Recompense Trilogy by Michelle Isenhoff

Michelle Isenhoff’s  has managed to captivate me in her fresh and diverse YA fantasy/dystopian series, the Recompense Trilogy, published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing.  It is an ambitious undertaking for Isenhoff, with all three novels, Recompense, Betrayal and Retribution, published since January 2018.  Readers can binge read and pick up the next volume when they finish each novel!

Isenhoff ‘s trilogy is a heart-pounding and thrilling read with gorgeous writing, mesmerizing world building and gripping story line that culminates in a series that is absolutely addictive. She masterfully builds a world that is believable, haunting and creates a realistic backdrop for her multi-layered and authentic characters in Jaclyn (Jack), Will, Ethan, Aunt Opal, Willoughby and Jewell. They are flawed, powerful, vulnerable and will draw you deeply into their high-stakes story. The heroine, Jack, is such a likable character, who repeatedly demonstrates strength of body, mind, and spirit throughout the series. You’ll be cheering for her from the very first page. The thing I liked about the large cast of characters is that you never know who you can trust and when you can trust them. They keep you on your toes and utterly glued to the pages. And there is a sweet love story.

Readers will enjoy sinking into the thoughtfully constructed details of Isenhoff’s ravaged future Earth, as well as a number of terrifying action sequences that build to a game-changing twist. The plot is riveting, action-packed and complex. Isenhoff has a sweeping imagination and you never know what to expect next. Each chapter ends with a cliff-hangar which keeps you reading because you want to know the outcome. I lost a couple of nights of sleep because I couldn’t put her engaging novel down.

Instead of reviewing each book separately, I’ve given you my impression of the complete trilogy. I’ve also decided to share the synopsis of each book below, so readers can grasp the depth of this brilliant trilogy.

Synopsis: Born into Capernica’s lowest social tier and not permitted to leave Settlement 56, Jaclyn (Jack) Holloway refuses to pour out her years in the local fish cannery. She gambles on the one chance available to her to advance–the high school Exit Exam. In a country that still keenly remembers the horrors of the Provocation, the period of unexplained disappearances that led to revolution, the smartest and strongest are richly rewarded in exchange for military service. Jack is adamant that her best friend, Will Ransom, join her in striving for induction.

But if Jack fails to pass the stringent physical standards and Will succeeds, she will not be allowed to see him again until his tour of duty is completed–in twenty years.

Meanwhile, the government has been keeping a tight lid on a new string of abductions. Jack’s Exam score places her in a position to aid Axis, an underground organization charged with investigating events that threaten national security. The evidence leads her back forty-seven years, to a series of high-profile cover-ups linked to the Provocation. Blowing the whistle could place her in danger, but holding her silence means history will likely repeat. And Capernica could never survive a second Provocation.

Synopsis: Jack and her teammates at Axis have succeeded in stopping the widespread abduction of Capernica’s teenage girls and neutralized the operatives living among them. Now they turn their attention to uniting the nation against the Bruelim. It’s time to take the fight through the portal and make sure, once and for all, that the Provocation never repeats.

Even as they prepare, disgruntled Lowers hang on the brink of revolution. Their rebellion has the potential to split Capernica along its caste lines just when the nation should be pulling together against a common enemy. But how can Axis convey the importance of cooperation when they’re unable to tell the people exactly what dangers they’re facing? Forty-seven years ago, Governor Macron expressly forbid any investigation into the Bruelim and ordered the evidence from the Provocation destroyed. No one’s certain what she’ll do when she learns the files have been reopened.

Meanwhile, Jack remains crazy hopeful that upcoming Military maneuvers might once again throw her into contact with her best friend Will, while Ethan, her capable Axis partner, strongly hopes they do not. Neither she nor Ethan are prepared for the testing their partnership is about to undergo. Or the revelation of their most immediate threat.

Synopsis: Jack was the revolution’s contingency plan. With the assault on the Macron City Military Base shattered, she was to assassinate Governor Andromeda Macron and revert Capernica back to Capernican control. But she failed, the revolution lies in ashes, and the one person she loves more than anyone in the world has betrayed her.

