Where Snow Angels Go by Maggie O’Farrell

Where Snow Angels Go

Maggie O’Farrell, Author

Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Nov. 16, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Pages: 72

Themes: Snow Angel, Illness, Family, Friends, Fable, Magical

Opening“Have you ever woken suddenly, in the middle of the night, without knowing why?”

Book Jacket Synopsis:  One night, Sylvie wakes up and is astonished to see, standing beside her bed, a figure in white with enormous feathery wings.  Is it possible that something extraordinary has happened? Could this be the angel she made last winter in the snow? 

The snow angel has returned to her, with a very important mission: to save her life. Sylvie is ill and the snow angel awakens her mother. He assures Sylvie that she will forget all about him as soon as she goes to sleep, but somehow, she doesn’t. Sylvie then tries everything she can think of to bring him back to earth, but nothing works. Until one winter’s day, when Sylvie looks around and wonders whether her friends and family have their own protective angel. How can she convince her Snow Angel to help with this monumental task?

Why I like this book:

Maggie O’Farrell’s is a modern fable/fairy tale that will fill kids with wonder. It is a cozy bedtime read aloud that reminds me a bit of the books that were read to me as a child. The narrative is a bit lengthy, but lends itself to the author’s beautiful lyrical prose. I love that the story began with a bedtime story she made up for her own children. Where Snow Angels Go will lead to many meaningful discussions.

Sylvie is a compassionate and selfless character who wants to make contact with her snow angel after she recovers from a lengthy illness. Sylvie faces some other dangerous challenges and she senses the snow angel is with her in different forms. She realizes that the snow angel is her protector and she wants to make sure that her family and other children have protectors. This story will warm your heart.

The cover on the book is stunning. The swirls around Sylvie are in silver, adding to the book’s appeal. Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini’s dreamy illustrations are magical and capture the wonder in O’Farrell’s story. I have many favorite scenes, but I love the ones of Sylvie with her snow angel. Children will enjoy pouring over the pages.

Resources/Activities: Winter is here, a time of adventure for children. After the next snow, go outside with your children and make your own snow angels.  Take pictures of your snow angels. You may even want to draw pictures.

Maggie O’Farrell was born in Northern Ireland. She is the author of nine books for adults, one of which won the Costa Novel Award. Where Snow Angels Go is her first book for children. She lives in Edinburgh with her three children, many cats and a mysterious tortoise.

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 Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.

 

The Genius Under the Table by Eugene Yelchin

Please note that this will be my last review of 2021!  I will return on Jan. 3, 2022.  Enjoy your holidays!

The Genius Under the Table: Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain

Eugene Yelchin, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Memoir, Oct. 12, 2021

Suitable for ages: 10-15

Pages: 208

Themes: Soviet Union, Family, Communal living, Poverty, Surveillance, Talent, Memoir  

Opening: “The first time I saw real American tourists, they hopped out of a tourist bus in Red Square in Moscow and cut in front of us in line. “Nice manners!” my mother shouted. “We’ve been freezing our butts off for hours and they just breeze in like that?”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Everyone in communist Russia is keeping secrets — including Yevgeny. By day, he longs to become an athlete, like his brother, or a dancer, like his mother’s beloved Mikhail Baryshnikov, an icon with secrets of his own. By night, however, Yevgeny’s world comes alive on the underside of his grandmother’s heavy oak table, where he uses his father’s stubby pencil to sketch out all the drama, confusion, and difficulty of life in the USSR. Grappling with the looming threats of surveillance and poverty — an armed with only his pencil and a tendency to ask difficult questions — Yevgeny is on a quest to understand his society, in a tale heartbreaking and hilarious in equal measure.

Why I like this book:

Eugene Yelchin has written a witty and dark memoir about life in the Soviet Union in the 1960s-1970s. He lived in Leningrad as a child, which makes his story even more believable for readers. And it reads like a piece of fiction. Yelchin’s artwork graces nearly every page of the story, perfectly complementing the text. 

Life is hard in the Soviet Union. Extended families live in communaka (communal) one-room apartments. They share the bathroom, hallways and kitchen with other dwellers. Food is rationed. Many books and artwork are banned. There are paid spies in every communalka. Everything about life is based on rules. Freedom of speech is forbidden. Antisemitism is still prevalent.

