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.

American as Paneer Pie by Supriya Kelkar

American as Paneer Pie

Supriya Kelkar, Author

Aladdin Books, Fiction, Jun. 9, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Indian American, Culture, Bullying, Racism, Family, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis: As the only Indian American kid in her small town, Lekha Divekar feels like she has two versions of herself: Home Lekha, who loves watching Bollywood movies and eating Indian food, and School Lekha, who pins her hair over her bindi birthmark and avoids confrontation at all costs, especially when someone teases her for being Indian.

When a girl Lekha’s age moves in across the street, Lekha is excited to hear that her name is Avantika and she’s Desi, too! Finally, there will be someone else around who gets it. But as soon as Avantika speaks, Lekha realizes she has an accent. She’s new to this country, and not at all like Lekha.

To Lekha’s surprise, Avantika does not feel the same way as Lekha about having two separate lives or about the bullying at school. Avantika doesn’t take the bullying quietly. And she proudly displays her culture no matter where she is: at home or at school.

When a racist incident rocks Lekha’s community, Lekha realizes she must make a choice: continue to remain silent or find her voice before it’s too late.

Why I like this book:

Supriya Kelkar’s American as Paneer Pie is a tender story about an 11-year-old Desi girl, who faces teasing from kids at school and prejudice in her community. Her journey is one of hope and heart. It is also realistic fiction that is based on the author’s own early experiences as an Indian American. This story appealed to me because we adopted a son from India in 1985. I am fascinated with the culture and its beautiful traditions. Our son dealt with a lot bullying and curiosity from others, but he was fortunate to find a group of friends who had his back.

Readers are in for a treat because a lot of the story focuses on details about Lehka’s family dynamics and culture.  Even though her family is the only Indian family in town, they interact with a large Indian community in Detroit. Readers will be introduced to the many celebrations, like Diwali, the five-day Indian Festival of Lights, which is as important to Hindus as Christmas is to Christians. They will also enjoy the food preparations, the spices used in all the dishes, the music and dancing, the Bollywood movies, Indian comic books, and the colorful clothing, bindis and bangles worn during a variety of special events. And there is a recipe for Paneer Pie (similar to pizza) at the end of the book.

It is so easy to love Lekha. She experiences the angst of middle school, but she’s tired of the questions about her heritage, the bullying, and being made to feel different. She just wants to fit in and spends much of her time skirting conflict. When another Indian family moves across the street, Lekah is excited to have a friend like, Avantika. But the relationship is complicated, because Avantika doesn’t share Lekah’s concerns and is proud of her heritage. Lekah’s best friend and neighbor, Noah, brings a lot of fun and humor to the story.

The book is timely because it explores important issues of racism, xenophobia and foreigners through Lekha, who is tired of feeling helpless and not American enough. She begins to find her voice after family members are beaten on the street, a racial slur is sprayed across her family’s garage door, and a newly-elected senator is hostile towards immigrants taking away jobs in Michigan.  There is a lot of growth in Lekha, although most of it is toward the end of the book.

American as Paneer Pie is an important story that Indian American youth will find relatable. And it is a book that can be read in the classroom to create empathy and respect for all cultures. Perfect for school libraries.

Supriya Kelkar was born and raised in the Midwest where she learned Hindi as a child by watching three Hindi movies a week. Supriya is a screenwriter who has worked on the writing teams for several Hindi films and one Hollywood feature. Her books include Ahimsa, That Thing about Bollywood, and American as Paneer Pie, among others. Make sure you visit Kelkar at her website.

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.

*I won an advanced reading copy on Rosi Hollenbeck‘s Kidlit blog, She’s also regularly reviews books for San Francisco and Manhattan Book Reviews. If you haven’t read her blog, please check it out.

