War is Over by David Almond

War is Over

David Almond, Author

David Litchfield, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, May 12, 2020

Pages: 128

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Themes: Children, Effects of War, Women, WW I effort, Homefront, Community

Synopsis:

It’s 1918, and war is everywhere. John’s father is fighting in the trenches far away in France, while his mother works in a menacing munitions factory just along the road. His teacher says that John is fighting, too, that he is at war with enemy children in Germany. But John struggles. “I am a child. How can I be at war?”

One day, in the wild woods outside town, John has an impossible moment: a dreamlike meeting with a German boy named Jan. John catches a glimpse of a better world, in which children like Jan and himself can one day scatter the seeds of peace.

David Almond brings his ineffable sensibility to a poignant tale of the effects of war on children, interwoven with David Litchfield’s gorgeous black-and-white illustrations.

What I like about this book:

David Almond’s short novel, War is Over, is a both a poignant and sensitive novel. It explores the emotions of a boy and the attitudes of his community about war and peace. This novel raises many questions for readers and is a timely discussion topic in classrooms.

John is conflicted about the war. His father has been gone so long that he can’t remember what he looks like. He just wants the war over. So he writes letters to the King of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury and asks them when the war will end — no answers.

The book addresses the impact of the war on the homefront. There is fear and hatred for the Germans that carries over into the classroom. Especially when the teacher tells his students “they are children at war” and makes John and his classmates march like soldiers as they go on an outing to visit the munitions factory, where most of their mothers work making bombs. Some of the boys play war after school, but not John.

John and his classmates encounter a friend’s Uncle Gordon, who is ridiculed because he’s a conscientious objector. Uncle Gordon traveled to Germany before the war, and has a fist full of drawings of young German children. He impresses upon the students that “children aren’t monsters and are children like you.” John manages to snatch a picture of a boy named “Jan from Düsseldorf.” He writes Jan a friendly letter. He dreams of Jan and a better world. He imagines seeing Jan in the forest, which becomes a coping mechanism for John until the war ends.

Almond’s lyrical text meanders around the beautiful pen and ink drawings by David Litchfield, which fill  every page. Doves fly above and turn into falling bombs and tears turn into shrapnel. His artwork shows the starkness of the factory as shifts begin and end and women make their way home. A somber topic, but presented so sympathetically and poetically.

David Almond is the acclaimed author of many award-winning novels for children, including Skellig, Kit’s Wilderness, and My Name is Mina. David Almond’s books are beloved all over the world, and in 2010 he was the recipient of the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award. He lives in England.

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.

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

The Next President by Kate Messner

The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America’s Presidents

Kate Messner, Author

Adam Rex, Illustrator

Chronicle Books, Nonfiction, Mar. 24, 2020

Pages: 48

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Past Presidents, Future Presidents,  Childhoods facts, United States

Opening: “Quick: Name the President of the United States.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

When George Washington became the first president of the United States, there were nine future presidents already alive in America, doing things like practicing law or studying medicine.

When JFK became the thirty-fifth president, there were 10 future presidents already alive in America, doing things like hosting TV shows and learning the saxophone. One president was born in 1961.

And right now—today!—there are at least 10 future presidents alive in America. They could be playing basketball, like Barack Obama, or helping in the garden, like Dwight D. Eisenhower. They could be solving math problems or reading books. They could be making art—or already making change.

Why I like this book:

Kate Messner’s nonfiction book for middle graders, is a timely and fascinating compilation of facts about the U.S. presidents when they were ordinary kids, before they became leaders of the free world. Her creative presentation is unique. Even though there may be one president leading the country, the future leaders of tomorrow are always out there, whether they are infants, students in school, lawyers, teachers, or running a farm and business.

The book wraps up with the most important question of all for young people: “So where is the next president?” At least three future presidents are children right now. It invites readers to think BIG and realize that anything is possible. In fact, they may be reading this book right now. Could it be you?   

Her  beautifully designed book will resonate with children. And make sure you peek under the book jacket cover. Adam Rex’s large pastel illustrations feature unusual and interesting stand-out moments for many of the presidents making them appear very ordinary. The text about each president appears in bubbles.  There is a special double-spread –“Snapshot” page — in the center of the book about presidential pets.

This is an excellent classroom discussion book, especially with a presidental election in November.

