Singing with Elephants by Margarita Engle

 Check out Multicultural Children’s Book Day – Jan. 26, 2021

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Singing with Elephants

Margarita Engle, Author

Viking Books for Young Readers, Historical Fiction, May 31, 2022

Pages: 224

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Animals, Elephants, Nature preserve, Rescue, Gabriela Mistral, Poet, Intergenerational relationships, Cuban, Belonging, Friendship, Novel in verse, Multicultural

Publisher’s Synopsis:

A powerful novel in verse from Newbery and Pura Belpré Award-winning author Margarita Engle about the friendship between a young girl and the poet Gabriela Mistral that leads to healing and hope for both of them.

Cuban-born eleven-year-old Oriol lives in Santa Barbara, California, where she struggles to belong. But most of the time that’s okay, because she enjoys helping her parents care for the many injured animals at their veterinary clinic.

Then Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature moves to town, and aspiring writer Oriol finds herself opening up. And when she discovers that someone is threatening the life of a baby elephant at her parents’ clinic, Oriol is determined to take action. As she begins to create a world of words for herself, Oriol learns it will take courage and strength to do what she thinks is right—even if it means keeping secrets from those she loves.

A beautifully written, lyrically told story about the power of friendship—between generations, between humans and animals—and the potential of poetry to inspire action, justice, and acceptance.

Why I like Singing with Elephants

Margarita Engle’s compelling free-verse novel is about learning a new culture, loneliness, a love of animals and the power of friendships. Her narrative is spare in details, yet she paints big pictures with her words and evokes rich visual images. It is truly a novel written straight from the author’s  heart.

Oriol is a memorable, likable, determined and courageous character with a strong voice. She lives in Santa Barbara with her parents, who are veteranarians, and an older sister. Oriol misses Cuba and her beloved Abuelita, who recently passes. English is hard to write, speak and understand. Therefore, she stands out and is bullied at school, when her greatest wish is to belong and be accepted among her peers. Oriol turns to her poetry and the animals who seem to understand her. Especially Chandra, a pregnant elephant that lives at a wildlife-zoo and is under the care of her parents. However there is a mystery Oriol must solve. A bond forms between Oriol and Chandra and they dance together in their own way. An Oriol poem:

OUT LOUD

Hand in trunk with the elephant / I recite poems, and together / we sway as if dancing, / not mourning. 

Elephants seem to understand / the part of poetry that has no words / just music that echoes / like wind chimes/ or bells.  

I love intergenerational relationships. This story hit a sweet spot for me when Oriol meets an older woman from Chile who begins teaching her how poetry can help her express and understand her emotions. Oriol finds her gentle guidance salve for her soul. She soon finds herslef writing her words in English, in Spanish, and sometimes in both languages at one time. Oriol is not immediately aware she is being tutored by Gabriela Mistral,who is a poet, writer, educator, peace diplomat, and. the only Latin American winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

Engle’s fascinating Cuban-based novel is inspired by the late Gabriela Mistral, who is the only real character in the book, She did live in Santa Barbera around 1947. Make sure you check out the Author’s Note at the end and and exerpt from Gabriela’s Poetry for Children that inspires singing and dancing. This novel would also be a wonderful read for reluctant readers.

Margarita Engle is the Cuban American author of many books, including the verse novels Your Heart, My Sky; Rima’s Rebellion: Newbery Honor winner The Surrender Trees; and Forst World. Her verse memoirs includ Soaring Earth and Enchanted Air, the latter of which received the Pura Belpré Award and a Walter Dean Myers Honor, and was a finalist from YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, among other honors. Her picture books include Drum Dream Girl, Hancing Hands, and The Flying Girls. Visit her at MargaritaEngle.com.

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 wonterful reviews by KitLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

 

 

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Stellarlune by Shannon Messenger

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Stellarlune

Shannon Messenger, Author

Aladdin, Fiction, Nov. 8, 2022

Suitable for ages 12 and up

Pages: 738

Themes: Fantasy,  Magic, Adventure, Magical creatures, Friendship, Villains

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Sophie Foster changed the game. Now she’s facing impossible choices: when to act, when to trust, and when to let go.

