I Surived: The Galveston Hurricane, 1900 by Lauren Tashis

I Survived: The Galveston Hurricane, 1900

Lauren Tarshis, author

Scott Dawson, Illustrator

Scholastic Books, Historical Fiction, Sep. 7, 2021

Pages: 144

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Hurricane, Galveston, Texas, Bullying, Survival, Community

Publisher’s Synopsis:

More than a century later, the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 is still America’s deadliest disaster. Lauren Tarshis’s story of one child surviving the horrible event churns with page-turning action and bold hope.

The city of Galveston, Texas, was booming. Perched on an island off the southern coast of Texas, Galveston had been founded in the 1830s. By 1900, it was Texas’s richest and most important city. Boats loaded up with American cotton and wheat steamed from Galveston to countries around the world. Arriving ships were crowded with immigrants. The streets, paved with crushed oyster shells, sparkled like they’d been sprinkled with diamonds.

True, this glittering city was prone to flooding. But just a few years before, a weather forecaster had said the idea of a hurricane striking Galveston was absurd.

So when a storm started brewing on September 8, 1900, no one believed it would be any worse than previous storms. They gathered on the beach to cheer on the wild waves. But what started as entertainment soon turned into a nightmare as those wild waves crashed into the city. By morning, hundreds of homes were destroyed. Eight thousand people were dead. The city had all but disappeared,

In this thrilling installment of Lauren Tarshis’s New York Times bestselling I Survived series, one child finds safety only to head back into the treacherous waters to make sure his neighbors are safe. 

Why I love this book/series:

I Survived: The Galveston Hurricane, 1900  is a riveting and suspenseful survival story that will sweep readers into the center of the hurricane. It is a guaranteed page-turner with a lot of heart-stopping action. Tarshis’s snappy text will encourage her audience to keep reading. Scott Dawson’s vivid illustrations add to the tension of the story. Just read the opening paragraph:

Nooooooooo!  A powerful blast of wind grabbed hold of eleven-year-old Charlie Miller and threw him into the raging flood. He screamed for his parents and his little sister as the churning waters swept him away.”

Charlie’s is a very relatable and fun character. He loves magic and studies the techniques of favorite magicians. He uses his tricks on his sister. He and his best friend Sarah spend time at the beach — especially after a storm or high tide causes the streets to flood and creates an “overflow.” The kids put on their swim suits and float down the streets. He has fun until he encounters a school bully, Gordon, who is just plain mean. 

An impressive amount of research went into writing this fictional tale, which includes real events and a lot of historical facts.  The only real-life character in the book, was Dr. Isaac Cline, head of the Galveston Weather Bureau, who was a widely respected weather expert. (There is more information about Dr Cline in the end papers.) He wrote many articles reassuring the community that a hurricane spun off the coast of Africa would not be able to reach Galveston — only the east coast of the U.S. In 1900, weatherman didn’t have the equipment that is available today. This would make for an interesting discussion.

According to Tarshis, the Galveston Hurricane, 1900, still remains the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history with 6,000 to 10,000 killed. Many people were swept out into the gulf.  I didn’t realize that Galveston was an island, a paradise for the residents and tourists. There were miles of beautiful beaches, homes, shops, restaurants, theaters and a port with big ships docking daily.  People rode in carriages or on bicycles. It was also the home for many wealthy people. 

Charlie didn’t know any survival techniques when he’s swept out into the middle of the hurricane. However, the author does use a technique in her story to show how Charlie finds the will to get out of some tough situations and eventually find a place to survive until the hurricane passes.

Make sure you check out the backmatter, “Keep Reading!” which includea many photographs of the real-life places that inspired Charlie’s story. Readers will get to see photographs of Galveston before and after the huuricane, articles about staying safe during hurricanes and information from the author about writing the story.

Lauren Tarshis’s New York Times bestselling I Survived series tells stories of young people and their resilience and strength in the midst of unimaginable disasters and times of turmoil. Lauren has brought her signature warmth and exhaustive research to topics such as the battle of D-Day, the American Revolution, Hurricane Katrina, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Shark Attacks, the California Wildfires, the Attacks on September 11, 2001 and other world events. She lives in Connecticut with her family, and can be found on-line at laurentarshis.com.

