Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Fighting Words

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Author

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Aug. 11, 2020

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Sisters, Childhood sexual abuse, Homelessness, Foster care, Mental Health, Healing, Courage, Hope

Book Jacket Synopsis:

“Sometimes you’ve got a story you need to find the courage to tell.”

Ten-tear-old Della has always had her older sister, Suki: When their mom went to prison, Della had Suki. When their mom’s boyfriend, Clifton, took them in, Della had Suki. When that same boyfriend did something so awful they had to run fast, Della had Suki. Suki is Della’s own wolf–her protector. But who has been protecting Suki?

Della might get told off for swearing at school, but she has always known how to keep quiet where it counts. Then Suki tries to kill herself, and Della’s world turns so far upside down, it feels like it’s shaking her by the ankles. Maybe she’s been quiet about the wrong things. Maybe it’s time to be loud.

In this powerful novel that explodes the stigma around child sexual abuse and leavens an intense tale with compassion and humor, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley tells a story about two sisters, linked by love and trauma, who must find their own voices before they can find their way back to each other.

Why I like this book:

Wow! Kimberly Brubaker Bradley hit a home run with this novel! I can’t think of anything more timely and desperately needed for the many children silently suffering from sexual abuse. Fighting Words is heartbreaking and hopeful. Bradley writes with sensitivity and compassion. The plot is courageous and gripping. Her deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged. This is a story that will stay with readers because of her profoundly human characters and the hopeful ending.

The characters are complex and multi-layered. Della (Delicious) is a 10-year-old spunky, outspoken and resilient narrator. Her superpower — she doesn’t take snow from anyone.  She warns readers from the start that something bad has happened and she will share her story in time. Suki is 16 years old, has been forced to grow up too fast, puts up a tough front and fiercely protects Della. They are placed in foster care with Francine, who isn’t very motherly, but provides the girls with a home, bedroom, meals, and clothing. That works well because Francine gives the girls “space” to work on themselves. Now that they are safe, Suki begins to suffer nightmares, is depressed and tries to cut her wrists. When Suki is hospitalized for a while, Della begins to find herself without Suki hovering. She finds the courage to stand up to a school bully and uses her voice to help Suki. Francine is there to support and encourage them.

I like that Bradley dedicates her story — “For any child who needs this story: You are never alone.” And this is exactly how it should be. There are many children keeping a BIG secret about being sexually abused — it has no boundaries (age, gender, race, socio-economic level and so on. These are the children and youth that need to know they aren’t alone and that abuse isn’t their fault. Bradley is upfront with her readers and lets them know that it happened to her and that she was able to heal.

If you are a parent of a middle grade child and are concerned about letting them read Della and Suki’s story, I suggest you read the book first. This book reminded me of the U.S. gymnastic team members who were sexually abused for years by their team doctor. It’s a perfect opportunity for parents to say “no one can touch you inappropriately and if they do, you can tell us.” This book is much needed!

Resources: Make sure you read the Author’s Note, where she shares her own experience and talks about how important it is to talk about. She also includes discussion points that readers may want to explore with their friends or parents.

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is the author of several middle grade novels, including the widely acclaimed Jefferson’s Sons and the New York Times bestsellers The War I Finally Won and The War That Saved My Life, which also earned a Newbery Honor and a Schneider Award. She and her husband have two grown children and live with their dog, several ponies, a highly opinionate mare, and a surplus of cats on a fifty-two acre farm in Bristol, Tennessee.  You can learn more about Kimberly on her website, and connect with her on Twitter: @kimbbbradley and on Facebook: kimberly.b.bradley.5.

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 book.

Pooka and Bunni by Jennifer Zivoin

Pooka & Bunni

Jennifer Zivoin, Author and Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Nov. 10, 2020

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Sisters, Sibling relationships, Imagination, Creativity, Perseverance, Problem solving

Opening: “This is Bunni…and this is Pooka. Bunni is big, clever, and interested in many things. Pooka is small, clever, and interested in whatever Bunni is is doing.”

Synopsis:

Bunni is building a wonderful pillow castle while her little sister, Pooka, peppers her with questions and wants to help. Bunni replies, “You’re too little to help! You’ll just knock everything down.” Bunni leaves for her whistling lessons and warns Pooka not to touch anything.

But you know little sisters. The moment Bunni is gone, Pooka peers inside the castle with awe. She bounces up and down until “uh oh…” the castle comes tumbling down on top of her.  But don’t under estimate little sisters, even if the pillows are much bigger than she is and way too heavy.  Pooka uses her imagination and creativity and perseverance to build something just as wonderful! What will Bunni think?

