The Elephant in the Room by Holly Goldberg Sloan

The Elephant in the Room

Holly Goldberg Sloan

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Mar. 2, 2021

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Immigration, Turkish Americans. Separation, Elephants, Rescue, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis:

It’s been almost a year since Sila’s mother traveled halfway around the world to Turkey, hoping to secure the immigration paperwork that would allow her to return to her family in the United States.

The long separation is almost impossible for Sila to withstand. But things change when Sila accompanies her father (who is a mechanic) outside their Oregon town to fix a truck. There, behind an enormous stone wall, she meets a grandfatherly man, Gio Gardino, who only months before won the state lottery. Their new alliance leads to the rescue of a circus elephant named Veda, and then to a friendship with an unusual boy named Mateo, proving that comfort and hope come in the most unlikely of places.

A moving story of family separation and the importance of the connection between animals and humans, this novel has the enormous heart and uplifting humor that readers have come to expect from the beloved author of Counting by 7s.

What I like about this book:

Holly Goldberg Sloan hit a sweet spot with her novel, The Elephant in the Room. It is such an uplifting story because it is charming and sad, unique and creative. But most of all the story it is filled with heart and it will put a smile on readers’ faces. Her storytelling is captivating. 

The characters are realistic. Sila Tekin really struggles without her mother. She’s quiet in the classroom, her studies are falling behind and she eats lunch alone. The school notices and pairs her with another bilingual student, Mateo Lopez, who is on the autism spectrum. It’s an awkward pairing at first, but I love that Sila accepts Mateo without judgement. Their friendship is sealed when Sila invites Mateo to visit the Veda, the elephant Gio Gardino rescues. Sila and Mateo’s  world revolves around caring for the elephant. And it is always heartwarming to see the bond that forms between animals and humans. They become a family.  

Sloan deals with some major topics — deportation, separation, animal cruelty and autism — which add a lot of depth to the story. Readers will learn a lot about the rescue and care for circus elephants. A lot happens in the story and the viewpoint changes frequently among the different characters, which is told in third person. I really enjoyed Veda’s voice in some of the chapters. The ending is very satisfying.   

Holly Goldberg Sloan spent part of her childhood living in Istanbul, Turkey. After graduating from Wellesley College, she working in commercial production in Los Angeles and in her twenties began writing family feature films, including Angels in the Outfield and Made in America. She was the first woman to direct a live action film for the Walt Disney Company when she directed (and wrote) The Big Green. She is the author of six novels, including the E. B. White Read-Aloud Honor book Counting by 7s, the New York Times best seller Short, and the highly praised To Night Owl from Dogfish. She is the mother of two sons and lives with her husband in Los Angeles. You can visit Holly 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 Thief of Worlds by Bruce Coville

The Thief of Worlds

Bruce Coville, Author

Random House, Fiction, Apr. 27, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Winds, Fantasy, Magic, Other worlds, Global disaster

Book Jacket Synopsis:

What happens when the wind stops? The air grows hot and still and hard to breathe. Hospitals fill with patients. The sky becomes hazy as dust clings to the air. The world begins to panic.

For Hurricane, the global disaster strikes at his core. He got his name because he was born during a hurricane, and he has always felt a strangely intense connection to the wind. And now his mother is one of the sick people in the hospital. But what can he do? He’s just a kid.

Then an old bearded man, Zephron Windlord, shows up from another world claiming he is in charge of making the wind. He seeks Hurricane’s help to find the wind thief and rescue the magical horn that will fix everything. In fact, the Windlord claims that Hurricane is the only one who can do it. Is he delusional? Can magic be real? And how can finding the magical horn rest on Hurricane’s twelve-year-old shoulders?

When all this turns out to be true, Hurricane embarks on the adventure of his life: a journey to different worlds where he will make friends unlike any people he has ever known. He will discover courage, strength, humor and ability to bring people together.

The classic epic fantasy from beloved author Bruce Coville will enthrall readers while it reminds them that magic lies in friendship — and that friendship just might have the power to save the world.

Why I like this book:

The Thief of the Worlds is a riveting, richly imagined epic tale of loyalty, bravery and friendship that will make your heart soar. It is an action-packed adventure with many complex plot twists that will keep readers guessing what will happen next. Then ending was a complete surprise. That’s a good story. 

The characters are rich, memorable and quirky. Hurricane is a 12-year-old Black boy from Chicago. His neighbors call him  “Breezeboy” and laugh about how he dances with the wind. So when the wind suddenly stops, he feels like he’s lost his best friend — until an odd bearded old man, Zephron Windlord, appears at his door and asks Hurricane to help  rescue a stolen horn that he uses to start the winds. Hurricane thinks he’s crazy, but travels with the Windlord to the top of the world on the back of a huge magical tiger with wide ebony wings. 

