The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair

Amy Makechnie, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jun. 12, 2018

Pages: 336

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Brain injury, Memory, Family relationships, Moving, Farm life, Missing persons, Mystery, Friendship

Opening: “I was ten when Gaysie Cutter tried to kill me. It was just like her too — always leaving a bad first impression. Her idea of a welcome wagon came in the middle of July, during my first Iowa heat wave, which was as hot as you know what.”

Synopsis:

Ten-year-old Guinevere St. Clair is going to be a lawyer. She is the fastest girl in New York City. She knows everything there is to about the brain. And she wants to ride into her first day at her new school on a cow named Willowdale Princess Deon Dawn. Gwyn is definitely not the kind of girl you forget.

But that’s just what her mother has done — forgotten. Gwyn’s mother, Vienna, hasn’t been able to remember anything past the age of 13, since she suffered a hypoxic brain injury. Gwyn and her little sister, Bitty, don’t exist in Vienna’s mind. As Gwyn tells Vienna’s new nurse, “we’re practically orphans.”

Gwyn’s father is obsessed with solving the mystery of Vienna’s brain.  He moves his family from New York to Crow, Iowa, where he and Vienna lived as children. He hopes that going home to Crow and surrounding Vienna with familiar friends and family, will jog her memory and help in her recovery.

As soon as they arrive in Crow, Gwyn is hot on the trail of a different case — one she thinks can actually be solved. Farmer Wilbur Truesdale is missing and there’s only one person who could know what happened to him: her brand new next-door archenemy, Gaysie Cutter.

The more Gwyn goes looking for answers, through, the more questions she encounters — about Wilbur, about Gaysie, but also about the mother she’s never gotten the chance to know. Gwyn’s determined to hunt down the truth about everything, but what if the truth isn’t as simple as pointing the blame at someone? What if sometimes the most terrible things that happen aren’t actually anyone’s fault at all?

Why I liked this book:

Amy Makechnie’s debut novel is complex, heartbreaking and hopeful. Her great opening immediately draws readers into the story. The vivid setting, poignant narrative, suspenseful plot and extraordinary characters create and unforgettable experience for readers. Her storytelling is richly crafted and heartwarming.

Gwyn is a genuine and unique character with whom you feel an immediate emotional bond. She is smart, curious, imaginative and jumps to conclusions a little too quickly. Her mother’s hypoxic brain injury impacts Gwyn and forces her to grow up too quickly. The author beautifully weaves Vienna’s injury into the story as a part of Gwyn’s life experience — it’s hard to “not exist” in your mother’s eyes. In her pursuit to solve the mystery about Wilbur’s disappearance, Gwyn uncovers her mother’s past and realizes how much she is like her.

There is a cast of quirky secondary characters that add comic relief. There’s Gaysie, a giant woman who lives in a rundown house with a “backyard that looks like an art exhibit”and is known for burying dead things on her property. Gwyn become best friends with Jimmy, who is always up for an adventure, and Micah (Gaysie’s son), who likes to wear bright pink shorts, sparkling silver shoe laces and is a target for school bullies.  Gwyn’s dentist father, Jed, is devoted to his wife, and Nana, is protective and takes responsibility for everything that happens.

Teens looking for something new and creative, will find The Unforgettable Guinevere St Clair a suspenseful, powerful and entertaining read. The characters will stay with you long after you finish.

Makechnie’s story also touched me on a personal level. Like Gwyn’s mother, my brain was deprived of oxygen following an unfortunate mishap nearly 15 years ago. This is the first children’s novel I’ve read where a hypoxic brain injury is mentioned. It took me back to my injury and made me think about how difficult it was on my family, who was loving, patient and supportive during my years of recovery. Fortunately my children were grown. Brain injuries vary and each person has unique symptoms and outcomes.

Thank you Rosi Hollinbeck for reviewing and recommending this book to me on your wonderful website. 

