Mountain Dog

Mountain Dog9781250044242_p0_v3_s192x300Mountain Dog

Margarita Engle, Author

Olga and Aleksey Ivanov, Illustrators

Henry Holt and Company, Fiction, 2014

Paperback Pages: 240

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Rescue dogs, Human-animal relationships, Family relationships, Foster care, Hispanic-Americans, Sierra Nevada

Opening: “In my other life there were pit bulls. / The puppies weren’t born vicious, / but Mom taught them how to bite, / turning meanness into money, / until she got caught.”

Book Synopsis: When Tony’s mother goes to jail for being cruel to animals, he is sent to live with a great-uncle he has never met in Sierra Nevada. It is a big move for Tony and different from his life in Los Angeles. Uncle Tio is a forest ranger and owns Gabe, a search-and-rescue dog (SAR). Tony learns the skills he needs to survive in his new environment. With the friendship of Gabe and the support from his uncle, Tony opens himself to a life and a future he never could have imagined.

Why I like Mountain Dog:

  • Margarita Engle writes a moving and sensitive novel that touches on historical facts that include immigration, unhealthy and healthy family relationships, cruelty of animals, and search-and-rescue dogs along the Pacific coast wilderness trails.
  • It is a beautifully inspiring story written in free verse, with alternating chapters in Tony’s and Gabe’s voices. The language is strong and captures Tony’s pain as he struggles with his complicated feelings about his mother and his new life. Gabe shares his upbeat insights into Tony and his unconditional doggy love. I believe it is a story that will appeal to both genders.
  • In many ways, this is a coming of age story for an 11-year-old boy who gets a real chance to experience family with his Tio and Gabe, as he settles into the search and rescue life of the community. The characters are realistic and memorable. There are friendships with Gracie and members of the Cowboy Church (which welcomes horses and dogs), and fellow hikers.
  • The plot is original with moments of action and tension in the vast wilderness that will keep readers turning pages. There is no tidy ending with Tony’s mother.  This is a very sensitive story about a boy who begins to dream, find purpose in his life, and heal.
  • Readers will also enjoy the facts woven into the story about the choice and training of SAR dogs, what to do if you get lost, and survival tips. Olga and Aleksey Ivanov’s black and white illustrations of the SAR dogs in action, bears and wildlife, wilderness treats, and paw prints contribute significantly to Tony’s story.

Resources: There is much back matter in the book from the author, who owns SAR dogs, which makes this a perfect classroom discussion book.  Margarita Engle is a Newbery Honor winner for The Surrender Tree and has written poems plus historical fiction works.  Visit Engle’s website where teachers can find activities for the classroom.

Check other Middle Grade review links on Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

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Doylie to the Rescue: Saving Baby Monkeys in the Amazon

Doylie to Rescue 61yz1rq+bHL__SY427_BO1,204,203,200_Doylie to the Rescue: Saving Baby Monkeys in the Amazon

Cathleen Burnham, Author and Photographer

CrickettHollow Books, Nonfiction, April 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-10

Themes: Amazon rain forest, Global kids, Youth activism, Wild animal rescue, Baby monkeys, Conservation and protection

Opening: “The Yagua Indian man crept through the Amazon rain forest in Peru. He had been hunting a family of red howler monkeys for hours. If he was successful, his family would eat meat that day. If not, they would go hungry.” 

Synopsis: Doyli, a 10-year-old girl with a big smile, lives in the Amazon rain forest. With the help of her family, they rescue and protect orphaned monkeys from hunters and thieves, nurse them back to health and release them to the wild when they are ready.

Why I like this book:

Cathleen Burnham has written a powerful and  inspiring true-story that carries a very strong message for children that they don’t have to be adults to make a difference. Doyli is proof of how one small act of caring can have an extraordinary impact in protecting wildlife.

This book engages readers in Doyli’s rehabilitation work from the start. It also includes a fascinating glimpse of every day life in the Amazon rain forest. Doyli does household chores, collects drinking water from the river for the family, takes a bath in the river, and travels with her brother in a dug-out canoe to school where she studies math, Spanish, and science. After school, Doyli nurtures the orphaned monkeys back to health with a special diet and her love.

I especially like how the author doesn’t judge the Yagua Indian for shooting a monkey with a poison dart. He’s only trying to feed his family. The same hunter discovers the monkey he shoots has a baby, which he delivers to Doyli’s home the next morning. He knows the baby will be cared for and released back to its natural habitat — a kind of cycle of life story. The story also shows a dark side, where Doyli discovers a man selling a spider monkey in the marketplace. With the help of the police, the man is arrested and Doyli takes the spider monkey home.