Her friends are divided and scattered, and the Black Swan wants Sophie to focus on their projects. But her instincts are leading her somewhere else.

Stellarlune—and the mysterious Elysian—might be the key to everything. But finding truth in the Lost Cities always requires sacrifice. And as the Neverseen’s plans sharpen into terrifying focus, it appears that everyone has miscalculated. The Lost Cities’ greatest lie could destroy everything. And in the battle that follows, only one thing is certain: nothing will ever be the same.

In this stunning ninth book in the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling Keeper of the Lost Cities series, Sophie and her friends discover the true meaning of power—and evil.

Why I like Stellarlune:

Many teens have been gifted Stellarlune over the holidays. so I am going to be careful and not spoil anything for readers.  First of all, Karin Paorocki’s cover is stunning!  Gorgeous and packed with action!  

Shannon Messenger is certainly setting the stage in Stellarlune for the fate of the Lost Cities. Dedicated fans will find  her story gripping, risky, and thought-provoking. This story ties up loose ends as it prepares readers for what is to come in her final novel next year. How will it all end, only Messenger knows. And yes Shannon, some readers will think your ending is “evil,” (your words, not mine). But that cliff hangar is spectacular and will leave readers with gaping mouths and playing out many scenarios in their minds until the final novel is released and all is revealed. 

Two standouts for me in this series are Messenger’s magnificent worldbuilding and her impressive cast of characters, who are growing up. Sophie is more mature, and has her abilities under control. But she is a teenager, so there are times she is impulsive, over zealous, headstrong and reckless as she carries the elven world on her shoulders. Needless to say there is a lot of normal teen drama in this book. Her friends Fitz, Biana, Dex, Linh, Tam, Marilla, Maruca, and Wylie are upset with her lack of team work. So Sophie’s working hard on finetuning her leadership skills, to keep Team Valliant strong and one step ahead of the Neverseen. And there is a little more romance in this story. Keefe–Sophie fans will be cheering. But Keefe flees to the Lost Cities to hide from his evil mother, Lady Gisela, who is conducting experiments on him and triggering dangerous abilities he can’t control.

The plot is action-packed. It picks up from the previous book, where Sophie and a few friends return from blowing up a hidden Neverseen storage facility. They retrieve valuable information, including the stolen “caches” of former Councillor Kenric and Fintan, an evil Pyrokinetic. Readers will know that there will be retaliation at some point in the story. But, lines are beginning to blur a bit between good and evil, when Sophie tries to understand hidden secrets from the ancient world the Council has hidden for a millennium. A meeting with the enemy only reinforces that. premise. Sophie and Team Valliant are beginning to question how the secrets have contributed to the instability they are all feeling in the Lost Cities. Sophie knows that CHANGE is inevitable and it will be fascinating how it plays out in the end.  I will not share anything more as I don’t want to spoil anything for readers.  

So while we read, Shannon is masterfully writing and plotting the finale!  Stellarlune is a thrilling read for her worldwide fans! If you are new to the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, do not start with this book! Start with the first volume and you can binge read the entire series.

Shannon Messenger graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where she learned — among other things — that she liked watching movies much better than making them. She studied art, screenwriting, and film production, but she realized her real passion was writing stories for children. She’s the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the award-winning middle grade series Keeper of the Lost Cities, as well as the Sky Fall series for young adults. Her books have been featured on multiple state reading lists, published in numerous countries, and translated into many different languages. She lives in Southern California with her family — and an embarrassing number of cats. Visit Shannon 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 purchased copy.

Cress Watercress by Gregory Maguire

Cress Watercress 

Gregory Maguire, Author

David Litchfield, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Mar. 29, 2022

Pages: 224

Suitable fore ages: 8-12

Themes: Animals, Family, Loss, Moving, Friendships, Independence,  Fantasy, Magic

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Gregory Maguire turns his trademark wit and wisdom to an animal adventure about growing up, moving on, and finding community. When Papa doesn’t return from a nocturnal honey-gathering expedition, Cress holds out hope, but her mother assumes the worst. It’s a dangerous world for rabbits, after all. Mama moves what’s left of the Watercress family to the basement unit of the Broken Arms, a run-down apartment oak with a suspect owl landlord, a nosy mouse super, a rowdy family of squirrels, and a pair of songbirds who broadcast everyone’s business.

