Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle

Cathy Ballou Mealey, Author

Kelly Collier, Illustrator

Kids Can Press, Fiction, May 4, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Animals, Bicycle, Job, Pickles, Differences, Teamwork, Friendship

Opening: “Sloth. I want a bike,” said Squirrel. “I want a bike just like that. We could go FAST!” Sloth nodded s-l-o-w-l-y. 

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Sloth and Squirrel want to buy a bicycle that goes FAST.

So, they get a job. Squirrel works fast, really fast. And Sloth works…s-l-o-w-l-y. It turns out that getting a bikes is harder than they thought.

Starring two lovable and unlikely friends, this hilarious story is a celebration of teamwork, ingenuity and pickles. 

Why I love this book:

Opposites attract. Squirrel is quick and full of energy and speed. Sloth moves a lot more slowly, but is very deliberate. There are many obstacles along the way as they try to earn money to buy a bike. Eventually they come up with a very clever plan that suits them both.

Cathy Mealey’s message is simple, quirky and hilarious for children. It encourages kids to not to make swift judgements about someone else. Everyone has a different strength, a different pace and an unknown talent that may compliment the teamwork. This certainly is the case for Squirrel and Sloth. 

The narrative is delightful and full of fun words. Kids will gasp, they will commiserate with antics and failed attempts to pack pickles, and they will cheer as the two unlikely friends find their way through this pickle. The ending is endearing and funny as Squirrel and Sloth realize their dream in a very big way. A wonderful story about problem-solving and friendship!

Kelly Collier’s comical and colorful illustrations bring each character to life in a unique way. Be prepared to laugh out loud!

Resources: Do you like pickles? What is your favorite kind of pickle?  Like Sloth and Squirrel, can you think of the other ways that you can use pickles? Draw a picture of your idea. And if you wanted to buy a bike, how would you raise the money? Share your ideas. 

Cathy Ballou Mealey has never picked a peck of pickles, but she has been a crossing guard, pet-sitter and professional gift-wrapper, among many other jobs. Her favorite pickle is a crisp, tangy bread-an-butter chip. She lives with her family north of Boston, where she delights in watching silly squirrel antics and is waiting patiently for a sloth to appear. 

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.

Ivy Lost and Found by Cynthia Lord

Book Buddies: Ivy Lost and Found

Cynthia Lord, Author

Stephanie Graegin, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 28, 2021

Suitable for ages: 6-9

Themes: Library, Borrowing books, Repurposing toys, Friendship 

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Ivy the doll is the newest Book Buddy — a toy that can be checked out just like a book — at Anne’s library. But Ivy isn’t sure she wants to be borrowed.  She’d rather go back to when Anne was a little girl and Ivy was her favorite toy.  Fern, a child who visits the library with her stepfamily, also wishes things could go back to the way they were, when Fern had her dad all to herself. When Fern takes Ivy home, an unexpected outdoor adventure helps both of them find confidence and belonging in their changing worlds. 

This  is the first book of a charming new illustrated series about library toys and the children who borrow them, written by Newbery Honor winner Cynthia Lord and illustrated by Stephanie Graegin. 

Why I like this book:

Children will fall in love with Lord’s heartwarming chapter book — the first book in a series that pairs friendly toys with children who may need them to work through a difficult time. I love the idea that the toys are repurposed and given a chance to be loved again by more children. Such a great idea to check out a toy along with a book from a library.

I love that the book is narrated by Ivy. She shares her memories of playing with Anne in the garden, attending birthday parties, receiving new clothes Anne sewed for her, and cuddling with Anne on winter nights. But Anne grows up and Ivy spends lonely nights on a shelf, until she’s packed away in a box in the attic.  “Missing someone hurts,” says Ivy, who echoes Fern’s feelings with her new stepfamily. Many children will identify and find comfort in Ivy Lost and Found.  

The short chapters will engage children, as will Graegin’s lovely pen and ink illustrations on nearly every page. I look forward to more Book Buddy adventures with new borrowers. 

As I write, my grown daughter’s favorite bear, “Dink,” is resting on the bed behind my desk. He went to camp with her and was her best buddy! Maybe he is lonely and needs repurposing. 

