Chasing Helicity – Through the Storm by Ginger Zee

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday 

Chasing Helicity – Through the Storm (Book 3)

Ginger Zee, Author

Disney-Hyperion, Fiction,  Apr. 21, 2020

Pages: 224

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Weather, Storms, Meteorology, Survival, Hot Air Balloon Festival, Addiction, Bullying, Family relationships, Friendships

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Battered, bruised, but alive, Helicity Dunlap rides out a hurricane in the Bolivar Peninsula Lighthouse in Texas. She somehow manages to keep herself safe and to even rescue a lost dog in the process.

After a day in the hospital, she and her mom and Same make the two-day drive back to Western Michigan. They leave Andy and their dad behind as Andy is finally going to get the help he needs in an addiction rehabilitation facility. Much to her dismay, Helicity ends up in the spotlight-first in a good way after surviving the hurricane and rescuing the dog, and then social media turns on her and she finds herself in the eye of a completely different kind of storm.

Back at school Helicity struggles to maintain her focus-long rides on her horse, Raven, help as do a few weekend trips with her mom. She decides to accept an offer to be interviewed about her experience in Texas by a reporter who followed her story. They meet up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, during the annual International Hot Air Balloon Festival, a spectacle that must be seen to be believed. The excitement builds as Helicity delights in her first ride in a lighter-than-air balloon when disaster strikes. A severe dust storm – a haboob – typical of the area erupts while Helicity is aloft. How will the pilot navigate this threatening and potentially deadly storm? Find out in this exciting conclusion to the Chasing Helicity series.

Why I like this book:

Author Ginger Zee, chief meteorologist for ABC, once again captivates readers with the final book in her Chasing Helicity trilogy. It is the perfect adventure novel for readers who like cool science, and are intrigued by storms, unusual weather phenomenon, and meteorology. Zee makes science fun and approachable.

The plot is a thrilling and fast-paced adventure. Through the Storm, picks up where the second novel, Into the Wind, leaves off with Helicity trapped and isolated in an old lighthouse with a raging hurricane plummeting the Texas coastline. Zee’s writing is filled with vivid imagery of the storm as Helicity experiences both the terror and the beauty of looking directly up into the “eye” of the hurricane before the raging winds return.

The characters are convincing. Helicity is a smart, curious, and self-taught weather junkie who befriends storm chasers, Lana and Ray. She is a survivor and not a victim. Her older brother Andy is recovering from an addiction to painkillers following an injury in a Michigan tornado (Book 1). Helicity is also a vulnerable, especially when she and Andy are bullied on social media by a mean-spirited Michigan classmate, Kate. Sam is a good friend and nice balance for Helicity. He supports her through tough times and there is a hint of romance. Zee accurately portrays the teen drama and readers will relate to the situation with empathy.

But the excitement isn’t over. The book ends with Helicity and Andy visiting the International Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque. No spoilers! There is a mention in the above synopsis, but I don’t want to give away this riveting and suspenseful conclusion. With the unpredictable weather patterns we have throughout the country — hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, draughts, and forest fires — Chasing Helicity Through the Storm is a perfect read. Readers will learn to recognize weather patterns that may just keep them safe. It also makes STEM subjects more exciting and relatable to readers. I hope we see more exciting weather/survival stories from Ginger Zee!

Ginger Zee is Good Morning America’s chief meteorologist, reporting on the nation’s weather throughout the morning broadcast. Since joining ABC News, Zee has covered almost every major weather event and dozens of historic storms. She broadcasted from the devastated Jersey Shore during Hurricane Sandy, the Colorado floods and wildfires, and covered the wreckage from tornadoes in Moore and El Reno, Oklahoma.

Zee’s love of adventure does not stop at studying the atmosphere in the center of a storm. She has parahawked in Nepal, paraglided from the Himalayas to the Andes, dived with sharks in the Bahamas, rappelled twenty-seven stories down the exterior facade of the Wit Hotel in Chicago, and even gone ice-boat racing and surfing.

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.

