When Grandfather Flew by Patricia MacLachlan

When Grandfather Flew

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Chris Sheban, Illustrator

Neal Porter Books, Fiction, Jul. 27, 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Bird watching, Grandfathers, Nature, Grief

Opening: “When we were younger — before his hair turned white and when he could still see — my older brother, Aidan, and I called him “birdman.”

Synopsis:

Grandfather loves birds and spending time with his youngest grandson, Milo. Together they marvel over the brisk wing beat of the sharp-shinned hawk, the hovering kestrel, and Grandfather’s favorite, the soaring bald eagle. But in time Grandfather’s eyes grow dim, and he needs to rely on his sharp ears and the eyes of others to help him identify the cedar waxwing, the bluebird, and the junco. But one day when Milos comes home from school, his grandfather isn’t there. 

Why I like this book:

When Grandfather Flew is such a loving tribute to a grandfather, who shared his passion of bird watching and nature with his grandchildren, Aiden, Emma and Milo. Patricia MacLachlan’s text is poetic and fills readers with many joyful moments. The moments become memories that deliver a beautiful response at the end.  

This is  heartwarming tale is narrated by Emma. Milo, is the youngest, and he carefully listens to everything his grandfather teaches them about birds, their beaks, wings, and their songs. They quietly step into nature and enjoy their time together outdoors observing the birds on the farm. Grandfather’s favorite bird is the high-soaring bald eagle. “Look up,” he’d say to Milo. “The eagle sees the full sky, he sees the world.”  

Chris Sheban’s soft watercolor and pastel illustrations make this book breathtaking celebration of life. Make sure you check out the endpapers with the gorgeous drawings of a variety of birds.  When Grandfather Flew may be a gentle and reassuring story for children who’ve lost a close family member. It is an inspiring  story that focuses on so many beautiful memories. I plan to give this book to great grandchildren.  

This book is also a timely book to introduce children to bird counting and conservation. The 122nd annul Christmas Bird Count is inspired by a national citizen science project in which everyone can participate. This year it runs from Dec. 14 until Jan. 5, 2022.  Many hold special Christmas bird counts for kids. And there is a Great Backyard Bird Count  a February 18-21, 2022 and many other counts throughout the years.

Resources: Take children bird watching. Sometimes you only need to look in your own backyard. Ask them what’s their favorite bird. Have them draw a picture. They can check out the endpapers to see Sheban’s pencil drawings. Remember to introduce your kids to the annual Christmas Bird Count and The Great Backyard Bird Count. Visit the Audubon website for a list of count circles near you.  And visit the Sonoma Birding website and the eBird website to do you own bird count any day of the year and track your counts. 

Patricia MacLachlan is the author of many novels for children, including the Newbery Medal-winning Sarah, Plain and Tall; Baby; Waiting for Magic; and The Truth of Me. Among her picture books are  Snowflakes Fall, The Iridescence of Birds, Someone Like Me, and What You Know First. She lives in Western Massachusetts.

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.

River Magic by Ellen Booraem

River Magic

Ellen Booraem, Author

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

Suitable for ages: 10-13

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

Book Jacket Synopsis:

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.  

The Boy and the Gorilla by Jackie Azua Kramer

 

The Boy and the Gorilla

Jackie Azúa Kramer, Author

Cindy Derby, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 13, 2020

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Loss, Grief, Hurt, Loneliness, Anger, Imaginary friend

Publisher’s Synopsis:

On the day of his mother’s funeral, a young boy conjures the very visitor he needs to see: a gorilla. Wise and gentle, the gorilla stays on to answer the heart-heavy questions the boy hesitates to ask his father: Where did his mother go? Will she come back home? Will we all die? Yet with the gorilla’s friendship, the boy slowly begins to discover moments of comfort in tending flowers, playing catch, flying a kite, climbing trees and walking along the beach. Most of all, the gorilla knows that it helps to simply talk about the loss—especially with those who share your grief and who may feel alone, too.

Author Jackie Azúa Kramer’s quietly thoughtful text and illustrator Cindy Derby’s beautiful impressionistic artwork depict how this tender relationship leads the boy to open up to his father and find a path forward. Told entirely in dialogue, this direct and deeply affecting picture book will inspire conversations about grief, empathy, and healing beyond the final hope-filled scene.