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.

 

I Survived: The Wellington Avalanche, 1910 by Lauren Tarshis

I Survived the Wellington Avalanche, 1910

Lauren Tarshis, Author

Scott Dawson, Illustrator

Scholastic, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Sep. 6, 2022

Pages: 144

Suitable for ages: 8-12 (reading level Grade 4)

Themes: Avalanche, Trains, Survival, Wellington, Orphans, Gangsters, Theft

Publisher’s Synopsis:

The Wellington snow slide of 1910 was―and still is―the deadliest avalanche in America’s history. 

The snow is coming down faster than train crews can clear the tracks, piling up in drifts 20 feet high. In a tiny town in the Cascade Mountains, Janie Pryor — and the other passengers trapped on the Seattle Express train – wait for the horrific blizzard to end.

One day passes, then two. three…six days. Secretly, Janie doesn’t mind being stuck on the mountain. She’s safe from the brutal gangsters chasing after her. And so far, nobody on the train knows about the stolen jewels Janie has sewn in a hidden pocket of her coat. And for the first time since her parents death, she’s enjoying sleeping in a warm bed and eating food.

At the Wellington train depot in the Cascade Mountains  two trains sat stranded, blocked in by snow slides to the east and west. Some male passengers brave the storm to make the treacherous hike off the mountain to a town called Scenic. They send word for no one to follow, it’s too dangerous. Many passengers have no choice but to wait out the storm, because of age or they have children.

Then, just after midnight on March 1,the snow turns to rain and  a lightning storm strikes the mountain, sending a ten-foot-high wave of snow barreling down the mountain. The trains tumbled 150 feet. 96 people are dead. Janie sees it coming an runs, but is buried in a ferocious wave of snow, giant rocks and train parts. Can she make it out alive?

The Wellington avalanche forever changed railroad engineering. 

Why I like this book/series:

I Survived: The Wellington Avalanche, 1910, is a  gripping survival story that will thrill readers with its heart-pounding action.  Tarshis’s snappy text moves along at quick pace, encouraging her audience to keep reading. Scott Dawson’s expressive illustrations add to the tension of the story. Just read the opening paragraph: 

RRRRRRRooooooor! The earsplitting explosion shook the ground. Eleven-year–old Janie Pryor swung her head around and stared in horror. The mountain above her seemed to have shattered apart. A massive wave of icy snow was crashing down. An avalanche!” 

This book is a excellent way to teach young readers about different events in history, narrated by someone their own age. I am impressed with the amount of research that goes into this piece of historical fiction. Readers will learn about how avalanches form, how poorly the railway system was at the turn of the century, the placement of tracks too close to cliffs and the inability to track weather conditions. They will also learn about how this disaster led to railway changes.

Janie’s story represents another interesting part of history — the plight of the thousands of children who are orphans. Janie’s parents are killed in an accident and she is on her own. Many end up in deplorable orphanages, work houses, begging on the streets, stealing, and sleeping in alleys. Janie is snagged to work for criminals, like Ray Malvo, who force her to deliver stolen jewels by train and watch her every move. Her storyline is interesting in the book and kids will cheer for her.

What they won’t learn in this story is survival techniques. Perhaps there weren’t techniques, like today. Janie only hears the mountain explode and runs as fast as she can to save her life before she is buried in snow, ice and debris.  However, the author does use a technique in her story to show how Janie finds the will to live until she is rescued.  

This the 22nd book in the ” I Survived” middle grade series. The reading level is set at fourth grade. So it is certainly the perfect series to hand to a reluctant readers. 

Make sure you check out the backmatter, which include many photographs of the real-life places that inspired Janie’s story. Readers will get to see inside the trains, newspapers articles. photographs of the crash sites and information about from the author about writing the story.

Lauren Tarshis’s New York Times bestselling I Survived series tells stories of young people and their resilience and strength in the midst of unimaginable disasters and times of turmoil. Lauren has brought her signature warmth and exhaustive research to topics such as the battle of D-Day, the American Revolution, Hurricane Katrina, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Shark Attacks, the California Wildfires, the Attacks on September 11, 2001 and other world events. She lives in Connecticut with her family, and can be found online at laurentarshis.com.

