Amanda in New Mexico by Darlene Foster

Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind

Darlene Foster, Author

Central Avenue Publishing, Fiction, Oct. 1, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes: Adventure, School trip, New Mexico, Haunted hotel, Ancient pueblo, Ghosts

Synopsis: Amanda Ross is on a school trip to Taos, New Mexico with several of her fellow creative students. She shares a room with Cleo, an anxious classmate who insists she see ghosts. Although Amanda is determined to prove there is no such things, she can’t seem to shake the feeling that something or someone is watching her.

Join Amanda, Cleo and their funny friend, Caleb, as they visit a rugged and beautiful landscape where a traditional hacienda, an ancient pueblo, and a haunted and spooky hotel all hold secrets to a wild and violent past.

Does Cleo really see ghosts? Can Amanda escape the eerie wind that follows her everywhere? Perhaps The Day of the Dead will reveal the mysteries of Taos in this latest and adventure of Amanda’s travels series.

Why I like this book:

Darlene Foster has written another lively adventure story for young readers who enjoy traveling, exploring and solving a good mystery. Fans of the Amanda Travels series won’t be disappointed with this fast-paced book which will keep them on edge with a spooky plot and unexplained events.

The story is character driven. Amanda is a fun, upbeat, curious, caring and memorable character that readers will want as a friend — especially since she has keen radar and is always ready to solve a good mystery.  And, Amanda can’t resist a good mystery — even if it involves ghosts, cold breezes brushing her shoulders and unexpected incidents. Her friend Cleo is more sensitive to the presences around and finds it safer to sketch the sites they visit instead of explore. Caleb is more pragmatic, the group photographer and a good balance for Amanda.

Readers will learn about history, geography, architecture, artifacts and shiver at the presence of ghosts that are rumored to be haunting many of the places they visit in Taos — the Mable Dodge Luhan house, the Governor Bent Museum, the Taos Pueblo, the Rio Grande Gorge and bridge, Ojo Caliente hot springs, the Palisade Sills, the St. James Hotel, and the Enchanted Circle Pottery. They will have an opportunity to attend the Day of the Dead celebration.

Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind is the sixth book in the Amanda Travels series: Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask; Amanda in Spain: The Girl in the Painting; Amanda in England: The Missing Novel; Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone; and Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music.  I recommend you start with the first book, but the Foster has written the books in such a manner that they can be read in any order.

Darlene Foster grew up on a ranch in southern Alberta. She dreamt of writing, travelling the world and meeting interesting people. She also believes everyone is capable of making their dreams come true. It’s no surprise that she’s now the award-winning author of a children’s adventure series about a travelling twelve-year-old-girl.  A world-traveler herself, Darlene spends her time in Vancouver, Canada and Costa Blanca in Spain. Visit her Darlene Foster at her website.

For the next few months Greg Pattridge will be hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Thank you Greg for keeping MMGM active while author Shannon Messenger is on tour promoting her sixth book, Nightfall, in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, which was released November 7.

Stolen Words by Melanie Florence

Stolen Words

Melanie Florence, Author

Gabrielle Grimard, Illustrator

Second Story Press, Sep. 5, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Intergenerational relationship, Grandfather, Indigenous history, Cree language, Residential schools, Healing

Opening: She came home from school today. Skipping and dancing. Humming a song under her breath. Clutching a dream catcher she had made from odds and ends. 

Synopsis: As a young girl skips down the street clutching her grandfather’s hand, she asks him, “How do you say grandfather in Cree?” He is sad that he can not remember. He tells her he lost his words a long time ago. He shares with her how he was taken from his family to a residential school for Indigenous children where they were not permitted to speak their native language. The girl sets out to help him find his native language again.

Why I like this book:

This is a warm and touching intergenerational story about a devoted granddaughter who is determined to help her grandfather remember his lost Cree language. Melanie Florence’s story will make you teary as the girl lovingly discovers a way to help him remember and begin to heal.

Florence’s language is simple and has a beautiful rhythm to it. But it delivers an emotional punch as readers learn about how the girl’s Cree grandfather was taken from the loving arms of his family and put into a Canadian residential school. He was forced to forget his language and culture.

