The Secret Starling by Judith Eagle

The Secret Starling

Judith Eagle, Author

Jo Rioux, Illustrator

Walker Books US, Fiction, Jun. 8, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Orphans, English Manor, Adventure, Family, Mystery, Secrets, Murder

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Clara Starling lives at Braithwaite Manor with her cold Uncle Edward Starling. Her life is full of dull rules, deadly routines, boring lessons with a governess and flavorless meals under her mean-spirited uncle’s strict regime. Clara’s mother died in childbirth. Clara knows she has a father somewhere, but Uncle tells her “he doesn’t know she exists.” End of question.  Clara’s only salvation is Cook, who she chats with her on the rare occasions Uncle leaves the manor. And she has her mother’s books to comfort her. 

Clara begins to notice things disappearing — portraits, china, and silver bowls.  Uncle fires staff, including Cook. One day Uncle informs Clara they are leaving the manor and orders her to pack a suitcase. He drops her off in the village, while he runs some errands. He hands her a thick wad of 10-pound notes and disappears. Clara spends the afternoon in a café and soon realizes that she’s been abandoned. Not wanting to end up in an orphanage, she trudges back to the old manor. She’s on her own now and no one is going to order her around anymore.  The manor is hers, even if there is a “For Sale” sign in the yard.  

When she arrives home, she finds a streetwise orphan, Peter Trimble and his rescue cat, waiting for her outside. He’s been sent to stay at the manor by his granny while she recuperates. The children seize the  chance to live by their own rules. But when the pair’s wild romps through the halls of Braithwaite Manor reveal a single, worn ballet slipper, they are hurled into a mystery that will lead to London’s glittering Royal Opera House, Russian dancers  and the unraveling of twisted Starling family secrets of poison, a villainous ex-ballet dancer, passion, and murder.

What to like about this story

Readers are in for a treat with Judith Eagle’s fast-paced adventure that is full of plot twists and surprises. The story is original and an exciting read. Even the cheerless opening will intrigue readers. And the run-down manor with feel like they’ve stepped into the late 19th century.

The relationship between Clara and Peter is intriguing. They both have pasts that are kind of a dead end. Peter was abandoned in a train station and adopted by a cleaning woman he calls Granny.  Peter loves the ballet and dances all over the manor. And Clara never knew her mother or has seen a picture of her. Uncle won’t tell her anything. But together they compliment one another. It’s fun to watch Clara’s growth, determination and bravery.

There are other lively characters in the story, Cook’s three grandchildren, who come to play at the manor when Uncle disappears. The manor now feels like a real home and that makes Clara feel happy and hopeful. It’s uplifting to see the children in charge and having a ball exploring, hiding and eating what ever they want. They also are clever and outsmart the grown-ups by destroying the yard sign and tricking realtors. They are the rulers of the manor…for now.

There is so much more to the story once Clara and Peter identify the owner of the ballet slipper. Sorry, no spoilers. The story speeds up and readers will be caught up in a mystery that takes them on a thrilling journey. 

Readers will also enjoy Jo Rioux’s eight full-page, pen and ink illustrations, which contribute significantly to the storytelling.

Judith Eagle’s career thus far has included stints as a stylist, fashion editor, and features writer. She currently works in a secondary school library and lives in South London with her family and Stockwell the cat. The Secret Starling is her first novel.

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 Walker Books US in exchange for a review.  

 

Amanda in Malta by Darlene Foster

Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady (The Amanda Travels Series 8)

Darlene Foster, Author

Central Avenue Publishing, May 11, 2011

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Malta, Travel, Adventure, Mystery, Theft, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Amanda receives a postcard from her best friend, Leah, and is surprised to learn that she is in Malta with her Aunt Jenny. Reading between the lines, she senses Leah is in trouble. Desperate to help her, Amanda strikes the lottery when she’s invited to travel to Malta with her classmate Caleb Sorenson and his parents.