No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young American Making History

No Voice Too Small: 14 Young Americans Making History

Lindsay H. Metcalf and Keila V. Dawson, Editors

Jeanette Bradley, Editor/Illustrator

Charlesbridge, Nonfiction, Sep. 22, 2020

Suitable for ages: 6 – 11

Themes: Youth activism, Making a difference, Bullying, Clean Water, Climate Change, Gun Violence, Poetry

Publisher’s Synopsis:

“You’re never too young or too small to change the world.” – Mari Copeny

This all-star anthology covers fourteen youth activists calling for change and fighting for justice across the United States. These change-makers represent a wide range of life experiences and causes, including racial justice, clean water, LGBTQ+ rights, mental health, and more, Beautifully illustrated poems by #ownvoices authors, plus secondary text, spotlight the efforts and achievements of such luminaries as Marley Dias, Jazz Jennings, and Mari Copeny, “Make Some Noise” tips will inspire readers to take concrete action for change, Back matter includes more information on the poetic forms used in the book.

Why I like this book:

No Voice Too Small will inspire and empower young readers, parents and teachers. This is my favorite kind of book to share with readers because there is an urgency among young people who see the injustice around them, are concerned that adults aren’t doing enough, and want to take action to improve their communities, country and world. They are brave and working for the rights of children in a peaceful manner.

Readers will hear from Nza-Ari Khepra, 16, who loses a friend to gun violence in Chicago and launches Project Orange Tree, which grows into the National Gun Violence Awareness Day celebrated every June. Meet Ziad Ahmed,14, who is treated unfairly in high school because he’s Muslim, and creates an online platform where students can share their stories and stop hate. Levi Draheim, 8, fears the loss of his Florida home to rising seas and joins 21 kids who sue the US government for failing to act on climate change. Jasilyn Charger, 19, protests the construction of a pipeline that threatens to leak oil into the Missouri River that provide water for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and many other people living downstream.

The book is beautifully designed. The #own voices authors and editors, Lindsay H. Metcalf and Keila V. Dawson, capture each child’s captivating story in an attractive double-page spread. The left side of every spread features a soulful poem with warm and appealing illustrations of each child by Jeanette Bradley. The text about the young person’s contribution is featured on the right, along with additional artwork by Bradley. Read their stories and you will be inspired.

Resources: The book is a resource for students to use in the classroom.  At the end of the book there is a section about each of the 14 poets who participated and a page of the poetry form used. This book will spark many lively discussions and encourage young people to identify a problem and think about what they may do alone or together to create change and improve their community, country and world.  What will you do?

Lindsay H. Metcalf is the author of Farmers Unite! Planting a Protest for Fair Prices. She has also been a reporter, editor, and columnist for the Kansas City Star and other news outlets.

Keila V. Dawson has been a community organizer and an early childhood special education teacher. She is the author of The King Cake Baby. 

Jeanette Bradley has been an urban planner, an apprentice pastry chef, and the artist-in­-residence for a traveling art museum on a train. She is the author and illustrator of Love, Mama.

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 the editors in exchange for a review.

Chasing Helicity – Through the Storm by Ginger Zee

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday 

Chasing Helicity – Through the Storm (Book 3)

Ginger Zee, Author

Disney-Hyperion, Fiction,  Apr. 21, 2020

Pages: 224

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Weather, Storms, Meteorology, Survival, Hot Air Balloon Festival, Addiction, Bullying, Family relationships, Friendships

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Battered, bruised, but alive, Helicity Dunlap rides out a hurricane in the Bolivar Peninsula Lighthouse in Texas. She somehow manages to keep herself safe and to even rescue a lost dog in the process.

After a day in the hospital, she and her mom and Same make the two-day drive back to Western Michigan. They leave Andy and their dad behind as Andy is finally going to get the help he needs in an addiction rehabilitation facility. Much to her dismay, Helicity ends up in the spotlight-first in a good way after surviving the hurricane and rescuing the dog, and then social media turns on her and she finds herself in the eye of a completely different kind of storm.

Back at school Helicity struggles to maintain her focus-long rides on her horse, Raven, help as do a few weekend trips with her mom. She decides to accept an offer to be interviewed about her experience in Texas by a reporter who followed her story. They meet up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, during the annual International Hot Air Balloon Festival, a spectacle that must be seen to be believed. The excitement builds as Helicity delights in her first ride in a lighter-than-air balloon when disaster strikes. A severe dust storm – a haboob – typical of the area erupts while Helicity is aloft. How will the pilot navigate this threatening and potentially deadly storm? Find out in this exciting conclusion to the Chasing Helicity series.