Every page of the book is filled with lush, beautiful and touching photographs that really SHOW every aspect of Doyli’s life in the Amazon, the delicate ecosystem  and the gorgeous endangered species living in the rain forest. Readers will also devour all the factual information.

Resources: To learn more about the amazing things Doyli and other children are doing to protect wildlife around the globe, visit the World Association of Kids and Animals (WAKA) and get involved. There is a special teacher’s guide available for classroom use. Make sure you read the Author’s Note about the story behind the story of finding Doyli and her family.

Cathleen Burnham is a journalist, writer and photographer. Doyli to the Rescue is the first “photodocumentary” book in a series of six forthcoming books for young readers that profile wildlife preservation efforts being undertaken by kids around the globe.

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.

The Baking Life of Amelie Day

Baking Life of Amelie 9781496522160The Baking Life of Amelie Day

Vanessa Curtis, Author

Capstone Young Readers, Sept. 1, 2015

Pages: 167

Suitable for Ages: 9-13

Themes: Cystic Fibrosis, Baking Competitions, Family relationships, Friendship, Trust, Responsibility, Loss

Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Amelie Day is made of sugar and spice and lives to bake sweet confections for her family and friends.  Her life would be empty without baking.  Flour power dominates her mind.  She is excited when she is invited to compete in the Best Teen Baker of the Year contest, even though she knows that participating is a risk to her worsening cystic fibrosis. There are days when she can barely breathe and many trips to the hospital. When her doctors and parents tell her she is too ill to participate, she defies them and takes a train on her own from Pennsylvania to New York City.  She hopes to wow the judges with her German gingerbread with vanilla custard, her macaroons, and chocolate lava cakes. The trip presents many unexpected challenges and hurts family and friends.

Why I like this book:

I am thrilled to share Vanessa Curtis’ compelling story about a strong protagonist with cystic fibrosis (CF). This work of realistic fiction fits the bill. There is a nice balance between a teen wanting to pursue her dreams and a teen living with a serious illness. Teens with CF will find a hero in Amelie.

The narrative is written in first person and gives the reader deep insight into Amelie and how she finds a way to cope with CF. Her love of baking is the perfect antidote because she isn’t able to participate in many physical activities like her classmates. Amelie is a feisty, creative and determined character. She finds a way to balance her daily treatments, exercises and medications, with school, a job, a boyfriend and her baking dreams. She works part-time at a grocery store to earn her pay in baking supplies. Her parents are supportive but protective. Her childhood friend and boyfriend, Harry, is very accepting of Amelie’s CF.

The plot is interesting, adventurous and entertaining. Themes cover issues of responsibility, trust and independence. It is easy to lose yourself in Amelie’s baking world. I found myself drooling over her recipes. There is plenty of tension to keep readers turning pages. Teens who love to bake, will enjoy the inclusion of recipes of Amelie’s baked goods at the end of many chapters. Here’s to Amelie’s flour power!

Vanessa Curtis is the award-winning author of several young adult novels including Zelah Green (Egmont 2009), which won the Manchester Children’s Book Prize, and The Haunting of Tabitha Gray (Egmont, 2012), a contemporary ghost story with a shocking twist.

Check other Middle Grade review links on Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

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Oskar and the Eight Blessings

Oskar and Eight Blessings51kJJQr3hbL._SY399_BO1,204,203,200_Oskar and the Eight Blessings

Richard and Tanya Simon, Authors

Mark Siegel, Illustrator

Roaring Book Press, Fiction, Sep. 8, 2015

Pages: 40

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes: Kindness, Refugees, Jews, Holocaust, Hanukkah, Blessings, New York City

Prologue: “Oskar’s mother and father believed in the power of blessings. So did Oskar…until the Night of Broken Glass. His parents put him on a ship to America. He had nothing but an address and a photo of a woman he didn’t know — “It’s your Aunt Esther.” — and his father’s last words to him: “Oskar, even in bad times, people can be good. You have to look for the blessings.”

Book Opening lines: Oskar arrived in New York on the seventh day of Hanukkah. It was also Christmas Eve.

Book Jacket Synopsis: It is both the seventh day of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, 1938. Oskar, a refugee from the horrors of Nazi Europe, arrives by ship in New York City with only a photograph and an address for an aunt he’s never met. As he walks the length of Manhattan, from the Battery to his aunt’s home uptown, he encounters the sights of the city at holiday time — and receives small acts of kindness from its people, each in its way welcoming him to the city and a life in the new world.

