Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action (7) by Darlene Foster

Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action (7) (Amanda Travels)

Darlene Foster, Author

Central Avenue Publishing, Fiction, Sep. 3, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes: Adventure, Travel, Holland, Mystery, Friendship

Synopsis:

Amanda Ross is in Holland with her best friend Leah Anderson to visit the sites, while Leah’s father is doing business there. Top of her list is to visit and photograph all of the tulip fields. Amanda and Leah travel the canals of Amsterdam, visit the Anne Frank House, take pictures at Keukenhof Gardens, see windmills, and visit a wooden shoe factory.

Amanda is eager to find out what happened to her great uncle who never returned from WWII and was declared missing in action. What she doesn’t expect to find and fall in love with is Joey, an abandoned puppy. While trying to find a home for him, she meets Jan, a Dutch boy who offers to help, a suspicious gardener, a strange women on a bicycle and an overprotective goose named Gerald. Follow Amanda, an intrepid traveler, around Holland, as she encounters danger and intrigue as she tries to solve more than one mystery in a foreign country.

Why I like this book:

Darlene Foster has crafted another lively adventure story for young readers who enjoy traveling and solving a good mystery. Fans of the Amanda Travels series will be delighted with this new fast-paced book which has several different themes woven into the story, including a lost puppy and missing rare tulip bulbs, that beautifully come together at the end.

Amanda is an inquisitive and fun-loving character, even though her curiosity causes some mishaps and tense moments — TROUBLE — in the story. But she is a lovable character with  keen radar about people and always ready to solve a good mystery. Her friend Leah is quite the opposite and is a nice balance for Amanda.

Foster captures the gorgeous scenery of Holland through Amanda’s eyes as she samples wonderful pastries like  bankets, filled with an almond paste; samples traditional  Dutch dishes like Hotchpotch Stamppot, mashed potatoes mixed with carrots and onions; inhales the perfume of tulip fields and visits the world’s only floating flower market; visits a wooden shoe, klompen, factory; tours an operational windmill; travels to the top of A’DAM Lookout and ride’s Europe’s highest swing; celebrates King’s Day; and sees more bicyclists than she’s ever imagined.

When Amanda visits the Holten Canadian War Cemetery, history really comes to life. She learns about how the Canadian forces helped liberate Holland during WW II. She walks among the grave sites and feels proud. She remembers her great uncle who joined the Canadian forces in Holland and was reported “missing in action.” Her family never knew what happened to him.  With the help of the cemetery employee, she may find some answers. 

She also learns a little geography about how  Holland is beneath sea level. The country has creatively dealt with this constant environmental issue by building dikes and constructing homes on stilts that are buried deep beneath the ground.

Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action is the seventh book in the Amanda Travels series: Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask; Amanda in Spain: The Girl in the Painting; Amanda in England: The Missing Novel; Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone; Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music; and Amanda in New Mexico : Ghosts in the Wind. Foster has written the books in such a manner that they can be read in any order, but I recommend you start with the first book.

Resources: Make sure you check out the discussion questions at the end of the book.

Darlene Foster grew up on a ranch outside of Alberta. She dreamt of writing, travelling the world and meeting interesting people. She also believes everyone is capable of making their dreams come true. It’s no surprise that she’s now the award-winning author of a children’s adventure series about a travelling twelve-year-old-girl. A world-traveler herself, Darlene spends her time in Vancouver, Canada and Costa Blanca in Spain with her husband and amusing dog, Dot. Visit Darlene Foster 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 provided by the author.

My Fate According to the Butterfly by Gail D. Villanueva

My Fate According to the Butterfly

Gail D. Villanueva, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Jul. 30, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Superstitions, Philippines, Sisters, Family relationships, Drug addiction, Diversity

Book Synopsis:

Sab Dulce is doomed!

