Phoebe’s Heron by Winnie Anderson

Phoebe’s Heron

Winnie Anderson, Author

Crispin Books, Historical Fiction, Feb. 5, 2018

Pages: 226

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Nature, Birds, Wildlife, Colorado, Conservation, Friendship, Courage

It is 1900. Twelve-year-old Phoebe Greer, her family and Nurse Daisy move from their home in Denver to a newly built cliff-top cabin in Ridge, at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The doctors recommend that the dry, fresh, clean air in the mountains may be the cure for her mother’s tuberculosis.

While Phoebe wants her mother to get well, she misses her busy city life in Denver (a dusty cow town) and her best friend Lisbeth, whose parents own Denver’s finest millinery store. The two girls have spent hours in front of the looking-glass parading with fancy feathered hats on their heads. They also have fun trying to teach the millinery shop parrot to curse.

Phoebe loves to draw. Her father gives her a sketchbook so she can explore her new surroundings. She follows Bearberry Trail which winds along Bear Creek and ends up at a breathtaking lake. There she meets a local boy, Jed.  However, Jed is a plume hunter, a commercial hunter of birds. He desperately wants to find a great blue heron, whose feathers are in great demand for women’s hats.

The two youth gradually become friends. Jed shows Phoebe the delights of the natural world in the Colorado Rockies, and their friendship deepens. They meet at a large flat rock in the lake, where she sketches and he catches large trout with his swift bare hands. Her views of living in the wild and nature begin to change her and blend nicely with her passion for capturing its beauty in her artwork. One day, Phoebe sees a magnificent great blue heron in the creek, which she sketches in her book. She does not tell Jed about spotting this bird, because she can’t bear the thought of this majestic creature losing its freedom even though it is “survival” for Jed.

Phoebe hears about the Audubon club that wants laws to protect birds from being killed for their feathers. Phoebe’s mother tells her that the movement has come to Denver and a chapter is forming. But Phoebe’s mother grows worse, and soon, things may change.

What I love about this book:

Winnie Anderson’s debut novel is wistful and poetic. Her beautiful words create vivid imagery of Phoebe’s new life on the mountain top. The setting is so appealing that it becomes a beloved character. The rich dialogue paints a picturesque view of Colorado in 1900.  You want to leap into the story and observe the untamed country with Phoebe and Jed.

This hopeful and heartwarming coming of age story is about a teen dealing with a sick mother, family relationships, friendships and her passion to draw everything around her. I enjoyed watching her transformation from a privileged Denver teen to a thoughtful one who observes and develops her own beliefs. The characters are authentic, most are good-hearted but others are privileged and snobby.  This creates a dilemma for Phoebe in her friendship, with Jed, when her father tells her to stay away from him.

Phoebe’s view about use of bird feathers in the women’s millinery business becomes unbearable for her.  She takes a stand with both of her friends, Lisbeth and Jed, and tells them she wants to work with the Audubon club to protect the birds. The author makes short references to the early Audubon Society throughout the book.

Phoebe’s story is loosely based on Sarah Orne Jewett’s “A White Heron,” written in 1886. This book will be of interest to birders, Audubon Society members, and anyone interested in the early conservation movement at the beginning of the 1900s. This is the sixth middle grade novel I’ve reviewed in the past year that includes birding and conservation. It is an excellent novel for teens interested in environmental and conservation issues. This is a thoughtful story to read as Earth Day approaches April 22.

Resources: There is a detailed “Author’s Note” at the end the delves more into the Audubon Society. This book is an excellent classroom discussion book because of the many themes.

Winnie Anderson holds an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University, and has had stories published in various children’s magazines. This is her first novel. She lives in Baltimore, MD, and Evergreen, CO. Visit Anderson’s website.

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

Caterpillars Can’t Swim by Liane Shaw

Caterpillars Can’t Swim

Liane Shaw, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Mar. 6, 2018

Pages: 256

Suitable for Ages: 13-18

Themes: Cerebral Palsy, LGBT, Depression, Family Relationships, Bullying, Homophobia, Prejudices, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis: For sixteen-year-old Ryan, the water is where he finds his freedom. Ever since childhood, when he realized that he would never walk like other people, has loved the water where gravity is no longer his enemy. But he never imagined he would become his small town’s hero by saving a schoolmate from drowning.

