Keeper of the Lost Cities: Legacy by Shannon Messenger

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Legacy, Volume 8

Shannon Messenger, Author

Aladdin, Fiction/Fantasy, Nov. 7, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Fantasy, Magic, Abilities, Magical Creatures, Evil, Relationships, Friendships

Synopsis:

Sophie Foster wants answers. But after a liftime of lies, sometimes the truth is the most dangerous discovery. Even the smallest secret comes with terrifying new responsibilities.

And Sophie’s not the only one with blank spots in her past or mysteries surrounding her family. She and her friends are part of something much bigger than they imagined — and their roles have already been schosen for them.

Every clue drags them deeper into the conspiracy. Every memory forces them to question everything — epecially one another. And the harder they fight, the more the lines blur between friend and enemy.

Illusions shatter — and Sophie and her friends face impossible choices — in this astonishing eighth book in the New York Times and USA Today bestselling Keeper of the Lost Cities series.

Why I like this book:

Shannon Messenger is a superb storyteller. Her writing is powerful and richly textured.  Her settings and magical world building in Legacy continue to be vividly creative and seductive. Her plots are thrilling and DANGEROUS.  Once you begin Legacy, you will be drawn into her magic until you have read the nearly 800 pages. And when you reach the last 100 pages, you’ll want to slow down because you don’t want the story to end.  Every chapter ends on a cliffhanger, as does the book’s ending. And yes, adults enjoy her books too.

Like other reviewers, I don’t want to give away any spoilers for those who haven’t read their Christmas copy or are just beginning the series — like my great granddaughter who’s on Volume 6. So my review will focus on my observations.  I will say that the verdict is still out on Sophie’s relationship with Keefe and Fitz. And both relationships are very important and different, providing a certain amount of support and stability for Sophie.  However there is a lot of drama and adventure in Legacy, and more reveals to come in Unlocked, Volume 9, that may leave us all speechless.

Even though the books are known for their magic, there really is a lot of realism in Legacy and the series. I don’t know why it took me a while to realize it, but Legacy brought the realism more into focus. Yes Sophie is the Moonlark, who’s DNA is genetically engineered to give her certain powers. But she is also human and makes big mistakes. She has flaws, stumbles, misjudges, and disappoints, but she always picks herself up and doesn’t give up.

Sophie realizes some flaws in her abilities and she asks Mr. Forkle and the Black Swan team to reset her abilities, a huge risk to her life. The adjustments enhance her abilities. Another major character undergoes a resetting, but I won’t give that away.

We see Sophie and her friends, Bianca, Fitz, Keefe, and Dex, Tam and Lihn maturing and trusting in each other’s abilities — even though one member is forced to join the Neverseen enemy.  I was delighted to see characters we haven’t seen or heard a lot about in earlier books, take more prominent roles — like Stina and Maruca, who were once at odds with Sophie. Their confidence is growing and it has opened the door for strong teamwork to form. We also see the parents, the Black Swan, and the Councilors taking a huge step back and trusting Sophie and her friends. This may be a build-up for the finalé next year.

And, yes there is one HUGE reveal in Legacy that jolts Sophie and we won’t know how that works out until Unlocked is published November 17.  But there also is some happy news with a  birth.  So in Volume 8, we are beginning to learn some secrets that will have to find resolution at the end. Legacy did advance the story for me.

Shannon Messenger graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where she learned — among other things — that she liked watching movies much better than make 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 Runaways by Ulf Stark

The Runaways

Ulf Stark, Author

Kitty Crowther, Illustrator

Gecko Press, Fiction, Apr. 2, 2019

Pages: 144

Suitable for Ages: 6-11

Themes: Grandfather, Illness, Hospital, Lying, Runaways, Multigenerational families, Loss

Synopsis:

Grandpa is in the hospital and hating it. He swears at the nurses and makes trouble for everyone. Dad finds it too stressful to visit. But Gottfried Junior loves his Grandpa and visits him as often as he’s allowed, and when he’s not allowed, he goes anyway. He even sneaks him forbidden foods and beverages.