Can a dead tree full of annoying neighbors, and no Papa, ever be home? In the timeless spirit of E. B. White and The Wind and the Willowsyet thoroughly of its time—this read-aloud and read-alone gem for animal lovers of all ages features an unforgettable cast that leaps off the page in glowing illustrations by David Litchfield. This tender meditation on coming-of-age invites us to flourish wherever we find ourselves.

Why I like Cress Watercress:

Gregory Maguire’s Cress Watercress is a delightful celebration of the wonders and beauty of the natural world, along with the hidden dangers and threats lurking on rocks, behind trees and in the plants and flowers. 

Reading Gregory Maguire’s Cress Watercress, stirred up so many fond childhood  memories of  sitting on my mother’s lap and listening to Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit,. I was eager to read Maguire’s (Wicked) more contemporary story about a family of rabbits who deal with grief, loss and all the difficulties of life, while learning to create a home where they can heal and move forward after a tragedy. The animal characters are relatable with human emotions. The story is both sad and happy. It’s  packed with adventure and suspense, and has a strong sense of community.

Maguire’s imagery is rich and vivid and a delight to read.  For example, “The setting sun was a lumpy clementine in a net bag of string clouds. The air, so cool and damp. A few birds moaned in falling tones.” David Litchfield’s lively and breathtaking artwork makes this story sing. Readers will delight in his colorful eye-popping images. I believe my favorite illustration is the split oak tree apartment, which alludes to a  theme of dark and light in the story. It is a perfect read aloud book for bedtime, with short chapters and delightfully humorous, cranky, witty, conniving and dangerous characters. 

Gregory Maguire, is the author of the incredibly popular  Wicked, which inspired the musical. He is also the author of several books for children, including What-the-Dickens, a New York Times best seller, and Egg an Spoon,, a New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of the Year. Gregory Maguire lives outside Boston.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Make sure you check out the many links to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

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

 

 

The Superpower Sisterhood – Perfect Picture Book Friday

The Superpower Sisterhood

Jenna Bush Hager & Barbara Pierce Bush, Authors

Cyndi Wojciechowski, Illustrator

Little Brown Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Apr. 19, 2022

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Friendship, Sisters, Cooperation, Talents, Working together, Diversity

Opening: “I’ve lived here my whole life. Just me, Mom and Dad, and our closest  neighbors: the Millers, the Díazes, the Franks, and the Rosas.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Emma has been lonely all her life growing up in a neighborhood with no other kids—until the day two sets of sisters move to her street! The girls immediately form a club, only to discover that something mysterious is going on. They’ve each always had special talents, but when they work together, it’s almost like their skills become…superpowers. Now the sisterhood is ready to help their neighborhood thrive, as long as they can keep the spooky Ms. Wigglestoot from discovering their secret. Or maybe there’s a way these super sisters can help their archnemesis too….

From former first daughters Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush, authors of the #1 New York Times bestselling Sisters FirstThe Superpower Sisterhood makes it clear that with sisters by your side, life is pretty exciting. And anything is possible!

Why I like The Superpower Sisterhood:

The Superpower Sisterhood is a beautiful and inspiring tribute to the power of girls combining their talents and using them to help their neighbors and community. And if you are an only child, you can find sisters in the friendships you make in your neighborhood, with cousins, and at school. Cyndi Wojciechowski’s spirited pastel illustrations really make this story sing. And look at the powerful cover!

For Emma, who narrates the story, choosing her sisters is powerful because each of her new friends has a special ability to offer — the knowledge of math and design, art, writing, dance and music — and together they can accomplish anything. They build a club house, fix a neighbor’s potty, build planters for Mrs. Rosa’s roses, and choreograph “an epic flash mob” that even the neighbors join in. These diverse and memorable characters demonstrate that friendship is not limited to any one kind of person — even the mysterious Ms. Wigglestoot. 

