Efrén Divided by Ernestro Cisneros

Efrén Divided

Ernestro Cisneros, Author

Quill Tree Books, Fiction, Mar. 31, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Undocumented parents, Mexican Americans, Deportation, Family, Friendship, Culture

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Efrén Nava’s Amá is his Superwoman—or Soperwoman, named after the delicious Mexican sopes his mother often prepares. Both Amá and Apá work hard all day to provide for the family, making sure Efrén and his younger twin siblings, Max and Mia, feel safe and loved.

But Efrén worries about his parents; although he’s American-born, his parents are undocumented. And according to the neighborhood talk, or local chisme, families like his are in great danger. Sure enough, Efrén’s  worst nightmare comes true one day when Amá doesn’t return from work and is deported across the border to Tijuana, México.

Now it’s up to Efrén to be brave and figure out how to act soper himself. While Apá takes an extra job to earn the money needed to get Amá back, Efrén looks after the twins, washes laundry, fixes meals, and does his schoolwork. He helps his best friend’s probably-doomed campaign for school president, and worries about what might happen to his family next.

When disaster strikes, Efrén is faced with crossing the border alone to see Amá and deliver a special package. There is danger all around him. More than ever, he must channel his inner Soperboy to help reunite his family.

Why I like this book:

Ernestro Cisneros’s powerful and timely debut novel, Efrén Divided, captures the humanity of children of undocumented Mexican-American families living in the US.  I love that Cisneros wrote this novel for his children to show that Mexican Americans “are worth being written about.” Some of the book was taken from his own childhood.

The plot is both dangerous and heartwarming. The richly textured narrative is peppered with Spanish words and expressions, which are nicely woven into the story in a way that readers will grasp the translation. But there is a glossary of words and expressions at the end of the book. The diverse cast of characters are memorable, especially David, who adds for some fun comic relief.

Although parents immigrate to the US to provide a better life for their children, there is an underlying worry, pain, and fear for all family members. When Efrén’s mother is discovered by ICE, it forces him to grow up too quickly. Although he is a courageous and resilient teen, he carries a huge burden filled with responsibilities. He can’t confide in anyone — even his best friend David — because he puts his undocumented father and family at risk. 

When Efrén crosses the border alone into Tijuana to see his mom, he sees first-hand the reasons why his parents and others risk the trip north. There is danger lurking on every street corner and down every alley. He feels eyes watching him. There is poverty. Young kids are forced to work or beg for money instead of playing. Men and women of all ages sell handmade items along the curbs. He shudders at the US-built border fence where separated families meet with loved ones at a chain link fence.

There will be many teens who will relate to Efrén’s story, whether they have undocumented parents, family members, or know someone who does. This book should be at the top of the list in school classrooms because it is perfect for meaningful discussions.

The ending surprised me. It is realistic and hopeful. Perhaps there is a sequel in the works? Verdict: This book is a winner!

Ernesto Cisneros was born and raised in Santa Ana, California, where he still teaches. Efrén Divided is his first novel. He holds an English degree from the University of California, Irvine; a teaching credential from California State University, Long Beach; as well as a master of fine arts in creative writing from National University. As an author, he believes in providing today’s youth with an honest depiction of characters with whom they can identify. The real world is filled with amazing people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. His work strives to reflect that. You can visit him at his website.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

My Maddy by Gayle Pitman

Pride Month, June 2020

My Maddy

Gayle Pitman, Author

Violet Tobacco, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, May 25, 2020

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Parent and Child, Gender Diverse Families, Love

Opening: “Most mommies are girls. Most daddies are boys. But lot of parents are neither a boy nor a girl. Like my Maddy.”

Synopsis:

My Maddy has hazel eyes which are not brown or green. And my Maddy likes sporks because they are not quite a spoon or a fork. And she gets up early to watch the sunrise because it’s not day and it’s not night. And she loves rainbows because the most beautiful things happen between the rain and the sun.

Some of the best things in the world are not one thing or the other. They are something in between and entirely their own.

Randall Ehrbar, PsyD, offers an insightful note with more information about parents who are members of gender minority communities, including transgender, gender non-binary, or otherwise gender diverse people.

Why I like this book:

Gayle Pitman has written a celebratory book about parenthood that is both hearwarming and informative. Look at that gorgeous cover filled with an abundance of love, joy and rainbow pride. It is so inspiring, as is the text which is filled with positive images and concepts of one’s family. Violet Tobacco’s illustrations are a vibrant and magical.

