeny’s mother works at the Vaganovka Ballet Academy for where Baryshnikov studied dance as a child. She has an interesting relationship with the artistic world. She takes Yevgeny to see her beloved “Misha”  dance at the Kirov Ballet Theater, where they stand in the wings and watch him perform. (And, yes there is a secret backstory about his mother and ballet.)

Yevgeny’s father is a committed communist and has a deep love for poetry — much of which is banned in the USSR because poetry tells the truth. In the USSR it is dangerous to tell the truth or criticize the government. Artists who survived learned to make art by the rules. Readers will learn about how people keep secrets, especially about family members. They even cut pictures of loved ones out of photographs. And Yevgeny really wants to know what happened to his grandfather, but his grandmother remains silent.

I was drawn to this story because I’ve always been fascinated with Russian history and political science and studied Russian in college in the 70s. There are no tidy endings to this story, as Yelchin’s memoir represents his family’s experience of living behind the Iron Curtain.

Eugene Yelchin is the the coauthor and illustrator of the 2018 National Book Award finalist The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, cowritten with M.T. Anderson. He is also the author and illustrator of the Newbery Honor Book Breaking Stalin’s Nose, and the recipient of a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Tomie dePaola illustrator Award. Eugene Yelchin lives in Topanga, California, with his family.

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 Christmas Pig by J. K. Rowling

The  Christmas Pig

J.K. Rowling, Author

Jim Field, Illustrator

Scholastic Inc., Fiction, Oct. 12, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8 and up

Themes: Boy, Stuffed toy, Family relationships, Magic, Adventure, Christmas

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Jack loves his childhood toy, Dur Pig. DP has always been there for him, through good and bad. Until one Christmas Eve, something terrible happens — DP is lost.

But Christmas Eve is a night for miracles and lost causes, a night when all things can come to life…even toys.

So Jack and the Christmas (DP’s irritating replacement) embark on a breathtaking journey through the magical Land of the Lost. With the help of a talking lunch box, a brave compass, and a winged thing called Hope, the set out to rescue the best friend Jack has ever known from the terrifying, toy-crunching Loser…

From one of the world’s greatest storytellers comes this heartwarming, page-turning adventure about one child’s love for his most treasured thing, and how far he will go to find it. With dazzling illustrations from renowned artist Jim Field, The Christmas Pig is destined to become a beloved classic for the whole family.

Why I like this book:

Another thrilling and magical adventure from J.K. Rowling about a six-year-old boy and his love for his  stuffed pig. The story is meant for middle grade readers, but it feels like a family story that can be read a few chapters at bedtime. Younger children will identify with the beloved stuffed pig and older readers will enjoy the magical journey into the Land of the Lost, where both good and bad is present. Jim Field’s full-page illustrations are lively and expressive and give readers a sense of the various lands Jack and the Christmas Pig travel through to search for DP.    

The story features a family with real life issues. Jack’s parents are splitting up and Jack and his mother are moving into a new home closer to his grandparents. He has to leave behind his friends and start a new school. His mother meets someone new, Brenden and his teenaged daughter Holly. When they become a blended family, tension erupts and that’s how DP is lost. 

There is a sweet relationship between Jack and DP. DP is a well-worn pig with a long history with Jack.  DP is no longer pink and puffy, but kind of limp and gray, with bent ears and buttons that replace his eyes. He’s been dropped in puddles, buried in sand on the beach, and lost all over the house. Due to all of his adventures, DP has a smell about him that Jack likes. And he’s always been there for Jack when he needs his tears wiped or is scared.  DP always seems to know exactly how Jack is feeling.

A master storyteller, Rowling’s world building is amazing and imaginative. Her plot is enchanting, dangerous, and humorous. It will keep readers fully engaged. There is a large cast of unusual, lovable, quirky and unforgettable characters. The ending is a heartwarming surprise. There are 58 chapters in the book, but they are short. Jim Field’s full-page illustrations are lively and expressive and give readers a sense of the various lands Jack and the Christmas Pig travel through to search for DP.

