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.

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Fighting Words

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Author

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Aug. 11, 2020

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Sisters, Childhood sexual abuse, Homelessness, Foster care, Mental Health, Healing, Courage, Hope

Book Jacket Synopsis:

“Sometimes you’ve got a story you need to find the courage to tell.”

Ten-tear-old Della has always had her older sister, Suki: When their mom went to prison, Della had Suki. When their mom’s boyfriend, Clifton, took them in, Della had Suki. When that same boyfriend did something so awful they had to run fast, Della had Suki. Suki is Della’s own wolf–her protector. But who has been protecting Suki?

Della might get told off for swearing at school, but she has always known how to keep quiet where it counts. Then Suki tries to kill herself, and Della’s world turns so far upside down, it feels like it’s shaking her by the ankles. Maybe she’s been quiet about the wrong things. Maybe it’s time to be loud.

In this powerful novel that explodes the stigma around child sexual abuse and leavens an intense tale with compassion and humor, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley tells a story about two sisters, linked by love and trauma, who must find their own voices before they can find their way back to each other.

Why I like this book:

Wow! Kimberly Brubaker Bradley hit a home run with this novel! I can’t think of anything more timely and desperately needed for the many children silently suffering from sexual abuse. Fighting Words is heartbreaking and hopeful. Bradley writes with sensitivity and compassion. The plot is courageous and gripping. Her deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged. This is a story that will stay with readers because of her profoundly human characters and the hopeful ending.

The characters are complex and multi-layered. Della (Delicious) is a 10-year-old spunky, outspoken and resilient narrator. Her superpower — she doesn’t take snow from anyone.  She warns readers from the start that something bad has happened and she will share her story in time. Suki is 16 years old, has been forced to grow up too fast, puts up a tough front and fiercely protects Della. They are placed in foster care with Francine, who isn’t very motherly, but provides the girls with a home, bedroom, meals, and clothing. That works well because Francine gives the girls “space” to work on themselves. Now that they are safe, Suki begins to suffer nightmares, is depressed and tries to cut her wrists. When Suki is hospitalized for a while, Della begins to find herself without Suki hovering. She finds the courage to stand up to a school bully and uses her voice to help Suki. Francine is there to support and encourage them.

I like that Bradley dedicates her story — “For any child who needs this story: You are never alone.” And this is exactly how it should be. There are many children keeping a BIG secret about being sexually abused — it has no boundaries (age, gender, race, socio-economic level and so on. These are the children and youth that need to know they aren’t alone and that abuse isn’t their fault. Bradley is upfront with her readers and lets them know that it happened to her and that she was able to heal.

If you are a parent of a middle grade child and are concerned about letting them read Della and Suki’s story, I suggest you read the book first. This book reminded me of the U.S. gymnastic team members who were sexually abused for years by their team doctor. It’s a perfect opportunity for parents to say “no one can touch you inappropriately and if they do, you can tell us.” This book is much needed!

Resources: Make sure you read the Author’s Note, where she shares her own experience and talks about how important it is to talk about. She also includes discussion points that readers may want to explore with their friends or parents.

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is the author of several middle grade novels, including the widely acclaimed Jefferson’s Sons and the New York Times bestsellers The War I Finally Won and The War That Saved My Life, which also earned a Newbery Honor and a Schneider Award. She and her husband have two grown children and live with their dog, several ponies, a highly opinionate mare, and a surplus of cats on a fifty-two acre farm in Bristol, Tennessee.  You can learn more about Kimberly on her website, and connect with her on Twitter: @kimbbbradley and on Facebook: kimberly.b.bradley.5.

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.

Mananaland by Pam Munoz Ryan

Mañanaland

Pam Muñoz Ryan

Scholastic, Fiction, Mar. 3, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Refugees, Oppression, Loss, Underground movements, Adventure, Courage, Hope, Freedom

Synopsis:

Maximiliano Córdoba loves stories, especially the legend Buelo tells him about a mythical gatekeeper who can guide brave travelers on a journey into tomorrow.

If Max could see tomorrow, he would know if he’d make Santa Maria’s celebrated fútbol team and whether he’d ever meet his mother, who disappeared when he was a baby. He longs to know more about her, but Papá won’t talk. So when Max uncovers a buried family secret–involving an underground network of guardians who lead people fleeing a neighboring country to safety–he decides to seek answers on his own.

With a treasured compass, a mysterious stone rubbing, and Buelo’s legend as his only guides, he sets out on a perilous quest to discover if he is true of heart and what the future holds.

This timeless tale of struggle, hope, and the search for tomorrow has much to offer today about compassion and our shared humanity.

