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.

New Handbooks for Teens – Friendship, Hero Journey, and Managing Anger

All three of these Magaination Press guides or handbooks are perfect for teens ranging from middle grade to high school. The books are expertly written yet accessible for readers. The friendly tone in each book will engage and empower readers with sound advice from experts. Educators, school counselors and caregivers everywhere need resources for teens that help them become their best selves.  All three of these books belong in every school library.

The Friendship Book

Wendy L. Moss, PhD, Author

Magination Press, Nonfcition, Feb. 16, 2021

Suitable for ages:  8-12

Synopsis:  Do you know what it takes to be a good friend and make new ones?

Take a peek inside to see how your friends can help you feel accepted and connected through your shared time together and ways to make sure you are giving back the same appreciation and support in your friendship, so you can be a good friend too!

Teens will read about the definition of a friend, how you can make sure you are ready to be a good friend and the complications and joys of having a best friend. The book starts with a quiz for teens about what they want in a friendship, followed by the results which gives them a starting point as they begin to read. Throughout the book, readers will learn about how other kids have made and kept friends even though a variety of situations: bullying, peer pressure, trust, competition, changing interests, mistakes and forgiveness, And more quizzes at the end of each chapter.

The Hero Handbook

Matt Langdon, Author

Magination Press, Nonfiction, Jan. 27, 2021

Suitable for ages: 9-13

Publisher’s Synopsis: Heroes inspire us to take chances, do hard things, and sometimes even change the world. Heroes are all around us, so how can you be the hero of your own story?

To become a hero, kids can surround themselves with supportive people, boost their self-esteem and self-awareness, find their passion, and have the courage make things happen. This book shows them how to be the hero of their own story and discover their own hero journey.

What makes a hero? Activists. advocates, allies, and friends. Sometimes heroes are our parents, teachers, or siblings. The truth is, heroes are inside everyone, and kids can and discover their inner hero, too!

The Hero Handbook guides you on your own hero journey, helps you identify your goals, and gets you powered up to achieve them. Get ready and GO make a difference in your world!

Zero to 60: A Teens Guide to Manage Frustration, Anger, and Everyday Irritations

Michael A. Tompkins, PhD, Author

Magination Press, Nonfiction, Nov. 10, 2020,

Suitable for ages: 12-18

Publishers Synopsis: High-performance cars can go from zero to  60 in just a few seconds. Anger can feel a lot like that. One minute you are calm, but the next, something sets you on a course to speed out of control. Getting to anger’s edge too fast can cause problems with friends, family school and event self-esteem.

The author offers tips and tricks to help stall anger and leave it by the side of the road. Teens will learn how to calm their body, derail thoughts that fuel anger, and learn how to communicate and de-escalate situations. The book contains teen-appropriate examples, strategies, fun exercises, journaling, a heads-up plan, and vivid illustrations that will help teens improve their relationships, boost self-esteem and manage their anger.

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 copies provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

Amari and the Night Brothers (Supernatural Investigations, 1)

B.B. Alston, Author

Balzer + Bray, Fiction, Jan. 19, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: African American, Heroes, Fantasy, Mythical Creatures, Supernatural talents, Racism

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.

So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.

Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

Why I like this book:

The cover is breathtaking with Black girl magic swirling around and through Amari’s hands. The title is done in beautiful gold lettering. Amari and the Night Brothers will appeal to readers! The book is pitched for fans of Harry Potter, Nevermoor and Men in Black — I’d also add Keeper of the Lost Cities.

B.B. Alston has created a thrilling action-packed adventure that is realistic, magical and humorous. Alston doesn’t shy away from including contemporary themes that address racism and discrimination, which Amari faces at home and at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs.  At home she is an outcast because she is a Black girl from the projects attending a private school. At the bureau she is an outcast because she manifests as a magician, which is the only talent that is illegal in the supernatural world due to the evil Night Brothers — magicians who used dark magic to conquer death. Now she faces prejudice from both adults and peers. Amari doesn’t allow her challenges to define her.

The characters are amazing. Amari is determined, strong-willed and believable. She’s not at the summer camp to stand out, she is on a mission to find her brother, Quinton. She has a courageous spirit and believes that he’s alive somewhere and she’s going to track him down. She befriends her roommate, Elsie who is a technopath/inventor and is also bullied by her peers. Dylan manifests in physics and  technology. His sister, Lara, who bullies Amari, manifests as a superhuman athlete (superhero). Their missing sister Maria was Quinton’s partner. Dylan and Amari become partners as they train hard to make it into the Bureau of Investigations, so they can become junior agents.