J.K. Rowling is the author of the seven Harry Potter books, which have sold over 500 million copies, been translated into over 80 languages, and made into eight blockbuster films. She has also written three short companion volumes for charity, including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which later became the inspiration for a new series of films, also written by J. K. Rowling. She then continued Harry’s story as a grown-up in a stage play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which she wrote with playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany. In 2020, she returned to publishing for children with the fairy tale The Ickabog.  She’s received many awards and honors for her writing. She also supports a number of causes through her charitable trust, Volant, and is the founder of the children’s charity Lumos. She lives in Scotland with her family.

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.

 

 

Daughter of the Deep by Rick Riordan

Daughter of the Deep

Rick Riordan, Author

Disney – Hyperion, Fiction, Oct. 26, 2021

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Adventure, Underwater exploration, Marine sciences, High schools, Orphans, East Indian Americans

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Ana Dakkar is a freshman at Harding-Pencroft Academy, a five-year high school that graduates the best marine scientists, naval warriors, navigators, and underwater explorers in the world. Ana’s parents died while on a scientific expedition two years ago, and the only family’s she’s got left is her older brother, Dev, also a student at HP. (And they’ve heard all the Harry Potter jokes already, so don’t go there.)

Ana’s freshman year culminates with the class’s weekend trial at sea, the details of which have been kept secret. She only hopes she has what it’ll take to succeed. All her worries are blown out of the water when, on the bus ride to the ship, Ana and her schoolmates witness a terrible tragedy that will change the trajectory of their lives.

But wait, there’s more. The professor accompanying them informs Ana that their rival school, Land Institute, and Harding-Pencroft have been fighting a cold war for a hundred and fifty years. Now that cold war has been turned up to a full broil, and the freshman are in danger of becoming fish food.

In a race against deadly enemies, Ana will make amazing friends and astounding discoveries about her heritage as she puts her leadership skills to the test for the first time.

What I love about this book: I am only going to leave bullet comments, because I know this book will be a popular gift for many teens over the holidays. So, no spoilers! 

Rick Riordan has captured my heart with Daughter of the Deep. The brilliantly crafted novel is action-packed, fast-paced, and full of unexpected surprises, right from the start. His storytelling is magnificent. And take a good look at that stunning book cover!

Daughter of the Deep is inspired by Jules Vern’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I believe fans of Vern will find this modern take a thrilling read with a new spin on Captain Nemo and his submarine the Nautilus. Riordan takes world-building to another level. And the believer in me sees the potential for a  series. 

Riordan has created a cast of characters who are complicated, original and represent a wide range of ethnicities, faiths and abilities. Ana Dakkar is very relatable, believable and will capture reader’s hearts. She’s thrown into a situation she didn’t ask for. But her courage shines in the face of what she faces on an emotional level. She quickly gains the respect of the other students, and has a strong team of friends in Nelinha, Ester, Gem and many other HP students. And I love Jupiter the orangutan chef who communicates through sign language. He adds some humor and lightness to the story. First time I’ve seen attention given to menstrual cramps in novel.      

This high-stakes undersea adventure, re-imagines technologies so far advanced that readers will keep turning pages. STEM students will especially love this book — especially those who dream of about the world beneath the ocean and the advanced technologies of the future. But readers will also be challenged to think about the caution required in using them. Who do these advanced technologies belong to and how will they be used for the good of all mankind and nature? Which makes this a perfect discussion book.

Rick Riordan, dubbed “storyteller of the gods” by Publishers Weekly, is the author of five New York Times #1 best-selling middle grade series with millions of copies sold throughout the world: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the Heroes of Olympus, and the Trials of Apollo, based on Greek and Roman mythology; the Kane Chronicles, based on ancient Egyptian mythology; and Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, based on Norse mythology. Rick collaborated with illustrator John Rocco on two New York Times #1 best-selling collections of Greek myths for the whole family: Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods and Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes. He is also the publisher of an imprint at Disney Hyperion, Rick Riordan Presents, dedicated to finding other authors of highly entertaining fiction based on world cultures and mythologies, and a contributor to an RRP short story anthology, The Cursed Carnival and Other Calamities. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts, with his wife and two sons. He’s even known to go scuba diving on occasion. Rick’s Twitter handle is @RickRiordan.