Why I like this book:

Author Ginger Zee, chief meteorologist for ABC, once again captivates readers with the final book in her Chasing Helicity trilogy. It is the perfect adventure novel for readers who like cool science, and are intrigued by storms, unusual weather phenomenon, and meteorology. Zee makes science fun and approachable.

The plot is a thrilling and fast-paced adventure. Through the Storm, picks up where the second novel, Into the Wind, leaves off with Helicity trapped and isolated in an old lighthouse with a raging hurricane plummeting the Texas coastline. Zee’s writing is filled with vivid imagery of the storm as Helicity experiences both the terror and the beauty of looking directly up into the “eye” of the hurricane before the raging winds return.

The characters are convincing. Helicity is a smart, curious, and self-taught weather junkie who befriends storm chasers, Lana and Ray. She is a survivor and not a victim. Her older brother Andy is recovering from an addiction to painkillers following an injury in a Michigan tornado (Book 1). Helicity is also a vulnerable, especially when she and Andy are bullied on social media by a mean-spirited Michigan classmate, Kate. Sam is a good friend and nice balance for Helicity. He supports her through tough times and there is a hint of romance. Zee accurately portrays the teen drama and readers will relate to the situation with empathy.

But the excitement isn’t over. The book ends with Helicity and Andy visiting the International Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque. No spoilers! There is a mention in the above synopsis, but I don’t want to give away this riveting and suspenseful conclusion. With the unpredictable weather patterns we have throughout the country — hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, draughts, and forest fires — Chasing Helicity Through the Storm is a perfect read. Readers will learn to recognize weather patterns that may just keep them safe. It also makes STEM subjects more exciting and relatable to readers. I hope we see more exciting weather/survival stories from Ginger Zee!

Ginger Zee is Good Morning America’s chief meteorologist, reporting on the nation’s weather throughout the morning broadcast. Since joining ABC News, Zee has covered almost every major weather event and dozens of historic storms. She broadcasted from the devastated Jersey Shore during Hurricane Sandy, the Colorado floods and wildfires, and covered the wreckage from tornadoes in Moore and El Reno, Oklahoma.

Zee’s love of adventure does not stop at studying the atmosphere in the center of a storm. She has parahawked in Nepal, paraglided from the Himalayas to the Andes, dived with sharks in the Bahamas, rappelled twenty-seven stories down the exterior facade of the Wit Hotel in Chicago, and even gone ice-boat racing and surfing.

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.

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

Prairie Lotus

Linda Sue Park, Author

Clarion Books,  Fiction, Mar. 3, 2020

Suitable for ages: 10-12

Themes: Fathers and daughters, Chinese Americans, Racially mixed people, Bullying, Frontier and pioneer life, Dakota Territory, Dressmaking

Synopsis:

When Hanna arrives in the town of LaForge (Dakota Territory) in 1880, she sees possibilities. Her father could open a shop on the main street. She could go to school, if there is a school, and even realize her dream of becoming a dresmaker — provided she can convince Papa, that is. She and Papa could make a home here.

But Hanna is half-Chinese, and she knows from experience that most white people don’t want neighbors who aren’t white themselves. The people of LaForge have never seen an Asian person before; most are unwelcoming and unfriendly — they don’t even know her! Hanna is determined to stay in LaForge and persuade them to see beyond her surface.

In a setting that will be recognized by fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, this compelling story of resolution and persistence, told with humor, insight, and charm, offers a fresh look at a long-established view of history.

What I like about this book:

Linda Sue Park has penned an insightful and  beautifully poignant novel about a Chinese American girl, traveling from California to the Midwest with her widowed white father. The author has placed Hanna in the middle of America’s heartland, where most white people have never seen Asian Americans, but hold an unwavering prejudice against anyone of color, including Native Americans.