Alone in Brunay, Jack becomes an anonymous cog in the vast Bruelim slave economy, where callous wardens aren’t the only threat to her safety. The labor compound she’s been assigned to has an inmate hierarchy dominated by descendants of the Provocation’s original victims, and they don’t welcome newcomers. But Jack also finds friendship among the displaced laborers, and like her grandmother, Ruby, she burns with the desire to see them all home.

More importantly, Jack discovers the key to freeing Capernica from Bruel aggression forever. But even if she managed an escape, how could she leave Will in Brunay, trapped in the body of a Berkam?

Isenhoff has made Recompense available free for download on Amazon kindle. I ordered the paperbacks. This new original series will please fans of Hunger Games, Divergent, and Maze Runner. Isenhoff has completed a prequel to the trilogy, Provocation, which will be released soon. Visit Michelle Isenhoff at her website to view all her published work.

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.

Heal the Earth by Julian Lennon

Happy Earth Day, Apr. 22, 2018

Heal the Earth

Julian Lennon with Bart Davis, Authors

Smiljana Coh, Illustrator

Sky Pony Press, Fictions, Apr. 3, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-6

Themes: Nature, Environment, Conservation, Ocean reefs, Rain forest, Medicines, Green spaces

Opening: Welcome to our planet Earth.

Book Synopsis:

The magical White Feather Flier is back on a new adventure to heal the Earth! Use your imagination power to make it fly and take you on a great helping journey.

The Flier’s mission is to transport readers around the world, to engage them in helping to save the environment, and to teach one and all to love our planet. Just press a button printed on the page, and point the plane up in the air to fly, or down to land it!

Bring medicine to people in need!
Dive below the ocean to bleached coral reefs!
Visit the city to cultivate green spaces!
Help the rain forest return and give its animals a home!
Explore the planet, meet new people, and help make the world a better place!

An inspiring, lyrical story, rooted in Lennon’s life and work, Heal the Earth is filled with beautiful illustrations that bring the faraway world closer to young children.

Why I like this book:

It beautiful interactive book that speaks directly to younger children and empowers them to be part of the magic of healing and loving our planet and its inhabitants. The spare text is lyrical and skillfully written with vivid imagery. Smiljana Coh’s gorgeous illustrations will appeal to children’s senses. She includes a diverse cast of characters and children will see someone who looks like them.

Readers are asked questions and invited to join the adventure.  They will be encouraged to use their imaginations and push buttons at the bottom of the pages to transport them to areas of the earth that are in need of healing. They  see the problems that exist and then are given the opportunity to make a positive impact. Every time they succeed, they are congratulated for a job well done.

There is age-appropriate geographical information about the planet and how it is divided into continents. Kids are encouraged to touch each continent, say its name and pick the continent where they live.

The book includes words to a new, special poem written by Julian Lennon, specifically for Heal the Earth. It is a lovely addition to the book and could be a stand-alone-book.

A portion of the proceeds from book sales will go to support the environmental and humanitarian efforts of the White Feather Foundation, the global environmental and humanitarian organization that Lennon founded to promote education, health, conservation, and the protection of indigenous culture.

Resources: The book is a great way to approach the subject of caring for the earth, during Earth Day. It is a resource because it encourages children to discuss problems around the globe and ask a lot of questions about getting involved in preserving their planet.

Julian Lennon is a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, photographer, documentarian, philanthropist, and author of the New York Times bestselling children’s book Touch the Earth. Born in Liverpool, England, Lennon is an observer of life in all its forms developing his personal expression through his artistic endeavors. He hopes that his kids book trilogy will inspire and educate children to preserve our planet for future generations.

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.

Escape From Aleppo by N. H. Senzai

Escape From Aleppo

N.H. Senzai, Author

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, Fiction, Jan. 2, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Family, War, Refugees, Syria, Bravery, Survival, Hope, Freedom

Publisher Synopsis:

Silver and gold balloons. A birthday cake covered in pink roses. A new dress.

Nadia stands at the center of attention in her parents’ elegant dining room. This is the best day of my life, she thinks. Everyone is about to sing “Happy Birthday,” when her uncle calls from the living room, “Baba, brothers, you need to see this.” Reluctantly, she follows her family into the other room. On TV, a reporter stands near an overturned vegetable cart on a dusty street. Beside it is a mound of smoldering ashes. The reporter explains that a vegetable vendor in the city of Tunis burned himself alive, protesting corrupt government officials who have harassed his business. Nadia frowns.

