Amanda in Malta by Darlene Foster

Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady (The Amanda Travels Series 8)

Darlene Foster, Author

Central Avenue Publishing, May 11, 2011

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Malta, Travel, Adventure, Mystery, Theft, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Amanda receives a postcard from her best friend, Leah, and is surprised to learn that she is in Malta with her Aunt Jenny. Reading between the lines, she senses Leah is in trouble. Desperate to help her, Amanda strikes the lottery when she’s invited to travel to Malta with her classmate Caleb Sorenson and his parents.

Amanda is intrigued by this exotic island in the middle of the Mediterranean, full of colourful history, sun-drenched limestone fortresses, stunning beaches and fascinating birds. But…who is killing the protected birds? Who stole a priceless artifact from the museum? And why is Leah acting so strange? She couldn’t possibly be involved in these illegal activities, or could she?

Join Amanda and her friends as they visit ancient temples, an exciting falconry and the enchanting Popeye Village, as they try to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Sleeping Lady.

What to like about this Amanda in Malta:

Readers who dream of visiting exotic places, will be captivated by Darlene Foster’s lively adventure story to Malta where there is so much history, unusual places to explore, problems to solve and a dangerous mystery. Fans of the Amanda Travels series will be thrilled with this fast-paced story set in paradise.

Amanda is an upbeat, inquisitive, caring and memorable character that teens will want to befriend — especially since she has keen radar and really enjoys solving a good mystery. And she has a knack for mishaps, like getting stung by a jellyfish her first day in Malta. It’s fun to see Amanda reunited again with her best friends Leah and Caleb. Leah is caught up in a dangerous situation with her Aunt Jenny, an archeologist, and is trying to outrun and outsmart some really bad guys. Although Caleb is deathly afraid of fish, he is a great super sleuth, the group photographer and a good balance for Amanda through some awkward moments. 

I find Foster books educational for young readers and adults as Amanda, Leah and Caleb learn about the history, geography, architecture, local cuisine, and visit some very cool sites in Malta that include:  

  • Ghar Dalam, “cave of darkness, ” that is over 500,000  years old. It holds evidence of the first humans on the island, such as Neanderthal teeth, from 7,400 years ago.
  • A boat trip through the Blue Grotto Caves where the crystal clear waters change colour from the reflections off the cave walls. Simply paradise.
  • The Falconry Center for many rescued birds of prey. The Maltese falcon is known for its speed as it can reach over 320 kilometers per hour or 200 miles per hour. It is an endangered species in many places of the world. Storks nesting on the St. Lucian Tower.
  • The Popeye Village in Anchor Bay, the location where Robert Williams’ filmed the movie in 1980. 
  • St. John’s Cathedral, built by the Knights in 1572. As each knight gained wealth, he and his family donated art and decorations. The inlaid marble graves show where many knights were buried.
  • The Museum of Archeology, where there is a 4,000-year-old sculpture of the sleeping lady. 

Resources: Make sure you check out the discussion questions at the end of the book.

Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady is the eighth book in the Amanda Travels serves: 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; and Amanda in New Mexico : Ghosts in the Wind; and Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action. Foster has written the books in such a manner that they can be read in any order, but I recommend you start with the first book.

Darlene Foster was brought up on a ranch in southern Alberta. She dreamt of writing, travelling the world and meeting interesting people. She believes everyone is capable of making their dreams come true. It’s no surprise that she’s now the award-winning author of a children’s adventure series about a travelling twelve-year-old girl. A world-traveller herself, Darlene spends her time in Vancouver, Canada and Costa Blanca in Spain with her husband and her amusing dogs, Dot and Lia. Visit her at her website or on Twitter @supermegawoman.

