Emily Out of Focus by Miriam Spitzer Franklin

Emily Out of Focus

Miriam Spitzer Franklin, Author

Sky Pony Press, Fiction,  May 7, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

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

Publisher’s Synopsis:

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

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

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

What I like about this book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Chasing Helicity Into the Wind by Ginger Zee

Chasing Helicity Into the Wind, Book 2

Ginger Zee, Author

Disney-Hyperion, Fiction, Apr. 23, 2019

Pages: 250

Suitable for Ages: 10-13

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

Publisher’s Synopsis:

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

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

Quotes: Pages 113-114

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

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

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

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

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Warren and Dragon: Scary Sleepover by Ariel Bernstein

Warren and Dragon: Scary Sleepover, Book 4

Ariel Bernstein, Author

Mike Malbrough, Illustrator

Viking Books for Young Readers, Jun. 25, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Pages: 90

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

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

Book Synopsis:

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

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

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

*Copy reviewed from a library copy.

Taking Cover by Nioucha Homayoonfar

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

Nioucha Homayoonfar, Author

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

Suitable for Ages:  12 and up

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

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

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh

Nowhere Boy

Katherine Marsh, Author

Roaring Brook Press, Fiction, Aug. 7, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

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

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

The Problim Children: Carnival Catastrophe by Natalie Lloyd

The Problim Children: Carnival Catastrophe Vol. 2

Natalie Lloyd, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Jun. 25, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Siblings, Suspense, Treasures, Mystery, Adventure, Family Relationships, Humor

Prologue: “The wind came as a night visitor, sneaking through the town of Lost Cove like a clumsy bandit. Knockings boats against each other in the harbor, pushing over trash cans, tossing tree limbs into the street, and swirling across the barren land where a river used to be. A purple-tailed squirrel sleeping in a tall magnolia tree on Main Street startled awake. It was not afraid of this weather … but it was definitely curious. “…” At House Number Seven, the wind burst through an upstairs window with a huff and a puff and a roar. It billowed down the stairs, all the way to the basement, and whispered over the face of a dark-haired girl as she dreamed.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

All the Problim siblings are capable of magic if they stick together. But trusting each other isn’t easy for the seven siblings when neighbors like Desdemona and Carly-Rue O’Pinion are working double-time to turn the town against them.

From catapulting cattle to runaway corndogs to spiders on the pageant stage, the Problim brothers and sisters are blamed for every catastrophe at this year’s carnival. And to top it all off, Mama Problim is missing!

Can the seven siblings come together in time to save the carnival and rescue their mom from a villain even more dastardly than Desdemona? Or will they discover too late what it truly means to be a Problim?

Why I like this book:

Natalie Lloyd never fails to delight with her exquisite, lyrical prose and fun-loving narratives.  She is a master with clever wordplay, rhymes and clues. She is an original voice in children’s literature. Her sequel, Carnival Catastrophe, is a witty romp in weirdness and chaos, as the siblings are frantic to rescue their missing mother (an archeologist) and have some fun in the town’s annual Corn Dog Carnival.

You can’t help but be enamored with the weird and beguiling Problim children and their beloved pig, Ichabod. Lloyd writes her characters with depth, emotion and charm. Each of the seven kids is named after a day of the week and  has a magical talent — from flatulent toddler “Tootykins” (Tuesday) to Wendell, (Wednesday) who works with water. In this sequel, Mona (Monday) takes center stage. She is creepy, odd, and wears spiders that dangle as earrings and from her finger tips. She is definitely the weird child. When she decides to participate in Lost Cove’s Corn Dog Carnival  beauty pageant, she dresses as a vampire. She is prone towards trickery, which proves to be scary during the pageant. Although Mona enjoys her individuality, readers will enjoy her profound character growth — something that takes great courage as she relates to her arch nemesis, Carley-Rue O’Pinion. and realizes that her assumptions may be wrong.

The plot is a thrilling and dangerous adventure, as Mona and her siblings search for treasure and their missing mother.  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. There is a lot of fun and humor along their journey. For readers who are charmed by the Problim Children, there will be a final book in the trilogy. Lloyd leaves readers with a cliff hanger. Both young and older readers will enjoy Carnival Catastrophe. It is the perfect summer read!