This profoundly moving tale about a grieving boy and an imaginary gorilla makes real the power of talking about loss.

Why I like this book:

A deeply sensitive story about a grieving boy who asks his imaginary gorilla friend questions about his mother’s death. The  gorilla is reassuring and helps the boy deal with big emotions. Grief is tricky and the gorilla’s presence makes it possible for the boy to approach his grieving father. Together they begin to share memories and start the healing process.

The first four pages of the story are wordless, allowing Cindy Derby to set the somber tone of the boy’s grief with her moving and breathtaking watercolors. The opening pages are intimate and contemplative. Jackie Azúa Kramer’s simple text and Derby’s artwork don’t hurry you along — they provide time and space to study what’s happening and gives children the opportunity to ask questions.  As the story progresses, the artwork appears more luminous and hopeful.

This is a timely book and beautiful book during this time of COVID. It is a book that would be a wonderful gift to families dealing with loss.

Resources: The book alone is a wonderful resource for families.  It opens the doors for families to work at healing together. Encourage your child to make a memory box filled with things that remind them of the person they miss.

Jackie Azúa Kramer is the author of The Green Umbrella and If You Want to Fall Asleep.  She was previously an actress, singer, and school counselor. She lives with her family on Long Island, New York.

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.

Trevor and Me by Yuno Imai

Trevor and Me

Yuno Imai, Author

Liuba Syroliuk, Illustrator

Yumo Imai, Fiction, Jun. 16, 2020

Suitable for ages: 5-9

Themes: Intergenerational friendship, Declining health, Loss, Grief, Inspirational

Opening: “Trevor is my best friend. With a shining smile like the sun, silver curly hair, and a wrinkled face He always wears his favorite red beret.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Trevor and Me defies the boundaries of age, gender and race. It is a heartwarming story based on the real-life friendship between an elderly Caucasian man and a young Asian girl. As Trevor’s health starts to decline and he prepares to die, he promises to always be with the girl even after he’s gone. Trevor dies and the girl is filled with grief until one day she begins to receive signs to let her know Trevor is and always will be with her.

Why I like this book:

Trevor and Me is a celebration of life and portrays an afterlife in a non-religious, beautiful and gentle manner. It is an inspirational and poetic journey about the unbreakable friendship between a girl and her special grandfatherly friend, Trevor. They enjoy long walks in the park and stops at a café until one day the girl notices he is growing weak.  Trevor begins to prepare the girl for his death and promises to always watch over her.

Trevor and Me is based on the author’s own real-life experience with an elderly gentleman, named Trevor. It is with great love that she turns her experience into such an uplifting story to read and discuss with children who have lost a grandparent or family member. Trevor and Me brings hope and puts a smile on your face. Liuba Syroliuk’s delicate illustrations and beautiful watercolor illustrations evoke emotions of love, grief, and joy. Lovely collaboration.

Resources/Activities: Help children plant a special tree in memory of a loved one. Have them draw or write about special memories they had with the loved one so they won’t  forget. Make a memory box where you can put something special the belonged to a loved one side. You may want to add photos, card/letters written to the child by the loved one. This will help a child touch, read and look at the items so they keep their favorite memories alive.

Yuno Imai is a Los Angeles based children’s author, food and travel writer, and copy editor. She is also author of the book, The Last Meal. She is originally from Hamamatsu, Japan, and came to the United States as a high school foreign exchange student in a small Kansas town. After graduating from high school in Japan, she returned to the US to attend San Francisco State University. She graduated with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. She has over 10 years experience as a translator and has work extensively for major American and Japanese companies and celebrity clients. Visit Yuno 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.

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

Zora and Me: The Summoner by Victoria Bond

Zora & Me: The Summoner

Victoria Bond, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 13, 2020

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Zora Neale Hurston, Storyteller, African-American, Racism, Jim Crow South, Community, Loss, Grief

Synopsis:

For Carrie and her best friend, Zora, Eatonville—America’s first incorporated Black township—has been an idyllic place to live out their childhoods. But when a lynch mob crosses the town’s border to pursue a fugitive and a grave robbery resuscitates the ugly sins of the past, the safe ground beneath them seems to shift. Not only has Zora’s own father—the showboating preacher John Hurston—decided to run against the town’s trusted mayor, but there are other unsettling things afoot, including a heartbreaking family loss, a friend’s sudden illness, and the suggestion of voodoo and zombie-ism in the air, which a curious and grieving Zora becomes all too willing to entertain.