When superstitious Sab sees a giant black butterfly, an omen of death, she knows her fate is sealed. According to the legend her father used to tell her, she has a week before destiny catches up with her. Even worse, that week ends on her birthday! All she wants is to celebrate her birthday with her entire family. But her journalist sister, Ate Nadine, cut their father out of her life one year ago, and Sab has no idea why.

If Sab’s going to get Ate Nadine and their father to reconcile, she’ll have to overcome her fears — of her sister’s anger, leaving the bubble of her shelter community, her upcoming doom — and figure out the cause of their rift.

So with time running out, Sab and her best friend, Pepper, start spying on Ate Nadine and digging into their family’s past. Soon Sab’s adventures across Manila reveal truths more complicated, and more dangerous, than she ever anticipated.

Set in the Philippines, this is a moving coming-of-age story about family, reconciliation, and recovery. Readers will root fiercely for the irrepressible Sab as she steps out of her cocoon and takes her fate into her own hands.

Why I like this book:

My Fate According to the Butterfly is a compelling and mesmerizing story about culture, superstition, family secrets, substance abuse and forgiveness. This is the first novel I have reviewed about this beautiful country.

The author basis her story on many of her own real life experiences as a girl growing up in the Philippines. Readers will learn a lot about its rich culture, superstitions, traditions, subway systems, and cuisine — especially the mouthwatering descriptions that will tempt their senses.

Readers will learn about the colonial mentality in the Philippines that is a result of the colonization by Spain. Sab is brown and flat-nosed, something she is very conscious of, as opposed to her friend, Pepper, who is light-skinned, has blue eyes and has a bridge to her nose. It is a stigma of sorts for Sab and she doesn’t feel beautiful. And Sab is very aware how differently she’s treated in public — “white is beautiful, brown is not.”

When a giant black butterfly crosses Sab’s path, she sets out to get her father and older sister, Ate Nadine, to fix their relationship in case her time is running out. It is interesting to watch this wonderfully real protagonist work through this long-held superstition and come to her own conclusions.

Sab is planning her eleventh birthday, but ends up uncovering secrets about her father’s substance abuse. Many readers will identify with an addictive parent, which is a problem for Filipino families, both rich and poor, as it is worldwide. It has spit Sab’s family, but it is also an opportunity for the family to heal.

Gail D. Villanueva is a Filipino author born and based in the Philippines. She’s also a web designer, an entrepreneur, and a graphic artist. Gail and her husband live in the outskirts of Manila with their doges, ducks, turtle, cats on one friendly but lonesome chicken. 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 library copy.

All the Impossible Things by Lindsay Lackey

All the Impossible Things

Lindsay Lackey, Author

Roaring Brook Press, Fiction, Sep. 3, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Foster Families, Separation, Addiction, Rescue Animals, Friendship, Magic

Book Synopsis:

Red’s inexplicable power over the wind comes from her mother. Whenever Ruby “Red” Byrd is scared or angry, the wind picks up. And being placed in foster care, moving from family to family, tends to keep her skies stormy. Red knows she has to learn to control it, but can’t figure out how.

This time, the wind blows Red into the home of the Grooves, a quirky couple who run a petting zoo, complete with a dancing donkey, a goat that climbs trees and a giant tortoise. With their own curious gifts, Celine and Jackson Groove seem to fit like a puzzle piece into Red’s heart.

But just when Red starts to settle into her new life, a fresh storm rolls in, one she knows all too well: her mother. For so long, Red has longed to have her mom back in her life, and she’s quickly swept up in the vortex of her mother’s chaos. Now Red must discover the possible in the impossible if she wants to overcome her own tornadoes and find the family she needs.

Why I like this book:

Lindsay Lackey’s debut novel speaks powerfully of Red’s deep anger and hurt, which takes the form of strong winds and tornadoes when she loses control of her emotional pain. Her story is as captivating and healing as it is heartbreaking. I

The plot is complex, realistic and skillfully executed. It digs deeply into many themes that include 10-year-old Red’s loss of her “Gamma” three years earlier, her mother’s drug addiction and imprisonment, and her unsuccessful placements in several foster homes. She has a fresh start when the Grooves, welcome her into their home. They have a farm and petting zoo full of rescue animals.