On Hurricane’s journey to find the horn, he enters different worlds. He meets Lura, the blue goddess of water, who is in search of a stolen basin from her world that has caused a drought; and Amberjon, a three-foot-tall man, who is seeking the lost spirit flame that lights and warms his frozen world. Together they realize that the environmental suffering everywhere is being caused by the same dangerous villain, so they join forces and search for him together.

Coville’s storytelling is brilliant and he amazingly builds four very unique worlds in a single novel. His writing is polished and his narrative will inspire readers to think about how friendship and listening to the pain of others may be the key to saving the world. 

Bruce Coville is the author of more than 100 books for children and young adults, including the international bestseller My Teacher Is an Alien and the wildly popular Unicorn Chronicles series. He has been a teacher, a toy maker, a magazine editor, a gravedigger, and a cookware salesman. He is also the founder of Full Cast Audio. Bruce lives in Syracuse, New York, with his wife, author and illustrator Katherine Coville.

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.

Orangutan Hats and Other Tools Animals Use by Richard Haynes

Orangutan Hats and Other Tools Animals Use

Richard Haynes, Author

Stephanie Laberis, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Nonfiction, Apr. 13, 2021

Suitable for ages: 7-10

Themes: Animals, Tools, Nature

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Move over, humans! We’re not the only creatures who can invent and use tools to keep ourselves fed, warm, safe, healthy, comfortable — and even entertained. Thanks to the careful observations of biologists working in the field, we now know that elephants use sunscreen, long-tailed macaques floss their teeth, assassin bugs use bait to lure their prey, orangutans make pillows, and crows will go sledding just for fun. Who’s the clever one now, eh?

Join writer Richard Haynes and illustrator Stephanie Laberis for a walk on the wild side and get ready to be astonished, and delighted by this fascinating look at tool use among animals around the world. 

Why I like this book:

Richard Haynes’s engaging book will amuse animal lovers and those who like to learn fascinating animal facts.  Don’t be so surprised that humans aren’t the only ones who are intelligent enough to invent and use tools to assist in their daily lives. Wildlife having been doing the same thing globally, only now biologists and zoo keepers have been observing and documenting their findings. 

This beautifully crafted book is for older children, but an ideal read for the entire family. It is packed with details. The book is divided into six chapters which provide an entertaining looks at how animals use tools. There are Tools for Staying Neat and Clean (napkins, floss, nose picker, toothbrush); Tools for Health and Healing (sunscreen, pain relief, tick removal); Tools for Defense (weapons, shield, deception); Tools for Hunting, Harvesting, and Eating (hammers, shovels, bait, nose guard, gloves); Tools for Comfort (umbrellas and hats, flyswatters, bedding, dolls); and Tools for Joy (sledding, games, ice-skating). 

Stephanie Laberis’s expressive and realistic illustrations highlight Hayne’s text and give readers time to really explore how each tool is used by these inventive wild animals. They will enjoy pouring over each illustration!

This book is a perfect resource book for kids, as well as an entertaining read.  Make sure you check out the map and table of contents at the front of the book. There is a glossary, a bibliography, and an index are included in the back matter. It belongs in every school library.

Richard Haynes grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, one of nine children. Every day of the boyhood was filled with adventure, much of it in the great outdoors. He is the author of the early chapter book Slingshot and Burp. He lives in Northern California with his wife, the writer Megan McDonald. 

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 the Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.”

Rescue at Lake Wild by Terry Lynn Johnson

Rescue at Lake Wild

Terry Lynn Johnson, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Apr. 27, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Animals, Beaver kits, Orphaned, Wildlife rehabilitation, Adventure, Mystery

Synopsis:

Everyone knows that twelve-year-old Madison Lewis is not allowed to bring home anymore animals. After harboring hairless mice, two birds, a rabbit, and a tomcat that ended up destroying the front porch, Madi is forbidden from inviting one more stray into the house. If she does, she risks her chance to meet her hero, Jane Goodall, at a gala during the summer. 

But when she and her best friends Aaron and Jack find two beaver kits whose parents were killed, they know the kits will die without their help. They know, too, that more beavers will die unless someone can solve the local environmental crisis that is brewing because of the dams flooding the town roads and crops. 

Can Madi find a way to show everyone how smart and amazing and vulnerable beavers are in time to save them? Can she show the community how humans can live in harmony with wild creatures?