Resources: The backmatter in the book includes a map of the Presidential Birthplaces. There is information about Presidential Requirements and The Changing Face of America’s Presidency. There are also suggestions for further reading. This is a valuable and creative resource for students and teachers. It is a fun way to get involved in the process.  Afterall, there are three future presidents in school right now.

Kate Messner is passionately curious and writes books for kids who wonder, too. A former teacher, she has written more than thirty picture books, chapter books, and novels for young readers. She is an award-winning author whose many books for kids have been selected as Best Books by the New York Times, Junior Library Guild, IndieBound, and Bank Street College of Education. She lives on Lake Champlain with her family. Visit Messner at her website.

*Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Efrén Divided by Ernestro Cisneros

Efrén Divided

Ernestro Cisneros, Author

Quill Tree Books, Fiction, Mar. 31, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

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

Book Jacket Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem by Kate DiCamillo

Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem: Tales from Deckawoo Drive #5

Kate DiCamillo, Author

Chris Van Dusen, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Jun. 9, 2020

Suitable for ages: 6 – 9

Themes: School, Poetry, Metaphors, Arguement, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Stella Endicott loves her teacher, Miss Liliana, and she is thrilled when the class is assigned to write a poem. Stella crafts a beautiful poem about Mercy Watson, the pig who lives next door — a poem complete with a metaphor and full of curiosity and courage.

But Horace Broom, Stella’s irritating classmate, insists that Stella’s poem is full of lies and that pigs do not live in houses. And when Stella and Horace get into a shouting match in the classroom, Miss Liliana banishes them to the principal’s office. Will the two of them find a way to turn this opposite-of-a-poem day around?

Why I like this book:

Kate DiCamillo’s sweetly satisfying chapter book speaks to children about everyday struggles that are inherhent with school and friendships. As the title eludes to, the theme in this story is anything is possible — even a pig that sleeps on a couch and a friendship with a boy, who metaphorically speaking, is an overblown balloon.

Stella is a spirited, imaginative and determined. She looks for the good in situations. Horace is smug and a know-it-all. When Stella and Horace are sent to principal’s office, Horace buckles in fear. Not Stella. She remembers that “in good stories, the characters face their fate with curiosity and courage” and leads the way. And throughout the story Stella reminds herself that surprises are everywhere and that anything is possible.

The story introduces children to writing poetry and using a metaphor in their poem. It becomes a game for Stella as she begins to see metaphors in everything around her.  The story is also peppered with a few large words like, absconder. The book has seven chapters with 85 pages, perfect for elementary students learning to read longer books.

Chris Van Dusen’s pen and ink illustrations are lively, expressive and entertaining. They are perfect for text.

Make sure you check out the first four books in the Deckawoo Drive series: Leroy Ninker Saddles Up,  Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon, Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln?, Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package.

Kate DiCamillo is the beloved author of many books for young readers, including the Mercy Watson and Tales from Deckawoo Drive series. Her books Flora & Ulysses, and The Tale of Despereaux both received Newbery Medals. Her first published middle grade novel, Because of Winn-Dixie, snapped up a Newbery Honor. The Tiger Rising, her second novel, also went on to become a National Book Award finalist.  She has almost 30 million books in print worldwide. She is a former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

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 from the publisher in exchange for a review.

Seed Savers: Heirloom by Sandra Smith

Seed Savers: Heirloom (Book 3)

Sandra Smith, Author

Flying Books House, Jan. 3, 2019

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Futuristic adventure, Gardening, Government, Politics, Family, Empowerment

Synopsis:

It’s late in the twenty-first century (2077) and large corporations have merged with U.S. government agencies to control the nation’s food supply. Not only is gardening and seed ownership illegal, but fresh food is unheard of by the masses who are fed the processed food groups of Vitees, Proteins, Carbos, Snacks, and Sweeties.

Thirteen-year-old Clare and her brother Dante have escaped to Canada where the old ways still exist. There that they make friends with the roguish Jason and learn the political history of their own country’s decline of freedoms.

Meanwhile, Lily, the friend who was left behind, begins a journey to find the father she never met—a former leader in the ill-fated Seed Savers rebellion of fifteen years earlier. From Florida to the Smoky Mountains, Lily follows the signs in search of her father and is helped along the way by the quirky characters she meets. Not to mention the attractive Arturo who shows up midway to “protect” her.