I enjoyed Hanna meeting some women and children from the Ihanktonwan tribe and sharing a meal with them before she and her father arrive in LaForge. They grace her with a string of prairie turnips. This scene sets the stage for how people of color were displaced and treated in 1880. Hanna meets them again later in the story when she’s looking for prairie rose bushes and they are digging turnips. (Park includes some of the Native dialogue, during the encounters.) Hanna wonders why it isn’t possible for whites and Ihanktonwan tribe to share the land together, a reflection of her own situation.

Hanna is a memorable, likable, determined and courageous character with a strong voice. She has big dreams of going to school and graduating and becoming a dressmaker, like her mother. She hopes to make one best friend. Hanna has experienced prejudice her entire life,  But It’s still hard for Hanna to deal with the stares, cruel comments, racist attitudes, parents pulling their kids out of school in protest and outward physical abuse. But her Chinese mother’s words are always there to remind her of who she really is.

Park says she intended to write a version of her favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books that speaks the truth for Asians, Native Americans and people of color, who were involved in the settling of America, but were treated second class. Her research is impeccable and furthers the understanding of our country’s long history of prejudice. She visited the town of DeSmit, and some reservations.

Make sure you check out the lengthy “Author’s Note” at the end of the book, which deals with her love and struggle with the Little House books. This is a perfect class discussion book.

Linda Sue Park is the author of Newbery Medal winner A Single Shard and best-selling novel A Long Walk to Water, along with numerous novels and picture books. Ms. Park has been a gymnast, a food journalist, an advertising copywriter, and an ESL teacher, and now writes full time. As an advisory board member of We Need Diverse Books and a board member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, she is a well-known advocate for diversity, inclusiveness, and reading. She lives in Rochester, New York, with her family. Visit her website or on Twitter @LindaSuePark

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

*Reviewed from a library book.

Trowbridge Road by Marcella Pixley

Trowbridge Road

Marcella Pixley, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 6, 2020

Suitable for ages: 10 and up

Themes: Mother and daughter, Family relationships, Aids, Grief, Mental illness, Bullying, Domestic Abuse, Friendship, Community, Hope, Magic

Book Jacket Synopsis:

It’s the summer of ’83 on Trowbridge Road, and June Bug Jordan is hungry. Months after her father’s death from complications from AIDS, her mother has stopped cooking and refuses to leave the house, instead locking herself away to scour at the germs she believes are everywhere. June Bug threatens this precarious existence by going out into the neighborhood, gradually befriending Ziggy, an imaginative boy who is living with his Nana Jean after experiencing troubles of his own. But as June Bug’s connection to the world grows stronger, her mother’s grows more distant — even dangerous — pushing June Bug to choose between truth and healing and the only home she has ever known.

Trowbridge Road paints an unwavering portrait of a girl and her family touched by mental illness and grief. Set in the Boston suburbs during the first years of the AIDS epidemic, the novel explores how a seemingly perfect neighborhood can contain restless ghosts and unspoken secrets. Written with deep insight and subtle lyricism by acclaimed author Marcella Pixley, Trowbridge Road demonstrates our power to rescue one another even when our hearts are broken.

Why I like this book:

Marcella Pixley has written a poignant novel, that is both heart wrenching and beautiful. Although it is set in the 80s, it is relevant because Pixley doesn’t side step heavy topics like mental illness, neglect, closet homosexuals, homophobia, AIDS, bullying and domestic abuse. Trowbridge Road will appeal to a large range of readers who are coping with secrets and family issues. And they will find hope, courage and love.

June Bug’s first-person narrative is powerful and pulls no punches. She is sad because she has lost her  father from AIDS, and her fragile mother is drifting further into depression, spending her days in bed. The only time her musical mother seems calm and peaceful is when she picks up her bow and plays her cello. When Uncle Toby brings June Bug food once a week, her mother goes into a cleaning frenzy and scours the house after he leaves with bleach — germs are the enemy. There is no one to care for June Bug. Her circumstances are heartbreaking, but she manages to remain a brave and resilient protagonist.