The only way to succeed and get out of poverty is to have a talent, like Yevgeny’s brother, Victor, who is a talented ice skater and athlete. I was fascinated at how the USSR used talent as a secret weapon against the United States during the Cold War. Yevgeny doesn’t appear to have a special talent. His mother wants him to be a great ballet dancer like Baryshnikov. But he DOES have a talent that even he’s not aware of.

I especially enjoyed how Yelchin weaves the famous Baryshnikov (and his defection) into this story. Yevgeny’s mother works at the Vaganovka Ballet Academy for where Baryshnikov studied dance as a child. She has an interesting relationship with the artistic world. She takes Yevgeny to see her beloved “Misha”  dance at the Kirov Ballet Theater, where they stand in the wings and watch him perform. (And, yes there is a secret backstory about his mother and ballet.)

Yevgeny’s father is a committed communist and has a deep love for poetry — much of which is banned in the USSR because poetry tells the truth. In the USSR it is dangerous to tell the truth or criticize the government. Artists who survived learned to make art by the rules. Readers will learn about how people keep secrets, especially about family members. They even cut pictures of loved ones out of photographs. And Yevgeny really wants to know what happened to his grandfather, but his grandmother remains silent.

I was drawn to this story because I’ve always been fascinated with Russian history and political science and studied Russian in college in the 70s. There are no tidy endings to this story, as Yelchin’s memoir represents his family’s experience of living behind the Iron Curtain.

Eugene Yelchin is the the coauthor and illustrator of the 2018 National Book Award finalist The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, cowritten with M.T. Anderson. He is also the author and illustrator of the Newbery Honor Book Breaking Stalin’s Nose, and the recipient of a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Tomie dePaola illustrator Award. Eugene Yelchin lives in Topanga, California, with his family.

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.

River Magic by Ellen Booraem

River Magic

Ellen Booraem, Author

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Apr. 27, 2021

Suitable for ages: 10-13

Themes: River, Grief, Fantasy, Dragon, Neighbors,  Greed, Friendships, Family

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Donna’s always loved her life by the river. Aunt Annabelle taught her there was more to the world than meets the eye, and the two of them built tiny shoreside houses for fantastical creatures Annabelle insisted were real. But now Annabelle has died in the very river she claimed was magic, and nothing feels wondrous to Donna anymore. Money is tight with Annabelle gone. Her mom, “Mim,” and sister, Janice, work all the time, and her best friend, Rachel, spends way more time with her basketball teammates than she does with Donna.

When a strange old woman moves in next door and needs help cleaning her filthy home, Donna figures this is the perfect opportunity to forget her friendship troubles and help her family. Especially since the woman pays in gold. Turns out, Donna’s new neighbor is an ancient, ornery thunder mage, and it doesn’t take muck to make her angry. Before Donna knows it, Rachel’s in danger and Donna’s family is about to lose their home. Even Annabelle’s voice, an unexpected guiding presence in Donna’s mind, can’t fend off disaster. To save the day, Donna will need the help of a caring new friend and the basket-ball team…plus the mysterious, powerful creature lurking in the river.

Why I like this book:

Ellen Booraem has written a compelling contemporary fantasy that is thrilling, dangerous, action-packed, realistic and humorous. Take a moment to look at the gorgeous book cover of Donna and her friend Hillyard. It makes you want to peek into that river with them.

There is a lot going on in the fast-paced plot — the death of a beloved aunt, a family on the brink of financial collapse, shifting friendships, an angry and greedy magical neighbor, and a cunning dragon living in the river behind the house. That being said, Booraem manages to pull it all together and create an exciting and believable magical adventure story for readers. 

What makes this story strong is its cast of memorable characters who leap off the pages. Donna is a curious and resilient character who begins to hear dead Aunt Annabelle’s voice (in her head) guiding her. She share’s her aunt’s love of the river and believes in the magic surrounding it. So moving to live with Aunt Betty’s, is not a choice for Donna. She’s not old enough to get a real job. But one appears when a very odd woman, Vilma Bliksem, moves into the house next door. Things really start to get weird. Vilma is beguiling, greedy and dangerous. Donna also develops a relationship with a new quirky friend, Hillyard, who is the perfect side-kick for Donna. He sports unusual outfits, like a  purple-and-pink tie-dyed T-shirt, leather vest, battered leather shoes laced on the side, and a brightly colored yellow scarf with orange strips wrapped around his neck. His hair is pulled back into a short pony tail. Being friends with Hillyard won’t be cool at school, but he is clever and helps Donna figure out how to outwit their wicked neighbor. Together they survive some dangerous moments and release some spells Vilma has cast.    