Trevor and Me by Yuno Imai

Trevor and Me

Yuno Imai, Author

Liuba Syroliuk, Illustrator

Yumo Imai, Fiction, Jun. 16, 2020

Suitable for ages: 5-9

Themes: Intergenerational friendship, Declining health, Loss, Grief, Inspirational

Opening: “Trevor is my best friend. With a shining smile like the sun, silver curly hair, and a wrinkled face He always wears his favorite red beret.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Trevor and Me defies the boundaries of age, gender and race. It is a heartwarming story based on the real-life friendship between an elderly Caucasian man and a young Asian girl. As Trevor’s health starts to decline and he prepares to die, he promises to always be with the girl even after he’s gone. Trevor dies and the girl is filled with grief until one day she begins to receive signs to let her know Trevor is and always will be with her.

Why I like this book:

Trevor and Me is a celebration of life and portrays an afterlife in a non-religious, beautiful and gentle manner. It is an inspirational and poetic journey about the unbreakable friendship between a girl and her special grandfatherly friend, Trevor. They enjoy long walks in the park and stops at a café until one day the girl notices he is growing weak.  Trevor begins to prepare the girl for his death and promises to always watch over her.

Trevor and Me is based on the author’s own real-life experience with an elderly gentleman, named Trevor. It is with great love that she turns her experience into such an uplifting story to read and discuss with children who have lost a grandparent or family member. Trevor and Me brings hope and puts a smile on your face. Liuba Syroliuk’s delicate illustrations and beautiful watercolor illustrations evoke emotions of love, grief, and joy. Lovely collaboration.

Resources/Activities: Help children plant a special tree in memory of a loved one. Have them draw or write about special memories they had with the loved one so they won’t  forget. Make a memory box where you can put something special the belonged to a loved one side. You may want to add photos, card/letters written to the child by the loved one. This will help a child touch, read and look at the items so they keep their favorite memories alive.

Yuno Imai is a Los Angeles based children’s author, food and travel writer, and copy editor. She is also author of the book, The Last Meal. She is originally from Hamamatsu, Japan, and came to the United States as a high school foreign exchange student in a small Kansas town. After graduating from high school in Japan, she returned to the US to attend San Francisco State University. She graduated with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. She has over 10 years experience as a translator and has work extensively for major American and Japanese companies and celebrity clients. Visit Yuno at her website.

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 author in exchange for a review.

Gustavo the Shy Ghost by Flavia Z. Drago

Gustavo the Shy Ghost

Flavia Z. Drago, Author and Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Jul. 14, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Ghosts, Monsters, Day of the Dead, Shyness, Friendship, Seasonal

Opening: “Gustavo was a ghost.” He enjoyed doing the normal things that paranormal beings do — passing through walls, making objects fly, and glowing in the dark.”

Synopsis:

Meet Gustavo. He’s a ghost, and like any paranormal being, he enjoys doing the normal things, passing through walls, making objects fly, and glowing in the dark. He also loves playing the violin.

But Gustavo has a problem. He is very, very shy. He longs to make friends, but he’s never even dared to speak to any of the other monsters in his town. In fact he’s terrified. With the Day of the Dead fast approaching, can Gustavo be brave enough to let others see him and share his gifts?

Why I like this book:

Flavia Z. Drago’s delightfully quirky story is about a painfully shy ghost who will charm readers from the start. Children will commiserate with Gustavo when he tries to make friends, who just can’t see him. Gustavo is even afraid of standing in line to get Eye-Scream.  But in his heart, Gustavo knows he’s something more — a ghost with a talent to share with others.  Kids will cheer when he decides to invite his friends to the cemetery on the Night of the Dead for a special event.  The ending is endearing and uplifting. There is humor, there is heart and there is connection.

Drago’s illustrations bring Gustavo’s character to life. He uses a lot of white space with sparse text and fun wordplay, which is very effective. Readers will enjoy the entertaining and wacky illustrations show many Mexican themes. They really make this story shine and kids will have a grand time studying each page trying to locate Gustavo — who hides very well in plain sight. This delightful seasonal book is a winner.