Cynthia Lord is the author of award-winning middle grade fiction titles such as the Newbery Honor Book Rules, and most recently Because of the Rabbit. She is also the author of Shelter Pet Squad chapter book series. She lives in Maine.

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 in exchange for a review.

Twitchy Witchy Itch by Priscilla Tey

Twitchy Witchy Itch

Priscilla Tey, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Jun. 24, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Witches, Tea Party, Cleaning, Being yourself, Friendship

Opening: “In just ten minutes, the clock would chime tea o-clock. In just ten minutes, Itch the witch would have two witchy neighbors over for tea.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Tick, tock! / Three cups. / Tick tock! / Three saucers.

With nine minutes left, everything is ready. Or is it? As the clock counts down to tea o’clock, Itch the witch’s mind is in a tizzy: Is her house too twitchy? If her home to itchy? Zippity-zoom! Itch grabs a duster and broom. What spell will she say? The guests are already on their way!

Why I like this book:

Priscilla Tey’s charming story carries a sweet message for kids about how important it is to be yourself at all times. Witchy Itch’s neighbors love her home just as it is and have a grand time at tea.  

The language is entertaining and repetitive, includes a few tongue twisters and a lot of fun words: Swish, swash,  zipity-zoom, kaboom, witchity-woosh, ka-boosh, itchy, and twitchy. This will make for a delightful read aloud. It is a perfect seasonal read with Halloween approaching.

Tey’s lively illustrations are quirky colorful, and a tad eccentric. Just look at that cover! The expression on Itch’s face shows the growing panic she feels as spells go wrong and mayhem wins. I also love the mice, bugs, spiders. lizards and cute monkey that live in her home. Make sure you study each page because there may be some other hidden animals.

Resources: With Halloween approaching encourage kids to draw a picture of a witch doing something unusual and fun: having a pajama party, riding a skateboard, racing a car/broom, or sitting by a campfire roasting something. Be creative.

Priscilla Tey is a graduate of the  Rhode Island School of Design. Her first book for children, In-Between Thing, was called “unique and thought-provoking” by School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly praised her “quirky, ingenious, and highly disciplined” aesthetic. A native of Singapore, Priscilla Tey returned home after completing her degree and splits her time between illustrating and teaching.

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 in exchange for a review.

Born Behind Bars by Padma Venkatraman

Born Behind Bars

Padma Venkatraman, Author 

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, Sep. 7, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: India, Prisoners’ families, Homeless persons, Street children, Friendship, Social justice issues, Hope

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Kabir Khan has been in jail since the day he was born because his mom is serving time for a crime she didn’t commit. Their cellmates are his only friends, and he’s never even met his dad. The one place he feels a little bit free is the prison classroom, where his teacher delights him with stories of the outside world’s wonders.

When the new warden announces that Kabir is too old to stay, he’s suddenly released — without his mom — to fend for himself on the city streets of Chennai. Fortunately, Rani, another street kid, takes him under her wing and helps him eke out a living, even sharing the tree she calls home. Plotting their future is difficult and dangerous in a world that doesn’t value low-caste kids like them, but Rani has enough confidence for two, plus a trusty slingshot that comes in handy for hunting meals and handling bullies. And she has a clever parrot, Jay, that talks.

This isn’t quite the life Kabir dreamed of; still, he’s discovered he’s not the type to give up. Justice needs to be served, and he’s determined to show the world that he — and his mom — deserve a place in it.

Why I like this book:

Padma Venkatraman’s compelling and hopeful novel sheds light on the life of children born to mothers in India’s prisons. Her powerful storytelling and vivid imagery draws readers into Kabir’s sheltered life in the prison and the extraordinary journey he embarks upon to find his family in Bengaluru. His story will touch readers’ hearts.

The setting is culturally rich. Venkatraman is a lyrical writer and there are many poetic turns of phrase. The chapters are short (three pages), which quickly moves the story and is perfect for that slightly younger group of middle-graders and reluctant readers.  For fans of The Bridge Home, a character from the story makes an appearance. 