It is December 17, 2010: Nadia’s twelfth birthday and the beginning of the Arab Spring. Soon anti-government protests erupt across the Middle East and, one by one, countries are thrown into turmoil. As civil war flares in Syria and bombs fall across Nadia’s home city of Aleppo, her family decides to flee to safety in Turkey. Nadia gets trapped and left behind when a bomb hits their home. She is alone and must find a way to catch up with her family.  There are many detours along the way and an old man tries to help her. Inspired by current events, this novel sheds light on the complicated situation in Syria that has led to an international refugee crisis, and tells the story of one girl’s journey to safety.

Why I like this book:

N. H. Senzai has written a timely story that explores the culture and history of Syria as it moves from normalcy to the harsh realities of civil war, as witnessed by Nadia. The author weaves chapters into the story depicting life before the war begins giving readers a feel for family and life in Syria. Nadia enjoys birthday parties, painting her nails, playing with her cat, watching Arab’s Got Talent and shopping in the markets.

Senzai’s powerful storytelling and vivid imagery draws readers into Nadia’s harrowing experience. Her journey is quite extraordinary as she befriends other Syrians along the way, an old man and two orphans. The elderly book binder, Ammo Mazen, promises to help Nadia reach the Turkish border, but it is a round about journey, with some unusual characters and missions involved. Just who is this mysterious Ammo Mazen? But he protects Nadia and the two orphans and navigates them around rebels groups, the Syrian Army, and ISIS fighters. As they journey across the Old City, readers catch a glimpse of Nadia memories of the colorful shops and a lively community, which is in stark contract to the crumbling city before her. There are many road blocks, but Nadia turns her fear into a strong determination to survive and reunite with her family.

This plot is gripping, suspenseful, heart-wrenching and hopeful. Readers will experience what it means to be displaced from their home, family and lifestyle. It raises questions for readers about how they would survive if everything they know is gone in a flash and they are thrust into a war-torn environment. Would they be able to survive?  This is tough and timely read for youth trying to grasp what they are seeing and hearing on television about this complicated and troubled country. They are able to  experience the human side of war through Nadia. This is a must read and belongs in school libraries.

N.H. Senzai is the author of the acclaimed Shooting Kabul, which was on numerous state award lists and an NPR Backseat Book Club Pick. Its companion, Saving Kabul Corner, was nominated for an Edgar Award. Visit the author at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the 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.

I Am Enough by Grace Byers

I Am Enough

Grace Byers, Author

Keturah A. Bobo, Illustrator

Balzer + Bray, Fiction, Mar. 6, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes:  Individuality, Love, Respect, Kindness, Diversity

Opening: “Like the sun, I’m here to shine.”

Book Synopsis: I Am Enough is an essential book for everyone — an inspiring lyrical ode to loving who you are, respecting others, and being kind to one another.

Why I like this book:  Grace Byers’ soulful book is a magnificent poem to girls encouraging self-esteem, individuality, respect and kindness. It empowers girls to be themselves and encourages them to realize their endless potential. Readers will learn how each day is filled with possibilities to dream, soar, love, use their voices, fail, succeed, disagree, and love.  The poetic tone of the text is celebratory, inviting the reader on an adventure of self-discovery and self-acceptance. Keturah Bobo’s expressive and vibrant illustrations showcase racial and cultural diversity and shows a girl playing jump rope in a wheelchair.  They compliment the uplifting and positive affirmation that “I am enough!” And that cover just draws you into the story. This is a perfect gift book.

Resources: This is an ideal discussion book. Ask girls what it means to be enough. Let this conversation evolve into what is uniquely beautiful about her and every other girl. Although written for girls, I believe boys will enjoy this book.

Grace Byers is an actor and activist who stars in Fox’s hit series Empire. As a multiracial young girl and a child of deaf adults, Grace was bullied throughout her childhood. This book was born out of her desire to empower young girls against the effects of bullying. In her spare time, she volunteers with the nonprofit anti-bullying organization Saving Our Daughters. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, actor Trai Byers.