Gayle Pitman creates a parent who is blend between Mommy and Daddy, and gives the parent a name inbetween — Maddy. I didn’t realize that Maddy is often times used in some families to describe a parent who is transgender or gender diverse. Pitman subtly portrays an ordinary and loving relationship between the girl and her parent, emphasizing that a parent can be a little bit of both, like many things in nature.

This is a story that many children will be able to relate to, and will be a welcomed addition to any school or public library.

Resources: The Note to Readers is a great resource for parents, teachers and caregivers. It not only includes additional information about gender diverse parents, but also highlights the importance of parents letting their child know through words and actions, that no matter what, they are still the child’s parent. There are tips in discussing gender identity with a child. And the it encourages families to include the children in choosing a new name or nickname for a parent.

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.
*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

Remembering Ethan by Leslea Newman

Remembering Ethan

Lesléa Newman, Author

Tracy Bishop, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Apr. 7, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Death, Sibling, Loss, Grief, Family relationships, Healing, Hope

Opening: My big brother Ethan was so tall, he had to duck his head when he walked through the front door. My big brother was so handsome, somebody once thought he was a movie star and asked for his autograph.

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Ethan. Ethan. Ethan. Sarah misses her adored big brother with all her heart. She wants to celebrate all the fun times she and her parents spent with him. But ever since Ethan died, Mommy and Daddy won’t mention him. Sarah can’t even say his name without upsetting them.

Why don’t they want to remember Ethan?

Why I like this book:

In this time of the COVID 19 pandamic, Lesléa Newman’s picture book is a timely one to share with readers who may be searching for books to help their children and themselves deal with with the loss of a loved one. That is why I’m sharing it today.

Newman’s delicate perspective on Remembering Ethan shows the heartbreaking impact of the loss of a sibling on a younger child. Sarah tries to cope with the death of her big brother with little support from her grieving parents.

The story is told from Sarah’s viewpoint, which is quite powerful as it gives voice to her feelings. She is sad, but she wants to talk about all her happy memories of Ethan! She wants to say his name out loud. She wants to write his name. She wants to draw happy pictures of Ethan and hang them on the refrigerator. She is angry that her efforts upset her parents. In desperation, Sarah stomps upstairs to Ethan’s room and shouts, “Doesn’t anyone but Buttons and me even remember Ethan?”

Grief is tricky and I applaud the author for sharing Sarah’s family’s first reaction to dealing with their loss. It highlights how each family member finds coping mechanisms when they are overwhelmed with grief. I observed a very similar situation in our family, when a grandson died.  Sharing memories is an important way for children to keep favorite memories and stories of a lost sibling or loved one near them.

Tracy Bishops beautiful illustrations are in soft pastels. They are expressive, comforting, and hopeful.

Resources: This book is a wonderful resource. Make sure you check out Note to Readers at the end of the book provides valuable information to parents, caregivers, and teachers about the many different ways to deal with childhood grief. The information will touch the entire family and help them through a rough time.

Lesléa Newman has created over 70 books for readers of all ages, including A Letter to Harvey Milk; October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard; I Carry My Mother; The Boy Who Cried Fabulous; Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed;Heather Has Two Mommies; Sparkle Boy; and Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story. Visit Newman at her website  or on Twitter @lesleanewman.

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.

*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

I, Cosmo by Carlie Sorosiak

I, Cosmo

Carlie Sorosiak, Author

Walker Books, Fiction, Dec. 24, 2019

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Dogs, Golden retriever, Family relationships, Divorce, Humor

Publisher Synopsis:

Ever since Cosmo became a big brother to Max ten years ago, he’s known what his job was: to protect his boy and make him happy. Through many good years marked by tennis balls and pilfered turkey, torn-up toilet paper and fragrant goose poop, Cosmo has doggedly kept his vow.

Until recently, his biggest problems were the evil tutu-wearing sheepdog he met on Halloween and the arthritis in his own joints. But now, with Dad-scented blankets appearing on the couch and arguing voices getting louder, Cosmo senses a tougher challenge ahead.

When Max gets a crazy idea to teach them both a dance routine for a contest, how can Cosmo refuse, stiff hips or no? Max wants to remind his folks of all the great times they’ve had together dancing — and make them forget about the “d” word that’s making them all cry. Told in the open, optimistic, unintentionally humorous voice of a golden retriever, I, Cosmo will grab readers from the first page — and remind them that love and loyalty transcend whatever life throws your way.