I highly recommend this magical story to readers who are looking for an exciting adventure that will keep them glued to the pages and guessing what will happen next.  I love not being able to guess the ending and I was careful not to give away any SPOILERS.

Ellen Booraem, born in Massachusetts, now lives in Downeast Maine. She is the author of The Unnameables (an ALA Best Book for Young Adults),  Small Persons with Wings, and Texting the Underworld. All of Ellen’s books have been chosen by Kirkus Reviews as Best Books of the Year, among other awards. In addition to being a writer, Ellen is a writing coach at her local elementary school. She lives with a cat, a dog, and an artist in a house they (the humans) built with their own hands.

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.  

Is It Over? by Sandy Brehl and Rebecca S. Hirsch

IS IT OVER?

Sandy Brehl, Author

Rebecca S. Hirsch, Illustrator

Pen It! Publications, Fiction, Jul. 6, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Storms, Weather, Fear, Self-esteem, Self-reliance, Family, Parents

Opening: Clouds tower! Waves crash! “DADDY!”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

IS IT OVER? celebrates the power of love and storytelling to overcome fear. A prowling, growling thunderstorm sends Risa running to Daddy, begging him to make it stop.

When the storm worsens, Risa asks for a story, but Daddy’s time as a soldier changed his childhood view of storms. Inspired by her stuffed toy elephant, Ivan, Risa summons the courage to find her own story in the storm one that helps them both.

What’s  to like about this book:

With hurricanes, tropical storms and tornados already beginning, Sandy Brehl’s book about storms is very timely. It is a quiet book that will help soothe children’s fears about the storms that pop up when they are least expected. I will have to admit I love storms and find her story very creative!   

Brehl’s text is very lyrical and is packed with noisy words: RRROAR!…CRRRACK!…KA-BOOM! The story is very visual, which will delight readers. Even Daddy has a moment when his heart races, but he admits to Risa that he loved storms when he was kid, because he saw stories in the storm shapes. But it requires imagination. Risa watches the clouds and suddenly she begins to see her own storm pictures. Such a creative way to help kids through a noisy storm. It is an excellent book to read aloud.

Rebecca S. Hirsch vibrantly illustrates IS IT OVER? with double-page spreads. The words and the illustrations depend upon one another. They show emotion and imagination. Her artwork seamlessly flows with the strength of the storm and is bright and cheery at the end. The entire book is gorgeous and will be a winner with families.

ResourcesIS IT OVER? is a resource for families and teachers. But you can also check out Teacher Resources on Brehl’s website. Encourage kids to talk about how storms make them feel. Watching clouds turn into shapes was one of my favorite things to do as a child. Have kids share what they do to help them deal with a storm. Do they play in the puddles when the storms are over?

Sandy Brehl is an award-winning author, member of the Wisconsin chapter of SCBWI, and the Holocaust outreach educator. She is the author of the award-winning Odin’s Promise Trilogy, a middle grade series set in Norway during WW II. Visit here website.

Rebecca S. Hirsch is an illustrator and member of the Wisconsin Chapter of SCBWI. She lives with her husband and daughter in Waukesha, WI. Visit 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.

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

The Secret Starling by Judith Eagle

The Secret Starling

Judith Eagle, Author

Jo Rioux, Illustrator

Walker Books US, Fiction, Jun. 8, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

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

Publisher’s Synopsis:

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

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

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

What to like about this story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Review copy provided by Walker Books US in exchange for a review.  

 

Sweet Pea Summer by Hazel Mitchell

Sweet Pea Summer

Hazel Mitchell, Author & Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 13, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Family, Gardening, Nature, Intergenerational relationships, Separation, Health 

Opening: “Mom had to go into the hospital, so Dad was taking me to Grandpa and Grandma’s house for summer vacation.”

Publisher’s Synopsis

A young girl must stay with her grandparents while her mother is in the hospital. At first, it’s hard at first to focus on anything but missing and worrying about her mom. But then Grandpa suggests that she help out in his garden. And what a garden it is! There are rows and rows of vegetables and all kinds of flowers, but the most beautiful of all are Grandpa’s sweet peas. Maybe, Grandpa suggests, she can take care of them over the summer and enter them into the flower show.