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.

Phoebe’s Heron by Winnie Anderson

Phoebe’s Heron

Winnie Anderson, Author

Crispin Books, Historical Fiction, Feb. 5, 2018

Pages: 226

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Nature, Birds, Wildlife, Colorado, Conservation, Friendship, Courage

It is 1900. Twelve-year-old Phoebe Greer, her family and Nurse Daisy move from their home in Denver to a newly built cliff-top cabin in Ridge, at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The doctors recommend that the dry, fresh, clean air in the mountains may be the cure for her mother’s tuberculosis.

While Phoebe wants her mother to get well, she misses her busy city life in Denver (a dusty cow town) and her best friend Lisbeth, whose parents own Denver’s finest millinery store. The two girls have spent hours in front of the looking-glass parading with fancy feathered hats on their heads. They also have fun trying to teach the millinery shop parrot to curse.

Phoebe loves to draw. Her father gives her a sketchbook so she can explore her new surroundings. She follows Bearberry Trail which winds along Bear Creek and ends up at a breathtaking lake. There she meets a local boy, Jed.  However, Jed is a plume hunter, a commercial hunter of birds. He desperately wants to find a great blue heron, whose feathers are in great demand for women’s hats.

The two youth gradually become friends. Jed shows Phoebe the delights of the natural world in the Colorado Rockies, and their friendship deepens. They meet at a large flat rock in the lake, where she sketches and he catches large trout with his swift bare hands. Her views of living in the wild and nature begin to change her and blend nicely with her passion for capturing its beauty in her artwork. One day, Phoebe sees a magnificent great blue heron in the creek, which she sketches in her book. She does not tell Jed about spotting this bird, because she can’t bear the thought of this majestic creature losing its freedom even though it is “survival” for Jed.

Phoebe hears about the Audubon club that wants laws to protect birds from being killed for their feathers. Phoebe’s mother tells her that the movement has come to Denver and a chapter is forming. But Phoebe’s mother grows worse, and soon, things may change.

What I love about this book:

Winnie Anderson’s debut novel is wistful and poetic. Her beautiful words create vivid imagery of Phoebe’s new life on the mountain top. The setting is so appealing that it becomes a beloved character. The rich dialogue paints a picturesque view of Colorado in 1900.  You want to leap into the story and observe the untamed country with Phoebe and Jed.

This hopeful and heartwarming coming of age story is about a teen dealing with a sick mother, family relationships, friendships and her passion to draw everything around her. I enjoyed watching her transformation from a privileged Denver teen to a thoughtful one who observes and develops her own beliefs. The characters are authentic, most are good-hearted but others are privileged and snobby.  This creates a dilemma for Phoebe in her friendship, with Jed, when her father tells her to stay away from him.

Phoebe’s view about use of bird feathers in the women’s millinery business becomes unbearable for her.  She takes a stand with both of her friends, Lisbeth and Jed, and tells them she wants to work with the Audubon club to protect the birds. The author makes short references to the early Audubon Society throughout the book.

Phoebe’s story is loosely based on Sarah Orne Jewett’s “A White Heron,” written in 1886. This book will be of interest to birders, Audubon Society members, and anyone interested in the early conservation movement at the beginning of the 1900s. This is the sixth middle grade novel I’ve reviewed in the past year that includes birding and conservation. It is an excellent novel for teens interested in environmental and conservation issues. This is a thoughtful story to read as Earth Day approaches April 22.

Resources: There is a detailed “Author’s Note” at the end the delves more into the Audubon Society. This book is an excellent classroom discussion book because of the many themes.

Winnie Anderson holds an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University, and has had stories published in various children’s magazines. This is her first novel. She lives in Baltimore, MD, and Evergreen, CO. Visit Anderson’s website.

Greg Pattridge is the 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.

Big, Brave, Bold Sergio — Baxter and Danny Stand Up to Bullying

Today I am sharing two new books about bullying, published by Magination Press. They both deal with different aspects of bullying and compliment each other well. They are both great classroom discussion books.

