American as Paneer Pie by Supriya Kelkar

American as Paneer Pie

Supriya Kelkar, Author

Aladdin Books, Fiction, Jun. 9, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Indian American, Culture, Bullying, Racism, Family, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis: As the only Indian American kid in her small town, Lekha Divekar feels like she has two versions of herself: Home Lekha, who loves watching Bollywood movies and eating Indian food, and School Lekha, who pins her hair over her bindi birthmark and avoids confrontation at all costs, especially when someone teases her for being Indian.

When a girl Lekha’s age moves in across the street, Lekha is excited to hear that her name is Avantika and she’s Desi, too! Finally, there will be someone else around who gets it. But as soon as Avantika speaks, Lekha realizes she has an accent. She’s new to this country, and not at all like Lekha.

To Lekha’s surprise, Avantika does not feel the same way as Lekha about having two separate lives or about the bullying at school. Avantika doesn’t take the bullying quietly. And she proudly displays her culture no matter where she is: at home or at school.

When a racist incident rocks Lekha’s community, Lekha realizes she must make a choice: continue to remain silent or find her voice before it’s too late.

Why I like this book:

Supriya Kelkar’s American as Paneer Pie is a tender story about an 11-year-old Desi girl, who faces teasing from kids at school and prejudice in her community. Her journey is one of hope and heart. It is also realistic fiction that is based on the author’s own early experiences as an Indian American. This story appealed to me because we adopted a son from India in 1985. I am fascinated with the culture and its beautiful traditions. Our son dealt with a lot bullying and curiosity from others, but he was fortunate to find a group of friends who had his back.

Readers are in for a treat because a lot of the story focuses on details about Lehka’s family dynamics and culture.  Even though her family is the only Indian family in town, they interact with a large Indian community in Detroit. Readers will be introduced to the many celebrations, like Diwali, the five-day Indian Festival of Lights, which is as important to Hindus as Christmas is to Christians. They will also enjoy the food preparations, the spices used in all the dishes, the music and dancing, the Bollywood movies, Indian comic books, and the colorful clothing, bindis and bangles worn during a variety of special events. And there is a recipe for Paneer Pie (similar to pizza) at the end of the book.

It is so easy to love Lekha. She experiences the angst of middle school, but she’s tired of the questions about her heritage, the bullying, and being made to feel different. She just wants to fit in and spends much of her time skirting conflict. When another Indian family moves across the street, Lekah is excited to have a friend like, Avantika. But the relationship is complicated, because Avantika doesn’t share Lekah’s concerns and is proud of her heritage. Lekah’s best friend and neighbor, Noah, brings a lot of fun and humor to the story.

The book is timely because it explores important issues of racism, xenophobia and foreigners through Lekha, who is tired of feeling helpless and not American enough. She begins to find her voice after family members are beaten on the street, a racial slur is sprayed across her family’s garage door, and a newly-elected senator is hostile towards immigrants taking away jobs in Michigan.  There is a lot of growth in Lekha, although most of it is toward the end of the book.

American as Paneer Pie is an important story that Indian American youth will find relatable. And it is a book that can be read in the classroom to create empathy and respect for all cultures. Perfect for school libraries.

Supriya Kelkar was born and raised in the Midwest where she learned Hindi as a child by watching three Hindi movies a week. Supriya is a screenwriter who has worked on the writing teams for several Hindi films and one Hollywood feature. Her books include Ahimsa, That Thing about Bollywood, and American as Paneer Pie, among others. Make sure you visit Kelkar 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.

*I won an advanced reading copy on Rosi Hollenbeck‘s Kidlit blog, She’s also regularly reviews books for San Francisco and Manhattan Book Reviews. If you haven’t read her blog, please check it out.

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Unlocked by Shannon Messenger

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Unlocked

Shannon Messenger, Author

Aladdin, Fiction, Nov. 17, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Fantasy, Comprehensive guide, Novella, Magic, Abilities, Magical Creatures, Evil, Relationships, Friendships

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Sophie Foster is regrouping — and Keefe is recovering — after the battle in Loamnore. And now, devastating discoveries threaten to destroy everything they’ve been fighting for.