Heirloom seamlessly weaves the gentle agrarian story of Clare and Dante together with the swiftly-paced adventure of Lily and Arturo. Themes of family, empowerment, and politics meet in this futuristic tale nostalgic for the past. Heirloom is a hopeful dystopia in today’s current sea of post-apocalyptic literature.

Why I like this book:

Heirloom is the third novel Sandra Smith’s futuristic Seed Savers series.  It’s an engaging adventure from start to finish. Heirloom is a smooth transition from the second novel, Lily. Make sure you read Ana’s Prologue at the beginning.

Heirloom advances the stories of Clare, Dante, Lily (part Japanese) and Arturo (Mexican), in alternating chapters. The characters are all courageous and passionate about their mission to advance the seed saving mission. Lily has fled to search for her father in Florida with Arturuo joining her on her journey. Clare and Dante are learning about hybrid, heirloom, and open-pollinated seeds in Canada.

Teens will find this compelling series timely and thought-provoking. It challenges them to think about the global food supply — consumers losing their ability to choose the kind of food they want to eat, big corporations taking over small farms, and foods that are genetically modified. A lot of what happens in this series is based on fact, even though Smith says she changes the names of corporations.

This may be a fantasy novel, but it certainly has opened my eyes to a potential problem in the future.  And, I was very surprised to learn that there really are seed libraries, seed savers and a network of seed savers all over the world. Make sure you read The Author’s Note at the end.

Heirloom is followed by Keeper and Unbroken. Visit Sandra Smith at her website. This series reminds me a bit of The Giver by Lois Lowry.

Resources:  Click here at Flying Books House for discussion questions on the first two books in the series. They are perfect for classroom or book club use. May there be a day when all our food is processed and comes in the form of Proteins, Sweeties, Vitees, Carobs and Snacks? And check out the author’s note at the end of the book.

Sandra Smith is the author of the award-winning Seed Savers series. She has a Master’s degree in Teaching English and spent over twenty years teaching students of all ages English as a Second Language. As a child, Sandra worked on her parents’ berry farm and enjoyed eating from her mother’s tremendously large garden. She maintains that if you can’t taste the soil on a carrot, it’s not fresh enough. Today, she lives in the city with her husband, cats, and backyard hens. She grows a small, urban garden every summer. When she’s not gardening or turning tomatoes into spaghetti sauce, Sandra writes poetry or novels inspired by her garden.

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 author in echange for a review.

Most Likely by Sarah Watson

Most Likely

Sarah Watson, Author

Little, Brown and Company, Fiction,  Mar. 10, 2020

Suitable for ages: 12 and up

Themes: Best friends, Friendship, High School, Diversity, LGBT, Romance,  Mental Illness, President

Synopsis:

Four best friends. One future President. Who Will it be?

Ava, CJ, Jordan, and Martha (listed in alphabetical order out of fairness, of course) have been friends since kindergarten. Now they’re high school seniors, facing their biggest fears about growing up and growing apart. More than just college is on the horizon, though. One of these girls is destined to become the president of the United States.

But which one?

Is it Ava, the picture-perfect artist who’s secretly struggling to figure out where she belongs? Or could it be CJ, the one who’s got everything figured out…except how to fix her terrible SAT scores? Maybe it’s Jordan, the group’s resident journalist, who knows she’s ready for more than their small Ohio town can offer. And don’t overlook Martha, who will have to make it through all the obstacles that stand in the way of her dreams.

From Sarah Watson, the creator of the hit TV show The Bold Type, comes the story of four best friends who have one another’s backs through every new love, breakup, stumble, and triumph — proving that great friendships can help young women achieve anything…happiness, strength, success, even a seat in the Oval Office.

Why I like this book:

Most Likey is a timely, empowering and suspenseful political novel for teens and young adults. The story’s heart is rooted in strong female friendships and self-discovery that make this story soar. Sarah Watson’s writing is uplifting and her novel is the perfect summer escape!

Th narrative is written in third person with each chapter rotating four different viewpoints. It held me back a bit because I couldn’t keep the details of each of the teens lives straight until I reached the half-way point. By then I was hooked and I couldn’t put the book down.