Big, Brave, Bold Sergio

Debbie Wagenbach, Author

Jamie Tablason, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 19, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Turtles, Animals, Bullying, Peer Pressure, Taking a stand, Kindness

Opening: Sergio liked swimming with the Snappers. He felt BIG when they scattered the minnows.

Synopsis: Sergio and The Snappers are the toughest turtles in the pond! Swimming with them makes Sergio feel Big, Brave and Bold! But soon he starts to notice how the other animals run and hide when the Snappers swim by; frogs flee, tadpoles tremble, and ducks depart the pond! Sergio doesn’t like it, and stands up to his friends, only to become the new target of the gang’s bullying, especially after he befriends some of the fish. But then something happens to one of the Snappers and Sergio has a choice to make.

Baxter and Danny Stand Up to Bullying

James M. Foley, Author

Shirley Ng-Benitez, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 15, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Animals, Bullying, Taking a stand,  Problem-solving, Friendship

Opening: Baxter the Bunny was the fastest animal in the forest. Danny the Bear was the best dancer.

Synopsis:  When Baxter, Danny and the rest of the forest animals are picked on by Buford Blue Jay and his bird friends, they have to figure out what to do. The piercing “screech, screech” of the Blue Jays was loud and their name calling was hurtful. With the support of all the forest animals and Queen Beth of the Bees, they all learn to stand up to Buford’s bullying in a positive way.

Why I like these bullying books:

Each book approaches bullying from a different perspective — the bully and the victims. In the first book Sergio is a bully until his conscience begins to bother him. He deals with peer pressure from the other Snappers and soon  becomes their target. In the second book the animals of the forest are the target of bullying by the Blue Jays. Working together helps empower the animals and gives them the confidence to take a stand.

Readers will identify with the name-calling, insults, threats, fear and anger. They will learn how to cope with peer pressure, assert themselves, build self-esteem, problem solve and find solutions that  work. I also like the emphasis on learning to have compassion.

Children will be delighted with the large, bold and expressive artwork. There is so much detail to explore. Both illustrators ably capture the lively action in the stories and compliment the authors’ text.

Resources: Both books include “Note to Parents and Caregivers” about how to prevent bullying, cope with peer pressure, become resilient and develop an attitude of kindness towards others. Theses are great discussion books for home or classroom reading.

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.

*I received a review copies of  Big, Brave, Bold Sergio and Baxter and Danny Stand Up to Bullying from the publisher. The opinions in this review are entirely my own.

Caterpillars Can’t Swim by Liane Shaw

Caterpillars Can’t Swim

Liane Shaw, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Mar. 6, 2018

Pages: 256

Suitable for Ages: 13-18

Themes: Cerebral Palsy, LGBT, Depression, Family Relationships, Bullying, Homophobia, Prejudices, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis: For sixteen-year-old Ryan, the water is where he finds his freedom. Ever since childhood, when he realized that he would never walk like other people, has loved the water where gravity is no longer his enemy. But he never imagined he would become his small town’s hero by saving a schoolmate from drowning.

Jack is also attracted to the water, but for him it’s the promise of permanent escape. Disappearing altogether seems better than living through one more day of high-school where he is dogged by rumors about his sexuality. He’s terrified that coming out will alienate him from everyone in town — and crush his adoring mother.

Ryan saves Jack’s life, but he also keeps his secret. Their bond leads to a grudging friendship, and an unexpected road-trip to Cosmic Con with Ryan’s best friend Cody, the captain of the swim team. They make an unlikely trio but each of them will have the chance to show where he is brave enough to go against the stereotypes the world wants to define him by.

Why I like this story:

Liane’ Shaw’s examines the paralyzing impact of bullying on teens in this raw, honest and emotional novel. What stands out for me is the prejudice against two teens — one who has a physical disability and the other teen who is struggling with his sexual identity.  This is the first time I’ve seen the differences appear together in a compelling story, especially when the teen who is disabled is the hero.