Answers have never been more elusive — or more needed — and each new challenge drives deeper wedges between allies, friends, and enemies. Impossible choices lie ahead. So do necessary sacrifices — if Sophie and her friends are willing to make them.

Told through the perspectives of both Sophie and Keefe, this newest chapter in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series is packed full of hard truths, new powers and game-changing tsits — and that’s not all!

Unlocked Book 8.5 offers a comprehensive guide to the world of the Lost Cities, including never-before-seen artwork, a map of the Lost Cities, character profiles, world details, quizzes, and Iggy coloring page, and elvin recipes. Peek into the Council’s top-secret Registry files, as well as Keefe’s lengthy Foxfire disciplinary record and Sophie’s equally long medical report — and so much more!

Why I love this book:

Fans will find this book different from Shannon’s first eight novels. Unlocked actually gives readers a nice break to peer more deeply into all of the action and details of the first eight novels in greater depth. I find Unlocked a refreshing break to let my mind catch up before Shannon releases the conclusion of the series in Book 9 next fall. I’ve often wondered how she managed to keep all of the intricate details and plots straight in her mind. Unlocked will do the same for readers! The information is enlightening and fun.

The first two-thirds of the book is informational and full of secrets, profiles, information on the Council, the Black Swan and the Neverseens. There is a section on all the intelligent species, culture and their relationship with the elves.  And there are beautiful colorful illustrations of the main characters and eight significant scenes from each of the first eight books followed by a commentary of Keefe’s memories of the major events. What surprised me the most was the youthfulness of the elves — even though readers know that elves live many centuries — it still surprised me to see that the adults looked like they were in their early 20s and 30s. In my mind, Councilor Bronte is ancient — but he’s not.  My favorite illustration is of Flori under Calla’s Panakes tree.

The last third is a 200-page novella that focuses on Sophie and Keefe and is written in alternating voices. The novella picks up after the ending of Legacy, when Keefe’s mother-of-the-year, Lady Gisela, exposes him to a powerful energy with the hopes of triggering dangerous abilities within him. Actually I like this stand-alone novella and see how important it is for readers to hear directly from Keefe about what has happened to him, his fears, concerns and his decisions for the future. That is all I am going to reveal about the novella, as there are many who are reading their holiday copies of the book. I will add that the novella will make global readers eager for Book 9. You know Shannon couldn’t end the novella without one huge cliffhanger! And she did so with a big smiley face!

So while we read, Shannon is masterfully writing and plotting the finale. Unlocked has been an ambitious and important undertaking. But It sure is a handy guide for what is to come!

Resources: Visit Simon and Schuster for a free downloadable curriculum guide.

Shannon Messenger graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where she learned — among other things — that she liked watching movies much better than making them. She studied art, screenwriting, and film production, but she realized her real passion was writing stories for children. She’s the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the award-winning middle grade series Keeper of the Lost Cities, as well as the Sky Fall series for young adults. Her books have been featured on multiple state reading lists, published in numerous countries, and translated into many different languages. She lives in Southern California with an embarrassing number of cats. Visit Shannon 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 purchased copy.

The Story of the Wright Brothers by Annette Whipple

Dec. 17, 2020 Marks the 117th Anniversary of Powered Flight

See Virtual Celebration Details Below

The Story of the Wright Brothers: A Biography Book for New Readers

Annette Whipple, Author

Alessandra Santelli, Illustrator

Rockridge Press, Biography, Jul. 28, 2020

Page: 66

Suitable for ages: 6-12

Themes: Airplane, Wilbur and Orville Wright, Childhood, Curiosity, Dreams, Imagination, Inventions

Opening: “Impossible! Most people thought a flying machine would never work. For hundreds of years, people had been trying to figure out how to fly.”

Synopsis:

The Wright brothers were the first to build and fly an airplane. Before they made history, Wilbur and Orville were curious kids who loved learning about the world around them. They weren’t rich. They didn’t go to college. But they fell in love with the idea of flying and taught themselves everything they needed to know to make their dream come true.