The character-driven plot weaves together the realistic and complicated lives of the four seniors who are ethnically diverse and from different socioeconomic backgrounds. They tackle a variety of issues in their lives, ranging from depression, adoption, fears of not being good enough, sexual orientation, divorce and concerns about being able to afford college. And they have a male friend, Logan Diffenderfer, who has a unique relationship with each of the besties. Although Logan is not the story, he is a grounding force for the four teens.

The Prologue gives readers a peek into the future — Washington DC on Jan. 20, 2049, the day of the presidential innaugeration. Readers are only given one clue. The president-elects last name is Diffenderfer. The actual story is set in 2019 -2020 in Cleveland, Ohio, with the seniors focused on grades, relationships, work, SAT scores, college applications, loans and community service.  The Epilogue fast forwards to the innaugeration day, the big reveal and a satisfying ending about the other three  best friends, who are all present.  Sorry. I can’t give anything away.

Sarah Watson is the creator of the hit TV series The Bold Type (on Freeform), which the New York Times described as “Sex and the Single Girl for millennials.” Previously she was a writer and executive producer of the critically acclaimed NBC drama Parenthood. She lives in Santa Monica, California. Most Likely is her debut novel.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Village of Scoundrels by Margi Preus

Village of Scoundrels

Margi Preus, Author

Amulet Books, Fiction, 2019

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Jews, Teens, Underground movements, Refugees, France, WW II, German occupation, Smuggling, Community

Synopsis:

Forging documents, smuggling people over the border, carrying coded messages for the French resistance — the teenagers of Les Lauzes find ways to help the refugees in their midst. For the first years of World War II, the remoteness of their village offers them a certain amount of protection and the townspeople take on the task of sheltering Jewish children rescued form French concentration camps. But as the Nazi occupiers infiltrate every corner of France, the noose tightens, and the operation becomes increasingly dangerous.

First, a French policeman, Officer Perdant, is sent to spy on their doings and uncover the village “scoundrels” — the teenagers, pastors and others who have been aiding the visitors. Little does he know that the villagers watch him. And when the Gestapo arrives with a list of names, the young people must race against time to get their new friends to safety.

Based on a true story, Village of Scoundrels tells how ordinary people opposed the Nazi occupation and stood up for what was right, in spite of intensifying peril.

Why I like this book:

Margi Preus‘ The Village of Scoundrels is a courageous and suspenseful tale that has many heart-stopping moments. Expertly researched, her story is based on the true stories of real people that are woven together into a fictionalized tale that involves danger and a desire to save human lives at the risk of losing their own. Led by their hearts and the will to do good, this extraordinary mountain village of scoundrels — teens, pastors, teachers, farmers and shop owners — stand together and save the lives of 3,200 Jews.

The story is set in Les Lauzes, a village surrounded by beautiful forests and farmland. It has a high school that “promotes peace and international unity” and attracts teens from all over France and Europe. There is no single location for this non-traditional school, as classes are held in many different places throughout the village. The students live in a variety of boarding houses in the village. So it is easy for Jewish children to fit in when they are rescued and brought to the school.

The story is driven by a cast of young and brave characters! There is John-Paul Filon, 17, a Jew who is the master forger of documents, identity cards, and ration books. He even forges a letter so he can attend medical school. Céleste, 16, is a Parisian and has become a courier for the resistance. Philippe, 17, is a red-headed student from Normandy who wears a Boy Scout uniform and helps smuggle Jewish refugees across the border into Switzerland. Henni, 17, and Max, 21, are concentration-camp survivors from Germany and meet again in Les Lauzes. The school provides a home for Henni, before she and Max flee to Switzerland. Jules is the local 10-year-old goatherd who knows the mountains, town and its secrets better than anyone. He passes messages and creates diversions. French Officer Perdant makes Jules his spy and their relationship is quite comic, as he outsmarts Perdant.

Madame Desault is a Jew from Paris, who rescues the children from the French concentration camps and brings them by train to the village. Madame Créneau is the organizer of the network  and finds safe places for the refugees and smuggles children and others to Switzerland.  Pastor Autin preaches peace and practices non-violent resistance.

I always welcome a new WW II book, because I realize that many of the survivors will soon be gone. It is so refreshing to read their stories. Each story offers a different perspective about how ordinary adults and children from many different countries come to the aid of the Jews and make a difference.