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

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

Leonard (My Life As a Cat) by Carlie Sorosiak

Carlie Sorosiak, Author

Walker Books US, Fiction, Apr. 13, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Cat, Alien, Immortal, Family, Friendship, Intergenerational relationships 

Synopsis:  

When 11-year-old Olive rescues a cat from flood waters, she doesn’t know that he’s an alien. Olive names him Leonard and takes him home. Leonard comes from a galaxy where the species don’t have bodies or individual personalities. They exist as one being. When they turn 300 years old, the members have the opportunity to visit planet Earth, become any creature they wish for one month and study the human race. 

Now Leonard’s dreams of living as a human and working as a park ranger at Yellowstone National Park are dashed.  Something goes wrong during his journey to earth and he finds himself covered in fur, with a long tail and unable to communicate. He’s frantic! He’s doesn’t know how to eat, sleep, purr/meow, bathe, walk or use a litter box.  Now he’ll never know what it is like to work as a park ranger, commune with nature, share his knock-knock jokes, hold an umbrella, eat cheese sandwiches, go to a movie theater, or host a dinner party. How will he get home if his rendezvous point with his species is 2,000 miles away and he only has a month to get there?

Olive is visiting her grandmother Norma for the summer at a beach house in South Carolina. While her mom and her new boyfriend travel, Olive worries about whether or not she will have to move to California after they return. Leonard trusts Olive and discovers a way to communicate with her (no spoilers).  Together they must figure out how to get from South Carolina to Yellowstone by the end of the month. As Olive teaches Leonard about the beautiful and confusing world of humans, he starts to realize how much he cares about her. He may have to choose between returning to his planet (where he is immortal) or remain on earth with his new human friend.

Why I like this book:

Leonard is so much more than an alien cat adventure. Carlie Sorosiak charms her readers with her unique and heartwarming tale about love, friendship and the meaning of home. Cat lovers will pounce on Leonard’s story, but so will other readers. The pacing is perfect and will keep readers fully engaged. . 

Leonard narrates the story. There are times Leonard is overwhelmed with all of the loud noises — pots and pans, garbage disposal, shower curtains — and misses the beauty and peacefulness of his planet. At other times he’s in awe of Olive’s tenderness and enjoys his adventures to the aquarium and the annual Save the Sea Turtle hatching event on Turtle Beach. He discovers he can communicate telepathically with Norma’s dog, Stanley, and the penguins at the aquarium. He surprised to discover cats dream and have feelings. But, he will never get used to disgusting hair balls.

I love the quirky characters. Olive is smart, energetic, wears baggy overalls, and loves reciting facts about about animals. “Did you know that three percent of Antarctic ice is penguin urine?” But she’s also lonely and longs for one good friend. She finds that friendship with Leonard. Grandma Norma is stiff, rugged, unconventional and a daredevil. She rides a motorbike. Q is Norma’s best friend — he wears a fish hat and Hawaiian shirts. He runs the aquarium where Olive and Norma help out. Q is the first to figure out Leonard’s identity and he becomes instrumental in helping Olive plan an RV trip to deliver Leonard to Yellowstone Park. He also nudges her to give talks at the aquarium.

Full of laughs and heart, Leonard is a story that will stay with you long after you finish the last page. Readers will identify with his unusual circumstance and wonder how they would respond — making this a fun discussion book. This is a perfect summer read.

Carlie Sorosiak is the author of the middle-grade novel, I, Cosmo as well as two novels for young adults, If Birds Fly Back and Wild Blue Wonder. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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 in exchange for a review.

 

 

Merci Suarez Can’t Dance by Meg Medina

Merci Suárez Can’t Dance

Meg Medina, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 6, 2021

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Themes:  Middle School, Friendship, Family, Love, Alzheimer’s, Latino, Dance

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Seventh grade is going to be a real trial for Merci Suárez. For science she’s got no-nonsense Mr. Ellis, who expects her to be as smart as her brother, Roli. She’s been assigned to co-manage the tiny school store with Wilson Bellevue, a boy she barely knows, but whom she might actually like. And she’s tangling again with classmate Edna Santos, who is bossier and more obnoxious than ever now that she is in charge of the annual Heart Ball.