Why I like this book:

Cosmo is a grand narrator for Carlie Sorosiak’s humorous story about a golden retriever protecting and loving his human family through many life challenges — including his own aging. This story will engage readers and make them laugh as they experience the world through Cosmo’s eyes and senses.

When parents are fighting, there is nothing like a dog like Cosmo, to comfort and ease the anxiety for children. Cosmo is always there for twelve-year-old Max and five-year-old Emmaline, when their parents argue. He’s their best friend, fiercely loyal, and good for hugs. Readers will relate to this heartfelt story of unconditional licks of love.

Dog lovers will fall deeply in love with Cosmo — even adults. We all wonder what our dogs think as they watch us silly humans go about our business — pardon the pun.  We learn very quickly about everything Cosmo thinks. First of all he hates Halloween and the silly costumes he’s made to wear. But he likes bacon and sausage over kibbles. He dislikes the spoonful of peanut butter that Mom feeds him with his meds hidden in the center. When she turns her back, he hides his pill. He’s puzzled by how inferior human noses are. He loves to  sniff and roll in fresh animals scents, swim in the ocean play hide-and-seek, watch dog shows, but also the movie Grease. But as his aches and pains increase with age, Cosmo’s not fond of snow and ice, and jumping on people to greet them.

Carlie Sorosiak grew up in North Carolina and holds two master’s degrees: one in English from the University of Oxford and another in creative writing and publishing from City, University of London. Her life goals include traveling to all seven continents and fostering many polydactyl cats. She currently splits her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, hoping to gain an accent like Madonna’s. Visit her online at 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.

*Review copy from the publisher. Or I won it in a giveaway.

For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington

For Black Girls Like Me

Mariama J. Lockington, Author

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Fiction, Jul. 30, 2019

Suitable for Ages:  9-11

Themes: Idenity, African-American, Interracial adoptions, Family problems, Mental illness, Moving,

Opening: “I am a girl but most days I feel like a question mark. People throw their looks at me. Then back at my mama sister and papa. Who are all as white as oleander. Then they look back at me. Black as a midnight orchard.”

Bookjacket Synopsis:

Makeda June Kirkland is eleven-years old, adopted, and black. Her parents and big sister are white, and even though she loves her family very much Keda often feels left out. When Keda’s family moves from Maryland to New Mexico, she leaves behind her best friend, Lena — the only other adopted black girl she knows — for a new life. In New Mexico, everything is different. At home, Keda’s sister is too cool to hang out with her anymore, and at school, she can’t seem to find one true friend.

Through it all, Keda can’t help but wonder: What would it feel like to grow up with a family that looks like me? Keda has a constant dialogue in her head with the birth mother she never knew.

In this deeply felt coming-of-age story, about family, sisterhood, music, race, and identity, Mariama J. Lockington draws on some of the motional truths from her own experiences of growing up with an adoptive white family. For Black Girls Like Me is for anyone who has ever asked themselves: How do you figure out where you are going if you don’t know where you came from?

Why I like this book:

Mariama J. Lockington has penned an intimate and emotional debut novel that will touch reader’s souls. It is about a girl being adopted into an interracial family. The author uses many of her own personal experiences to share Keda’s inner turmoil of feeling both “loved and lonely” in her white family. This rarely-told story is long overdue and will resonate with many transracial adoptees.

There is beauty in Lockington’s book.  She is a very lyrical writer, so there are many poetic turns of phrases. Her writing tone is rich and and is enhanced with Keda’s musical lyrics, poems, letters, and a journal that carries her heart back and forth through the postal mail to Lena, her bestie. The journal is a lifeline and bond for both. It’s a creative inclusion in the narrative. The plot is multilayered and courageous.

The characters are authentic and complicated. Keda is deeply sensitive, observant and curious about her birth mother. At school she dislikes the never ending questions about her hair, her adoption, and her biological mother. Most of all, she doesn’t like the accusations of being “too proper” and “talking so white.” Keda’s life may feel complex, but she is resilient.  She is a talented song writer and her music is her freedom from  lonliness and hurt. She finds a soulmate in singer Billie Holiday’s blues music.

Making friends is easy for Eve, Keda’s older white sister. Eve is popular and distant, leaving Keda without a friend. Their family is musical. Mama is a prodigy – a talented solo violinist who left the stage when she started a family. Papa is a talented celloist, who heads out on a worldwide concert tour after their move to New Mexico. However Mama’s mental health issues emerge and spiral out of control. The sisters are thrown together to grapple with big decisions.