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 include The Key to Extraordinary, and The Problim Children series. Lloyd lives in Tennessee with her husband, Justin and her dogs. Visit 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.

*Review copy provided by the publisher.

Riders of the Realm: Through the Untamed Sky by Jennifer Alvarez

Riders of the Realm #2: Through the Untamed Sky

Jennifer Alvarez, Author

HarperCollins, Fantasy, Mar. 26, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Pegasi, Jungles, Giants, Dragons, War, Survival, Loyalty, Bravery, Freedom

Book Synopsis:

After winning the wild Pegasus mare named Echofrost in a contest, Rahkki Stormrunner becomes an official Rider in the Sky Guard army. But Rahkki is terrified of heights, and Echofrost is still difficult to tame. And with Echofrost’s herd captured by the giants and the growing threat of battle looming over the realm, the new Pair will have to work through their fears in order to fly with the army and free the herd.

Meanwhile, back in Rahkki’s village, rebellion is brewing, and Rahkki learns there is a sinister plot to overthrow Queen Lilliam. But the queen suspects Rahkki’s behind it, and he is under intense watch.

As Rahkki and Echofrost travel to Mount Crim to free Storm Herd, Rahkki fears that the greatest danger may not come from the impending battle against the giants, but from within his own clan.

Why I like this book/series:

Fans have waited a year for the release of Jennifer Alvarez’s second novel in the Riders of the Realm series. It was worth the wait. Riders of the Realm: Through the Untamed Skies is an exhilarating and epic journey.  Alvarez’s storytelling is exquisite and her world-building outstanding.

Alvarez has created a matriarchal culture within the Sandwen seven clans, all ruled by a monarch queen. The men in the clan are honored battle warriors. Their flying steeds (Kihlari) are tame and paired for life with a flyer, but their mission is to protect the clans from giants, dragons, huge snakes, and killer plants.

The story is character-driven. Kind-hearted Rahkki, the 12-year-old stable groom for the wild Echofrost, has won the steed in a contest. He built a relationship of trust with her in the first novel. Rahkki’s goal in competing is to save her life and free the Pegasus so she can find her herd. But now they are bound to each other for life. And Rahkki is her Rider.  Princess I’Lenna is the eldest daughter of Queen Lilliam. Unlike her evil mother, the princess is kind, smart, clever and wants to build peace among the clans. She is Rahkki’s best friend and their relationship is crucial to the future of the realm and freeing Storm Herd from the Giants. But there is an uprising building within the clan and Rahkki isn’t sure who are his friends or enemies.

Alvarez ends the book on a huge cliff hangar which will catch readers completely off-guard and leave them imagining the future of the realm and their favorite characters. They will have to wait for the final volume next year.  This will give new readers an opportunity to check out the original Guardian Herd series, where the Pegasus are free.

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez received a degree in English literature from UC Berkeley. She is an active horsewoman, a volunteer for the US Pony Club, and the proud mother of three children. She also is the author of the Riders of the Realm: Across Dark Waters and the Guardian Herd series. To learn more about her winged universe of novels, please 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 a purchased copy.

Just Dance by Patricia MacLachlan

Just Dance

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Margaret K. McElderry Books, Fiction, Sep, 12,  2017

Suitable for Ages: 7 and up (Grades 3-5)

Themes: Families, Country life, Singer, Reporter, Newspaper writing

Book Synopsis:

Sylvie Bloom does not understand her mother. She used to be a famous opera singer and Sylvie can’t figure out why she would give up her singing career in front of thousands of people for life on their small Casper, Wyoming farm. Sylvie wants something more exciting than that for herself this summer. She wants an adventure.

Sylvie’s teacher, Mrs. Ludolf, notices her writing talent and suggests that Sylvie take over Sheriff Ludolf’s   local newspaper column. Her job will be to report on the local happenings and follow the sheriff on his rounds. But even as she starts writing about town events, Sylvie can’t help but wonder if she and her younger brother, Nate, have been holding their mother back from doing the same. Nate is more philosophical and tells Sylvie she has “too many preconceived notions.” And when her mother’s old duet partner James Grayson writes that he’s coming to perform nearby, will she be tempted to return to the stage, without them?

