In a Flash by Donna Jo Napoli

In A Flash

Donna Jo Napoli, Author

Wendy Lamb Books, Historical Fiction, Jan. 5, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12 years

Themes: Sisters, Italian, World War II, Japan, Survival, Courage, Hope

Book Jacket Synopsis:

In 1940, when Simona is eight and her sister, Carolina, is five, their father becomes the cook to the Italian ambassador to Japan, and the family leaves Italy for Tokyo. The girls learn perfect Japanese, make friends, and begin to love life in their new home. But soon Japan is engaged in a world war.

In 1943, when all Italians in Japan are confined to internment camps as enemy aliens, Papà and the girls are forced to part, and Simona and Carolina embark on a dramatic journey. Anyone who aids them could be arrested for treason. All the sisters have is each other: their wits, courage, and resilience, and the hope that they will find people who see them not as the enemy, but simply as children trying to survive.

In this gripping, deeply moving story, Donna Jo Napoli gives readers an unforgettable and authentic new perspective on World War II.

Why I like this book:

Donna Jo Napoli’s In a Flash is a dramatic and original story about two Italian sisters who are separated from their father and trapped in Japan during World War II. Napoli’s powerful storytelling captures their harrowing journey to survive and will tug at reader’s heart-strings. 

I was immediately drawn to their gripping story because it’s a piece of history I knew nothing about. There were many Italians living in Japan during the war. And it is researched and well-documented by Napoli. Make sure you read her historical comments at the end of the novel because she sheds more light on this time period. The narrative is in Simona’s strong voice. The setting is vivid, realistic and rich in detail. Readers will get a very strong sense of the beautiful Japanese culture in the first third of the novel — the customs, family life, the pace of life, the abundant markets, and foods — before the bombings begin and the country is thrown into mayhem. The plot is suspenseful, heart-wrenching and hopeful. The ending will surprise readers.

The story is character driven. Readers will be captivated by Simona and Carolina’s spirits and strong wills. The acclimate to the culture and quickly become fluent in Japanese. Tokyo becomes home, even though they live inside the Italian embassy. When Italy changes sides during the war, Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, and America begins bombing Japan, tension rises. The girls and their papa, the Italian ambassador and all Italians living in in Japan are sent to internment and secret prison camps. Simona and Carolina escape a camp and find safe havens among very generous and loving cast of Japanese characters who love and keep them alive during their journey;  three female manga artists, beggars, a washer woman, a professor and German priests. 

Readers will be able to experience the human side of war through Simona and Carolina. This is an important addition to children’s historical fiction and deserves a place in school libraries. 

Donna Jo Napoli has published more than eighty books for young readers, including picture books, early readers, and young adult and middle-grade novels. Her work has been translated into nineteen languages and has won many awards at the state and national levels. She is a professor of linguistics and social justice at Swarthmore College, and she brings her research skills and her profound interest in language to bear on her novels, particularly the historical ones. She and her husband live in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Visit her at her website.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Franklin Endicott and the Third Key by Kate DiCamillo

Franklin Endicott and the Third Key: Tales from Deckawoo Drive Vol. 6

Kate DiCamillo, Author

Chris Van Dusen, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Jun. 8, 2021

Suitable for ages: 6-9

Themes:  Worry, Courage, Mystery, Humor, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Frank Endicott is a worrier. He worries about lions, submarines, black holes, leprosy, and armadillos. He lists his worries alphabetically in a notebook and suffers vivid nightmares that even a certain neighborhood pig can’t dispatch.

When Frank accompanies Eugenia Lincoln on an errand to duplicate a key at her favorite dark and dusty thrift shop, Frank earns fresh cause for alarm. Greeting them through the window is a headless mannequin, with a dead toothy weasel sitting on its shoulder. Miss Lincoln leaves Frank to wait alone with the shop’s proprietor, odd Buddy Lamp,  while she runs some errands.  As Frank browses while he waits, he spots an piece of amber with a dead insect inside and a jar full of eyeballs.