The plot is dangerous and suspenseful from the moment Kabir leaves the prison. The police release him to a man who claims to be Kabir’s uncle. Something feels “off” from the start, and Kabir has to plan a fast escape from this fake uncle. Kabir meets Rani, a street-smart homeless girl who makes a living telling fortunes — she’s from the Roma community in India. She has a talking parrot, Jay, perched on her shoulder. Jay offers many moments of comic relief. Rani shares her home with Kabir — a Banyan tree inside the gates of a haunted mansion. Kabir discovers he can use his voice to earn money and his instincts to judge the people he can trust on the outside.  

Venkatraman exposes India’s broken justice system and it’s impact on children and families who are considered lower caste. They live in extreme poverty and are forgotten. She also shows the tension that exists between the Hindus and Muslims, and problems over water shortages due to climate change and draught. 

Growing up in India, Venkatraman’s memories of starving children provide the inspiration for her novels, Born Behind Bars and The Bridge Home.  Her stories are well-researched and she draws her stories from the tales of the children she meets while doing volunteer work with her mother at respectable children’s homes and schools. Most important, I love that she writes about a culture she knows so well. I hope we see more uplifting novels from her in the future.

Make sure you check out the Author’s Note at the end to learn more about Born Behind Bars.

Padma Venkatraman was born in India and became an American after living in five countries and working as an oceanographer. She is also the author of The Bridge Home, A Time to Dance, Island’s End and Climbing the Stairs. She lives in Rhode Island. Visit her at her website, and on Twitter: @padmatv, Instagram: Venkatraman.padma

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

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.

 

The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillio

The Beatryce Prophecy

Kate DiCamillo, Author

Sophie Blackall, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 28, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes:  Girl, Goat, Monk, King, Prophesy, Medieval, Folktale, Love, Friendships  

Publisher’s Synopsis:

In a time of war, a mysterious child appears at the monastery of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. Gentle Brother Edik finds the girl, Beatryce, curled in a stall, wracked with fever, coated in dirt and blood, and holding fast to the ear of Answelica the goat. As the monk nurses Beatryce to health, he uncovers her dangerous secret, one that imperils them all—for the king of the land seeks just such a girl, and Brother Edik, who penned the prophecy himself, knows why.

And so it is that a girl with a head full of stories—powerful tales-within-the-tale of queens and kings, mermaids and wolves—ventures into a dark wood in search of the castle of one who wishes her dead. But Beatryce knows that, should she lose her way, those who love her—a wild-eyed monk, a man who had once been king, a boy with a terrible sword, and a goat with a head as hard as stone—will never give up searching for her, and to know this is to know everything. With its timeless themes, unforgettable cast, and magical medieval setting, Kate DiCamillo’s lyrical tale, paired with resonant black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall, is a true collaboration between masters.

We shall all, in the end, be led to where we belong. We shall all, in the end, find our way home.

Why I like this book:

The Beatryce Prophecy is an engaging medieval folktale and adventure that is exquisitely imagined by Kate DiCamillo. Her language is lyrical and her powerful storytelling will captivate the hearts of readers. The fast-paced plot is packed with tension, yet offset by the right amount of humor. It is a very special book that is soulful and moving.  

Captivating and lovable main characters are pitted against an evil king. Beatryce is a girl who can read and write, which is forbidden in the kingdom. She has suffered a trauma that is so terrible that she has tucked the memory away. She only knows her name. She’s smart, clever and wise beyond her years. Brother Edik is a monk in the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing who sees beauty everywhere and paints that beauty into his letters, despite a war and violence that surrounds the kingdom. He is a compassionate soul who is the ideal protector for Beatryce along with the strong and playful goat, Answelica, who can send the monks flying with a single butt. But the goat loves Beatryce and appears to communicate with her in a way that only the two understand. A brave orphan boy, Jack Dory, becomes her friend and helps Beatrice escape when the king’s soldiers search the kingdom for the “girl in the prophecy.” Jack, Answelica and Beatrice embark upon a dangerous journey to confront the king and find her mother. 

The Beatryce Propheccy is divided into “six books” with very short chapters, making this fable a perfect bedtime read for younger children. Each chapter begins with an ornately designed letter, much in the style of Brother Edik’s luminous letters. Sophie Blackall’s beautiful black-and-white illustrations pull readers into this medieval adventure and give readers a peek at Beatryce’s world. Verdict: This timeless fable will become a favorite among readers.