Nothing seems to go right with the sweet peas. No matter what she does, the flowers keep dying. Until finally, the mystery is solved—but will the sweet peas bloom in time for the show? If only her mother were there . . .

With warm, child-friendly illustrations and a simple narration, author-illustrator Hazel Mitchell tells a timeless story about holding on to hope in hard times and finding the strength and determination to see it through. A brief author’s note at the end offers a bit of history and a few details about sweet peas for aspiring gardeners.

What’s to love about this story

Hazel Mitchell has written and illustrated a book that is full of heart and joy. It is a timeless story about a girl finding hope during a challenging time in her life. Readers aren’t told what is wrong with her mother, so it leaves this story wide-open for discussion about short parent-child separations.  

The intergenerational relationship between the girl and her grandfather shines. He puts her in charge of the sweet pea garden and shows her how to remove old seedpods, tie stems to canes, weed and water the plants with his secret formula. The girl takes pride in her work.

When there is a problem with the sweet peas, it is the girl who researches gardening books, wraps the plants with blankets, and shades the plants from the sun with her Grandma’s umbrellas. When nothing makes a difference, she puts on her thinking cap and discovers why the blooms are fulling off and dying.

Mitchell’s warm and happy illustrations capture an English countryside with cottages surrounded by low stonewalls, friendly neighbors chatting, and children walking dogs. And grandpa’s garden is a wonder to behold for any child eager to help. Mitchell’s artwork is plump with details that kids will enjoy. This book is a perfect gift book and summer read.  

Resources: Encourage kids to help in the flower or vegetable garden, if you have one. If you don’t have a garden, pick out some flower pots and grow tomatoes plants or flowers, including sweet peas. Make sure they know all about what they are planting and put them in charge of watering and weeding.  At the end of the book, Mitchell includes a special note about Sweet Peas. 

Hazel Mitchell is the author-illustrator of Toby, as well as the illustrator of numerous books for children. Originally from Yorkshire, England, she now lives in Maine.

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.

 

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.

The Summer We Found Baby by Amy Hest

The Summer We Found Baby

Amy Hest, Author

Candlewick Press, Aug. 4, 2020

Suitable for ages: 9 and up

Themes: Family, Friendship, Community, WWII, Secrets, Mystery

Synopsis:

On the morning of the dedication of the new children’s library in Belle Beach, Long Island, eleven-year-old Julie Sweet and her six-year-old sister, Martha, find a baby in a basket on the library steps. At the same time, twelve-year-old Bruno Ben-Eli is on his way to the train station to catch the 9:15 train into New York City. He is on an important errand for his brother, who is a soldier overseas in World War II. But when Bruno spies Julie, the same Julie who hasn’t spoken to him for sixteen days, heading away from the library with a baby in her arms, he has to follow her. Holy everything, he thinks. Julie Sweet is a kidnapper.

Of course, the truth is much more complicated than the children know in this heartwarming and beautifully textured family story by award-winning author Amy Hest.  The novel captures the moments and emotions of a life-changing summer — a summer in which a baby gives a family hope and brings a community together.

Why I like this book:

The Summer We Found Baby is heartfelt and genuine, especially as Amy Hest explores the idea of family, friendship and community. Set during World War II in a cozy little town on Long Island, it’s a short novel with a fast-paced plot that will keep readers happily engaged.

The narrative is told from three different viewpoints: Bruno Ben-Eli is a resident of Belle Beach, and Julie and Martha Sweet, the “summer people” who are visiting with their widowed father who seeks a place to finish his book.  The three-some each have their own unique spin on things, which makes solving the baby mystery even more interesting.

The characters are memorable. Bruno is worried about his brother and hasn’t quite figured out girls yet. Julie refuses to talk with Bruno because he reads a letter she’s written. Martha feels Julie is too bossy and finds a doating mother figure in Mrs. Ben-Eli, who happens to live next door.

And there is the big grand opening of the new Children’s Library, which Bruno’s mom is in charge of. Julie takes it upon herself to send an invitation of the library opening to a famous woman she admires. Will she accept the invite? This is a perfect summer read for teens.

Amy Hest is the author of many beloved books for young readers, including Remembering Mrs. Rossi, Letters to Leo, and the Katie Roberts novels. She is also the author of many picture books, indluing Kiss Good Night, When Jessie Came Across the Sea, and On the Night of the Shooting Star. She 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 the publisher in exchange for a review.