Amanda is intrigued by this exotic island in the middle of the Mediterranean, full of colourful history, sun-drenched limestone fortresses, stunning beaches and fascinating birds. But…who is killing the protected birds? Who stole a priceless artifact from the museum? And why is Leah acting so strange? She couldn’t possibly be involved in these illegal activities, or could she?

Join Amanda and her friends as they visit ancient temples, an exciting falconry and the enchanting Popeye Village, as they try to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Sleeping Lady.

What to like about this Amanda in Malta:

Readers who dream of visiting exotic places, will be captivated by Darlene Foster’s lively adventure story to Malta where there is so much history, unusual places to explore, problems to solve and a dangerous mystery. Fans of the Amanda Travels series will be thrilled with this fast-paced story set in paradise.

Amanda is an upbeat, inquisitive, caring and memorable character that teens will want to befriend — especially since she has keen radar and really enjoys solving a good mystery. And she has a knack for mishaps, like getting stung by a jellyfish her first day in Malta. It’s fun to see Amanda reunited again with her best friends Leah and Caleb. Leah is caught up in a dangerous situation with her Aunt Jenny, an archeologist, and is trying to outrun and outsmart some really bad guys. Although Caleb is deathly afraid of fish, he is a great super sleuth, the group photographer and a good balance for Amanda through some awkward moments. 

I find Foster books educational for young readers and adults as Amanda, Leah and Caleb learn about the history, geography, architecture, local cuisine, and visit some very cool sites in Malta that include:  

  • Ghar Dalam, “cave of darkness, ” that is over 500,000  years old. It holds evidence of the first humans on the island, such as Neanderthal teeth, from 7,400 years ago.
  • A boat trip through the Blue Grotto Caves where the crystal clear waters change colour from the reflections off the cave walls. Simply paradise.
  • The Falconry Center for many rescued birds of prey. The Maltese falcon is known for its speed as it can reach over 320 kilometers per hour or 200 miles per hour. It is an endangered species in many places of the world. Storks nesting on the St. Lucian Tower.
  • The Popeye Village in Anchor Bay, the location where Robert Williams’ filmed the movie in 1980. 
  • St. John’s Cathedral, built by the Knights in 1572. As each knight gained wealth, he and his family donated art and decorations. The inlaid marble graves show where many knights were buried.
  • The Museum of Archeology, where there is a 4,000-year-old sculpture of the sleeping lady. 

Resources: Make sure you check out the discussion questions at the end of the book.

Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady is the eighth book in the Amanda Travels serves: Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask; Amanda in Spain: The Girl in the Painting; Amanda in England: The Missing Novel; Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone; Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music; and Amanda in New Mexico : Ghosts in the Wind; and Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action. Foster has written the books in such a manner that they can be read in any order, but I recommend you start with the first book.

Darlene Foster was brought up on a ranch in southern Alberta. She dreamt of writing, travelling the world and meeting interesting people. She believes everyone is capable of making their dreams come true. It’s no surprise that she’s now the award-winning author of a children’s adventure series about a travelling twelve-year-old girl. A world-traveller herself, Darlene spends her time in Vancouver, Canada and Costa Blanca in Spain with her husband and her amusing dogs, Dot and Lia. Visit her at her website or on Twitter @supermegawoman.

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 publisher in exchange for a review.

Sunshine by Marion Dane Bauer

Sunshine

Marion Dane Bauer

Candlewick Press, Fiction, May 18, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  Summer vacation, Visiting mom, Northern Minnesota wilderness, Imaginary dog, Forgiveness

Publisher’s Synopsis

Since as far back as Ben can remember, it’s been him, his devoted dad, and Sunshine — Ben’s imaginary dog. Even when Ben feels like his dad doesn’t understand him, or Sunshine, he knows his dad loves him. But with his mom, Ben isn’t so sure. She left one day when he was three and he’s never really understood why. He often wonders if he did something that made her suddenly leave. He can’t remember her face. The only thing he remembers is that she made big animal pancakes for him.