Make sure you check out the message from the Bush sisters at they end of the book to discover the inspiration behind their story. It will surprise readers. And they also include a page of photographs of Emma and her friends and other things they do together. The Superpower Sisterhood is a perfect read in classrooms and is a special gift book.

Resources: Encourage children students to draw a picture of the girls they consider their “sisters.” It can be a blood sister or girlfriends doing their favorite activity or helping someone.

Jenna Bush Hager is the cohost of the fourth hour of the TODAY show with Hoda Kotb and the founder of the TODAY book club Read with Jenna. She is an editor-at-large for Southern Living magazine. She is the coauthor of the #1 New York Times bestselling Ana’s Story and two children’s books that she wrote with her mother, Laura—Our Great Big Backyard and Read All About It—as well as the #1 New York Times bestsellers Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life written with her sister, Barbara, in both adult and children’s editions. She lives with her husband and three children in New York City.

Barbara Pierce Bush is the board chair and cofounder of Global Heal Corps, an organization that has mobilized more than one thousand young leaders who take an innovative approach to solving some of the world’s biggest global health challenges. She is the coauthor of the #New York Times bestsellers Sisters First and Sister First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life and recently graduated with her master degree from Harvard University.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

 

 

 

Amanda In France: Fire in the Cathedral by Darlene Foster

Amanda in France: Fire in the Cathedral

Darlene Foster, Author

Central Avenue Publishing, Sep. 13, 2022

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Themes: France, Travel, Adventure, Mystery, Fire, Cathedral, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Amanda explores the exciting streets of Paris, the fabulous Palace of Versailles and the gardens of the painter Claude Monet, while being drawn into the mystery surrounding the destructive fire of Notre Dame cathedral.

Amanda is in love! With Paris – the city of love. She’s in awe of the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, and Notre Dame Cathedral. While there, she gets to work as a volunteer and stay in a famous book store, along with her bestie, Leah, and Leah’s eccentric Aunt Jenny. A dream come true for a book lover like Amanda.

Except, while she’s at the Paris Opera House there is a bomb threat. Then the lights go out during their visit to the Louvre. Worst of all, a devastating fire blazes in Notre Dame. Why does a mysterious man, who claims to be a busker, writer and artist, show up every time something bad happens?

Join Amanda as she explores the exciting streets of Paris, the fabulous Palace of Versailles and the gardens of the painter Claude Monet, all the time looking for clues as to who would want to destroy such a beautiful, historic cathedral.

Why I like Amanda in France:

Foster has created another exciting and lively adventure story for young readers who enjoy traveling and solving a good mystery. Fans of the Amanda Travels series will quickly pour through the pages exploring the historic sites, munching on sweet macarons and baguettes, and falling in love with Paris along with Amanda.

Amanda is spirited and fun-loving character with a lot of smarts. Her inquisitive nature and keen radar about people draws the girls into a mystery which results in some dangerous situations. Leah is a little more sophisticated, but faithfully remains by Amanda’s side. She’s a nice balance for Amanda, especially when they run into some unsavory characters who may be involved with Notre Dame Cathedral fire. Amanda meets a lot of knew people and I appreciate the subtle message about not judging other people by how the speak or dress. 

I love the setting for this story, as I’ve always wanted to visit Paris. It’s been delightful to journey with Amanda to the Eiffel Tower, the cathedrals, the Paris opera House, Palace of Versailles, and the Louvre. Foster knows her audience and doesn’t talk-down to her young readers. The dialogue is as realistic as are they characters.

Bottom line, I believe that Foster’s Amanda Travel series is a wonderful way for teens to learn about other cultures and be inspired to do some traveling of their own some day.  Make sure you check out the discussion questions at the end of the book.

Amanda in France: Fire in the Cathedral is the ninth book in the Amanda Travels series: Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask; Amanda in Spain: The Girl in the Painting; Amanda in England: The Missing Novel: Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone: Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music;; Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind; Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action; and Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady.  Foster has written the books in such a manner that they cab be read in any order, but I recommend you start with the first book.

