On Snowden Mountain by Jeri Watts

On Snowden Mountain

Jeri Watts, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 10, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 208

Themes: Mental illness, Separation, WW ll, Abuse, Mountain community, Friendship

Book Synopsis:

Ellen’s mother has struggled with depression before, but not like this. With her father away fighting in World War II and her mother unable to care for them, Ellen’s only option is to reach out to her cold, distant Aunt Pearl. Soon enough, city-dwelling Ellen and her mother are shepherded off to the countryside to Aunt Pearl’s home, a tidy white cottage at the base of Snowden Mountain.

Adjusting to life in a small town is no easy thing: the school has one room, one of her classmates smells of skunks, and members of the community seem to whisper about Ellen’s family. She worries that depression is a family curse to which she’ll inevitably succumb, Ellen slowly begins to carve out a space for herself and her mother on Snowden Mountain in this thoughtful, heartfelt middle-grade novel.

Why I like this book:

Jeri Watts has written a richly textured story with a heartwarming narrative about the bond of family, community and their connection to each other. I meandered my way through this story which culminated in a satisfying ending that left me feeling hopeful for Ellen, her family and friends.

The characters are colorful. Ellen is resilient even though her mother is lost to a spell of deep sadness within and her father overseas serving his country. This Baltimore city girl has a lot to get used to living with lively Aunt Pearl — no indoor plumbing, no electricity and outhouses.  Aunt Pearl is a strong woman who speaks her mind. She is stern on the outside and creates a safe space (with structure and hard work) for Ellen, but on the inside she is a generous soul. Ellen develops a friendship with a creative and sensitive boy, Russell Armentrout (Skunk Boy) can’t read or write because he is forced to trap skunks by his drunk and abusive father. Russell teaches Ellen about the nature around her and the special traits of animals. Ellen teaches him to read and count. She also meets other memorable characters who impact her life like Moselle Toms, the town gossip and troublemaker and Miss Spencer, the school teacher.

Watts introduces the reader to some heavy topics: parental separation, mental illness (depression and bipolar disorders), alcoholism, physical and emotional abuse (both child and spousal).  Both Ellen and Russell form a bond as they confront the issues of their parents. These are timely and important issues that many readers will easily identify with. This is an excellent discussion book for students.

Favorite Quotes:

She was right. It was “very different” from Baltimore. There were no streetlights, so velvet darkness wrapped around us that night — a dark of such depth I felt it cloaking me so tightly that I was strangling in it.  So soft, so smooth — and yet so deep as to swallow you.”

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 provided by the publisher.

Leading the Way by Sen. Janet Howell and Theresa Howell

Leading the Way: Women in Power

Senator Janet Howell and Theresa Howell, Authors

Kylie Akia and Alexandra Bye, Illustrators

Candlewick Press, Nonfiction, Oct. 8, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Pages: 144

Themes: Women, Leadership, Character, Dreams, Making a Difference, Role Models

Favorite Introduction quote from Senator Howell: “It is amazingly powerful to see women in roles of leadership. If girls can see it, they can believe it. They know they can become it.”

Book Synopsis:

Meet fifty of America’s most influential women leaders, including Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress; Susana Martinez, the first Latina governor ever elected in the U.S.; Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color and the first Asian-American elected to congress; and Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve as a justice on the United States Supreme Court.  Serving in government or active in politics at all levels, both local and national, and representing a diverse panorama of personal backgrounds and political views, they stood up, blazed trails, and led the way. Here are the stories of how they rose to power, along with a take-action guide for today’s readers. Fascinating and accessible, this is a timely and inspirational tribute to some of the most extraordinary Americans of our time and all time.

Why I like this book:

Senator Howell and her daughter Theresa Howell, have written an inspiring book for girls about 50 of the most exhilarating and exciting women in America who have made a difference. Leading the Way is not about political parties by any means. It is about powerful women.

With the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote approaching in 2020, this book is a compelling tribute to the women of the past and present who have overcome incredible hurdles, challenged the status quo, and paved a path for the many girls who will read their stories and dream big. Their stories are like a compass pointing the way. They are teachers and role models who will undoubtedly challenge the girls of today to make their mark in their own special way.

The book design is exceptional and easy to read. There is beautiful portrait, famous quotes, and a story about each woman. There is a Power Symbol Guide of eight important character traits that great leaders have developed along their journey (i.e. Integrity, Community, Diligence, Courage, Empathy, Persistance etc.).  Readers are asked to look for the symbols at the beginning that accompanies each of the 50 women. And there is a beautiful foreword by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

This book will be a wonderful addition to any school or home library. It is especially a good book for mothers and daughters to read together and discuss.  Oh how wish I had a book like this when I was a girl in school.