This summer, Ben will be spending a whole week with his mom in the wilderness and he’s determined to find answers.  She lives by herself in a messy cabin without electricity or phone on a remote island in northern Minnesota, something that is way out of Ben’s comfort zone. His mom isn’t afraid of anything. Ben is a “what if kid,” afraid of the dark, heights and getting lost. But Ben will learn to camp, paddle a canoe, explore, use a stinky outhouse and confront his fears. And will he ever be able to ask his mom BIG questions. Will she want to come home and be his mom? When a forest fire threatens his mom’s home, Ben finally realizes everything he’s been trying to forget and learns how to forgive his mom — and himself. 

Why I like this book

Marion Dane Bauer has penned a heartfelt story that is filled with hope as Ben reconnects with his mother for the first time. The narrative is lyrical and completely character driven. And there is a big dose of love and forgiveness.

The characters are believable and authentic. Ben’s fears and worries are reflections of the anger he holds deep within. As is his need to create an imaginary dog to comfort him on his journey. Bauer keeps the reader guessing why Ben’s mother left her family until the end. His mom is physically strong and likable. And she asks Ben a lot of questions about Sunshine and compares him to a guardian spirit who watches over Ben. She never tells him he’s too old to have an imaginary dog. We do learn that his mother was abused as a child and has her own demons. And Sunshine feels so real in the story, that dog lovers will find this story interesting.

Readers who enjoy the outdoors, will find Ben and his mother’s exploration of this pristine an remote island appealing — like Ben’s first encounter with the lake’s loons and a mother bear and her baby. The week is one big adventure for Ben and he discovers he can be resourceful and brave. This is a good summer read for middle grade readers.

Marion Dane Bauer is an award-winning author of more than one hundred books for young people, including the Newbery Honor Book On My Honor and The Stuff of Stars. Marion Dane Bauer lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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.

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre

Carole Boston Weatherford, Author

Floyd Cooper, Illustrator

Carolrhoda Books, Nonfiction,  Feb. 1, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Tulsa Race Riot, African Americans, Greenwood, Racism, Violence, History 

Opening: “Once upon a time near Tulsa, Oklahoma, prospectors struck it rich in the oil fields. The wealth created jobs, raised buildings, and attracted newcomers from far and wide, seeking fortune and a fresh start.”

Publisher Synopsis:

In the early 1900s, Tulsa, Oklahoma, was home to a thriving African American community. The Greenwood district had it’s own school system, libraries, churches, restaurants, post office, movie theaters, and more. But all that would change in the course of two terrible, UNSPEAKABLE DAYS.

On May 31 and June 1, 1921, a mob of armed white Tulsans attacked Greenwood. They looted homes and businesses and burned them to the ground as Black families fled. The police did nothing to protect Greenwood, and as many as three hundred African Americans were killed. More than eight thousand were left homeless.

News of the Tulsa Race Massacre — one of the worst incidents of racial violence in US history — was largely suppressed, and no official investigation occurred for seventy-five years.

Celebrated author Carole Boston Weatherford and acclaimed illustrator Floyd Cooper provide a sensitive and powerful introduction to the Tulsa Race Massacre, helping young readers understand the events of the past so we can move toward a better future for all.  May 31 marks the 100th anniversary of the massacre. 

Why I like this book:

Carole Boston Weatherford begins the story of Greenwood on a celebratory note as she eases readers into the story. Weatherford writes in free verse, which highlights the community pride and softens the violence at the end.  

The setting occupies the first two-thirds of the book. Each page turn begins with “Once upon a time…” and focuses on the beauty and prosperity that a thriving Black community achieves. Segregation laws call for separate neighborhoods, and train tracks divide the Black and white communities. Ten thousand people live in a thirty-five-square block area. Many Black businesses are opened along a one-mile stretch of Greenwood Avenue. The thriving community is self-sufficient and becomes known as the “Black Wall Street.” There are restaurants, grocery stores, furriers, shops, schools, libraries, a hospital, churches, hotel, post office, and railroad and street cars coaches for Black families. The community has 15 doctors, and many lawyers and prominent businessmen. And there are two Black-owned newspapers. The community is totally self-sufficient. Such an amazing achievement for the families who call Greenwood home.