Jack is also attracted to the water, but for him it’s the promise of permanent escape. Disappearing altogether seems better than living through one more day of high-school where he is dogged by rumors about his sexuality. He’s terrified that coming out will alienate him from everyone in town — and crush his adoring mother.

Ryan saves Jack’s life, but he also keeps his secret. Their bond leads to a grudging friendship, and an unexpected road-trip to Cosmic Con with Ryan’s best friend Cody, the captain of the swim team. They make an unlikely trio but each of them will have the chance to show where he is brave enough to go against the stereotypes the world wants to define him by.

Why I like this story:

Liane’ Shaw’s examines the paralyzing impact of bullying on teens in this raw, honest and emotional novel. What stands out for me is the prejudice against two teens — one who has a physical disability and the other teen who is struggling with his sexual identity.  This is the first time I’ve seen the differences appear together in a compelling story, especially when the teen who is disabled is the hero.

The characters drive the action in this story. The main character Ryan, was born with cerebral palsy and has spent his life in a wheelchair. However the story really doesn’t focus on his disability, but his funny, upbeat personality and his role on the school swim team. Jack is sad and depressed. He has no friends, and keeps to himself. Ryan befriends Jack, listens to his pain as he deals with his identity, and keeps his secrets. Kids suspect that Jack’s gay and bully him. Ryan’s friend, Cody, steps in when he sees the school bullies harassing both Ryan and Jack after school.  Cody is hyper, wacky, funny, obnoxious, and someone you can dislike one moment and love the next. He provides for a lot of comic relief in the story.

I really liked the metaphor of a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, a mirror of what happens when three unlikely teens come together to support each other. Especially Cody, who is homophobic. His growth as a character meant the most to me.

The plot is multi-layered, brave and complicated. Jack’s drowning happens early in the story with a lot of drama and action. Readers may wonder where the story is headed. But the pacing is fast, engaging and lighthearted at times. There is  more to this deeply moving novel that readers will find appealing.  It is an inspiring story about family, friends and hope.

Liane Shaw is the author of several books for teens, including thinandbeautiful.com, Fostergirls, The Color of Silence, and Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell. Liane was an educator for more than 20 years and lives with her family in Ontario.

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

To Look a Nazi in the Eye

To Look a Nazi in the Eye: A Teen’s Account of a War Criminal Trial

Kathy Kacer with Jordana Lebowitz, Authors

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Sep. 12, 2017

Pages: 240

Suitable for ages: 13-19

Themes: Oskar Groening, WWII War Crimes, Trial, Holocaust, Justice

Book Jacket Synopsis: True story of nineteen-year-old Jordana Lebowitz’s experience attending the war criminal trial of Oskar Groening. Groening worked at the Auschwitz concentration camp and became known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz.” In April 2015 he stood trial in Germany for being complicit in the deaths of more than 300,000 Jews.

A granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Jordana knew a great deal about the Holocaust and had traveled to Europe with her Jewish Day School classmates to visit Auschwitz and participate in the March of the Living. There she met and became friends with Hedy Bohm, a holocaust survivor. A few years later she invited Hedy to speak with students and faculty at the university she attended. When Hedy told her that she had been asked to share her personal story of survival at Groening’s trial, Jordana wanted to go to Germany. But she was not prepared for what she would see and hear at Oskar Groening’s trial, including how much an ordinary seeming man — who at first glance reminded her of grandfather — could be part of such despicable cruelty. She had expected to hate him, and she did. But hate, just like forgiveness, can be complicated.

Listening to Groening’s testimony and to the Holocaust survivors who came to testify against him, Jordana felt the weight of bearing witness to history — a history that we need to remember now more than ever.

Why I like this book:

Kathy Kacer sensitively weaves a format for this compelling and dramatic nonfiction narrative that reads like a story. The chapters alternate between Oskar Groening’s life story and testimony, Jordana’s experiences of the trial, and her relationships with the courageous survivors she has come to love and respect. Kacer shares the survivor’s gut-wrenching stories with compassion, dignity and grace. Her pacing will keep readers glued to the story.