Compliments of Candlewick Press

Resource: Make sure you check out “How To Stand Up, Speak Out, and Make a Difference: A Take-Action Guide,”at the end of the book. It is full of  infromation and suggestions that will inspire readers to examine their passions and start in a place they know best — their neighborhoods, schools and communities.

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 provided by the publisher.

Mia Mayhem Breaks Down Walls by Kara West

Mia Mayhem Breaks Down Walls (Book 4)

Kara West, Author

Leeza Hernandez, Illustrator

Little Simon, Fiction, Jul. 16, 2019

Suitable for Ages:  5-9

Themes: Superhero, Learning to use powers, Chaos, Friendship

Opening: My room is a mess. I’m digging around in my closet because I’ve ripped another shoelace.

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Mia is determined to be the best in her top secret strength-training class, Program for In Training Superheroes (PITS), so she can learn how to lift cars, and climb super tall buildings! But when her own super strength gets the better of her, she ends up causing absolute mayhem — everywhere. Will Mia be able to rebuild the walls she broke down at PITS, one-by-one?

Why I like this book:

Mia Mayhem is a perfect chapter book series that will captivate the hearts and imaginations of young readers who are transitioning from picture books. The language is simple, with short sentences. The print is bold and a little larger, making reading easier. The writing is fast-paced with a lot of action to satisfy readers.  The plot is simple and deals with everyday real-life situations for kids, like panic, clumsiness and friendship. And, their are places with bold words, like “CRASH!…SNAP…BAM…SPLOSH!” will entertain young readers.

Mia is a spunky, high-energy character, who creates a lot of chaos in her wake.  She is strong and ambitious, and kind.  At regular school, she is regular Mia Macarooney, and keeps her hero status a secret. “I admit, sometimes I wish I could tell the whole world, But as a superhero, I need to protect my secret identity.” Her ego is well intact, after all she is able “to save the day before the day even starts.”  Mia’s best friend Eddie knows her secret, and is a great side-kick in covering for her when she accidentally pulls off the classroom doorknob, breaks the her desk leg and punches a hole in the gym ceiling during volleyball game. Will she get her superpowers under control. There is a great cast of diverse characters in the story.

The cartoon-like illustrations are just right for this series. They are part of the text at times, which help young readers understand the action.

Make sure you check out the Mia Mayhem series: Mia Mayhem Superhero!, Mia Mayhem Learns to Fly!, Mia Mayhem vs. the Bully!, Mia Mayhem Stops Time!

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.

Just South of Home by Karen Strong

Just South of Home

Karen Strong, Author

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Fiction, May 9, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 320

Themes: African Americans, Family Relationships, Racism, Crimes, Georgia, Ghosts, Supernatural

Book Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Sarah is finally in charge. At last, she can spend her summer months reading her favorite science books and bossing around her younger, brainy brother, Ellis, instead of being worked to the bone by their overly strict grandmother, Mrs. Greene. But when their cousin, Janie, arrives for a visit, Sarah’s plans are completely squashed.

Janie has a knack for getting into trouble and asks Sarah to take her to the burned-down ruins of Creek Church, a landmark of the small town that she heard was haunted with ghosts. It’s also off-limits. Janie’s sticky fingers disturb the restless ghosts (or haints), who are unleashed upon the town. It is up to Sarah, Janie, Ellis and his best friend, Jasper to uncover the deep-seated racist part of the town’s past that is filled with unimaginable crimes against the black community. With a bit of luck, this foursome will heal the place they call home and the people within it they call family.

Why I like this book:

Karen Strong’s Just South of Home is a haunting and extraordinary experience for readers who are interested in looking at racist atrocities committed in the South and how they impact a community who wants to forget the past. The author doesn’t shy away from dealing with the burning of the town’s Creek Church by the Klan and a boy who is brutally murdered and buried near the church. His restless spirit is trapped and needs to move into the light realm.

The characters are loveable and memorable. Sarah’s safe and logical science-filled background is overturned once she experiences the force of evil and the unrest of the haints. Janie is fearless and nudges Sarah to do things she wouldn’t normally do — like breaking into their grandmother’s attic
to search for clues about Creek Church and getting caught. Mrs. Greene is unmoving and won’t think twice about using a willow switch as a form of punishment. But she is also very generous with her famous red velvet cake. Evolving family relationships are central to this novel.