Amy Makechnie grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, where shoe once tried to sail to the Mississippi River on a large piece of Styrofoam (she didn’t make it). The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair is her first novel. Amy nurtures her fascination with the brain and human body by teaching anatomy and physiology to high school students in a small New England town, where they dissect hearts and memorize long anatomical words. She is the mother of a wily flock of children, all of who provide daily inspiration for writing. You can visit her 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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Finding Langston

Lesa Cline-Ransome, Author

Holiday House, Fiction, Aug. 14, 2018

Pages: 108

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Loss, Single-parent families, Moving, Bullying, Poetry, the Great Migration, Chicago, History

Opening: “Never really thought much about Alabama’s red dirt roads, but now, all I can think about is kicking up their dust.”

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Langston is a long way from Alabama. After his mother dies in 1946, and he and his father move to Chicago’s Bronzeville. Langston must leave behind everything that he cherishes — his family, friends, Grandma’s Sunday suppers, the red clay and the magnolia trees his mama loved so much. He misses the slow pace of life at home and how he could take his time walking home before he starts his chores.

Bronzeville is noisy. Their kitchenette apartment is just a lonely room with two beds, a table and chairs and a hot plate. Dinner is what daddy brings home and throws into a pot. At night, the sounds are loud. People talk loudly on stoops, music blares from radios, and huge rats run down the hallways. At school, Langston is teased for being too country and three boys bully him after school. But his new home has something his old home didn’t have: the George Cleveland Hall Library that welcomes the community, black and white.

The library becomes a refuge from the bullies and a place where Langston joyfully discovers another Langston, a poet whose words are powerful and speak to him of home. With the help of a kind librarian, he reads all of Langston Hughes’ poetry, discovers the power of words and is transported.  A neighbor, who is a teacher, also introduces Langston to other black poets. Through poetry Langston begins to understand his mother, uncovers one of her secrets and finds healing through his namesake.

Why I like this book:

There is so much beauty in Lesa Cline-Ransome’s coming of age novel. Langston will melt your heart as he deals with loss and loneliness, and struggles to find his voice through words and poetry. It is an inspiring story that is relevant today.

The story also gives readers insight into the Great Migration of black families in search of better jobs in larger cities, like Chicago and New York. They leave behind a slower-paced life and close family relationships, to live in sub-standard housing in noisy, concrete cities.

The chapters are short, the narrative is strong and the writing is lyrical. The plot is compelling and there are themes that will spark important discussions among teens and adults.  This is an important book to add to any classroom curriculum.

Favorite lines: Langston’s first visit to a public library.

I trace the letters on the covers of each and stop. One has my name. I pull it out and open to the first page.

I pick up my life

And take it with me

And I put it down in 

Chicago, Detroit,

Buffalo, Scranton.

Feels like reading words from my heart. (Pg. 21-22)

Lesa Cline-Ransome is best known for her award-winning picture books. Her most recent book, Before She Was Harriet, is illustrated by her husband, James Ransome, received six starred reviews, a Christopher Award, a Coretta Scott King Honor Award for illustration, and a nomination for a NAACP Image Award. Finding Langston is her first novel. Visit the author 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.

*Reviewed from library copy.

We Say #Never Again: Reporting by Parkland Student Journalists

We Say #Never Again: Reporting by the Parkland Student Journalists

Melissa Falkowski & Eric Garner, Editing by MSD Teachers

Crown Books for Young Readers, Nonfiction, Oct. 2, 2019

Pages: 272

Suitable for Ages: 14 and up

Themes: School shooting, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Student reporters, Social activism

Finalist: Senior High Nonfiction category of the Cybils Award, which will be announced Feb. 14, 2019

Book Synopsis: Our story. Our lives. Our School.

While the world reported on the events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Feb. 14, 2018, the students themselves were reporting the story and living through it. Many of the most impactful voices in the #NeverAgain movement came through the school’s journalism and broadcasting programs, and they have credited their teachers and the training they received for allowing them to think critically and communicate clearly – enabling them to launch a movement that has inspired a nation.

But how do student journalists report effectively when they have become the story? How do the write about loss when it impacts their own lives so deeply? The insight the students have gained about the media, ethics and researching the public has not only motivated others to join this movement, but has encouraged them to start movements of their own.

