Signs of Survival: A Memoir of the Holocaust by Renee Hartman with Joshua M. Greene

Signs of Survival: A Memoir of the Holocaust

Renee Hartman with Joshua M. Greene, Authors

Scholastic Press, Nonfiction, Jan 4., 2022

Suitable for ages:  8-12

Pages: 128

Themes: Sisters, Deafness, Czechoslovakia, Holocaust, Survival., Biography

Publisher’s Synopsis:

 I was ten years old then, and my sister was eight. The responsibility was on me to warn everyone when the soldiers were coming because my sister and both my parents were deaf. 

I was my family’s ears.

Meet Renee and Herta, two sisters who faced the unimaginable — together. This is their true story.

As Jews living in 1940s Czechoslovakia, Renee, Herta, and their parents were in immediate danger when the Holocaust came to their door in 1943. As the only hearing person in her family, Renee had to alert her parents and sister whenever the sound of Nazi boots approached their home so they could hide.

It became too dangerous, and their parents sent the two girls to live on a farm miles outside of their town of Bratislava. But soon their parents were tragically taken away to Auschwitz. The farmers made the girls leave. The two sisters went on the run, desperate to find a safe place to hide. Eventually they, too, would be captured and taken to the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. Communicating in sign language and relying on each other for strength in the midst of illness, death, and starvation, Renee and Herta would have to fight to survive the darkest of times.

This gripping memoir, told in a vivid “oral history” format, is a testament to the power of sisterhood and love, and now more than ever a reminder of how important it is to honor the past, and keep telling our own stories.

What I like about Sings of Survival:

I’ve reviewed many Holocaust books for middle grade students, but this book is really an excellent “first book” on the subject for young readers.  It is informative, without revealing too much scary information for children. The book is only 120 pages with short chapters narrated by both Renee and Herta.

Renee and Herta’s stories are taken from interviews from the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University. Renee and her husband, Yale Professor Geoffrey Hartman, founded the program.  Geoffrey was a Holocaust survivor.  It was their mission to record as many survivor stories as possible. Joshua Green, who produces books and films, transcribed their stories and edited them together. But they are both Renne and Herta’s own inspiring words.  

This is the first book, where I’ve encountered a deaf family and the danger they faced. They can’t hear soldiers outside, the marching of boots, and air raid sirens. Renee’s big job was to alert her family when soldiers approached. I enjoyed the very strong bond between Renee and Herta. Renee fiercely protects her sister throughout their ordeal . She manages to keep the the Nazi doctors from experimenting on her sister. Herta meets other deaf prisoners and learns to sign in several languages and is strong in her own way. Just before the camp is liberated, Renee comes down with typhoid fever and nearly dies. But Herta won’t let her and gets her to hold on until the camp is liberated. They are both sent Sweden to recover for three years, before American relatives locate them and fly them to New York City in 1948. Herta finally is able to attend a deaf school.

Make sure your check out the Epilogue by Joshua Greene at the end of the story. There are also photos of Renee and her family, that relatives found and sent them. There are photos of them in America, where family cared for them. Readers will also view pictures of  Bratislava in the 1930s, children living the Jewish quarter of Bratislava, deportation and prisoners at Bergen-Belsen.

Renee Hartman was born in Bratislava, which is now the capital of Slovakia. She and her sister were arrested by the Nazis and imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen, where they endured horrifying conditions, and where Renee nearly succumbed to typhus. After being liberated, Renee and her sister immigrated to the United States. Ever since, Renee has been writing about her experiences in the Holocaust. She lives in Connecticut.

Joshua M. Greene produces books and films about the Holocaust. His documentaries have been broadcast in twenty countries and his books translated into eight languages. He has taught Holocaust history for Fordham and Hofstra Universities. He lives in Old Westbury, New York.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

The Superpower Sisterhood – Perfect Picture Book Friday

The Superpower Sisterhood

Jenna Bush Hager & Barbara Pierce Bush, Authors

Cyndi Wojciechowski, Illustrator

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

Suitable for ages: 4-8

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

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

Book Jacket Synopsis:

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

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

Why I like The Superpower Sisterhood:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

 

 

 

The Last Fallen Moon by Graci Kim

The Last Fallen Moon: A Gifted Clans Novel (#2)

Graci Kim, Author

Rick Riordan Presents/ Disney-Hyperion, Fiction, Jun.14, 2022

Pages: 384

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Spiritrealm, Quest, Fantasy, Korean Mythology, Magic, Korean Americans, Sisters, Family, Diversity, Multicultural

Publisher’s Synopsis:

For Riley Oh, life as the Godrealm’s last fallen star is not all it’s cracked up to be. Her new divine heritage doesn’t even come with cool magical powers; half of her friends and family (including her parents) can’t remember her; and to top it all off, the entire Gom clan is mad at her for killing the Cave Bear Goddess and stripping away their healing abilities.