Strong’s plot is thrilling and suspense-filled. It is mystery that Sarah, Janie, Ellis and Jasper desperately want to solve. Her deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. Teens looking for something original and creative will enjoy this novel. It is an excellent discussion book because of the historical themes.

Karen Strong was born and raised in rural Georgia. She spent most of her childhood wandering the woods, meadows, and gardens on her grandmother’s land. She now lives in Atlanta. Just South of Home is her first novel. Visit the author at her website.

Favorite Quote: Page 100

I couldn’t deny it. What we had seen was as real as the sun, the stars, and the planets in our solar system. Those shadows were physical things, and they weren’t human. I didn’t need any more theories. No more explanations. Creek Church was haunted. 

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.

Emily Out of Focus by Miriam Spitzer Franklin

Emily Out of Focus

Miriam Spitzer Franklin, Author

Sky Pony Press, Fiction,  May 7, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: China, Adoptions, Siblings, Travel, Photography, Family Relationships, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Emily is flying with her parents to China to adopt and bring home a new baby sister. She’s excited but nervous to travel across the world and very aware that this trip will change her entire life. And the cracks already starting to show the moment the reach the hotel — her parents are all about the new baby and have no interest in exploring with Emily.

In the adoption trip group, Emily meets Katherine, a Chinese American girl whose family has returned to China to adopt a second child. The girls eventually become friends and Katherine reveals a secret: she’s determined to find her birth mother, and she wants Emily’s help. But both girl’s families have forbidden the girls to leave the hotel room to explore even the lobby gift shops with out adults. How will they be able to execute Katherine’s plans?

New country, new family, new responsibilities — it’s all a lot to handle, and Emily has never felt more alone.

What I like about this book:

Emily Out of Focus is a heartwarming and fast-paced read that will appeal to readers who are expecting new additions in their families through birth, adoption or fostering a child. It drew me in immediately since both our children were adopted — an older son from India and a newborn daughter locally.

Emily’s regular diary entries give readers insight into her reluctant feelings about the adoption her new sister, Mei Lin, from China.  After all, isn’t she enough? She also has fears about flying, eating real Chinese food, losing her Nana’s prized camera she’s hiding in her backpack, and not being able to really see China and taking the photos she needs to win a photographic scholarship to a special camp because she’ll be stuck in a hotel room with a new baby and family. And, then there is the secret photojournalist project she’s working on keeping to help her friend.

Emily’s shared love of photography with her deceased grandmother, who was an award-winning photographer for National Geographic, is touching. Her grandmother’s voice always seems to be around to guide her through her journey and the final project Emily focuses on at the end.

Emily’s friendship with Chinese-American Katherine, who wants to locate her Chinese mother or family members. Designated “finding spots” in China was a new concept for me. With the limitation on how many children parents could have, China has designated places where mothers can leave a new born.

Since the author is experienced in adopting children from China, the details, red tape and ceremonial dress traditions and picture-taking that are part of the process are fascinating. I enjoyed the group trips to the box store (huge Walmart) where the families buy baby clothing, bottles, strollers and diapers; the visit to the orphanage where new infants lay in little cribs close to the floor and strapped to the railings; and the visit to the “finding spot” for each adopted child.

Miriam Spitzer Franklin has been sharing her love of reading and writing with students for years as an elementary and middle school teacher. She is the author of Extraordinary and Call Me Sunflower. She currently teaches language arts to middle school students in Waxhaw, NC. Miriam lives with her husband, two daughters-one who was adopted from China, and two pampered cats in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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.

Chasing Helicity Into the Wind by Ginger Zee

Chasing Helicity Into the Wind, Book 2

Ginger Zee, Author

Disney-Hyperion, Fiction, Apr. 23, 2019

Pages: 250

Suitable for Ages: 10-13

Themes: Weather, Storms, Meteorology, Storm chasers, Texas, Bed and Breakfast, Family relationships

Publisher’s Synopsis:

When fourteen-year-old Helicity Dunlap flies for Texas to spend time with her best friend Mia she hopes to leave the tragedies of the devastating tornado and flash flood back in Michigan — at least for a little while. Her responsibilities at Mia’s Aunt Suze’s beachfront bed and breakfast are pretty simple and leave her lots of time to enjoy hunting for sea glass, sunbathing, and exploring a summer romance.