There are interesting dynamics at play throughout the story. Seeing the trial through Jordana’s eyes  (two generations removed) offers readers an open-minded and contemporary perspective. Jordana is loyal to the survivors she has journeyed with to Germany. Their painful stories are etched in her heart and mind. But she has trouble seeing Groening as a monster. She wants to hate him, but she sees a frail and sad man who admits he’s morally guilty for his role in the process. Yet she is disturbed by the details of his actions.

Jordana meets the deniers who say the Holocaust is a conspiracy. She converses with Reiner Hoess, the grandson at the Rudolf Hoess, the mastermind behind the design and construction of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. She is moved that Hoess has spent his life talking about the Holocaust with young people and has come to see justice served in the Groening trial. She is shocked after a female survivor finishes her testimony, steps up to Groening, shakes his hand and says “I forgive you.” The other survivors are upset by the woman’s gesture. Jordana even boldly walks up to the judge and asks him “what is it like to be a judge at this trial…and does it affect you?”

Jordana doesn’t carry the baggage of a survivor. She has a youthful desire to be a witness to history and relates her experiences of the trial through a daily blog she writes for the Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center — the center that paid for her plane ticket to Germany. In the end, Jordana realizes that the trial represents something greater than achieving justice for the survivors. It sends a message to the world that there will be consequences for anyone who is commits or assists in hate crimes, murders and genocide against human beings, no matter how long after a crime.  Jordana also sees an important role for “the youth of today to create a better tomorrow.”

Resources: There is an Epilogue at the end about other SS Nazi guards being brought to trial. Since most are in their 90s, time is running out. Kacer shares what Jordana has  done since the trial and her dream to become a human rights attorney. To Look a Nazi in the Eye is an important book for school libraries. It fits nicely with Holocaust education and will challenge students to have many lively discussions. Although this book is designated for those 13 and up, I would share this book with a mature middle grade student. Adults will benefit from reading this tactfully written book.

Kathy Kacer has won many awards for her books about the holocaust for young readers, including Hiding Edith, The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, Clara’s War and The Underground Reporters. A former psychologist, Kathy tours North America speaking to young people about the importance of remembering the Holocaust. For more information, visit Kacer’s website.

Oskar Groening died Mar. 13, 2018

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

The River Boy by Jessica Brown

The River Boy

Jessica Brown, Author

Finch & Fellow Publishing Home, Historical Fiction, 2016

Pages: 148

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Montana Frontier, Abuse, Friendship, Adventure, Imagination, Courage, Hope

Synopsis:

Nine-year-old Clara is worried about spending a lonely and boring summer on her family ranch in Montana, which is two miles outside of town. It is 1909 and she lives with her parents and two older brothers on a ranch that her grandfather built after the civil war. Everyone pitches in to keep the ranch operating — weeding cornfields, planting gardens and caring for the livestock.

Feeling that “hollow” space inside her, Clara heads to her special place, the grassy banks of the river. There in the middle of her river, she spots a boy sitting on a big rock. Josiah invites her to join him and lends his hand. He asks Clara if she knows what the rock is here for?  “It’s for people who  know how be still,” says Clara. He smiles at her and at that moment, Clara knows they will be friends. Josiah is unlike anyone she has ever met before. He enjoys exploring nature,  is full of full of ideas and has a huge imagination. They decide to write a book together and hope to travel all over town and countryside to collect people stories.

As their adventure unfolds, Clara realizes that Josiah has dark secrets. He lives with his sister and father, who is an abusive alcoholic. Clara hopes that if Josiah can publish his book, he will be able to move to somewhere safe. They run an advertisement in the town newspaper and invite people to submit their stories. But they butt heads with the publisher, Dr. Lowell, who is furious and prints a retraction. It will take much gumption for Clara and Josiah to fight for their book. And there is a town full of people who each have a story to tell. The town’s folk come together and send their stories to Clara and Josiah and stand up to the arrogant Dr. Lowell. Ultimately Clara realizes that sometimes assumptions about people may not be correct and it may take time to look deeper to truly get to know what drives behavior.