But when their anger boils over and a group of witches curse Riley’s home, she knows it’s up to her to restore magic back to her clan – even if it means sneaking into the Spiritrealm.

Luckily, Riley has some backup. Along with her sister, Hattie, Riley meets Dahl, a heaven-born boy with shockingly white hair and a fondness for toilets, who might not be telling the whole truth about who he is. Together they’ll fight vicious monsters, discover dark underwater worlds, and race to save the land of the dead from a fate that no one could have foreseen.

And this time, Riley won’t let anything get in her way. Because she can’t shake the feeling that something terrible is coming their way – and the gifted community is going to need all the powers they can get.

Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents the second book in Graci Kim’s New York Times best-selling Gifted Clans trilogy.  “Graci Kim does such an amazing job of blending Korean mythology into the modern world, I am now wondering how I ever lived without knowing all this cool information.”New York Times #1 best-selling author Rick Riordan.

Why I like this book:

Another compelling Korean mythological fantasy in the Gifted Clans series by Graci Kim. Her illustrious writing skills and fascinating world-building are perfect for this action-packed adventure that is magical, realistic, humorous, and dangerous. 

After the death of the Cave Bear Goddess in The Last Fallen Star, Riley decides to travel to the Spiritrealm and find the patron, Saint Heo Jun, and restore the magic and healing powers to the Gom Clan. That means Riley must leave the real world behind (won’t tell you how) and journey into the afterlife, where souls pass through an interim period between life and death — seven stages of hell — before they can move into heaven. (View the realms inside the book cover.)  Kim’s inclusion of the seven trials really makes this a rich reading experience as it expands the first book. It also introduces readers to this fantastical realm, new mythological creatures, danger and a lot of humor. (No more spoilers.)    

What makes this story sing is Kim’s well-drawn characters that leap off the pages. Riley, an adopted protagonist, who can’t do magic or heal, makes a lot of mistakes in the first part of the story. But then her character growth takes off and she surpasses her sister by the end. Hattie is the best sister ever and takes risks of her own to be by Riley’s side in the Spiritrealm. Her presence reminds readers of the strong family relationships in the story. And there are new characters like Dahl, a delightful, witty, white-haired 13-year-old who claims to be a janitor  and tour guide and helps Riley navigate the realm. There is so much more to his story (no spoilers) and he’s never incarnated. There are many more characters like the incompetent mayor and creatures who aren’t who you think they are — some loveable and and others are dark —  but they will find their way into the hearts of readers in unexpected ways.

The plot is skillfully executed and readers will think they know where the story is headed, but will experience many different twists and turns.  And they will be surprised and satisfied with the resounding ending,  

Additional thoughts: If you enjoyed the first book, you will probably enjoy reading The Last Fallen Moon. I will admit that it took me a while to get into this story, but I am glad I hung in because it was worth the my time to really understand Korean mythology and the various rituals that still exist today in Korea. I do recommend you read the books in order, even though there is a short summary of the previous book to bring readers up to speed, I really loved The Last Fallen Star, so you don’t want to miss it! There will be a final book in the trilogy. 

Gracie Kim is the national best-selling author of The Last Fallen Star, the first book in the Gifted Clans trilogy.  a Korean Kiwi diplomat turned author who writes about the magic she wants to see in the world. In a previous life she used to be a cooking-show host, and once ran a business that turned children’s drawings into plushies. When she’s not lost in her imagination, you’ll find Graci drinking flat whites, eating ramyeon, and most likely hugging a dog.  She lives in New Zealand with her husband and daughter. Follow her on Twitter @gracikim and Instagram @gracikimwrites. 

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.