Why I like this story:

Just Dance is a cozy book and a perfect summer read. MacLachlan has written a heartfelt and lyrical story about family love, community and music, in her signature minimal style. The setting is so vivid that it makes you want to go live on the prairie near Sylvie’s small town.

Throughout the story, Sylvie’s mother’s beautiful voice is heard in the background — a mystery for Sylvie. Her mother sings in the shower, while her family gathers outside the door to listen and name the music. Her mother sings a different song to the cattle, sheep and chickens and they stop to listen. As do the passing neighbors who hear her lilting voice across the fields — even the crows.

MacLachlan’s characters are memorable with emotional depth. Sylvie, like her mother, has her own talents. As she travels about town with the local sheriff reporting the daily news, she admires his wisdom and compassionate approach to solving problems. She meets a kindred spirit in Tinker, who lives very simply with his wolf, Bernie. Tinker is a poet, artist and observer of life and encourages Sylvie, who writes her columns in free verse or as a Haiku poem. Here’s a sample of Sylvie’s artistic way of reporting for the paper, which the community enjoys:

Sheep in the meadow

Blue-eyed man and a sweet friend

A good day of peace. (Meeting Tinker)

_____________

Boys too young to say

Build a fire on windswept day

Sent home, ponder deeds.  (Boys playing with fire)

________________

Wily crowd of crows

Back to plunder Elmer’s corn

Maybe try sweet song?

Just Dance is a quiet novel to savor. It’s about how Sylvie finds a way to express her own unique voice, while she tries to understand her mother’s choice to leave the lime light for a prairie. This is a good book for kids moving into middle grade books. With short chapters, it can also be read out loud to young children.

Patricia MacLachlan is the celebrated author of many timeless novels for young readers, including Newbery Medal winner Sarah, Plain and Tall; 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 countless beloved picture books, a number of which she cowrote with her daughter, Emily. She lives in Williamsburg, Massachusetts.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Earth Day, April 22, 2019
Theme for Earth Day — Protect our Species

Song for a Whale

Lynne Kelly, Author

Delacorte Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Feb. 5, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12 (adults will enjoy)

Pages: 299

Themes: Deaf girl, School, Whales, Grandmother, Communication, Hope, Travel

Synopsis:

From fixing the class computer to repairing old radios, twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius. But she’s the only deaf person in her school, so people often treat her like she’s not very smart. If you’ve ever felt like no one was listening to you, then you know how hard that can be.

When she learns about Blue 55, a hybrid whale (his mother a blue whale, his father a fin whale) who is unable to communicate with other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. Most whales call out at frequencies of 35 hertz and lower, but Blue 55 sings at 55 hertz. His unique voice isn’t understood by the other whales. He has swum alone for decades with little contact with other whale pods or his family.

Iris has an idea to invent a way to “sing” to him. She uses her tech skills, works with the school musicians to record a song at Blue 55’s frequency, and mixes it with his own song. She sends it to a marine biologist from  an Alaskan sanctuary trying to tag Blue 55.  Iris hopes that sanctuaries will play it as he migrates along the west coast, so he can hear his song. The marine biologist responds enthusiastically and says she will play the recording. Iris wants to be there, but Blue 55 and the sanctuary are three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him? How will she see him?

Why I LOVE this book:

Lynn Kelly’s Song for a Whale is a captivating story about the connection between a deaf girl and a whale. Kelly is a remarkable storyteller who weaves together the parallel lives of these two unlikely characters, who are lonely and want to be heard. With Iris narrating, readers will gain insight into what it’s like to be deaf in a hearing world.

Iris’s quest to help Blue 55 hear his own song will melt your heart. It is so refreshing to read a novel about a spunky and determined deaf girl who uses her smarts and unique technical talents to improve the life and well-being of a whale that is lonely. Iris is a perfect role model for young people, who have their own struggles. She is also a reminder to readers that we each have our own inner strengths and abilities to make a difference in the world.

Iris’s bond with her deaf grandmother is the most interesting in the story — and I love intergenerational relationships. Her grandmother is a recent widow, who is dealing with her grief. It was exciting to watch her grandmother’s growth in the story as she begins to live again and heal. It adds a lot of lightness and humor to the story. Most important she understands and believes in Iris. There are many other memorable, lovable, quirky and flawed characters in the story, but my favorite was the grandmother.