The relationship between June Bug and Ziggy is believable and unforgettable. Ziggy has his own problems. His mother is in an abusive relationship and he’s bullied by kids because of his long red hair, quirky clothing and his smelly, pet ferret perched on his head. He’s come to live with Nana Jean, who provides, love and stability for Ziggy — something June Bug desperately wants.  June Bug and Ziggy understand and accept each other unconditionally. They become best friends and create their own  imaginary world in the woods behind Nana Jean’s house — the ninth dimension — where they escape the pain of their lives. Pixley’s novel reminds me a bit of The Bridge to Terabithia.

Trowbridge Road is richly textured, lyrical and beautifully penned. I love June Bug’s description of Nana Jean’s kitchen the first time she’s invited to breakfast. “Nana Jean’s kitchen smelled like the gossip of garlic and bacon and oregano. It smelled like the laughter of sun-dried tomatoes and sausages and cheese. The recipes whispered to each other from the glazed windows to the spaces between floorboards to the countertops. We have fed the children and grandchildren in here. We meals. We blessed, blessed meals.  I entered like Alice on the threshold of Wonderland, or Dorothy taking her first steps into the Emerald City — the prickling feeling that I was about to enter something glorious.” (Pg. 185)  Verdict: This is a winner.

Make sure you check out the “Author’s Note” at the end of the book, where she discusses AIDS in 1983 and mental illness.

Marcella Pixley is the author of three critically acclaimed books for young adults, including Ready to Fall. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize for poetry and holds a mast of letters from Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. She teaches writing to middle-schoolers in Massachusetts, where she lives with her family.

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 the publisher in exchange for a review.

The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil

The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story

Aya Khalil, Author

Anait Semirdzhyan, Illustrator

Tilbury House Publishers, Fiction, Feb. 18, 2020

Suitable for ages: 6-8

Themes: Quilt, Immigration, Egypt, Bilingual, School, Prejudice, Inclusion, Diversity, Friendship

Opening: “Kanzi, habibti, your’e going to be late to the first day of school,” Mama calls.

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Kanzi’s family has moved from Egypt to America, and she wants very much to fit in. Maybe that’s why on her first day in her new school, she forgets to take the kofta sandwich her mother has made for her lunch, but that backfires when Mama shows up at school with the sandwich. Mama wears a hijab and calls her daughter Habibti (dear one). When she leaves, the teasing starts.

That night, Kanzi wraps herself in the beautiful Arabic quilt her teita (grandma) in Cairo gave her. She writes a poem about her beloved quilt. It smells like Teita’s home in Cairo, and that comforts Kanzi. What she doesn’t know yet is that the quilt will help her make new friends.

Why I like this book:

The Arabic Quilt is a compassionate and feel-good book for immigrant children who are bilingual and starting a new school. They want so badly to fit in with and be accepted by the other children, even though they may dress a little differently and bring an ethnic lunch from home.

Kanzi’s teacher handles a difficult situation with such creativity. Kanzi writes a poem about her Arabic quilt and shares it with her teacher. The teacher asks Kanzi to bring her quilt to share with the other students. They think it’s cool and want to make a classroom quilt. The teacher invites Kanzi’s mom to teach the students how to write their names in Arabic for their quilt squares. Completed, the quilt is hung on the wall outside the classroom.

I love that this celebratory story of cultural traditions, acceptance, and inclusion is based on the author’s own childhood experiences, after immigrating to the US from Egypt. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it will put a smile on your face.

Anait Semirdzhyan’s lively and expressive illustrations are beautiful and full of details. Make sure you check out the Arabic names on the quilt.

