Overboard: Survivor Diaries by Terry Lynn Johnson

Overboard: Survivor Diaries

Terry Lynn Johnson, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Jul. 4, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Themes: Whale-Watching, Boat Capsizing, Cold-Water Survival, Survival Skills

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Travis and his family are on a whale-watching tour off the coast of Washington when disaster strikes. The boat capsizes, throwing everyone into the ice-cold, chaotic waves. Separated from their families and struggling to stay afloat, Travis and twelve-year-old Marina must navigate the freezing ocean water. It will take all of their grit and knowledge to survive.

Why I like this book:

Terry Lynn Johnson has penned a fast-paced adventure series for children about survival in extreme elements. Overboard is the first book in the series, with Avalanche!, Lost! and Dust Storm! to follow.   Pen and ink drawings add to the drama at sea.

The plot is realistic, engaging and the tension palpable. Overboard focuses on Travis and Marina using skills they know after their site-seeing boat capsizes in icy waters and on shore until help arrives.  What do you do first? How much time do you have before hypothermia sets in? How do you stay calm? What skills do you need most?

I predict this series will have huge kid-appeal because the element of danger and the universal need to know what to do if you are unexpectedly caught in a situation where your life depends upon what you know.

This is an inspiring and important survival series for kids and families to read together. It is also an excellent classroom book that belongs in every school library.

Resources: At the end of the book are U.S. Coast Guard-approved cold-water survival tips.  Once you’ve read the book, Johnson has set up a survival game on her website. Make sure you play the game!

Terry Lynn Johnson, author of Ice Dogs, is a real-life survival expert. She is also the author of the Survivor Diaries Avalanche!, Lost! and Dust Storm! She has lived in northern Ontario, Canada, for more than forty years. She’s a conservation officer with seventeen years experience working in remote areas and cold-water environments, and has trained with the Canadian Coast Guard. Follow Terry on her website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

The Case of the Poached Egg by Robin Newman

The Case of the Poached Egg

Robin Newman, Author

Deborah Zemke, Illustrator

Illustrator, Creston Books, Apr. 2, 2017

Suitable for Ages:4-8

Themes: Mystery, Detectives, Thieves, Stolen Egg, Farm Animals

Opening: “Boys and girls, this case is about a poached egg on Ed’s farm. Over 100 animals live on this farm. Most work. Some horse around.. Others steal. That’s where I come in. My name is Detective Wilcox. I’m a policemouse.”

Publisher Synopsis: When Penny goes missing from Henrietta Hen’s nest, Wilcox and Griswold are called in to track her down. Was the egg stolen by a rival for The Most Round in the Spring Egg-stravaganza? Was she used in a carrot cake or scrambled by a hungry porker? Or was she held for a hefty corn ransom? Who took Penny and can the detectives find her before trouble hatches?

Why I like this book:

Fans of Wilcox and Griswold will cheer at the return of the their favorite no-nonsense mice detectives in Robin Newman’s latest crime caper, The Case of the Poached Egg.  Spirited and comical, readers will dive into the police work and help find the Henrietta’s stolen egg.

Newman is a master at writing highly entertaining food-based wordplay which will tickle every child’s gander. Newman creates the right amount of suspense that will keep kids engaged and turning pages to figure out who poached Penny. Her pacing is exceptional and readers will like the clever ending.

The characters are quirky, dramatic and memorable. Henrietta Hen is ready to fly the coop when she discovers Penny, her precious egg, has been stolen (poached) from her nest. Everyone  is suspect on Ed’s Farm as Wilcox and Griswold try to crack the case. Gabby Goose is the farm gossip and her egg, Gertie, is competing against Penny. Miss Rabbit bakes her famous carrot cakes with eggs. Even Porcini Pig’s slop is examined. Colonel Peck, the farm’s rooster, is missing corn kernels.

Readers will become competent detectives as they learn how to investigate a crime scene, interview suspects, look at a ransom note, set up surveillance and stakeouts, and solve a mystery.