For Black Girls Like Me raises timely questions about race, identity, and mental health issues that will foster excellent classroom discussions. It is an outstanding work of fiction and belongs in every school library. Keda’s life may feel messy but it is full of courage, hope and promise.

Favorite Quotes:

“So you’re like Obama? An Oreo!” / Kinda. Wait. What’s an Oreo? / “You know when you’re all black on the outside but really white on the inside?” (Page 37)

Questions I have for black girls (with hair) like me: Who decides what kind of hair is beautiful? Do you ever just want to tell your mom: “White lady stop! You don’t know what you’re doing!” Do you remember the first black woman to ever washed your hair? What did it feel like? Did it hurt? Or did it feel like home? (Page 134)

“I am a girl becoming a woman. People throw their puzzled looks at me and I know they’re wondering: Who does she look like? But I am learning to say: Me. I look like me. I am a girl becoming a woman.” (Page 317)

Mariama J. Lockington is an adoptee, writer, and nonprofit educator. She has been telling stories and making her own books since the second grade, when she wore short-alls and flower leggings every day to school. Her work has appeared in a number of magazines and journals, including Buzzfeed News Reader, and she is the author of the poetry chapbook The Lucky Daughter. Mariama holds a Masters in Education from Lesley University and Masters in Fine Arts in Poetry from San Francisco State University. She lives in Lexington, KY with her partner and dapple haired dachshund, Henry.

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.

My Fate According to the Butterfly by Gail D. Villanueva

My Fate According to the Butterfly

Gail D. Villanueva, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Jul. 30, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

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

Book Synopsis:

Sab Dulce is doomed!

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

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

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

All the Impossible Things by Lindsay Lackey

All the Impossible Things

Lindsay Lackey, Author

Roaring Brook Press, Fiction, Sep. 3, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Foster Families, Separation, Addiction, Rescue Animals, Friendship, Magic

Book Synopsis:

Red’s inexplicable power over the wind comes from her mother. Whenever Ruby “Red” Byrd is scared or angry, the wind picks up. And being placed in foster care, moving from family to family, tends to keep her skies stormy. Red knows she has to learn to control it, but can’t figure out how.

This time, the wind blows Red into the home of the Grooves, a quirky couple who run a petting zoo, complete with a dancing donkey, a goat that climbs trees and a giant tortoise. With their own curious gifts, Celine and Jackson Groove seem to fit like a puzzle piece into Red’s heart.

But just when Red starts to settle into her new life, a fresh storm rolls in, one she knows all too well: her mother. For so long, Red has longed to have her mom back in her life, and she’s quickly swept up in the vortex of her mother’s chaos. Now Red must discover the possible in the impossible if she wants to overcome her own tornadoes and find the family she needs.

Why I like this book:

Lindsay Lackey’s debut novel speaks powerfully of Red’s deep anger and hurt, which takes the form of strong winds and tornadoes when she loses control of her emotional pain. Her story is as captivating and healing as it is heartbreaking. I

The plot is complex, realistic and skillfully executed. It digs deeply into many themes that include 10-year-old Red’s loss of her “Gamma” three years earlier, her mother’s drug addiction and imprisonment, and her unsuccessful placements in several foster homes. She has a fresh start when the Grooves, welcome her into their home. They have a farm and petting zoo full of rescue animals.

The characters are believable, vulnerable and memorable. Red is somewhat detached at first and finds a healing bond with Tuck, a 400-pound tortoise. She makes friends with a Hawaiian boy, Marvin, who is really into sharing his culture and helps Red with a special project. Red is surprised to find kindred spirits in Celine and Jackson, a middle-aged couple who immediately love her. They support Red in her desire to leave the foster care system and be reunited with her mother, Wanda. And they are there for her when she realizes that they are her forever family.

There is a tad of magic in this story. Both Red and her mother’s power stir up wind storms, has both a magical and emotional quality about it. And, Celine’s ability to make the stars sing when she and Red gaze into the heavens at night. Red hears their songs an finds they soothe her. It really isn’t explained, but I was okay with the wonder of it all. And the fabulous cover shouts magic and will attract readers.

Lindsay Lackey has trained as an opera singer, worked in children’s and teen services at a public library, and worked for a major publishing house in publicity and marketing. All the Impossible Things is her debut novel. Visit Lindsay 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.