The author introduces the conflict that begins to arise in 1921, when disgruntled white Tulsa residents don’t  appreciate the fact that African Americans can achieve success and wealth. With tensions rising, all it takes is a white female elevator operator accusing a Black man of assault, and violence erupts. Weatherford masterfully moves her readers into the heartbreaking events that follow in an age-appropriate manner.       

Floyd Cooper’s breathtaking oil illustrations show a community of happy children and content adults going about their daily lives. He captures the hustle and bustle of a busy and booming town, and the pride of all who live there. Toward the end of the book is a double spread with a dark page that alerts readers that something is about to change. Cooper’s artwork contributes significantly in the telling of the story and ends with hope. Make sure you check out the  endpaper photograph of a town burned to the ground.

Resources: The author’s and illustrator’s notes include their personal relationship with the story. There is also additional historical information, explanation about the massacre’s longtime erasure from history, historical photographs, and pictures of memorials. Cooper grew up in Tulsa and heard the stories from his grandfather. Make sure you listen to Floyd Cooper’s YouTube comments below. 

Carole Boston Weatherford is the author of numerous books, including Freedom in Congo Square, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, which received a Caldecott Honor; Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, which received a Caldecott Honor and a Sibert Honor; and Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, which won a Caldecott Honor and an NAACP Image Award. Her writing covers such topics as jazz and photography, as well as slavery and segregation eras. The daughter of educators, she has a passion for rescuing events and figures from obscurity by documenting American history. She lives in North Carolina. 

Floyd Cooper received a Coretta Scott King Award for his illustrations for The Blacker the Berry and won Coretta Scott King honors for Brown Honey in Broom Wheat Tea, Meet Danitra Brown, and I Have Heard of a Land. He has illustrated numerous books, including Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey. Born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he first heard about the Tulsa Race Massacre from his grandfather, who survived it as a young man. Floyd now lives in Easton, Pennsylvania, with his wife and two sons.

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 Dragon in the Library by Louie Stowell

The Dragon in the Library (A Kit the Wizard Book 1)

Louie Stowell, Author

David Ortu, Illustrator

Walker Books US, Fiction, Mar. 16, 2021

Pages: 200

Suitable for ages: 7-9

Themes: Library, Magic, Wizards, Dragon, Villain 

Opening: “Do you seriously want to spend the first day of summer vacation with a bunch of dead people?” Josh asked.

Synopsis:

Kit Spencer can’t stand reading. She’d rather be outside playing and getting muddy than stuck inside with a book. But when her best friends, Josh and Alita, drag her to the local library, Kit discovers that there is something magical when she opens a book and finds herself standing in the middle of a beautiful garden. And there is something very unusual about the librarian, Faith, who follows her into the book and uses strange words to get them out. Kit learns that she’s a wizard — and maybe the youngest wizard in the world. Kit’s response: “Wow.”  

Kit must keep her secret or she will put the entire wizarding world in danger. She can’t tell her best friends or the librarian will have to erase their memories. Too late. Josh and Alita have been eavesdropping outside the room and burst in begging Faith not to “wipe their brains.” They promise to keep the secrets of the library and the threesome embark upon a journey to help Kit protect the sleeping dragon hidden beneath the library.

Kit discovers using magic isn’t easy and spells can be tricky.  Kit has a big learning curve, but she must learn quickly because there’s a power-hungry businessman who will stop at nothing to get his hands on some magic of his own. With the help of her librarian mentor, her best friends Josh and Alita, and a cute dragon-dog hybrid, Kit will have to find a way to save the dragon in the library — and maybe the world.

Why I like this book:

I really love introducing this wizarding series to emerging readers who aren’t ready for Harry Potter and other MG fantasy books. Louie Stowell creates an exciting and appealing adventure story with magical creatures, diverse characters, and an engaging plot with unexpected twists. The storytelling is straightforward and the pacing is fast and humorous. 