Reporting from inside the media storm that followed the Parkland tragedy, these clear-eyed and passionate young reporters bring a fresh perspective to a crucial American issue, while shining a bright light on the importance of journalism in our free society.

Why I love this book:

This sensitive and convincingly penned book is a natural outcome of the events of the horrific shooting of 17 students and faculty members at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas (MSD) on Feb. 14, 2018. It is a story that only the students can tell. It is raw, honest and powerful. It is a hopeful story about a generation who wants to make a difference in their world.

The book was written by the students, but edited by teachers Melissa Falkowski (journalism) and Eric Garner (broadcasting). Each teacher wrote compelling opening chapters in the book that gave an account of the events that fateful day and how the student reporters and broadcasters stepped forward as professionals to report for the school newspaper, website and TV station. The teachers provide  convincing arguments for the importance of supporting high school journalism/broadcasting programs and student-run newspapers.

The students contributed short chapters about being thrust into the spotlight, dealing with criticism, meeting politicians, managing their own trauma, becoming activists, reporting extraordinary acts by MSD students and teachers, dealing with criticism, and managing their own trauma. The book is well documented with photographs of people and events.

The students were trained and prepared by their teachers in the MSD journalism and broadcasting programs. They were part of the story, but they reported the story. From the start the editorial staff decided they would not name the shooter and give him the notoriety he sought. They felt it would be irresponsible journalism. He was not mentioned in the school newspaper or when staff members were interviewed by the national media, spoke at rallies and wrote this magnificent book. It was refreshing to see these students stand strong in their beliefs of what was right and wrong in the reporting of this monumental event in their lives. Their reporting was impartial as they held to a standard that surpasses much of the sensationalism we see in  media today. When they moved into the role of activism at the forefront of the March for Our Lives movement against gun violence, they were prepared and supported.

I studied journalism in high school and in college. What stood out for me was how the MSD multi-media programs inspired high schools students to find their voices and stand up for a cause they believed in — gun violence in America. This book is an excellent discussion book for high school students and teachers. It belongs in every school library.

Melissa Falkowski has been the faculty adviser of the Eagle Eye for the last three years. She has been teaching English and creative writing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for 14 years. Once a student journalist herself, Melissa became a teacher to empower students and help them find their voices through journalism.

Eric Garner leads the Television Production Academy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, preparing students for the broadcast journalism and film industries. He has been a television production and film instructor for over 25 years and has worked at WPTV in West Palm Beach, Florida’s News Channel, and WTVJ in Miami/Fort Lauderdale.

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.

Survival Tails: Endurance in Antarctica by Katrina Charman

Survival Tails: Endurance in Antarctica (Vol. 2)

Katrina Charman, Author

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Historical Fiction, Dec. 11, 2018

Pages: 272

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Sled Dogs, Antarctica, Perilous Voyage, Survival, The Endurance, History

Synopsis:

Sled dog Samson can’t wait to be part of Ernest Shackleton’s historic voyage to Antarctica in 1914. Samson wants to feel the snow under his paws and the wind on his face as he races across the ice fields. Most of all he wants to help his humans chart the unexplored continent. Fellow sled dog Bummer just wants to get through the voyage in one piece. Why face down a dangerous, icy wasteland when he could stay inside his kennel, warm and safe?

When their ship, the Endurance, becomes trapped in sea ice, the dogs and men have no way home. Their journey becomes not about glory, but about survival in unthinkable conditions. Samson, Bummer and the other dogs will have to put aside their differences and band together to rescue their humans — and themselves.

Why I like this book:

What an impressive way to engage teens in history than to hand them a suspenseful, action-packed animal adventure about the infamous Endurance expedition to Antarctica. Katrina Charman well-crafted novel weaves animal fantasy with a true tale about survival in brutal conditions. Her novel is daring, thrilling and dangerous. The dogs face cracking ice, the loss of their ship, leopard seals, killer whales, starvation, and a drifting ice floe that carries them away from land. Survive they must. This epic tale is packed with grit, courage, determination, teamwork, friendship and humor.