One thing is for sure, though: Merci Suárez can’t dance—not at the Heart Ball or anywhere else. Dancing makes her almost as queasy as love does, especially now that Tía Inés, her merengue-teaching aunt, has a new man in her life. Unfortunately, Merci can’t seem to avoid love or dance for very long. She used to talk about everything with her grandfather, Lolo, but with his Alzheimer’s getting worse each day, whom can she trust to help her make sense of all the new things happening in her life? The Suárez family is back in a touching, funny story about growing up and discovering love’s many forms, including how we learn to love and believe in ourselves.

Why I like this book:

Meg Medina’s much anticipated sequel is a heartwarming and compelling novel that tackles big topics for Merci Suárez, who is now a seventh grade student at Seward Pines Academy. Medina’s narrative is engaging and immersive.  Her plot is classic middle grade tension and  — losing a BFF to a more popular crowd; a mean, rich-girl bully; racism; and the differences in culture and social status.  

Merci’s adventures in school paint a clear picture of a curious and resilient 12-year-old trying to make sense of who she is. She’s smart, has a good business head and is a talented photographer. She worries about her looks, is conscious about her changing body and dreads PE shower rooms. She can’t dance and doesn’t want to go to the big school dance.  She finds boy-girl relationships confusing. Is it scary or nice? She wants to know about holding a boy’s hand, kissing for the first time, dating, and breaking up. Medina also includes a very diverse cast of memorable characters: Edna who’s from the Dominican Republic, and Wilson who’s Louisiana Creole and Cajun, is differently-abled and wears a short ankle brace to straighten his leg when he walks. Merci’s friendship with Wilson, a math whiz, may mean a little more to her.

This richly textured Latino story is peppered with Spanish expressions from her Cuban-American family. Medina uses humor in this true-to-life story that is topsy-turvy, yet filled with heart. The Suárez family is a large multigenerational family that live in a group of three homes where all family members come and go, regardless of who lives where. Papi runs a painting business. The Suárez family is a close-knit family that work, cook and eat together, share childcare responsibilities, and support each other, even if money is tight. There is a lot of chaos at all times. Merci is often in charge of keeping an eye on her grandfather (Lolo), whose Alzheimer’s is rapidly progressing and babysitting her aunt’s active twin boys. And they all answer the call to help Tía Inez, when she decides to open a school of Latin dance.

Medina dedicates her book to “Merci fans who wanted to know what happened next.”  And fans will cheer for Merci, enjoy watching her grow and hope that Medina continues her story. Merci Suárez is a humorous and satisfying read.  

Check out the Teacher’s Guide, published by Candlewick Press.

Meg Medina is the author of the Newbery Medal-winning book, Merci Suárez Changes Gears, which was also a 2018 Kirkus Prize finalist.  Her YA novels Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, for which she won a 2014 Pura Belpre Author Award; Burn Baby Burn, which was long-listed for the National Book Award; and The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. The daughter of Cuban immigrants, she grew up in Queens, New York, and now lives in Richmond Virginia. Visit Meg Medina 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.

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

Don’t Hug Doug: (He Doesn’t Like It) Carrie Finison

Don’t Hug Doug: (He Doesn’t Like It)

Carrie Finison, Author

Daniel Wiseman, Illustrator

G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jan. 26, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Hugging, Individuality, Boundaries

Opening: “You can hug a pug. (Awww!)  You can hug a bug. (Maybe…) Or a slug (Ewww!) But don’t hug Doug. He doesn’t like it.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Some people love hugs. But lots of people don’t. And lots of people are somewhere in the middle.

So Doug wants you to read this book and then answer this very important question: Do you like hugs? Because everybody gets to decide for themselves whether they want a hug or not.