The three diverse friends are lovable characters, but have very different personalities. Kit is a spirited character who is reckless and makes a lot of mistakes. She’d rather play in a graveyard than read a book. When Kit is asked to read to children during story time, it is torture! Josh and Alita are smart, avid readers. Josh is always taking notes and keeping things straight. Alita is good at organizing, especially when they decide to hold a peaceful protest to “Save the Library.” An unlikely group of friends, they do support each other and work well together. Faith, the wizard librarian, is believable and grounds the story. There are many laughable moments. 

David Ortu’s pen and ink illustrations are playful. They capture the characters personalities, their reactions to stepping into the pages of a book, and their encounters with magical creatures. Ortu shares just enough art to spark readers imaginations! 

I really found this book a charming and humorous chapter book. There is a second book in the works, The Monster in the Lake, and the author leaves a lot of room for adventure and Kit’s character growth. I think Kit’s going to be an amazing wizard. This is the perfect summer adventure for young readers looking to escape into a world of magic, libraries, spells, a dragon-dog, and an evil villain!

Louie Stowell started her career writing carefully researched books about space, ancient Egypt, politics and science, but eventually lapsed into making things up. She likes writing about dragons, wizards, vampires, fairies, monsters and parallel worlds. Stowell lives in London with her wife, Karen; her dog, Buffy; and a creepy puppet that is probably cursed. Visit Stowell 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 Walker Books in exchange for a review. 

Leonard (My Life As a Cat) by Carlie Sorosiak

Carlie Sorosiak, Author

Walker Books US, Fiction, Apr. 13, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Cat, Alien, Immortal, Family, Friendship, Intergenerational relationships 

Synopsis:  

When 11-year-old Olive rescues a cat from flood waters, she doesn’t know that he’s an alien. Olive names him Leonard and takes him home. Leonard comes from a galaxy where the species don’t have bodies or individual personalities. They exist as one being. When they turn 300 years old, the members have the opportunity to visit planet Earth, become any creature they wish for one month and study the human race. 

Now Leonard’s dreams of living as a human and working as a park ranger at Yellowstone National Park are dashed.  Something goes wrong during his journey to earth and he finds himself covered in fur, with a long tail and unable to communicate. He’s frantic! He’s doesn’t know how to eat, sleep, purr/meow, bathe, walk or use a litter box.  Now he’ll never know what it is like to work as a park ranger, commune with nature, share his knock-knock jokes, hold an umbrella, eat cheese sandwiches, go to a movie theater, or host a dinner party. How will he get home if his rendezvous point with his species is 2,000 miles away and he only has a month to get there?

Olive is visiting her grandmother Norma for the summer at a beach house in South Carolina. While her mom and her new boyfriend travel, Olive worries about whether or not she will have to move to California after they return. Leonard trusts Olive and discovers a way to communicate with her (no spoilers).  Together they must figure out how to get from South Carolina to Yellowstone by the end of the month. As Olive teaches Leonard about the beautiful and confusing world of humans, he starts to realize how much he cares about her. He may have to choose between returning to his planet (where he is immortal) or remain on earth with his new human friend.

Why I like this book:

Leonard is so much more than an alien cat adventure. Carlie Sorosiak charms her readers with her unique and heartwarming tale about love, friendship and the meaning of home. Cat lovers will pounce on Leonard’s story, but so will other readers. The pacing is perfect and will keep readers fully engaged. . 

Leonard narrates the story. There are times Leonard is overwhelmed with all of the loud noises — pots and pans, garbage disposal, shower curtains — and misses the beauty and peacefulness of his planet. At other times he’s in awe of Olive’s tenderness and enjoys his adventures to the aquarium and the annual Save the Sea Turtle hatching event on Turtle Beach. He discovers he can communicate telepathically with Norma’s dog, Stanley, and the penguins at the aquarium. He surprised to discover cats dream and have feelings. But, he will never get used to disgusting hair balls.