When Mr. Lamp presents Frank with the original key and its copy, he’s surprised to find a mysterious third key in the envelop. He tries to return the key, but Mr. Lamp insists that he’s never seen the key before and refuses to take it back. Will Frank be able to bravely face his fears and deal with the unexpected key. After all there is a mystery to solve. With a little help from friends (old and new), hot cocoa, and some classic short stories read aloud, the prognosis is good.

The latest tale from Deckawoo Drive—and New York Times best-selling creators Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen—is a balm for young worrywarts facing the unknown.

What’s to like about this book:

Kate DiCamillo’s delivery style is unique and appealing for young readers. She writes beautifully but thinks simply in her chapter books. Her simple sentences are packed with big words that challenge readers. It is a fun and engaging book for emerging readers.

This is volume six in the Tales from Deckawoo Drive. Franklin Endicott is a worrier and many children will identify with his story as he learns he has more courage than he gives himself credit. Many of the same characters reappear in each of the stories, including Eugenia Franklin, a quirky neighbor who nudges Franklin to take risks. Buddy Lamp is also has a strange way about him. I mean, who collects eyeballs. But it works well in this story! And of course, Mercy Watson the pig makes an appearance.

Van Dusen’s frequent illustrations add so much to the story and capture with wonderful exaggeration all the drama, humor and emotions of Franklin’s journey. 

Kate DiCamillo is the beloved author of many books for young readers, including the Mercy Watson and Tale from Deckawoo Drive. Her book Flora & Ulysses and the Tale of Despereaux both received Newberry Medals. A former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Kate DiCamillo lives in Minneapolis.

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

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

Band Together by Chloe Douglass

Band Together

Chloe Douglass, Author and Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Sep. 8, 2020

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Animals, Band, Making Friends, Social anxiety, Self-esteem, Courage

Opening: “Duck lived by himself. Most days Duck fished, ate lunch, combed the beach, made tea by himself…” 

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Duck is a solo act. He loves the peace and solitude of his beachside home, strumming his ukulele beneath the stars. After helping stranded band players, Bear, Fox, and Seagull, fix their broken-down tour van, he has tons of fun playing songs and hanging out with his new friends.

Maybe he could ask The Band if they want to play with him again. But why would they want to be friends with Duck?

When Seagull gets sick, it looks like the concert will get cancelled. Or will Duck drum up the courage and accept Bear’s invitation to join The Band? Will Duck help his new friends out?

Why I like this book:

Chloe Douglass has written an engaging book for children who are shy about making new friends and suffer social anxiety.  Some may wonder if they are good enough. Sometimes it may be easier to do things by yourself and not risk being rejected. It may be the safer path, but a lonely one as Duck discovers. Once Duck meets Bear, Fox and Seagull and gets a taste of what it’s like to have friends, he has to find the courage inside himself to take the next step. When they ask him to join the band and play in their concert, Duck says no. But then he remembers the fun he had. Just maybe…

Douglass’s illustrations are delightful! There is a double spread in the middle of the book free of words. Douglass shows Duck deep in thought and her warm illustrations support the moment of Duck’s deep contemplation. You can almost hear Duck thinking out loud. Encourage children to fill in his thoughts with their words because they will know what he’s feeling.

Make sure you check out the fun endpapers because Douglass has illustrated a multitude of singers as animals – Justin Beaver, Alpaca Morrissette, Amy Winegrouse and many others.

Resources: This book is a wonderful resource for home and school. Ask kids if they ever feel like Duck. Encourage them to talk about what makes them anxious about social settings and making new friends. Ask them what would help them to step outside of his comfort zone?  Help them make a list of the things they may try. After all, they don’t want to miss out on the  fun.

Chloe Douglass works in her home studio to create illustrations, character designs, and story ideas. She graduated from Kingston University with and MA Illustration degree. She lives in Tooting, London. Visit her at her website.

