Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues by Becky Villareal

Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues

Becky Villareal, Author

CreateSpace, Fiction, Dec. 27, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 7-11

Themes: Exploring family roots, Multicultural, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Mystery

Opening: Halito means hello in Choctaw, but I didn’t find that out for a long, long time. At least that’s how it seems when you’re still in school and having to go every single day of the year!

Synopsis: Gianna is a fourth grader who came to America from Mexico. She is very interested in exploring her family’s roots.  Her teacher announces that the class will celebrate Halloween with a Book March and students are encouraged to wear a costume that matches a character in a favorite book. Gianna wants to dress as a Native American girl to honor her favorite book, The Rough-Faced Girl. While she searches her attic for costume possibilities, she discovers an old trunk that is full of old family pictures of Mexico, passports, and memorabilia. She realizes how much she doesn’t know her family history. Her mama tells her that her father was a soldier at Fort Bliss in El Paso and was shipped overseas. He didn’t return and her mother never knew what happened to him. Gianna decides that she’s going to find out. With the help of the social studies teacher, she learns how to search information about her father on veteran’s sites. With her new best friend, Aponi, who is Native American and speaks Choctaw, she begins to learn about her friend’s culture.  Aponi helps Gianna with her search, which takes a very unexpected turn. Will Gianna find her father and solve the mystery for her mother?

Why I like this book:

Becky Villareal has written a captivating chapter book about a girl interested in researching her family roots, finding answers about her father’s disappearance and learning something more about her own identity. Halito Gianna: The Journey Continues is the second book in the Gianna The Great series. It teaches young readers about genealogy, history, solving a mystery and tolerance for different cultures.

Gianna Saldana is a curious, determined and kind-hearted girl. She befriends Aponi, the new girl who is shy and self-conscious. Both characters are from different family backgrounds. Gianna’s mother is a single parent raising her daughter alone. Aponi is from a very large family, many living in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

The story is original and well-crafted, the plot is realistic and the ending will surprise and satisfy readers. It is an adventure story with a fun mystery to solve. Villareal incorporates both Spanish and Choctaw words throughout the story. The illustrations are colorful and cartoon-like. Verdict: This 37-page book will engage readers and is an excellent recommendation for reluctant readers.

Becky Enriquez Villareal is the author of Gianna the Great series. She was born in Dallas, Texas in 1954 to missionary parents. She grew up in several different Texas towns including McKinney. For twenty years she has taught early childhood in Dallas Independent School District. For the past ten years she has completed family research. The grandmother of three she enjoys writing and spending time with her family.

Resources: This is a wonderful discussion book for children and parents to explore their own family history. Answer your kids’ questions about your childhood and family life. Encourage them to interview their grandparents and great grandparents about their memories of family history so they have a sense of their roots.  They may be surprised about what they learn.  Visit Villareal‘s website, where kids can print out a variety of family trees and fill in their own family information.

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

*I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The Mask that Sang by Susan Currie

mask-that-sang-518kxm1cjsl__sx346_bo1204203200_The Mask that Sang

Susan Currie, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Sep. 6, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes: Bullying, Native American heritage, Family Relationships, Orphans, Residential Schools

Opening: Faster, faster! Cass kept scrambling past garbage cans and over cracked pavement, although her legs were dead stumps and her lungs screamed. The boys were close behind her, the same four who chased her home every day.

Book Synopsis: When Cass Foster’s estranged grandmother unexpectedly leaves her house and savings to Cass and her mom, it’s just the thing they need to change their lives. Cass is being bullied at school, and her mom just lost her job—again—so they pack up and move in. With the gift come more questions than answers for Cass.  Why is her mom reluctant to live there? Why was this relative kept so secret? Why won’t her mother read the sealed letter from her own mother?

While exploring her new room, Cass finds an intriguing and powerful mask in a drawer and she is inexplicably drawn to it. A strange relationship grows between Cass and the mask; it sings her songs, shows her visions of past traumas and encourages her to be brave when facing bullies. When Cass finds the mask gone, her quest to get it back leads to an unexpected discovery about her family’s Cayuga heritage that will bring her and her mother into the arms of a community that’s been waiting for them.

Why I like this book:

Susan Currie works magic in this multi-layered novel, that culminates in a touching and spiritual tale about Cass and her mother finding their roots in a Native American community. It is a journey of discovery that is richly textured with themes of bullying, family relationships and finding “home” in a very tight and loving community.

The characters are diverse, believable, and memorable. Cass is spunky 12-year-old, who sprints home from school dodging bullies that shout insults about her shoes and clothing, call her names, throw objects at her and knock her to the pavement. She’s not sorry to say goodbye to her old school and apartment and move to her very own home and a start fresh at school. Mom is an orphan who never knew her mother.  She’s resentful and reluctant to accept the house and money her “mother” leaves her. Cass quickly makes friends with a boy named Degan Hill, who is a talented artist in her class. She discovers that Degan is Native American, when Ellis, a classroom bully, makes racial slurs. Cass finds a kindred spirit in Degan. She confides to Degan about the mask singing and telling her things. Degan tells Cass that the mask she finds is a “false face” that can have a good or evil spirits running through it. Their friendship grows and a trust forms between them. Change comes for all the characters.

Readers will find themselves richly rewarded by this satisfying tale. The plot is engaging and well-paced with the right amount of tension to keep readers interested. It sheds light on a dark past in Canadian history. Cass is drawn to the mask she finds in her drawer. She is distraught when it is missing from her drawer. Even though the mask is gone, it continues to sing to her, encourages her to be brave, shows her visions of a past she doesn’t understand and leads her to its hiding place.  I like how the author brings the story full circle. This is an emotionally honest story filled with heart.

I urge you to check out a picture book I reviewed Oct. 21, I Am Not A Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer. The story focuses on the Indigenous children who were taken from their families in the 1920s and put in “residential schools” where they were forced to forget their heritage.  It is a good companion book for The Mask that Sang.

Susan Currie is a winner of Second Story Press’ Aboriginal Writing Contest, resulting in this, her second book. Her first book was Basket of Beethoven, published in 2001. She has an MA in children’s literature and has been an elementary teacher for 17 years. Susan is adopted and after discovering a birth aunt a few years ago, she subsequently learned about her Cayuga heritage. The Mask that Sang grew out of her experience of discovering her roots.

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