Grandpa thinks only of the place he was happiest — the island where he lived with Grandma. He wants to go back one last time, but they won’t let him out of the hospital.

Gottfried Junior and Grandpa take things into their own hands. If running away is the only way to the island, then they’ll be runaways.

Why I like this book:

I have to admit the title and cover of this book caught my eye. As I leafed through the pages, I knew that it would be a book that would resonate with children who have ailing grandparents and perhaps children who are ill. It’s packed with adventure, some clever planning, a good dose of humor, and sweet memories.

Every grandparent deserves a compassionate and loyal grandchild like Gottfried Junior, who outsmarts his parent to find ways to make secret trips to visit his grandpa at the hospital. Gottfried listens to his grumpy grandpa, his angry rants about the horrible food and being confined to a bed after he broke his leg twice. But Gottfried also remembers all the fun adventures he had with his grandpa. Together they hatch a plan to spring Grandpa from the hospital for two days, without Gottfried’s parents knowing.

The execution of the plan rests entirely on Gottfried, who arranges all of the details which include faking an overnight footbal trip; arranging the food; hiring a baker friend to help him wheel Grandpa out of the hospital and driving them to the dock to take a boat to the island. Everything goes off without a hitch, but Gottfried has to wrestle with “is it ever a good thing to lie sometimes?”

It is important for children to see how Gottfried’s grandpa handles the end of his life. He has one wish, to return to the home he built for his wife and spend time there remembering all the good in his life. In making the trip with Grandpa, Gottfried learns that death is not something to fear, that it’s important to remember joyful memories, and find closure with family members. I won’t spoil the beautiful ending.

The Runaways is written by Swedish author, Ulf Stark, and has been translated into English. It has a European feel to it, especially with the beautiful colored-pencil illustrations by Kitty Crowther that grace the chapters and give readers an additional experience.

Quote:

“I’d helped him get to the old house he’d built one last time. He’d been able to breathe in the smell of the sea. And I’d been down to the cellar and collected the last jar of lingonberry jam that he said somehow still had Grandma in it.” Page 72

Ulf Stark was born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1944. He has written around thirty books for children and young adults, translated into more than twenty languages. He has won many prizes in Sweden and internationally, including the German Youth Literature Prize and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

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.

Riders of the Realm: Beneath the Weeping Clouds by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Riders of the Realm: Beneath the Weeping Clouds, Book 3

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, Author

HarperCollins, Fiction, Nov. 5, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Clans, Pegasi, Mythical flying animals, Giants, Adventure, Fantasy

Synopsis:

Echofrost, Shysong, and all of Storm Herd are finally free from the giants, but their freedom comes with a price. Sandwan Clan Rider Rahkki Stormrunner has been captured by the Gorlan giants, with no possibility for escape and no hope of being rescued by Princess I’Lenna or his fellow clan members. As the giants are quickly losing their patience with the Fifth Clan, putting Rahkkii in deeper danger, Storm Herd will have to join forces with the humans they have long feared.

As sweeping monsoon rains threaten to devastate the region, enemies and friend, tame steeds and wild, will have to engage in a final battle to decide the fate of all three groups — the Sandwans, the giants, and the pegasi. Freedom, they will learn, is not about fleeing to a safer land. It’s about staying and fighting for the right of all creatures to live as they choose.

Why I love this book:

This is the final book in Jennifer Lynn Alvarez’s Riders of the Realm trilogy. Fans will be thrilled with the many surprises and unexpected twists in the story. And they will be pleased with the resolution. The book cover is gorgeous!

Alvarez is a master at building believable worlds. She has created a matriarchal culture within the seven Sandwen clans, each ruled by a monarch queen.  In book three we enter into the world of the Gorlan Giants, where Rahkki is being held captive. Fortunately Rahkki’s knows enought giant sign language, so that he can communicate. He makes a great effort to really learn their way of life, customs, and history, so that he can get to the reasons for their discontent with the Sandwen Clan. He realizes that the giants are smart and are experts at battle. He is hopeful that the giants will help him overthrow the evil Queen Lilliam and bring peace to the realm. But Rahkki makes one honest mistake and sends the Giants into a rage. He flees for his life.