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 copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

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.

The Problim Children – Island in the Stars by Natalie Lloyd

Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays

The Problim Children – Island in the Stars (Book 3)

Natalie Lloyd, Author

Katherine Tegan Books, Fiction, Aug. 11, 2020

Pages: 304

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Siblings, Adventure, Rescue, Hidden treasure, Magic, Pirate Ship, Family relationships, Courage, Humor

Book Jacket Synopsis:

When the Problims’ baby brother, Toot, is kidnapped by the evil Cheesebreath, Sal and his six siblings set sail on a pirate ship to get him back. But Cheesebreath won’t let Toot go until the Problim children lead him through the barrier islands to their grandpa’s treasure.

The problem is the treasure could be dangerous in villainous hands, and the Problims don’t know exactly where it is! Grandpa’s clues say it lies “where the stars fall into the sea,” but there are all sorts of dangers along the way — like angry neighbors, kid-eating plants, and Miserable Mist!

Now Sal and his sibling only have three days to figure out the puzzle, destroy the treasure, and rescue Toot before Cheesebreath gets his hands on their grandpa’s secret and uses it to break apart the Problim family…forever.

Why I like this book:

Natalie Lloyd’s final book in her The Problim Children series is a delightful romp in weirdness, danger and magic, as the beguiling siblings race against time to rescue their kidnapped baby brother, Tootykins, and Mama Problim, and search for and destroy their grandfather’s treasure. Island in the Stars will please Lloyd fans with this exciting conclusion to the series.

Unknowingly, the seven children have been carefully groomed to take on this mission for years. Even though their grandfather is dead, he knows that that their combined talents and magical gifts must be used together to carry out his instructions and stop the evil Augustus Snide — Cheesebreath. And they will be challenged to heal the rift among their treasure-seeking extended family members on the Desdemona O’Pinion side.

Readers will watch how each Problim child begins to grow into the amazing person they were born to be. Sal keeps his siblings together and calls out the best in each of them. Mona sails fearlessly through the threatening mist. Wendell commands the ocean. Thea unlocks doors and turns her face to the light. Frida throws beams of fire from her hands. Sundae speaks sunlight into every dark corner. And flatulent Toot, a hero and not a captive, leaves his trademark farts to communicate with his siblings. “#45 The Braveheart Fart: The toot, used by Toot to summon his courage and drive fear into his enemies hearts. Smells like moldy cheese and sweaty victory.”

Lloyd’s plot is an lively and dangerous. Her narrative is notably original with clever wordplay, rhymes and vivid imagery. Scattered throughout the story are pen and ink drawings that heighten the action and add to the story’s quirky appeal. The book reminds me of Pippi Longstocking, who lives on her own and is free to develop her imagination and goes on great adventures. Today’s readers will liken Lloyd’s middle grade work to Lemony Snicket, The Penderwicks and Roald Dahl. Verdict: Island in the Stars is an entertaining page turner that is full of heart and courage. It is perfect for gift-giving!

Natalie Lloyd is the New York Times bestselling author of A Snicker of Magic, which has been optioned for television by Sony TriStar. Lloyd’s other novels in The Key to Extraordinary,  Over the Moon, and The Problem Children series. Lloyd lives in Tennessee with her husband and her dogs. Visit Lloyd at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his fascinating 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.

Mananaland by Pam Munoz Ryan

Mañanaland

Pam Muñoz Ryan

Scholastic, Fiction, Mar. 3, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Refugees, Oppression, Loss, Underground movements, Adventure, Courage, Hope, Freedom

Synopsis:

Maximiliano Córdoba loves stories, especially the legend Buelo tells him about a mythical gatekeeper who can guide brave travelers on a journey into tomorrow.

If Max could see tomorrow, he would know if he’d make Santa Maria’s celebrated fútbol team and whether he’d ever meet his mother, who disappeared when he was a baby. He longs to know more about her, but Papá won’t talk. So when Max uncovers a buried family secret–involving an underground network of guardians who lead people fleeing a neighboring country to safety–he decides to seek answers on his own.