Darlene Foster: Growing up on a ranch near Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, Darlene Foster dreamt of writing, traveling the world, and meeting interesting people. She also believed in making her dreams come true. It’s no surprise she’s now the award-winning author of Amanda Travels, a children’s adventure series featuring a spunky twelve-year-old who loves to travel to unique places. Readers of all ages enjoy following Amanda as she unravels one mystery after another. When not traveling herself, Darlene divides her time between the west coast of Canada and the Costa Blanca, Spain with her husband and entertaining rescue dogs, Dot and Lia. Visit her at her website

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Make sure you check out the many links to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

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

 
 

Alone Like Me by Rebecca Evans

Alone Like Me

Rebecca Evans, Author and Illustrator

Annie Schwartz Books, May 3, 2022

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Rural immigrants, China, Moving, Educational system, Friendship, Multicultural

Opening: “I used to go to school in the mountains of China, where I was born, but since we moved, my desk there is empty. My parents can’t afford to pay for school here in the crowded city.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Liling and her family have moved from their rural farm in China to an overwhelming urban city. Because of Chinese law, Liling can’t go to school and spends her days with Mama or Baba at work. At the playground, the other children throw sand at her and tease her old red coat and dirty shoes. She is considered a second class citizen.

But after she shares a smile with a girl in a bright yellow jacket who lives in an apartment beneath hers, Liling has a big idea! She draws a picture and lowers it down to the girl–Qiqi–who returns it with a drawing of her own. When the new friends meet face to face, Liling takes Qiqi’s hand, and they walk bravely into the park–together.

With luscious watercolor illustrations and lovely poetic text, this achingly beautiful story is about our universal desire for connection, and the comfort we feel when we find a true friend.

Why I like Alone Like Me:

Alone Like Me is a beautiful and heartfelt story about the power of friendship. Liling moves from her home in the mountains to a bustling Chinese city.  Because she is a rural immigrant, Liling and her family are considered second class citizens. She can’t go to school, she’s lonely and desperately wants a friend. And she spots that friend in a yellow coat at the market one day.

This story is unique. I can honestly say that I have never read a picture book like this one. It immediately draws reader’s into the story. I didn’t know about the hūkðu record that identifies a person as a rural or urban dweller and the limitations imposed on school attendance, jobs, food purchases and housing. 

The stunning artwork really shows the story. The muted blue/gray watercolor illustrations emphasize the sadness Liling feels. The only color is Liling’s bright red coat  and her friend Qiqi’s bright yellow slicker. The city, work and housing scenes give a real sense of Liling’s new life. 

I love the glossary and pronunciation of Chinese words and expressions at the beginning of the story. It is a quick guide for readers to check out words and expressions throughout the story. Make sure you check out the author’s note at the end, as readers will learn about the inspiration behind the story and information about China.

Resources:

Rebecca Evans grew up near Buffalo, New York in a family full of musicians, artists, and crazy people with a love for life. She started drawing as soon as she could hold a crayon and just never stopped. She new from a very young age that she wanted to be an artist when she grew up. She has illustrated and authored more than twenty-two children’s books, teaching art at a local Art Center and publishing artwork with magazines and multiple publishing houses. She regularly speaks at elementary schools and share her love of literature and art with children. She’s also the Co-Regional Advisor for the MD/DE/WV SCBWI and has mentored with EB Lewis. She lives in Maryland and enjoys spending time with her husband four young children, while working as author/illustrator from her home studio.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Unicorn Island: Beneath the Sand by Donna Galanti

Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath the Sand (Vol. 2)

Donna Galanti, Author

Bethany Stanecliffe, Illustrator

Andrews McMeel Publishing, Mar. 8, 2022

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Unicorns, Mythical creatures, Mysterious Island, Adventure, Fantasy, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Samantha’s (Sam) life couldn’t get much better. Since coming to Foggy Harbor to stay with her Uncle Mitch while her mother tours with an orchestra, she’s discovered a magical island full of unicorns and is learning how to protect them with her new friend, Tuck by her side. Foggy Harbor is finally starting to feel like home,

But just when everything seems perfect, a mysterious illness befalls the unicorn herd and threatens to rob them of their immortality. As Sam and Tuck race to help find a cure, she must confront a dark secret that her Uncle Mitch has spent her entire life trying to protect her from — a secret that links her own past to the future of the herd.

learns the truth behind Aunt Sylvie’s disappearance and her own connection to the island. With determination, courage, and fierce loyalty to one another—and to their code as unicorn protectors—the kids set out to protect the island’s secrecy and the unicorns’ very existence.