The characters drive the action in this story. The main character Ryan, was born with cerebral palsy and has spent his life in a wheelchair. However the story really doesn’t focus on his disability, but his funny, upbeat personality and his role on the school swim team. Jack is sad and depressed. He has no friends, and keeps to himself. Ryan befriends Jack, listens to his pain as he deals with his identity, and keeps his secrets. Kids suspect that Jack’s gay and bully him. Ryan’s friend, Cody, steps in when he sees the school bullies harassing both Ryan and Jack after school.  Cody is hyper, wacky, funny, obnoxious, and someone you can dislike one moment and love the next. He provides for a lot of comic relief in the story.

I really liked the metaphor of a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, a mirror of what happens when three unlikely teens come together to support each other. Especially Cody, who is homophobic. His growth as a character meant the most to me.

The plot is multi-layered, brave and complicated. Jack’s drowning happens early in the story with a lot of drama and action. Readers may wonder where the story is headed. But the pacing is fast, engaging and lighthearted at times. There is  more to this deeply moving novel that readers will find appealing.  It is an inspiring story about family, friends and hope.

Liane Shaw is the author of several books for teens, including thinandbeautiful.com, Fostergirls, The Color of Silence, and Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell. Liane was an educator for more than 20 years and lives with her family in Ontario.

Greg Pattridge is the 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.

I’m a Duck by Eve Bunting

I’m  a Duck

Eve Bunting, Author

Will Hillenbrand, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Mar. 13, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Ducks, Nature, Growing Up, Fear, Courage, Friendships

Opening: “When I was just an egg, I’m told, I left my nest and rolled and rolled.”

Synopsis: One day, an egg rolled out of a nest and right into a deep pond. Now that egg is a little duck, and the water is still very scary. Jumping into the pond at all seems impossible, never mind swimming in a line with all his brothers. “You’re a duck, and ducks don’t sink,” Big Frog points out. Practicing in a puddle helps a little, while backrubs and snacks from his mother help a little more. Big Frog offers to hold his friend’s wing and dive in together, but our little duck knows that some challenges need to be faced alone. Even when they are very scary!

I cannot swim, and that is bad. 
A landlocked duck is very sad. 

Why I like this book:

Eve Bunting’s endearing picture book will make a big splash with young children.  The catchy rhyme scheme is beautifully simple and appealing.  Children will easily relate to this adorable little duck’s fear about trying to swim. Many other water friends offer to help him, but the little duck is determined to conquer is fear his own way and on his own time. This book is overflowing with heart and kids will want to cheer for the little duck. Will Hillenbrand’s warm watercolor are soft and gentle.

Resources: This is a wonderful read aloud before bed or in the classroom. It offers kids an opportunity to open up and talk about their fears. It offers teachers an opportunity to encourage children to name their fears, make a list and talk about how they try deal with a fear.

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.

Little Worlds by Geraldine Collet

Géraldine Collet, Author

Sébastien Chebret, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Feb. 15, 2018

Suitable for Ages:  4-8

Themes: Imagination, Dreaming, Play, Identity, Empathy

Opening: It’s a well-known fact that everybody has their own little world!

Synopsis: A little world is any place where a child’s imagination is free to blossom. When Pablo wants his own space, he climbs into his treehouse and listens to the birds singing. Marion likes to crawl into a tent in her living room and build castles with her cat. Frank and Melvin retreat to their grandfather’s workshop and invent things. Clara dreams of stars and galaxies. Martin wears his knight outfit and takes on dragons. Books carry Lili to far-away places. Marek and Simon play on a wall in a war zone and dream of a world without war.

Why I like this book:

Géraldine Collet book shows a diverse group of children in their own self-constructed little worlds as they explore and freely play, develop their own identities, and learn to understand others. It is ideal for kids who just want to play, have fun or dream about possibilities. Sébastien Chebret’s warm and colorful illustrations are both playful and pensive.

Collet’s book invites lively conversations between children and their parents.  Parents will find her book nostalgic as they remember their favorite places to imagine, create, and dream. I think of my brothers heading to the creek and woods to explore the world, while I climbed to the tops of trees and sang my heart out. What a special way to listen and discover your child’s favorite places to dream and play. And it’s an opportunity to share your favorite memories together. When you listen, you encourage and your child to explore, experiment, imagine and pursue their different passions.

Resources: There is  a “Note to Parents and Caregivers” by Julia Martin Burch, PhD, with more information on ways to encourage your child’s imagination and identity, while also fostering a sense of empathy for others.