A handful of black and white drawings add significantly to the vivid and urgent survival setting. They show the sled dogs working as a team to save lives, the treacherous conditions, the ship being crushed by ice, whales following the life rafts, and the rescue.

The narrative is told in third person from the dogs point of view, with Samson and Amundsen competing for lead dog. Readers will like Samson because he’s wise, steady, loyal and tough. He compassionately encourages other dogs, like Bummer, to find their strengths. Amundsen is the bold Alpha dog who challenges Samson and is mean. But the high-stakes of surviving their desperate situation outweigh their differences. There are lighter moments with Sally and her four playful puppies, and the ship’s feline, Mrs. Chippy.

Katrina Charman  provides very detailed information at the end of the story about the real journey, with a time-line that matches each chapter and offers real-life information. There is a section with information about the 64 dogs selected for the expedition and their names and detailed information about the expedition, the crew of 26 men and their positions, including Frank Hurley, the official photographer and George Marston, an artist who captured the expedition through his paintings.

Katrina Charman lives in a small village in the middle of South East England with her husband and three daughters. Katrina has wanted to be a children’s writer ever since she was eleven, when her school teacher set her class the task of writing an epilogue to Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Her teacher thought her writing was good enough to send to Roald Dahl himself. Sadly, she never got a reply, but the experience ignited her love of reading and writing. She is the author of the Survival Tails: The Titanic, the first volume in the series. Survival Tails: World War II, will be released in August 2019. She invites you to visit 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.

*Reviewed from library copy.

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship by Chitra Soundar

Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Jan. 25, 2019
Official hashtag: #ReadYourWorld

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship: Stories from India

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Dec. 31, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Pages: 179

Themes: Folktales, India, Cultural traditions, Humor, Friendship, Multicultural

Synopsis:

Being a wise and just ruler is no easy task. That’s what Prince Veera discovers when he and his best friend, Suku, are given the opportunity to preside over the court of his father, King Bheema. Some of the subjects’ complaints are easily addressed, but others are much more challenging. How should they handle the case of the greedy merchant who wishes to charge people for enjoying the smells of his sweets? And can they prove that an innocent man cannot possibly spread bad luck? Will Prince Veera and Suku be able to settle the dispute between a man and his neighbor to whom he sells a well — but not the water in it? Or solve the mystery of the jewels that have turned into pickles? These stories are inspired by traditional Indian folktales.

Why I like this book:

I read as much as I can about the Indian culture because we adopted a son from India. Chitra Soundar’s chapter book is especially fun because it is about Prince Veera and his commoner friend, trying to outsmart some of the King’s trickiest subjects with wit and a great deal of humor!

Prince Veera and his friend, Suku, appear in every chapter of the book. Like his father the king, the prince is caring and compassionate. Because of his relationship with Suku, Prince Veera is more aware of what it happening in the kingdom than his father. Together, the prince and his friend, are clever, eager to investigate complaints, wise beyond their years, and witty in their dealings with the locals. They also show a great deal of compassion towards the poor and expose those in his father’s kingdom who are  mean and bully others.

Each page is illustrated with pen and ink drawing by Uma Krishnaswamy, which add to the overall feel of the Indian culture and traditions. This book is an excellent read-aloud at home and school. This is a fun book for children to discuss the stories and decide what is fair, right or wrong.

Check out: Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019.  Official Hashtag: #ReadYourWorld. There will be links to reviews of picture books, middle grade and YA novels.

Chitra Soundar is originally from the culturally colorful India, where traditions, festivals, and mythology are a way of life. As a child she feasted on folktales and stories from Hindu mythology. As she grew older,  she started making up her own stories. She is the author of the picture book Pattan’s Pumpkin: A Traditional Flood Story from Southern India. Chitra Soundar lives in London.

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 publisher.

Reprisal by Michelle Isenhoff

Reprisal (Recompense Series Vol. 5)

Michelle Isenhoff, Author

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Fiction, Sep. 4, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 14 (Young Adult Fiction)

Themes: Fugitive, Trapped in a foreign world, Anti-slavery movement, Dystopian

Synopsis:

The revolution is over. Andromeda Macron is dead, and Capernica is free. But at the sweet moment of triumph, a premature explosion leaves Ethan stranded in a foreign world, pursued by the entire Bruelim army and wishing vainly for his partner Jaclyn. But she made it home safely. His one hope is that the explosion didn’t destroy all the doors between worlds. If even one portal survived, he intends to find it.