Jessica Brown has penned an original novel about the power of a story to connect people despite all their differences. It is a heartwarming tale full of hope with believable characters you will love, rich dialogue, and vivid imagery appropriate to Montana in 1909.  The pacing is perfect with short chapters. Brown creates a satisfying and story about friendship and courage for young readers. It reminds you a bit of Sarah, Plain and Tall, one the author’s favorite childhood books.

Jessica Brown  loves to cook, hike, read, and go on road trips with her husband and son. She grew up in Texas and has since lived in Indiana, Boston, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, England, Ireland and New Zealand. Her graduate studies include English, creative writing and spiritual formation. She has written a memoir, The Grace to Be Human, which will be released this year. Visit Jessica at her website.

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

The Problim Children by Natalie Lloyd

The Problim Children

Natalie Lloyd, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Magical Realism, Jan. 30, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Siblings, Adventure, Mystery, Courage, Friendship, Treasure

Book Jacket Synopsis: When the Problims’ beloved bungalow in the Swampy Wood goes kaboom, the seven siblings have no choice but to move into their grandpa’s abandoned old Victorian house in the town of Lost Cove. No problem! For the Problim children, every problem is a gift.

Wendell and Thea — twins born two minutes apart on a Wednesday and a Thursday — see the move as a change to make new friends in time for their birthday cake smash. But the neighbors find the Problims’ return problematic — what with Sal’s foggy garden full on Wrangling Ivy, toddler Toot’s 365 stanktastic fart varieties, and Mona’s human catapult.

Truth be told, rumors are flying about the Problims! Rumors of a bitter feud, a treasure, and a certain kind of magic that lingers in the halls of #7 Main Street. And an evil neighbor, Desdemona O’ Pinion, will do anything to get her hands on those secrets — including sending the Problim children to seven different homes on sever different continents!

Why I like this book:

Natalie Lloyd’s newest novel, The Problim Children, is a thrilling read packed with a lot of eye-popping kid-appeal. Readers will be happy to know it is the first of three books in the series.  It is a boisterous and rollicking ride through a wild and wacky world that is magical from the start. The children bring with them circus spiders, a purple robotic squirrel and a pet pig, Ichabod.

Lloyd is a master with clever wordplay, rhymes and clues. Her writing is lyrical and her voice is original. Scattered throughout the story are pen and ink drawings of the action, which adds to the quirky feel of the story. The book reminds me of my hours spent with Pippi Longstocking. But today’s readers will liken it to The Penderwicks and Lemony Snicket.

Meet the seven weird and lively Problim Children, each one born on a different day of the week and named after that day: Mona, Tootykins, Wendell, Thea, Frida, Sal and Sundae. These seven are open-minded and have heart. Their parents are off on an archaeological dig somewhere in the world, while 16-year-old Sundae is in charge of her siblings. For me, the strength in the story is in Lloyd’s richly developed characters. Baby Toot communicates with his siblings through his farts, which are footnoted at the bottom (i.e. #227: The Hushfart: Softer sounding than a referee’s whistle, but still shrill. Smells like dirty clothes. Means: be quiet!)

The plot is enchanting filled with wonder, mystery, danger and a lot of humor. And there are clues to a hidden  treasure. Moving into their grandpa’s house is an adventure, a new beginning and a chance to make new friends. Except the residents are suspicious and don’t welcome the children to their new town. There is history with the Problim family and people are afraid history may repeat itself. But the children are charming and find a way to work their way into some of the their hearts. Prediction: This will be a winner with readers! And they will be teased with the inclusion of the first chapter of the second book at the end.

Natalie Lloyd was born on a Monday (but she’s a Thursday girl at heart). She loves writing stories full of magic, friendship and the occasional toot, including A Snicker of Magic, which was a New York Times best seller, and Key to the Extraordinary. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with her husband, Justin, and their dogs, Biscuit and Samson. Visit Natalie Lloyd at her website.