Why I like this book:

Terry Lynn Johnson’s Rescue at Lake Wild is a fun and engaging adventure story for readers who are interested in wildlife rehabilitation. They will learn from a budding young naturalist, Madison, who has inherited her late grandmother’s passion and gift of caring for injured and orphaned wildlife. Like her grandmother, she listens to and observes animals.

Animal lovers will enjoy getting to know about beaver kits. Madi is an excellent teacher. Much of what she learns is through her observations, which she faithfully records in a journal. Who knew beaver kits are so intelligent, sociable, bond with other orphans from other lodges, like to cuddle and hug, chatter with each other, problem-solve, and eliminate themselves only in the water. Readers will cheer Madi’s journey with the beavers. 

Madi is so lucky to have two great friends in Jack, who is hot on a trail with his dog to track down the individuals who are killing the beavers, and Aaron who has excellent engineering and observation skills. They make a perfect team and know how to use their skills to make a difference in their community.

Make sure you read Johnson’s author’s note at the end, because you will discover many scenes in the book are inspired by stories shared with Johnson from experts who have experience rehabilitating beaver kits. In true Johnson style, she also includes “The Dos of Wildlife” for readers who may find a baby animal in need of rescuing. This is important for readers to know before they take a lost bunny home.

Rescue at Wild Lake is written for younger middle grade students. There are shorter chapters and and the narrative is perfect for bedtime read aloud with younger children. Adults will also enjoy this book because of the backmatter. It’s just a feel-good story for the entire family.

Terry Lynn Johnson writes about the wild with the wisdom and passion of someone who has spent her life working to preserve and protect it — both as a back country canoe ranger in Quetico Provincial Park and in her current job as a conservation officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. She lives at the edge of a lake in northern Ontario, Canada, where she loves watching all wildlife, including beavers. She is the author of Dog Driven, Sled Dog School, Ice Dogs, and four Survival Diaries. Visit her at her website.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

These Unlucky Stars by Gillian McDunn

These Unlucky Stars

Gillian McDunn, Author

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, Fiction, Mar. 2, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Self-confidence, Sibling rivalry, Intergenerational relationships, Friendship, Luck

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Annie has always been the odd one out in her family. Her dad and brother just don’t understand her creativity or spontaneity. They are so practical…so predictable. And ever since her mother left a few years ago, Annie has been reluctant to get close to anyone. She keeps to herself.

When a poor decision lands Annie in hot water, she must make amends by checking in daily with her elderly neighbor and helping with her weird dog all summer.  As Annie begins to connect with her neighbor Gloria, it becomes clear that Gloria won’t be able to live on her own for much longer. But it’s this brief and important friendship that gives Annie the confidence to let people in and see how rich life can be when you decide to chart your own path to happiness. 

Why I like this book:

Gillian McDunn has written a sensitive and charming novel about Annie, who has an artist’s heart. McDunn’s narrative beautifully captures the drama and emotion of middle grade students. Her memorable characters and deliberate pacing will keep readers fully engaged.

Annie is convinced she is the unluckiest person ever. She’s somewhat of a loner. She loves to crawl out her bedroom window and sit on the roof and stare at her beautiful mountains. She captures their shimmering sunrises and sunsets with her colored pencils. Neither her predictable and hardworking father and brother, Ray, appreciate her artistic talent. They see her as careless and worry about her safety. Ray is popular at school and is good at everything.  Annie is not Ray, so this makes for some interesting sibling rivalry.

When Annie accepts a dare to play “ding dong ditch” on an elderly woman, she causes her to fall and break her wrist. More bad luck. It only seems right that Annie helps Gloria everyday and cares for her dog, Otto, while the feisty old woman recovers — perfect for Annie. The intergenerational bond that forms between Annie and Gloria, makes this novel really shine! Annie begins to believe in herself and her talents, interact with other people, and creates her own life. 

The setting of Oak Branch, North Carolina, is so beckoning and rich with character. Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, the small town smells of fresh pine. Readers will want to stroll through the small town and purchase hot muffin’s from Lulu’s bakery, stop at the book store and visit JoJo and The Earl’s for some serious North Carolina BBQ. And there are many more interesting characters to meet along Main Street.

The novel is divided into five parts with short chapters that are perfect for reluctant readers. Scattered throughout the novel are Annie’s drawings, which give a great deal of insight into her feelings and chart her growth.