In the meantime, the loss of nearly its entire slave labor force has thrown Brunay into chaos. Fuel shortages and an economic downturn exacerbate tensions between the country’s tribal groups, and government efforts to replace the lost workers threaten to send the nation into civil war. But it’s the remaining Capernican slaves who bear the brunt of the new policies.

Ethan burns to lead the anti-slavery movement, but he’s a fugitive, a soldier stripped of all command. He feels useless and ineffective, flung here by a cruel twist of fate. But then–abandoned, discouraged, and with a price on his head–Ethan discovers a reason to stay in Brunay, even if a portal should open up right in front of him. He just had to travel across the universe to find her.

But what does the future hold in a world where slavery is his only legal option? Where the law stands between himself and the woman he loves? Reprisal is the final book in the Recompense Series.

Why I liked this book:

Wow! Reprisal (Volume 5) is an energetic and thrilling conclusion to Michelle Isenhoff’s Recompense Series. The final novel about Ethan’s entrapment in Brunay brings the story full circle, with a very satisfying ending for Ethan in a brave new world. Readers will not be disappointed with the many plot twists. With the Bruelim Army and the Black Guard in hot pursuit, Ethan manages to find Ahava and Jaspar, the Brunay brother and sister team who helped him free the enslaved Capernicans in “Operation Exodus,” in Retribution.

This is Ethan’s journey about learning to be comfortable with himself, opening his mind to new customs and ways of life, looking for the humanity in the enemy, trusting himself and his friends Ahava and Jaspar, finding ways to contribute the best of himself without compromising his values, and serving a cause greater than himself. And romance? There are many authentic characters breathing life into this story. They are flawed, powerful, vulnerable and will draw you deeply into this high-stakes novel.

The storytelling is gripping and complex, the prose is filled with vivid imagery, and the world building is beyond believable. Readers will enjoy immersing themselves into the beautifully constructed details of life in Brunay. It’s brutal and foreign, but if you look closely enough you will see some of its heart. Each chapter ends with a cliff-hangar which keeps you reading because you want to know the outcome.

The Recompense Series is an ambitious undertaking for Isenhoff, with all five novels, Recompense, Betrayal and Retribution, Abduction and Reprisal, published since January 2018. Readers can binge read and pick up the next volume when they finish each novel! Each chapter ends with a cliff-hangar which keeps you reading because you want to know the outcome.

Michelle Isenhoff is a former teacher and longtime homeschooler. She has written extensively in the children’s genre, most notably her work in historical fiction: The Ella Wood series and the Divided Decade collection. She has been lauded by the education community for the literary quality of her work. These days, she writes full-time in the adult historical fiction and speculative fiction genres. Visit Michelle’s fabulous 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.

*Purchased copy.

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

Saving Winslow

By Sharon Creech

Joanna Cotler Books (Imprint HarperCollins) Fiction, Sep. 11, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 176

Themes: Donkey, Rescue, Farm Animals, Loss, Friendship, Neighbors

OpeningIn the laundry basket on the kitchen floor was a lump.  “Another dead thing?” Louie asked.  “Not yet,” his father said.

Synopsis:

Louie doesn’t have the best luck when it comes to nurturing small creatures. So when his father brings home a sickly newborn mini donkey, Louie lifts the donkey from the basket and holds it close. The donkey nuzzles his neck and makes a small sound that sounds like please. He’s determined to save him.  Louie names him Winslow. Taking care of the donkey helps Louie feel closer to his brother, Gus, who is  far away in the army.

Everyone worries that Winslow won’t survive, especially Louie’s new friend, Nora, who has experienced a loss of her own. But as Louie’s bond with Winslow grows, surprising and life-altering events prove that this fragile donkey is stronger than anyone could have imagined.

Written in the spirit of Creech favorites Moo and Love That Dog, this standout tale about love and friendship and letting go will tug at the heartstrings.