The trilogy is character-driven. In the final book we see a lot of character development and growth. Rahkiki remains clever, but he begins to trust himself and his abilities. He is courageous because he’s looking at the bigger picture of peace for the entire realm and not focusing on himself or just his clan. His brother Brauk’s tough, hard and angry edges are smoothed and he plays a vital role in the final battle, as does Princess I’Lenna the eldest daughter of the Queen. I’Lenna is smart, exposes her mother’s betrayals, and risks her own life for the future good of the realm.

This novel is a fantasy involving three groups of characters – the pegasi, the Sandwen clan and the giants. But the characters also deal with real issues if they want to stop battling one another and find peace. Each group has to learn each other’s languages, customs, and cultures in order to attempt to resolve their differences and bring freedom and peace to the realm. There is a lot that readers will take away from this trilogy.

Make sure you check out the maps Alvarez includes of the territory for each of three groups and information about the key players. Verdict: This trilogy is a winner! I suggest you read the books in order.

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez received a degree in English literature from UC Berkely. 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 Riders of the Realm: Across Dark Waters #1, Riders of the Realm: Through the Untamed Sky, #2, and the Guardian Herd series. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferDiaries or on Instagram @jennifer-lynn-alvarez. 

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.

For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington

For Black Girls Like Me

Mariama J. Lockington, Author

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Fiction, Jul. 30, 2019

Suitable for Ages:  9-11

Themes: Idenity, African-American, Interracial adoptions, Family problems, Mental illness, Moving,

Opening: “I am a girl but most days I feel like a question mark. People throw their looks at me. Then back at my mama sister and papa. Who are all as white as oleander. Then they look back at me. Black as a midnight orchard.”

Bookjacket Synopsis:

Makeda June Kirkland is eleven-years old, adopted, and black. Her parents and big sister are white, and even though she loves her family very much Keda often feels left out. When Keda’s family moves from Maryland to New Mexico, she leaves behind her best friend, Lena — the only other adopted black girl she knows — for a new life. In New Mexico, everything is different. At home, Keda’s sister is too cool to hang out with her anymore, and at school, she can’t seem to find one true friend.

Through it all, Keda can’t help but wonder: What would it feel like to grow up with a family that looks like me? Keda has a constant dialogue in her head with the birth mother she never knew.

In this deeply felt coming-of-age story, about family, sisterhood, music, race, and identity, Mariama J. Lockington draws on some of the motional truths from her own experiences of growing up with an adoptive white family. For Black Girls Like Me is for anyone who has ever asked themselves: How do you figure out where you are going if you don’t know where you came from?

Why I like this book:

Mariama J. Lockington has penned an intimate and emotional debut novel that will touch reader’s souls. It is about a girl being adopted into an interracial family. The author uses many of her own personal experiences to share Keda’s inner turmoil of feeling both “loved and lonely” in her white family. This rarely-told story is long overdue and will resonate with many transracial adoptees.

There is beauty in Lockington’s book.  She is a very lyrical writer, so there are many poetic turns of phrases. Her writing tone is rich and and is enhanced with Keda’s musical lyrics, poems, letters, and a journal that carries her heart back and forth through the postal mail to Lena, her bestie. The journal is a lifeline and bond for both. It’s a creative inclusion in the narrative. The plot is multilayered and courageous.

The characters are authentic and complicated. Keda is deeply sensitive, observant and curious about her birth mother. At school she dislikes the never ending questions about her hair, her adoption, and her biological mother. Most of all, she doesn’t like the accusations of being “too proper” and “talking so white.” Keda’s life may feel complex, but she is resilient.  She is a talented song writer and her music is her freedom from  lonliness and hurt. She finds a soulmate in singer Billie Holiday’s blues music.

Making friends is easy for Eve, Keda’s older white sister. Eve is popular and distant, leaving Keda without a friend. Their family is musical. Mama is a prodigy – a talented solo violinist who left the stage when she started a family. Papa is a talented celloist, who heads out on a worldwide concert tour after their move to New Mexico. However Mama’s mental health issues emerge and spiral out of control. The sisters are thrown together to grapple with big decisions.