Why I like this book:

Donna Galanti’s Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath Sand is the second volume in this enchanting contemporary fantasy, which is packed with adventure, mystery and tension. It will captivate readers’ imaginations and lure them into a magical world of mythical beasts where they can learn to become “unicorn protectors.” 

The characters are diverse and believable. Samantha (Sam) is a curious and resilient protagonist who longs to become a unicorn protector. She befriends Tuck, the veterinarian’s son, is very resourceful during difficult situations and a supportive friend. Uncle Mitch is somewhat stern and elusive at first, but welcomes their help when he needs rescuing.  Sam can’t help but feel that Uncle Mitch is keeping secrets from her. 

Galanti’s narrative is engaging and immersive,  Her plot is solid with elements of danger that will keep readers quickly turning pages. The story also has a strong element of realism. This is the second volume with four books to follow. And it ends with some interesting cliffhangers.

Although Unicorn Island is for students 8-12, it will also appeal to younger readers (7-10) who aren’t quite ready for wordy and lengthy MG fantasy novels. The book has a large type face and includes many gorgeous colorful illustrations by Bethany Stancliffe, which add to the magic.  I believe this book would also appeal to reluctant readers and kids with dyslexia.

Make sure you check out the great backmatter at the end of the book. Galanti shares some history about horns and hooves, secret rooms and passageways, invasive species, and healing salves. 

Donna Galanti wanted to be a writer ever since she wrote a screenplay at seven years old and acted it out with the neighborhood kids. She attended an English school, housed in a magical castle, where her wild imagination was held back only by her itchy uniform (bowler hat and tie included!). She now lives with her family and two crazy cats in an old farmhouse and is the author of the middle-grade fantasy adventures Joshua and The Lightning Road and Joshua and the Arrow Realm.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

 

Haven: A Small Cat’s Big Adventure by Megan Wagner Lloyd

Haven: A Small Cat’s Big Adventure

Megan Wagner Lloyd, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Aug. 16, 2022

Pages: 144

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Adventure, Cat, Fox, Animals, Love, Loss, Self-confidence, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis:

When her cherished human, Ma Millie falls ill, a timid housecat ventures into the wild to seek help in this adventure about love, loss, and finding the truest version of ourselves.

A warm, cozy lap. The toasty smell of baking bread. Tasty food served in a bright-blue bowl. These and other comforts make Haven’s life as an indoor pet heaven. All thanks to her beloved human and rescuer, Ma Millie. But when Ma Millie becomes too sick to care for her, the cat’s cozy life is turned upside down, and Haven decides she must seek out another human for help. Anything for Ma Millie! Her vow pulls her out of her safe nest into the shadowy forest and down unfamiliar and dangerous roads. When her first plan fails, Haven meets a wilderness-savvy fox who volunteers as an ally, and their perilous journey together brings some victories. But Haven finds herself pitted against creatures far wilder than she ever could be, testing her strength and spirit to their limits. Will her loyalty to Ma Millie—and her newfound confidence in herself—be enough to help Haven see the quest through to its conclusion? Can she stand up against the fierce predator that is tracking her every move?

Why I like Haven:

This is a sweet and heartfelt story for animal lovers about the unbreakable bond between Haven and Ma Millie, who finds the abandoned kitten on her front porch and nurses her back to health. Haven leads a pampered life with her human. When her beloved Ma Millie becomes ill, it’s Haven’s turn to get help.  