 

In a Flash by Donna Jo Napoli

In A Flash

Donna Jo Napoli, Author

Wendy Lamb Books, Historical Fiction, Jan. 5, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12 years

Themes: Sisters, Italian, World War II, Japan, Survival, Courage, Hope

Book Jacket Synopsis:

In 1940, when Simona is eight and her sister, Carolina, is five, their father becomes the cook to the Italian ambassador to Japan, and the family leaves Italy for Tokyo. The girls learn perfect Japanese, make friends, and begin to love life in their new home. But soon Japan is engaged in a world war.

In 1943, when all Italians in Japan are confined to internment camps as enemy aliens, Papà and the girls are forced to part, and Simona and Carolina embark on a dramatic journey. Anyone who aids them could be arrested for treason. All the sisters have is each other: their wits, courage, and resilience, and the hope that they will find people who see them not as the enemy, but simply as children trying to survive.

In this gripping, deeply moving story, Donna Jo Napoli gives readers an unforgettable and authentic new perspective on World War II.

Why I like this book:

Donna Jo Napoli’s In a Flash is a dramatic and original story about two Italian sisters who are separated from their father and trapped in Japan during World War II. Napoli’s powerful storytelling captures their harrowing journey to survive and will tug at reader’s heart-strings. 

I was immediately drawn to their gripping story because it’s a piece of history I knew nothing about. There were many Italians living in Japan during the war. And it is researched and well-documented by Napoli. Make sure you read her historical comments at the end of the novel because she sheds more light on this time period. The narrative is in Simona’s strong voice. The setting is vivid, realistic and rich in detail. Readers will get a very strong sense of the beautiful Japanese culture in the first third of the novel — the customs, family life, the pace of life, the abundant markets, and foods — before the bombings begin and the country is thrown into mayhem. The plot is suspenseful, heart-wrenching and hopeful. The ending will surprise readers.

The story is character driven. Readers will be captivated by Simona and Carolina’s spirits and strong wills. The acclimate to the culture and quickly become fluent in Japanese. Tokyo becomes home, even though they live inside the Italian embassy. When Italy changes sides during the war, Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, and America begins bombing Japan, tension rises. The girls and their papa, the Italian ambassador and all Italians living in in Japan are sent to internment and secret prison camps. Simona and Carolina escape a camp and find safe havens among very generous and loving cast of Japanese characters who love and keep them alive during their journey;  three female manga artists, beggars, a washer woman, a professor and German priests. 

Readers will be able to experience the human side of war through Simona and Carolina. This is an important addition to children’s historical fiction and deserves a place in school libraries. 

Donna Jo Napoli has published more than eighty books for young readers, including picture books, early readers, and young adult and middle-grade novels. Her work has been translated into nineteen languages and has won many awards at the state and national levels. She is a professor of linguistics and social justice at Swarthmore College, and she brings her research skills and her profound interest in language to bear on her novels, particularly the historical ones. She and her husband live in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Visit her at her website.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim

The Last Fallen Star: A Gifted Clans Novel

Graci Kim, Author (Rick Riordan Presents)

Disney Hyperion, Fiction, May 4, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12 

Pages: 336

Themes: Witchcraft, Sisters, Quest, Goddesses, Korean Mythology, Korean Americans, Fantasy

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Riley Oh can’t wait to see her sister, Hattie, get initiated into the Gom clan — a powerful lineage of Korean healing witches their family has been part of for generations. Hattie will get her Gi bracelet and finally be able to cast spells without adult supervision. Although Riley is desperate to follow in her sister’s footsteps when she herself turns thirteen, she’s a saram – a person without magic. Riley was adopted, and despite having memorized every healing spell she’s ever heard, she often feels like the odd one out in her family and the gifted community.

Then Hattie gets an idea: What if the two of them could cast a spell that would allow Riley to share Hattie’s magic? Their sleuthing reveals a promising incantation in the family’s old spell book, and the sisters decide to perform it at Hattie’s initiation ceremony. If it works, no one will ever treat Riley as an outsider again. It’s a perfect plan!

Until it isn’t. When the sisters attempt to violate the laws of the Godrealm, Hattie’s life ends up hanging in the balance. To save her, Riley has to accomplish an impossible task: find the last fallen star. But what is the star, and how can she find it? 

As Riley embarks on her search, she finds herself meeting fantastic creatures and collaborating with her worst enemies. And when she uncovers secrets that challenge everything she has been taught to believe, Riley must decide what it means to be a witch, what it means to be family, and what it means to belong.

What to love about this book:

Since Graci Kim’s book is newly released and is sure to be a bestseller and favorite among readers, I will be careful not to give away any spoilers.