Why I like this book:

Sharon Creech’s storytelling is so sweet and full of heart. Although her novel is about a boy saving a donkey, there are other themes cleverly woven throughout the story — a boy struggling to find his purpose, a girl who has felt loss and is afraid to get close to Winslow, and a family dealing with a son serving his country overseas. Winslow unites the family.

Louie is such a kind-hearted and determined character. After holding the donkey, he immediately accepts “the mission” to do everything in his power to save the newborn donkey’s life — even when his parents and friends are skeptical the donkey will survive a day, let alone a week. He holds the donkey tight to his chest and rubs him with a blanket begging Winslow to live. Nora is a quirky character. She thinks Winslow is “icky,” looks like a possum-goat and doesn’t see the point in becoming attached to a donkey that’s going to die anyway. Yet she sure spends a lot of time around Winslow.

Animals lovers will treasure Winslow’s story. The plot is convincing, the text is spare and it is a quick read. It is a story that can be read out loud to younger children. Visit Creech at her website.

Sharon Creech has written 21 books for young people and is published in over 20 languages. She is the author of the Newbery Medal winner Walk Two Moons and the Newbery Honor Book The Wanderer. Her other work includes the novels Hate That Cat, The Castle Corona, Replay, Heartbeat, Granny Torrelli Makes Soup, Ruby Holler, Love That Dog, Bloomability, Absolutely Normal Chaos, Chasing Redbird, and Pleasing the Ghost, as well as three picture books: A Fine, Fine School; Fishing in the Air; and Who’s That Baby? Ms. Creech and her husband live in upstate New York.

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

*Library copy.

Speechless by Adam P. Schmitt

Speechless

Adam P. Schmitt, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Nov. 6, 2018

Pages: 304

Suitable for Ages: 12 and up

Themes: Death, Grief, Mental Illness, Family Relationships, Speech, Humor

Synopsis:

How do you give a eulogy when you can’t think of one good thing to say? A poignant, funny, and candid look at grief, family secrets, difficult people, and learning to look behind the facade.

As if it weren’t uncomfortable enough being stuffed into last year’s dress pants at his cousin’s wake, thirteen-year-old Jimmy has just learned from his mother that he has to say a few words at the funeral the next day. Why him? What could he possibly say about his cousin, who ruined everything they did? He can’t recall one birthday party, family gathering, or school event with Patrick that didn’t result in injury or destruction.

As Jimmy attempts to navigate the odd social norms of the wake, he draws on humor, heartfelt concern, and a good deal of angst while racking his brain and his memory for a decent and meaningful memory to share. But it’s not until faced with a microphone that the realization finally hits him: it’s not the words that are spoken that matter the most, but those that are truly heard.

What I like about this book:

Adam Schmitt’s complex story deals with bullying, death, grief, suicide and dysfunctional family relationships. These heavy topics are all introduced through the lighthearted perspective of a 13-year-old Jimmy, who narrates the story. Jimmy is one of the best characters I’ve read in a while.  He has a strong voice. Even though he can’t remember one positive memory of his cousin, he delivers a eulogy at the end that readers won’t forget.

It is important to see mental illness addressed in stories. I remember knowing kids like Patrick when I was in school, so this story intrigued me from the start. I appreciate how carefully Schmitt develops his characters. He even makes me care about Patrick by the end of the story.

Patrick is off-the-charts disturbed. He has no friends except his cousin, Jimmy — and that is pushing the envelope. Jimmy can’t recall a single positive memory of his cousin. When he got a toy, Patrick broke it. If he got ice cream, Patrick would find a way to make him drop his cone.  At a Fourth of July party, Patrick injures Jimmy with firecrackers. Patrick’s family doesn’t know what to do about Patrick’s behavior, and their reactions are unpredictable.

Each chapter begins with a small truth that Jimmy learns about funerals: people who show up, people who enjoy the drama of attending a wake, family members who show their true colors, things you may hear that you don’t expect, everyone has a story, and listen more than you speak. Jimmy’s observations offer a lot of comic relief. And he constantly worries that the button on his tight-fitting pants, which is too loose, will finally pop at the wrong moment.