For Black Girls Like Me raises timely questions about race, identity, and mental health issues that will foster excellent classroom discussions. It is an outstanding work of fiction and belongs in every school library. Keda’s life may feel messy but it is full of courage, hope and promise.

Favorite Quotes:

“So you’re like Obama? An Oreo!” / Kinda. Wait. What’s an Oreo? / “You know when you’re all black on the outside but really white on the inside?” (Page 37)

Questions I have for black girls (with hair) like me: Who decides what kind of hair is beautiful? Do you ever just want to tell your mom: “White lady stop! You don’t know what you’re doing!” Do you remember the first black woman to ever washed your hair? What did it feel like? Did it hurt? Or did it feel like home? (Page 134)

“I am a girl becoming a woman. People throw their puzzled looks at me and I know they’re wondering: Who does she look like? But I am learning to say: Me. I look like me. I am a girl becoming a woman.” (Page 317)

Mariama J. Lockington is an adoptee, writer, and nonprofit educator. She has been telling stories and making her own books since the second grade, when she wore short-alls and flower leggings every day to school. Her work has appeared in a number of magazines and journals, including Buzzfeed News Reader, and she is the author of the poetry chapbook The Lucky Daughter. Mariama holds a Masters in Education from Lesley University and Masters in Fine Arts in Poetry from San Francisco State University. She lives in Lexington, KY with her partner and dapple haired dachshund, Henry.

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.

Our Future: How Kids are Taking Action by Janet Wilson

Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Jan. 31, 2020

#ReadYourWorld

Our Future: How Kids are Taking Action

Janet Wilson, Author and Illustrator

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Sep. 10, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Child Activists, Making a Difference, Climate Action, Cyberbullying, Gun Violence, Social Justice

Opening: “As anyone will admit, listening to the news can be scary — hurricanes, school shootings, forest fires, wars. What are we to make of a world that seems ever more troubled and fragile?… And so kids are taking action, rising to question the sanity of common practices.” 

Book Synopsis:

From climate action to cyberbullying, from gun violence to animal protection, these young activists have brought about real change.

Young people from across the globe are raising awareness about what issues matter to them most and working to protect the future of the worlds we all share.

American Jaelun Parkerson kneels with his football teammates during the national anthem to protest racial injustice, Canadian Autumn Peltier spoke in front of the United Nations to raise awareness about water pollution; and Tiassa Mutunkei from Kenya started a club for young people to stop elephants from being killed for their ivory tusks. All of them are making a difference for the future of our plaent — and you can too!

Why I like this book:

Janet Wilson writes empowering and timely nonfiction books about ordinary young people who see injustice around them and take action  — no matter how small or large — and make a contribution in their communities, countries and world.

Wilson’s books are my favorite kind of books to share because there is an urgency in our world and kids are concerned that adults aren’t doing enough. We hear it in the plea from 15-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden who is leading worldwide protests for climate change and speaking before the United Nations because she feels leaders are failing her generation. Meet Melati and Isabel Wijsen of Indonesia, who saw firsthand the negative impacts of plastic pollution and petitioned their government to ban plastic bags in Bali.

These children and teens are bold and brave and are working for the rights of children in a peaceful way.  Wilson captures their engaging stories in a double-page spread which features a warm and beautifully painted illustration of the featured child on the left and text and photographs about the child’s contribution on the right, along with a colorful sidebar of other kids doing similar projects globally. Read their stories and you will be inspired! This multiculatural book belongs in school libraries.

Resources: The book is a resource. At the end there is a section for students on “What YOUth Can Do,” that will spark many lively discussions and encourage kids to think about what they may do alone or together to make the world a better place. What will you do? Visit Janet Wilson at her website.