Resources: This is an excellent classroom or school project that will help unite kids of all cultures.  Make sure you check out the Glossary of Arabic Words at the end with Arabic letters and English words derived from Arabic, like zero, algebra, candy, sugar and coffee.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

The Case of the Missing Auntie by Michael Hutchinson

The Case of the Missing Auntie (A Mighty Muskrats Mystery)

Michael Hutchinson

Second Story Press, Fiction, Mar. 17, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes: Mystery, Adventure, First Nations, Canada, Indigenous Children, Government, Bullies

Publisher’s Synopsis:

In this second book in the Mighty Muskrats Mystery series, the four problem-solving cousins (now bona fide amateur sleuths) are off to the city to have fun at the the Exhibition Fair. But when Chickadee asks Grandpa what he would like them to bring back from the city, she learns about Grandpa’s missing little sister. The sister was “scooped up” by the government and adopted out to strangers without her parents’ permission many years ago — like many Indigenous children. Their grandfather never stopped missing her or wondering what happened to her. Now the Mighty Muskrats have a new mystery to solve.

Once in the bright lights of the big city, the cousins get distracted, face-off with bullies, meet some heroes and unlikely teachers, and encounter racism and many other difficulties First Nations kids can face in the city. The Muskrats’ search for their missing auntie will take them all the way to the government, where they learn hard truths about their country’s treaatment of First Nations people.

Why I like this book:

The Mighty Muskrats are back again and they have a new mystery to solve, finding their Cree grandfather’s missing sister, Charlotte. The story is entertaining in the beginning as the four cousins leave the reservation (rez) to have fun in the big city and sobering once they settle down to pursue every lead to discover what happened to Charlotte.

Michael Hutchinson’s captivating mystery brings history to life and helps readers learn about the injustice done to indigenous First Nations children between 1950-1980. The stories of mistreatment and betrayal by the government must be told so youth of today don’t forget what happened to many of their relatives.

Chickadee takes the lead in this story. She is a savvy and unstoppable detective who is not going to let the government bureaucracy get in her way as she travels back and forth between agencies and administrators who go by the book when they could show some heart.  For, Atim attending the Exhibition Fair is his mission. Otter’s heart is focused on getting concert tickets to see his favorite band, “The Wovoka Wail.” Samuel leads them into trouble with dangerous gangs and bullies, before he gets serious about the search for their great-aunt Charlotte. After some teenage missteps, the three male cousins show their super sleuth abilities and stand with Chickadee.

I enjoyed this contemporary story about four resourceful teens, the Indigenous “rez”, mixed with tribal wisdom of their grandfather, a respected elder. The ending is well done and I don’t want to give anything away for readers. Just make sure you have a box of kleenex handy.

Make sure you check out the first book in this Mighty Muskrats Mystery series, The Case of Windy Lake, about growing up on a First Nations reservation. This book is ideal for school libraries and classroom reading.

Michael Hutchinson is a member of the Misipawistik Cree Nation. He currently lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he works with organizations that advocate for First Nations families in Manitoba and across Canada.

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.

Just Lucky by Melanie Florence

Just Lucky

Melanie Florence, Author

Second Story Press, Sep. 17, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 13 -18

Themes: Multigenerational family, Alzheimer’s, Indigenous children, Drug abuse, Foster families, Bullying

Book Synopsis:

When Lucky Robinson was a baby, her mother was arrested for drug abuse and she was raised by her loving Cree grandparents for the next 15 years. She barely knows her mother, who she’s not sure she’d be able to pick out in a police line-up. Home life is happy, she attends a good school and her best friend, Ryan, lives next door.

Grandma may like to shout out the answers to Jeopardy, but sometimes she forgets things…like turning off the stove, wandering out the door, and stepping infront of a car. But her grandpa takes such good care of them, that Lucky doesn’t realize how bad her grandma’s memory is until he suddenly dies unexpectedly.

Lucky takes over the responsibility of caring for her grandmother and tries not to leave her alone. But when her grandmother accidentally sets the kitchen on fire, Lucky can’t hide what is happening any longer. Grandma is hospitalized and the authorities intervene and place Lucky into the foster care system — temporarily, she hopes. Lucky quickly learns that some foster families are okay. Some really, really aren’t.

Why I like this book:

Melanie Florence has written a sensitive and timely story about a 15-year-old girl living with a grandmother with Alzheimer’s. Some readers will identify with Lucky’s sadness because they will understand what it is like to have a grandparent, parent or relative suffering memory loss.  Lucky’s situation is particularly interesting becuase she has to become the caregiver and lives in secrecy so that she can keep her family together. She has no one else.