But Helicity comes by her name honestly — Helicity means to spin — and her troubles from home follow her south. Her concerns about her older brother Andy intensify even though he shows up to surprise her in Texas.

And if there’s one place in the world that has weather to rival Michigan’s, it’s Texas. She and her friends go out for a day sail and get caught up in a derecho — a line of intense, widespread, and fast-moving windstorms — that once again turns her boat and life upside down. And there’s a hurricane brewing in the Gulf. She’ll have to face her fears and muster all her strength and knowledge to fight her way out of the nightmare.

Why I like this book:

Author Ginger Zee, chief meteorologist for ABC, has cleverly penned an ideal book for teens who like science and are fascinated by weather, storms and meteorology. I must admit one of my favorite movies is Twister, so when I saw Chasing Helicity Into the Wind, I was intrigued. This is the first novel I’ve read  about severe tropical weather that is gripping and packed with cool science and weather information. I learned about dangerous, fast-moving windstorms that form quickly over water, called “derechos.” This story is fast-paced and action-packed, which will please readers from 10-14.

The characters are convincing and vividly drawn. Helicity is a head-strong weather junkie and loves anything that has to do with meteorology. She is a determined survivor and not a victim, a mantra that she whispers to herself during difficult situations. Her brother, Andy and friend, Sam, join her in Texas. Andy is dealing with his own demons (pain killers) from the Michigan tornado. Sam is a stable partner in the story and a great balance for Helicity. It’s is fascinating to watch Helicity, Sam and Andy use their knowledge of storms, to identify a dangerous weather condition, take swift action and seek safety. Yes, there is melodrama and even a little romance.

The books ends with a huge cliff-hangar and I was bummed. So readers, beware, there will be a book 3. I plan to read the first book to better understand the series and the depth of Helicity, Adam and Sam’s painful memories of surviving the tornado and raging flood in Michigan, even though this book could be a stand-alone read.

Chasing Helicity Into the Wind is a perfect summer read with the unpredictable weather — tornadoes, storms, and potential upcoming hurricane season. Readers will learn a lot about the weather that may just keep them safe. It is also makes STEM subjects more exciting and relatable to readers.

Quotes: Pages 113-114

Suddenly, something on the horizon stole Helicity’s attention. She blinked, not sure what she was seeing at first. when she figured it out, her stomach lurched. “Sam,” she said urgently, “we need to find Mia and Trey and get to shore. Now.”

An ominous dark cloud sat like a hulking beast over the distant shore. But as frightening as it looked, the cloud wasn’t what had Helicity urging Sam to power up the motor and find their friends. It was the wind.

Ginger Zee is the Chief Meteorologist for ABC News, forecasting for and reporting on the nation’s weather from Good Morning America to World News Tonight. Zee has been on the ground before, during and after almost every major weather event and dozens of historic storms including Hurricane Katrina. She watched as the eye of Superstorm Sandy passed over Atlantic City and then covered the devastated Jersey Shore; she was there for the Colorado floods and wildfires; and the destructive tornadoes in Moore and El Reno, Oklahoma.

Zee’s dedication to science began at an early age, watching powerful thunderstorms rush across Lake Michigan. Her passion for meteorology brought her to stormchase in college at Valparaiso University where she earned her bachelor of science in meteorology. Throughout her career and especially in this book, Zee is dedicated to getting young people interested in science, respecting the environment and atmosphere around them.

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.

Warren and Dragon: Scary Sleepover by Ariel Bernstein

Warren and Dragon: Scary Sleepover, Book 4

Ariel Bernstein, Author

Mike Malbrough, Illustrator

Viking Books for Young Readers, Jun. 25, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Pages: 90

Themes: Sleepover, Fears, Homesickness, Family relationships, Imaginary friends

Opening: Some people might think that having a dragon for a pet is scary. I guess it sounds like it might be scary, because of the fire breathing and all, but I have a dragon for a pet and most of the time it’s pretty normal. Except when Dragon does his weird dancing jig. That’s always terrifying… He’s my pet.

Book Synopsis:

Warren’s friend Michael just got a cool new tent as a present. It’s too cold to go camping outdoors, so Michael invites Warren over for a sleepover where they can camp inside.

At first Warren is excited. They’ll order pizza, play foosball, and make ice-cream sundaes! Then they’ll  go down to the basement, crawl into their sleeping bags inside the tent and tell scary stories. Gulp! The more Warren thinks about sleeping somewhere besides his own safe bed, the more worried he gets. And his sidekick, Dragon, isn’t exactly reassuring.