Deborah Zemke’s lively, expressive and colorful illustrations fill each page and contribute to the hilarity and silliness of this perfect mystery. Make sure you check out all the fun details on every page: Gabby’s egg pouch for Gertie, fowl prints, broken egg shells, and the coup boxes with all the hens’ names.  Don’t forget the endpapers for the detective details: case report, evidence folder and wanted posters. There is egg-ceptional collaboration between the author and illustrator. Here’s hoping for more Wilcox and Griswold cases to solve. The Case of the Poached Egg is a winner!

Robin Newman was a practicing attorney and legal editor but she now prefers to write about witches, mice, pigs, and peacocks. Her debut book, Wilcox and Griswold’s first mystery, The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake, earned a starred review from Kirkus and 2015 Best Middle Grade Book.

Resources: Check out Robin Newman’s website. She has a wonderful Teachers Guide to use with students that cover every eggs-pect of this puzzling poached egg mystery. Future detectives will be delighted with the egg-structions that will take them through all of the steps of solving a crime.

Join Robin Newman for a book signing April 20 at 5:30 p.m., Corner Bookstore, 1313 Madison Ave. at 93rd, New York, NY.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

*I received a review copy of The Case of the Poached Egg.  The opinions in this review are entirely my own.

Changing Fate by Michelle Merrill

Changing Fate

Michelle Merrill, Author

CreateSpace, Fiction, May 6, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 12 and up

Themes: Chronic Illness, Cystic Fibrosis, Transplants, Secrecy, Friendships, Hope

Opening: “I reach into my backpack and wrap my fingers around my pill-box, but I can’t seem to pull it out. Maybe I’m a little embarrassed about taking meds with every meal…or maybe it’s the girl with the blue-streaked hair who’s staring at me from across the cafeteria. She steps towards me. I grip the container and flip the lid open.”

Book Synopsis: All Kate wants is to live. Battling cystic fibrosis is hard enough, dying from it is even harder. When her mom moves them closer to the hospital in the middle of her senior year, Kate’s determined to isolate herself – saving everyone the trouble of befriending a dying girl. It’s a difficult task when cheerful optimist Giana insists on being Kate’s friend.

Kate’s resolve falters even more when curly-haired Kyler captivates her with his sweet melodies. As her emotional walls collapse, Kate realizes the people she’s been pushing away may be the ones giving her a reason to live. But it might be too late.

Why I like this book:

There are few novels published for teens with cystic fibrosis (CF) and their families and friends. Kate’s story gives readers an authentic  look into what it’s like to live with CF and have a normal life. It’s a daily battle for Kate to breathe, let alone focus on friendships and outside activities.

Michelle Merrill has written a powerful and beautifully crafted story that is filled with vivid imagery, fear, anger, humor and courage. The characters are colorful, realistic and well-developed.

Kate is a determined and gutsy teen who keeps her CF a secret from the very classmates who are eager to befriend her, especially after she uses her black-belt skills on a lunch-room thief.  There is no resisting upbeat Giana who insists on being Kate’s best friend. And there is Kyler, with a freckle on his upper lip, soft curly hair and a song in his heart. They become a close threesome and Kate realizes their friendships give her a reason to live. Even Vivian, the school bully, manages to find a way into your heart.

The first half of the story gives readers a glimpse into Kate’s daily routine that includes taking enzymes before meals to help her digest  food, nebulizer medications that help her breathe more easily, and a compression vest to loosen mucous in her lungs. There are trips to the ER and hospital stays when she develops a lung infection. Her journey is realistic.

The second half of the story is very fast-paced with unraveling secrets and many unexpected surprises that keep you fiercely turning pages. It is an emotional story, so grab a tissue box. I won’t give away any spoilers because this book is one to savor.

Merrill did her homework. The idea for the story is based on a friend of the author’s two daughters. It is well-researched and I am thrilled to share her novel with readers. It is important for teens to see themselves in others. Each case of CF is different. Visit Michelle Merrill at her website.