The author took some risks with this story, but the ending makes it worth the read. Even though I would  like to know why Patrick did what he did, it lends itself to some good discussions with middle grade readers. Speechless is an intriguing story.

Adam P. Schmitt has been a middle-school educator for more than fifteen years. Speechless is his debut middle-grade novel. “This story came to me in a single moment while at the funeral of a former student…The characters here don’t represent any one person, but several people in my life who had stories to tell and didn’t know how to find someone to listen.” Schmitt lives in Oswego, Illinois, with his wife and two sons. Visit Schmitt’s 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.

*Review copy provided by the publisher.

The True Gift by Patricia MacLachlan

The True Gift

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Brian Floca, Illustrator

Scholastic Books, Fiction, 2013

Pages: 81

Suitable for Ages: 7-11

Themes: Christmas, Farm, Animals, Cow, Gift, Family, Community

Synopsis:

Lily and Liam look forward to spending a few weeks alone at their grandparents’ farm during the holidays. Their parents arrive a few days before Christmas. The children save their money all year long to purchase gifts at the only store in town. Liam carries his money in an old sock, along with his stack of books. Lily has her stash too.  It’s always the perfect trip for Liam and Lily. They love their grandmother’s cooking, walking to the lilac library, trimming the tree, and giving gifts.

When they arrive, Liam notices that White Cow is standing alone near the fence in the pasture. The donkey is missing and Liam is worried that White Cow is lonely. He talks to his grandpa, who says “it’s hard to tell about cows.” When Liam visits the cow in the barn, the cow nudges him and almost knocks him off his feet. White Cow follows Liam around the barn. He watches and waits for Liam’s visits every day.

Liam goes to the library to research cows and discovers that they are social animals. He  may be right about cows feeling lonely. Liam can’t think of anything but White Cow. He and Lily come up with a plan that will make their visit different this year. This holiday, Lily and Liam will find out the meaning of a special gift that comes in different forms.

Why I like this book:

This is a heartwarming and original story for all animal lovers. Patricia MacLachlan’s signature spare and elegant prose tells a warm family story with a classic holiday theme. It is a celebration of family and community and the true meaning of giving. Brian FLoca’s full-page, detailed pencil drawings add a special touch to this holiday story.

The plot is well-paced and the chapters are short for young readers. The characters are memorable. Lily narrates the story and is a thoughtful older sister. Liam is kind and compassionate and can’t bear the thought of White Cow feeling sad. Lily is a bit afraid of White Cow’s size, but shares Liam’s wish to do something . They work well together as a team. I don’t want to give the story away, but this is such a perfect example of children making a difference in the world. And, they have others willing to help.

This is an endearing holiday classic from a wonderful storyteller. Parents will want to include The True Gift in their holiday book collection. Older children will be able to read it on their own. This is a book worth reading for both young and old alike.

Patricia MacLachlan is the celebrated author of many timeless books for young readers, including Sarah, Plain and Tall, winner of the Newbery Medal. Her novels for young readers include Skylark, Caleb’s Story, More Perfect than the Moon, Grandfather’s Dance, Word After Word After Word, Kindred Souls, The Truth of Me, The Poet’s Dog and My Father’s Words; she is also the author of many beloved picture books, a number of which she cowrote with her daughter, Emily. She lives in Williamsburg, Massachusetts.

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

*Purchased copy.

Prince Not-So Charming Series by Roy L. Hinuss

Prince Not-So Charming: Once Upon a Prank (Book 1)

Roy L. Hinuss, Author

Matt Hunt, Illustrator

Imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, Fiction, Aug. 28, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Prince, Duties, Dreams, Being true to yourself,  Court jester, Humor

Book Synopsis: Turns out being Prince Charming isn’t a fairy tale; it’s more like a fart joke.

Prince Carlos Charles Charming is the youngest in a long line of Royal Prince Charmings. But he’d much rather grow up to be a court jester. He dreams of juggling fire while riding a unicycle instead of fulfilling his princely duty. And the word “duty” always make him think of a poop joke.