The characters are believable, vulnerable and memorable. Red is somewhat detached at first and finds a healing bond with Tuck, a 400-pound tortoise. She makes friends with a Hawaiian boy, Marvin, who is really into sharing his culture and helps Red with a special project. Red is surprised to find kindred spirits in Celine and Jackson, a middle-aged couple who immediately love her. They support Red in her desire to leave the foster care system and be reunited with her mother, Wanda. And they are there for her when she realizes that they are her forever family.

There is a tad of magic in this story. Both Red and her mother’s power stir up wind storms, has both a magical and emotional quality about it. And, Celine’s ability to make the stars sing when she and Red gaze into the heavens at night. Red hears their songs an finds they soothe her. It really isn’t explained, but I was okay with the wonder of it all. And the fabulous cover shouts magic and will attract readers.

Lindsay Lackey has trained as an opera singer, worked in children’s and teen services at a public library, and worked for a major publishing house in publicity and marketing. All the Impossible Things is her debut novel. Visit Lindsay 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.

The Dog Who Lost His Bark by Eoin Colfer

The Dog Who Lost His Bark

Eoin Colfer, Author

P.J. Lynch, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 10, 2019

Pages: 144

Suitable for Ages: 7-10 years

Themes: Boy, Dog, Rescue shelter, Divorce, Music, Multigenerational family

Opening: “The LOUD MAN called him DOG. Or PUP. Or MONGREL. But mostly DOG.”

Synopsis: Patrick Coin’s dad is a musician and in Australia, while Patrick and his mother are spending their summer vacation at Grandad’s house. Patrick is puzzled by his father’s absence and isn’t satisfied with his mother’s answers. She suggests Patrick get a dog.

Patrick has longed for a dog of his own forever. With his father away, he could use a best friend more than ever. Grandad suggests they visit the local rescue shelter. Patrick chooses a small, sad dog in the last cage. He names him Oz.

In his short doggy life, Oz has suffered at the hands of bad people. Somewhere out there, he believes, is an awesome boy — his boy. And maybe, when they find each other, Oz will learn to bark again.

Why I like this book:

The cover shouts “read me.” Dog’s face is so sad and lonely.  Nearly every page is accompanied by P.J. Lynch’s realistic and expressive pencil illustrations that illuminate  Eoin Colfer’s heartwarming story and makes it sing.

Readers first meet Dog, who is mistreated and discarded in a dump by previous owners. Dog stops barking because he knows barking means no food and trouble. He’s rescued and taken to a shelter. When Patrick meets Dog, he sees the pup as a “potential soul mate.” Patrick names him Oz. Dog is cautious and afraid, but Patrick is patient and loving.

The story also follows Patrick who has to cope with an absentee father, his parents’ separation and new partners, and some tough choices to make. Foturnately Patrick has a strong bond with his grandfather and a devoted dog who loves him. I enjoy reading stories about multigenerational relationships.

I love how Colfer uses the power of music to heal the mistreated dog, and later, Patrick.  When Grandad plays a melody on a tin whistle, Oz whines most of the tune back to him. Patrick pulls out his violin and starts to play a tune and Oz howls it back to him. Oz finds music soothing and the two create a bond of trust, that carries through to the end of the story, when Patrick discovers the truth of his parents’ separation. Oz knows what Patrick needs to heal.

This inspiring story by Eoin Colfer, internationally best-selling author of the Artemis Fowl fantasy series, is certain to enchant many readers, who will undoubtedly relate to Patrick’s sitution.

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 provided by the publisher.