Quote:

“Young people are a part of the largest generation in history — two billion strong. Around the globe young people are coming together to build a movement for success…Yes we face a lot of big problems, but we can start fixing them through a lot of small actions…If each one of you takes action, you will create a wave of action like this world has never, ever seen. Be a part of two billion acts for good. Because, step by step, little by little, we will get to a better world. Together let’s get the job done.” Amina Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General

Janet Wilson is an artist and author of many picture books on child activism including  Our Earth: How Kids are Saving the Planet, and Our Rights: How Kids are Changing the World, and Our Heroes: How Kids are Making a Difference, which are popular with educators and students. She also wrote Shannen and the Dream for a School and Severn and the Day She Silenced the World.  Winter’s books  have won many awards.

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

*Review copy provided by publisher.

Just Lucky by Melanie Florence

Just Lucky

Melanie Florence, Author

Second Story Press, Sep. 17, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 13 -18

Themes: Multigenerational family, Alzheimer’s, Indigenous children, Drug abuse, Foster families, Bullying

Book Synopsis:

When Lucky Robinson was a baby, her mother was arrested for drug abuse and she was raised by her loving Cree grandparents for the next 15 years. She barely knows her mother, who she’s not sure she’d be able to pick out in a police line-up. Home life is happy, she attends a good school and her best friend, Ryan, lives next door.

Grandma may like to shout out the answers to Jeopardy, but sometimes she forgets things…like turning off the stove, wandering out the door, and stepping infront of a car. But her grandpa takes such good care of them, that Lucky doesn’t realize how bad her grandma’s memory is until he suddenly dies unexpectedly.

Lucky takes over the responsibility of caring for her grandmother and tries not to leave her alone. But when her grandmother accidentally sets the kitchen on fire, Lucky can’t hide what is happening any longer. Grandma is hospitalized and the authorities intervene and place Lucky into the foster care system — temporarily, she hopes. Lucky quickly learns that some foster families are okay. Some really, really aren’t.

Why I like this book:

Melanie Florence has written a sensitive and timely story about a 15-year-old girl living with a grandmother with Alzheimer’s. Some readers will identify with Lucky’s sadness because they will understand what it is like to have a grandparent, parent or relative suffering memory loss.  Lucky’s situation is particularly interesting becuase she has to become the caregiver and lives in secrecy so that she can keep her family together. She has no one else.

The characters are diverse and memorable. Lucky is a caring, compassionate and resilient narrator. As she is placed in a variety of foster homes and new schools, readers will observe the emotional toll it takes on her. She becomes somewhat detached and eventually doesn’t unpack her backpack because she knows that she’ll be moved again.  But she is also clever and resourceful as she finds ways to fit in. Her friendship with Ryan, offers some comic relief. They love comic books and he’s always there to support her.

For teens in foster care, Lucky’s story offers a snapshot of reality. Lucky is placed in three different foster homes. She has to deal with a foster parent who tries to climb into her bed. Lucky is indigenous and experiences racism. When she is repeatedly bullied by a popular girl in a new school, Lucky is fed up and strikes the girl. She is forced to leave a foster home she likes and is moved again to another foster home and school. But her story also offers a good dose of hope. This book stands out and is worth reading!

Melanie Florence is a writer of Cree and Scottish heritage based in Toronto. She was close to her grandfather as a child, a relationship that sparked her interest in writing about Indigenous themes and characters. She is the author of Missing Nimama, which won the 2016 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award and is a Forest of Reading Golden Oak Finalist. Her other books include Righting Canada’s Wrongs: Residential Schools and the teen novels He Who Dreams, The Missing, One Night, and Rez Runaway. For more information, visit Florence’s website.

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

*Review copy provided by the publisher.

Allies by Alan Gratz

Allies

Alan Gratz, Author

Scholastic Press, Historical Fiction, Oct. 15, 2019

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Pages: 336

Themes:  Allies, Nazi Germany, WW II, D-Day, Omaha Beach, France, Liberation

Book Jacket Synopsis:

The fate of the world is in their hands.

June 6, 1944: The Nazis are terrorizing Europe, on their evil quest to conquer the world. The only way to stop them? The biggest, most top-secret operation ever, with the Allied nations coming together to storm German-occupied France.

Welcome to D-Day.