In this fictionalized tale, award-winning author Victoria Bond explores the end of childhood and the bittersweet goodbye to Eatonville by preeminent author Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960). In so doing, she brings to a satisfying conclusion the story begun in the award-winning Zora and Me and its sequel, Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground, sparking inquisitive readers to explore Hurston’s own seminal work.

Why I like this book:

Victoria Bond captures the untamed spirit of the famous writer Zora Neale Hurston in this daunting story of her fictionalized childhood. In this final contribution to her celebrated trilogy, Bond deftly confronts the harsh realities of racism in Jim Crow’s south in 1905. Bond’s narrative is rich and poetic and the dialogue is suspenseful and humorous. The plot is haunting, gripping, and dangerous.

The story is set in Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated black township in the United States in 1887. The historical facts about the town, with the only black mayor, is fascinating. It is out in the middle of nowhere. The black community lives peacefully together for many years enjoying their freedom, owning their own businesses, and farming their own land. They have a church and pastor, a doctor, and a post office. All the children are enrolled in school. When trouble begins in 1905 with the lynching of a black fugitive followed by a series of other unsettling events, and the town of Eatonville is on edge.

The story is narrated by Zora’s best friend, Carrie, who knows that what ever problem or mystery the two friends may be chasing, always means trouble. Zora is a rambunctious and strong-willed character with a wild imagination. She loves telling stories and eventually begins to writing them down. Her sight, as Carrie notes, “is always set on the horizon.”

Other memorable characters include Old Lady Bronson, who is the town midwife, healer and wise woman.  Joe Clarke, who’s been Eatonville’s mayor for 18 years and also owns the general store, is anxious to expand the town.  Zora’s father, the boisterous Rev. John Thurston, pastor of the church, decides to run against the mayor. Zora’s mother, Lucy, is very ill and poor Chester Cools, a troubled soul. Mr. Calhoun is the kind school teacher who helps Zora during turbulent times. And Zora and Carrie’s friend Teddy Baker, is training to be a doctor with Dr. Brazzle.  All of the characters add intrigue to the story.

Zora & Me: The Summoner is both heart wrenching and inspiring. Bond’s deliberate pacing and tension will keep readers fully engaged. There are many surprises for readers. It is an exceptional story, that gives readers a “hint” of the famous author’s life. She inspired many black female authors, like Alice Walker, with her courage and strength, but didn’t benefit monetarily from all her writings.

Resources: Make sure you check out the biography of the remarkable Zora Neale Hurston and a timeline that chronicles her life, which are at the end of the story. And, read Carrie’s letter to her granddaughter at the beginning, as it will give you a snapshot of 1905 and her thoughts about Zora.

Amazon Review: “In the third and final volume of Zora and Me, readers are treated to a lustrous look at several facets of the anthropologist, folklorist, and novelist Zora Neale Hurston. . . . I sing the praises of what Victoria Bond has imagined and crafted here, both in deference to my aunt and as a way of honoring Zora’s legacy.” — Lucy Hurston, niece of Zora Neale Hurston

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

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

Trowbridge Road by Marcella Pixley

Trowbridge Road

Marcella Pixley, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 6, 2020

Suitable for ages: 10 and up

Themes: Mother and daughter, Family relationships, Aids, Grief, Mental illness, Bullying, Domestic Abuse, Friendship, Community, Hope, Magic

Book Jacket Synopsis:

It’s the summer of ’83 on Trowbridge Road, and June Bug Jordan is hungry. Months after her father’s death from complications from AIDS, her mother has stopped cooking and refuses to leave the house, instead locking herself away to scour at the germs she believes are everywhere. June Bug threatens this precarious existence by going out into the neighborhood, gradually befriending Ziggy, an imaginative boy who is living with his Nana Jean after experiencing troubles of his own. But as June Bug’s connection to the world grows stronger, her mother’s grows more distant — even dangerous — pushing June Bug to choose between truth and healing and the only home she has ever known.