Why I like Oskar and the Eight Blessings:

Richard and Tanya Simon’s heartwarming story captures the best of New York and its residents who welcome Oskar to their city through their generous spirits and acts of kindness– a helping hand, a loaf of bread, a superman magazine, a snowball fight, a pair of mittens, and a friendly wink. It is the essence of what America is about, welcoming immigrants fleeing oppression or seeking a better life.

The story is realistic and believable for children. The characters are diverse. The plot is engaging. Oskar is overwhelmed by how small he feels in such a big city. He is tired and hungry. The sights and sounds are strange and confusing. Oskar is brave and remembers the wise fatherly advice he receives that wraps him in warmth during his 100-block journey to his aunt’s house.

This Hanukkah story, set in 1938, is timeless and should be shared with children no matter what tradition they celebrate. Compassion and kindness towards others is not limited to color, race or culture. This is a story of hope for humanity.

Mark Siegel’s illustrations are hauntingly beautiful. With spare text, the illustrations are expressive and really show the story. There is so much feeling captured in the characters eyes and smiles. The illustrations are uplifting.

Resources: An Author’s Note offers historical insight into the story, a glossary provides definitions of key words, and a map shows Oskar’s walk up Broadway in 1938.

Check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s review of Oskar and the Eight Blessings, on Perfect Picture Book Friday, which will return January 8.

Lost in the Sun

Lost in the Sun9780399164064_p0_v1_s192x300Lost in the Sun

Lisa Graff, Author

Philomel Books, Fiction, May 26, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Themes: Friendship, Loss, Guilt, Disfigured persons, Brothers, Remarriage

Book Jacket Synopsis: Everyone says that middle school is awful, but Trent knows nothing could be worse than the year he had in fifth grade, when he accidentally hit Jared Richards in the chest with a hockey puck out on Cedar Lake. (Who knew that Jared had a heart defect? And that one little hockey puck could be deadly?) Trent’s pretty positive his entire town hates him now, and can’t blame them. So for Trent, middle school feels like a fresh start. He may even join the baseball team, if he wants to.

If only Trent could make the fresh start happen. It isn’t until Trent gets caught up in the whirlwind that is Fallon Little — the girl with the mysterious scar across her face — that things begin to change. Because fresh starts aren’t always easy. Even in baseball, when a fly ball get lost in the sun, you have to remember to shift your position to find it.

Why I like Lost in the Sun:

Lisa Graff has written a compelling coming of age story about Trent, a sixth-grader who blames himself for Jared’s death, is wracked with guilt and doesn’t know how to handle the nightmares from the accident and the rage that burns inside him.

This novel speaks powerfully about deep emotional pain. The plot is complex, realistic and skillfully executed. It digs deeply into many themes that include recovery from a tragedy, a father’s remarriage and a new baby, the relationships between three brothers who play pranks on each other, and Trent’s friendship with Fallon, who also shares a different kind of scar.

The first-person narration by Trent is raw and honest. The characters are believable, vulnerable and memorable. It’s hard not to become attached to the characters in this story. Trent is sarcastic, moody, angry, sensitive and funny. Fallon is taunted by other kids at school about her scar, but is upbeat, wise and strives to be herself. In a way she is fragile like Trent, but her demeanor is opposite. They bond through watching baseball movies and searching for “continuity errors” in the movies. Trent and Fallon are an unlikely pairing, but they support each other on their journey towards healing in unusual ways. Trent’s brothers, Aaron and Doug, are pranksters and provide comic relief.

Although Graff’s novel is written for middle graders, young adults will be drawn to this authentic and emotionally driven story from a boy’s perspective. Visit Lisa Graff at her website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

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The Reindeer Wish

The Reindeer Wish51K66-2f6xL._SX389_BO1,204,203,200_The Reindeer Wish

Lori Evert, Author

Per Breiehagen, Illustrator

Random House for Kids, Fiction, Oct. 6, 2015

Pages: 48

Suitable for Ages: 3-8

Themes: Christmas, Wishes, Reindeer, Arctic region, Nature, Adventure, Friendship

Opening: Long, long ago, far to the north and high in the snowy mountains, where you could ski for days and never see another soul, lived a kind little girl named Anja.

Synopsis: Anja wants a puppy for Christmas. School is out for the holidays and she is lonely. She writes a letter to Santa and places it in the postbox. After spending Christmas Eve skiing down her favorite snowy hill, Anja finds a wild baby reindeer abandoned under a tree. Her parents let her care for the little reindeer in the hay shed. Anja is thrilled with her gift and names the reindeer Odin.

Odin gets stronger daily. By spring, Odin’s antlers begin to grow. Anja and Odin become best friends and spend the summer exploring the budding countryside, the cascading waterfalls, and the mountains.