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.

Sona Sharma, Very Best Big Sister? by Chitra Soundar

Sona Sharma, Very Best Big Sister?

Chitra Soundar, Author

Jen Khatun, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 14, 2021

Suitable for ages: 6- 9

Themes: New baby, Big sister, Hindu religion, Naming ceremony, Indian culture,

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Can Sona be the best big sister ever when she’s not sure she even wants a baby sister or brother? 

Sona Sharma’s house is full of three generations of people who joke often and argue sometimes. Relatives come over unannounced, the phone rings frequently, and friends drop by all the time. Then one day Amma tells Sona that she is going to have a baby.

Is that good? Sona isn’t so sure. She doesn’t want to share her room or her things with a new baby, not to mention the attention of Amma, Appa, Thatha, and Paatti. And despite Amma’s assurance that the sky always has room for new stars, Sona doesn’t feel stretchy or bighearted like the sky. But when she learns there will be a baby-naming ceremony, she’s determined to find the best name for her new brother or sister—one as nice as her own, a Hindi word for “gold.” Perfectly pitched to young readers, this tale of warming up to change is followed by a glossary of words from India to explore in the story.

Why I like this book:

This is a perfect chapter book for young readers who about to become a big sister/brother. A charming story that can be read aloud or alone. It addresses the issue of being an only child and welcoming a new baby. Sona likes being the center of everyone’s attention and is not so sure she wants to share that with a new sibling. Especially since she lives in a typical extended Hindu family with a lot of grandparents and aunts and uncles around.

The book is particularly special because it will teach readers all about the custom of welcoming a Hindu baby in India. Readers will observe how the entire family gets involved in the upcoming birth. And they will learn about the wonderful naming ceremony for the baby — the highlight of the story. I was not familiar with the name ceremony and was very intrigued with the meaning of finding the right name. The ceremony involves the parents and grandparents on both sides of the family.

Each page is adorned with sweet pen and ink illustrations that highlight India’s culture, food and traditions. I especially like the layout of the book with seven chapters, each bearing an important theme in the story. This chapter book is a lovely addition to any school library, and it may inspire families to create or share some of their own family traditions about the birth of a child.

Chitra Soundar grew up in Chennai, India. An award-winning author of more than forty books for children, she travels the world visiting schools and appearing at festivals to bring Indian stories to children everywhere. She lives in London. 

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.

Birdie’s Bargain by Katherine Paterson

Birdie’s Bargain

Katherine Paterson, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 19, 2021

Suitable for ages: 9-12

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

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

Publisher’s Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

River Magic by Ellen Booraem

River Magic

Ellen Booraem, Author

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Apr. 27, 2021

Suitable for ages: 10-13

Themes: River, Grief, Fantasy, Dragon, Neighbors,  Greed, Friendships, Family

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Donna’s always loved her life by the river. Aunt Annabelle taught her there was more to the world than meets the eye, and the two of them built tiny shoreside houses for fantastical creatures Annabelle insisted were real. But now Annabelle has died in the very river she claimed was magic, and nothing feels wondrous to Donna anymore. Money is tight with Annabelle gone. Her mom, “Mim,” and sister, Janice, work all the time, and her best friend, Rachel, spends way more time with her basketball teammates than she does with Donna.

When a strange old woman moves in next door and needs help cleaning her filthy home, Donna figures this is the perfect opportunity to forget her friendship troubles and help her family. Especially since the woman pays in gold. Turns out, Donna’s new neighbor is an ancient, ornery thunder mage, and it doesn’t take muck to make her angry. Before Donna knows it, Rachel’s in danger and Donna’s family is about to lose their home. Even Annabelle’s voice, an unexpected guiding presence in Donna’s mind, can’t fend off disaster. To save the day, Donna will need the help of a caring new friend and the basket-ball team…plus the mysterious, powerful creature lurking in the river.

Why I like this book:

Ellen Booraem has written a compelling contemporary fantasy that is thrilling, dangerous, action-packed, realistic and humorous. Take a moment to look at the gorgeous book cover of Donna and her friend Hillyard. It makes you want to peek into that river with them.