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

The Theory of Hummingbirds by Michelle Kadarusman

The Theory of Hummingbirds

Michelle Kadarusman, Author

Pajama Press, Fiction, Oct. 16, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Club Foot, Differences, Abilities, Self-Acceptance, Dreams, Friendship

Publisher Synopsis: “Hummingbirds and angels don’t need two good feet. They have wings.” That’s what Alba’s mother always says. Of course, Alba doesn’t have wings or two good feet: she has Cleo. Cleo is the name Alba has given to her left foot, which was born twisted in the wrong direction. When she points this out, though, her mother just smiles like the world has some surprise in store she doesn’t know about yet.
Well, Alba has her own surprise planned. After one final surgery and one final cast, Cleo is almost ready to meet the world straight on―just in time to run in the sixth grade cross-country race. Unfortunately, Alba’s best friend Levi thinks there’s no way she can pull it off. And she thinks there’s no way he’s right about the school librarian hiding a wormhole in her office. Tempers flare. Sharp words fly faster than hummingbirds. And soon it looks like both friends will be stuck proving their theories on their own.

Why I like this book:

Michelle Kadarusman has crafted a richly textured story about Ada, who has a leg that is directionally challenged. It is a powerful and captivating story about differences and abilities and “learning to love who you are and what you can do.” It is emotionally honest and filled with heart.

It is important for readers to see themselves in realistic characters like Ada. You don’t feel sorry for Ada because of her determination and resilience.  She is believable and won’t let anyone put limitations on her. I love how she names her club foot “Cleo,” out of kindness. Her best friend Levi spends recess indoors with her because of his asthma. His obsession with time travel and wormholes provides a lot of comic relief.

The author’s use of hummingbirds as a poignant metaphor to help Alba embrace her life in a meaningful way and pursue her big dream. “Hummingbirds don’t sit around moaning about their tiny feet and that they can’t walk,” she says. Like Ada, the author was born with talipes equinovarus (CTEV), more commonly called club foot.

The plot is paced well with the perfect amount of tension to keep readers intrigued, engaged and guessing.  This is an excellent book for any school library.

**I won on Rosi Hollinbeck’s wonderful website The Write Stuff. Check if out. She always has gifts and tips for her writer friends.

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

Avalanche: Survival Diaries by Terry Lynn Johnson

Avalanche! (Survivor Diaries)

Terry Lynn Johnson, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Dec. 2, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes: Downhill skiing, Avalanche, Extreme elements, Survival skills, Bravery

Terry Lynn Johnson has penned a smart and riveting adventure about surviving in extreme elements following an avalanche. This is a must read for those who enjoy downhill skiing and snowboarding! Every minute counts when you find yourself in a dangerous situation.

Avalanche! is the second book in Johnson’s Survival Diaries series. The stakes are higher in this adventure story and will engage and challenge readers from page one. The plot is realistic with many nail-biting moments. Pen and ink drawings add to the drama as it unfolds.

Twelve-year-old twins Ashley and Ryan and their parents are skiing the snowy Grand Teton range in Wyoming. Their backpacks are filled with usual ski gear, extra food, and survival items. Ryan and Ashley take a detour from their parents and the designated path to follow some wolverine tracks. Suddenly they  find themselves in the midst of a dangerously loaded snowfield that breaks away and crashes around them. Even though their avalanche lessons kick in, they have little time to try to turn a different direction before they are tumbling in the snow and debris that is sweeping them down the mountain. They are hurt and buried in snow.

Ashley is the first to dig herself free from her snow grave. But where is Ryan?  Will Ashley and Ryan be able to use survival skills they have learned to race the clock and survive a massive avalanche until help arrives? What do they do first? How serious are their injuries? How much time do they have before hypothermia sets in? Can they build a fire? How do they stay calm? Can they make a shelter in the snow? What about the wild animals lurking nearby? What skills do they need most?

The Avalanche! Survivor Diaries will have huge kid-appeal because the element of danger and the universal need to know what to do if you are unexpectedly caught in a situation where your life depends upon what you know. Johnson’s words of real-life advice echo loud and clear: Stay calm. Stay Smart. Survive. It is an important story for skiing families to read together. It is also an excellent book that belongs in every school library.

Resources: Make sure you check out the Author’s Note, and the Avalanche and Wilderness Safety Tips at  the end of the book.  Do you have what it take to survive? Check out Johnson’s Online Survival Game to see if what you’ve learned from Ashley and Ryan will help you survive.