Why I like this book:

Jennifer Zivoin has written a delightful story about siblings playing together that is full of heart. Bunni is like many older siblings who don’t want their little sisters to get in the way of their big projects. Except there is a twist in this story that makes it such an endearing read for children and their parents.  Kids will cheer for Pooka and her her imagination and can-do attitude. And they will be delighted with Bunni’s response and the Ooops! moment at the end.

Zivoin’s illustrations are beautiful and showcase the wonder of children dreaming big and playing together.  Just look at that cover! This book is an excellent bonding story for parents to share with siblings.

Resources/Activities: This book is a great starting point to encourage your older and younger kids to build, draw, decorate, bake or plant something together, Younger siblings look up to their older siblings and want to do everything they do. What a fun family discussion book about teamwork and playing together.

Jennifer Zivoin has illustrated over 30 books, including Something Happened in Our Town and A World of Possibilities. This is the first book has has both written and illustrated. Jennifer earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Indiana University, Bloomington.  Jennifer lives in Carmel, Indiana. Visit her at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Reviewed from a copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

My Fate According to the Butterfly by Gail D. Villanueva

My Fate According to the Butterfly

Gail D. Villanueva, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Jul. 30, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

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

Book Synopsis:

Sab Dulce is doomed!

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

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

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos

Planet Earth is Blue

Nicole Panteleakos, Author

Wendy Lamb Books, Fiction, May 14, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 240

Themes: Sisters, Autism, Loss, Foster families, Astronomy, Challenger space shuttle, Accidents

Opening: Bridget was gone. And Nova was broken.

Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Nova is eagerly awaiting the launch of the space shuttle Challenger. Nova and her big sister, Bridget, love astronomy, and they planned to watch the launch together. But Bridget has run away, and now Nova is in another new foster home.

Nova is autistic. Speaking is hard for her. Teachers and foster families have always believed that she isn’t as smart as other kids. They don’t realize that she can read, count, and understand conversations. If they listened more intently, they’d realize that she can speak. She really wants to read the Bridge to Terebithia and A Wrinkle in Time, but teachers keep reading her picture books. She’s fallen through the cracks. Only Bridget knows how very wrong they are. But now, as the liftoff draws closer, others begin to see how intelligent Nova is. And every day, she’s counting down to the launch of the first teacher into space, and to the moment when she’ll see Bridget again. Will Bridget keep her promise to Nova?

What I like about this book:

Nicole Panteleakos’s debut novel is a sensitive, captivating and heartbreaking tale that begins 10 days before the fateful launch of the Challenger Space Shuttle in 1986. Nova has two reasons to be excited about the launch — her love of space travel and her big sister’s promise to return to watch the event with her.

Panteleakos realistically portrays Nova’s challenges — based on her own experiences of being on the spectrum — while always emphasizing her strengths. Nova is a resilient, imaginative and intelligent protagonist, who is non-verbal. Unfortunately Nova’s social worker and teachers underestimate her abilities and label her “mentally retarded.” They fail her. Only her older sister, Bridget, patiently works with Nova, knows how to communicate with her, and sees her abilities. She calls Nova a “thinker not a talker.” But Bridget is gone and Nova is alone.

Through a series of letters written by Nova to her sister in the story, readers experience the world through Nova’s inner voice — including her emotions, frustrations, anger, fears and imagination. The letters are a window into Nova’s desire for a “forever home”and her fear of disappointment if she becomes too attached. And readers will see the many important breakthroughs for Nova as she learns to trust and connect with her loving foster family — the 11th family in seven years.

Readers will learn about astronomy, space travel, the history of the space program, the first teacher chosen to go into space, Christa McAuliffe, and the Challenger Program, which “taught kids anyone could have a dream.” They will also learn what it’s like to be autistic in the mid-80s, and the foster home system. There is so much to love about this book — the setting, the characters, and the plot. And there is a huge twist at the end, that even blindsided me.  Make sure you check out the interesting Author’s Note at the end of the book, because there is important information about the Challenger launch, the author’s experiences with Asperger’s, and the history of autism over the past century.

Nicole Panteleakos is a middle-grade author, playwright, and Ravenclaw whose plays have been performed at numerous theaters and schools in Connecticut and New York City. She earned her BA in Theatre Scriptwriting from Eastern Connecticut State University and is currently working toward her MFA in Children’s Literature at Hollins University. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and has three awesome godchildren, two quirky cats, and at least one Broadway song stuck in her head at all times. Planet Earth Is Blue is her debut novel. Visit Nicole 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.