The plot is fast-paced and engages readers from the first chapter. Time is of the essence for Iris, because Blue 55 could appear at any time, any where. When Iris’s parents tell her she can’t go to Alaska, her deaf grandmother steps in and secretly arranges the trip. Their trip to “the beach,” turns out to be to Alaska, unbeknownst to her parents. Iris and her karaoke-loving grandmother have a grand time together and new friendships are made. But when and where will Blue 55 surface. The suspense and the unexpected twists in the plot will have readers rapidly turning pages.

Resources: Make sure you read the information from the author about “Whale Communications and the 52-Hertz Whale’ at the end of the book  She also includes information about “Deafness and Sign Language.” This book is a timely share for Earth Day — Protect our Species.

Lynne Kelly’s work as a sign language interpreter has taken her everywhere from classrooms to hospitals to Alaskan cruises. Her first novel, the award-winning Chained, was named to seven state reading lists and won the SCBWI’S Crystal Kite Award. She liver near Houston, Texas, with her adorable dog, Holly. Visit Lynne Kelly at her website.

Favorite Quote:

“I was the one who was lonely, and I’d wanted the whale to hear me,” said Iris. Page 261

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.

Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord

Because of the Rabbit

Cynthia Lord, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Mar. 26, 2019

Pages: 192

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Rabbit, Rescue, New school, Feeling different, Special Needs, Friendship

Book Synopsis:

It is a powerful thing to rescue something. It changes both of you.

On the last night of summer vacation, Emma tags along with her game warden father on a call. They expect to rescue a wild rabbit that’s stuck in a picket fence, but instead they find a honey-colored little bunny, maybe someone’s pet. Emma convinces her father to bring him home for the night. She knows that rabbits can be lucky — and she needs all the luck she can get.

Because the next day, Emma starts public school for the very first time. After years of being homeschooled, she’s ready to ride the bus and eat in a cafeteria as a brand new fifth grader. More than anything, Emma wants a best friend, someone who’s always on her side.

But things don’t go as planned. On the first day of school, she’s paired with a boy named Jack for a project. He can’t stay on topic, he speaks out of turn, and he’s obsessed with animals. Jack does not fit in.

As Emma and Jack bond over her rescue rabbit, she worries that being seen with Jack will mean that’s she’s different, too. Will their friendship keep Emma from finding the best friend she’s meant to have?

Why I like this book:

A heart warming story about the bond between Emma and a rabbit that helps her face some major changes in her life. This sweet honey-colored rabbit nuzzles her neck and her worries melt away. She names him Monsieur Lapin, after a rabbit character in her deceased grandfather’s magical stories. Perhaps Pépère (grandfather) may be sending some rabbit magic and her life will be okay.

Lord writes characters with depth. I really enjoyed Emma’s relationship with her brother, Owen, and the clever banter between them that runs throughout the story. For example on Emma’s first day of school, Owen asks her, “So who’s ahead. Scared or Excited?” Emma responds, “excited has been training all summer for this day. Scared forgot to eat breakfast.”  Owen slides a rock into her hand that says, “Be Yourself,” and tells her to look at it when she needs it most. Their sibling relationship sealed Lord’s story for me, because it is such special and unusual. And Emma’s relationship with a classmate, Jack, who is on the on the autism spectrum, took time to develop and was well worth the outcome. Jack knows a lot of facts about rabbits and their relationship is sealed with their love of animals.

Each chapter of the book starts with a torn piece of notebook paper with a rabbit fact: “If a rabbit refuses food, it can quickly become an emergency,” or “Rabbits are the third-most surrendered pets to animals shelters, behind dogs and cats.” Fun tidbits readers will enjoy.

I enjoyed learning about at the end how Lord explains how her books begin from a tiny  “seed” of her real life and allows it to percolate over time until a story begins to form. And yes, she has rabbits.  Many of the characters in this story are based on family members, including her son who has a sensory issues. She beautifully weaves them into her story.

Cynthia Lord is the award-winning author of Rules, a Newbery Honor Book and a Schneider Family Book Award winner, as well as the critically acclaimed Half a Chance and A Handful of Stars. She made her picture-book debut with Hot Rod Hamster, which won several awards, including the Parents’ Choice Award, and is the author of the Shelter Pet Squad chapter book series. She lives in Maine with her family. 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.