I was mesmerized by The Last Fallen Star!  I could not put it down. I normally take notes or put tabs in parts of a book I want to share, but I was so engrossed, I forgot. Her illustrious writing skills and beautiful world-building are perfect for this thrilling action-packed adventure that is magical, realistic, humorous, and dangerous. What an exciting way to learn about Korean mythology, witch clans, goddesses, and magical creatures with a contemporary Korean-American twist! I fell in love with this world right away! And I can’t forget to mention all the savory Korean food. 

What makes this story sing is Kim’s well-drawn characters that leap off the pages. Riley is an outcast because she is adopted and not gifted with a magical talent. Her heart longs to really belong to the Gom Clan. She wants to be a healer one day, but she’s vulnerable. She faces prejudice from both adults and peers. But what she really wants is to be accepted for who she truly is. Hattie is the best sister ever and loves Riley so much that she takes dangerous risks to share her own power with Riley. Riley couldn’t ask for a better friend in Emmett, who is somewhat of an outcast since his mother was a witch and his father a saram. He really understands Riley and supports her —  and he is funny, brave and loyal! There are many more characters and creatures that are lovable and evil, but they will find their way into the hearts of readers. In fact, I would love to have Boris in my life. You’ll have to read the novel to know who/what Boris is!

The fast-paced plot is complex with so many turns, that readers will enjoy being surprised! It is hard to guess what will happen next. And I didn’t see the ending coming at all — in fact I didn’t know what to expect. Readers will be interested in knowing that there will be more to Gifted Clans series with The Last Fallen Moon scheduled for release in the summer of 2022.  There is a lot more territory to cover in this mythical world. Make sure you read the introduction by Rick Riordan and check out his short interview with Graci Kim below.

Gracie Kim is a Korean Kiwi diplomat turned author who writes about the magic she wants to see in the world. The Last Fallen Star is her middle grade debut. In a previous life she used to be a cooking-show host, and once ran a business that turned children’s drawings into plushies. When she’s not lost in her imagination, you’ll find Graci drinking flat whites, eating ramyeon, and most likely hugging a dog.  She lives in New Zealand with her husband and daughter. Follow her on Twitter @gracikim and Instagram @gracikimwrites. 

Rick Riordan is the author of five New York Times #1 best-selling middle grade series, including Percy Jackson and the Olympians, which brings Greek mythology to life for contemporary readers. The goal of Rick Riordan Presents is to publish highly entertaining books by authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds, to allow them to tell their own stories inspired by the mythology, folklore, and culture of their heritage. Rick’s Twitter handle is @RickRiordan. Visit him at his website.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

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.

Pooka and Bunni by Jennifer Zivoin

Pooka & Bunni

Jennifer Zivoin, Author and Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Nov. 10, 2020

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Sisters, Sibling relationships, Imagination, Creativity, Perseverance, Problem solving

Opening: “This is Bunni…and this is Pooka. Bunni is big, clever, and interested in many things. Pooka is small, clever, and interested in whatever Bunni is is doing.”

Synopsis:

Bunni is building a wonderful pillow castle while her little sister, Pooka, peppers her with questions and wants to help. Bunni replies, “You’re too little to help! You’ll just knock everything down.” Bunni leaves for her whistling lessons and warns Pooka not to touch anything.

But you know little sisters. The moment Bunni is gone, Pooka peers inside the castle with awe. She bounces up and down until “uh oh…” the castle comes tumbling down on top of her.  But don’t under estimate little sisters, even if the pillows are much bigger than she is and way too heavy.  Pooka uses her imagination and creativity and perseverance to build something just as wonderful! What will Bunni think?

Why I like this book:

Jennifer Zivoin has written a delightful story about siblings playing together that is full of heart. Bunni is like many older siblings who don’t want their little sisters to get in the way of their big projects. Except there is a twist in this story that makes it such an endearing read for children and their parents.  Kids will cheer for Pooka and her her imagination and can-do attitude. And they will be delighted with Bunni’s response and the Ooops! moment at the end.

Zivoin’s illustrations are beautiful and showcase the wonder of children dreaming big and playing together.  Just look at that cover! This book is an excellent bonding story for parents to share with siblings.

Resources/Activities: This book is a great starting point to encourage your older and younger kids to build, draw, decorate, bake or plant something together, Younger siblings look up to their older siblings and want to do everything they do. What a fun family discussion book about teamwork and playing together.