Why I like Don’t Hug Doug:

Carrie Finison has written a joyful and playful story about a boy who doesn’t like hugs. Doug thinks hugs are “too squeezy, squashy, squooshy and smooshy.”  Doug’s story can be used to help  empower children to make decisions about whether they want to be hugged and by whom.

It also is an important book to teach children about setting boundaries early on. I remember teaching my daughter the “tummy” test. If something like a hug didn’t make her tummy feel right, then it was important for her to follow her inner instinct and not engage.

The story is packed with humor that sets a light-hearted tone. “You can hug a valentine. (Sweet!) Or a porcupine (Not recommended,) But don’t hug Doug. He doesn’t like it.” It is upbeat and shows everything that Doug likes to do — play with his rock collection, draw with chalk, play his harmonica in a band, play baseball and interact with friends.

The book is beautifully crafted with rhyming text.  Children will enjoy the repetition! The narration is straightforward, with Doug commenting to hugging situations in cartoon-like bubbles: “I’m just not a hugger. “Seriously, no hugs.” “Thanks, but no thanks.” “Nope.” I especially love the double-page spread where Doug uses a bullhorn to shout “Who here likes hugs?” On the opposite page are a variety of diverse faces who share their preferences in cartoon bubbles.

Daniel Wiseman’s lively and expressive illustrations are delightful and contribute significantly to Doug’s entertaining but very important story.  Everything about this book is perfection.  It is an ideal gift book.

Resources: This book can be used at home or at school to discuss boundaries with young children.  Teachers can use this book to discuss consent and finding alternative ways to connect with each other.  And, I’m sure students will have a lot to say.

Carrie Finison usually likes hugs but sometimes prefers a wave or a high five. She writes poetry, stories, and books for kids, including the picture book Dozens of Doughnuts. She lives outside Boston with her husband, their son, and their daughter, and two cats who  allow her to work in their attic office. You can visit Carrie at her website.  follow her on Twitter @CarrieFinison.

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.

New Handbooks for Teens – Friendship, Hero Journey, and Managing Anger

All three of these Magaination Press guides or handbooks are perfect for teens ranging from middle grade to high school. The books are expertly written yet accessible for readers. The friendly tone in each book will engage and empower readers with sound advice from experts. Educators, school counselors and caregivers everywhere need resources for teens that help them become their best selves.  All three of these books belong in every school library.

The Friendship Book

Wendy L. Moss, PhD, Author

Magination Press, Nonfcition, Feb. 16, 2021

Suitable for ages:  8-12

Synopsis:  Do you know what it takes to be a good friend and make new ones?

Take a peek inside to see how your friends can help you feel accepted and connected through your shared time together and ways to make sure you are giving back the same appreciation and support in your friendship, so you can be a good friend too!

Teens will read about the definition of a friend, how you can make sure you are ready to be a good friend and the complications and joys of having a best friend. The book starts with a quiz for teens about what they want in a friendship, followed by the results which gives them a starting point as they begin to read. Throughout the book, readers will learn about how other kids have made and kept friends even though a variety of situations: bullying, peer pressure, trust, competition, changing interests, mistakes and forgiveness, And more quizzes at the end of each chapter.

The Hero Handbook

Matt Langdon, Author

Magination Press, Nonfiction, Jan. 27, 2021

Suitable for ages: 9-13

Publisher’s Synopsis: Heroes inspire us to take chances, do hard things, and sometimes even change the world. Heroes are all around us, so how can you be the hero of your own story?

To become a hero, kids can surround themselves with supportive people, boost their self-esteem and self-awareness, find their passion, and have the courage make things happen. This book shows them how to be the hero of their own story and discover their own hero journey.

What makes a hero? Activists. advocates, allies, and friends. Sometimes heroes are our parents, teachers, or siblings. The truth is, heroes are inside everyone, and kids can and discover their inner hero, too!

The Hero Handbook guides you on your own hero journey, helps you identify your goals, and gets you powered up to achieve them. Get ready and GO make a difference in your world!