Kate DiCamillo is the author of Because of Winn Dixie, The Tiger Rising, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Tale of Despereaux, The Magician’s Elephant, Flora & Ulysses, and the Raymie Nightingale series. She also is the author of the chapter books series Mercy Watson and the Tales from Deckwoo Drive. A former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, she 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.

The Elephant in the Room by Holly Goldberg Sloan

The Elephant in the Room

Holly Goldberg Sloan

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Mar. 2, 2021

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Immigration, Turkish Americans. Separation, Elephants, Rescue, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis:

It’s been almost a year since Sila’s mother traveled halfway around the world to Turkey, hoping to secure the immigration paperwork that would allow her to return to her family in the United States.

The long separation is almost impossible for Sila to withstand. But things change when Sila accompanies her father (who is a mechanic) outside their Oregon town to fix a truck. There, behind an enormous stone wall, she meets a grandfatherly man, Gio Gardino, who only months before won the state lottery. Their new alliance leads to the rescue of a circus elephant named Veda, and then to a friendship with an unusual boy named Mateo, proving that comfort and hope come in the most unlikely of places.

A moving story of family separation and the importance of the connection between animals and humans, this novel has the enormous heart and uplifting humor that readers have come to expect from the beloved author of Counting by 7s.

What I like about this book:

Holly Goldberg Sloan hit a sweet spot with her novel, The Elephant in the Room. It is such an uplifting story because it is charming and sad, unique and creative. But most of all the story it is filled with heart and it will put a smile on readers’ faces. Her storytelling is captivating. 

The characters are realistic. Sila Tekin really struggles without her mother. She’s quiet in the classroom, her studies are falling behind and she eats lunch alone. The school notices and pairs her with another bilingual student, Mateo Lopez, who is on the autism spectrum. It’s an awkward pairing at first, but I love that Sila accepts Mateo without judgement. Their friendship is sealed when Sila invites Mateo to visit the Veda, the elephant Gio Gardino rescues. Sila and Mateo’s  world revolves around caring for the elephant. And it is always heartwarming to see the bond that forms between animals and humans. They become a family.  

Sloan deals with some major topics — deportation, separation, animal cruelty and autism — which add a lot of depth to the story. Readers will learn a lot about the rescue and care for circus elephants. A lot happens in the story and the viewpoint changes frequently among the different characters, which is told in third person. I really enjoyed Veda’s voice in some of the chapters. The ending is very satisfying.   

Holly Goldberg Sloan spent part of her childhood living in Istanbul, Turkey. After graduating from Wellesley College, she working in commercial production in Los Angeles and in her twenties began writing family feature films, including Angels in the Outfield and Made in America. She was the first woman to direct a live action film for the Walt Disney Company when she directed (and wrote) The Big Green. She is the author of six novels, including the E. B. White Read-Aloud Honor book Counting by 7s, the New York Times best seller Short, and the highly praised To Night Owl from Dogfish. She is the mother of two sons and lives with her husband in Los Angeles. You can visit Holly 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.

Too Shy to Say Hi by Shannon Anderson

Too Shy to Say Hi

Shannon Anderson, Author

Hiroe Nakata, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 9, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Bashfulness, Anxiety, School, Friendship, Rhyme 

Opening: My dog and I walk every day, just the two of us. We pass some kids out playing ball — “Let’s GO Barnabus.”

Synopsis:

School is coming up and Shelli really wants to be less shy. At home, she relates more to her bashful pet fish who hides in his cave than she does to her outgoing dog, who wants to greet everyone in sight. Even her parrot squawks a “Hi! Hiiii! Hello!” Shelli wants to make new friends and meet new people, but she is just too shy to say hi!

“When I am back at school next week / I want to give it a go! / Will someone want to play with me? / There’s only one way to know.”

Why I like this book

Shannon Anderson has written a charming and helpful book for children who are bashful or painfully shy. Her rhyming text is snappy and upbeat as Shelli takes itsy bitsy steps to prepare for her first day at school, like practicing waving and saying “hello” into a mirror, 

I like how Shelli realizes that her shyness interferes with her ability to make friends. There are no adults in the background encouraging her or giving her suggestions. She’s very introspective and bravely figures out how to step outside of her comfort zone and ask Lupita if she can sit next to her in the classroom and play together during recess.  