Young people will enjoy reading about Wilbur and Orville’s childhood. They were born just after the Civil War at a time when people traveled by horse and buggy or train. Their home had no electricity or telephones. There was no indoor plumbing and they used outhouses.

But they grew up in a loving home filled with books and parents who encouraged them to figure out how things worked. They grew up taking things a part and putting them back together again. They had a favorite flying “bat” toy that was propelled by a rubber band.  When it broke they studied the design and made their own. Later they built kites and sold them to friends. Their curiosity continued in many areas. They learned how to make the first self-inking printing press and published a newspaper, flyers and business cards for customers.

In the 1890s cars and bicycles appeared. The Wright brothers bought bicycles, took them a part to figure out how they worked and then began fixing bicycles for friends. They opened the Wright Cycle Company and fixed and sold bicycles. Eventually they began to design their own models.

Explore how the Wright brothers went from young boys in Dayton, Ohio who designed bicycles to world-famous inventors, the first aviators, and businessmen.

Why I like this book:

Annette Whipple has written an inspiring introductory book for young readers, who are curious and imaginative, and dare to dream. They will also learn how important it is to think outside of the box. For instance, Wilbur began studying flight by watching birds. He observed how birds tipped their wings when they flew. “Learning the secret of flight from a bird was a good deal like learning the secret of magic from a magician.”— Orville Wright

The book is beautifully designed and well-researched. It follows the brothers lives chronologically. The flowing narrative tells their story with a lot of boxed inserts about timelines, myths/facts, quotes from the Wright brothers and their legacy. My favorite are “Jump into the Think Tank” questions for kids. The chapters are short and each page features colorful and evocative illustrations. Chapter 8 features a quiz for readers about what they’ve learned, followed by a section about how the Wright brothers’ invention changed our world. There is also a glossary.

Both children and adults will enjoy learning details about the early lives of these young inventors, best friends and business partners. The book is perfect for children who like to take things a part and figure out how they work. And it will encourage young scientists and dreamers everywhere to create their own inventions.

I live in Dayton, Ohio and worked many years at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB). The Wright brothers may have flown their first glider from Kitty Hawk, but they tested and perfected their early aircraft on Huffman Prairie, which is at the end of the major flight line at Wright-Patterson.

The 88th Air Base Wing commander, along with members of the Wright brothers’ family and a limited number of Dayton Aviation Heritage National Park representatives, will join together Dec. 17, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. to lay a wreath commemorating the 117th anniversary of practical powered flight. This wreath-laying tradition began in 1978 at the Wright Brothers Memorial on top of Wright Brothers Memorial Hill overlooking Huffman Prairie.

VIEW THE CEREMONY VIRTUALLY:  Because of COVID-19 protocols limiting gathering sizes, the general public is encouraged to view the event online at https://www.facebook.com/WPAFB.

Annette Whipple celebrates curiosity and inspires a sense of wonder in young readers while exciting them about science and history. In 2020, She’s the author of several books including The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide, and Whooo Knew? Discover Owls.  When she’s not reading or writing, you might find Annette snacking on warm chocolate chip cookies with her family in Pennsylvania. Learn more about Annette’s books and presentations 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.

*Review copy won in a book giveaway by Annette Whipple on Vivian Kirkfield – Children’s Writer blog, in exchange for a review.

Bionic Beasts by Jolene Gutierrez

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Bionic Beasts: Saving Animal Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs, and Beaks

Jolene Gutiérrez, Author

Millbrook Press, Nonfiction, Oct. 6, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 9-14

Themes: Animals, Injuries, Rescue, Veterinary Surgery, Prosthetics, Bionics, Designs and Technology

Opening: “Not long ago, a bird without a beak might have starved to death. An elephant without a foot would have hobbled painfully, permanently damaging her spine and remaining legs. Now animals like these are becoming bionic beasts, animals who have artificial body parts that help them move or function.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

What happens when a young elephant steps on a buried land mine? What happens when a sea turtle’s flipper is injured by a predator? Thanks to recent advances in technology, we have new ways to design and build prosthetic body parts that can help these animals thrive.