Jennifer Zivoin has illustrated over 30 books, including Something Happened in Our Town and A World of Possibilities. This is the first book has has both written and illustrated. Jennifer earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Indiana University, Bloomington.  Jennifer lives in Carmel, Indiana. 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.

My Fate According to the Butterfly by Gail D. Villanueva

My Fate According to the Butterfly

Gail D. Villanueva, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Jul. 30, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Superstitions, Philippines, Sisters, Family relationships, Drug addiction, Diversity

Book Synopsis:

Sab Dulce is doomed!

When superstitious Sab sees a giant black butterfly, an omen of death, she knows her fate is sealed. According to the legend her father used to tell her, she has a week before destiny catches up with her. Even worse, that week ends on her birthday! All she wants is to celebrate her birthday with her entire family. But her journalist sister, Ate Nadine, cut their father out of her life one year ago, and Sab has no idea why.

If Sab’s going to get Ate Nadine and their father to reconcile, she’ll have to overcome her fears — of her sister’s anger, leaving the bubble of her shelter community, her upcoming doom — and figure out the cause of their rift.

So with time running out, Sab and her best friend, Pepper, start spying on Ate Nadine and digging into their family’s past. Soon Sab’s adventures across Manila reveal truths more complicated, and more dangerous, than she ever anticipated.

Set in the Philippines, this is a moving coming-of-age story about family, reconciliation, and recovery. Readers will root fiercely for the irrepressible Sab as she steps out of her cocoon and takes her fate into her own hands.

Why I like this book:

My Fate According to the Butterfly is a compelling and mesmerizing story about culture, superstition, family secrets, substance abuse and forgiveness. This is the first novel I have reviewed about this beautiful country.

The author basis her story on many of her own real life experiences as a girl growing up in the Philippines. Readers will learn a lot about its rich culture, superstitions, traditions, subway systems, and cuisine — especially the mouthwatering descriptions that will tempt their senses.

Readers will learn about the colonial mentality in the Philippines that is a result of the colonization by Spain. Sab is brown and flat-nosed, something she is very conscious of, as opposed to her friend, Pepper, who is light-skinned, has blue eyes and has a bridge to her nose. It is a stigma of sorts for Sab and she doesn’t feel beautiful. And Sab is very aware how differently she’s treated in public — “white is beautiful, brown is not.”

When a giant black butterfly crosses Sab’s path, she sets out to get her father and older sister, Ate Nadine, to fix their relationship in case her time is running out. It is interesting to watch this wonderfully real protagonist work through this long-held superstition and come to her own conclusions.

Sab is planning her eleventh birthday, but ends up uncovering secrets about her father’s substance abuse. Many readers will identify with an addictive parent, which is a problem for Filipino families, both rich and poor, as it is worldwide. It has spit Sab’s family, but it is also an opportunity for the family to heal.

Gail D. Villanueva is a Filipino author born and based in the Philippines. She’s also a web designer, an entrepreneur, and a graphic artist. Gail and her husband live in the outskirts of Manila with their doges, ducks, turtle, cats on one friendly but lonesome chicken. Visit 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.

Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos

Planet Earth is Blue

Nicole Panteleakos, Author

Wendy Lamb Books, Fiction, May 14, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 240

Themes: Sisters, Autism, Loss, Foster families, Astronomy, Challenger space shuttle, Accidents

Opening: Bridget was gone. And Nova was broken.

Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Nova is eagerly awaiting the launch of the space shuttle Challenger. Nova and her big sister, Bridget, love astronomy, and they planned to watch the launch together. But Bridget has run away, and now Nova is in another new foster home.

Nova is autistic. Speaking is hard for her. Teachers and foster families have always believed that she isn’t as smart as other kids. They don’t realize that she can read, count, and understand conversations. If they listened more intently, they’d realize that she can speak. She really wants to read the Bridge to Terebithia and A Wrinkle in Time, but teachers keep reading her picture books. She’s fallen through the cracks. Only Bridget knows how very wrong they are. But now, as the liftoff draws closer, others begin to see how intelligent Nova is. And every day, she’s counting down to the launch of the first teacher into space, and to the moment when she’ll see Bridget again. Will Bridget keep her promise to Nova?

What I like about this book:

Nicole Panteleakos’s debut novel is a sensitive, captivating and heartbreaking tale that begins 10 days before the fateful launch of the Challenger Space Shuttle in 1986. Nova has two reasons to be excited about the launch — her love of space travel and her big sister’s promise to return to watch the event with her.