The characters are diverse and memorable. Lucky is a caring, compassionate and resilient narrator. As she is placed in a variety of foster homes and new schools, readers will observe the emotional toll it takes on her. She becomes somewhat detached and eventually doesn’t unpack her backpack because she knows that she’ll be moved again.  But she is also clever and resourceful as she finds ways to fit in. Her friendship with Ryan, offers some comic relief. They love comic books and he’s always there to support her.

For teens in foster care, Lucky’s story offers a snapshot of reality. Lucky is placed in three different foster homes. She has to deal with a foster parent who tries to climb into her bed. Lucky is indigenous and experiences racism. When she is repeatedly bullied by a popular girl in a new school, Lucky is fed up and strikes the girl. She is forced to leave a foster home she likes and is moved again to another foster home and school. But her story also offers a good dose of hope. This book stands out and is worth reading!

Melanie Florence is a writer of Cree and Scottish heritage based in Toronto. She was close to her grandfather as a child, a relationship that sparked her interest in writing about Indigenous themes and characters. She is the author of Missing Nimama, which won the 2016 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award and is a Forest of Reading Golden Oak Finalist. Her other books include Righting Canada’s Wrongs: Residential Schools and the teen novels He Who Dreams, The Missing, One Night, and Rez Runaway. For more information, visit Florence’s 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 the publisher.

Just South of Home by Karen Strong

Just South of Home

Karen Strong, Author

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Fiction, May 9, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 320

Themes: African Americans, Family Relationships, Racism, Crimes, Georgia, Ghosts, Supernatural

Book Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Sarah is finally in charge. At last, she can spend her summer months reading her favorite science books and bossing around her younger, brainy brother, Ellis, instead of being worked to the bone by their overly strict grandmother, Mrs. Greene. But when their cousin, Janie, arrives for a visit, Sarah’s plans are completely squashed.

Janie has a knack for getting into trouble and asks Sarah to take her to the burned-down ruins of Creek Church, a landmark of the small town that she heard was haunted with ghosts. It’s also off-limits. Janie’s sticky fingers disturb the restless ghosts (or haints), who are unleashed upon the town. It is up to Sarah, Janie, Ellis and his best friend, Jasper to uncover the deep-seated racist part of the town’s past that is filled with unimaginable crimes against the black community. With a bit of luck, this foursome will heal the place they call home and the people within it they call family.

Why I like this book:

Karen Strong’s Just South of Home is a haunting and extraordinary experience for readers who are interested in looking at racist atrocities committed in the South and how they impact a community who wants to forget the past. The author doesn’t shy away from dealing with the burning of the town’s Creek Church by the Klan and a boy who is brutally murdered and buried near the church. His restless spirit is trapped and needs to move into the light realm.

The characters are loveable and memorable. Sarah’s safe and logical science-filled background is overturned once she experiences the force of evil and the unrest of the haints. Janie is fearless and nudges Sarah to do things she wouldn’t normally do — like breaking into their grandmother’s attic
to search for clues about Creek Church and getting caught. Mrs. Greene is unmoving and won’t think twice about using a willow switch as a form of punishment. But she is also very generous with her famous red velvet cake. Evolving family relationships are central to this novel.

Strong’s plot is thrilling and suspense-filled. It is mystery that Sarah, Janie, Ellis and Jasper desperately want to solve. Her deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. Teens looking for something original and creative will enjoy this novel. It is an excellent discussion book because of the historical themes.

Karen Strong was born and raised in rural Georgia. She spent most of her childhood wandering the woods, meadows, and gardens on her grandmother’s land. She now lives in Atlanta. Just South of Home is her first novel. Visit the author at her website.

Favorite Quote: Page 100

I couldn’t deny it. What we had seen was as real as the sun, the stars, and the planets in our solar system. Those shadows were physical things, and they weren’t human. I didn’t need any more theories. No more explanations. Creek Church was haunted. 

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.