Meet an Asian elephant named Mosha, a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle named Lola, a German Shepherd named Cassidy, a greylag goose named Vitória, and Pirate, a Berkshire-Tamworth pig. Each of these animals was struggling, but through a variety of techniques and technologies, humans created devices that enabled the animals to live and move more comfortably. Discover the stories of how veterinarians, doctors, and even students from around the world used 3D printing and other techniques to build bionic body parts for these amazing animals.

Why I like this book:

Jolene Gutiérrez’s Bionic Beasts is both engaging and heartwarming. It will appeal to animals lovers, budding scientists, engineers and innovators. She introduces readers to five animals from the United States, Canada, Brazil and India, who have been helped to lead more normal lives by veterinarians, scientists, prosthetists, orthotists, engineers and college students working with 3D printing. So much thoughtful research went into the writing of this extraordinary book. And I feel lucky to share it with you!

The book is beautifully designed and easy to read. Each chapter features a different animal. The flowing narrative draws readers into the center of the action by sharing information on each animal injury, the healing process, the impact on the animal’s body and the teams that work together to find solutions to make devices that will help, and the progress each animal makes. There are sidebars about the animal species, special surgeries. 3-D printing, and animal sanctuaries.  Gorgeous color photographs adorn every page chronicling the design stages from beginning to end, when the animal is swimming with its new fin, walking with a prosthetic leg, or feeding and preening its babies with a new beak.

Readers are also challenged with STEM activities for each animal.  For example, there are directions for students to experiment with different gelatins to design a flexible fin for the turtle or build a robotic hand to mimic how the elephant will bend its leg in a prosthetic leg. Jolene always asks the question, “can you improve upon the design?” After all, students from 8th grade to college, helped in developing the original designs.

Bionic Beasts is a wonderful resource for middle grade school libraries or for parents who homeschool.  It’s also a perfect Christmas gift. The material is age appropriate and can be read aloud to younger elementary students. There’s a teacher’s guide on Jolene’s website.

Jolene Gutiérrez has always loved animals. She grew up on a farm where she rode horses, bottle-fed calves, chased kittens, and raised tadpoles that grew into toads. She’s been a school librarian for 25 years and lives in Colorado with her husband, two teenage kids, three preteen dogs, and one prickly hedgehog. Learn more at Jolene’s 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 won in a book giveaway by the author on Beth Anderson, Children’s Writer blog, in exchange for a review.

The Problim Children – Island in the Stars by Natalie Lloyd

Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays

The Problim Children – Island in the Stars (Book 3)

Natalie Lloyd, Author

Katherine Tegan Books, Fiction, Aug. 11, 2020

Pages: 304

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Siblings, Adventure, Rescue, Hidden treasure, Magic, Pirate Ship, Family relationships, Courage, Humor

Book Jacket Synopsis:

When the Problims’ baby brother, Toot, is kidnapped by the evil Cheesebreath, Sal and his six siblings set sail on a pirate ship to get him back. But Cheesebreath won’t let Toot go until the Problim children lead him through the barrier islands to their grandpa’s treasure.

The problem is the treasure could be dangerous in villainous hands, and the Problims don’t know exactly where it is! Grandpa’s clues say it lies “where the stars fall into the sea,” but there are all sorts of dangers along the way — like angry neighbors, kid-eating plants, and Miserable Mist!

Now Sal and his sibling only have three days to figure out the puzzle, destroy the treasure, and rescue Toot before Cheesebreath gets his hands on their grandpa’s secret and uses it to break apart the Problim family…forever.

Why I like this book:

Natalie Lloyd’s final book in her The Problim Children series is a delightful romp in weirdness, danger and magic, as the beguiling siblings race against time to rescue their kidnapped baby brother, Tootykins, and Mama Problim, and search for and destroy their grandfather’s treasure. Island in the Stars will please Lloyd fans with this exciting conclusion to the series.

Unknowingly, the seven children have been carefully groomed to take on this mission for years. Even though their grandfather is dead, he knows that that their combined talents and magical gifts must be used together to carry out his instructions and stop the evil Augustus Snide — Cheesebreath. And they will be challenged to heal the rift among their treasure-seeking extended family members on the Desdemona O’Pinion side.