With a treasured compass, a mysterious stone rubbing, and Buelo’s legend as his only guides, he sets out on a perilous quest to discover if he is true of heart and what the future holds.

This timeless tale of struggle, hope, and the search for tomorrow has much to offer today about compassion and our shared humanity.

Why I like this book:

Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Mañanaland is a beautifully crafted novel that sweeps readers into a fantasy world that feels oddly familiar, but is set in the Americas, past or future.  The setting, the characters, the courageous plot and the gorgeous imagery are carefully intertwined and create a thrilling experience for readers.

Max’s family are masons who have built 200  bridges all over the country.  But there is a secret that links the bridges to people who need to escape from oppression to a neighboring country. Max discovers his Papá and Buelo are part of the underground network dedicated to helping people. I love the symbolism of the bridges they build.

Readers will admire 12-year-old Max and his brave resolve to take on a dangerous and arduous journey to help a young girl, Isadora, escape abuse and meet up with her sister in Mañanaland. His father and Buelo are gone and wouldn’t approve. Max may be inexperienced as a guardian, but he is smart, brave, and resourceful. He is determined to prove that he can responsibly and safely guide Isadora to Yadra, the next guardian. Yadra is a towering woman with long silver hair, who lives beneath a secret bridge. Max also hopes she may shed some light on his mother’s disappearance, which his Papá has kept a secret. Is his mother in Mañanaland?

The story parallels our world today with a timely and relevant message that will introduce readers to the refugee crisis, without pinpointing a location. The role of guardians is to help those who are seeking asylum because they are abused, marginalized, and oppressed by a dictator and his military. Many have lost  loved ones and families have been split. However, as Max learns along his journey, “Mañaland is not a destination. It’s a…way of thinking.” (Page 209)

The plot is dangerous with many harrowing moments. Ryan’s deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. She nicely pulls everything together in a realistic and satisfying ending.

Pam Muñoz Ryan is the recipient of the NEA’s Human and Civil Rights Award and the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award for Lifetime Achievement. Her celebrated novels –Echo, Esperazna Rising, The Dreamer, Riding Freedom, Becoming Naomi León, and Paint the Wind — have received countless accolades are are treasured by readers around the world. Ryan lives near San Diego, California, 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.

*Reviewed from a library book.

 

The Gift of Gerbert’s Feathers by Meaghann Weaver and Lori Wiener

The Gift of Gerbert’s Feathers

Meaghann Weaver and Lori Wiener, Authors

Mikki Butterley, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Feb. 4, 2020

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Geese, Migration, Serious illness, Death, Family, Love, Courage

Opening: “From the moment his eggshell cracked, and his bill first peeked out, everyone knew Gerbert was a special goose.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Gerbert is strong and brave young goose and has fun times with his family and friends, but he knows that one day soon, he won’t be able to keep up with them anymore.

No matter how much Gerbert eats, he barely gains weight. His neck is shorter, his bill smaller and his wings are shorter.  His family migrates every year, and each season he grows weaker. His feathers begin to fall out.

As Gerbert prepares for his final migration, his family rallies around him to make sure his days are filled with love and comfort, and he finds a way to show his flock that he will always be with them.

Why I like this book:

Meaghann Weaver and Lori Wiener have written a tender and sensitive story for children who have a serious illness, for children who have a sibling or other family members who are living with an illness. It is a comforting story about courage and love that can be used in many different situations, even if the family member isn’t facing death. It will also help parents talk about death in a gentle way.

Gerbert is a joyful, loving and courageous gosling. He splashes in the water and plays follow the leader with his siblings. No matter how small Gerbert is, he is determined to have fun.  With each season, he struggles to keep up when his family migrates. Finally, he begins to tire and spend more time in the nest. His family worries about the upcoming migration and know he may not make the journey. Gerbert worries his family will feel sad to leave him behind and will miss him.