The Sky at Our Feet by Nadia Hashimi

The Sky at Our Feet

Nadia Hashimi, Author

Harper Collins, Fiction, Mar. 6, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 291

Themes: American-Afghani boy, Undocumented immigrant parent, Family Relationships, Runaways, Epilepsy, Courage, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Jason has just learned that his Afghan mother has been living illegally in the United States since his father was killed in Afghanistan. Although Jason was born in the US, it’s hard to feel American now when he’s terrified that his mother will be discovered—and that they will be separated.

When he sees his mother being escorted from her workplace by two officers, Jason feels completely alone. He boards a train with the hope of finding his aunt in New York City, but as soon as he arrives in Penn Station, the bustling city makes him wonder if he’s overestimated what he can do.

After an accident lands him in the hospital, Jason finds an unlikely ally in a fellow patient. Max, a whip-smart girl who wants nothing more than to explore the world on her own terms, joins Jason in planning a daring escape out of the hospital and into the skyscraper jungle—even though they both know that no matter how big New York City is, they won’t be able to run forever.

Why I like this book:

Nadia Hashimi has skillfully penned a moving and sensitive tale about two brave teens on the run in New York City (NYC) when difficult circumstances uproot their lives. Their amusing adventure through the Big Apple showcases the city’s character with its subways, NYC Marathon, Central Park Zoo, food trucks, and police officers on horses.

The characters are authentic and believable. Jason’s strong narrative highlights/underscores the dilemma for children of undocumented immigrant families. He witnesses his mother being arrested by police at work because she didn’t renew her visa and is an illegal immigrant. What will happen to him? He sneaks into their apartment, packs his backpack, and embarks on a journey to find his Auntie Seema in NYC.

Jason blacks out in the train station and wakes up in a hospital with a head injury. There he meets Max, a girl who is smart and artful in helping Jason dodge a police officer’s questioning. She’s trapped like an inmate in her hospital prison and longs to experience a big adventure before she undergoes a major surgery. Together they plot an epic hospital escape and navigate the streets evading police officers.

The author sets aside the political aspects involved in deportation of decent immigrant parents and their American children. Instead she focuses on the emotional and physical impact on a teen like Jason. His fear that his mother may be sent back to Afghanistan forever, is daunting. How is a Muslim boy in America supposed to cope with something so big? His mother hasn’t created a plan for Jason if she’s arrested. He’s left to his own resources to find Auntie Seema.

The plot is original and courageous with moments of humor, action, danger, and suspense that will keep readers quickly turning pages. When Max has a seizure along the way, Jason is challenged to find the way on his own. This is an engaging read about current and thought-provoking issues. It is also heartwarming and hopeful and a good choice for classroom discussions.

Greg Pattridge is the host for 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.

Book: Library copy.

The Night Before the Fourth of July by Natasha Wing

The Night Before the Fourth of July

Natasha Wing, Author

Amy Wummer, Illustrator

Grosset & Dunlap, Fiction, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes: Independence Day, Celebration, Fireworks, Family

Synopsis: It’s the night before the Fourth of July and all across the United States people are getting ready for hot dogs and fireworks. Decked in red, white, and blue, a family heads to a parade, hosts a backyard BBQ with friends and family, dodges an afternoon thundershower, and of course, watches a fireworks show. The Night Before the Fourth of July captures all the fun, excitement, and pride of the best summer holiday!

Natasha Wing brings all the excitement and fun to life in the pages of this celebration of our nation’s history. The rhyming is fun and playful.  Amy Wummer’s illustrations are lively and colorful. This is the perfect book to introduce young children ages 3-5, to our joyful American birthday party, emphasizing family, diversity and tradition. This is the 20th book in “The Night Before…” series. Collect them all!

Resources: What are you going to do on the Fourth of July? Will you dress-up, attend a parade, go to a family picnic, and watch fireworks? Will you wave a flag? Adults will find the book will bring back a flood of  childhood memories they can share with their children.

Natasha Wing is the author of When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy’s Fight for an American Icon, 2017. She has written nearly 25 books in her “The Night Before…” series which deal with Easter, Christmas, Father’s Day, Preschool, Summer Camp, Kindergarten and many more delightful holidays and celebrations. She was born in Connecticut and now lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. After graduating from Arizona State University, she worked in advertising. It wasn’t until 1991 that she decided to write children’s books. Luckily she sold her first book within six months and has been writing children’s books and articles ever since.  Visit Natasha 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.