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 purchased copy.

 

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.

Two Degrees by Alan Gratz

Two Degrees: A Planet in crisis. And time is running out.

Alan Gratz, Author

Scholastic Books, Fiction, Oct. 4, 2022

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Pages: 384

Themes: Climate change, Global warming, Survival, Adventure,  Science and nature 

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Fire. Ice. Flood. Three climate disasters.

Four kids fighting for their lives.

Akira is riding her horse in the California woods when a wildfire sparks–and grows scarily fast. How can she make it to safety when there are flames everywhere?

Owen and his best friend, George, are used to seeing polar bears on the snowy Canadian tundra. But when one bear gets way too close for comfort, do the boys have any chance of surviving?

Natalie hunkers down at home as a massive hurricane barrels toward Miami. When the floodwaters crash into her house, Natalie is dragged out into the storm–with nowhere to hide.

Akira, Owen, George, and Natalie are all swept up in the devastating effects of climate change. They are also connected in ways that will shock them–and could alter their destinies forever.

Bestselling author Alan Gratz is at the top of his game, shining a light on our increasingly urgent climate crisis while spinning an action-packed story that will keep readers hooked–and inspire them to take action.

What’s to like about Two Degrees:

I am an Alan Gratz fan and I feel he’s outdone himself with Two Degrees. It is a brilliant action-packed novel about the most important topic of this century — our rapidly changing climate. It is a breathtaking  read, but it will also have readers holding their breaths as they encounter many suspenseful moments and wonder what will happen next.  I felt a lot of energy in this novel that I am hopeful will energize readers to do something. 

This is storytelling at its finest.  It is a  necessary story with a harrowing and fast-paced plot that will keep readers engaged.  Just look at that gorgeous and engaging cover. It speaks to readers.  

Gratz did a remarkable amount of research in his thoughtfully penned novel. Although he focused his story in North America, he also addresses climate change worldwide. That’s why there are moments that are truly chilling as readers watch Akira, Natalie, Owen and George in survival mode outsmarting fires, rising waters and polar bears. Make sure you check out his author’s note at the end and learn about how he created each character. 

The story is written in three alternating stories, each ending with a big cliff hangar, which adds to the suspense. The characters are authentic and their engrossing stories are drawn from real-life situations that are particularly relevant with the recent wildfires in the west and fury of Hurricane Ian. All four characters are courageous, determined and committed.  And they are connected in ways they can hardly imagine in an over-the-top (crescendo) ending that will inspire and energize students to want to do something about climate change.  As Natalie realizes in the story “we can’t do it alone, it will take all of us doing something.”  

Gratz’s novel belongs in school libraries and would encourage interesting discussions in classrooms. Many readers will have already lived through wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and droughts. Climate change can be scary and it is important that readers are in touch with their feelings. Next week I’m reviewing All the Feelings Under the Sun: How to Deal with Climate Change by Leslie Davenport. It pairs beautifully with Two Degrees.    

Alan Gratz is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of many highly acclaimed books for young readers include Ground Zero, Refugee, Allies, Projekt 1065, and Prisoner B-3087.  Alan lives in North Carolina with his wife and daughter. Look for him online at his website.

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

*Reviewed from a purchased 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.

Chasing Helicity – Through the Storm by Ginger Zee

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday 

Chasing Helicity – Through the Storm (Book 3)

Ginger Zee, Author

Disney-Hyperion, Fiction,  Apr. 21, 2020

Pages: 224

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Weather, Storms, Meteorology, Survival, Hot Air Balloon Festival, Addiction, Bullying, Family relationships, Friendships

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Battered, bruised, but alive, Helicity Dunlap rides out a hurricane in the Bolivar Peninsula Lighthouse in Texas. She somehow manages to keep herself safe and to even rescue a lost dog in the process.

After a day in the hospital, she and her mom and Same make the two-day drive back to Western Michigan. They leave Andy and their dad behind as Andy is finally going to get the help he needs in an addiction rehabilitation facility. Much to her dismay, Helicity ends up in the spotlight-first in a good way after surviving the hurricane and rescuing the dog, and then social media turns on her and she finds herself in the eye of a completely different kind of storm.