Trowbridge Road paints an unwavering portrait of a girl and her family touched by mental illness and grief. Set in the Boston suburbs during the first years of the AIDS epidemic, the novel explores how a seemingly perfect neighborhood can contain restless ghosts and unspoken secrets. Written with deep insight and subtle lyricism by acclaimed author Marcella Pixley, Trowbridge Road demonstrates our power to rescue one another even when our hearts are broken.

Why I like this book:

Marcella Pixley has written a poignant novel, that is both heart wrenching and beautiful. Although it is set in the 80s, it is relevant because Pixley doesn’t side step heavy topics like mental illness, neglect, closet homosexuals, homophobia, AIDS, bullying and domestic abuse. Trowbridge Road will appeal to a large range of readers who are coping with secrets and family issues. And they will find hope, courage and love.

June Bug’s first-person narrative is powerful and pulls no punches. She is sad because she has lost her  father from AIDS, and her fragile mother is drifting further into depression, spending her days in bed. The only time her musical mother seems calm and peaceful is when she picks up her bow and plays her cello. When Uncle Toby brings June Bug food once a week, her mother goes into a cleaning frenzy and scours the house after he leaves with bleach — germs are the enemy. There is no one to care for June Bug. Her circumstances are heartbreaking, but she manages to remain a brave and resilient protagonist.

The relationship between June Bug and Ziggy is believable and unforgettable. Ziggy has his own problems. His mother is in an abusive relationship and he’s bullied by kids because of his long red hair, quirky clothing and his smelly, pet ferret perched on his head. He’s come to live with Nana Jean, who provides, love and stability for Ziggy — something June Bug desperately wants.  June Bug and Ziggy understand and accept each other unconditionally. They become best friends and create their own  imaginary world in the woods behind Nana Jean’s house — the ninth dimension — where they escape the pain of their lives. Pixley’s novel reminds me a bit of The Bridge to Terabithia.

Trowbridge Road is richly textured, lyrical and beautifully penned. I love June Bug’s description of Nana Jean’s kitchen the first time she’s invited to breakfast. “Nana Jean’s kitchen smelled like the gossip of garlic and bacon and oregano. It smelled like the laughter of sun-dried tomatoes and sausages and cheese. The recipes whispered to each other from the glazed windows to the spaces between floorboards to the countertops. We have fed the children and grandchildren in here. We meals. We blessed, blessed meals.  I entered like Alice on the threshold of Wonderland, or Dorothy taking her first steps into the Emerald City — the prickling feeling that I was about to enter something glorious.” (Pg. 185)  Verdict: This is a winner.

Make sure you check out the “Author’s Note” at the end of the book, where she discusses AIDS in 1983 and mental illness.

Marcella Pixley is the author of three critically acclaimed books for young adults, including Ready to Fall. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize for poetry and holds a mast of letters from Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. She teaches writing to middle-schoolers in Massachusetts, where she lives with her family.

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

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

Remembering Ethan by Leslea Newman

Remembering Ethan

Lesléa Newman, Author

Tracy Bishop, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Apr. 7, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Death, Sibling, Loss, Grief, Family relationships, Healing, Hope

Opening: My big brother Ethan was so tall, he had to duck his head when he walked through the front door. My big brother was so handsome, somebody once thought he was a movie star and asked for his autograph.

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Ethan. Ethan. Ethan. Sarah misses her adored big brother with all her heart. She wants to celebrate all the fun times she and her parents spent with him. But ever since Ethan died, Mommy and Daddy won’t mention him. Sarah can’t even say his name without upsetting them.

Why don’t they want to remember Ethan?

Why I like this book:

In this time of the COVID 19 pandamic, Lesléa Newman’s picture book is a timely one to share with readers who may be searching for books to help their children and themselves deal with with the loss of a loved one. That is why I’m sharing it today.

Newman’s delicate perspective on Remembering Ethan shows the heartbreaking impact of the loss of a sibling on a younger child. Sarah tries to cope with the death of her big brother with little support from her grieving parents.

The story is told from Sarah’s viewpoint, which is quite powerful as it gives voice to her feelings. She is sad, but she wants to talk about all her happy memories of Ethan! She wants to say his name out loud. She wants to write his name. She wants to draw happy pictures of Ethan and hang them on the refrigerator. She is angry that her efforts upset her parents. In desperation, Sarah stomps upstairs to Ethan’s room and shouts, “Doesn’t anyone but Buttons and me even remember Ethan?”