The setting is contemporary. The bureau turns smart and talented students into geniuses who they put through a rigorous training programs required by the department they wish to join — and there are many departments like the technology bureau.  The Bureau of Supernatural Affairs resembles a NORAD control center where agents monitor magical creatures — boogie people, fairies, dwarfs, mermaids, witches, werewolves, aliens, Big Foot, the Abominable Snowman, and evil magicians — for their protection and the protection of the world. There are agents monitoring global activities, investigations, and imprisoned criminals. It is amusing when the new president of the United States is briefed by the Bureau about top secret supernatural activities in the world, he passes out.

I highly recommend this book to readers who are looking for an exciting adventure that will keep them glued to the pages and guessing what will happen next. It doesn’t contain an excessive amount of detail and may be perfect for reluctant readers. It is a sparkling read. Yes, there are major surprises. The ending is satisfying, but leaves a lot of room for the next two volumes in the trilogy. Readers will be interested in knowing that Universal Pictures has optioned the rights to Amari and the Night Brothers. So there WILL be a movie!

B.B. Alston lives in Lexington, South Carolina. Amari and the Night Brothers is hi debut middle grade novel. When not writing, he can be found eating too many sweet and exploring country roads to see where the lead.

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.

Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles

Take Back the Block

Chrystal D. Giles, Author

Random House Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jan. 26, 2021

Pages: 240

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Community, Social Justice, Family, Neighborhoods, Gentrification, Friendship, African Americans

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Brand-new kicks, ripped denim shorts, Supreme tee–

Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That–and hanging out with his crew (his best friends since little-kid days) and playing video games–is what he wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year, not the protests his parents are always dragging him to.

But when a real estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood Wes has lived in his whole life, everything changes. The grownups are supposed to have all the answers, but all they’re doing is arguing. Even Wes’s best friends are fighting. And some of them may be moving. Wes isn’t about to give up the only home he’s ever known. Wes has always been good at puzzles, and he knows there has to be a missing piece that will solve this puzzle and save the Oaks. But can he find it before it’s too late?

Why I like this book:

Chrystal D. Giles has written a timely and powerful novel for middle grade students that hits a sweet spot for me — kids making a difference in their communities and fighting for what they believe in. It celebrates the joy of family, friendship and community and will captivate readers from the start.  The plot is daring and hopeful. It is “loosely based on Giles’s hometown.

There is a  delightful cast of characters, with Wes Henderson leading his crew of best friends: Jasper (Jas), Mya, Alyssa, Takari (Kari) and Brent. They live in Kensington Oaks and are typical 6th graders, interested in video games, movies, school and birthday parties. Wes is a lovable and outgoing narrator, who is afraid of public speaking — especially when his social studies teacher, Mr. Bates, assigns each student to research a social justice issue, write a report and do a 10-minute presentation. He’s doomed.

Thumbs up to Wes’s parents for introducing him to social activism. His mother is an active community leader and takes Wes to a peaceful protests so that he understands what is happening in nearby neighborhoods that are being torn down for new shopping areas. This exposure is handy when the Oaks becomes the new target of a development group who wants to build condos and shops. There is no way Wes can leave the only home he’s ever known and holds his family’s history.

While the adults in the community are arguing, some selling their homes and others giving up, Wes knows he has to do something. A fire burns in his belly and he gathers his friends to fight for the survival of the Oaks. They enlist the support of a local group, Save Our City. Suddenly, Wes has his school social justice project, and Mr. Bates proves to give good advise and knows people. He allows Wes and his friends to meet in his classroom after school as they research and strategize each move. No more SPOILERS.

Take Back the Block deals with a topic that I haven’t seen addressed in children’s books — gentrification, the unfair displacement of families in lower income neighborhoods. Development companies buy up homes cheap, tear them down and replace them with high-end housing and shopping areas.  Most families can’t afford to live in the developments and are forced to find housing elsewhere. This is common in many Black communities.

This is an important book for a classroom to read together. Wes and his friends are the new faces of social justice and youth activism, whether it is gun control, climate change and equality. And student interested in social justice issues may gain courage from Wes.