Dream Within a Dream by Patricia MacLachlan

Dream Within a Dream

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Margaret K. McElderry Books, Fiction, May 7, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 128

Themes: Farm Life, Multigenerational relationships, Family, Adolescence, Island, Storms, Friendship, Love

Opening: My grandfather Jake’s Deer Island farm runs down to the sea – sweet grass slipping to water.

Book Synopsis

Louisa, short for Louisiana, is in for a long summer.

When her globe-trotting, bird-watching parents go abroad, they leave Louisa and her younger brother, Theo, on Deer Island with their grandparents, Jake and Boots, same as they always do.

Jake brings a library of books to read. Louisa would rather be off having adventures with their parents. She’s a secret writer, and there’s nothing on all of Deer Island to write about—right?

The difference is that this year, Jake’s eyesight if failing.

This year, Theo doesn’t want to go back to the mainland at the end of the summer.

This year, Louisa meets George, a boy who helps her see the world in a whole new light.

Why I like this book:

Patricia MacLachlan’s signature style showcases her talent to tell a heartwarming story that celebrates multigenerational family relationships, friendship and love — new and old — with beauty and simplicity. Her prose is lyrical, the narrative is gentle, the plot is engaging with the right amount of tension, and the ending is satisfying and uplifting.

The characters are memorable. Louisa is an adventuresome spirit with a large mass of curly red hair. Theo is an “old” soul, thoughtful, contemplative and kind. For Theo, the island is a dream. Grandmother Boots, is a lively, upbeat and strong force in the family. Her real name is Lily, but she loves and stomps around in colorful “wellies,” so her family call her Boots. Grandpa Jake, a farmer, is losing his eyesight. He remains positive and is secretly teaching a neighbor boy, George, how to drive, so he doesn’t lose his freedom and his prized 1938 Cord car. George and his family live on the island, but spend a lot of time in Africa.

This is a good story for readers moving into middle grade books. With short chapters, it can also be read out loud to young children. It is a lively summer read with dancing and tropical storms.

Favorite Quote:

Boots knows most everything. She knows, for instance, that her son — my father — and his wife — my mother — are “dense” about some things even though they’re “disturbingly intelligent,” as she puts it. Boots is my hero.

Patricia MacLachlan is the celebrated author of many timeless novels for young readers, including Newbery Medal winner Sarah, Plain and Tall; Word After Word; Kindred Souls; The Truth of Me; The Poet’s Dog; and My Father’s Words. She is also the author of countless beloved picture books, a number of which she cowrote with her daughter, Emily. She lives in Williamsburg, Massachusetts.

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.

Finding Orion by John David Anderson

Finding Orion

John David Anderson, Author

Walden Pond Press, Fiction, May 7, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 368

Themes: Death, Grandfather, Family relationships, Fathers and sons, Love, Humor

Book Synopsis:

Rion Kwirk comes from a rather odd family. His mother named him and his sisters after her favorite constellations, and his father makes funky-flavored jellybeans for a living. One sister acts as if she’s always on stage, and the other is a walking dictionary. But no one in the family is more odd than Rion’s grandfather, Papa Kwirk.

He’s the kind of guy who shows up on his motorcycle only on holidays handing out crossbows and stuffed squirrels as presents. Rion has always been fascinated by Papa Kwirk, especially as his son—Rion’s father—is the complete opposite. Where Dad is predictable, nerdy, and reassuringly boring, Papa Kwirk is mysterious, dangerous, and cool.

Which is why, when Rion and his family learn of Papa Kwirk’s death and pile into the car to attend his “Funneral” and pay their respects, Rion can’t help but feel that that’s not the end of his story. That there’s so much more to Papa Kwirk to discover. He doesn’t know how right he is.

Why I like this book:

This is one wacky story and it tops my list for the oddest book I’ve ever read. That being said, it’s also charming and funny, and heart-warming and downright bizarre. Anderson takes quirkiness to a new level when a singing clown shows up to tell them Rion’s grandfather, Frank, has died. Who does that? What a great “gotcha” opening for readers. You are compelled to read on.

The plot is hilarious and engaging. The “FUNNeral” is held in the Greensburg, Illinois town park, with speeches, a barbershop quartet, a marching band and food trucks to feed the guests. This is not your normal send-off, but it is original, fulfills Papa Kwirk’s final  wishes and allows the community to come together to share happy memories of “Jimmy,” a man they loved, with his family. Rion’s father is done with all of the untraditional nonsense and ready to head home when Aunt Gertie announces that there is a scavenger hunt to find Papa Kwirk’s ashes. The hunt is important journey in the story. It is an opportunity for everyone in the family to know Papa Kwirk better and to heal the divide between Rion’s father and grandfather.