Resources: I recently learned that cystic fibrosis is called a “rare” disease because there aren’t enough individuals with CF to meet the magic number for major medical research funding. Sad. To learn more about cystic fibrosis visit their website. This book with pair nicely with The Baking Life of Amelie Day, by Vanessa Curtis.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

My Demon’s Name is Ed by Danah Khalil

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My Demon’s Name is Ed

Danah Khalil, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Oct. 4, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 12-16

Themes: Anorexia Nervosa, Eating Disorders, Peer Pressure, Mental Health, Self-Esteem, Courage, Hope

Synopsis: Danah’s eating disorder has a personality — it’s a demon she calls Ed, the voice in her head that undermines her self-esteem and her perception of the world. How can she explain to her family and friends that even when she tries to develop healthier eating and exercising habits, there is a demon wriggling inside her mind, determining her every step?

ED: “There is nothing wrong while I am in control.”

“You see? It is “normal” to lose weight. I told you. Yes, I am always right. You must keep going. Keep going.

While Danah knows that what she is doing is unhealthy, the validation and sense of control that her “demon” gives her begins to win out over everything and everyone else.

Why I like this book:

Danah Khalil has written compelling novel based on her own struggle with an eating disorder, anorexia nervosa. She is 14 years old when her dieting begins. It takes guts to share something so profoundly emotional and deeply personal. I applaud Danah for bravely sharing her realistic story. Her suffering is visceral. Her voice is completely authentic. The solitude and misery she plummets into is dark and seductive. She calls the demon who lives in her head, “Ed.” And, with every journal entry, Ed’s voice  (written in italics,) is there to coax, command and control her every thought and action.

Danah tells her story entirely through diary entries she started at age 14, at the beginning of the anorexia through her recovery at age 18. Although it is an interesting way to watch the progression of her anorexia, the entries become very focused on meal plans, weighing herself, daily workouts, anger towards her parents, and some lovely poetry. This is the isolation she creates for herself. My only sadness is that I never really get to know Danah, her family and friends, even after she enters a treatment facility. I hoped her therapy would reveal more family interaction.

Danah’s story is a hopeful story for families with a child who has an anorexia, or for anyone who is close to someone with an eating disorder. Although Danah recovers, she acknowledges that it will be with her forever and she will need to stay vigilant. Many years ago I worked with teens and young women with eating disorders and it brought back many memories. My Demon’s Name is Ed  is an excellent book that will alert parents, siblings, friends, and teachers to the earliest symptoms of eating disorders and seek help.

Resources: The book includes information on common symptoms and book recommendations. I recommend that readers also check out the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA),  which provides information about the eating disorders, support groups, treatment options and stories of hope.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

Ashes: The Seeds of America Trilogy

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Seeds of America Trilogy is one of my favorite historical fiction trilogies for tweens, teens and adults. Today, I am reviewing the final book in the trilogy, Ashes, but will include brief synopsis of the first two books, Chains and Forge, because it gives the reader a perspective of the revolutionary war that is relatively unknown and not talked about — the important role of black soldiers in the creation of our nation and their hopes and dreams. Although, you could read Ashes and still understand the story, you would miss the rich alternating voices of the characters Isabel and Curzon and their journey that began in 1776 with Chains and ends in 1781 with Ashes. I strongly suggest you read the three books in order.

ashes-51oxtesd6l__sx336_bo1204203200_Ashes: The Seeds of America Trilogy, Book #3

Laurie Halse Anderson, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Historical Fiction, Oct. 4, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: American Revolution, Black Soldiers, Slavery, Freedom,

Book Synopsis: “Freedom for one, freedom for all?  That’s the question that burns in Isabel’s mind as she and Curzon forge on through chaos and fear toward the dream that’s kept them alive for so many years: freedom.  But her dream of living not as a “runaway” but as a free person with land and a family of her own seems impossibly far away. That dream hinges on one thing: finding her little sister, Ruth.

It’s been three years since Ruth was stolen from her. Is she even alive? And if Isabel can find her, how will they make it safely through the war between the Patriots and the British that rages on as dangerously as ever in 1781, while bounty hunters try to kidnap them at every turn! In the American Revolution, one must pick a side in order to survive.  But how can you care about a nation’s freedom when the very same nation has kept you in chains?