Grief is tricky and I applaud the author for sharing Sarah’s family’s first reaction to dealing with their loss. It highlights how each family member finds coping mechanisms when they are overwhelmed with grief. I observed a very similar situation in our family, when a grandson died.  Sharing memories is an important way for children to keep favorite memories and stories of a lost sibling or loved one near them.

Tracy Bishops beautiful illustrations are in soft pastels. They are expressive, comforting, and hopeful.

Resources: This book is a wonderful resource. Make sure you check out Note to Readers at the end of the book provides valuable information to parents, caregivers, and teachers about the many different ways to deal with childhood grief. The information will touch the entire family and help them through a rough time.

Lesléa Newman has created over 70 books for readers of all ages, including A Letter to Harvey Milk; October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard; I Carry My Mother; The Boy Who Cried Fabulous; Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed;Heather Has Two Mommies; Sparkle Boy; and Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story. Visit Newman at her website  or on Twitter @lesleanewman.

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.

Grandpa’s Top Threes by Wendy Meddour

Grandpa’s Top Threes

Wendy Meddour, Author

Daniel Egenéus, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction,  Sep. 3, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 2-5

Themes: Multigenerational Families, Grandparents, Love, Loss, Hope

Opening: “Henry was talking…But Grandpa was gardening. Again.”

Book Synopsis:

Henry loves talking with Grandpa, but Grandpa has stopped listening. Mom says to just give him time. But Henry wants to talk to his grieving Grandpa now. So Henry tries his favorite game: Top Threes. And something amazing happens: Grandpa starts talking again. Out of a tale of favorite sandwiches and zoo animals, outings and trains, emerges a moving story about love, loss, and the wonder of grannies and grandpas.

Why I like this book:

This is a heartwarming story about love, loss and the strong bond between a grandson and his grandpa. When Grandpa is lost in grief for his wife, Henry comes up with a clever game to help him move forward and return to living.

Wendy Meddour’s sweet story is a perfect share with children who may be dealing with a death of a grandparent or family member for the first time. It is respectful, honest and fun as Henry and Grandpa move from talking about their top three sandwiches to talking about granny’s top three things and sharing their memories. The ending is a surprise. I love the simplicity of the text as it encourages children to read the book on their own.

Daniel Egenéus’s expressive and playful watercolors show Grandpa coming out of his funk, engaging with Henry and living life again.

Resources: This book is a lovely resource for both children and parents to use to help children deal with grief.  Play Henry’s top three game.  It’s fun and catchy.

Wendy Meddour was a lecturer at Oxford University before becoming a full-time writer. She is the author of numerous picture books, but Grandpa’s Top Threes is her Candlewick Press debut. She lives in the U.K.

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 publisher.

Birdie by Eileen Spinelli

Birdie

Eileen Spinelli, Author

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Novel in Verse,  Apr 9, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 9-14

Pages: 208

Themes: Family life, Grief, Friendship, Dating, Multigenerational families, Birding, Verse

Opening: I pick the hairs / from my brush. / I put them in / my pocket. / I will drop them / on the grass / on my way to / Mrs. Bloom’s. / I do this / every Saturday.

Book Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Roberta “Birdie” Briggs loves birds. They bring her comfort when she thinks about her dad, a firefighter who was killed in the line of duty. The past few years without her dad haven’t been  easy. At least Birdie still has Mom and Maymee, and her friends Nina and Martin.

But then Maymee gets a boyfriend, Nina and Martin start dating, and Birdie’s mom starts seeing a police officer. And suddenly not even her beloved birds can lift Birdie’s spirits. Her world is changing, and Birdie wishes things would go back to how they were before. But maybe change, painful as it is, can be beautiful too.

With compelling verse and a light-hearted touch, Eileen Spinelli captures the poignancy of adolescence and shows what can happen when you let people in.

Why I like this book:

Eileen Spinelli’s Birdie is a tenderly-crafted coming-of-age story filled with love and hope. Birdie is coping with the loss of her father and a move to a small town to live with her grandmother. Much of her conflict is emotional and dealt with internally. It also involves a lot of change.