Resources: While you draw pictures of ghosts, talk about what makes you feel shy and what one thing you might try to do to make a new friend.

Flavia Z. Drago was born and raised in Mexico City. About this book, she says, “When I was in kindergarten, every lunch break I used to sit on a bench and wonder how the kids were able to play and talk to each other so easily. It was a mystery to me.” As a child she wanted to be a mermaid. Sadly, that didn’t happen, but around the same age, something else did: she began drawing. And when she grew up, she became an artist. Flavia Z. Drago lives in Mexico and this is her debut picture book.

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.

A Girl Like You by Frank Murphy and Carla Murphy

A Girl Like You

Frank Murphy and Carla Murphy, Authors

Kayla Harren, Illustrator

Sleeping Bear Press, Fiction, Jul. 15, 2020

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Girls, Embracing individuality, Diversity, Self-esteem, Self-confidence, Friendships

Opening: There are billions and billions and billions of people in the world. But you are the only YOU there is!

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Every girl is a wonder! A Girl Like You encourages girls to embrace what makes them unique, to choose kindness, and to be their own advocates. In an age when girls know they can be whatever the want, this book reminds them of all the ways to be beautifully, brilliantly, and uniquely themselves.

Why I like this book:

Frank and Carla Murphy’s magnificent book celebrates girlhood and encourages girls to discover the unique individuals that they are. Readers will meet girls who are brave enough to try new things and not be afraid of failing; girls who pursue their big dreams;  girls who share their thoughts and opinions with others; and girls who have empathy, listen, and are kind to friends in trouble. The messages throughout are beautiful.

This is not just a book for girls. It is also a book that mother and daughter will want to share together. In fact I have adult friends who would benefit from the many beautiful reminders of who girls/women really are. This is a perfect gift book.

Kayla Harren’s endearing and vibrant illustrations show a wide-range of diversity among the characters. I was delighted to see an illustration of a girl with Vitiligo, a skin pigment disorder. Kudos to the illustrator for making the characters inclusive. The end pages are also fun!

Resources: This book will spark many interesting discussions at home and in the classroom. With older girls, encourage them to make a list about the things they like about themselves or write a short story or poem about how they are special. With younger girls have them draw a picture.  This book pairs beautifully with Frank Murphy’s A Boy Like You, so both could be used together in a classroom setting.

Frank Murphy is a teacher who writes and a writer who teaches. After writing A Boy Like You, he wanted to write this book, but knew he couldn’t do it without the help of his best friend and wife, Carla Murphy, who is a pediatric nurse who has been helping kids get better for more than 15 years. This is her first book.  They live in near Philadelphia, with a daughter and their two dogs.

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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Trowbridge Road by Marcella Pixley

Trowbridge Road

Marcella Pixley, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 6, 2020

Suitable for ages: 10 and up

Themes: Mother and daughter, Family relationships, Aids, Grief, Mental illness, Bullying, Domestic Abuse, Friendship, Community, Hope, Magic

Book Jacket Synopsis:

It’s the summer of ’83 on Trowbridge Road, and June Bug Jordan is hungry. Months after her father’s death from complications from AIDS, her mother has stopped cooking and refuses to leave the house, instead locking herself away to scour at the germs she believes are everywhere. June Bug threatens this precarious existence by going out into the neighborhood, gradually befriending Ziggy, an imaginative boy who is living with his Nana Jean after experiencing troubles of his own. But as June Bug’s connection to the world grows stronger, her mother’s grows more distant — even dangerous — pushing June Bug to choose between truth and healing and the only home she has ever known.

Trowbridge Road paints an unwavering portrait of a girl and her family touched by mental illness and grief. Set in the Boston suburbs during the first years of the AIDS epidemic, the novel explores how a seemingly perfect neighborhood can contain restless ghosts and unspoken secrets. Written with deep insight and subtle lyricism by acclaimed author Marcella Pixley, Trowbridge Road demonstrates our power to rescue one another even when our hearts are broken.