Back at school Helicity struggles to maintain her focus-long rides on her horse, Raven, help as do a few weekend trips with her mom. She decides to accept an offer to be interviewed about her experience in Texas by a reporter who followed her story. They meet up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, during the annual International Hot Air Balloon Festival, a spectacle that must be seen to be believed. The excitement builds as Helicity delights in her first ride in a lighter-than-air balloon when disaster strikes. A severe dust storm – a haboob – typical of the area erupts while Helicity is aloft. How will the pilot navigate this threatening and potentially deadly storm? Find out in this exciting conclusion to the Chasing Helicity series.

Why I like this book:

Author Ginger Zee, chief meteorologist for ABC, once again captivates readers with the final book in her Chasing Helicity trilogy. It is the perfect adventure novel for readers who like cool science, and are intrigued by storms, unusual weather phenomenon, and meteorology. Zee makes science fun and approachable.

The plot is a thrilling and fast-paced adventure. Through the Storm, picks up where the second novel, Into the Wind, leaves off with Helicity trapped and isolated in an old lighthouse with a raging hurricane plummeting the Texas coastline. Zee’s writing is filled with vivid imagery of the storm as Helicity experiences both the terror and the beauty of looking directly up into the “eye” of the hurricane before the raging winds return.

The characters are convincing. Helicity is a smart, curious, and self-taught weather junkie who befriends storm chasers, Lana and Ray. She is a survivor and not a victim. Her older brother Andy is recovering from an addiction to painkillers following an injury in a Michigan tornado (Book 1). Helicity is also a vulnerable, especially when she and Andy are bullied on social media by a mean-spirited Michigan classmate, Kate. Sam is a good friend and nice balance for Helicity. He supports her through tough times and there is a hint of romance. Zee accurately portrays the teen drama and readers will relate to the situation with empathy.

But the excitement isn’t over. The book ends with Helicity and Andy visiting the International Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque. No spoilers! There is a mention in the above synopsis, but I don’t want to give away this riveting and suspenseful conclusion. With the unpredictable weather patterns we have throughout the country — hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, draughts, and forest fires — Chasing Helicity Through the Storm is a perfect read. Readers will learn to recognize weather patterns that may just keep them safe. It also makes STEM subjects more exciting and relatable to readers. I hope we see more exciting weather/survival stories from Ginger Zee!

Ginger Zee is Good Morning America’s chief meteorologist, reporting on the nation’s weather throughout the morning broadcast. Since joining ABC News, Zee has covered almost every major weather event and dozens of historic storms. She broadcasted from the devastated Jersey Shore during Hurricane Sandy, the Colorado floods and wildfires, and covered the wreckage from tornadoes in Moore and El Reno, Oklahoma.

Zee’s love of adventure does not stop at studying the atmosphere in the center of a storm. She has parahawked in Nepal, paraglided from the Himalayas to the Andes, dived with sharks in the Bahamas, rappelled twenty-seven stories down the exterior facade of the Wit Hotel in Chicago, and even gone ice-boat racing and surfing.

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.

Dog Driven by Terry Lynn Johnson

Dog Driven

Terry Lynn Johnson, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Dec. 3, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Themes: Dogsledding, Sled dogs, Visual disabilities, Wilderness, Survival

Synopsis:

Ever since her vision started deteriorating, fourteen-year-old McKenna Barney has felt out of place in the world. Out of place at home and at school and even on the trail with her dogs.

Now, to help her younger sister with her own ongoing battle with an eye disease — Stargardt — McKenna finds herself at the head of her team of eight sled dogs in a race she’s not sure she can even see, let alone win. For three days of shifting lake ice, sudden owl attacks, bitterly cold nights, and frequent show squalls, McKenna faces both the Canadian wilderness and her own terrifying vision loss.

But she hides the truth from everyone, including her toughest rival, Guy, despite their budding alliance during the race. Will McKenna risk her survival as well as that of her dog team to keep her secret?