Shelli’s journey is supported by Hiroe Nakata’s expressive and lively illustrations. My favorite illustration is the look of surprise on Shelli’s face when she first speaks to Lupita. You can see how proud she is of herself and relieved that she made the effort.

Making new friends may be tough for children. This is a great read aloud book for parents and teachers to have on hand for kids who are anxious in social situations like school. 

Resources: There is a Readers Note for parents and teachers about ways to work with children who are very shy and not interacting with friends or participating in activities they would really enjoy. 

Shannon Anderson has taught first grade through college level and loves to write books for child and teachers. In 20019, Shannon was named one of the Top 10 Teachers who inspired The Today Show. She was named the JC Runyon Person of the Year for her work writing and speaking about social and emotional issues for kids. She lives in Indiana. Visit Shannon at her website,  on Facebook @AuthorShannonAnderson and Twitter @ShannonTeaches.

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 Magination Press in exchange for a review.

These Unlucky Stars by Gillian McDunn

These Unlucky Stars

Gillian McDunn, Author

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, Fiction, Mar. 2, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Self-confidence, Sibling rivalry, Intergenerational relationships, Friendship, Luck

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Annie has always been the odd one out in her family. Her dad and brother just don’t understand her creativity or spontaneity. They are so practical…so predictable. And ever since her mother left a few years ago, Annie has been reluctant to get close to anyone. She keeps to herself.

When a poor decision lands Annie in hot water, she must make amends by checking in daily with her elderly neighbor and helping with her weird dog all summer.  As Annie begins to connect with her neighbor Gloria, it becomes clear that Gloria won’t be able to live on her own for much longer. But it’s this brief and important friendship that gives Annie the confidence to let people in and see how rich life can be when you decide to chart your own path to happiness. 

Why I like this book:

Gillian McDunn has written a sensitive and charming novel about Annie, who has an artist’s heart. McDunn’s narrative beautifully captures the drama and emotion of middle grade students. Her memorable characters and deliberate pacing will keep readers fully engaged.

Annie is convinced she is the unluckiest person ever. She’s somewhat of a loner. She loves to crawl out her bedroom window and sit on the roof and stare at her beautiful mountains. She captures their shimmering sunrises and sunsets with her colored pencils. Neither her predictable and hardworking father and brother, Ray, appreciate her artistic talent. They see her as careless and worry about her safety. Ray is popular at school and is good at everything.  Annie is not Ray, so this makes for some interesting sibling rivalry.

When Annie accepts a dare to play “ding dong ditch” on an elderly woman, she causes her to fall and break her wrist. More bad luck. It only seems right that Annie helps Gloria everyday and cares for her dog, Otto, while the feisty old woman recovers — perfect for Annie. The intergenerational bond that forms between Annie and Gloria, makes this novel really shine! Annie begins to believe in herself and her talents, interact with other people, and creates her own life. 

The setting of Oak Branch, North Carolina, is so beckoning and rich with character. Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, the small town smells of fresh pine. Readers will want to stroll through the small town and purchase hot muffin’s from Lulu’s bakery, stop at the book store and visit JoJo and The Earl’s for some serious North Carolina BBQ. And there are many more interesting characters to meet along Main Street.

The novel is divided into five parts with short chapters that are perfect for reluctant readers. Scattered throughout the novel are Annie’s drawings, which give a great deal of insight into her feelings and chart her growth.

Gillian McDunn is the author of The Queen Bee and Me and Caterpillar Summer, which was selected for the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List and the Parents magazine Best Books of the Year list. She has lived in three time zones and is a fan of Eastern and Western barbecue. When she isn’t reading or writing, she is probably cooking, traveling, or spending time with her family. She lives near Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband and children, and a very silly dog named Friday.  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.

Oranges for the Sunsets by Tina Athaide

Orange for the Sunsets

Tina Athaide, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Fiction, 2019

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Friendship, Social class, Ethnic relations, East Indians, Uganda, Family life, Idi Amin, History

Publishers Synopsis:

Asha and her best friend, Yesofu, never cared about the differences between them: Indian. African. Girl. Boy. Short. Tall.