Why I like this book:

Marcella Pixley has written a poignant novel, that is both heart wrenching and beautiful. Although it is set in the 80s, it is relevant because Pixley doesn’t side step heavy topics like mental illness, neglect, closet homosexuals, homophobia, AIDS, bullying and domestic abuse. Trowbridge Road will appeal to a large range of readers who are coping with secrets and family issues. And they will find hope, courage and love.

June Bug’s first-person narrative is powerful and pulls no punches. She is sad because she has lost her  father from AIDS, and her fragile mother is drifting further into depression, spending her days in bed. The only time her musical mother seems calm and peaceful is when she picks up her bow and plays her cello. When Uncle Toby brings June Bug food once a week, her mother goes into a cleaning frenzy and scours the house after he leaves with bleach — germs are the enemy. There is no one to care for June Bug. Her circumstances are heartbreaking, but she manages to remain a brave and resilient protagonist.

The relationship between June Bug and Ziggy is believable and unforgettable. Ziggy has his own problems. His mother is in an abusive relationship and he’s bullied by kids because of his long red hair, quirky clothing and his smelly, pet ferret perched on his head. He’s come to live with Nana Jean, who provides, love and stability for Ziggy — something June Bug desperately wants.  June Bug and Ziggy understand and accept each other unconditionally. They become best friends and create their own  imaginary world in the woods behind Nana Jean’s house — the ninth dimension — where they escape the pain of their lives. Pixley’s novel reminds me a bit of The Bridge to Terabithia.

Trowbridge Road is richly textured, lyrical and beautifully penned. I love June Bug’s description of Nana Jean’s kitchen the first time she’s invited to breakfast. “Nana Jean’s kitchen smelled like the gossip of garlic and bacon and oregano. It smelled like the laughter of sun-dried tomatoes and sausages and cheese. The recipes whispered to each other from the glazed windows to the spaces between floorboards to the countertops. We have fed the children and grandchildren in here. We meals. We blessed, blessed meals.  I entered like Alice on the threshold of Wonderland, or Dorothy taking her first steps into the Emerald City — the prickling feeling that I was about to enter something glorious.” (Pg. 185)  Verdict: This is a winner.

Make sure you check out the “Author’s Note” at the end of the book, where she discusses AIDS in 1983 and mental illness.

Marcella Pixley is the author of three critically acclaimed books for young adults, including Ready to Fall. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize for poetry and holds a mast of letters from Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. She teaches writing to middle-schoolers in Massachusetts, where she lives with her family.

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.

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

The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil

The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story

Aya Khalil, Author

Anait Semirdzhyan, Illustrator

Tilbury House Publishers, Fiction, Feb. 18, 2020

Suitable for ages: 6-8

Themes: Quilt, Immigration, Egypt, Bilingual, School, Prejudice, Inclusion, Diversity, Friendship

Opening: “Kanzi, habibti, your’e going to be late to the first day of school,” Mama calls.

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Kanzi’s family has moved from Egypt to America, and she wants very much to fit in. Maybe that’s why on her first day in her new school, she forgets to take the kofta sandwich her mother has made for her lunch, but that backfires when Mama shows up at school with the sandwich. Mama wears a hijab and calls her daughter Habibti (dear one). When she leaves, the teasing starts.

That night, Kanzi wraps herself in the beautiful Arabic quilt her teita (grandma) in Cairo gave her. She writes a poem about her beloved quilt. It smells like Teita’s home in Cairo, and that comforts Kanzi. What she doesn’t know yet is that the quilt will help her make new friends.

Why I like this book:

The Arabic Quilt is a compassionate and feel-good book for immigrant children who are bilingual and starting a new school. They want so badly to fit in with and be accepted by the other children, even though they may dress a little differently and bring an ethnic lunch from home.

Kanzi’s teacher handles a difficult situation with such creativity. Kanzi writes a poem about her Arabic quilt and shares it with her teacher. The teacher asks Kanzi to bring her quilt to share with the other students. They think it’s cool and want to make a classroom quilt. The teacher invites Kanzi’s mom to teach the students how to write their names in Arabic for their quilt squares. Completed, the quilt is hung on the wall outside the classroom.