Why I like this book:

Dog Driven is a thrilling new survival novel by Terry Lynn Johnson, who once owned and raced 18 huskies.  She knows firsthand how breathtaking, peaceful, and unforgiving the wilderness can be. Reading a novel based on Johnson’s knowledge and experience, makes for great realistic fiction and a very vivid setting. Her original plot is fast-paced with high-stakes adventure, danger, courage and hope. The tension is palpable.

McKenna and Guy are the primary characters in the first Great Superior Mail Run sled dog race across Canada. McKenna is passionate about dog sledding because she’s been running dogs since she was very young. She’s a skilled musher who is enthusiastic about her sport and has a deep connection with her dogs, especially Mustard, her lead — they take care of each other. McKenna is running the race to help raise awareness for Stargardt disease. Guy is a good balance in the story and offers a bit of comic relief with his pranks. His trusted lead dog, Zesty, is blind, but they work together. Guy’s running the race to save his sled dogs from being sold by his dad. Together McKenna and Guy look out for each other during the race, until the finish line approaches.

But McKenna has a secret — her vision is rapidly blurring and she fears Stargardt disease. The stakes are high now that she realizes her vision puts her in danger and her dogs at risk on unfamiliar trails under severe weather conditions. They could die. But McKenna sees how her helicopter parents hover over her sister not allowing her to do anything for herself. Their behavior fuels McKenna’s determination to prove to herself and to her parents, that vision loss doesn’t limit her abilities. This is an excellent discussion question to pose to readers. Is Mckenna being selfish/reckless in taking a huge risk that could affect her, her sled dogs and other racers? What would readers do?

During the race, the mushers each carry a mailbag full of letters that they’ve been responsible for getting stamped along the race route. Readers will learn more about the great mail couriers from 1865 to the early 1900s along the White River Trail, an historical mail route between Pukaskwa Depot and White River. Throughout the book, Johnson includes letters from William Desjardins to his family, which give a real sense of a bygone era and a peek into history.  A great deal of research went into Johnson’s creating the race route and story.

Terry Lynn Johnson is the author of Ice Dogs, Sled Dog School, Falcoln Wild and the Survivor Diaries series. She lives at the edge of a lake in Ontario, Canada. For many years she was the owner and operator of a dogsledding business with 18 huskies. She taught dogsledding near Thunder Bay, Ontario. She also worked as a conservation officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Reources and Forestry for 17 years. Her lifelong passion for adventure and wilderness continues to inspire her books. 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.

The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman

The Bridge Home

Padma Venkatraman, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, Feb. 5, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Themes: Runaways, Homelessness, Survival, India, Friendship, Social issues, Hope

Opening: Talking to you was always easy, Rukku. But writing’s hard.

Synopsis:

Life is tough on the teeming streets of Chennai, India, as runaway sisters Viji and Rukku quickly discover. For cautious-minded Viji, this is not a surprise — but she hadn’t realized just how vulnerable she and her sister would actually feel in this uncaring, dangerous world.

Fortunately, the girls find shelter — and friendship — on an abandoned bridge that’s also the hideout of Muthi and Arul, two homeless boys. The four of them soon form a family of sorts, sharing food and supplies and laughing together about the absurdities of life. And while making their living scavenging the city’s trash heaps is the pits, the kids find plenty to take pride in, too. After all, they are now the bosses of themselves — and are truly hoping to keep it that way…

Padma Venkatraman’s moving survival story brings to light the obstacles faced by young people in many parts of the world, and is inspired by children she met during her years in India. Her heroic characters will touch readers with their perseverance and unwavering love for each other.

Why I love this book:

Padma Venkatraman’s passionate, heartbreaking and hopeful novel sheds light on the extreme poverty of four homeless children in India. Her powerful storytelling and vivid imagery, draws readers into their extraordinary journey. The setting is culturally rich. Venkatraman is a lyrical writer and there are many poetic turns of phrase. The novel is a beautiful love letter written by Viji to her sister, Rukku.

The four heroic children in the story are homeless for different reasons and will touch reader’s hearts. Viji and Rukku bravely flee an abusive and alcoholic father.  Arul’s parents are killed in accident. Muthu’s stepbrother sells him into child labor. Other street children are abandoned on streets or dumped in orphanages. Viji is protective of Rukku, her developmentally challenged sister.