Gillian McDunn is the author of The Queen Bee and Me and Caterpillar Summer, which was selected for the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List and the Parents magazine Best Books of the Year list. She has lived in three time zones and is a fan of Eastern and Western barbecue. When she isn’t reading or writing, she is probably cooking, traveling, or spending time with her family. She lives near Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband and children, and a very silly dog named Friday.  Visit her at her website

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Oranges for the Sunsets by Tina Athaide

Orange for the Sunsets

Tina Athaide, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Fiction, 2019

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Friendship, Social class, Ethnic relations, East Indians, Uganda, Family life, Idi Amin, History

Publishers Synopsis:

Asha and her best friend, Yesofu, never cared about the differences between them: Indian. African. Girl. Boy. Short. Tall.

But when Ugandan President Idi Amin announces that Indians have ninety days to leave the country, suddenly those differences are the only things that people in Entebbe can see—not the shared after-school samosas or Asha cheering for Yesofu at every cricket game.

Determined for her life to stay the same, Asha clings to her world tighter than ever before. But Yesofu is torn, pulled between his friends, his family, and a promise of a better future. Now as neighbors leave and soldiers line the streets, the two friends find that nothing seems sure—not even their friendship. And with only days before the deadline, Asha and Yesofu must decide if the bravest thing of all might be to let each other go.

Why I like this book:

Tina Athaide’s powerful novel is gripping as it explores the 1972 expulsion of 50,000 Asians from Uganda. Athaide portrays the vast disparity between the two ethnic groups in Uganda through the daily lives of Asha Gomez, an Indian Ugandan, and Yesofu, an African Ugandan. Their friendship is depicted within the backdrop of historical events, a brutal dictator, social class, ethnic relations, family relationships, and hope. 

The narrative is told in the alternating voices of Asha and Yesofu, which is very effective because readers will understand the emotions each character has to confront individually and together as friends. All of the successful businesses, farms, schools, homes and churches are owned by Indians, while the Africans work hard labor in the sugar cane fields and are servants in Asian homes. Few African can get loans to buy land or start businesses.

Asha was born in Uganda and knows no other home. Her father is from Goa, India, and works in the Ministry of Tourism and they entertain foreign dignitaries. Her family is wealthy. She lives in a two-story house with a wraparound front porch. They can afford to eat kulfi or ice cream and serve their tea on beautiful silver trays. Her family have African servants, including Yesofu’s mother, Fara, who works as a housekeeper and cook. Asha is a compassionate, caring, brave and determined character. But she’s also very naive to the social injustices.  She never has visited Yesofu’s home or thinks to ask Yesofu about his life. 

Yesofu’s life is a stark contrast to Asha’s. His family lives in a two-room shack made of “wattle and daub — woven rods and twigs plastered with clay and mud and topped with a grass roof.” Yesofu sleeps on a woven mat and gathers branches for firewood and hauls water from the well twice daily. His mother has very little education and his Baba works in the fields all day. Yesofu’s and his brother Esi’s education is paid for by Asha’s father. Yesofu dreams of getting a scholarship to attend college and playing professional cricket.  At first, Idi Amin’s talk about a brighter future for Africans excites Yesofu. His Baba may be able to buy land. He may be able to attend college and have a better life. So he joins his friends and family in support the actions of Amin.

This is a period in history I wished I’d followed more closely in the 70s. So I’m very grateful to gain some understanding through Athaide’s novel, which is loosely based on her own life there. Her novel is well-researched. It really will help readers understand what happens when racial nationalism is used to rid a country of other ethnicities. President Idi Amin promises to help African Ugandans. But he seizes Indian properties, businesses, bank accounts. He is violent and commits torture and murder. Friends become enemies. There are no winners. And Yesofu begins to sees a darker side to Imin’s promises. Yesofu’s comment says it all: “Idi Amin had promised change would come to Uganda. And he was right. Everything had changed. No Asha. No Akello. No jobs. No money for school fees. No food, Dada Amin had promised a great future, but a future is hard to build when there’s nothing left.” 

I highly recommend Orange for the Sunsets. Readers won’t be able to put it down. Make sure you read her Author’s Note, the 90 Days in History, additional resources and view her personal family photos.

Review:For those wondering how to discuss the dangers of manipulative and toxic nationalism with children, this delicately told story is it. Orange for the Sunsets is a nuanced and balanced way to see politics through a child’s eyes.”— Nadia Hashimi, M.D., author of The Sky at Our Feet and One Half from the East.

Tina Athaide was born in Uganda and grew up in London and Canada. While her family lift Entebbe just prior to the expulsion, she has memories of refugee family and friends staying with them in their London home. The stories and conversations she listened to through the years became the inspiration for this book. Tina now lives in California with her husband, Ron, and their daughter, Isabella.

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.

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.  