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. 

To Look a Nazi in the Eye

To Look a Nazi in the Eye: A Teen’s Account of a War Criminal Trial

Kathy Kacer with Jordana Lebowitz, Authors

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Sep. 12, 2017

Pages: 240

Suitable for ages: 13-19

Themes: Oskar Groening, WWII War Crimes, Trial, Holocaust, Justice

Book Jacket Synopsis: True story of nineteen-year-old Jordana Lebowitz’s experience attending the war criminal trial of Oskar Groening. Groening worked at the Auschwitz concentration camp and became known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz.” In April 2015 he stood trial in Germany for being complicit in the deaths of more than 300,000 Jews.

A granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Jordana knew a great deal about the Holocaust and had traveled to Europe with her Jewish Day School classmates to visit Auschwitz and participate in the March of the Living. There she met and became friends with Hedy Bohm, a holocaust survivor. A few years later she invited Hedy to speak with students and faculty at the university she attended. When Hedy told her that she had been asked to share her personal story of survival at Groening’s trial, Jordana wanted to go to Germany. But she was not prepared for what she would see and hear at Oskar Groening’s trial, including how much an ordinary seeming man — who at first glance reminded her of grandfather — could be part of such despicable cruelty. She had expected to hate him, and she did. But hate, just like forgiveness, can be complicated.

Listening to Groening’s testimony and to the Holocaust survivors who came to testify against him, Jordana felt the weight of bearing witness to history — a history that we need to remember now more than ever.

Why I like this book:

Kathy Kacer sensitively weaves a format for this compelling and dramatic nonfiction narrative that reads like a story. The chapters alternate between Oskar Groening’s life story and testimony, Jordana’s experiences of the trial, and her relationships with the courageous survivors she has come to love and respect. Kacer shares the survivor’s gut-wrenching stories with compassion, dignity and grace. Her pacing will keep readers glued to the story.

There are interesting dynamics at play throughout the story. Seeing the trial through Jordana’s eyes  (two generations removed) offers readers an open-minded and contemporary perspective. Jordana is loyal to the survivors she has journeyed with to Germany. Their painful stories are etched in her heart and mind. But she has trouble seeing Groening as a monster. She wants to hate him, but she sees a frail and sad man who admits he’s morally guilty for his role in the process. Yet she is disturbed by the details of his actions.

Jordana meets the deniers who say the Holocaust is a conspiracy. She converses with Reiner Hoess, the grandson at the Rudolf Hoess, the mastermind behind the design and construction of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. She is moved that Hoess has spent his life talking about the Holocaust with young people and has come to see justice served in the Groening trial. She is shocked after a female survivor finishes her testimony, steps up to Groening, shakes his hand and says “I forgive you.” The other survivors are upset by the woman’s gesture. Jordana even boldly walks up to the judge and asks him “what is it like to be a judge at this trial…and does it affect you?”

Jordana doesn’t carry the baggage of a survivor. She has a youthful desire to be a witness to history and relates her experiences of the trial through a daily blog she writes for the Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center — the center that paid for her plane ticket to Germany. In the end, Jordana realizes that the trial represents something greater than achieving justice for the survivors. It sends a message to the world that there will be consequences for anyone who is commits or assists in hate crimes, murders and genocide against human beings, no matter how long after a crime.  Jordana also sees an important role for “the youth of today to create a better tomorrow.”

Resources: There is an Epilogue at the end about other SS Nazi guards being brought to trial. Since most are in their 90s, time is running out. Kacer shares what Jordana has  done since the trial and her dream to become a human rights attorney. To Look a Nazi in the Eye is an important book for school libraries. It fits nicely with Holocaust education and will challenge students to have many lively discussions. Although this book is designated for those 13 and up, I would share this book with a mature middle grade student. Adults will benefit from reading this tactfully written book.

Kathy Kacer has won many awards for her books about the holocaust for young readers, including Hiding Edith, The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, Clara’s War and The Underground Reporters. A former psychologist, Kathy tours North America speaking to young people about the importance of remembering the Holocaust. For more information, visit Kacer’s website.

Oskar Groening died Mar. 13, 2018

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.