Favorite quote:

“We will resist,” Céleste whispered to herself. “Without fear.” After the sermon, Céleste had felt calm. Here was someone who knew what to do. Even if the whole world had gone mad, there was one man who knew what was right and was determined to live it. She felt a sense of purpose. She felt that everyone felt the same way, although no one spoke of it again. They simply began to live it.  Pg. 154

Resources: Make sure you check out the Cast of Characters and a Pronunciation Guide at the beginning of the book. Read the Epilogue, because the author matches her characters with the real-life people who inspired her story. She includes photographs and detailed information about each person. There also is information on the school and guesthouses, the French Boy Scouts and concentration camps. She also includes a timeline and additional resources.

Margi Preus is the author of the Newbery Honor book Heart of of a Samurai and other books for young reachers that include West of the Moon, Shadow on the Mountain and The Bamboo Sword. Visit her at her website and on twitter @MagriPreus.

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.

The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer

The Story That Cannot Be Told

J. Kasper Kramer, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Reader, Fiction, Oct. 8, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Romania, History, Revolution, Folktales, Family life, Writers, Courage

Opening: “Once upon a time, something happened. If it had not happened, it would not be told.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Ileana has always collected stories. Some are about the past, before the leader of her country, tore down her home to make room for his golden palace; back when families had enough food, and the hot water worked on more than just Saturday nights. Others are folktales like the one she was named for, which her father used to tell her at bedtime. But some stories can get you in trouble, like the dangerous one criticizing Romania’s Communist government that Uncle Andrei published — right before he went missing.

Fearing for her safety, Ileana’s parents send her to live with the grandparents she’s never met, far from the prying eyes and ears of the secret police and their spies, who could be any of the neighbors. But danger is never far away. Now, to save her family and the village she’s come to love, Ileana will have to tell the most important story of her life.

Why I like this book:

J. Kasper Kramer’s The Story That Cannot Be Told is gripping and haunting, powerful and hopeful. The tempting title and perfect opening line beckon readers to enter Illeana’s world. Once they begin, they won’t be able to put this novel down.

It is set in Romania in the 1980s, when communist leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, terrorized his country to control them. His secret police, the Securitate, enlisted ordinary people and kids to spy on their neighbors, friends and family. There is greed, death, starvation and brutality under his regime.

The characters are multi-layered and complex. Illenia is smart and courageous. Like her missing Uncle Andrei, Illenia is a writer and storyteller. She’s named after a character, Cunning Ileana, in a Romanian folktale that her father tells her at bedtime. This tale is woven throughout the novel. Illenia has written a collection of stories, poems, and folktales, that she’s compiled in her Great Tome. Most of them are harmless, but a few stories reveal truths that could get her family in serious trouble. Her father becomes fearful for his daughter’s safety, burns her tome and sends her to her grandparent’s farm village high in the mountains. Life there is backwards and operates at a slower pace. She dislikes her new environment at first. Illenia makes a new friend, Gabi, and learns that the village may soon be overtaken by the Romanian Army. She and Gabi make a plan to save the townspeople’s property.

Kramer’s original debut novel is a collection of folklores, memories, research, and fairy tales, that she beautifully weaves together into this unforgettable story that is part fact and part fiction. It is a story that will remain with you because of the profoundly human characters, thrilling and dangerous plot and the worthwhile ending. It is an excellent discussion book for teachers to use in the classroom, because it’s a part of history many students aren’t likely to know. It is very relevant today.

Resource: Make sure you read the Prologue at the beginning and the Author’s Note at the end. Visit Kramer at his website.

J. Kasper Kramer is an author and English professor in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She has a master’s degree in creative writing and once upon a time lived in Japan, where she taught at an international school. When she’s not curled up with a book, she loves researching lost fairy tales, playing video games. and fostering kittens.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

A Wish in the Dark

Christina Soontornvat, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Mar. 24, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  Fantasy, Privilege, Oppression, Poverty, Justice, Friendship, Courage, Self-discovery

Book Synopsis:

After a Great Fire destroys the city of Chattana, a man appears before the starving people and offers to bring peace and order to the city. He is called the Governor and he magically lights the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights across the river represent freedom and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them in the city. But when Pong escapes from the prison, he realizes that the world outside is just as unfair as the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb lights, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.

Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, Christina Soontornvat’s twist on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a dazzling, fast-paced adventure that explores the difference between law and justice — and asks whether one child can shine a light in the dark.

Why I like this book:

A Wish in the Dark is a timeless Asian fantasy that is exquisitely penned by Christina Soontornvat.  Her storytelling and literary style elevate readers’ sense of wonder. The magical Thai setting, well-crafted characters, riveting plot and the gorgeous imagery are so beautifully intertwined that they create an electrifying experience.

At the beginning of the story, the main characters Pong, Somkit and Nok, are 10 years old. As the story unfolds readers will experience their character growth to age 13, as they journey towards self-discovery, which is different for each. Pong is an observer, who has become restless in the confines of a prison. He wants his freedom. Pong looks out for his best friend, Somkit, a small boy who has health issues. When Pong flees, he feels guilt over leaving his defenseless friend behind. The bond between the boys is so natural that they feel like brothers. Nok is the warden’s daughter. She lives a privileged life and is brainwashed by the Governor’s magic and believes his teachings are sacred. Pong and Nok are complete opposites and their journey is fraught with tension and excitement.

This stand-alone novel deals with many social justice issues: the inequality among classes, poverty, oppression, greed, corruption and power. In this novel, power is used by the Governor to control and manipulate those he claims to care about. In Father Cham, a monk, and Ampai, a woman living among the poorest citizens, power is used in loving kindness for the good of all people.  It is a particularly relevant discussion point for students in classrooms.

Verdict: This book is a gem. It may appear to be dark, but don’t let that fool you. Because at its center, there is heart and light.

Christina Soontornvat grew up in a small Texas town, where she spent many childhood days behind the counter of her parents’ Thai restaurant with her nose in a book. She is the author of engaging picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books for children, including the fantasy series, The Changelings, and the upcoming nonfiction account of the Thai Cave Rescue, All Thirteen. She now lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two children.

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 an exchange for a review.

On the Horizon by Lois Lowry

On the Horizon

Lois Lowry, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Memoir, Apr. 7, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 10-13

Themes: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, World War II, Bombardment, Personal narratives, History, Verse

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Every person has a place in history.

Two-time Newbery medalist Lois Lowry reflects on her own in this moving account of the lives lost and forever altered in the bombings of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima and the lives lost in WWII’s most infamous events.

Drawing on the stories of real people at Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, as well as her own memories, Lois Lowry introduces readers to the only set of twin sailors aboard the USS Arizona, a Japanese child folding origami cranes in the wake of the unfathomable horror of the atomic bomb, and even her own grandmother. Through each vignette, this stunning work in verse contemplates humanity and war, sings with pain and truth, and emphasizes the importance of empathy in bridging cultural divides.

In turns haunting, heartbreaking and uplifting, On the Horizon searches for commonality and connection and will remind readers of the horrors and heroism in our past while offering hope for our future.

Why I love this book:

Lois Lowry personalizes WWII’s most infamous events — Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima — for young readers who may not be familiar with this period of our history. It brings history to life through the moving and heartbreaking stories of ordinary individuals, who are unaware of what will happen at 8:15 a.m. Some survived. Others didn’t.

The story is told in free verse which beautifully fits the tone of each vignette. It is told in three parts. Lowry carefully crafts each and every word so that readers feel that they have been part of something powerfully intimate. She does so with simplicity and sincerity.

Kenard Pak’s black and white illustrations are haunting and will evoke a response from readers. This book belongs in every school library.

Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end because you get a sense of how long it took Lowry to find a way to tenderly tell her story with reverence, which is intertwined with so many people and events. When readers finish the book, they will feel like they are holding something sacred in their hands and they have an obligation to work for a more peaceful tomorrow.

Lowry has also done an audio recording of On the Horizon. I believe it’s her first-ever recording. Make sure you have tissues on hand!

Lois Lowry lived in many places growing up, cincluding Hawaii and Japan during the years around World War II, and now lives in Maine. She is the author of more than forty books for children and young adults, including Newbery Medal winners, Nuber the Stars and The Giver. Visit her at her website.  You can also visit her on Twitter @LoisLowryWriter.

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 purchased copy.