Dee, a young U.S. soldier, is on a boat racing toward the French coast. And Dee — along with his brothers-in-arms — is terrified. He feels the weight of World War II on his shoulders.

But Dee is not alone. Behind enemy lines in France, a girl named Samira works as a spy, trying to sabotage the German army. Meanwhile, paratrooper James leaps from his plane to join a daring midnight raid. And in the thick of battle, Henry, a medic, searches for lives to save.

In a breathtaking race against time, they all must fight to complete their high-stakes missions. But with betrayals and deadly risks at every turn, can the Allies do what it takes to win?

Why I like this book:

A brilliant new novel by Alan Gratz that shows the horrific faces of WW II. It’s gripping, suspenseful and chilling.  Packed with danger, adventure and a cast of really memorable characters that make this novel unforgettable. Readers will find themselves deeply engrossed in this fast-paced and powerfully penned novel.

The characters represent many nationalities and are realistically portrayed. Narrator Dee Carpenter is a U.S. soldier headed toward Omah Beach in a Higgins boat. His real name Dietrich Zimmermann, a German immigrant who fled Nazi Germany with his parents when he was five. He’s advised to change his name in case he’s captured by the Nazis. He hides it from his best buddy, Sid Jacobstein, who is Jewish and anxious to shoot some “krauts.” My favorite moment, is when Dee realizes that he may have been the enemy he’s shooting at if he hadn’t fled Germany, and that the enemy is also a human being.

I shouldn’t be surprised, but racism, and anti-Semitism ran high among the U.S. forces because there were many foreign nationals and immigrants fighting for the same cause. Even Sid faces anti-Semitism from other soldiers in his unit. Henry Allen is a black battlefield medic, who is called “boy” and “coon,” by Lieutenant Hoyte, until Henry saves his life and finally sees him as a human being. Eleven-year-old Samira Zidane’s mother is part of the French Resistance. Samira, an Algerian refugee, bravely takes over her mother’s mission when she is captured by the Nazis. Samira cleverly makes it past German soldiers to tell the Resistance fighters that the Allies have begun invasion of France. James McKay is a Canadian paratrooper and Sam, who is allowed to  be a Cree in the Army and have respect from his unit.  But in Canada he isn’t allowed to vote and keep his tribal status.

It will be obvious to readers that the war changed all of those involved. Yet all the allies were united in one mission, to push back the Nazis and free Europe from Hitler’s tyranny and free the Jews suffering in concentration camps.

Gratz has provided a wealth of information for readers starting with a map of the invaded area at the beginning of the book. Gratz’s “Author’s Note” at the end provides deatils about the invasion, the number of soldiers involved from each country, the losses, operational names for all the Allies participating and their missions.  The code name for D-Day was Operation Overlord.

Favorite Quote:

“And the worst part was that Germany hadn’t suddenly “become” racist and evil. The rot had been there, under the surface, the whole time. Hitler’s hate-filled speeches had allowed the seeds of German bigotry to grow like weeds until they choked out anything else that might have flowered there. Dee and his family had just been living in their own little bubble and hadn’t noticed it.”  Page 17

Alan Gratz is the New York Times bestselling author of several award-winning and acclaimed books for young readers, including, Grenade, Refugee, Pojekt 1065, Prisoner B-3087, and Code of Honor. Visit Gratz at his 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.

*Book reviewed from library copy.

Birdie by Eileen Spinelli

Birdie

Eileen Spinelli, Author

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Novel in Verse,  Apr 9, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 9-14

Pages: 208

Themes: Family life, Grief, Friendship, Dating, Multigenerational families, Birding, Verse

Opening: I pick the hairs / from my brush. / I put them in / my pocket. / I will drop them / on the grass / on my way to / Mrs. Bloom’s. / I do this / every Saturday.

Book Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Roberta “Birdie” Briggs loves birds. They bring her comfort when she thinks about her dad, a firefighter who was killed in the line of duty. The past few years without her dad haven’t been  easy. At least Birdie still has Mom and Maymee, and her friends Nina and Martin.