Chrystal D. Giles is making her middle-grade debut with Take Back the Block. Chrystal was a 2018 W Need Diverse Books mentee, and her poem “Dimples” appears in the poetry anthology Thanku Poems of Gratitude. Chrystal lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and son. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter @CREATIVELYCHRYS.

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.

Daily Bread by Antoinette Truglio Martin

Daily Bread

Antoinette Truglio Martin, Author

Red Penguin Books, Historical Fiction, Oct. 12, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Immigrants, New York City, Poverty, Child labor, Factories, Bullies

Synopsis:

Set in New York City in 1911, the large Taglia family has immigrated from Sicily and is living in a three-room tenement on Mott Street in the Lower East Side.  Earning enough money to cover the rent and basic needs is an endless struggle for the Taglia family and they need all the help they can muster. The father works double shifts at the docks. The mother is very pregnant with her fourth child, refuses to learn English and depends on her daughters to translate and barter for her.

Spunky songbird Lily wants to help by baking Daily Bread at the Goldberg’s Bakery like big sister, Margaret. But Margaret says Lily is just a little kid, and there is more to baking Daily Bread than height and an artist’s heart. Lily learns to navigate in a grown-up world when facing bullies, disasters, loss, dotty bakers, and treacherous streets to cross by herself.

Why I like this book:

Antoinette Truglio Martin has crafted a beautiful work of historical fiction based on her own family’s early beginnings in America. The story is a very American story — one that so many of us share. Martin’s writing is polished and filled with vivid imagery of the sights and sounds of the period, which will captivate reader’s imaginations. Her plot is realistic and sobering, and her pacing is pitch perfect, which will keep readers fully engaged.

The characters are authentic and memorable. Twelve-year-old Margaret is the eldest. She’s a smart student and knows that education is her way out of poverty. She helps the family out by working at a bakery. Ten-year-old Lily loves to sing and wants to learn how to bake Daily Bread at the Goldberg’s bakery with her big sister. Mr. and Mrs. Goldberg are Russian immigrants, who create a safe place where neighborhood children can bake the Daily Bread for their families and only pay three cents for their loaf rather than five cents. They also teach them a skill. Their routine is laborious, with Margaret and Lily arriving at the bakery before dawn to mix and knead their dough and put it into a pan to rise. They head to school only to return on their lunch breaks to punch the air out of the dough, knead and reshape it into a round loaf.  Their loaf will be baked and ready for them to take home when they return after school. Margaret earns extra money by helping with bakery sales and has secrets of her own, if she can dodge her mother’s pressure to take a factory job. Lily is determined to help out too. She makes bakery deliveries and has to learn to outsmart bullies and stand up for herself.

The heart of Martin’s story comes from listening to her grandmother, and her sisters, tell stories about their early lives in the shabby tenements of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. They shared their stories around the dinner table or while cooking in the kitchen. Her family immigrated to the U.S. from Sicily in 1905. It was a tough time for immigrants, but they all had dreams of new lives. Make sure you read the Author’s Introduction and check out the Discussion and Writing Prompts and Research Project suggestions  at the end of the book. This is a great classroom book.

Antoinette Truglio Martin is a speech therapist and special education teacher by training but really wants to be a writer when she grows up. She has been collecting, writing, and fashioning stories forever. Over the years she has been a regular columnist in local periodicals and has several essays featured in newsletters and literary reviews. Her children’s picture book, Famous Seaweed Soup was published in 1993 by Albert Whitman Co. Antoinette’s memoir, Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer (She Writes Press 2017), chronicles her first year battling breast cancer as a wimpy patient. She proudly holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from Stony Brook/Southampton University. Be sure to stop by her website and blog, Stories Served Around The Table, to read about past and present family adventures, book happenings, and musings.

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 Space We’re In by Katya Balen

National Autism Awareness Month, Apr. 1 -30, 2021 

The Space We’re In

Katya Balen, Author

Margaret Ferguson Books, Fiction, October 2019

Pages: 208

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Brothers, Autism Spectrum, Family Relationships, Coding, Loss, School, Friendship

Synopsis:

Frank is ten. He loves soccer, codes, riding his bike, and playing with his friends. His brother Max is five. Max on eats foods that are beige or white, hates baths, loud noises, bright lights and if he has to wear a T-shirt that isn’t gray with yellow stripes me melts down down down.