The plot is dangerous and suspenseful, making this story a page turner. Life may be harsh for this four-some as they scale the garbage heaps, but it also shows their resilience, sense of adventure, deep friendship and hope. The richness of their close relationship makes this story shine brightly, even in the face of adversity. They are brothers and sisters. “We’re not just friends, we’re family,” says Arul. 

There are lighter moments when Rukku befriends a stray puppy, she names Kutti. Rukku doesn’t like sifting through garbage and sits beneath a tree stringing beads into intricate necklaces. Her jewelry brings a nice profit in the local markets and helps feed their family. Viji also begins to see what her sister can do, rather than what she can’t do. I love these uplifting moments.

Growing up in India, Venkatraman’s memories of starving children provide the inspiration for her novel, The Bridge Home.  Her story is well-researched and she draws her story from the tales of the children she meets while doing volunteer work with her mother at respectable children’s homes and schools. Most important, I love that she writes about a culture she knows so well. I hope we see more uplifting novels from her in the future.

Padma Venkatraman was born in India and became an American after living in five countries and working as an oceanographer. She is also the author of A Time to Dance, Island’s End, and Climbing the Stairs. Visit her at her website. I highly recommend her other novels.

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

*Purchased copy.

Survival Tails: Endurance in Antarctica by Katrina Charman

Survival Tails: Endurance in Antarctica (Vol. 2)

Katrina Charman, Author

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Historical Fiction, Dec. 11, 2018

Pages: 272

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Sled Dogs, Antarctica, Perilous Voyage, Survival, The Endurance, History

Synopsis:

Sled dog Samson can’t wait to be part of Ernest Shackleton’s historic voyage to Antarctica in 1914. Samson wants to feel the snow under his paws and the wind on his face as he races across the ice fields. Most of all he wants to help his humans chart the unexplored continent. Fellow sled dog Bummer just wants to get through the voyage in one piece. Why face down a dangerous, icy wasteland when he could stay inside his kennel, warm and safe?

When their ship, the Endurance, becomes trapped in sea ice, the dogs and men have no way home. Their journey becomes not about glory, but about survival in unthinkable conditions. Samson, Bummer and the other dogs will have to put aside their differences and band together to rescue their humans — and themselves.

Why I like this book:

What an impressive way to engage teens in history than to hand them a suspenseful, action-packed animal adventure about the infamous Endurance expedition to Antarctica. Katrina Charman well-crafted novel weaves animal fantasy with a true tale about survival in brutal conditions. Her novel is daring, thrilling and dangerous. The dogs face cracking ice, the loss of their ship, leopard seals, killer whales, starvation, and a drifting ice floe that carries them away from land. Survive they must. This epic tale is packed with grit, courage, determination, teamwork, friendship and humor.

A handful of black and white drawings add significantly to the vivid and urgent survival setting. They show the sled dogs working as a team to save lives, the treacherous conditions, the ship being crushed by ice, whales following the life rafts, and the rescue.

The narrative is told in third person from the dogs point of view, with Samson and Amundsen competing for lead dog. Readers will like Samson because he’s wise, steady, loyal and tough. He compassionately encourages other dogs, like Bummer, to find their strengths. Amundsen is the bold Alpha dog who challenges Samson and is mean. But the high-stakes of surviving their desperate situation outweigh their differences. There are lighter moments with Sally and her four playful puppies, and the ship’s feline, Mrs. Chippy.

Katrina Charman  provides very detailed information at the end of the story about the real journey, with a time-line that matches each chapter and offers real-life information. There is a section with information about the 64 dogs selected for the expedition and their names and detailed information about the expedition, the crew of 26 men and their positions, including Frank Hurley, the official photographer and George Marston, an artist who captured the expedition through his paintings.

Katrina Charman lives in a small village in the middle of South East England with her husband and three daughters. Katrina has wanted to be a children’s writer ever since she was eleven, when her school teacher set her class the task of writing an epilogue to Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Her teacher thought her writing was good enough to send to Roald Dahl himself. Sadly, she never got a reply, but the experience ignited her love of reading and writing. She is the author of the Survival Tails: The Titanic, the first volume in the series. Survival Tails: World War II, will be released in August 2019. She invites you to 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 library copy.