Zero to 60: A Teens Guide to Manage Frustration, Anger, and Everyday Irritations

Michael A. Tompkins, PhD, Author

Magination Press, Nonfiction, Nov. 10, 2020,

Suitable for ages: 12-18

Publishers Synopsis: High-performance cars can go from zero to  60 in just a few seconds. Anger can feel a lot like that. One minute you are calm, but the next, something sets you on a course to speed out of control. Getting to anger’s edge too fast can cause problems with friends, family school and event self-esteem.

The author offers tips and tricks to help stall anger and leave it by the side of the road. Teens will learn how to calm their body, derail thoughts that fuel anger, and learn how to communicate and de-escalate situations. The book contains teen-appropriate examples, strategies, fun exercises, journaling, a heads-up plan, and vivid illustrations that will help teens improve their relationships, boost self-esteem and manage their anger.

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 copies provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles

Take Back the Block

Chrystal D. Giles, Author

Random House Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jan. 26, 2021

Pages: 240

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Community, Social Justice, Family, Neighborhoods, Gentrification, Friendship, African Americans

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Brand-new kicks, ripped denim shorts, Supreme tee–

Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That–and hanging out with his crew (his best friends since little-kid days) and playing video games–is what he wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year, not the protests his parents are always dragging him to.

But when a real estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood Wes has lived in his whole life, everything changes. The grownups are supposed to have all the answers, but all they’re doing is arguing. Even Wes’s best friends are fighting. And some of them may be moving. Wes isn’t about to give up the only home he’s ever known. Wes has always been good at puzzles, and he knows there has to be a missing piece that will solve this puzzle and save the Oaks. But can he find it before it’s too late?

Why I like this book:

Chrystal D. Giles has written a timely and powerful novel for middle grade students that hits a sweet spot for me — kids making a difference in their communities and fighting for what they believe in. It celebrates the joy of family, friendship and community and will captivate readers from the start.  The plot is daring and hopeful. It is “loosely based on Giles’s hometown.

There is a  delightful cast of characters, with Wes Henderson leading his crew of best friends: Jasper (Jas), Mya, Alyssa, Takari (Kari) and Brent. They live in Kensington Oaks and are typical 6th graders, interested in video games, movies, school and birthday parties. Wes is a lovable and outgoing narrator, who is afraid of public speaking — especially when his social studies teacher, Mr. Bates, assigns each student to research a social justice issue, write a report and do a 10-minute presentation. He’s doomed.

Thumbs up to Wes’s parents for introducing him to social activism. His mother is an active community leader and takes Wes to a peaceful protests so that he understands what is happening in nearby neighborhoods that are being torn down for new shopping areas. This exposure is handy when the Oaks becomes the new target of a development group who wants to build condos and shops. There is no way Wes can leave the only home he’s ever known and holds his family’s history.

While the adults in the community are arguing, some selling their homes and others giving up, Wes knows he has to do something. A fire burns in his belly and he gathers his friends to fight for the survival of the Oaks. They enlist the support of a local group, Save Our City. Suddenly, Wes has his school social justice project, and Mr. Bates proves to give good advise and knows people. He allows Wes and his friends to meet in his classroom after school as they research and strategize each move. No more SPOILERS.

Take Back the Block deals with a topic that I haven’t seen addressed in children’s books — gentrification, the unfair displacement of families in lower income neighborhoods. Development companies buy up homes cheap, tear them down and replace them with high-end housing and shopping areas.  Most families can’t afford to live in the developments and are forced to find housing elsewhere. This is common in many Black communities.

This is an important book for a classroom to read together. Wes and his friends are the new faces of social justice and youth activism, whether it is gun control, climate change and equality. And student interested in social justice issues may gain courage from Wes.

Chrystal D. Giles is making her middle-grade debut with Take Back the Block. Chrystal was a 2018 W Need Diverse Books mentee, and her poem “Dimples” appears in the poetry anthology Thanku Poems of Gratitude. Chrystal lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and son. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter @CREATIVELYCHRYS.