Readers will watch how each Problim child begins to grow into the amazing person they were born to be. Sal keeps his siblings together and calls out the best in each of them. Mona sails fearlessly through the threatening mist. Wendell commands the ocean. Thea unlocks doors and turns her face to the light. Frida throws beams of fire from her hands. Sundae speaks sunlight into every dark corner. And flatulent Toot, a hero and not a captive, leaves his trademark farts to communicate with his siblings. “#45 The Braveheart Fart: The toot, used by Toot to summon his courage and drive fear into his enemies hearts. Smells like moldy cheese and sweaty victory.”

Lloyd’s plot is an lively and dangerous. Her narrative is notably original with clever wordplay, rhymes and vivid imagery. Scattered throughout the story are pen and ink drawings that heighten the action and add to the story’s quirky appeal. The book reminds me of Pippi Longstocking, who lives on her own and is free to develop her imagination and goes on great adventures. Today’s readers will liken Lloyd’s middle grade work to Lemony Snicket, The Penderwicks and Roald Dahl. Verdict: Island in the Stars is an entertaining page turner that is full of heart and courage. It is perfect for gift-giving!

Natalie Lloyd is the New York Times bestselling author of A Snicker of Magic, which has been optioned for television by Sony TriStar. Lloyd’s other novels in The Key to Extraordinary,  Over the Moon, and The Problem Children series. Lloyd lives in Tennessee with her husband and her dogs. Visit Lloyd at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his fascinating 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.

No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young American Making History

No Voice Too Small: 14 Young Americans Making History

Lindsay H. Metcalf and Keila V. Dawson, Editors

Jeanette Bradley, Editor/Illustrator

Charlesbridge, Nonfiction, Sep. 22, 2020

Suitable for ages: 6 – 11

Themes: Youth activism, Making a difference, Bullying, Clean Water, Climate Change, Gun Violence, Poetry

Publisher’s Synopsis:

“You’re never too young or too small to change the world.” – Mari Copeny

This all-star anthology covers fourteen youth activists calling for change and fighting for justice across the United States. These change-makers represent a wide range of life experiences and causes, including racial justice, clean water, LGBTQ+ rights, mental health, and more, Beautifully illustrated poems by #ownvoices authors, plus secondary text, spotlight the efforts and achievements of such luminaries as Marley Dias, Jazz Jennings, and Mari Copeny, “Make Some Noise” tips will inspire readers to take concrete action for change, Back matter includes more information on the poetic forms used in the book.

Why I like this book:

No Voice Too Small will inspire and empower young readers, parents and teachers. This is my favorite kind of book to share with readers because there is an urgency among young people who see the injustice around them, are concerned that adults aren’t doing enough, and want to take action to improve their communities, country and world. They are brave and working for the rights of children in a peaceful manner.

Readers will hear from Nza-Ari Khepra, 16, who loses a friend to gun violence in Chicago and launches Project Orange Tree, which grows into the National Gun Violence Awareness Day celebrated every June. Meet Ziad Ahmed,14, who is treated unfairly in high school because he’s Muslim, and creates an online platform where students can share their stories and stop hate. Levi Draheim, 8, fears the loss of his Florida home to rising seas and joins 21 kids who sue the US government for failing to act on climate change. Jasilyn Charger, 19, protests the construction of a pipeline that threatens to leak oil into the Missouri River that provide water for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and many other people living downstream.

The book is beautifully designed. The #own voices authors and editors, Lindsay H. Metcalf and Keila V. Dawson, capture each child’s captivating story in an attractive double-page spread. The left side of every spread features a soulful poem with warm and appealing illustrations of each child by Jeanette Bradley. The text about the young person’s contribution is featured on the right, along with additional artwork by Bradley. Read their stories and you will be inspired.

Resources: The book is a resource for students to use in the classroom.  At the end of the book there is a section about each of the 14 poets who participated and a page of the poetry form used. This book will spark many lively discussions and encourage young people to identify a problem and think about what they may do alone or together to create change and improve their community, country and world.  What will you do?

Lindsay H. Metcalf is the author of Farmers Unite! Planting a Protest for Fair Prices. She has also been a reporter, editor, and columnist for the Kansas City Star and other news outlets.