I love the quirky characters. Olive is smart, energetic, wears baggy overalls, and loves reciting facts about about animals. “Did you know that three percent of Antarctic ice is penguin urine?” But she’s also lonely and longs for one good friend. She finds that friendship with Leonard. Grandma Norma is stiff, rugged, unconventional and a daredevil. She rides a motorbike. Q is Norma’s best friend — he wears a fish hat and Hawaiian shirts. He runs the aquarium where Olive and Norma help out. Q is the first to figure out Leonard’s identity and he becomes instrumental in helping Olive plan an RV trip to deliver Leonard to Yellowstone Park. He also nudges her to give talks at the aquarium.

Full of laughs and heart, Leonard is a story that will stay with you long after you finish the last page. Readers will identify with his unusual circumstance and wonder how they would respond — making this a fun discussion book. This is a perfect summer read.

Carlie Sorosiak is the author of the middle-grade novel, I, Cosmo as well as two novels for young adults, If Birds Fly Back and Wild Blue Wonder. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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 Walker Books in exchange for a review.

 

 

She Persisted: Claudette Colvin by Lesa Cline-Ransome and Chelsea Clinton

She Persisted: Claudette Colvin

Lesa Cline-Ransome and Chelsea Clinton, Authors

Gillian Flint, Illustrator (Interior illustrations)

Philomel Books, Non-fiction, Feb. 2, 2021

Suitable for ages: 6-9

Themes: Claudette Colvin, Segregation, Racism, Standing up for what is right

On March 2, 1955 15-year-old Claudette Colvin and her classmates bordered a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and paid their fare to the driver. Since there were no white people on the bus that spring afternoon, they were allowed to walk through the bus to the Black section without having to disembark and reenter through the back door. Claudette settled into a seat by herself while her classmates filled other seats. As the bus continued, white riders began to board and quickly filled the bus. In Montgomery, Alabama, if all the seats were filled in the white section, the Black passengers had to give up their seats. 

When a white woman demanded her seat, Claudette refused to move. It didn’t seem fair to Claudette that she’d have to give up her seat because of her color. When police boarded the bus and asked her if she was going to move, Claudette courageously said “It’s my constitutional right to sit here as much as that lady. I paid my fare…”  Police grabbed her arms and pulled her off the bus, shoved her into the back of their cruiser, and called her terrible names. To tune out their abusive language, she quietly recited the “Lord’s Prayer.”

Claudette was arrested and put in jail, where she continued to pray and tried to stand up to their racism. With support from Black leaders and a community who raised the money to hire a good attorney, Fred Gray,  Claudette went to trial. She was taking on Montgomery, whose bus laws and racist system of segregation were illegal, according to the Supreme Court. Claudette was found guilty by the white judge. Black people decided to not ride buses in protest and began to walk or carpool to work. In losing she ignited a revolution that would be picked up by Rosa Parks nine months later, when she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus.

Lesa Cline-Ransome has written an inspiring and compelling biography about Claudette, who is not been widely known for her brave stand against an injustice. She played an important role in the civil rights movement in Montgomery.  She met Rosa Parks at a youth NAACP meeting before her trial, so readers can only imagine that Parks had been inspired by Claudette’s courage.

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, Cline-Ransom includes a section for readers about “How You Can Persist,” and additional reading about Claudette.  Gillian Flint’s expressive and simple pen and ink drawings  compliment the story for readers and give them a peek into her 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!   

Cline-Ransome 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 perfect. There are 13 books about American women that are being released monthly through December. They include Harriet Tubman, Sally Ride, Virginia Apgar, Nelly Bly, Sonia Sotomayor, Florence Griffith Joiner, Ruby Bridges, Clara Lemlich, Margaret Chase Smith, Maria Tall Chief, Helen Keller and Oprah Winfrey.  