Readers will be moved by Gabrielle Grimard’s tender and emotive watercolor illustrations. She captures the sadness in the grandfather’s face and the love and joy of the granddaughter as she springs into action to help him remember.  The illustrations of the words being stolen from the children are very symbolic and powerful.

Florence wrote Stolen Words in honor of her grandfather. She never had the opportunity to talk with him about his Cree background. The story she wrote is about the healing relationship she wishes she had been able to have with her grandfather.

Resources: This is an excellent book to talk with children about the history of residential schools in the 1920s. A powerful look at Canadian history and First Nation children, this book would work well paired with I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, and When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton.

*The publisher provided me with an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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.

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Wishtree

Katherine Applegate, Author

Feiwel & Friends, Fiction, Sep. 26, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Trees, Wishes, Crows, Animals, Friendship, Tolerance

Opening: It’s hard to talk to trees. We’re not big on chitchat. That’s not to say we can’t do amazing things, things you’ll probably never do. Cradle downy owlets. Steady flimsy tree forts. Photosynthesize. But talk to people? Not so much.

Synopsis:

Red is an oak tree who is 216 rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree.” Every May 1 people come from all over town to write their most private wishes on pieces of paper, cloth, and socks and tie them to Red’s branches. He holds their hopes and dreams in his limbs. Then, they whisper their wish. Red listens but never responds. It’s against the rules for a tree to speak to a human.

Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this “wishtree” watches over the neighborhood. Red has seen a lot of change over 200 years.

When a Muslim family moves in, Red observes how Samar and her family are treated by neighbors. Not everyone is welcoming.  Nasty threats are carved on his trunk, eggs are thrown, and ugly words shouted from passing cars.  More than ever, Red wants to fulfill Samar’s wish to find a friend. When Red learns the property owner may have some plans for him, he breaks some rules and ask his friends for help.

Why I like this book:

Katherine Applegate’s heartwarming middle grade novel is magical and conveys a message that is relevant today. It also reminds us of our common humanity.

The story is narrated by Red, a red oak tree, with compassion, concern, wisdom, and a sense of humor; no easy task for an author. Red’s branches and hollows are home to a birds and a furry cast of comical characters (owls, raccoons, opossums, skunks, cats and a crow) who live to together in harmony — most of the time. Red and his residents communicate openly with each other, but not with humans. Once a year Red is a wishtree for the town. Red’s world is vibrant and harbors a secret that needs to be shared.

Wishtree is a quiet and thoughtful read aloud with the entire family or in the classroom. It has a strong plot that with themes the encourage readers think about diversity, inclusion, acceptance, kindness and the true nature of friendship. It is a delightful mix that will keep readers turning pages. The story has Common Core connections.

For the next few months Greg Pattridge will be hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Thank you Greg for keeping MMGM active while author Shannon Messenger is on tour promoting her sixth book, Nightfall, in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, which was released November 7.

Pizza Mouse by Miachael Garland — PPBF

Pizza Mouse

Michael Garland, Author and Illustrator

Holiday House, Fiction, Sep. 5, 2017

Series: I Like to Read

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Mice, City life, Food

Opening: No one likes mice.

Synopsis: Life is a challenge for a city mouse. There are daily dangers and he has to survive dogs, cats, owls, and people. But when the whiskered hero of this story uncovers one of the greatest treats New York City has to offer a forager―a discarded slice of pepperoni pizza―the danger is all worth it! Now it’s up to the tiny Pizza Mouse to get the gigantic slice safely home to his family.

Why I like this book:

Michael Garland has written and illustrated a humorous book with very simple text and an engaging plot for children learning to read on their own. This city mouse narrates his story with a little bit of attitude and a lot of determination. After all, he has a family depending upon him for dinner. Mouse’s expressions are priceless. Garland’s digital illustrations are very expressive and a visual feast for children — messy trash spilling out of the can, running from a man with a broom, and darting the myriad of feet in the subway station. This story is fun and full of action as Mouse scurries about the big city. Garland’s early reader is inspired by the viral “pizza Rate” YouTube video.