Keila V. Dawson has been a community organizer and an early childhood special education teacher. She is the author of The King Cake Baby. 

Jeanette Bradley has been an urban planner, an apprentice pastry chef, and the artist-in­-residence for a traveling art museum on a train. She is the author and illustrator of Love, Mama.

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 editors in exchange for a review.

Chasing Helicity – Through the Storm by Ginger Zee

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday 

Chasing Helicity – Through the Storm (Book 3)

Ginger Zee, Author

Disney-Hyperion, Fiction,  Apr. 21, 2020

Pages: 224

Suitable for ages: 10-14

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

Book Jacket Synopsis:

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

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Mananaland by Pam Munoz Ryan

Mañanaland

Pam Muñoz Ryan

Scholastic, Fiction, Mar. 3, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Refugees, Oppression, Loss, Underground movements, Adventure, Courage, Hope, Freedom

Synopsis:

Maximiliano Córdoba loves stories, especially the legend Buelo tells him about a mythical gatekeeper who can guide brave travelers on a journey into tomorrow.

If Max could see tomorrow, he would know if he’d make Santa Maria’s celebrated fútbol team and whether he’d ever meet his mother, who disappeared when he was a baby. He longs to know more about her, but Papá won’t talk. So when Max uncovers a buried family secret–involving an underground network of guardians who lead people fleeing a neighboring country to safety–he decides to seek answers on his own.

With a treasured compass, a mysterious stone rubbing, and Buelo’s legend as his only guides, he sets out on a perilous quest to discover if he is true of heart and what the future holds.

This timeless tale of struggle, hope, and the search for tomorrow has much to offer today about compassion and our shared humanity.

Why I like this book:

Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Mañanaland is a beautifully crafted novel that sweeps readers into a fantasy world that feels oddly familiar, but is set in the Americas, past or future.  The setting, the characters, the courageous plot and the gorgeous imagery are carefully intertwined and create a thrilling experience for readers.

Max’s family are masons who have built 200  bridges all over the country.  But there is a secret that links the bridges to people who need to escape from oppression to a neighboring country. Max discovers his Papá and Buelo are part of the underground network dedicated to helping people. I love the symbolism of the bridges they build.

Readers will admire 12-year-old Max and his brave resolve to take on a dangerous and arduous journey to help a young girl, Isadora, escape abuse and meet up with her sister in Mañanaland. His father and Buelo are gone and wouldn’t approve. Max may be inexperienced as a guardian, but he is smart, brave, and resourceful. He is determined to prove that he can responsibly and safely guide Isadora to Yadra, the next guardian. Yadra is a towering woman with long silver hair, who lives beneath a secret bridge. Max also hopes she may shed some light on his mother’s disappearance, which his Papá has kept a secret. Is his mother in Mañanaland?

The story parallels our world today with a timely and relevant message that will introduce readers to the refugee crisis, without pinpointing a location. The role of guardians is to help those who are seeking asylum because they are abused, marginalized, and oppressed by a dictator and his military. Many have lost  loved ones and families have been split. However, as Max learns along his journey, “Mañaland is not a destination. It’s a…way of thinking.” (Page 209)

The plot is dangerous with many harrowing moments. Ryan’s deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. She nicely pulls everything together in a realistic and satisfying ending.

Pam Muñoz Ryan is the recipient of the NEA’s Human and Civil Rights Award and the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award for Lifetime Achievement. Her celebrated novels –Echo, Esperazna Rising, The Dreamer, Riding Freedom, Becoming Naomi León, and Paint the Wind — have received countless accolades are are treasured by readers around the world. Ryan lives near San Diego, California, with her family.

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

*Reviewed from a library book.