Riders of the Realm #1: Across the Dark Water by Jennifer Alvarez

Riders of the Realm #1: Across the Dark Water

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, Author

Harper Collins Publisher, Fiction, May 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 417

Themes: Pegasi, Jungles, Giants, Survival, Trust, Loyalty, Freedom

Synopsis: Deep in the jungles of the Realm, the Sandwen clan live among deadly spit dragons and hordes of warring giants. But with their winged battle horses, they manage to keep their people safe.

Twelve-year-old Rahkki is a stable groom for the Riders in the Sandwen army, taking care of his brother’s winged stallion. The Sandwens believe they have tamed all the wild pegasi in their land, and turned them into flying warhorses to protect themselves from the giants. When a herd of wild steeds flies over their village, Rahkki and his clanmates are stunned. Who are these pegasi, and where have they come from?

Meanwhile, a small herd of pegasi have journeyed across a treacherous ocean to settle in a new, and free, land. Led by Echofrost and Hazelwind, the Storm Herd steeds are unaware that the Sandwens are ready to fight. But when the unthinkable happens, Echofrost and the rest of Storm Herd will have to come to trust the Sandwens, or both may not survive.

Opening: Every Sandwen child dreamed of riding. A winged horse, though most never would, and one would rather not.

Why I love this book:

Look at that gorgeous and engaging cover! What teen wouldn’t be drawn to this tantalizing novel?

Riders of the Realm: Across Dark Waters is a thrilling new fantasy by Jennifer Alvarez for the fans of her Guardian Herd series. They will not be disappointed! Riders of the Realm is a brand new journey into an unknown realm for 140 terrified pagasi who have fled Anok in treacherous search for a peaceful home and new life. Readers will be delighted to reunite with Echohfrost, Hazlewind, Graystone, Dewberry, Redfire and Shysong, and the other pegasi, who call themselves the Storm Herd. Her storytelling is magical and flows organically.

The setting and world-building is enchanting, but full of hidden dangers. Alvarez has created a matriarchal culture within the Sandwen seven clans ruled by a monarch queen. Storm Herd lands among the Fifth clan. The men in the clans are warriors. The flying steeds (Kihlari) are tame and are paired for life with a flyer, but they are trained for the military guard to protect the clans. There are huge ants, killer plants, spit dragons and giants who communicate by using sign language.

The plot is exhilarating with epic adventures, action, clashes between the wild and tame steeds, the evil Fifth clan queen, the capture of Echofrost and Shysong, and the warring giants. There is a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter that will keep readers fully engaged in this fast-paced novel.

We also meet Rahkki, a 12-year-old stable groom for his older brother, Brauk, who is a Rider. They have suffered a horrific family loss and take care of each other. When the wild flying herd glides high above their village, Rahkki is excited and his imagination soars as he wonders what else may live outside his world. Rahkki has no hope of ever being a rider, so he spends a lot of time with Echofrost. It is the perfect pairing, since both share a loss. And their relationship is crucial to the fate of both the realm and of Storm Herd. Loyalty, trust and friendship will lead them forward.

Alvarez expertly tells her story in the alternating voices of Echofrost and Rahkki, which offers a rich perspective and a lot insight into this compelling story. For Echofrost, being paired and ridden by a flyer, is unthinkable. For the tame Sandwen Pegasi being wild is an unimaginable. They are honored battle warriors and paired for life with a human.

Alvarez ends the book with a huge cliffhanger that will have readers imagining the future of the characters, the flying steeds and the realm. I predict this will be a favorite and cherished book by middle grade boys and girls. It is a perfect summer read! Readers will have to wait until February 2019, for the release of her second book in the trilogy, which will give new readers the opportunity to check out the Guardian Herd series.

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez is an active horsewoman. a volunteer for US Pony Club, and a proud mother of three children. She’s also the author the Guardian Herd series, fantasy novel starring wild pegasi. Alvarez draws on her lifelong love of animals when writing her books.  Visit Alvarez on her website.

Greg Pattridge is the permanent 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 from the library.