I love that this celebratory story of cultural traditions, acceptance, and inclusion is based on the author’s own childhood experiences, after immigrating to the US from Egypt. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it will put a smile on your face.

Anait Semirdzhyan’s lively and expressive illustrations are beautiful and full of details. Make sure you check out the Arabic names on the quilt.

Resources: This is an excellent classroom or school project that will help unite kids of all cultures.  Make sure you check out the Glossary of Arabic Words at the end with Arabic letters and English words derived from Arabic, like zero, algebra, candy, sugar and coffee.

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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

Echo Mountain

Lauren Wolk, Author

Dutton Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Apr. 21, 2020

Suitable for ages: 10-13

Themes: Great Depression, Family Relationships, Nature, Accident, Healing, Hope, Friendship

Opening: “The first person I saved was a dog.  My mother thought he was dead, but he was too young to die, just born, still wet and glossy, beautiful really, but not breathing.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

When the Great Depression takes almost everything they own, Ellie’s family is forced to leave their home in town and start over in the untamed forests of nearby Echo Mountain. Her father was a tailor and her mother a teacher. Life is hard, but Ellie has found a welcome freedom, and a love of the natural world, in her new life on the mountain. But there is little joy, even for Ellie, as her family struggles with the aftermath of an accident that has left her father in a coma. An accident unfairly blamed on Ellie by her older sister, Esther.

Determined to help her father, Ellie will make her way to the top of the mountain in search of the healing secrets of a woman known only as “the hag.” But the hag, and the mountain, still have many untold stories left to reveal and, with them, a fresh chance at happiness.

Echo Mountain is celebration of finding your own path and becoming your truest self. Lauren Wolk, the Newbery Honor– and Scott O’Dell Award–winning author of Wolf Hollow and Beyond the Bright Sea weaves a stunning tale of resilience, persistence, and friendship across three generations of families, set against the rough and ragged beauty of the mountain they all call home.

Why I like this book:

Lauren Wolk is a beautiful storyteller and her writing is exquisite. Set in the Maine wilderness during the Great Depression, her imagery in Echo Mountain is rich and poetic. Her characters are well-developed, with 12-year-old Ellie the kind of girl readers will want to befriend. Wolk’s plot is courageous, gripping, and humorous at times. Her deliberate pacing keeps reader’s fully engaged and wondering what will happen next.

Ellie finds beauty in a wilderness that speaks to her. When her father is injured, Ellie is resilient, curious and eager to learn the secrets of healing from an “old hag” living high in the mountain. There is friendship with the hag’s grandson, Larkin, who reveals a talent of his own. There are secrets, unexpected surprises and harrowing moments for many of the characters, including Ellie’s mother and siblings, Esther and Samuel. They all learn lessons about their inner own inner strengths during a crisis –even the hag. (Sorry, no spoilers.)

Echo Mountain is definitely a stand-out novel and I highly recommend it for teens. The characters will remain with you long after you finish. Wolk’s novel captured my heart and I will eagerly read it again.

Favorite Quote “I myself was two opposite things at the same time. One: I was now an excellent woods-girl who could hunt and trap and fish and harvest as if I’d been born to it. Two: I was an echo-girl. When I clubbed a fish to death, my own head ached and shuddered. When I snared a rabbit, I knew what it meant to be trapped. And when I pulled a carrot from the sheath of its earth, I, too missed the darkness.” Page 16

Lauren Wolk is an award-winning poet, artist, and author of the adult novel Those Who Favor Fire, the Newbery Honor-winning novel Wolf Hollow, and the Scott O’Dell Award-winning novel Beyond the Bright Sea. She was born in Baltimore and has since lived in California, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Canada, and Ohio. She now lives with her family on Cape Cod.

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 purchased copy.

The Power of One by Trudy Ludwig

The Power of One: Every Act of Kindness Counts

Trudy Ludwig, Author

Mike Curato, Illustrator

Alfred A. Knopf, Fictions, Aug. 25, 2020

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Kids making a difference, Kindness, Listening, Friendship, Community

Opening “Sometimes One can feel like a small and lonely number. But don’t let this little number fool you.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Change begins with one person standing up for what is right. And one act of kindness can start a chain reaction: One shy smile can lead to a friendship. One good listener can make even the smallest voice heard. One thoughtful idea can bring a community together.