 

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boy’s Soccer team

Christina Soontornvat, Author

Candlewick Press, Nonfiction, Oct. 13, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12 (teens and adults)

Themes: Thailand, Tham Luang, Soccer Team, Entrapment, Flooding, Cave divers, Rescue workers, International teamwork, Culture

Book Jacket Synopsis:

On June 23, 2018, twelve young players of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach enter a cave in northern Thailand seeking an afternoon’s adventure. But when they turn to leave, rising floodwaters block their path out. The boys are trapped! Before long, news of the missing team spreads, launching a seventeen-day rescue operation involving thousands of rescuers from around the globe. As the world sits vigil, people begin to wonder: how long can a group of ordinary kids survive in complete darkness, with no food or clean water? Luckily, the Wild Boars are a very extraordinary “ordinary” group.

Combining firsthand interviews of rescue workers with in-depth science and details of the region’s culture and religion, author Christina Soontornvat—who was visiting family in Northern Thailand when the Wild Boars went missing—masterfully shows how both the complex engineering operation above ground and the mental struggles of the thirteen young people below proved critical in the life-or-death mission. Meticulously researched and generously illustrated with photographs, this page-turner includes an author’s note describing her experience meeting the team, detailed source notes, and a bibliography to fully immerse readers in the most ambitious cave rescue in history.

What to love about this book:

Christina Soontornvat has adeptly written a story about the rescue of the Thai Soccer team that is riveting and heart-pounding. Most readers know the ending of the boys’ rescue. What they don’t know is the herculean international effort (10,000 people) it takes to bring the team out safely, against all odds they won’t survive. Soontornvat has readers sitting on the edge of their seats as they absorb the details of their harrowing rescue, and the power of the human spirit to survive. The story is suspenseful to the end.  All Thirteen is the best nonfiction I’ve read in a long time.

Soonornvat watches the search for the boys on Thai television. When she returns to the U.S. and sees the media coverage of the rescue, she realizes that “she didn’t see any Thai faces.” The media focuses much of their attention on the expert British and other western divers involved in the ultimate rescue. With her Thai background, she feels she can bring the Thai culture into the story that others miss — a story that “lets the country and culture shine.” Her goal is to showcase the relentless work of the Thai Seals, the military, rescuers, the Get-It-Done-Crew and ordinary volunteers who work day and night to feed everyone and do what ever is needed.

All Thirteen is painstakingly researched. Soontornvat returns to Thailand in October 2018 with only one interview scheduled with Vern Unsworth, a British “cave man” living in Mae Sai. He’s spent many years exploring all the cave passages of Tham Luang and knows it better than anyone. This is a lucky break for Soontornvat because everyone knows and respects him. The two connect and she finds herself booked solid with interviews. It is also important to note that Soontornvat’s mechanical engineering background helps her take scientific information and make it understandable for readers.

The book is beautifully designed and easy to read. There is a narrative that flows throughout the story that draws readers into the center of the action and holds them spellbound. Gorgeous photographs adorn every page chronicling the rescue and diving efforts, the caverns inside of Tham Luang, the boys, the volunteers and the water-diversion teams working to lower the flood levels inside the cave.  Readers are also treated to inserts about the beautiful country of Thailand, the culture, Buddhism, temples, maps of the cave system, diving rules, and information on oxygen concentrations and hypothermia.

Important to the story is the strong relationship between the boys and Coach Ek, the 25-year-old Buddhist soccer coach. He is a major reason the boys survive. He teaches the boys meditation as part of their soccer training. The cave is damp and chilly. The boys are wet, cold, starving and living in complete darkness, except for necessary times when Coach Ek turns on a flashlight. They do have clean drinking water. Coach Ek is determined to keep the boys from panicking or falling into despair before the divers find them on Day 10. He urges them to rest and conserve energy. The boys meditate. They scratch “help” messages into the cave walls. They make promises to look after one another forever. They dream and talk about seeing their families. When divers find them, they are surprised by the boys morale.

Favorite quote: “Breath by breath they each became master of the one thing they can control inside Tham Luang: their own minds.” Page 55

All Thirteen is written for middle grade students, but is also appropriate for teens and adults. The deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. This compelling discussion book belongs in every school library. It’s a perfect Christmas gift for readers who love survival stories.

*Note:  My enthusiasm for All Thirteen was enhanced by attending a virtual zoom book launch October 18 with Christina Soontornvat. It was moderated by author Kate Messner and sponsored by the Book People. If you have a similar opportunity to attend a virtual event, it is worth your time.