Max is autistic, and Frank longs for the brother he was promised by his parents before Max was born — someone who was supposed to be his biggest fan so he could be the best big brother in the world. Instead, Frank has trouble navigating Max’s behavior and their relationship. But when tragedy strikes, Frank finds a way to try to repair their fractured family, and in doing so learns to love Max for who he is.

Why I like this book:

Katya Balen has written an emotional and sensitive novel about a 10-year-old boy who deals with the challenges of living with a younger autistic brother who is the center of his parents’ attention. Narrated by Frank, readers will gain insight into how deeply affected he is by Max. He feels resentment, anger, and the fatigue of living in a home where he feels dismissed. They will also hear from a Frank who loves Max and is ashamed when he doesn’t stand up for him with school bullies.

The plot is distinctly realistic and then tension is palpable. There is a tragedy (no spoilers) and the story is so sad.  But don’t stop reading. Frank may be vulnerable, but he’s also determined and resilient. Readers will ride Frank’s roller coaster as his world spins out of control, but they will watch his relationship with Max slowly grow as he helps his family move forward in a very creative way.

I love the special bond between Frank and his mother. She keeps the family together, unlike her husband who has difficulty with the chaotic family dynamics. Frank and his mom create their own private way of communicating with each other. They silently tap Morse code messages into each other’s hands. His mother is also a talented artist, but stopped painting after Max was born.  Frank likes to draw and has inherited some of her talent, which is revealed at the end of the story at a time when he uses his talent to help his family heal.

Frank’s love of coding is important part of the story and I was thrilled that the author wrote each chapter title in the “cypher code.” Readers will have fun challenging themselves to break the code. Frank is also fascinated with “the golden ratio” that links space, nature, and people — the spiral galaxy, the swirl of a hurricane, a snail’s shell, and the shape of our ears.

Frank also has a strong relationship with his friends Ahmed and Jamie. They have a special wilderness spot they ride their bikes to and it is the perfect escape for Frank. In the woods they tear off their shirts, rub mud on their faces, swing on ropes, build a den, chase each other with chunks of mud, howl like wolves, and laugh and laugh and laugh!  Before they leave they always scratch ” 23 9 12 4″ (wild) into the earth and their initials, 10 (Jamie)  6 (Frank) and 1 (Ahmed).

This book is an important story for youth who are living with a sibling on the autism spectrum. It’s also a book for parents to read with their kids. It’s a complex situation for families, when they have a child that requires so much attention.  This book will help encourage discussions.

Katya Balen has worked in a number of special schools for autistic children. She now runs Mainspring Arts, a nonprofit that organizes creative projects for neurodivergent people. The Space We’re In is her debut novel. She lives outside of London with her boyfriend and their unbelievably lazy rescue dog.

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 book.

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Fighting Words

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Author

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Aug. 11, 2020

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Sisters, Childhood sexual abuse, Homelessness, Foster care, Mental Health, Healing, Courage, Hope

Book Jacket Synopsis:

“Sometimes you’ve got a story you need to find the courage to tell.”

Ten-tear-old Della has always had her older sister, Suki: When their mom went to prison, Della had Suki. When their mom’s boyfriend, Clifton, took them in, Della had Suki. When that same boyfriend did something so awful they had to run fast, Della had Suki. Suki is Della’s own wolf–her protector. But who has been protecting Suki?

Della might get told off for swearing at school, but she has always known how to keep quiet where it counts. Then Suki tries to kill herself, and Della’s world turns so far upside down, it feels like it’s shaking her by the ankles. Maybe she’s been quiet about the wrong things. Maybe it’s time to be loud.

In this powerful novel that explodes the stigma around child sexual abuse and leavens an intense tale with compassion and humor, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley tells a story about two sisters, linked by love and trauma, who must find their own voices before they can find their way back to each other.

Why I like this book:

Wow! Kimberly Brubaker Bradley hit a home run with this novel! I can’t think of anything more timely and desperately needed for the many children silently suffering from sexual abuse. Fighting Words is heartbreaking and hopeful. Bradley writes with sensitivity and compassion. The plot is courageous and gripping. Her deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged. This is a story that will stay with readers because of her profoundly human characters and the hopeful ending.

