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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Tears of the Mountain by Michelle Isenhoff

Tears of the Mountain (The Mountain Trilogy, Book 3)

Michelle Isenhoff, Author

Amazon Digital Services, Fiction, Dec. 2, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 13 and up (adults will enjoy)

Themes: Ancient land, War, Journey, Prophecy, Fantasy

Synopsis A simple act of obedience has the power to change the world.

Jubal wants only to live in peace, but ancient feuds from neighboring kingdoms steal away any hope of tranquility. He is a son of the grand vizier when he would rather be a hermit living high in the mountains playing his flute. Jubal is expected to be part of the Kindolin army, but he doesn’t like battle, unlike his best friend Sark. He would rather study with his wise tutor, Doli, about Kindolin’s unknown history.

On the day of the annual Sun Festival, a well-planned coup erupts from within the palace walls and Jubal’s family is slaughtered along with many others. War erupts in Kindolin and Sark’s father is involved in the coup. Jubal and Liena go to Doli’s home, where the wise man helps him flee to the mountains. Doli tells Jubal he “has been given a calling and it his destiny to play out a role on a divine stage.” It is a prophecy where Jubal will end a curse.

“Mud and mire shall birth a tree;

A sprout shall grow of ancient seed.

The five unite to break the one;

The curse of man shall be undone.

But brothers rise ere dragon’s bane; 

The last shall smite the first again.” 

Jubal finds himself flung into a quest of even greater antiquity. For victory lies not in the strength of arms but in this promise given long ago. His path, fraught with betrayal, loss, and his own lack of faith, carries him far beyond the boundaries of Kindolin. Will Jubal be strong enough to lay down his own life in fulfillment of his task? Or will Kindolin disappear into the pages of history?

Why I like this book:

Isenhoff has written a captivating novel about the ancient orient. It is about a prophecy and the destiny of a boy to slay the dragon, Ju-Long, and end an ancient curse. Isenhoff’s storytelling is superb and her language is lyrical and poetic. The untamed beauty of the lush mountains setting creates both joy and challenges as the seasons change. The plot is thrilling, courageous and perilous.

The characters are fascinating and unforgettable. Jubal is the son of the vizier, where much is expected of him. He is a gentle soul who has no interest in being part of the army, bearing arms, training and learning battle strategies. He would rather study with his wise tutor, Doli, about Kindolin’s ancient beginnings. Jubal values his childhood friendships with Sark and Liena, and the three share their skills. Sark likes war and teaches Jubal and Liena martial arts. Liena shows them the forest plants that they will need to  sustain them. And Jubal helps Sark with his school lessons. Liena’s destiny is intertwined with Jubal’s task and a love story emerges within the story.

Journey back to the first age of men in Isenhoff’s final installment of the Mountain Trilogy that ties Song to his family’s very earliest beginnings. There are three books in this trilogy, Song of the Mountain (free on Kindle), Fire on the Mountain and Tears of the Mountain. They can be read together, or as stand-alone novels. I have read and loved all three inspirational novels. Isenhoff includes a Prologue at the beginning, so readers have an understanding of the story. I choose to read a book in hand

Sample of Isenhoff’s lyrical style: “Under normal circumstances, music bubbled out of Jubal like water from a spring. He was forever humming or whistling or tapping his fingers to some new tune. He heard them everywhere –in the syncopation of raindrops, in the minor key of the wolf’s cry, even moonlight carried a soft melody. And when the surrounding peaks sent their breath strumming through the forest, it produced an entire symphony.”

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

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

*Reviewed from a purchased copy of the book.

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair

Amy Makechnie, Author

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

Pages: 336

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

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

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

Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

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

Why I liked this book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Finding Langston

Lesa Cline-Ransome, Author

Holiday House, Fiction, Aug. 14, 2018

Pages: 108

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

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

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

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

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

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

I pick up my life

And take it with me

And I put it down in 

Chicago, Detroit,

Buffalo, Scranton.

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

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

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

*Reviewed from library copy.

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

Saving Winslow

By Sharon Creech

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

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 176

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

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

Synopsis:

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

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

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

*Library copy.

Hank Zipzer: The Cow Poop Treasure Hunt

Hank Zipzer: The Cow Poop Treasure Hunt

Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver, Authors

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Nov. 13, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Pages: 144

Themes: Underachiever, Survival Camp, Comical, Adventure

Synopsis:

Underachiever Hank Zipzer goes on an unfortunate school camping trip in a comical, kid-friendly novelization of the popular BBC series based on Henry Winkler’s best-selling books.

What will it take for Mom and Dad to trust Hank to go to the mall unsupervised with his friends? Cooking a family dinner — er, disaster — doesn’t exactly say “responsible.” But what if Hank signs up for the school’s legendary survival camp and makes it through the whole weekend? Maybe he should factor in being teamed up with his nemesis, McKelty, in a leaky tent, not to mention a desperate search for a cell phone in a field of cow pies. . . . The amiable character originated by Henry Winkler — inspired by his own childhood — comes to life in a humorous adventure set in a font designed to boost readability for kids with dyslexia.

Why I recommend this book:

The title is a sure giveaway that this book is a hilarious adventure for reluctant readers. Many kids will identify with Hank, who really wants to prove that he is responsible and gain the trust of his helicopter parents, but somehow he can’t stay on task. He really tries, but is easily distracted. He also can’t resist a good prank and his antics get him in trouble. Hank is a well-developed character that readers will cheer because he is so real and lovable. This story has heart!

Hank’s best friends, Frankie and Ashley, accept Hank for who he is — you never know what’s going to happen when they are together. They are also a nice balance for Hank, even though he convinces them to sign up for the survival camp.  Papa Pete is the only one who seems to understand Hank and encourages his parents to “let go.”

This series offers hope to children who learn differently. Based on Henry Winkler’s own struggle with dyslexia as a child and teen, he has taken special care to make sure that the book has been set in a OpenDyslexic font that has been created to increase readability for readers with dyslexia.  He continues to invite readers to comment on the font so that improvements can be made. What a gift for 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.

*Review copy provided by publisher.