On Snowden Mountain by Jeri Watts

On Snowden Mountain

Jeri Watts, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 10, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 208

Themes: Mental illness, Separation, WW ll, Abuse, Mountain community, Friendship

Book Synopsis:

Ellen’s mother has struggled with depression before, but not like this. With her father away fighting in World War II and her mother unable to care for them, Ellen’s only option is to reach out to her cold, distant Aunt Pearl. Soon enough, city-dwelling Ellen and her mother are shepherded off to the countryside to Aunt Pearl’s home, a tidy white cottage at the base of Snowden Mountain.

Adjusting to life in a small town is no easy thing: the school has one room, one of her classmates smells of skunks, and members of the community seem to whisper about Ellen’s family. She worries that depression is a family curse to which she’ll inevitably succumb, Ellen slowly begins to carve out a space for herself and her mother on Snowden Mountain in this thoughtful, heartfelt middle-grade novel.

Why I like this book:

Jeri Watts has written a richly textured story with a heartwarming narrative about the bond of family, community and their connection to each other. I meandered my way through this story which culminated in a satisfying ending that left me feeling hopeful for Ellen, her family and friends.

The characters are colorful. Ellen is resilient even though her mother is lost to a spell of deep sadness within and her father overseas serving his country. This Baltimore city girl has a lot to get used to living with lively Aunt Pearl — no indoor plumbing, no electricity and outhouses.  Aunt Pearl is a strong woman who speaks her mind. She is stern on the outside and creates a safe space (with structure and hard work) for Ellen, but on the inside she is a generous soul. Ellen develops a friendship with a creative and sensitive boy, Russell Armentrout (Skunk Boy) can’t read or write because he is forced to trap skunks by his drunk and abusive father. Russell teaches Ellen about the nature around her and the special traits of animals. Ellen teaches him to read and count. She also meets other memorable characters who impact her life like Moselle Toms, the town gossip and troublemaker and Miss Spencer, the school teacher.

Watts introduces the reader to some heavy topics: parental separation, mental illness (depression and bipolar disorders), alcoholism, physical and emotional abuse (both child and spousal).  Both Ellen and Russell form a bond as they confront the issues of their parents. These are timely and important issues that many readers will easily identify with. This is an excellent discussion book for students.

Favorite Quotes:

She was right. It was “very different” from Baltimore. There were no streetlights, so velvet darkness wrapped around us that night — a dark of such depth I felt it cloaking me so tightly that I was strangling in it.  So soft, so smooth — and yet so deep as to swallow you.”

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.

Leading the Way by Sen. Janet Howell and Theresa Howell

Leading the Way: Women in Power

Senator Janet Howell and Theresa Howell, Authors

Kylie Akia and Alexandra Bye, Illustrators

Candlewick Press, Nonfiction, Oct. 8, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Pages: 144

Themes: Women, Leadership, Character, Dreams, Making a Difference, Role Models

Favorite Introduction quote from Senator Howell: “It is amazingly powerful to see women in roles of leadership. If girls can see it, they can believe it. They know they can become it.”

Book Synopsis:

Meet fifty of America’s most influential women leaders, including Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress; Susana Martinez, the first Latina governor ever elected in the U.S.; Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color and the first Asian-American elected to congress; and Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve as a justice on the United States Supreme Court.  Serving in government or active in politics at all levels, both local and national, and representing a diverse panorama of personal backgrounds and political views, they stood up, blazed trails, and led the way. Here are the stories of how they rose to power, along with a take-action guide for today’s readers. Fascinating and accessible, this is a timely and inspirational tribute to some of the most extraordinary Americans of our time and all time.

Why I like this book:

Senator Howell and her daughter Theresa Howell, have written an inspiring book for girls about 50 of the most exhilarating and exciting women in America who have made a difference. Leading the Way is not about political parties by any means. It is about powerful women.

With the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote approaching in 2020, this book is a compelling tribute to the women of the past and present who have overcome incredible hurdles, challenged the status quo, and paved a path for the many girls who will read their stories and dream big. Their stories are like a compass pointing the way. They are teachers and role models who will undoubtedly challenge the girls of today to make their mark in their own special way.