But then Maymee gets a boyfriend, Nina and Martin start dating, and Birdie’s mom starts seeing a police officer. And suddenly not even her beloved birds can lift Birdie’s spirits. Her world is changing, and Birdie wishes things would go back to how they were before. But maybe change, painful as it is, can be beautiful too.

With compelling verse and a light-hearted touch, Eileen Spinelli captures the poignancy of adolescence and shows what can happen when you let people in.

Why I like this book:

Eileen Spinelli’s Birdie is a tenderly-crafted coming-of-age story filled with love and hope. Birdie is coping with the loss of her father and a move to a small town to live with her grandmother. Much of her conflict is emotional and dealt with internally. It also involves a lot of change.

Birdie’s voice is strong and perceptive, and it works well as a novel in verse. Spinelli’s realistic verse is deceptively simple, but expresses the disappointment, anger and fear that Birdie experiences as she worries about losing her friends, her mother’s love and her father’s traditions. I particularly felt an intimacy with Birdie, that I may not have felt if the story was told in prose. Spinelli assigns a title to each poem, which feels like a guide for readers since the novel was free from chapters.

I also love multigenerational stories. Maymee is a hoot. Widowed, Maymee finds love again, which shocks Birdie at first, but it gives her a chance to see how time heals and how people can love again.

Birdie is a quick read and a perfect way to introduce readers to poetry. Birdie would be a nice addition to any school library.

Eileen Spinelli made her debut in 1991 with Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch, which won a Christopher Award. Since then she has written more than forty children’s books, including Thankful, When No One Is Watching, and Jonah’s Whale. She lives in Pennsylvania with Jerry Spinelli, her husband and fellow children’s author. Visit Spinelli 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 Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

The Shortest Day of the Year

Susan Cooper, Author

Carson Ellis, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Poetry, Oct. 22, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 4 and up

Themes: Winter Solstice, Shortest Day, Seasonal Light, Legends, Holiday, Celebrations

Opening: “So the shortest day came, / and the year died…”

Publisher Synopsis:

As the sun set on the shortest day of the year, early people would gather to prepare for the long night ahead. They built fires and lit candles. They played music, bringing their own light to the darkness, while wondering if the sun would ever rise again.

Written for a theatrical production that has become a ritual in itself, Susan Cooper’s poem “The Shortest Day” captures the magic behind the returning of the light, the yearning for traditions that connect us with generations that have gone before — and the hope for peace that we carry into the future.

Richly illustrated by Carson Ellis with a universality that spans the centuries, this beautiful book evokes the joy and community found in the ongoing mystery of life when we celebrate light, thankfulness, and festivity at a time of rebirth. Welcome Yule!

In this seasonal treasure, Newbery Medalist Susan Cooper’s beloved poem heralds the winter solstice, illuminated by Caldecott Honoree Carson Ellis’s strikingly resonant illustrations.
Why I like this book:
This breathtaking and contemplative book begins in silence with Ellis’s gorgeous gouache illustrations imagining how early humans began preparing for the longer nights. There is a pause. On page 5, Cooper’s poem begins, “So the shortest day came…” and draws readers into the seasonal cycles of light and the continuity of life, culminating in the joy of the Yule.
Cooper’s poetic book is for everyone (young and old) and is a non-Christian view of the joyful arrival of the winter solstice worldwide. People of all cultures will  celebrate with song, dance, lights, decorations, and feasts with families and friends. And they will hold a hope for peace in their hearts.
Resource:  Make sure you read the author’s information about the deeper meaning of winter solstice at the end of the story.
The Winter Solstice is Saturday, December 21. You may be interested in participating in the the Global Silent Minute for peace and unity. The time on the East Coast of the US is 4 p.m., 1 p.m. on the West Coast. You can got to the Unity of Silence website to learn more. You don’t need to join anything to participate.
Susan Cooper wrote The Shortest Day for John Langstaff’s Christmas Revels, where it is performed annually accross the country. She is the author of the classic fantasy sequence The Dark Is Rising (which includes the Newbery Medal winner The Grey King) and many other books for children and adults.
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.

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.