Mikki Butterly’s delicate and beautiful illustrations of Canadian geese and their habitat, will evoke emotions. But they are also soothing and comforting.

Meaghann Weaver, MD, MPH, FAAP, is a pediatric oncologist and Chief of the Division of Palliative Care at the Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska. She works with a wonderful interdisciplinary Hand in Hand team which strives to foster the strengths and graces of children and families in the Heartland. Dr. Weaver’s favorite life moments are spent painting, dancing, cooking, and gardening with her amazing daughter, Bravery. Dr. Weaver dreams of one day returning to Africa with her family.

Lori Wiener, PhD, DCSW, is co-director of the Behavioral Science Core and Head of the Psychosocial Support and Research Program at the pediatric oncology branch of the National Cancer Institute. As both a clinician and behavioral scientist, Dr. Wiener has dedicated her career to applying what she has learned from her work with seriously ill children and their families to create new therapeutic, communication, and educational tools. She lives in Annapolis, Maryland with her family and several animals, including a pup named Tessa, a rescue cat named Tupelo, and a pond filled with goldfish, koi and noisy frogs. One of Dr. Wiener’s favorite pastimes is photographing the migration of snow geese.

Resources: There is no easy way to approach the discussion about a seriously ill child. But the authors have written a Note to Parents and Caregivers with sample discussion questions and a Kid’s Reading Guide for siblings who have a brother or sister with a serious illness. But, reading The Gift of Gerbert’s Feather is an important start. It is also a perfect book for hospital settings.  There is also a printable feather coloring sheet.

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.

*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

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.

Daring Darlene: Queen of the Screen by Anne Nesbet

Daring Darleen: Queen of the Screen

Anne Nesbet, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 14, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Silent films, Acting, Kidnappers, Villains, Danger, Adventure, Courage

Synopsis:

Lights! Camera! Kidnapping? When a publicity stunt goes terribly wrong, twelve-year-old Darleen Darling, star of the silent film era, must defeat villains both on screen and off in this edge-of-your-seat adventure.

It’s 1914, and Darleen Darling’s film adventures collide with reality when a fake kidnapping set up by her family studio becomes all too real. Suddenly Darleen finds herself in the hands of dastardly criminals who have just nabbed Miss Victorine Berryman, the poor-little-rich-girl heiress of one of America’s largest fortunes.

Soon real life starts to seem like a bona fide adventure serial, complete with dramatic escapes, murderous plots, and a runaway air balloon. Will Darleen and Victorine be able to engineer their own happily-ever-after, or will the villains be victorious?

Why I like this book:

Daring Darleen is a fascinating peek into early silent films. There is so much to love about Anne Nesbet’s latest piece of historical fiction about a daring 12-year-old heroine and her family of movie makers. Money is low in 1914, so Matchless Studios gives the gives the public what it wants, “chases, plunges, trains, and villains.” And Darling Darleen becomes Daring Darleen. This story is a page-turner with an engaging plot.

The authentic friendship that develops between Darlene and heiress Victorine Berryman, really gives the story its heart. Their backgrounds couldn’t be more different. Darleen is a spunky, clever and resourceful heroine who is even more couragous in real life. After she and Victorine are kidnapped, she plots their escape from a seventh-story building window. Victorine is refined and elegant. She loves to read and is quite the world traveler. Telling the truth matters most to Victorine. The girls bond over the loss of Darlen’s mother and Victorine’s grandmother. They have a mystery to solve and together they are relentless. As the story progresses, readers will marvel at Victorine’s growth in self-confidence.

The girls also befriend the elegant French-speaking Madame Alice Guy Blaché, owner of Solax Studios, who helps them uncover a mystery regarding Victorine’s inheritance and cruel guardians. I was delighted that Nesbit includes Madame Blanché in her story, as a tribute to her real-life contribution in early film history. Blanché was the first filmmakers to “tell a story” in film and was the first woman to run a film studio.