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.

Band Together by Chloe Douglass

Band Together

Chloe Douglass, Author and Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Sep. 8, 2020

Suitable for ages: 4-8

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

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

Book Jacket Synopsis:

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

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away by Meg Medina

Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away

Meg Medina, Author

Sonia Sánchez, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Sep. 8, 2020

Suitable for ages: 5-7

Themes: Best friends, Moving, Separation, Memories,

Opening: “Evelyn Del Re is my mejor amiga, my número uno best friend. “Come play, Daniela,” she says, just like she always does. Just like today is any other day.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Evelyn Del Rey is Daniela’s best friend, her mejor amiga. But after today, everything will be different. After today, Evelyn won’t live in a mirror-image apartment across the street. Today Evelyn Del Rey is moving away.

The two girls spend on last afternoon together in Evelyn’s apartment, playing among the boxes, until the apartment is empty and it’s time to say their goodbyes. They promise to visit and keep in touch, and, though they will be apart, they know they will always be each other’s first best friend, their número uno.

Why I like this book:

Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away is a touching story of about two best friends playing one last day together. They hide in big empty boxes, romp through the apartment, spin in circles, and hide from the adults.  As the house slowly empties everything familiar begins to disappear. They chat about how the many ways that they will keep in touch and seal their promise with heart stickers they press upon each other’s cheek.  A lovely reminder that best friends will always remain in our hearts even when they are separated by distance.

In Medina’s heartfelt story, she shows how the girls deep bond is mirrored with their similar apartments directly across the street from each other. And Sonia Sánchez’s glorious and emotive illustrations show a string that is strung from one bedroom window to the other — a reminder of their best friend heartstring connection. There is beauty and love on every page. This joyful account of friendship will charm readers.

Resources: Make sure you check out the teacher’s guide, activity guide and free coloring pages at Candlewick.

Meg Medina is the author of the Newbery Medal-winning book Merci Suárez Changes Gears. She is also the author of the award-winning young adult novels and the picture books Mango, Abuela, and Me, illustrated by Angela Dominguez, which as a Pura Belpré Book, and Tia Isa Wants a Car, illustrated by Claudio Munoz, which won the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award. The daughter of Cuban immigrants, she grew up in Queens, New York, and now lives in Richmond, Virginia.

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

*Reviewed from a copy provided by Candlewick in exchange for a review.

The Space We’re In by Katya Balen

National Autism Awareness Month, Apr. 1 -30, 2021 

The Space We’re In

Katya Balen, Author

Margaret Ferguson Books, Fiction, October 2019

Pages: 208

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Brothers, Autism Spectrum, Family Relationships, Coding, Loss, School, Friendship

Synopsis:

Frank is ten. He loves soccer, codes, riding his bike, and playing with his friends. His brother Max is five. Max on eats foods that are beige or white, hates baths, loud noises, bright lights and if he has to wear a T-shirt that isn’t gray with yellow stripes me melts down down down.

Max is autistic, and Frank longs for the brother he was promised by his parents before Max was born — someone who was supposed to be his biggest fan so he could be the best big brother in the world. Instead, Frank has trouble navigating Max’s behavior and their relationship. But when tragedy strikes, Frank finds a way to try to repair their fractured family, and in doing so learns to love Max for who he is.

Why I like this book:

Katya Balen has written an emotional and sensitive novel about a 10-year-old boy who deals with the challenges of living with a younger autistic brother who is the center of his parents’ attention. Narrated by Frank, readers will gain insight into how deeply affected he is by Max. He feels resentment, anger, and the fatigue of living in a home where he feels dismissed. They will also hear from a Frank who loves Max and is ashamed when he doesn’t stand up for him with school bullies.