Lesa Cline-Ransom is the author  of many award-winning and critically acclaimed books for young readers including Not Playing By the Rules: 21 Female Athletes Who Changes Sports, Young Pele: Soccer’s First Star, Before She Was Harriet, Overground Railroad, Finding Langston and Leaving Lymon. She lives in the Hudson Valley region of New York with her family. Visits her online at her website. Or follow her on Twitter @lclineransome.

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. 

Too Small Tola by Atinuke

Too Small Tola

Atinuke, Author, Onyinye Iwu, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Mar. 2, 2021

Suitable for ages: 7-9

Themes: Nigeria, Poverty, Family relationships, Community

Tola lives in “a run-down block of apartments in the megacity of Lagos, in the country of Nigeria,” with her older sister, Moji, who is very smart; her brother, Dapo, who is very athletic; and Grandmommy, who is very bossy. Tola may be small, but she finds that she has other abilities. 

In the first story, Tola accompanies Grandmommy to the market and balances a basket full of yams, vegetables, chili peppers, fish, football glue and diapers — on her head. It’s a long tiring walk, but she also manages to climb steep  stairs to their apartment without dropping anything. She discovers that she is strong.  She is also very clever with counting their money and makes sure Grandmommy isn’t being cheated by vendors.

In the next story, Tola wakes up very early and discovers that the electricity is off again and the faucets in the apartment aren’t working. There is no water for bathing or cooking.  She wakes her sister, Moji, and they grab empty jerry cans and head to the outside water pumps before a long line forms. They return and wake Dapo to grab more cans to gather water, although this time she runs into trouble.

In the final story Tola helps their tailor neighbor, Mr. Abdul, who breaks his leg in accident. Easter and the end of Ramdan feast of Eid is approaching, and Mr. Abdul isn’t able to ride his bike to measure his customers for new holiday garments. Tola is clever with numbers and measurements, so she offers to help. Dapo uses the bike to pedal Tola around the city. 

Award-winning children’s writer, Atinuke, is a master storyteller. She started her career as an oral storyteller of tales from the African continent. Today her stories are contemporary stories about life in Nigeria. Her stories are perfect chapter books for children 7-9. Each chapter lends itself to a short story, which will appeal to this age group.  In Too Small Tola, she shows the poverty of Nigeria, but also the strength and love of family and community. 

Readers will enjoy Onyinye Iwu pen and ink drawings that appear on every page and they show both the love and humor of the community. They will help readers visualize the story and help break up the text. A delightful read for kids preparing to move into middle grade books.

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.

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.

Merci Suarez Can’t Dance by Meg Medina

Merci Suárez Can’t Dance

Meg Medina, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 6, 2021

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Themes:  Middle School, Friendship, Family, Love, Alzheimer’s, Latino, Dance

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Seventh grade is going to be a real trial for Merci Suárez. For science she’s got no-nonsense Mr. Ellis, who expects her to be as smart as her brother, Roli. She’s been assigned to co-manage the tiny school store with Wilson Bellevue, a boy she barely knows, but whom she might actually like. And she’s tangling again with classmate Edna Santos, who is bossier and more obnoxious than ever now that she is in charge of the annual Heart Ball.

One thing is for sure, though: Merci Suárez can’t dance—not at the Heart Ball or anywhere else. Dancing makes her almost as queasy as love does, especially now that Tía Inés, her merengue-teaching aunt, has a new man in her life. Unfortunately, Merci can’t seem to avoid love or dance for very long. She used to talk about everything with her grandfather, Lolo, but with his Alzheimer’s getting worse each day, whom can she trust to help her make sense of all the new things happening in her life? The Suárez family is back in a touching, funny story about growing up and discovering love’s many forms, including how we learn to love and believe in ourselves.

Why I like this book:

Meg Medina’s much anticipated sequel is a heartwarming and compelling novel that tackles big topics for Merci Suárez, who is now a seventh grade student at Seward Pines Academy. Medina’s narrative is engaging and immersive.  Her plot is classic middle grade tension and  — losing a BFF to a more popular crowd; a mean, rich-girl bully; racism; and the differences in culture and social status.  