Although the novel is a work of fiction, it is based on the “thrilling true story of the rise of the film industry.” And the story is set in Ft. Lee, NJ, where many of the “photoplays” were filmed. Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end of the story to learn more about the history of film making, because Anne Nesbit is a Professor of Film and Media history at the University of California.

Anne Nesbet is the author of the historical middle-grade novels Cloud and Wallfish and The Orphan Band of Springdale, as well as three fantasy novels for middle-graders. Her books have received numerous accolades, including multiple starred reviews and appearances on many best book and notables lists. A professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Anne Nesbet lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area.

*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.

Efrén Divided by Ernestro Cisneros

Efrén Divided

Ernestro Cisneros, Author

Quill Tree Books, Fiction, Mar. 31, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Undocumented parents, Mexican Americans, Deportation, Family, Friendship, Culture

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Efrén Nava’s Amá is his Superwoman—or Soperwoman, named after the delicious Mexican sopes his mother often prepares. Both Amá and Apá work hard all day to provide for the family, making sure Efrén and his younger twin siblings, Max and Mia, feel safe and loved.

But Efrén worries about his parents; although he’s American-born, his parents are undocumented. And according to the neighborhood talk, or local chisme, families like his are in great danger. Sure enough, Efrén’s  worst nightmare comes true one day when Amá doesn’t return from work and is deported across the border to Tijuana, México.

Now it’s up to Efrén to be brave and figure out how to act soper himself. While Apá takes an extra job to earn the money needed to get Amá back, Efrén looks after the twins, washes laundry, fixes meals, and does his schoolwork. He helps his best friend’s probably-doomed campaign for school president, and worries about what might happen to his family next.

When disaster strikes, Efrén is faced with crossing the border alone to see Amá and deliver a special package. There is danger all around him. More than ever, he must channel his inner Soperboy to help reunite his family.

Why I like this book:

Ernestro Cisneros’s powerful and timely debut novel, Efrén Divided, captures the humanity of children of undocumented Mexican-American families living in the US.  I love that Cisneros wrote this novel for his children to show that Mexican Americans “are worth being written about.” Some of the book was taken from his own childhood.

The plot is both dangerous and heartwarming. The richly textured narrative is peppered with Spanish words and expressions, which are nicely woven into the story in a way that readers will grasp the translation. But there is a glossary of words and expressions at the end of the book. The diverse cast of characters are memorable, especially David, who adds for some fun comic relief.

Although parents immigrate to the US to provide a better life for their children, there is an underlying worry, pain, and fear for all family members. When Efrén’s mother is discovered by ICE, it forces him to grow up too quickly. Although he is a courageous and resilient teen, he carries a huge burden filled with responsibilities. He can’t confide in anyone — even his best friend David — because he puts his undocumented father and family at risk. 

When Efrén crosses the border alone into Tijuana to see his mom, he sees first-hand the reasons why his parents and others risk the trip north. There is danger lurking on every street corner and down every alley. He feels eyes watching him. There is poverty. Young kids are forced to work or beg for money instead of playing. Men and women of all ages sell handmade items along the curbs. He shudders at the US-built border fence where separated families meet with loved ones at a chain link fence.

There will be many teens who will relate to Efrén’s story, whether they have undocumented parents, family members, or know someone who does. This book should be at the top of the list in school classrooms because it is perfect for meaningful discussions.

The ending surprised me. It is realistic and hopeful. Perhaps there is a sequel in the works? Verdict: This book is a winner!

Ernesto Cisneros was born and raised in Santa Ana, California, where he still teaches. Efrén Divided is his first novel. He holds an English degree from the University of California, Irvine; a teaching credential from California State University, Long Beach; as well as a master of fine arts in creative writing from National University. As an author, he believes in providing today’s youth with an honest depiction of characters with whom they can identify. The real world is filled with amazing people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. His work strives to reflect that. You can visit him at his 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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.