I like the unlikely pairing of a cat with a fox. It adds an element of danger to the plot. She meets a fox who could trick her and fill his belly, but he is intrigued by Haven’s courage and decides to help her.  After all his life is rather dull. “Sleep, wake. Hunt, eat. Repeat.” They could stick to the road and risk being hit, but venture into the wild forest where danger lurks around every corner  — especially a bobcat tracking the fox.    

Readers will be glued to Haven’s courageous adventure. Haven and the fox rely on and learn from each other. As her self-confidence grows, this pampered cat may have some tricks that will save the fox. This cat may be small, but she has a big heart.

This book is a perfect story for readers just beginning middle grade books — and for older reluctant readers. The chapters are very short, sometimes just one page. The third person narrative gives readers insight into Haven’s thoughts, as well as the other animals she meets along her journey in the wild forest. 

Megan Wagner Lloyd is the author of the graphic novel Allergic, as well as the picture books Finding WildFort-Building TimeBuilding Books, and Paper MiceMegan Wagner Lloyd lives with her family in the Washington, DC, area.

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. 

Linked by Gordon Korman

Linked

Gordon Korman, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Jul. 20, 2021

Pages: 256

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Hate, Tolerance, Holocaust, Jews, KKK, Self-discovery, Friendship, Community 

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Link, Michael, and Dana live in a quiet town in Chokecherry, Colorado. But it’s woken up very quickly when someone sneaks into middle school and vandalizes it with a swastika.

Nobody can believe it. How could such a symbol of hate end up in the middle of their school? Who would do such a thing?

Because Michael was the first person to see it, he’s the first suspect. Because Link is one of the most popular guys in school, everyone’s looking to him to figure it out. And because Dana’s the only Jewish girl in the whole town, everyone’s treating her more like an outsider than ever.

The mystery deepens as more swastikas begin to appear. Some students decide to fight back and start a project to bring people together instead of dividing them further. The closer Link, Michael, and Dana get to the truth, the more there is to face-not just the crimes of the present, but the crimes of the past.

With Linked, Gordon Korman, the author of the acclaimed novel Restart, poses a mystery for all readers where the who did it? isn’t nearly as important as the why?

Why I liked Linked:

Gordon Korman’s inspiring novel is about students working together to make a statement that HATE will not be tolerated in their middle school. Korman’s contemporary story is a timely read for young people. It connects the past, present and future into a powerful and important MUST read novel about hope.

Alternating voices allows readers to really get into the thoughts and emotions of well-developed  and believable main characters — Link, Michael, Dana, Caroline, Pouncey — and many more supporting characters. Link is the popular athlete, known to pull pranks with his group of friends, until a sobering family secret emerges. Dana is the only Jewish girl in school and feels like an outsider.  Michael is president of the art club and Pouncey’s grandfather is rumored to have been a member of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), Everyone is suspect, especially after 26 more swastikas continue to appear.

Together the students decide to make a statement and make a paper chain with six million links, each honoring a Holocaust victim. Before long, the entire community, country and world are involved in the paper chain project about tolerance and remembrance — thanks to a popular and questionable  “YouTube” video blogger who covers the events. There are many more moments in this story that demonstrate how kids can make a difference.

The plot is strong, realistic and relevant today.  Kudos to the author for writing a story that introduces readers to the horrors of the Holocaust, racism and the KKK in an understandable way. He shows how the past still can influence the present and how hate is not acceptable. There are many dark secrets and major twists and turns in this engaging mystery. The ending surprised me. The most important takeaway for readers is that the stories of the Holocaust and its victims must be told to each new generation and not forgotten.  

This story has a lot of heart and is one of my favorite reads this year. Although the subject of hate may seem heavy, it is balanced well with the students’ response and Korman’s uplifting writing and sense of humor throughout the story. And of course there is a lot of typical middle school drama in the mix. Make sure you read the author’s note about the story at the end.

Gordon Korman is the #1 bestselling author of such modern classics as Restart, War Stories, Slacker, Whatshisface, Ungifted, and This Can’t be Happening at Macdonald Hall (published when he was fourteen). He lives in New York with his family. Visit Korman at his 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. 