The book design is exceptional and easy to read. There is beautiful portrait, famous quotes, and a story about each woman. There is a Power Symbol Guide of eight important character traits that great leaders have developed along their journey (i.e. Integrity, Community, Diligence, Courage, Empathy, Persistance etc.).  Readers are asked to look for the symbols at the beginning that accompanies each of the 50 women. And there is a beautiful foreword by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

This book will be a wonderful addition to any school or home library. It is especially a good book for mothers and daughters to read together and discuss.  Oh how wish I had a book like this when I was a girl in school.

Compliments of Candlewick Press

Resource: Make sure you check out “How To Stand Up, Speak Out, and Make a Difference: A Take-Action Guide,”at the end of the book. It is full of  infromation and suggestions that will inspire readers to examine their passions and start in a place they know best — their neighborhoods, schools and communities.

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.

Mia Mayhem Breaks Down Walls by Kara West

Mia Mayhem Breaks Down Walls (Book 4)

Kara West, Author

Leeza Hernandez, Illustrator

Little Simon, Fiction, Jul. 16, 2019

Suitable for Ages:  5-9

Themes: Superhero, Learning to use powers, Chaos, Friendship

Opening: My room is a mess. I’m digging around in my closet because I’ve ripped another shoelace.

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Mia is determined to be the best in her top secret strength-training class, Program for In Training Superheroes (PITS), so she can learn how to lift cars, and climb super tall buildings! But when her own super strength gets the better of her, she ends up causing absolute mayhem — everywhere. Will Mia be able to rebuild the walls she broke down at PITS, one-by-one?

Why I like this book:

Mia Mayhem is a perfect chapter book series that will captivate the hearts and imaginations of young readers who are transitioning from picture books. The language is simple, with short sentences. The print is bold and a little larger, making reading easier. The writing is fast-paced with a lot of action to satisfy readers.  The plot is simple and deals with everyday real-life situations for kids, like panic, clumsiness and friendship. And, their are places with bold words, like “CRASH!…SNAP…BAM…SPLOSH!” will entertain young readers.

Mia is a spunky, high-energy character, who creates a lot of chaos in her wake.  She is strong and ambitious, and kind.  At regular school, she is regular Mia Macarooney, and keeps her hero status a secret. “I admit, sometimes I wish I could tell the whole world, But as a superhero, I need to protect my secret identity.” Her ego is well intact, after all she is able “to save the day before the day even starts.”  Mia’s best friend Eddie knows her secret, and is a great side-kick in covering for her when she accidentally pulls off the classroom doorknob, breaks the her desk leg and punches a hole in the gym ceiling during volleyball game. Will she get her superpowers under control. There is a great cast of diverse characters in the story.

The cartoon-like illustrations are just right for this series. They are part of the text at times, which help young readers understand the action.

Make sure you check out the Mia Mayhem series: Mia Mayhem Superhero!, Mia Mayhem Learns to Fly!, Mia Mayhem vs. the Bully!, Mia Mayhem Stops Time!

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.

Dream Within a Dream by Patricia MacLachlan

Dream Within a Dream

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Margaret K. McElderry Books, Fiction, May 7, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 128

Themes: Farm Life, Multigenerational relationships, Family, Adolescence, Island, Storms, Friendship, Love

Opening: My grandfather Jake’s Deer Island farm runs down to the sea – sweet grass slipping to water.

Book Synopsis

Louisa, short for Louisiana, is in for a long summer.

When her globe-trotting, bird-watching parents go abroad, they leave Louisa and her younger brother, Theo, on Deer Island with their grandparents, Jake and Boots, same as they always do.

Jake brings a library of books to read. Louisa would rather be off having adventures with their parents. She’s a secret writer, and there’s nothing on all of Deer Island to write about—right?

The difference is that this year, Jake’s eyesight if failing.

This year, Theo doesn’t want to go back to the mainland at the end of the summer.

This year, Louisa meets George, a boy who helps her see the world in a whole new light.