But when a dragon is spotted in the Somewhat Enchanted woods, Carlos is going to have to figure out how to be a true Prince Charming fast. Because it’s a slay-or-get-slayed world out there.

Prince Not-So Charming: Her Royal Slyness (Book 2)

Aug. 28, 2018

Book Synopsis: Prince Charming is supposed to rescue a princess―but she has other ideas.

The youngest in a long line of Prince Charmings, Carlos is juggling a lot. That is, he is spending his time juggling balls in the air―instead of doing his princely duties.

But now he has a terrifying mission: There’s a princess trapped in a tower―the Tallest Tower, on Witch Island, surrounded by Witch Lake. You don’t need me to tell you how scary that sounds.

But Carlos soon discovers that rescuing a damsel in distress requires a damsel who’s in distress. This princess doesn’t need to be rescued―and definitely doesn’t need a prince charming.

Prince Not-So Charming: The Dork Knight (Book 3)

Nov. 13, 2018

Book Synopsis: Prince Carlos figuring out how to be charming even when locked in mortal combat.

Prince Carlos Charles Charming has a secret: He’d much rather tell jokes than be a prince. But when you’re the heir to Faraway Kingdom, you don’t always get what you want.

Which is why Carlos has to learn how to joust.

Carlos is surprisingly great at jousting, from spearing haystacks to smashing watermelons. But when a tournament rolls around, suddenly Carlos realizes he has to actually point his lance at other people―and they’ll point theirs back!

Prince Not-So Charming: The Dork Knight shows it’s hard to live up to the fairy tale―and that the best way to win a contest can be embracing your own dorkiness.

Prince Not-So Charming: Happily Ever Laughter (Book 4)

Nov. 13, 2018

Book Synopsis: Prince Charming faces his greatest challenge yet, a fancy party.

Prince Carlos Charles Charming isn’t the princeliest of princes. But he might be the funniest.

Unfortunately, being hilarious won’t help much at a birthday party thrown by an evil queen with no sense of humor. And if Carlos, his pet dragon, and his friend Pinky don’t bring the right presents and fail to dance perfectly, the evil queen might declare war.

Can Carlos and his friends keep the party from turning into a disaster? Who are we kidding? The real question is: After starting a food fight, can they save their kingdom?

Prince Not-So Charming: Happily Ever Laughter is for every kid who worries about how to survive their next party.

Why I like this series:

Prince Not-So Charming is perfect series for middle grade readers (5-9) and for reluctant readers. Packed with fun poop jokes and word puns, Hinuss’ storytelling is quirky, highly entertaining and will tickle reader’s imaginations.

The stories are character driven, with a determined Prince Carlos who will not give up on his dream to be a court jester. He is a loveable prince who only wants to make people laugh and feel happy. He has zero interest in dragon slaying training, rescuing princesses who don’t want to be saved, jousting and attending fancy parties. In fact he’s afraid of heights and quick sand, and hates armor, helmets, swords, hatchets, bows and arrows and daggers. But he does like a good food fight. Prince Carlos has his own weapon — his wit.

Roy L. Hinuss’ hilarious illustrated series encourages kids to be themselves, use their imaginations,  pursue their own interests and conquer their fears and dorkiness. Prince Carlos learns that he’s not alone. There are dragons and princesses who harbor passions of their own and become unlikely friends and allies. And the dragon, Smudge and Princess Pinky, are characters that appear in each new story.

This light-hearted and wacky series will be a hit among young readers. The plots are clever and original  with the right amount of adventure and suspense that will keep kids engaged and turning pages.  Matt Hunt’s pen and ink illustrations contribute to this fun and upbeat story. The colorful and comical covers will surely draw readers to the books. Make sure you read the off-beat interview with Roy L Hinuss at the end of the second book.

Roy L. Hinuss is the authorized biographer of the Charming Royal Family. He is also fond of the occasional fart joke. When he isn’t writing about Prince Carlos Charles Charming’s many adventure in the Faraway Kingdom, he can be found cataloging his collection of celebrity toenail clippings.

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 purchased copies.