Garland has published other early reader books, Big and Little Are Best Friends, Fish Had a Wish, Car Goes Far, Tugboat, and Lost Dog, which are appealing and create a positive experience or kids in preschool and kindergarten. Visit Michael Garland at his website.

Resources: Visit the Holiday House website for flashcards and activities.

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

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War I Finally Won

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Author

Dial Books for Young Readers, Historical Fiction, Oct. 3, 2017

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Themes: Overcoming a disability, WW II, Great Britain, Bombings, Rationing, Family relationships, Prejudice

Book Jacket Synopsis: When 11-year-old Ada’s clubfoot has been fixed at last, and she knows now that she’s not what her mother said she was — damaged and deranged. But soon Ada learns that she’s not a daughter anymore either. Who is she now?

World War II rages on, and Ada and her brother move with their guardian, Susan, into a cottage with the iron-faced Lady Thorton and her daughter. Life in the crowded home is tense. Then Ruth moves in. Ruth a Jewish girl from Germany.  A German? Could Ruth be a spy?

As the fallout from war intensifies, calamity creeps closer, and life during wartime grows even more complicated. Who will Ada decide to be? How can she keep fighting? And who will she struggle to save?

Ada’s first story, The War that Saved My Life, was a #1 New York Times bestseller and won a Newbery Honor, the Schneider Family Book Award, and the Josette Frank Award, in addition to appearing on multiple best-of-the-year lists. The War I Finally Won continues Ada’s journey of family, faith, and identity, showing us that real freedom is not just the ability to choose, but the courage to make the right choice.

Why I like this book:

Fans of The War that Saved My Life, will be thrilled with Bradley’s captivating and satisfying sequel. The setting, the characters, the plot and the imagery are beautifully intertwined and create and extraordinary experience of how WW II changed British family life amidst the blackouts, midnight fire-watching, air raids, bombings, rationing and loss.

The narrative is in Ada’s voice. She is smart and resourceful, strong-willed and spirited, like the horses she trains. Ada continues her journey of triumph over the demons of her past, learns to trust her guardian, Susan, and discovers a new and stronger inner identity.  There are new experiences, things to learn and healing. Her brother Jamie happily accepts Susan as “mum” and all of her affection.

Lady Thorton is aristocratic and an unlikely character who helps Ada face her past. But my favorite relationship is Ada’s interaction with Ruth, a Jewish girl who escapes Germany and moves into the cottage to study higher mathematics with Susan. She faces a lot of discrimination, especially from Lady Thorton and other adults. Ada stands up for Ruth, who ends up playing an important role in the war.

The plot is riveting and full of tension.  Bradley’s pacing will keep readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. It is a story that will stay with you because of the depth and the profoundly human characters.

This is an excellent discussion book for teachers to use with middle grade students. The author put a lot of research into this novel, so make sure you read her notes at the end about the historical facts woven into the story. You can learn more at Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s website.

For the next few months Greg Pattridge will be hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Thank you Greg for keeping MMGM active while author Shannon Messenger is on tour promoting her sixth book, Nightfall, in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, which will be released November 7.

Reena’s Rainbow by Dee White

Reena’s Rainbow

Dee White, Author

Tracie Grimwood, Illustrator

EK Books, Fiction, Sep. 30, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 years

Themes: Friendship, Dog, Inclusion, Deaf, Homeless, Differences

Opening: In Reena’s world, sounds scattered and scrambled and made no sense. But her clear blue eyes saw everything.

Synopsis: Reena is deaf and Dog is homeless, but they are so much more than that. At first Reena and Dog feel like they don’t belong. But when they are a team they help each other. Reena is very observant and doesn’t miss a thing. When they play hide and seek with the other hearing children in the park, Dog shows the kids the best hiding places and Reena always finds them.  Their special bond and friendship helps them discover that everyone is different and special in their own way.

Why I like this book:

Dee White’s endearing story is about Reena’s abilities and not her disability.