The characters are complex and multi-layered. Della (Delicious) is a 10-year-old spunky, outspoken and resilient narrator. Her superpower — she doesn’t take snow from anyone.  She warns readers from the start that something bad has happened and she will share her story in time. Suki is 16 years old, has been forced to grow up too fast, puts up a tough front and fiercely protects Della. They are placed in foster care with Francine, who isn’t very motherly, but provides the girls with a home, bedroom, meals, and clothing. That works well because Francine gives the girls “space” to work on themselves. Now that they are safe, Suki begins to suffer nightmares, is depressed and tries to cut her wrists. When Suki is hospitalized for a while, Della begins to find herself without Suki hovering. She finds the courage to stand up to a school bully and uses her voice to help Suki. Francine is there to support and encourage them.

I like that Bradley dedicates her story — “For any child who needs this story: You are never alone.” And this is exactly how it should be. There are many children keeping a BIG secret about being sexually abused — it has no boundaries (age, gender, race, socio-economic level and so on. These are the children and youth that need to know they aren’t alone and that abuse isn’t their fault. Bradley is upfront with her readers and lets them know that it happened to her and that she was able to heal.

If you are a parent of a middle grade child and are concerned about letting them read Della and Suki’s story, I suggest you read the book first. This book reminded me of the U.S. gymnastic team members who were sexually abused for years by their team doctor. It’s a perfect opportunity for parents to say “no one can touch you inappropriately and if they do, you can tell us.” This book is much needed!

Resources: Make sure you read the Author’s Note, where she shares her own experience and talks about how important it is to talk about. She also includes discussion points that readers may want to explore with their friends or parents.

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is the author of several middle grade novels, including the widely acclaimed Jefferson’s Sons and the New York Times bestsellers The War I Finally Won and The War That Saved My Life, which also earned a Newbery Honor and a Schneider Award. She and her husband have two grown children and live with their dog, several ponies, a highly opinionate mare, and a surplus of cats on a fifty-two acre farm in Bristol, Tennessee.  You can learn more about Kimberly on her website, and connect with her on Twitter: @kimbbbradley and on Facebook: kimberly.b.bradley.5.

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 book.

Mary Seacole: Bound for the Battlefield by Susan Goldman Rubin

Multicultural Children’s Book Day – Jan. 29, 2021

 #ReadYourWorld

 Learn more about this special day at the end of this review.

Mary Seacole: Bound for the Battlefield

Susan Goldman Rubin, Author

Richie Pope, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Biography, Oct. 13, 2020

Pages: 48

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Mary Seacole, Biography, Jamaican, Creole, Nurse, Panama, Crimean War, Heroine

Opening: “As a child in Kingston, Jamaica, Mary Jane Grant watched her mother pick out a bottle of medicine for a sick British soldier. She always chose the right one. Her mother had made all the medicines herself from flowers and plants. Mary wanted to be a ‘doctress’ just like her mother when she grew up.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

The life of pioneering Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole gets its dramatic due in a sweeping and stunning biography.

Mary Seacole spent much of her life on the front lines of the Crimean War, ministering to the wounded, caring for soldiers, and making her mark on the world of medicine.

This fascinating biography honors Mary Seacole’s life, from her childhood in Kingston, Jamaica (1805), and her encounters with racist Americans to her treatment of cholera patients in Panama and her bitter run-in with Florence Nightingale, who declined to work with her in Crimea because she wasn’t white, But Mary Seacole knew that the sick and wounded needed her compassion and care, and despite all obstacles, she answered the call to help them. In doing so, she earned herself a place in history.

Author Susan Goldman Rubin gives voice to this fearless nurse and healer through captivating details drawn from Mary Seacole’s own writings, while debut illustrator Richie Pope vividly captures her service at the bedside and on the battlefield. Inspiring and engaging, this biography introduces a compelling heroine who rose above barriers to earn a place in history.

Why I like this book:

Susan Goldman Rubin has penned a very detailed book about this strong, dedicated and determined woman committed to nursing people back to health. No one got in her way or broke her, no matter the amount of prejudice she endured because of her race and lack of formal medical training. Even Florence Nightingale turned down her services to help because she felt Mary was unfit. And when Nightingale was ill, she refused to allow Seacole to treat her.