Rion (Orion) is probably my favorite character because he is a smart and observant narrator, funny and awkward on his path to self-discovery. Rion may feel very ordinary among his odd parents and siblings, but he notices things that others don’t. The remainder of the characters are just plain fun and of course quirky. The sibling dynamics are delightfully normal with all the usual sibling pranks. And not to forget Cass’s pet python named Delilah.

I fell in love with the Kwirk family and their emotional journey as they explore the joy and pain, and regret and recovery of being a family. Readers will discover many laugh-out-loud and irreverent moments. I highly recommend this unforgettable book.

Favorite Quote:

“Seriously?” I shouted, my voice carrying through the amphitheater. “This freakin’ family can’t even die normally.”  Page 140

“One thing could be said for my grandfather, through: he was one of a kind. And there was a whole town full of people who would never forget him.” Page 335

John David Anderson is the author of many highly acclaimed books for kids, including Ms. Bixby’s Last Day as well as Posted, Granted, Sidekicked, and The Dungeoneers. Visit Anderson’s website for more information.

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.

Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo

Beverly, Right Here

Kate DiCamillo, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 24, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Pages: 256

Themes: Runaways, Loss, Family relationships, Friendship, Kindness

Opening: “Buddy died, and Beverly buried him, and then she set off toward Lake Clara.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Beverly Tapinski has run away from home plenty of times, but that was when she was just a kid. Now that she’s fourteen years old, she figures it’s not running away. It’s leaving,

Determined to make it on her own, Beverly finds a job and a place to live and tries to forget about her dog, Buddy, now buried underneath the orange trees back home; her friend Raymie, whom she left without a word; and her alcoholic mom, Rhonda, who has never cared about anyone but herself. Beverly doesn’t want to depend on anyone, and she definitely doesn’t want anyone to depend on her. But despite her best efforts, she can’t help forming connections with the people around her — and gradually, she learns to herself through their eyes.

Why I like this book:

It is always a pleasure to read and review a new Kate DiCamillo book. Her imagery and vocabulary sparkle without weighty text. A gifted storyteller, DiCamillo challenges readers with big questions about the meaning of home, family, friendships, belonging, and self-discovery. There is so much to love about Beverly, Right Here and it’s heroine, Beverly Tapinski was first introduced to readers in Raymie Nightingale.  It is the final book in the series about three friends. If you haven’t read the second book, Louisiana’s Way Home, make sure you grab a copy.

I love the voices DiCamillo creates for her main characters. Beverly’s voice is determined and defining because of her soul searching journey to embrace herself. She sees herself as an independent loner. She doesn’t want or need anyone. Or does she? Once she arrives in Tamaray, it doesn’t take Beverly long to land a job at a fish restaurant busing tables.  She finds a couch to sleep on at Iola Jenkins, an eccentric old woman who lives alone in a trailer park. Along the way she meets Elmer, who works at a convenience store before he heads to Dartmouth College in the fall. He’s shy and self-conscious, but has a generous heart. A colorful, humorous and engaging relationship unfolds between Beverly, Iola and Elmer.

Beverly, Right Here is an excellent middle grade discussion book. Once released, there will be a teacher’s guide and a book group discussion guide.

Favorite Quote:

“Imagine if you hadn’t found my trailer. Imagine if I didn’t need someone to drive the Pontiac. Then me and you wouldn’t have become friends, and you wouldn’t know how to dance. Oh, I’m glad I needed you. I’m glad you needed me. “I didn’t really need you,” said Beverly. “Yes, you did, honey,” said Iola. “Yes, you did,” said Elmer from the back seat. “Okay,” said Beverly. “Whatever you people say.” Page 207

Kate DiCamillo is the author of many books for young readers. Her books have been awarded the Newbery Medal (Flora & Ulysses in 2014 and The Tale of Despereaux in 2004); the Newbery Honor (Because of Winn-Dixie, 2001), the Boston Globe Horn Book Award (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, 2006), and the Theodor Geisel Medal and honor (Bink and Gollie, co-author Alison McGhee, 2011; Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride, 2007). She is a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Emerita, appointed by the Library of Congress.

Greg Pattridge hosts 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 provided by publisher.