Why I like this book:

Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Mañanaland is a beautifully crafted novel that sweeps readers into a fantasy world that feels oddly familiar, but is set in the Americas, past or future.  The setting, the characters, the courageous plot and the gorgeous imagery are carefully intertwined and create a thrilling experience for readers.

Max’s family are masons who have built 200  bridges all over the country.  But there is a secret that links the bridges to people who need to escape from oppression to a neighboring country. Max discovers his Papá and Buelo are part of the underground network dedicated to helping people. I love the symbolism of the bridges they build.

Readers will admire 12-year-old Max and his brave resolve to take on a dangerous and arduous journey to help a young girl, Isadora, escape abuse and meet up with her sister in Mañanaland. His father and Buelo are gone and wouldn’t approve. Max may be inexperienced as a guardian, but he is smart, brave, and resourceful. He is determined to prove that he can responsibly and safely guide Isadora to Yadra, the next guardian. Yadra is a towering woman with long silver hair, who lives beneath a secret bridge. Max also hopes she may shed some light on his mother’s disappearance, which his Papá has kept a secret. Is his mother in Mañanaland?

The story parallels our world today with a timely and relevant message that will introduce readers to the refugee crisis, without pinpointing a location. The role of guardians is to help those who are seeking asylum because they are abused, marginalized, and oppressed by a dictator and his military. Many have lost  loved ones and families have been split. However, as Max learns along his journey, “Mañaland is not a destination. It’s a…way of thinking.” (Page 209)

The plot is dangerous with many harrowing moments. Ryan’s deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. She nicely pulls everything together in a realistic and satisfying ending.

Pam Muñoz Ryan is the recipient of the NEA’s Human and Civil Rights Award and the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award for Lifetime Achievement. Her celebrated novels –Echo, Esperazna Rising, The Dreamer, Riding Freedom, Becoming Naomi León, and Paint the Wind — have received countless accolades are are treasured by readers around the world. Ryan lives near San Diego, California, 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.

*Reviewed from a library book.

 

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.

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.

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

Echo Mountain

Lauren Wolk, Author

Dutton Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Apr. 21, 2020

Suitable for ages: 10-13

Themes: Great Depression, Family Relationships, Nature, Accident, Healing, Hope, Friendship

Opening: “The first person I saved was a dog.  My mother thought he was dead, but he was too young to die, just born, still wet and glossy, beautiful really, but not breathing.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

When the Great Depression takes almost everything they own, Ellie’s family is forced to leave their home in town and start over in the untamed forests of nearby Echo Mountain. Her father was a tailor and her mother a teacher. Life is hard, but Ellie has found a welcome freedom, and a love of the natural world, in her new life on the mountain. But there is little joy, even for Ellie, as her family struggles with the aftermath of an accident that has left her father in a coma. An accident unfairly blamed on Ellie by her older sister, Esther.

Determined to help her father, Ellie will make her way to the top of the mountain in search of the healing secrets of a woman known only as “the hag.” But the hag, and the mountain, still have many untold stories left to reveal and, with them, a fresh chance at happiness.

Echo Mountain is celebration of finding your own path and becoming your truest self. Lauren Wolk, the Newbery Honor– and Scott O’Dell Award–winning author of Wolf Hollow and Beyond the Bright Sea weaves a stunning tale of resilience, persistence, and friendship across three generations of families, set against the rough and ragged beauty of the mountain they all call home.

Why I like this book:

Lauren Wolk is a beautiful storyteller and her writing is exquisite. Set in the Maine wilderness during the Great Depression, her imagery in Echo Mountain is rich and poetic. Her characters are well-developed, with 12-year-old Ellie the kind of girl readers will want to befriend. Wolk’s plot is courageous, gripping, and humorous at times. Her deliberate pacing keeps reader’s fully engaged and wondering what will happen next.

Ellie finds beauty in a wilderness that speaks to her. When her father is injured, Ellie is resilient, curious and eager to learn the secrets of healing from an “old hag” living high in the mountain. There is friendship with the hag’s grandson, Larkin, who reveals a talent of his own. There are secrets, unexpected surprises and harrowing moments for many of the characters, including Ellie’s mother and siblings, Esther and Samuel. They all learn lessons about their inner own inner strengths during a crisis –even the hag. (Sorry, no spoilers.)

Echo Mountain is definitely a stand-out novel and I highly recommend it for teens. The characters will remain with you long after you finish. Wolk’s novel captured my heart and I will eagerly read it again.

Favorite Quote “I myself was two opposite things at the same time. One: I was now an excellent woods-girl who could hunt and trap and fish and harvest as if I’d been born to it. Two: I was an echo-girl. When I clubbed a fish to death, my own head ached and shuddered. When I snared a rabbit, I knew what it meant to be trapped. And when I pulled a carrot from the sheath of its earth, I, too missed the darkness.” Page 16

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. 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 purchased copy.