But when Warren confesses his concerns to his friend Alison, he realizes that he isn’t the only kid nervous about sleepovers. The two of them make a pact to face their fears.  But will Warren be brave enough to camp in a dark basement that creaks and groans and listen to Michael’s scary stories?

Why I like this book:

This clever new chapter book series is realistic, heartfelt and delightful.  It is the fourth Warren & Dragon chapter book by Ariel Bernstein this past year. Sleeping overnight at a friend’s house for the first time can create a lot of anxiety for children. What if I get homesick? What if I get scared? What if I embarrass myself if I want to go home?  This fast-paced book is the perfect read-aloud at home or school. It is a great discussion starter for kids nervous about sleepovers.

Bernstein tackles this early right-of-passage with humor and authenticity. Warren’s character is a tad quirky and naïve, but believable. He is opposite of his outgoing twin sister. Warren’s imaginary marshmallow-loving, side-kick, Dragon, is quite the prankster and is good for many chuckles. Warren’s friendship with Alison is supportive as they come up with a pact and a plan. Mike Malbrough’s pen and ink illustrations are expressive and fun.

I like that the author shows diverse families with Warren’s friend, Michael, having two moms.  It’s always special when kids can see a family like theirs, whether it is a single parent, grandparent, two dads, or in this case two moms. Kudos to the author.

Ariel Bernstein loved sleepovers growing up, and was only afraid there wouldn’t be enough pizza and ice cream. Other books in the series include: Warren & Dragon 100 Friends; Warren & Dragon Weekend with Chewy; and Warren & Dragon Volcano Deluxe. She is also the author of I Have a Balloon and Where is my Balloon? Visit Bernstein 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.

*Copy reviewed from a library copy.

Taking Cover by Nioucha Homayoonfar

Taking Cover: One Girl’s Story of Growing Up During the Iranian Revolution

Nioucha Homayoonfar, Author

National Geographic Children’s Books, YA Nonfiction, Jan. 8, 2019

Suitable for Ages:  12 and up

Themes: Growing up during the Iranian revolution, Oppression, Family relationships, Friendships

Synopsis: Nioucha Homayoonfar is a French-Iranian American girl who moves to Tehran, Iran, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1976, at just five years old.  Nioucha must adjust to living in a new country, learning a new language, starting a new school, and making new friends. But none of that compares to the change Nioucha experiences during and after the revolution of 1979.

Religion classes became mandatory at school and the boys are separated from the girls. Nioucha has to cover her head and wear robes so that none of her skin shows. She has friends who parents are executed, and her own cousin is captured and tortured after he is caught trying to leave Iran.

And yet in the midst of so much change, Nioucha is still just a girl who’s trying to figure out her place in the world. She spends happy times with her family. She listens to forbidden music and idolizes pop stars, but has to do it carefully because Western music is banned. She gets her legs waxed and has her first boyfriend, but they cannot be seen in public together. They keep their relationship a secret. Will Nioucha ever get used to this new way of life?

Why I like this book:

Nioucha’s story immediately captivated me because I had a college friend who married an Iranian and moved to Tehran in the mid-70s. And I knew a woman whose father was a senior advisor to the Shah and fortunately lived in the Washington D.C. when the exile occurred. I was eager to learn more because so little has been written about the culture, the  oppression of women and Iranian life.  So I enjoyed this personal and moving true story about a 12-year-old girl navigating a very tense and complex time in Iran’s revolutionary history. One moment she is living in a very modern Iran where women enjoy a lot of freedom. When the Shah and his family are driven into exile, the Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran as its ruler. The changes are dramatic and scary at times, particularly when Iran and Iraq go to war and there are bombings in her neighborhood.

The first chapter is compelling and draws the readers to the everyday dangers of living in Iran after the revolution began. Smart opening!  “I knew I was in trouble when the white jeep made a U-turn. Driven by the Zeinab Sisters (or the Black Crows, as I called them), it raced toward me and screeched to a stop.”  The stage is set for readers when Nioucha is kidnapped by the Moral Police, thus allowing the author to back track and share vivid memories of her childhood, family life, food, customs, and traditions. She also includes eight photographs in the center of the book about her family, friends and her neighborhood.