The plot is distinctly realistic and then tension is palpable. There is a tragedy (no spoilers) and the story is so sad.  But don’t stop reading. Frank may be vulnerable, but he’s also determined and resilient. Readers will ride Frank’s roller coaster as his world spins out of control, but they will watch his relationship with Max slowly grow as he helps his family move forward in a very creative way.

I love the special bond between Frank and his mother. She keeps the family together, unlike her husband who has difficulty with the chaotic family dynamics. Frank and his mom create their own private way of communicating with each other. They silently tap Morse code messages into each other’s hands. His mother is also a talented artist, but stopped painting after Max was born.  Frank likes to draw and has inherited some of her talent, which is revealed at the end of the story at a time when he uses his talent to help his family heal.

Frank’s love of coding is important part of the story and I was thrilled that the author wrote each chapter title in the “cypher code.” Readers will have fun challenging themselves to break the code. Frank is also fascinated with “the golden ratio” that links space, nature, and people — the spiral galaxy, the swirl of a hurricane, a snail’s shell, and the shape of our ears.

Frank also has a strong relationship with his friends Ahmed and Jamie. They have a special wilderness spot they ride their bikes to and it is the perfect escape for Frank. In the woods they tear off their shirts, rub mud on their faces, swing on ropes, build a den, chase each other with chunks of mud, howl like wolves, and laugh and laugh and laugh!  Before they leave they always scratch ” 23 9 12 4″ (wild) into the earth and their initials, 10 (Jamie)  6 (Frank) and 1 (Ahmed).

This book is an important story for youth who are living with a sibling on the autism spectrum. It’s also a book for parents to read with their kids. It’s a complex situation for families, when they have a child that requires so much attention.  This book will help encourage discussions.

Katya Balen has worked in a number of special schools for autistic children. She now runs Mainspring Arts, a nonprofit that organizes creative projects for neurodivergent people. The Space We’re In is her debut novel. She lives outside of London with her boyfriend and their unbelievably lazy rescue dog.

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

*Reviewed from a library book.

Northbound: A Train Ride Out of Segregation by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein — Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Today is Multicultural Children’s Book Day – Jan. 29, 2021

Official hashtag: #ReadYourWorld 

 Learn more about this special day at the end of my review.

Northbound: A Train Ride Out of Segregation

Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein, Authors

James E. Ransome, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Historical Fiction, Oct. 13, 2020

Suitable for ages: 6-9

Themes: Train Ride, African Americans, Segregation, Friendship

Opening: “Trains! The clicket-clack of the wheels and the low song of the whistles. As the huge engines rushed by our farm, Granddaddy and I always stopped our work to watch and to dream of climbing on board a powerful train and traveling to distant, strange places.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Michael loves watching the trains as they rush by his Alabama farm on their way to far-off places. And today, Michael’s dream is coming true: he’s taking his first train journey to visit cousins in Ohio!

When Michael and his grandmother board the train, the conductor directs them to the “colored only” section. But when the train pulls out of Atlanta, the signs come down, and a boy runs up to Michael, inviting him to explore. The two new friends happily scour the train — until the conductor calls out “Chattanooga,” the sign go back up, and Michael is abruptly ushered to the “colored section” for the rest of the ride.

How come Michael can go as he pleases in some states, but has to sit in segregated sections in others? How could the rules be so changeable from state to state — and so unfair?

Based on author Michael S. Bandy’s own recollections of taking the train as a boy during the segregation era, this story of a child’s magical first train trip is intercut with a sense of baffling injustice, offering both a hopeful tale of friendship and a window into a dark period of history that still resonates today.

Why I like this book:

Michael Bandy and Eric Stein’s story captures the joy of a boy’s first train ride from Alabama to Ohio during the segregation era of the 1960s. When Michael and his grandmother board the train they are directed to the “colored only” car.  Imagine his confusion when the train leaves the station and the conductor removes the signs as the train moves different states. He’s free to move around.