Efrén Divided by Ernestro Cisneros

Efrén Divided

Ernestro Cisneros, Author

Quill Tree Books, Fiction, Mar. 31, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Undocumented parents, Mexican Americans, Deportation, Family, Friendship, Culture

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Efrén Nava’s Amá is his Superwoman—or Soperwoman, named after the delicious Mexican sopes his mother often prepares. Both Amá and Apá work hard all day to provide for the family, making sure Efrén and his younger twin siblings, Max and Mia, feel safe and loved.

But Efrén worries about his parents; although he’s American-born, his parents are undocumented. And according to the neighborhood talk, or local chisme, families like his are in great danger. Sure enough, Efrén’s  worst nightmare comes true one day when Amá doesn’t return from work and is deported across the border to Tijuana, México.

Now it’s up to Efrén to be brave and figure out how to act soper himself. While Apá takes an extra job to earn the money needed to get Amá back, Efrén looks after the twins, washes laundry, fixes meals, and does his schoolwork. He helps his best friend’s probably-doomed campaign for school president, and worries about what might happen to his family next.

When disaster strikes, Efrén is faced with crossing the border alone to see Amá and deliver a special package. There is danger all around him. More than ever, he must channel his inner Soperboy to help reunite his family.

Why I like this book:

Ernestro Cisneros’s powerful and timely debut novel, Efrén Divided, captures the humanity of children of undocumented Mexican-American families living in the US.  I love that Cisneros wrote this novel for his children to show that Mexican Americans “are worth being written about.” Some of the book was taken from his own childhood.

The plot is both dangerous and heartwarming. The richly textured narrative is peppered with Spanish words and expressions, which are nicely woven into the story in a way that readers will grasp the translation. But there is a glossary of words and expressions at the end of the book. The diverse cast of characters are memorable, especially David, who adds for some fun comic relief.

Although parents immigrate to the US to provide a better life for their children, there is an underlying worry, pain, and fear for all family members. When Efrén’s mother is discovered by ICE, it forces him to grow up too quickly. Although he is a courageous and resilient teen, he carries a huge burden filled with responsibilities. He can’t confide in anyone — even his best friend David — because he puts his undocumented father and family at risk. 

When Efrén crosses the border alone into Tijuana to see his mom, he sees first-hand the reasons why his parents and others risk the trip north. There is danger lurking on every street corner and down every alley. He feels eyes watching him. There is poverty. Young kids are forced to work or beg for money instead of playing. Men and women of all ages sell handmade items along the curbs. He shudders at the US-built border fence where separated families meet with loved ones at a chain link fence.

There will be many teens who will relate to Efrén’s story, whether they have undocumented parents, family members, or know someone who does. This book should be at the top of the list in school classrooms because it is perfect for meaningful discussions.

The ending surprised me. It is realistic and hopeful. Perhaps there is a sequel in the works? Verdict: This book is a winner!

Ernesto Cisneros was born and raised in Santa Ana, California, where he still teaches. Efrén Divided is his first novel. He holds an English degree from the University of California, Irvine; a teaching credential from California State University, Long Beach; as well as a master of fine arts in creative writing from National University. As an author, he believes in providing today’s youth with an honest depiction of characters with whom they can identify. The real world is filled with amazing people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. His work strives to reflect that. You can visit him at his website.

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.

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.

On the Horizon by Lois Lowry

On the Horizon

Lois Lowry, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Memoir, Apr. 7, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 10-13

Themes: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, World War II, Bombardment, Personal narratives, History, Verse

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Every person has a place in history.

Two-time Newbery medalist Lois Lowry reflects on her own in this moving account of the lives lost and forever altered in the bombings of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima and the lives lost in WWII’s most infamous events.

Drawing on the stories of real people at Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, as well as her own memories, Lois Lowry introduces readers to the only set of twin sailors aboard the USS Arizona, a Japanese child folding origami cranes in the wake of the unfathomable horror of the atomic bomb, and even her own grandmother. Through each vignette, this stunning work in verse contemplates humanity and war, sings with pain and truth, and emphasizes the importance of empathy in bridging cultural divides.

In turns haunting, heartbreaking and uplifting, On the Horizon searches for commonality and connection and will remind readers of the horrors and heroism in our past while offering hope for our future.

Why I love this book:

Lois Lowry personalizes WWII’s most infamous events — Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima — for young readers who may not be familiar with this period of our history. It brings history to life through the moving and heartbreaking stories of ordinary individuals, who are unaware of what will happen at 8:15 a.m. Some survived. Others didn’t.