There is a lot going on in the fast-paced plot — the death of a beloved aunt, a family on the brink of financial collapse, shifting friendships, an angry and greedy magical neighbor, and a cunning dragon living in the river behind the house. That being said, Booraem manages to pull it all together and create an exciting and believable magical adventure story for readers. 

What makes this story strong is its cast of memorable characters who leap off the pages. Donna is a curious and resilient character who begins to hear dead Aunt Annabelle’s voice (in her head) guiding her. She share’s her aunt’s love of the river and believes in the magic surrounding it. So moving to live with Aunt Betty’s, is not a choice for Donna. She’s not old enough to get a real job. But one appears when a very odd woman, Vilma Bliksem, moves into the house next door. Things really start to get weird. Vilma is beguiling, greedy and dangerous. Donna also develops a relationship with a new quirky friend, Hillyard, who is the perfect side-kick for Donna. He sports unusual outfits, like a  purple-and-pink tie-dyed T-shirt, leather vest, battered leather shoes laced on the side, and a brightly colored yellow scarf with orange strips wrapped around his neck. His hair is pulled back into a short pony tail. Being friends with Hillyard won’t be cool at school, but he is clever and helps Donna figure out how to outwit their wicked neighbor. Together they survive some dangerous moments and release some spells Vilma has cast.    

I highly recommend this magical story to readers who are looking for an exciting adventure that will keep them glued to the pages and guessing what will happen next.  I love not being able to guess the ending and I was careful not to give away any SPOILERS.

Ellen Booraem, born in Massachusetts, now lives in Downeast Maine. She is the author of The Unnameables (an ALA Best Book for Young Adults),  Small Persons with Wings, and Texting the Underworld. All of Ellen’s books have been chosen by Kirkus Reviews as Best Books of the Year, among other awards. In addition to being a writer, Ellen is a writing coach at her local elementary school. She lives with a cat, a dog, and an artist in a house they (the humans) built with their own hands.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.  

Crashing in Love by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Crashing in Love

Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 2021

Suitable for ages:10-14

Themes: Summer vacation, Divorce, Family relationships, Romance, Mystery 

Publisher’s Synopsis:

When Peyton comes across the victim of a hit-and-run, she knows it’s destiny. But what exactly does fate have in store for her and the boy in the coma?

Guided by her collection of inspirational quotes and her growing list of ideal boyfriend traits, Peyton is convinced that this summer will be the perfect summer, complete with the perfect boyfriend! But when she discovers a boy lying unconscious in the middle of the road, the victim of a hit-and-run, her perfect summer takes a dramatic detour.

Determined to find the driver responsible, Peyton divides her time between searching her small town for clues and visiting the comatose (and cute!) boy in the hospital. When he wakes up, will he prove to be her destiny? Or does life have a few more surprises in store for Peyton?  

Why I like this book:

Jennifer Richard Jacobson has written a heartwarming story about a 12-year-old girl navigating the process of growing up with all the angst of losing a best friend, hoping to find a boyfriend, dividing her time between her divorced parents’ homes, family drama, and trying to solve a real-life hit-an-run mystery.

I smiled at Peyton’s ever-changing checklist of what she hopes to find in a boyfriend, perhaps a result of having divorced parents and needing to find some sense of security and order in her life. Gray, the boy in a coma becomes her idealized boyfriend as she visits him at the hospital. But that too changes as she realizes that the more she tries to define things perfectly, it’s harder to see the truth and how things really are in life.  

The plot keeps the story moving forward as readers wonder if Gray will recover and if Peyton or the police try to solve the hit-and-run accident. Everyone is suspect and there are many humorous moments and awkward situations. Peyton’s eager search for answers teaches her many valuable lessons about not jumping to conclusions too quickly.  

The characters are all memorable and believable. Peyton narrates and her voice is authentic and full of curiosity. The mother’s career as a journalist plays into the story, as does the over-possessive relationship between Peyton and her paternal grandmother. The Maine coastline setting, the characters, and the mystery will keep readers engaged in the outcome. This is a satisfying coming-of-age story.  