It’s also a story about the innocence of childhood, when a boy, Bobby Ray, enters Michael’s train car and invites him to explore the train together. They discover a dining car and an area with beds for night travel.  They also enjoy playing with little green army men, sharing scars on their limbs and drawing pictures. Bobby Rae draws something very special for Michael and hands it to him, just before they reach Chattanooga and the conductor puts the signs back up and ushers Michael back to his seat. Such a beautiful story about how friendship can transcend unfair laws.

This is a sensitive and perfect book to share with young children about race relations in our country. It is an excellent introduction to segregation. James E. Ransome’s beautiful watercolor illustrations capture the magic of Michael’s first train ride, with beautiful landscapes of the countryside and cities and large close-up pictures of the boys interacting.

Resources: There is an Author’s Note at the end of the book that addresses the laws that created this unjust travel condition, beginning in 1887 with the Interstate Commerce Act. This book is an excellent discussion book for families and deserves a place in every school library.

Michael S. Bandy is the coauthor, with Eric Stein, of White Water, and Granddaddy’s Turn: A Journey to the Ballot Box. White Water was adapted into an award-winning screenplay that was developed into a film. Stein was also the cowriter and coproducer of the film. Northbound: A Train Ride Out of Segregation is the third book in this series. Bandy lives in Los Angeles and Stein lives in Sherman Oaks, California.

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.
*Free review copy provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2021 (1/29/21) is in its 8th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.

Eight years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues.

MCBD 2021 is honored to be Supported by these Medallion Sponsors!

FOUNDER’S CIRCLE: Mia Wenjen (Prgamaticmom) and Valarie Budayr’s (Audreypress.com)

Platinum Sponsors: Language Lizard Bilingual Books in 50+ Languages, Author Deedee Cummings and Make A Way Media

Gold Sponsors: Barefoot Books, Candlewick Press, CapstoneHoopoe Books,  KidLitTV, Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

Silver Sponsors: Charlotte Riggle, Connecticut Association of School Librarians, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, Pack-N-Go Girls

Bronze Sponsors: Agatha Rodi and AMELIE is IMPRESSED!, Barnes Brothers Books, Create and Educate Solutions, LLC, Dreambuilt Books, Dyesha and Triesha McCants/McCants Squared, Redfin Real Estate, Snowflake Stories, Star Bright Books, TimTimTom Bilingual Personalized Books, Author Vivian Kirkfield, Wisdom Tales Press, My Well Read Child

MCBD 2021 is honored to be Supported by these Author Sponsors!

Poster Artist: Nat Iwata

Authors: Author Afsaneh Moradian, Author Alva Sachs & Three Wishes Publishing Company, Author Angeliki Stamatopoulou-Pedersen, Author Anna Olswanger, Author Casey Bell , Author Claudine Norden, Author Debbie Dadey, Author Diana Huang & IntrepidsAuthor Eugenia Chu & Brandon goes to Beijing, Green Kids Club,  Author Gwen Jackson, Author Janet Balletta, Author Josh Funk, Author Julia Inserro, Karter Johnson & Popcorn and Books, Author Kathleen Burkinshaw & The Last Cherry Blossom, Author Keila Dawson, Maya/Neel Adventures with Culture Groove, Author Mia Wenjen, Michael Genhart, Nancy Tupper Ling, Author Natalie Murray, Natalie McDonald-Perkins, Author Natasha Yim, Author Phe Lang and Me On The Page Publishing, Sandra Elaine Scott, Author Shoumi Sen & From The Toddler Diaries, SISSY GOES TINY by Rebecca Flansburg and B.A. Norrgard, Susan Schaefer Bernardo & Illustrator Courtenay FletcherTales of the Five Enchanted Mermaids, Author Theresa Mackiewicz, Tonya Duncan and the Sophie Washington Book Series, Author Toshia Stelivan, Valerie Williams-Sanchez & The Cocoa Kids Collection Books©, Author Vanessa Womack, MBA, Author Veronica Appleton & the Journey to Appleville book series.

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