The story is told in free verse which beautifully fits the tone of each vignette. It is told in three parts. Lowry carefully crafts each and every word so that readers feel that they have been part of something powerfully intimate. She does so with simplicity and sincerity.

Kenard Pak’s black and white illustrations are haunting and will evoke a response from readers. This book belongs in every school library.

Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end because you get a sense of how long it took Lowry to find a way to tenderly tell her story with reverence, which is intertwined with so many people and events. When readers finish the book, they will feel like they are holding something sacred in their hands and they have an obligation to work for a more peaceful tomorrow.

Lowry has also done an audio recording of On the Horizon. I believe it’s her first-ever recording. Make sure you have tissues on hand!

Lois Lowry lived in many places growing up, cincluding Hawaii and Japan during the years around World War II, and now lives in Maine. She is the author of more than forty books for children and young adults, including Newbery Medal winners, Nuber the Stars and The Giver. Visit her at her website.  You can also visit her on Twitter @LoisLowryWriter.

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.

My Name is Konisola by Alisa Siegal

My Name is Konisola

Alisa Siegel, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Mar. 17, 2020

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Themes: Refugees, Nigeria, Canada, Generosity, Hope, Community

Publisher’s Synopsis:

On a freezing cold winter night, nine-year-old Konisola and her mother step off a plane in Canada. They have almost nothing with them except the clothes on their backs. They are running for their lives from an abusive uncle in Nigeria.

Soon after they land, disaster strikes. Konisola’s mother becomes sick, and Konisola is forced to fend for herself in a strange country with no family or friends. Then she meets a remarkable Canadian nurse, and things begin to change for the better. But Konisola’s future remains uncertain. Will this new life, this new home and the friendships she has found be taken from her? Will she be allowed to stay in Canada as a refugee? Will her mother? Or will they both be sent back across the ocean?

Why I like this book:

I love to share stories of hope and generosity of the human spirit, especially when it relates to refugees. They leave behind their families, homes and lives because of persecution, abuse, and war, and seek refuge in a strange new country. In My Name is Konisola, it is Canada who opens its arms to embrace Konisola (Konnie) and her mother Abimbola.

Alisa Siegel’s captivating novel is based on a true story — a bonus for readers. Siegel does an excellent job of comparing and constrasting the real challenges Konisola faces as she begins her new life in Canada. They are moved from apartment to apartment in the beginning. She can’t speak English, doesn’t understand the customs and isn’t allowed to leave the apartment.

Konisola is a brave, strong and resilient 9-year-old girl. When her sick mother is hospitalized,  she moves again, this time to live with a kind nurse, Darlene Priestman, and her family. She feels like a stranger living with a white family. Everything is unfamiliar. She is afraid of the family cat — in Nigeria cats aren’t pets. Shopping malls and grocery stores overwhelm her. They aren’t like the open-air markets at home. When Darlene takes Konisola to visit her mother at the hospital for the first time, she gags at the smells. Seeing her mother so thin and ill is upsetting.

The relationship between Konisola and Darlene is endearing. Darlene is patient and loving. She always rushes to Konisola’s bedside when she has nightmares about her uncle’s rampages. After Darlene gets off work, she takes Konisola to visit her mother every evening.  Darlene gets permission to bring Abimbola to her home for Christmas Eve festivities and has Nigerian friends prepare her favorite dishes.

The pacing is fast and the chapters are short, making this story a quick read. The plot is engaging. There is friction between Konisola and Darlene’s grown daughter, Sara, who bosses Konisola around. At school Konisola wants to blend in and not stand out, but her English is poor. Kids tease her about being a refugee and living with a white mother. She makes friends with one friend, Omara. She worries about the upcoming Immigration and Refugee hearing to determine their fate.

This is a story about a community wrapping their arms around a girl and her mother. There are many more characters who step in and help: a counselor who works with Konisola and helps her design a special shawl for her mother; a retired children’s lawyer who advises on immigration matters; doctors and nurses from the hospital who go above and beyond to help; and the local Nigerian community.

I won’t spoil the ending, so you will have to read the story.  I highly recommend this story as it is a wonderful addition to any school library. Make sure you read the Epilogue.

Alisa Siegel makes radio documentaries for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Her work has been recognized with many international awards. Her first radio documentary was a story about her father’s escape from Germany to the West Indies on the eve of the Second World War. Over the past 20 years, Alisa has produced stories on subjects as varied as the Underground Railroad for refugees in Fort Erie, daring women artists in 1920s Montreal, the return of the trumpeter swan, Canadian nurses in World War I and violence in elementary school classrooms. She lives in Toronto with her family.

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

*Review copy provided by publisher.