The bond between Reena and Dog is unbreakable and heartwarming.  They find each other’s strengths and work together as a team so that Reena interacts more easily with other hearing children.

Reena has skills and heightened senses that help her navigate her world.  She notices things other children don’t, like a branch that breaks and nearly injures another child. When playing hide-and-seek, she’s clever because she notices “eyes peeping through pampas,” and a” pink cardigan camouflaged in cherry blossoms.”

The is a beautiful story of inclusion that teaches children how to respect and celebrate their strengths and differences. The rainbow symbolically embraces the range of differences in our colorful human family. It is a heartwarming story that also shows children the importance of acceptance and friendship.

Tracie Grimwood’s soft, pastel illustrations are lively and add a joyful spirit to the special friendship between a girl and her dog.  This is a beautiful collaboration between author and illustrator.

Resources: The book is an excellent is an excellent resource. Learning about differences offers new experiences and fosters compassion in children. Ask children if they know anyone with a disability. Make a list of the disabilities or differences they have seen. It will help them realize that we’re all humans, even if we may need to wear hearing aids, use a walking device or wheelchair, have Down Syndrome or autism.

*The publisher provided me with an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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.

Ali’s Bees by Bruce Olav Solheim

Ali’s Bees

Bruce Olav Solheim, Author

Gabby Untermayerova, Illustrations

CreateSpace, Fiction, Jul. 14, 2017

Pages: 142

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes: Immigration, Iraq, Loss, PTSD, Bees, Intergenerational relationships, Tolerance, Friendship

Publisher Synopsis: There is a lot you can learn from bees. They may look aggressive, but they won’t sting you if you keep your cool and make them comfortable around you.

Ali wishes he could feel comfortable in his new home in Los Angeles, California. He loves living with his beekeeper grandfather, but he desperately misses his parents. They were killed in a terrorist attack in Iraq, and Ali was sent halfway across the world to live with his grandfather. In addition to the deep grief Ali faces, he is also struggling with post traumatic stress disorder from the attack.

Ali’s wise grandfather knows that working with the bees will help. Ali enjoys working with the bees so much that he announces he will do his science project on bees, their place in the world, and the dangers of colony collapse disorder. His work attracts the attention of Lupe, a friendly classmate with problems of her own, and Jenks, an angry bully who cares for his disabled father. The three form an unlikely connection through a funny bee dance and a cherished Mickey Mantle baseball card. Will it be enough to overcome their differences and the challenges each one faces?

Why I like this book:

Bruce Olav Solheim has written a sensitive and realistic story about an Iraqi teen boy who has lost his family to the horrors of war and comes to live with his grandfather in California. It is a positive story that challenges readers to understand the effects of war and to show compassion and tolerance towards immigrants as they learn new customs.

The characters are memorable.  Ali has been emotionally scarred by the loss of his parents during bombings.  He is grieving and suffers from PTSD. Sirens and loud noises remind him of war. His wise and patient grandfather, Jady, is a beekeeper. He has a steady and calming influence on Ali as he teaches him how to love and care for bees.  Ali makes friends with Lupe, who has her own family immigration problems, and Jenks who is a bully, but knows how to build things. They are unlikely and diverse threesome, yet perfect partners for Ali’s science project on bees.

The bees not only play a role in Ali’s emotional healing, but also promote the idea of teamwork as the students work together on their bee science project. Learning about bees also encourages readers to become interested in the plight of bees and the natural world.

The language is easy for  elementary students and teens to understand. Solheim’s pacing makes his engaging story a quick read. Pen and ink illustrations are scattered throughout the book and contribute to the story. Ali’s Bees would be a good book for families to read and discuss together and a great classroom book.

Bruce Olav Solheim served for six years in the US Army as a jail guard and helicopter pilot during the war. He has written five books and seven plays. He is a distinguished professor of history at Citrus College in Glendora, California. Solheim founded the Veterans Program at Citrus College and cofounded the Boots to Books transition course, which is the first college course for returning veterans. Solheim was born in Seattle, Washington, to Norwegian immigrant parents

*The author provided me with an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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