Blended by Sharon M. Draper

Blended

Sharon M. Draper, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Oct. 30, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Racial identify, Blended family, Family Relationships, Divorce, Stepfamilies, Profiling, Violence

Publisher Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Isabella’s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week. One week she’s Isabella living with her lawyer dad, his girlfriend Anastasia and her son Darren, in a fancy Cincinnati house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her waitress mom and her boyfriend John-Mark living in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.

Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds. And now that her parents are divorced, it seems their fights are even worse, and they’re always about HER. Isabella feels even more stuck in the middle, split and divided between them than ever. And she’s is beginning to realize that being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities.

Her dad is black, her mom is white, and strangers are always commenting: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?” She knows what they’re really saying: “You don’t look like your parents.” “You’re different.” “What race are you really?”

And when her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn’t just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?

It seems like nothing can bring Isabella’s family together again—until the worst happens. Isabella and Darren are stopped by the police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun. And shots are fired.

Why I like this book:

Sharon Draper boldly takes on challenging topics in her new middle grade novel, Blended. Convincingly penned, it is a thoughtful commentary on divorce, family pressure, racism, identity, police violence and socioeconomic class issues.

Draper’s tackles a timely subject that is rarely addressed in middle grade books — how do biracial children feel about their mixed identity? Draper offers a vivid portrayal of Izzy/Isabella’s emotional landscape. Is she white or is she black? Which box does she check when she fills out paper work? Her first encounter with racism is at school when a student leaves a “noose” in her best friend’s (Imani) locker. It intensifies Izzy’s feelings and she struggles to define her identity. Draper’s first person narration works very well because Izzy’s voice is strong, honest and candid.

Izzy, a talented pianist who is preparing for a major recital, has another dilemma. She wants to really know what “home”  feels like. With her divorced parents competing for her time and attention, she is torn between two worlds fraught with bickering. It reaches a boiling point when both parents decide to get married and pick the same day for their weddings. When her mother is late for their “exchange day near the mall,” her father calls the police. Panicked they are going to arrest her mother, Izzy takes off running. Her desperate act knocks some sense into her parents who realize their selfish impact on Izzy’s life. Readers will identify with Izzy’s journey to seek wholeness. Draper challenges readers with the big question about what is home.

Blended is an exceptional story with a realistic plot and characters that will stay with you long after you put it down. Blended belongs in every school library.

Resources:  The publisher has included a Reading Group Guide available for classroom use.

*Library review copy.

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

My Father’s Words by Patricia MacLachlan

My Father’s Words

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Fiction, Oct. 2, 2018

Pages: 133

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Loss, Grief, Love, Healing, Family relationships, Shelter dogs

Synopsis:

Declan O’Brien always had a gentle word to share, odd phrases he liked to repeat, and songs to sing while he played basketball. His favorite song was “Dona Nobis Pacem,” “Grant Us Peace.” His family loved him deeply and always knew they were loved in return.

But a terrible accident one day changes their lives forever, and Fiona and Finn O’Brien are left without a father. Their mother is at a loss. What words are there to guide them through such overwhelming grief?

At the suggestion of their friend Luke, Fiona and Finn volunteer at an animal rescue shelter where they meet two sweet dogs, Emma and Jenny, who are in need of comfort, too. Perhaps with time, patience, and their father’s gentle words in their hearts, hope will spark once more.

Why I like this book

Patricia MacLachlan’s captivating and unforgettable story is about a tragic loss, family relationships, love, laughter and healing. It is a well-written story that is realistic, inspiring and hopeful. Her narrative is gentle and heartfelt. The text is spare and powerful. Some may feel the story is sad, but I experienced it with wonder and awe.

Fiona and Finn are working through their grief following their father’s untimely death. Fiona looks out for her younger brother, but she’s searching for memories of her time with her dad. Finn is a sensitive and gentle boy. He is quiet and thoughtful like his father. Their best friend, Luke, suggests they all volunteer at a local animal shelter. They each connect with and walk a dog. Finn reads, talks and sings “Dona Nobis Pacem” to Emma, who is depressed and faces a wall. Fiona takes Jenny for long walks in the park. The siblings learn that while you comfort a shelter dog, the dog is also comforting you.

This is perfect story for dog lovers. The plot is engaging, but the beautiful ending sneaks up on you. I thought I knew how it would end, but the author surprises me. Make sure you have tissues nearby. My Father’s Words is a refreshingly quiet book that gives readers time to ponder big questions and explore underlying truths and memories. It will make an excellent classroom read-aloud and discussion book.

Patricia MacLachlan is the celebrated author of many timeless books for young readers, including Sarah, Plain and Tall, winner of the Newbery Medal. Her novels for young readers include Skylark, Caleb’s Story, More Perfect than the Moon, Grandfather’s Dance, Word After Word After Word, Kindred Souls, The Truth of Me, and The Poet’s Dog; she is also the author of many 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.

*Library Copy

Bub by Elizabeth Rose Stanton

Bub

Elizabeth Rose Stanton, Author & Illustrator

Simon & Schuster Books/A Paula Wiseman Book, Fiction, Jan. 16, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Middle Child, Monsters, Love, Family Relationships

Opening‘This is Bub. His real name is Bob. On the first day of school Bob didn’t close the top of his O. From then on, he was Bub.”