Merci’s adventures in school paint a clear picture of a curious and resilient 12-year-old trying to make sense of who she is. She’s smart, has a good business head and is a talented photographer. She worries about her looks, is conscious about her changing body and dreads PE shower rooms. She can’t dance and doesn’t want to go to the big school dance.  She finds boy-girl relationships confusing. Is it scary or nice? She wants to know about holding a boy’s hand, kissing for the first time, dating, and breaking up. Medina also includes a very diverse cast of memorable characters: Edna who’s from the Dominican Republic, and Wilson who’s Louisiana Creole and Cajun, is differently-abled and wears a short ankle brace to straighten his leg when he walks. Merci’s friendship with Wilson, a math whiz, may mean a little more to her.

This richly textured Latino story is peppered with Spanish expressions from her Cuban-American family. Medina uses humor in this true-to-life story that is topsy-turvy, yet filled with heart. The Suárez family is a large multigenerational family that live in a group of three homes where all family members come and go, regardless of who lives where. Papi runs a painting business. The Suárez family is a close-knit family that work, cook and eat together, share childcare responsibilities, and support each other, even if money is tight. There is a lot of chaos at all times. Merci is often in charge of keeping an eye on her grandfather (Lolo), whose Alzheimer’s is rapidly progressing and babysitting her aunt’s active twin boys. And they all answer the call to help Tía Inez, when she decides to open a school of Latin dance.

Medina dedicates her book to “Merci fans who wanted to know what happened next.”  And fans will cheer for Merci, enjoy watching her grow and hope that Medina continues her story. Merci Suárez is a humorous and satisfying read.  

Check out the Teacher’s Guide, published by Candlewick Press.

Meg Medina is the author of the Newbery Medal-winning book, Merci Suárez Changes Gears, which was also a 2018 Kirkus Prize finalist.  Her YA novels Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, for which she won a 2014 Pura Belpre Author Award; Burn Baby Burn, which was long-listed for the National Book Award; and The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. The daughter of Cuban immigrants, she grew up in Queens, New York, and now lives in Richmond Virginia. Visit Meg Medina 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.

Unicorn Island by Donna Galanti

Unicorn Island (Volume 1)

Donna Galanti, Author

Bethany Stancliffe, Illustrator

Andrews McMeel Publishing, Feb. 9, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Unicorns, Mythical creatures, Mysterious Island, Fantasy

Synopsis:

Beyond the mist lies a magical secret waiting to be discovered . . .

When Sam arrives in Foggy Harbor, population 3,230, all she can see is a small, boring town that’s way too far from home. And knowing that she’s stuck there all summer with her grumpy Uncle Mitch only makes things worse.

But when Sam discovers a hidden trapdoor leading to a room full of strange artifacts, she realizes Foggy Harbor isn’t as sleepy as it seems. With the help of a new friend, Sam discovers an extraordinary secret beyond the fog: an island of unicorns whose fates are intertwined with hers.

Why I like this book:

Donna Galanti’s Unicorn Island is a compelling contemporary fantasy that is full of wonder, mystery and tension.  It will captivate readers’ imaginations and lure them into a magical world of mythical beasts.

Samantha (Sam) is a curious and resilient protagonist who longs for a place to call home. She moves every six months because of her musician mother’s playing with new orchestras. With an upcoming European tour, she literally dumps Sam on Uncle Mitch’s door step in Foggy Harbor for the summer without asking him. Fortunately Sam quickly becomes best friends with the Tuck, the veterinarian’s son. Uncle Mitch is somewhat stern and elusive at first, but Sam’s first impressions may be wrong.

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 first volume with five books to follow. Yes, 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 on unicorns, wyverns, veterinarians, the pirates of the Carolina’s and Ocracoke and Assateague Islands, where the wild horses and ponies roam free.

Epic partnered with Andrews McMeel, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, to release the series as an illustrated hardcover. The next 5 books in the series come out on Epic, a digital library this May. Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath the Sand (Volume 2), will be released in hardcover next winter.

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.