But when Ugandan President Idi Amin announces that Indians have ninety days to leave the country, suddenly those differences are the only things that people in Entebbe can see—not the shared after-school samosas or Asha cheering for Yesofu at every cricket game.

Determined for her life to stay the same, Asha clings to her world tighter than ever before. But Yesofu is torn, pulled between his friends, his family, and a promise of a better future. Now as neighbors leave and soldiers line the streets, the two friends find that nothing seems sure—not even their friendship. And with only days before the deadline, Asha and Yesofu must decide if the bravest thing of all might be to let each other go.

Why I like this book:

Tina Athaide’s powerful novel is gripping as it explores the 1972 expulsion of 50,000 Asians from Uganda. Athaide portrays the vast disparity between the two ethnic groups in Uganda through the daily lives of Asha Gomez, an Indian Ugandan, and Yesofu, an African Ugandan. Their friendship is depicted within the backdrop of historical events, a brutal dictator, social class, ethnic relations, family relationships, and hope. 

The narrative is told in the alternating voices of Asha and Yesofu, which is very effective because readers will understand the emotions each character has to confront individually and together as friends. All of the successful businesses, farms, schools, homes and churches are owned by Indians, while the Africans work hard labor in the sugar cane fields and are servants in Asian homes. Few African can get loans to buy land or start businesses.

Asha was born in Uganda and knows no other home. Her father is from Goa, India, and works in the Ministry of Tourism and they entertain foreign dignitaries. Her family is wealthy. She lives in a two-story house with a wraparound front porch. They can afford to eat kulfi or ice cream and serve their tea on beautiful silver trays. Her family have African servants, including Yesofu’s mother, Fara, who works as a housekeeper and cook. Asha is a compassionate, caring, brave and determined character. But she’s also very naive to the social injustices.  She never has visited Yesofu’s home or thinks to ask Yesofu about his life. 

Yesofu’s life is a stark contrast to Asha’s. His family lives in a two-room shack made of “wattle and daub — woven rods and twigs plastered with clay and mud and topped with a grass roof.” Yesofu sleeps on a woven mat and gathers branches for firewood and hauls water from the well twice daily. His mother has very little education and his Baba works in the fields all day. Yesofu’s and his brother Esi’s education is paid for by Asha’s father. Yesofu dreams of getting a scholarship to attend college and playing professional cricket.  At first, Idi Amin’s talk about a brighter future for Africans excites Yesofu. His Baba may be able to buy land. He may be able to attend college and have a better life. So he joins his friends and family in support the actions of Amin.

This is a period in history I wished I’d followed more closely in the 70s. So I’m very grateful to gain some understanding through Athaide’s novel, which is loosely based on her own life there. Her novel is well-researched. It really will help readers understand what happens when racial nationalism is used to rid a country of other ethnicities. President Idi Amin promises to help African Ugandans. But he seizes Indian properties, businesses, bank accounts. He is violent and commits torture and murder. Friends become enemies. There are no winners. And Yesofu begins to sees a darker side to Imin’s promises. Yesofu’s comment says it all: “Idi Amin had promised change would come to Uganda. And he was right. Everything had changed. No Asha. No Akello. No jobs. No money for school fees. No food, Dada Amin had promised a great future, but a future is hard to build when there’s nothing left.” 

I highly recommend Orange for the Sunsets. Readers won’t be able to put it down. Make sure you read her Author’s Note, the 90 Days in History, additional resources and view her personal family photos.

Review:For those wondering how to discuss the dangers of manipulative and toxic nationalism with children, this delicately told story is it. Orange for the Sunsets is a nuanced and balanced way to see politics through a child’s eyes.”— Nadia Hashimi, M.D., author of The Sky at Our Feet and One Half from the East.

Tina Athaide was born in Uganda and grew up in London and Canada. While her family lift Entebbe just prior to the expulsion, she has memories of refugee family and friends staying with them in their London home. The stories and conversations she listened to through the years became the inspiration for this book. Tina now lives in California with her husband, Ron, and their daughter, Isabella.

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.