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee (Rick Riordan Presents)

Dragon Pearl (Rick Riordan Presents)

Yoon Ha Lee, Author

Disney Hyperion, Fiction, 2019

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Brother and sister, Space adventure, Korean Mythology, Magical creatures, Ghosts, Science Fiction, Fantasy

Synopsis:

Thirteen-year-old Min comes from a long line of fox spirits. But you’d never know it by looking at her. To keep the family safe, Min’s mothers insists that none of them use any fox magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times. She dreams of joining the Space Forces like her older brother, Jun. Together they dream of seeing all of the Thousand Worlds and to find a way to help their own neglected, dust-ridden and impoverished planet, Jinju. 

When a special investigator arrives at Min’s home and informs her family that Jun is suspected of deserting the Space Force with other cadets to go search for the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is very wrong. Jun wound never desert his battle cruiser, Pale Lightning, even for a powerful mystical object.  Min has only one option — to search for Jun. Using her fox-magic, she uses her shape-shifting and Charm casting abilities to navigate gamblers, pirates, vengeful ghosts and sneak onto find her brother’s ship. 

 What to like about this book:

This is the second Rick Riordan Presents novel I’ve reviewed (even though I didn’t read his series.)  The blurb I remember seeing for Dragon Pearl was “space opera meets Korean mythology.” This pretty much encapsulates the book.  It isn’t contemporary, but crafted out of Korean mythological themes. The mythology is never explained in this compelling story, because it is the the foundation for the world and characters.

Dragon Pearl is high adventure with a lot of risks. The world-building is seamless. Min is a courageous character dedicated to finding her brother and clearing his name, while risking her own life at the same time. Her fox traits (like heightened hearing and scent recognition) are an immense help to her. And she is clever with charms that distract and manipulate people. There are many unexpected plot twists in Dragon Pearl and a special ending that surprised me. I love not being able to guess the ending and won’t give away any SPOILERS.  

Kudos to Yoon Ha Lee for the way she handles gender variances as an accepted fact of life. Cadets in the Space Force wear pronoun pins that tell them how to refer to each other. Lee also addresses racism through the tension between the supernatural beings, like the dragons, goblins, tigers, and foxes.

I recommend Dragon Pearl to lovers of science fiction, fantasy, mythology and space adventures. It will transport you to a world far beyond your imagination. I hope there is a sequel.

Yoon Ha Lee is a Korean American who grew up in both Texas and South Korea, learning folktales of wily foxes, shape-shifting tigers, and benevolent dragons. Yoon was inspired to write about foxes in space because everything is better in space — except the ice cream. Yoon is also the author of the Machineries of Empire trilogy: Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem, and Revenant Gun. For more information, follow Yoon on Twitter @motomaratai. 

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.

Houndsley and Catina at the Library by James Howe

Houndsley and Catina at the Library

James Howe, Author

Marie-Louise Gay, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, 2020

Pages: 42

Suitable for ages: 5-8

Themes: Animals, Library, Change, Friendship

Synopsis:

It’s Saturday, and friends Houndsley, Catina, and Bert always go to the library. But when the trio arrives, librarian Trixie is sad. She doesn’t tell a joke or recommend a book. That’s when the friends find out the bad news: the library is closing because with Trixie retiring and off to circus school, there’s no one to take her place as head librarian. Or is there?

James Howe and Marie-Louis Gay have created another inspiring tale about being a supportive friend and how it’s never too late to try something new.

Why I like this book:

This is a perfect story for emerging readers and a fun summer read. Houndsley, Catina and Bert are friends and they always spend their Saturdays at the library. When they arrive, Trixie, the librarian, doesn’t greet them with a smile or as joke. In fact she looks sad. It turns out that Trixie is retiring and changing careers and the library will be closing it’s doors.

The story also involves themes that deal with change. What will they do without a library? It is their community gathering place. Houndsley teaches reading to those who don’t know how to read. Catina teaches a yoga class. and Bert returns books to shelves. But when the threesome stop by Trixie’s house to find out why the library is closing, they find her happily jumping on a trampoline. They discover Trixie is changing too — she wants to join the circus. 

There are three chapters in the book, with Marie-Louise Gay’s colorful pastel illustrations  set the tone and compliment the story. Make sure your young reader checks out the other entertaining books in this Houndsely and Catina series.

James Howe is the author of many books for children, including the Bunnicula series and the Misfits series. He is also the author of the Houndsley and Catina books, as well as Otter and Odder, illustrated by Chris Raschka; Brontorina, illustrated by Randy Cecil; and Big Bob, Little Bob, illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson. James Howe lives outside of New York City.

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.  

We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez

We Are Not From Here

Jenny Torres Sanchez, Author

Philomel Books, Fiction, May 19, 2020 

Suitable for ages: 14-17

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

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

Book Jacket Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.