Readers will enjoy Nioucha’s spunk and inner rebellion. Like many teens she takes risks. She dislikes the religion class and tells the strict teacher that she is Christian and not Muslim. She manages to get out of attending class for quite a while before she is caught. She also has a secret boyfriend, which could cause her serious trouble if she gets caught. There is humor in her behavior as she tries to figure out who she is.

This book was published in time for the 40th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. It is an extraordinary story that breathes life into history and makes it come alive for readers. There are so many topics to explore in this memoir: revolution, oppression, tolerance, religion and history. Make sure you check out the foreword by Iranian-born author Firoozeh Dumas, who talks about pre-revolutionary Iran where women were making advancements in fields and where the population was secular and co-existing peacefully. At the end there is a map of Iran and the surrounding area and a time line of Iranian history.

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.

Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh

Nowhere Boy

Katherine Marsh, Author

Roaring Brook Press, Fiction, Aug. 7, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Boat refugee, Syrian crisis, American boy, Belgium, Resilience, Friendship, Self-discovery, Hope

Book Synopsis: Fourteen-year-old Ahmed is stranded in a city that wants nothing to do with him. Newly arrived in Brussels, Belgium, Ahmed fled a life of uncertainty and suffering in Syria. He loses his mother and sister when their home is bombed. He flees with his father on a perilous journey to the shores of Europe. The rubber boat they are in takes on water, and Ahmed’s father jumps into the water with two other men to pull the boat to shore. But his father is lost to the sea. One of the men, Ibrahim looks after Ahmed and takes him to Belgium, where they end up in a tent city. Ahmed flees and is struggling to get by on his own, with no one left, no money and nowhere to go, his hope  fading.

Then he meets Max, a thirteen-year-old boy from Washington D.C., who is living with his family in Belgium for a year. Max is having trouble at his new school learning French and just can’t seem to do anything right, according to his parents. But with one startling discovery, Max and Ahmed’s lives collide and a friendship begins to grow. Ahmed is hiding in a wine cellar of Max’s home and needs help. Together Ahmed and Max will defy the odds, learning from each other what it means to be brave and how hope can change your destiny.

Why I like this book:

Nowhere Boy has a gripping plot that won’t let you go until you finish the book — all 358 pages. Ahmed’s journey is perilous across the sea. But the journey that Ahmed and Max make across Europe is even more thrilling. It gives readers an important snapshot of how refugees are welcomed in some countries and treated like criminals in others. There are so many themes covered in this book: refugee crisis, Syrian war, terrorism in France and Belgium, Islamophobia and heroism. This is an important classroom book.

The alternating chapters by Max and Ahmed’s strong voices, adds depth to the characters and the expert storytelling. Readers will enjoy meeting Max, Ahmed, Farah and Oscar. Max is clearly the hero of the story when he decides to hide Ahmed in his basement wine cellar to keep him safe from the unwelcoming Belgium police. Although he isn’t doing well in his new school,  he is smart, determined and cleverly outsmarts a lot of people. Max has an intuitive sense of people and a huge heart. Ahmed is resilient, thoughtful and never gives up on his dreams of returning to school and making a better life for himself.  Max recruits Farah, a Muslim girl born in Belgium and Oscar, the school bully to help him create an identity for Ahmed so he can attend school. Oscar is a surprising character and who has an interesting journey of his own in this story.

Max lives on a street named Albert Jonnart.  Jonnart hid a Jewish boy during WW II in his home, helped  him escape the Nazi’s, but was sent to a labor camp himself. Max sees the comparison between Jonnart and Anne Frank’s story and similarities between the Jewish and the Syrian refugees. He learns as much as he can about Jonnart. It gives Max the courage and inner strength to plan and execute what he feels is “right” for Ahmed, just like Jonnart did.

This is a timely book that clearly demonstrates what fear does to people.  Madame Pauline, a woman Max’s parents hired to keep an eye on him after school, views all Syrians and Muslims as dangerous and potential terrorists. Her life is consumed with fear and hatred, as are other characters in the story who remember how WW II weakened Europe. This is an important topic for discussion.

Nowhere Boy is an exciting read packed with history (past and present), but it’s also a book about friendship, self-discovery and hope. It belongs in classrooms as an important discussion book. Make sure you read the interview questions with the author, Katharine Marsh, at the end of the book and visit her website.

Katherine Marsh is the Edgar Award-winning author of The Night Tourist; The Twilight Prisoner; Jepp, Who Defied the Stars; and The Doors by the Staircase. Katherine grew up in New York and now lives in Brussels, Belgium, with her husband and two children.

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*Reviewed from a library copy.