Ultimately Mary was respected for nursing skills performed during several yellow fever outbreaks in Kingston, the cholera epidemic in Panama and her tireless work on the frontline of the Crimea War between Russian an Turkey. She became known as Mother Seacole. She persevered because of her love and compassion to help others. She bypassed Nightingale and went directly to the battlefields and helped doctors treat and transfer sick and wounded soldiers, including some Russian soldiers. Eventually she and a business partner, Thomas Day, set up a convalescent home in a British Hotel in Crimea to nurse soldiers back to health. She even treated Queen Victoria’s nephew.

Unknown to Mary, a journalist William Russell who noticed her tenacity, praised her efforts in the stories he wrote about Mary for the London Times. She had become famous in England.  With peace negotiations and a treaty signed, she prepared to leave Crimea. But before leaving, Mary visited the cemeteries and planted trees, flowers and shrubs in the honor of those who lost their lives. She wrote her autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, and Russell wrote the introduction.

Although this book is filled with beautiful colorful illustrations, Mary Seacole’s story is meant for students in third to seventh grade. Each page is filled with detailed information, making it a perfect read for older students. It could be read aloud to younger students. Rubin put a lot of research into her book using Seacole’s memoir as a guide to the time period, There are sources notes and a bibliography at the end. It is a wonderful example of quality nonfiction that will be welcomed by many school libraries. Make sure you check out the backmatter. Queen Victoria’s nephew, an artist, sculpted a beautiful bust of “Mary Seacole, the Celebrated Crimean Heroine.” Today it rests on a pedestal at the Institute of Jamaica.

Susan Goldman Rubin is the author of many nonfiction books for children, including Stand There! She Shouted: The Invincible Photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and the Quilts of Gee’s Bend. She lives in Malibu, California.

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 return for a review.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2021 (1/29/21) is in its 8th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.

Eight years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues.

MCBD 2021 is honored to be Supported by these Medallion Sponsors!

FOUNDER’S CIRCLE: Mia Wenjen (Prgamaticmom) and Valarie Budayr’s (Audreypress.com)

Platinum Sponsors: Language Lizard Bilingual Books in 50+ Languages, Author Deedee Cummings and Make A Way Media

Gold Sponsors: Barefoot Books, Candlewick Press, CapstoneHoopoe Books,  KidLitTV, Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

Silver Sponsors: Charlotte Riggle, Connecticut Association of School Librarians, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, Pack-N-Go Girls

Bronze Sponsors: Agatha Rodi and AMELIE is IMPRESSED!, Barnes Brothers Books, Create and Educate Solutions, LLC, Dreambuilt Books, Dyesha and Triesha McCants/McCants Squared, Redfin Real Estate, Snowflake Stories, Star Bright Books, TimTimTom Bilingual Personalized Books, Author Vivian Kirkfield, Wisdom Tales Press, My Well Read Child

MCBD 2021 is honored to be Supported by these Author Sponsors!

Poster Artist: Nat Iwata

Authors: Author Afsaneh Moradian, Author Alva Sachs & Three Wishes Publishing Company, Author Angeliki Stamatopoulou-Pedersen, Author Anna Olswanger, Author Casey Bell , Author Claudine Norden, Author Debbie Dadey, Author Diana Huang & IntrepidsAuthor Eugenia Chu & Brandon goes to Beijing, Green Kids Club,  Author Gwen Jackson, Author Janet Balletta, Author Josh Funk, Author Julia Inserro, Karter Johnson & Popcorn and Books, Author Kathleen Burkinshaw & The Last Cherry Blossom, Author Keila Dawson, Maya/Neel Adventures with Culture Groove, Author Mia Wenjen, Michael Genhart, Nancy Tupper Ling, Author Natalie Murray, Natalie McDonald-Perkins, Author Natasha Yim, Author Phe Lang and Me On The Page Publishing, Sandra Elaine Scott, Author Shoumi Sen & From The Toddler Diaries, SISSY GOES TINY by Rebecca Flansburg and B.A. Norrgard, Susan Schaefer Bernardo & Illustrator Courtenay FletcherTales of the Five Enchanted Mermaids, Author Theresa Mackiewicz, Tonya Duncan and the Sophie Washington Book Series, Author Toshia Stelivan, Valerie Williams-Sanchez & The Cocoa Kids Collection Books©, Author Vanessa Womack, MBA, Author Veronica Appleton & the Journey to Appleville book series.