Synopsis:  Bub, a little monster, caught in the middle of a boisterous  and busy monster family tries to find a way to be seen and heard.  Maw and Paw can be very loud when they do not agree. Big sister Bernice shines at homework and playing the violin. And  everyone pays attention to The Baby. No wonder Bub feels grumpy and unnoticed. No one has time for Bub. But one grumpy day, Bub decides to take charge. Suddenly things change in a very magical little monster way! What happens next keeps his family guessing, until Bub sees that it might not be so bad being in the middle, after all.

Why I like this book:

Elizabeth Rose Stanton’s quirky and enchanting book will win the hearts of many children who are smack in the middle of their families. They will relate to Bub’s dilemma. The text flows nicely and has an element of suspense to it. She doesn’t hurry it along, allowing her signature color-pencil and watercolor illustrations time to deliver Bub’s important message to his family. The ending is endearing and original.

Bub will captivate readers from the first double-page spread to the last. His playful expressions are priceless once he takes charge and his entire demeanor changes. Stanton’s book will invite many conversations at home and in the classroom. There is a lot of humor and heart in Bub. It’s a treasure!

Elizabeth Rose Stanton started her grown-up life as an architect. Now she builds stories for picture books. She lives in Seattle with her husband and three Scottish fold cats, all prancing around Bub’s story. She is the author of the whimsically sweet and quirky picture books, Henny and Peddles.

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.

Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schroder

Be Light Like a Bird41Q13tYaniL__SX353_BO1,204,203,200_Be Light Like a Bird

Monika Schroder, Author

Capstone Young Readers, Fiction, Sep. 1, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Grief, Bereavement, Mother and daughter, Moving, Family relationships, Friendships, Birdwatching, Nature

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Wren buries roadkill to make herself feel better. Her ritual begins after her father is killed in a plane crash and she never has the opportunity to say goodbye. Her mother tells Wren to pack up her belongings and forces her to leave their home in Georgia and drive north on I-75 in search of a new life. Their first stop is in Chattanooga, Tennessee, then Wapakoneta, Ohio, and finally Pyramid, Michigan, near the Canadian border. With each stop, Wren starts a new school. By the time they reach Pyramid, Wren is determined that this is where their journey will end. She’s tired of being the new girl in school and she wants a place to call home. Her mom finds a job in a retirement home and Wren and her mother work to build a new life. Wren has a good feeling about Pyramid. She discovers a magical place in a forest with a pond and a lot of birds.  She pulls out a bird-watching journal her father has given her and begins to record her sightings. Wren discovers that her perfect place is called Pete’s Pond and that a developer is planning to destroy the area and turn it into a landfill. When Wren teams up with Theo, a nerdy boy at school, to work on a public issue project, she finds the perfect partner in her effort to save Pete’s Pond. Wren begins to find herself, learn about community, forgive those who don’t deserve it, rediscover family, and decide her own direction.

Why I like this book:

Monika Schroder’s has written a sensitive and emotionally deep story about how Wren deals the tragic death of her father. Although the book is about loss, it is also about friendship, courage and embracing life. It has a quirkiness about it that is refreshing. I especially like Schroder’s expertly written prologue and first chapter, which draw the reader into the story from the get-go. The narrative is expertly written in Wren’s voice.

Readers will be captivated by Wren’s unconventional character. She is a strong spirit who loves bird-watching, deals with both her father’s death and a comatose mother, outsmarts bullies, and takes on a major environmental issue. Wren’s mother works two jobs, refuses to talk about her father, and emotionally abandons her daughter. Their complex relationship begins to unravel as secrets and betrayals are revealed. Theo, who is considered the class nerd, proves to be a very resourceful partner. He understands the pain of losing a parent and is a good friend. Together they grow and become a powerful voice in the community. Randle, a Chippewa Indian who owns a junkyard for cars, adds a special twist to the story.

This beautifully crafted story is multi-layered and filled with vivid imagery. Schroder uses roadkill as a symbolic image to show how both Wren and Theo deal with their sadness in losing a parent. I have never seen anything like it before and it works well in this story. Wren buries dead animals. Theo takes pictures of roadkill. Both are looking for a way to come to terms with their heartache and find closure. The plot is distinctly realistic and fast-paced. The ending is unexpected and satisfying.

This is an excellent classroom discussion book as there are many substantive topics that can be discussed: grief, bullying, peer pressure, protecting the environment, and ancient Native American burial grounds.

Monika Schroder grew up in Germany, but has lived and worked in American international schools in Egypt, Oman, Chile, and India. She moved to the US in 2011. She is the author of My Brother’s Shadow, Saraswati’s Way (my review), and a The Dog in the Wood. You can find out more about Schroder on her website.