Why I like this book:

Laurie Halse Anderson is a skillful literary author. Her language and dialogue is exquisite. Her novel is bold and breathtaking. Her settings are unimaginably descriptive and believable. It is easy to get lost in the realistic plot where you can smell the sweat of laboring men digging trenches, hear the nearby exploding cannon balls and feel the bone-chilling cold of nights in the camps. The pacing keeps readers fully engaged.

Thoroughly researched, this engaging novel offers readers a fresh perspective on the role the black community played during the war, including women and children. Each chapter is introduced by a quote from significant historical figures during the war that helps provide insight into the attitudes of the war: Gen. George Washington, James Madison,  King George III,  Abigail Adams to her husband John Adams, Thomas Paine and many other regiment leaders, judges and slaves. It is a very effective tool that gives readers a greater sense of the overall mood of that period of history.

Although the story is about the war effort where Isabel, Curzon and Ruth are firmly planted in the middle, there is a stronger theme running through this final book for the threesome — freedom from slavery and not just from England.  The memorable characters are all dealing with secrets and inner demons that drive their story forward and require sacrifice, courage, trust, resilience and an unwavering commitment to each other.

chains-51yupuz0efl__sx334_bo1204203200_Chains, Book #1, 2008

National Book Award Finalist

Synopsis from the author’s website: If an entire nation could seek its freedom, why not a girl? As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight…for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom. Check out Sue Kooky’s review today of CHAINS at her website Kitty cat at the Library.

forge-51eqo8p14ul__sx334_bo1204203200_Forge, Book #2, 2010

Synopsis from the author’s website: Blistering winds. Bitter cold. And the hope of a new future. In this compelling sequel to Chains, a National Book Award Finalist and winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, acclaimed author Laurie Halse Anderson shifts perspective from Isabel to Curzon and brings to the page the tale of what it takes for runaway slaves to forge their own paths in a world of obstacles—and in the midst of the American Revolution.

The Patriot Army was shaped and strengthened by the desperate circumstances of the Valley Forge winter. This is where Curzon the boy becomes Curzon the young man. In addition to the hardships of soldiering, he lives with the fear of discovery, for he is an escaped slave passing for free. And then there is Isabel, who is also at Valley Forge—against her will. She and Curzon have to sort out the tangled threads of their friendship while figuring out what stands between the two of them and true freedom.

Laurie Halse Anderson is descended from many soldiers who fought in the American Revolution. Known for tackling tough subjects with humor and sensitivity, her work has earned numerous ALA and state awards. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists. You can follow her on Twitter @Halse Anderson, or visit her at her website. Anderson has prepared teacher guides and other activities for teachers.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet

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Nikki Tate, Author

Orca Book Publishers, Nonfiction, Feb. 9, 2016

Pages: 48

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Trees, Forests, Ecosystems, Green Lungs, Water Cycle, Fuel, Shelter

Opening: “No matter where you live, even if it’s in a big city, chances are you won’t be far from a tree or two. It’s a good thing we find trees all over the place.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Where is the tallest tree in the world? What is a corduroy road? What does a carbon sink do? Why is the baobab called the Tree of Life?

Trees provide us with everything from food, fuel and shelter to oxygen and filtered water. Deep Roots celebrates the central role trees play in our lives, no matter where we live. Each chapter in Deep Roots focuses on a basic element — water, air, fire and earth — and explores the many ways in which we need trees to keep us and our planet healthy and livable.

Why I like this book:

Nikki Tate has written a beautiful nonfiction photo journey for readers to learn about the role of trees in maintaining a vibrant ecosystem, as well as providing food, fuel and shelter.  The story is shown through gorgeous photography, personal stories and facts. The author explains “why trees just might be our best friends, barometers of how we are looking after our planet, and our partners as we move forward to create a healthier world.”