MCBD 2021 is Honored to be Supported by our CoHosts and Global CoHosts!

MCBD 2021 is Honored to be Supported by these Media Partners!

Check out MCBD’s Multicultural Books for Kids Pinterest Board!

MCBD Free Resource Links:

Diversity Book Lists & Activities for Teachers and Parents
Homeschool Diverse Kidlit Booklist & Activity Kit
FREE Teacher Classroom Activism and Activists Kit
FREE Teacher Classroom Empathy Kit
FREE Teacher Classroom Kindness Kit
FREE Teacher Classroom Physical and Developmental Challenges Kit
FREE Teacher Classroom Poverty Kit
Gallery of Our Free Posters
FREE Diversity Book for Classrooms Program

TWITTER PARTY! Register here! January 29 at 9 p.m. EST.  

  • We will be giving away an 8-Book Bundle every 5 minutes plus Bonus Prizes as well! *** US and Global participants welcome.
  • Follow the hashtag #ReadYourWorld to join the conversation, connect with like-minded parts, authors, publishers, educators, organizations, and librarians. See you all very soon on Twitter!

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person by Frederick Joseph

Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Jan. 27, 2021

#ReadYourWorld

The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person

Frederick Joseph, Author

Candlewick Press, Nonfiction, Dec. 1, 2020

Suitable for ages: 12 – 17

Themes: Racism, Racial justice, Awareness, White people,

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Writing from the perspective of a friend, Frederick Joseph offers candid reflections on his own experiences with racism and conversations with prominent artists and activists about theirs—creating an essential read for white people who are committed anti-racists and those newly come to the cause of racial justice.

“We don’t see color.” “I didn’t know Black people liked Star Wars!” “What hood are you from?” For Frederick Joseph, life as a transfer student in a largely white high school was full of wince-worthy moments that he often simply let go. As he grew older, however, he saw these as missed opportunities not only to stand up for himself, but to spread awareness to those white people who didn’t see the negative impact they were having.

Speaking directly to the reader, The Black Friend calls up race-related anecdotes from the author’s past, weaving in his thoughts on why they were hurtful and how he might handle things differently now. Each chapter features the voice of at least one artist or activist, including Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give; April Reign, creator of #OscarsSoWhite; Jemele Hill, sports journalist and podcast host; and eleven others.

Touching on everything from cultural appropriation to power dynamics, “reverse racism” to white privilege, microaggressions to the tragic results of overt racism, this book serves as conversation starter, tool kit, and invaluable window into the life of a former “token Black kid” who now presents himself as the friend many readers need. Backmatter includes an encyclopedia of racism, providing details on relevant historical events, terminology, and more.

The Black Friend has become an instant New York Times bestseller.

Why I like this book:

Readers will discover that The Black Friend is an eye-opening book, written with a great deal of passion and personal experience. Frederick Joseph’s goal is to enlighten readers with an honest look at America through his eyes.  A comment in his introduction says it well, “Thankfully, I’ve spent my years since high school learning and meeting people who were far more culturally aware and thoughtful than I was, which helped me realize that the role I wanted to play around white people wasn’t the token Black guy but rather ‘the Black friend’.”

Joseph skillfully brings to the forefront the subtleties of racism that white people are oblivious to because it is so far from their realm of experience. For example, “the talk” that Black parents have with their children regarding police. Joseph’s conversational approach makes this book relatable. He does an excellent job of talking about the many issues for Black people, sharing some of the worst and best moments in his life, and informing white people about what they should and should not say or do. It certainly is a necessary wake-up call for those who want to become better anti-racists.

I enjoyed the many conversations with notable 14 Black authors, celebrities, journalists, and activists, who contributed their experiences with racism in a wide variety of contexts that reinforce Joseph’s discussion.

This book was very helpful to me and my husband because we have a multicultural and multi-racial family. We didn’t think of ourselves as a racist, but we certainly see how uninformed we’ve been. This book is very helpful to us in our understanding of how we can do better. This is a book families should read and discuss together.  And it most certainly belongs in every school library for youth 12 and up.

Review Quote from Chelsea Clinton:

“Toward the end of The Black Friend, Frederick Joseph writes that his book is ‘a gift, not an obligation.’ I respectfully disagree. This book should be an obligation for white people, especially white parents, because we must raise anti-racist kids who will never be perpetrators of or bystanders to white supremacy and who will never mistake tolerance or appropriation for respect. Don’t skip the painful parts — read every word.” — Chelsea Clinton, author, advocate, and vice chair of the Clinton Foundation.