Birdie’s voice is strong and perceptive, and it works well as a novel in verse. Spinelli’s realistic verse is deceptively simple, but expresses the disappointment, anger and fear that Birdie experiences as she worries about losing her friends, her mother’s love and her father’s traditions. I particularly felt an intimacy with Birdie, that I may not have felt if the story was told in prose. Spinelli assigns a title to each poem, which feels like a guide for readers since the novel was free from chapters.

I also love multigenerational stories. Maymee is a hoot. Widowed, Maymee finds love again, which shocks Birdie at first, but it gives her a chance to see how time heals and how people can love again.

Birdie is a quick read and a perfect way to introduce readers to poetry. Birdie would be a nice addition to any school library.

Eileen Spinelli made her debut in 1991 with Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch, which won a Christopher Award. Since then she has written more than forty children’s books, including Thankful, When No One Is Watching, and Jonah’s Whale. She lives in Pennsylvania with Jerry Spinelli, her husband and fellow children’s author. Visit Spinelli 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.

Finding Orion by John David Anderson

Finding Orion

John David Anderson, Author

Walden Pond Press, Fiction, May 7, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 368

Themes: Death, Grandfather, Family relationships, Fathers and sons, Love, Humor

Book Synopsis:

Rion Kwirk comes from a rather odd family. His mother named him and his sisters after her favorite constellations, and his father makes funky-flavored jellybeans for a living. One sister acts as if she’s always on stage, and the other is a walking dictionary. But no one in the family is more odd than Rion’s grandfather, Papa Kwirk.

He’s the kind of guy who shows up on his motorcycle only on holidays handing out crossbows and stuffed squirrels as presents. Rion has always been fascinated by Papa Kwirk, especially as his son—Rion’s father—is the complete opposite. Where Dad is predictable, nerdy, and reassuringly boring, Papa Kwirk is mysterious, dangerous, and cool.

Which is why, when Rion and his family learn of Papa Kwirk’s death and pile into the car to attend his “Funneral” and pay their respects, Rion can’t help but feel that that’s not the end of his story. That there’s so much more to Papa Kwirk to discover. He doesn’t know how right he is.

Why I like this book:

This is one wacky story and it tops my list for the oddest book I’ve ever read. That being said, it’s also charming and funny, and heart-warming and downright bizarre. Anderson takes quirkiness to a new level when a singing clown shows up to tell them Rion’s grandfather, Frank, has died. Who does that? What a great “gotcha” opening for readers. You are compelled to read on.

The plot is hilarious and engaging. The “FUNNeral” is held in the Greensburg, Illinois town park, with speeches, a barbershop quartet, a marching band and food trucks to feed the guests. This is not your normal send-off, but it is original, fulfills Papa Kwirk’s final  wishes and allows the community to come together to share happy memories of “Jimmy,” a man they loved, with his family. Rion’s father is done with all of the untraditional nonsense and ready to head home when Aunt Gertie announces that there is a scavenger hunt to find Papa Kwirk’s ashes. The hunt is important journey in the story. It is an opportunity for everyone in the family to know Papa Kwirk better and to heal the divide between Rion’s father and grandfather.

Rion (Orion) is probably my favorite character because he is a smart and observant narrator, funny and awkward on his path to self-discovery. Rion may feel very ordinary among his odd parents and siblings, but he notices things that others don’t. The remainder of the characters are just plain fun and of course quirky. The sibling dynamics are delightfully normal with all the usual sibling pranks. And not to forget Cass’s pet python named Delilah.

I fell in love with the Kwirk family and their emotional journey as they explore the joy and pain, and regret and recovery of being a family. Readers will discover many laugh-out-loud and irreverent moments. I highly recommend this unforgettable book.

Favorite Quote:

“Seriously?” I shouted, my voice carrying through the amphitheater. “This freakin’ family can’t even die normally.”  Page 140

“One thing could be said for my grandfather, through: he was one of a kind. And there was a whole town full of people who would never forget him.” Page 335

John David Anderson is the author of many highly acclaimed books for kids, including Ms. Bixby’s Last Day as well as Posted, Granted, Sidekicked, and The Dungeoneers. Visit Anderson’s website for more information.

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.