Christina Soontornvat is the author of several books for young readers, including the middle-grade fantasy novel, A Wish in the Dark. She holds both a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in science education and lives with her husband and two children in Austin, Texas. Visit Christina 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 is provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Zora and Me: The Summoner by Victoria Bond

Zora & Me: The Summoner

Victoria Bond, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 13, 2020

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Zora Neale Hurston, Storyteller, African-American, Racism, Jim Crow South, Community, Loss, Grief

Synopsis:

For Carrie and her best friend, Zora, Eatonville—America’s first incorporated Black township—has been an idyllic place to live out their childhoods. But when a lynch mob crosses the town’s border to pursue a fugitive and a grave robbery resuscitates the ugly sins of the past, the safe ground beneath them seems to shift. Not only has Zora’s own father—the showboating preacher John Hurston—decided to run against the town’s trusted mayor, but there are other unsettling things afoot, including a heartbreaking family loss, a friend’s sudden illness, and the suggestion of voodoo and zombie-ism in the air, which a curious and grieving Zora becomes all too willing to entertain.

In this fictionalized tale, award-winning author Victoria Bond explores the end of childhood and the bittersweet goodbye to Eatonville by preeminent author Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960). In so doing, she brings to a satisfying conclusion the story begun in the award-winning Zora and Me and its sequel, Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground, sparking inquisitive readers to explore Hurston’s own seminal work.

Why I like this book:

Victoria Bond captures the untamed spirit of the famous writer Zora Neale Hurston in this daunting story of her fictionalized childhood. In this final contribution to her celebrated trilogy, Bond deftly confronts the harsh realities of racism in Jim Crow’s south in 1905. Bond’s narrative is rich and poetic and the dialogue is suspenseful and humorous. The plot is haunting, gripping, and dangerous.

The story is set in Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated black township in the United States in 1887. The historical facts about the town, with the only black mayor, is fascinating. It is out in the middle of nowhere. The black community lives peacefully together for many years enjoying their freedom, owning their own businesses, and farming their own land. They have a church and pastor, a doctor, and a post office. All the children are enrolled in school. When trouble begins in 1905 with the lynching of a black fugitive followed by a series of other unsettling events, and the town of Eatonville is on edge.

The story is narrated by Zora’s best friend, Carrie, who knows that what ever problem or mystery the two friends may be chasing, always means trouble. Zora is a rambunctious and strong-willed character with a wild imagination. She loves telling stories and eventually begins to writing them down. Her sight, as Carrie notes, “is always set on the horizon.”

Other memorable characters include Old Lady Bronson, who is the town midwife, healer and wise woman.  Joe Clarke, who’s been Eatonville’s mayor for 18 years and also owns the general store, is anxious to expand the town.  Zora’s father, the boisterous Rev. John Thurston, pastor of the church, decides to run against the mayor. Zora’s mother, Lucy, is very ill and poor Chester Cools, a troubled soul. Mr. Calhoun is the kind school teacher who helps Zora during turbulent times. And Zora and Carrie’s friend Teddy Baker, is training to be a doctor with Dr. Brazzle.  All of the characters add intrigue to the story.

Zora & Me: The Summoner is both heart wrenching and inspiring. Bond’s deliberate pacing and tension will keep readers fully engaged. There are many surprises for readers. It is an exceptional story, that gives readers a “hint” of the famous author’s life. She inspired many black female authors, like Alice Walker, with her courage and strength, but didn’t benefit monetarily from all her writings.

Resources: Make sure you check out the biography of the remarkable Zora Neale Hurston and a timeline that chronicles her life, which are at the end of the story. And, read Carrie’s letter to her granddaughter at the beginning, as it will give you a snapshot of 1905 and her thoughts about Zora.

Amazon Review: “In the third and final volume of Zora and Me, readers are treated to a lustrous look at several facets of the anthropologist, folklorist, and novelist Zora Neale Hurston. . . . I sing the praises of what Victoria Bond has imagined and crafted here, both in deference to my aunt and as a way of honoring Zora’s legacy.” — Lucy Hurston, niece of Zora Neale Hurston

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.

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