From the acclaimed author of The Invisible Boy comes a  lyrical tale as simple — and simply inspiring — as the the golden rule, beautifully brought to life by Mike Curato’s bold multimedia artwork.

Why I like this book:

Trudy Ludwig and Mike Curato team up to create this beautiful picture book that will capture your heart! Ludwig’s fluid and sparse text and Curato’s spacious illustrations really SHOW this story. Several double-spreads pages have no text, but are brimming with feeling and meaning! Curato uses white space well to make his artwork pop with color! Gorgeous!

Children will recognize themselves in the young girl who is teased on the playground. A friendly bystander (one girl) steps away from her friends to reach out to the girl in loving kindness to let her know that she cares. This ONE act of kindness has a ripple effect at school and in the community and is a giant leap towards making the world a better place to live in.

This is a perfect book for teacher’s to read to their classrooms at the beginning of the school year! It is a treasure.

Resources: This book is a wonderful resource to get children sharing stories. Ask kids if they’ve seen someone sad or lonely; heard someone tease another student; or seen a child excluded from an activity. Have any of these things happened to them?  Ludwig includes an Author’s Note and recommends many websites that teachers and parents may find helpful like the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.

Trudy Ludwig  is a nationally acclaimed speaker and an award-winning author of ten books, including The Invisible Boy and My Secret Bully. Through her work with the International Bullying Prevention Association, Sesame Street Workshop, Committee for Children, and ConnectSafely, Trudy is committed to helping kids connect with their peers in kinder, more inclusive ways. Visit her at her website or follow her on Twitter at @TrudyLudwig.

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 author in exchange for a review.

Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Black Brother, Black Brother

Jewell Parker Rhodes, Author

Little Brown and Company, Fiction, Mar. 3, 2020

Suitable for ages:

Themes: Fencing, African Americans, Brothers, Racism, Preparatory schools, Family life, Friendship

Opening: I wish I were invisible. Wearing Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak or Frodo Baggins’s Elvish ring. Whether shrouded in fabric or slipping on gold, it wouldn’t matter to me. I’d be gone. Disappeared.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

“Framed. Bullied. Disliked. But I know I can still be the best.”

Sometimes, 12-year-old Donte wishes he were invisible. As one of the few black boys at Middlefield Prep, most of the students don’t look like him. They don’t like him either. Dubbing him “Black Brother,” Donte’s teachers and classmates make it clear they wish he were more like his lighter-skinned brother, Trey.

When he’s bullied and framed by the captain of the fencing team, “King” Alan, he’s suspended from school, arrested and taken to jail for something he didn’t do. Just because he is black.

Terrified, searching for a place where he belongs, Donte joins a local youth center and meets former Olympic fencer Arden Jones. With Arden’s help, he begins training as a competitive fencer, setting his sights on taking down the fencing team captain, no matter what.

As Donte hones his fencing skills and grows closer to achieving his goal, he learns the fight for justice is far from over. Now Donte must confront his bullies, racism, and the corrupt systems of power that led to his arrest.

Powerful and emotionally gripping, Black Brother, Black Brother is a careful examination of the school-to-prison pipeline and follows one boy’s fight against racism and his empowering path to finding his voice.

Why I like this book:

Jewell Park Rhodes’s Black Brother, Black Brother is a timely, intelligent and well-executed novel for children and adults. Rhodes masterfully captures the pain of racial injustice for a 12-year-old black boy attending an all-white prep school outside of Boston. It is also a story about hope, believing in yourself, and choosing a higher path.

The characters are multi-layered and complex. The bond between brothers Donte and Trey is strong. Donte’s skin is like their African-American mother, and Trey’s is like their Norwegian father. Trey is a star athlete at school; Donte is not.  But what really stands out is the love and support they share as brothers. Their bond is unbreakable. And their parents are right there with them. Then there is a privileged  Middlefield Prep student, Alan, who punishes Donte for being darker than his brother. Alan is filled with so much hate and taunts Donte by calling him “Black Brother.”