Jennifer Richard Jacobson is the author of the middle-grade novels Small as an Elephant, Paper Things, and the Dollar Kids, which is illustrated by Ryan Andrews. She is also the author of the Andy Shane chapter book series, illustrated by Abby Carter. Jacobson lives in Maine. Visit Jacobson 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 provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.

Ivy Lost and Found by Cynthia Lord

Book Buddies: Ivy Lost and Found

Cynthia Lord, Author

Stephanie Graegin, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 28, 2021

Suitable for ages: 6-9

Themes: Library, Borrowing books, Repurposing toys, Friendship 

Book Jacket Synopsis:

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair by Ann Bausum

Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair: Inside the 1944 Plot to Kill Hitler and the Ghost Children of His Revenge

Ann Bausum, Author

National Geographic Kids, Nonfiction, Jan. 12, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 10 – 14  and adults

Themes: Hitler, Resistance, Operation Valkyrie, Revenge, Ghost Children, WW II

Synopsis:

During the summer of 1944, a secretive network of German officers and civilians conspired to assassinate Adolf Hitler. But their plot to attack the dictator at his Wolf’s Lair compound failed, and an enraged Hitler demanded revenge. The result was a systematic rampage of punishment that ensnared not only those who had tried to topple the regime but their far-flung family members too.

Within weeks, Gestapo agents had taken as many as 200 relatives from their homes, separating adults and children in retaliation — the German word Sippenhaft means “family punishment.”  They took 46 children from 19 high-ranking Nazi families to a retreat in a tourist town in central Germany called Bad Sachsa. They were housed together, isolated and forbidden to speak their last names. They feared their parents were dead, but didn’t know why. They created their own sign language to communicate with each other. Observers near the retreat called them the “ghost children.” 

Using rare photographs and personal interviews with survivors, award-winning author Ann Bausum presents the spine-chilling little-known story of the failed Operation Valkyrie plot, the revenge it triggered, and the families caught in the fray. 

Why I like this book:

When Greg Pattridge reviewed Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair last April, I was eager to read about an event during WWII I knew nothing about. Ann Bausum’s book is the most compelling piece of nonfiction I’ve read this year. The book reveals historical details that came to light in recent decades — a reason why we didn’t learn about it in school.

German’s feared Hitler’s revenge. Yet there was a group of courageous high-level military and civilian officials who loved their country so much that they were willing to sacrifice their own lives to stop Hitler’s deadly regime. Even though the Allies were advancing, these heroes wanted to show the world that Germans could stop Hitler and reclaim their country.

Christa von Hofacker was one of the children at Bad Sachsa. Her only solace was to write daily in her  diary about her fears and life there so that she might make sense of what was happening. She wondered if her father was dead. And why?  Years after her release, she wrote the diary into a book for her daughter as a Christmas gift. Her diary is the only documentation of that period. 

The book is 143 pages with seven chapters and is filled with photographs. The first chapter gives readers a good understanding of Hitler’s rise to power — he connected with people on an emotional level using fear and lies to ignite unrest, The following chapters focus on the growing resistance to the regime, Operation Valkyrie, Hitler’s revenge, the “ghost children” and Hitler’s demise.  The book is for older middle grade and high school students, as well as adults.  

Ann Bausum’s book is a well-researched and detailed account of a part of World War II that remains unknown to many people today. She spent hours with Christa and four other child survivors listening to their stories. Make sure you check out the research included in the backmatter: a Timeline, Names of the Sippenhaft Families, A Note from the Author, Research Notes and other resources. There is also a photograph of German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressing the Sippenhaft survivors, their families In 2019 on the 75th commemoration of the Valkyrie coup attempt and excerpts of her speech.

Ann Bausum brings history to life by connecting readers to stories from the past that echo into present times. She traveled twice to Europe in pursuit of the people and places intertwined with Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair, her eleventh work for National Geographic Kids and her fourth about international history. Many of Bausum’s titles highlight themes of social justice, including The March Against Fear (National Geographic). Her books have earned numerous honors, and her body of work was recognized for distinction in 2017 by the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, D.C. Bausum writes from her home in southern Wisconsin. Visit her at her website and on Twitter @AnnBausum.

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.