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

The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd

Key to Extraordinary 51KpzeoJqhL__SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Key to Extraordinary

Natalie Lloyd, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Feb. 23, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Ancestors, Family Relationships, Friendships, Magic, Community, Cleft Palate

Pages: 240

Opening: “It is a known fact that the most extraordinary moments in a person’s life come disguised as ordinary. It is a known fact for me, at least.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Everyone in Emma’s family is special. Her ancestors include Revolutionary War spies, brilliant scientists, and famous country music singers — every single one of which learned of their extraordinary destiny through a dream.

For Emma, her own destiny dream can’t come soon enough. Right before her mother died, Emma promised that she’d do whatever it took fulfill her destiny, and she doesn’t want let her mother down. But when Emma’s dream finally arrives, it points her toward an impossible task — finding a legendary treasure that’s supposedly hidden near her town’s historic cemetery. If Emma fails, she’ll let down generations of her extraordinary ancestors…including her mother. But how can she find something that’s been missing for centuries and might be protected by a mysterious singing ghost, known as the “Conductor?”

Why I like this book:

Natalie Lloyd has written a captivating tale that will delight readers and take them on a journey to Blackbird Hollow, a Tennessee community where  small-town neighbors care about each other. Lloyd’s writing is lyrical and magical. Her voice is original. Her storytelling and literary style set her a part from other authors. She succeeds in creating an experience for her readers. Fans of her debut novel, A Snicker of Magic, will not be disappointed.

Emma Pearl Casey and her brother live with their Granny Blue, who owns the family Boneyard Café, which sits on the edge of a famous historic graveyard. A ghost wanders among the gravestones at night singing about treasures. The café is where the town folk gather to chat, drink Granny’s famous Boneyard brew (cocoa), and sing and dance the night away. It is a setting where magic happens daily. Flowers and Telling Vines that are  unique only to Blackbird Hollow, whisper messages from the departed.

The characters are quirky, good-hearted, and unforgettable. Emma comes from a lineage of creative and strong women who call themselves the Wildflowers, because they learn about their extraordinary destiny through a dream. Emma still carries the “ache” of missing her mother and is self-conscious of a small scar above her lip, the result of a repaired cleft palate. She is a spirited young Wildflower, who is determined to find the hidden treasure. Eccentric and feisty Granny Blue is a former professional boxer, who has some secrets of her own. Sadness creeps over her as she struggles to keep the café afloat. Uncle Periwinkle tucks violets into his long white beard and shares the ghost songs and magic with Emma.

What an enchanting plot filled with adventure, wonder, mystery and danger. The café is having financial problems and a scrupulous developer wants to purchase the land. Emma gives daily tours of the graveyard to visitors to help support the café. Emma and her best friends, Cody Belle and Earl, embark upon a secret mission to find the hidden treasure so they can save her family’s home and café. They explore the forbidden areas of the graveyard and the search the Wailing Woods, which hold secrets of their own. But treasures can take on different meanings and only the pure of heart can understand their meaning. For Emma, this is a story about believing in yourself and finding courage in the midst of danger.

Visit Natalie Lloyd at her website. She is the author of A Snicker of Magic, an ALA Notable Children’s Book, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and a Parents Magazine Best Children’s Book.

I received an advanced reading copy of this book. This review reflects my own honest opinion about the book.

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

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Journey with me…

 

 

Special-needs-children-222x225Welcome to Children’s Books Heal!   I specifically chose to use “heal” in my blog name, because I felt it more inclusive of what I wanted to communicate — books have the power to heal.  Many of the books I plan to  review will focus on children and teens with special needs.   It’s  a broad category ranging from autism, Asperger’s syndrome, cancer, cerebral palsy, hearing and visual impairments to anxiety, ADHD, intellectual disability, adoption, divorce and grief.  I also will target books that are  multicultural,  about peace, conflict resolution, virtues, and the power of music and the arts to heal.  Each book will be hand-picked for the quality of its message.

In January 2011, Scholastic, the largest publisher of children’s books, released the Top 10 Trends in Children’s Books from 2010.    Among those trends was an increase in fiction with main characters who have special needs.  Examples included My Brother Charlie, Marcel in the Real World, and Mockingbird — all great books I will share.

According to a study published by Brigham Young University professors in the December 2010 issue of Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities,  “Despite an increasingly positive portrayal  of characters with disabilities in Newbery Award-winning books, there still is not an accurate representation of the nearly 7 million children with disabilities attending U.S. public schools.”   They studied Newbery Award and Honor books published from 1975 to 2009.

“We are hoping that this will be a call to authors,”  said Professor Tina Dyches.  “We’ve got so many wonderful authors in the world and we would love to see more inclusive characterizations in high quality books where kids with disabilities are being recognized for who they are no not just the limitations of their disabilities.”

I am a journalist and writer who  hopes to review high quality books for children and students with special needs.  I bring with me many life experiences.  My husband and I have a large blended family, with two adopted children, one a foreign adoption.  We have parented children with disabilities and special needs.  I also know what it is like to live as an adult with a disability, as I had a serious brain injury seven years ago.  And, I know how grief impacts children and families.  In 2009, our grandson was a casualty of the war in Iraq.   These experiences have influenced my choice in writing books for children, and the theme for my blog.

Please join me in my journey of writing and blogging.

Patricia