Tate’s book is an inspiring environmental treasure for tree-loving middle grade students who want to plant, study and celebrate their tall green friends.  Every page has a suggestion for youth to “Try This!” activities. There are four chapters that show how trees interact with the four forces of nature — earth, air, water and fire — and how important this relationship is to the balance of the entire planet.

Deep Roots is a welcomed addition to any school library as educators are looking to provide current resources for students about climate change and environmental issues. The Orca Footprints series, has created an exceptional library of books for students.  See other titles below.

Interesting facts from Deep Roots:

  • Earth: Sometimes called the lungs of the planet, trees are critical for producing oxygen, cleansing both air and runoff water of pollutants and feeding the soil when they die.  They also provide food for both humans, animals and insects. Their roots loosen soil and allow water to penetrate the ground, where it can be stored for drier weather.
  • Air: Trees are very busy. Through their leaves and needles they breathe in carbon dioxide (CO2) that clean out car exhaust and other pollutants. Then they breathe out life-sustaining oxygen for human and animal species.
  • Water: When trees suck up water from the soil they release the extra water in the atmosphere.  When enough water has been “breathed out” by the trees, it condenses into clouds and then falls as rain around the planet.
  • Fire: Forest fires can be terrifying,  but they are a normal part of the life cycle of some types of forest. The ash provides nutrients to the soil. It thins out forests so surviving trees grow taller and seedlings can sprout.

Nikki Tate is the author of more than thirty books, most of which are for children and teenagers. She splits her time between Canmore, Alberta, and Victoria, British Columbia. For more information visit Nikki Tate.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

Mountain Dog

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Margarita Engle, Author

Olga and Aleksey Ivanov, Illustrators

Henry Holt and Company, Fiction, 2014

Paperback Pages: 240

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Rescue dogs, Human-animal relationships, Family relationships, Foster care, Hispanic-Americans, Sierra Nevada

Opening: “In my other life there were pit bulls. / The puppies weren’t born vicious, / but Mom taught them how to bite, / turning meanness into money, / until she got caught.”

Book Synopsis: When Tony’s mother goes to jail for being cruel to animals, he is sent to live with a great-uncle he has never met in Sierra Nevada. It is a big move for Tony and different from his life in Los Angeles. Uncle Tio is a forest ranger and owns Gabe, a search-and-rescue dog (SAR). Tony learns the skills he needs to survive in his new environment. With the friendship of Gabe and the support from his uncle, Tony opens himself to a life and a future he never could have imagined.

Why I like Mountain Dog:

  • Margarita Engle writes a moving and sensitive novel that touches on historical facts that include immigration, unhealthy and healthy family relationships, cruelty of animals, and search-and-rescue dogs along the Pacific coast wilderness trails.
  • It is a beautifully inspiring story written in free verse, with alternating chapters in Tony’s and Gabe’s voices. The language is strong and captures Tony’s pain as he struggles with his complicated feelings about his mother and his new life. Gabe shares his upbeat insights into Tony and his unconditional doggy love. I believe it is a story that will appeal to both genders.
  • In many ways, this is a coming of age story for an 11-year-old boy who gets a real chance to experience family with his Tio and Gabe, as he settles into the search and rescue life of the community. The characters are realistic and memorable. There are friendships with Gracie and members of the Cowboy Church (which welcomes horses and dogs), and fellow hikers.
  • The plot is original with moments of action and tension in the vast wilderness that will keep readers turning pages. There is no tidy ending with Tony’s mother.  This is a very sensitive story about a boy who begins to dream, find purpose in his life, and heal.
  • Readers will also enjoy the facts woven into the story about the choice and training of SAR dogs, what to do if you get lost, and survival tips. Olga and Aleksey Ivanov’s black and white illustrations of the SAR dogs in action, bears and wildlife, wilderness treats, and paw prints contribute significantly to Tony’s story.

Resources: There is much back matter in the book from the author, who owns SAR dogs, which makes this a perfect classroom discussion book.  Margarita Engle is a Newbery Honor winner for The Surrender Tree and has written poems plus historical fiction works.  Visit Engle’s website where teachers can find activities for the classroom.

Check other Middle Grade review links on Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

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