Terry Lynn Johnson, author of the acclaimed Ice Dogs, Sled Dog School, and the Survivor Diaries, writes adventures based on her own experiences in the wilds of northern Ontario. She has been dragged on her face by her dog team, been lost in the bush more than once, and even chased a bear with a chainsaw. She owned a team of eighteen sled dogs for many years and currently works as a conservation officer. Visit her at her website.

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

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give

Angie Thomas, Author

Balzer + Bray, Fiction, Feb. 28, 2017

Awards: National Book Award Longlist

Suitable for Ages: 14 and up

Themes: Racism, Police Violence, Prejudice, Family Relationships, Community

Book Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter lives between two different worlds: Garden Heights, the poor black neighborhood where she lives, and Williamson Prep, the fancy suburban school she attends.  It’s tough to make friends in her own community where she is judged. It’s hard being an acceptable black student in a white school. The uneasy balance between her worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by a police officer when he’s driving Starr home. Khalil was unarmed.

Khalil’s death quickly becomes a national news story. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. One of Starr’s best friends at school even suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protesters take to the streets and Starr’s neighborhood becomes a war zone. Everyone wants to know what really happened that night. Starr is the only witness and because she is a minor, her identity is protected.  The police take her testimony with little interest, even though her Uncle Carlos is a detective. When tensions reach a boiling point, she knows that she has to tell the truth.

What Starr does — or does not — say could destroy her community. It could endanger her life. It could help her find her voice.

Why I like this book:

Angie Thomas’ powerful in-your-face novel is timely, brave, and gripping.  It is a story about violence in America that’s not sugar-coated but effective with a trustworthy narrator, Starr Carter, who opens her heart and readers’ eyes to the truth. Readers will walk in her shoes, feel her anguish and cheer as she becomes an instrument for hope.

Thomas’ action-packed and multifaceted plot begins with Khalil’s shooting in the first chapter. The story follows with the fall-out that occurs in Garden Heights as the community responds at first with peaceful protests. Gangs move in, stir up crowds and the scene quickly turns to violence. Businesses are burned and the neighborhood becomes a war zone. It is a grim and suffocating look at the inner-city where abuse, addiction and gangs are a way of life and children are its victims.

Starr’s tight and loving family adds stability to the novel. She lives with her father “Big Mav,” a former gang-member who wants to make their crime-ridden neighborhood a better place to live. He owns a local market and employs teens to keep them away from gangs and drugs. Her mother Lisa is a registered nurse who wants to move away in order to keep her family safe. Starr has an older, protective brother, Seven, and a younger brother, Sekani. Together the family faces adversity head-on with perseverance, resourcefulness, and the triumph of the human spirit.

Thomas presents the growing trend of racial profiling and police brutality in an unbiased way. She shows the prejudice on both sides. Starr’s uncle is a detective on the force, so we see things from his point of view.  It helps readers understand the different sides of the situation without confusion. As a reader I gained a greater understanding of drugs and gang life in the inner city and its appeal to teen boys who are supporting single mothers and younger siblings.

Through the perspective of Starr, readers glimpse the anguish that envelops her community, illuminating the feelings associated with suppression. We need more novels that focus on the social commentary of racism and police brutality. The Hate U Give is an excellent work of fiction and an important discussion book for classrooms.

Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was having an article about her in Right On! magazine. She holds a BFA in creative writing. The Hate U Give is her first novel. You can visit her at her website.

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

Duck and Cover by Janet Smart

Duck and Cover

Janet F. Smart, Author

Saguaro Books, LLC, Historical Fiction, 2017 (Paperback)

Pages: 162

Amazon Digital Services LLC  (eBook)

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Adventure, Friendship, West Virginia, Bay of Pigs, Russians, Cubans

Opening: “I Survived the long drive from Cleveland. Now if I could just survive the Russians, I’d be OK.” 

Synopsis: After his dad dies in an accident at work, twelve-year-old Teddy Haynes and his mom come back to live with family in rural West Virginia. They hope to start over, but some people say the Russians are going to blow up the United States.  How can they start over if the world comes to an end?

He finds his life filled with talk of bomb shelters, a cat and dog that don’t get along, clinging two-year-old twin nephews, and a pretty girl he’s too shy to talk to. To help cope with their fears, Teddy and his friends convert an old cave in the woods into a bomb shelter. Will they be able to work together and pull through the tense-filled months during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962?  And will Teddy be able to overcome his grief from the loss of his father?