Panteleakos realistically portrays Nova’s challenges — based on her own experiences of being on the spectrum — while always emphasizing her strengths. Nova is a resilient, imaginative and intelligent protagonist, who is non-verbal. Unfortunately Nova’s social worker and teachers underestimate her abilities and label her “mentally retarded.” They fail her. Only her older sister, Bridget, patiently works with Nova, knows how to communicate with her, and sees her abilities. She calls Nova a “thinker not a talker.” But Bridget is gone and Nova is alone.

Through a series of letters written by Nova to her sister in the story, readers experience the world through Nova’s inner voice — including her emotions, frustrations, anger, fears and imagination. The letters are a window into Nova’s desire for a “forever home”and her fear of disappointment if she becomes too attached. And readers will see the many important breakthroughs for Nova as she learns to trust and connect with her loving foster family — the 11th family in seven years.

Readers will learn about astronomy, space travel, the history of the space program, the first teacher chosen to go into space, Christa McAuliffe, and the Challenger Program, which “taught kids anyone could have a dream.” They will also learn what it’s like to be autistic in the mid-80s, and the foster home system. There is so much to love about this book — the setting, the characters, and the plot. And there is a huge twist at the end, that even blindsided me.  Make sure you check out the interesting Author’s Note at the end of the book, because there is important information about the Challenger launch, the author’s experiences with Asperger’s, and the history of autism over the past century.

Nicole Panteleakos is a middle-grade author, playwright, and Ravenclaw whose plays have been performed at numerous theaters and schools in Connecticut and New York City. She earned her BA in Theatre Scriptwriting from Eastern Connecticut State University and is currently working toward her MFA in Children’s Literature at Hollins University. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and has three awesome godchildren, two quirky cats, and at least one Broadway song stuck in her head at all times. Planet Earth Is Blue is her debut novel. Visit Nicole 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.

Love for Logan – Autism Awareness Month

Love for Logan 61pCVoTdN7LLove for Logan

Lori DeMonia, Author

Monique Turchan, Illustrator

Halo Publishing International, Fiction, May 15, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 6 -9

Themes: Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism Spectrum, Sisters, Family Relationships, Love

Opening: “I’m too excited to sit still! I finally get to put my pink butterfly costume and sparkle wings on tonight for my ballet recital. I can’t wait for everyone to see me. But, I’m worried too. What if my whole family won’t be there?” 

Synopsis: Logan’s  tummy is flip-flopping with excitement as she dresses for her ballet recital. Her only worry is whether her older sister Leah, who has autism and a sensory processing disorder, will be able to watch her dance. While Logan gets ready for the recital Leah reads her a story. When Logan accidentally spills a metal tin of bobby pins on the floor, Leah jumps up, covers her ears and runs from the room. Dad promises to talk with Leah to help her understand what to expect at the recital with a lot people, clapping, and bright lights. Logan leaves for the theater with the hopes that her whole family will attend.

Why I like this book:

Lori DeMonia has written a sensitive and child-friendly story about Leah learning to understand and cope with the uncertainty and complexity of having a sister with autism and a sensory processing disorder. This heartwarming story is told with such love as the family works together to find ways to be part of each others lives.

Love for Logan is a fictional story inspired by the author’s daughters. It is a lovely sequel and companion book to the DeMonia’s first book, Leah’s Voice. It is written with simplicity so that children will have fun with the story and learn more about the impact of sensory issues on a sibling’s daily life. The ending is endearing because Leah wants her entire family to attend her ballet recital. Will Logan finds the courage to attend? Monique Turchan’s illustrations are warm, expressive and lively. They compliment the story.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) covers a variety of neurological disabilities, not just one. Some children with autism have SPD. It has an impact on every day life for the child and family. Many children like Leah,  find things are too noisy, too smelly, too itchy and too ouchy. It may cause children to behave in ways that are different from.

Resources: This is an excellent book for families dealing with similar issues. It is also a book that could be used in the classroom during Autism Awareness Month to discuss sensory issues with students. A lot of kids don’t like sirens, fire drills, scratchy labels, and smelly things. Encourage students talk or draw pictures about what bothers them most. This could lead to a lively discussion about similarities and help students better support someone with SPD. The Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation has a wealth of resources and information.

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 Perfect Picture Books.