Why I like this book:

Patricia MacLachlan’s signature style showcases her talent to tell a heartwarming story that celebrates multigenerational family relationships, friendship and love — new and old — with beauty and simplicity. Her prose is lyrical, the narrative is gentle, the plot is engaging with the right amount of tension, and the ending is satisfying and uplifting.

The characters are memorable. Louisa is an adventuresome spirit with a large mass of curly red hair. Theo is an “old” soul, thoughtful, contemplative and kind. For Theo, the island is a dream. Grandmother Boots, is a lively, upbeat and strong force in the family. Her real name is Lily, but she loves and stomps around in colorful “wellies,” so her family call her Boots. Grandpa Jake, a farmer, is losing his eyesight. He remains positive and is secretly teaching a neighbor boy, George, how to drive, so he doesn’t lose his freedom and his prized 1938 Cord car. George and his family live on the island, but spend a lot of time in Africa.

This is a good story for readers moving into middle grade books. With short chapters, it can also be read out loud to young children. It is a lively summer read with dancing and tropical storms.

Favorite Quote:

Boots knows most everything. She knows, for instance, that her son — my father — and his wife — my mother — are “dense” about some things even though they’re “disturbingly intelligent,” as she puts it. Boots is my hero.

Patricia MacLachlan is the celebrated author of many timeless novels for young readers, including Newbery Medal winner Sarah, Plain and Tall; 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.

Just South of Home by Karen Strong

Just South of Home

Karen Strong, Author

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Fiction, May 9, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 320

Themes: African Americans, Family Relationships, Racism, Crimes, Georgia, Ghosts, Supernatural

Book Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Sarah is finally in charge. At last, she can spend her summer months reading her favorite science books and bossing around her younger, brainy brother, Ellis, instead of being worked to the bone by their overly strict grandmother, Mrs. Greene. But when their cousin, Janie, arrives for a visit, Sarah’s plans are completely squashed.

Janie has a knack for getting into trouble and asks Sarah to take her to the burned-down ruins of Creek Church, a landmark of the small town that she heard was haunted with ghosts. It’s also off-limits. Janie’s sticky fingers disturb the restless ghosts (or haints), who are unleashed upon the town. It is up to Sarah, Janie, Ellis and his best friend, Jasper to uncover the deep-seated racist part of the town’s past that is filled with unimaginable crimes against the black community. With a bit of luck, this foursome will heal the place they call home and the people within it they call family.

Why I like this book:

Karen Strong’s Just South of Home is a haunting and extraordinary experience for readers who are interested in looking at racist atrocities committed in the South and how they impact a community who wants to forget the past. The author doesn’t shy away from dealing with the burning of the town’s Creek Church by the Klan and a boy who is brutally murdered and buried near the church. His restless spirit is trapped and needs to move into the light realm.

The characters are loveable and memorable. Sarah’s safe and logical science-filled background is overturned once she experiences the force of evil and the unrest of the haints. Janie is fearless and nudges Sarah to do things she wouldn’t normally do — like breaking into their grandmother’s attic
to search for clues about Creek Church and getting caught. Mrs. Greene is unmoving and won’t think twice about using a willow switch as a form of punishment. But she is also very generous with her famous red velvet cake. Evolving family relationships are central to this novel.

Strong’s plot is thrilling and suspense-filled. It is mystery that Sarah, Janie, Ellis and Jasper desperately want to solve. Her deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. Teens looking for something original and creative will enjoy this novel. It is an excellent discussion book because of the historical themes.

Karen Strong was born and raised in rural Georgia. She spent most of her childhood wandering the woods, meadows, and gardens on her grandmother’s land. She now lives in Atlanta. Just South of Home is her first novel. Visit the author at her website.

Favorite Quote: Page 100

I couldn’t deny it. What we had seen was as real as the sun, the stars, and the planets in our solar system. Those shadows were physical things, and they weren’t human. I didn’t need any more theories. No more explanations. Creek Church was haunted. 

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.

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.