Anja roofTHE REINDEER WISH_@PER RBEIEHAGEN-19Photograph courtesy of Per Breiehagen

As winter returns early to the arctic, Anja teaches Odin to pull a sleigh. She begins with her little sled packed with heavy sacks. By Christmas, Anja decides Odin is ready to pull her father’s sleigh. They borrow the sleigh and search for the perfect Christmas tree to decorate for Santa. On another journey with Odin, Anja sees a herd of reindeer along a ridge. She wonders if Oden would be happier living with other reindeer. How could she give up her best friend? She knows she must make a decision.

Anja sledTHE REINDEER WISH_@PER RBEIEHAGEN-20Photograph courtesy of Per Breiehagen

Why I like The Reindeer Wish:

  • Lori Evert and her husband, Per Breiehagen, have teamed up to create their second enchanting and richly textured Nordic Christmas tale featuring their rosy-cheeked daughter, Anja. The Reindeer Wish is a magical tale of friendship, bravery and believing. It will give children something to wonder about.
  • The setting is realistic and contributes to the fairy tale charm. Anja is bundled up in authentic 18th century Norwegian clothing, reindeer boots, and slender wooden skis with straps. Her rustic log house has an earthen roof. The text is friendly and imparts information about nature and survival in the arctic.
  • I have shared some of the story, but I have not given away the unexpected ending that will delight both children and adults.
  • Award-winning photographer Per Breiehagen captures this beautiful story with his extraordinary photographs of breathtaking landscapes and playful scenes of Anja interacting with animals and nature. Readers will journey through the seasons in this story and experience the beautiful Northern Lights. Exquisite!
  • This is a beautiful collaborative effort by this husband and wife team, and their daughter Anja. Fans of The Christmas Wish and The Tiny Wish will want to add this heartwarming treasure to their collection. It will open their hearts to the magic and wonder of Christmas.

Anja ornamentTHE REINDEER WISH_@PER RBEIEHAGEN-21Resources: Visit the Random House for Kids for more information about the book. Click on the activity page and download The Reindeer Wish ornaments, a Santa wish list, a reindeer adventure page and coloring pages. Kids can also view a video and send a free Christmas e-card of their favorite photograph to  friends. Make sure you also visit The Christmas Wish website to see enlarged pictures of all three books.

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.

Edward’s Eyes

Edward's Eyes41gicCObHuL._SX371_BO1,204,203,200_Edward’s Eyes

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, 2007

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Family relationships, Baseball, Death, Donation of Organs

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Jake is part of an extraordinary family. He has a life filled with art, music, and long summer nights on the Cape. He has hours and days and months of baseball. But, more than anything in this world, Jake knows he has Edward. From the moment he was born, Jake knew Edward was destined for something. Edward could make anyone laugh and everyone think. During one special year, he became the only one in the neighborhood who could throw a perfect knuckleball. It was a pitch you could not hit. That same year, Jake learned there are also some things you cannot hold.”

Why I liked Edward’s Eyes:

  • Patricia MacLachlan’s unforgettable story is about family relationships, love, laughter and loss. It is a well-written story that is uplifting from the start. It may be about a loss, but is also realistic and inspiring. Some may feel the story is sad, but I experienced it with wonder and awe.
  • Edward’s Eyes is narrated by Jake, who is the youngest until Edward is born. From the first moment Jake looks into baby Edward’s beautiful dark blue eyes, he knows his brother is special. Jake becomes his brother’s teacher. Through Jake we get a sense of a very strong family (five children) that love, play, and raise each other. Edward grows into a a kind, friendly and thoughtful old soul. He seems to know things before anyone else, like his mother is going to have a baby girl and she’ll be named Sabine.
  • The characters are all memorable and well-developed. The pacing is perfect for this short novel and it has the right amount of tension, especially when tragedy unexpectedly strikes the family and community.
  • MacLachlan succeeds in creating an experience for young readers. The language is simple and not complicated. I love the emphasis on a family that supports and treats each other with respect. It’s also a good baseball story that includes community and Edward’s famous knuckleball pitch. And MacLachlan knows how to pack an emotional punch. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but this heartfelt story will tug at your heart, put a smile on your face, and fill you with hope.

Patricia MacLachlan is a Newberry Medalist for her book Sarah, Plain and Tall. I reviewed her powerful 2013 picture book about grief and renewal, Snowflakes Fall, which was dedicated to the families of Newtown and Sandy Hook, CT. I also reviewed Fly Away and The Truth of Me,  both middle grade novels about complicated family relationships.

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