What I like about this book:

Janet Smart has written a moving and sensitive novel that will teach generations of readers about the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962. She balances the tension with a good dose of humor to lighten the anxiety the kids feel. This nostalgic read will be a stroll down memory lane for many adults as they recall “duck and cover” school drills, during an uncertain time.

The narrative is written in first person. The story is character-driven. She gives the reader deep insight into Teddy’s loss, fears, his active imagination, and his coping skills. Teddy’s a determined protagonist with big dreams of becoming an astronaut one day. He tries to encourage his friends to have dreams, because most of them, like Bobby, know they will head into the coal mines like their ancestors.  His best friend, Melvin, has a limp from polio and wears a smile that stretches clear across his face. Melvin is good for Teddy because he’s optimistic, cheery, light-hearted, logical, has a flair for using big words and enjoys a good prank.  Skeeter likes to write and organize things. So she’s handy to have around as they plan their bomb shelter, even though Teddy is uncomfortable around a girl he’s sweet on.

The theme of the war weighs heavily upon their minds. But the plot focuses on brave friends who decide to take action. It is about their big adventure of building a shelter in a “haunted” cave. They scavenge through junk yards for chairs, mattresses and wood. They fill it with first aid supplies, flashlights, canned goods and water.  There is a lot of suspense for the foursome and some uncovered secrets.

Smart’s novel would make an excellent addition to any school library. It’s also a timely read with threats around the globe.

Janet F. Smart lives in picturesque West Virginia. She is the mother of three grown boys. She enjoys writing for children, bringing her thoughts, dreams and imagination to life. A flicker of a childhood memory was the inspiration for this novel. Visit her at her website.

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

Oddity by Sarah Cannon

Oddity

Sarah Cannon, Author

Feiwel & Friends, Fiction, Nov. 28, 2017

Pages: 310

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Friendship, Fantasy, Missing Children, Twin Sisters, Humor

Book Jacket Synopsis: Welcome to Oddity, New Mexico, where everything normal is odd and everything odd is normal.

Ada Roundtree is no stranger to dodging carnivorous dumpsters, distracting zombie rabbits with marshmallows, or instigating games of alien punkball. But things haven’t been the same since her twin sister, Pearl, won the town’s yearly Sweepstakes and disappeared…

Along with her best friend, Raymond, and a new-kid-from-Chicago Cayden (whose inability to accept being locked in the gym with live leopards is honestly laughable). Ada leads a self-given quest to discover Oddity’s secrets while evading the invisible Blurmonster terrorizing the outskirts of town.

But when one of their missions goes sideways, revealing something hinky with the Sweepstakes, Ada can’t let it go. Because if the Sweepstakes is bad, then what happened to Pearl?

Why I like this book:

Sarah Cannon is an original voice in children’s literature with her debut novel, Oddity. Her impressively crafted story is clever, imaginative, quirky, and beckoning. I have never read anything like Oddity. Readers who enjoy weird, spooky and wacky, will be wild about this offbeat adventure and revel in its dark humor. Cannon’s world building is exceptional. And check out the gorgeous cover!

The characters are diverse, wacky and believable. Ada, Raymond and Cayden are devoted friends who conspire with zombie rabbits in pajamas and aliens, to investigate the suspicious disappearance of Ada’s twin sister.  The zombie rabbits and aliens are pranksters. They create a lot of chaos and crazy humor that provide comic relief and keep readers turning pages.

The plot is multi-layered, complicated and courageous. There is danger and the tension is palpable. With sinister puppets running the town, an invisible monster terrorizing the community, and another Sweepstakes approaching, the three friends and their sidekicks have a hefty mission to uncover the dark secrets Oddity is hiding and find Pearl. The ending is epic!

Sarah Cannon, author of Oddity, has lived all over the U.S., but right now she calls Indiana home. She has a husband, three kids and a misguided dog. Sarah holds a B.S. in Education. She’s a nerdy knitting gardener who drinks a lot of coffee, and eats a lot of raspberries. She is probably human. Visit Sarah Cannon at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the new host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the links to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.