*I won this review copy of Linked on Greg Pattridge’s website Always in the Middle

 

 

My Own Lightning by Lauren Wolk

My Own Lightning

Lauren Wolk, Author

Dutton Children’s Books, Fiction, May 3, 2022

Suitable for ages: 10-12

Pages: 320

Themes:  Storms, Family relationships, Farm life, Child abuse, Animal abuse, Animal rescue, Friendship

Opening: “I didn’t know a storm was coming. Had I known, I might have done things differently.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

It’s been several months since the tragic events set in motion by bully Betty Glengarry, and the routine of daily life in Wolf Hollow has slowly returned. But for Annabelle McBride it’s hard to move forward and make peace with what feels like threadbare justice.

Newly warm summer days are about to bring a jolt of change on the winds of a powerful storm. In its wake, the search for her brother’s missing dog will set Annabelle on a new path that brings her to unfamiliar doorsteps and reunites her with a too-familiar adversary—Andy Woodberry, who was complicit in Betty’s most terrible acts. Growing up and blazing her own trail will soon force Annabelle to reexamine deeply felt truths—about people, about justice, about herself—that had once seemed so uncomplicated.

Bestselling author Lauren Wolk (Beyond the Bright Sea, Echo Mountain) returns to World War II–era Western Pennsylvania in this luminous sequel to her Newbery Honor–winning debut, Wolf Hollow, proving once again why her acclaimed novels have been celebrated as “historical fiction at its finest.”

Why I like My Own Lightning:

My Own Lightning is a captivating sequel to Wolf Hollow. It is a brilliantly crafted novel that is gripping from the start. Lauren Wolk’s rural 1943 setting, memorable characters, engaging plot and gorgeous imagery are so brilliantly intertwined so that they create a wonderful experience for readers. My Own Lightning is definitely a gift to her fans.

The story follows Annabelle McBride and her life in Wolf Hollow months after the tragic deaths of her kind-hearted friend, Toby, and the school bully, Betty Glengarry. Annabelle is still trying to process all that has happened and how she will move forward with Andy Woodberry, who still lives nearby in the hollow.  Annabelle is kind-hearted to her very core, resilient and wise.  

Annabelle’s new journey begins with a fierce thunderstorm that she can’t out run. She’s struck by lightning and her only memory is of someone’s rough hands pounding on her chest to jumpstart her heart and save her life. Who is this hero? Her recovery is swift, but she is left with heightened senses of smell, sight and sound and a new understanding of animals’ feelings.

Since the storm, many animals including her brother’s dog Buster are missing. Her new “powers” lead her down a path of helping lost and neglected animals. They also bring her face-to-face with Andy Woodberry. There are other new characters, like Mr. Edelman and his daughter, Nora, who are rescuing animals and treating them in their barn. She also crosses paths with a true villain in Mr. Graf, who is searching for his lost bull terrier, Zeus.

I also enjoyed the strong themes of family, friendship, and forgiveness. Readers will experience  Annabelle’s extended family living under one roof preparing meals together and all pitching in to help with the chores of running a farm. There is safety and healing that extends beyond the family to others in the community.  

Annabelle  (and readers) is challenged to explore many complicated situations and characters in her life and discern for herself what is true and what really matters. This is a story full of depth and a good dose of hope. And animal lovers will enjoy this story. 

Note: If you haven’t read Wolf Hollow, it would be helpful to understand the past before you read My Own Lightning.  Wolk’s body of work is “a result of everything she’s ever experienced.” 

Lauren Wolk is an award-winning poet, artist, and author of the adult novel Those Who Favor Fire, the Newbery Honor-winning novel Wolf Hollow, and the Scott O’Dell Award-winning novel Beyond the Bright Sea, and the acclaimed Echo Mountain, an NPR Best Book of the Year, a Horn Book Fanfare Selection, a Kirkus Best Book of the Year, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, and a Chicago Public Library Best Book of the Year. She was born in Baltimore and has since lived in California, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Canada, and Ohio. She now lives with her family on Cape Cod.

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.