Black Brother, Black Brother is also an engaging sports story. Readers will find fencing fascinating, as it requires skill, focus, honor, respect, patience and intuition.  Learning the sport from Arden Jones, an African-American national fencing champion, helps Donte find his voice and embrace who he is. For me, Donte’s relationship with “Coach” is the best part of the story. And it becomes clear that both coach and student need each other. They practice at the Boston Boys and Girls Club along with black twins, Zion and Zarra. Trey joins their small team in support his brother and learn the sport.

This is a compelling book to use to jump start the discussion about racism, privilege, and bias in our country — especially at school. Readers will be able to gain insight into the everyday experiences of their friends of color. It will help them develop empathy for others and hopefully encourage them to stand up for fairness and respect when they observe injustice at school and in their communities. If you are reading this book, it means you can make a difference! I hope this book becomes required reading in middle schools because it offers an opportunity for important dialogue among students.

*This book hit home for me, because we adopted a 13-year-old son from India in the 1985. He was darker than many black people and had shiny black hair. Everyday he dealt with questions like, “What are you?” Fortunately some white neighbor boys his age befriended him and had his back with school bullies. They remain his best friends today. As a successful adult, he still deals with racial profiling.

Jewell Parker Rhodes is the author of Ninth Ward, winner of a Coretta Scott King Honor, Sugar, winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, and the New York Times bestselling Ghost Boys, as well as Bayou Magic and Towers Falling.  She has also written many award-winning novels for adults. When she’s not writing, Jewell visits schools to talk about her books and teaches writing at Arizona State University.

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 book.

Wondrous Rex by Patricia MacLachlan

Wondrous Rex

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Emilia Dzubiak, Illustrator

Katherine Tegen Books, Mar. 17, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Dog, Animals, Words, Imagination, Stories, Writing, Friendship, Magic

Opening: “I am seven years old, and my life is soon to be full of “wondrous” happenings. “Wondrous” is a word I learned from my aunt Lily, a writer of books.”

Synopsis:

Grace’s aunt is a writer. She works with words every day and teaches Grace interesting words like “melancholy” and “delirious.” But Lily is often “flummoxed” by her writing. Her stories don’t go anywhere, her desk is a mess, and her writer’s group can’t help.

So Lily posts an ad for an assistant: A writer of books needs an assistant, a coach, a helper, for inspiration and some magic!

The next day, Grace opens the door, and there is Rex: a Labrador retriever who will change Grace’s life, and Lily’s. The word “amazing” is an everyday word for Rex, who inspires Lily, and helps Grace find the words to write her own story.

Newbery Medal-winning author Patricia MacLachlan has written a magical and funny tale about the joy found in using words, sharing stories, and loving a wondrous dog named Rex.

Why I like this book:

Patricia MacLachlan has written a magical and charming story about seven-year-old girl, Grace, who loves big words but isn’t sure how to use them to write a story. However, her teacher has confidence in her. What fun it would be to be Grace who has an Aunt Lily, who is a writer. But Grace quickly discovers that even writers have their moments coming up with story ideas.

And then there is Rex, a smart dog, who knows things and can keeps very good secrets. He appears to inspire Aunt Lily and Grace. Readers will fall in love with Rex, as does everyone in the story. Rex is central to the story. (*No Spoilers)

Wondrous Rex introduces children to the process of writing stories and poetry. They also get a peek at how author’s interact and support each other in their “writer’s groups.”  The story is also peppered with a few large words like, “flummoxed and wondrous.” I would have just loved this story as an eight-year-old,  because I was always writing poems, stories and plays, with no one to guide me.

The book has twelve chapters with 88 pages, perfect for older elementary students learning to tackle early middle grade books or reluctant readers.

Emilia Dzubiak’s pen and ink illustrations are lively, entertaining and perfect for text.

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 My Father’s Words, The Poet’s Dog, Word After Word After Word, Kindred Souls, and The Truth of Me.  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 MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library book.