Frederick Joseph is a writer and an award-winning activist, philanthropist, and marketing professional. He was named to the 2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 list, is a recipient of the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award, given by Comic-Con International: San Diego, and was selected for the 2018 Root 100 list of most influential African Americans. He has written articles on race, marketing, and politics for outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, Essence, the Huffington Post, and the Root. He lives in New York City.

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

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

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2021 (1/29/21) is in its 8th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.

Eight years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues.

MCBD 2021 is honored to be Supported by these Medallion Sponsors!

FOUNDER’S CIRCLE: Mia Wenjen (Prgamaticmom) and Valarie Budayr’s (Audreypress.com)

Platinum Sponsors: Language Lizard Bilingual Books in 50+ Languages, Author Deedee Cummings and Make A Way Media

Gold Sponsors: Barefoot Books, Candlewick Press, CapstoneHoopoe Books,  KidLitTV, Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

Silver Sponsors: Charlotte Riggle, Connecticut Association of School Librarians, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, Pack-N-Go Girls

Bronze Sponsors: Agatha Rodi and AMELIE is IMPRESSED!, Barnes Brothers Books, Create and Educate Solutions, LLC, Dreambuilt Books, Dyesha and Triesha McCants/McCants Squared, Redfin Real Estate, Snowflake Stories, Star Bright Books, TimTimTom Bilingual Personalized Books, Author Vivian Kirkfield, Wisdom Tales Press, My Well Read Child

MCBD 2021 is honored to be Supported by these Author Sponsors!

Poster Artist: Nat Iwata

Authors: Author Afsaneh Moradian, Author Alva Sachs & Three Wishes Publishing Company, Author Angeliki Stamatopoulou-Pedersen, Author Anna Olswanger, Author Casey Bell , Author Claudine Norden, Author Debbie Dadey, Author Diana Huang & IntrepidsAuthor Eugenia Chu & Brandon goes to Beijing, Green Kids Club,  Author Gwen Jackson, Author Janet Balletta, Author Josh Funk, Author Julia Inserro, Karter Johnson & Popcorn and Books, Author Kathleen Burkinshaw & The Last Cherry Blossom, Author Keila Dawson, Maya/Neel Adventures with Culture Groove, Author Mia Wenjen, Michael Genhart, Nancy Tupper Ling, Author Natalie Murray, Natalie McDonald-Perkins, Author Natasha Yim, Author Phe Lang and Me On The Page Publishing, Sandra Elaine Scott, Author Shoumi Sen & From The Toddler Diaries, SISSY GOES TINY by Rebecca Flansburg and B.A. Norrgard, Susan Schaefer Bernardo & Illustrator Courtenay FletcherTales of the Five Enchanted Mermaids, Author Theresa Mackiewicz, Tonya Duncan and the Sophie Washington Book Series, Author Toshia Stelivan, Valerie Williams-Sanchez & The Cocoa Kids Collection Books©, Author Vanessa Womack, MBA, Author Veronica Appleton & the Journey to Appleville book series.

MCBD 2021 is Honored to be Supported by our CoHosts and Global CoHosts!

MCBD 2021 is Honored to be Supported by these Media Partners!

Check out MCBD’s Multicultural Books for Kids Pinterest Board!

MCBD Free Resource Links:

Diversity Book Lists & Activities for Teachers and Parents
Homeschool Diverse Kidlit Booklist & Activity Kit
FREE Teacher Classroom Activism and Activists Kit
FREE Teacher Classroom Empathy Kit
FREE Teacher Classroom Kindness Kit
FREE Teacher Classroom Physical and Developmental Challenges Kit
FREE Teacher Classroom Poverty Kit
Gallery of Our Free Posters
FREE Diversity Book for Classrooms Program

TWITTER PARTY! Register here! January 29 at 9 p.m. EST.  

  • We will be giving away an 8-Book Bundle every 5 minutes plus Bonus Prizes as well! *** US and Global participants welcome.
  • Follow the hashtag #ReadYourWorld to join the conversation, connect with like-minded parts, authors, publishers, educators, organizations, and librarians. See you all very soon on Twitter!

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.