Blood Moon by Michelle Isenhoff

Blood Moon 517wv6vKojL__SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Blood Moon (Ella Wood) Volume 2

Michelle Isenhoff, Author

CreateSpace, Historical Fiction, Jun. 5, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 14 and up

Themes: Love, Family Relationships, Civil War, Slavery, Abolitionists, Pursuing educational dreams, Hope

Opening: “Brilliant orange sparks streaked across the night sky, snatched by the furious wind and flung onto rooftops to spring up as new geysers of flame. Building by building the fire magnified, towering over the cringing city, devouring the waterfront. Emily raced toward the inferno, compelled by visions of those she loved.”

Synopsis: Charleston lies in ruins and war between the North and South is imminent. Yet, Emily Preston refuses to give up her dream of becoming an artist. She defies her overbearing father and secretly enrolls in an art correspondence course under a male pseudo name, a step toward fulfilling her dream of studying at a Maryland university. When her father discovers her disobedience, he demands she leave Ella Wood to find her own living arrangements. Emily is now free to pursue her education, but she has many hurdles to overcome to support herself and earn her tuition for college. A love-triangle forms, betrayals are uncovered, family secrets abound, and Emily faces loss. Uncertainty looms big in her heart, as war threatens her dreams and the people she cares about most.

Why I love about Blood Moon:

Convincingly penned from beginning to end, Blood Moon is inherently absorbing and skillfully presented, establishing Michelle Isenhoff as an exceptionally talented novelist. Readers who have invested themselves in Isenhoff’s Ella Wood series, will be thrilled with the second volume in her latest sequel, Blood Moon, which continues Emily Preston’s transformation from Southern Belle to a determined young women who will stop at nothing to chase her educational dreams.

Blood Moon is richly textured and impeccably researched as it offers a vivid portrayal of the emotional landscape that bring Emily’s tale to life. It also sheds light on the penetrating truths of South Carolina’s role in the civil war, customs and culture, the suppression of women’s rights and the unforgivable treatment of slaves.

Her characters are vividly drawn and the many period details with which she fleshes out her story never feel forced or melodramatic. Emily, Thad, Jovie, Jack and Uncle Timothy are real. Some are gritty and abusive while others are tender and sweet, but most of all they are very much alive. I could feel the pain of loss, betrayal and hopelessness when Emily’s dreams are shattered and, yet through it all there remains a true bond of friendship and selfless acts of love.

Blood Moon is stunning, wrenching, and inspiring. Isenhoff’s sweeping imagination adds to a multi-layered, compelling, harrowing, and realistic plot. Her deliberate pacing and tension keep readers fully engaged and invested in Blood Moon.  There are many surprises for readers. It is truly an exceptional story and the characters will stay with you long after you finish Blood Moon.

The third volume in the series, Ebb Tide, will be available in the Spring of 2017Ella Wood is  available free to readers on Kindle, Nook, iTunes, and Kobo.  Ella Wood is a sequel to Isenhoff’s middle grade novel, The Candle Star.

Michelle Isenhoff is the author of Ella Wood; The Candle Star, Blood of Pioneers and Beneath the Slashings (Divided Decade Collection); Song of the Mountain and Fire on the Mountain (Mountain Trilogy); Taylor Davis and the Flame of Findul, Taylor Davis and the Clash of Kingdoms; The Color of Freedom; and The Quill Pen. Visit Michelle Isenhoff at her website.

Betsy’s Day at the Game by Greg Bancroft

Betsy's Day 51PPSIp5vML__SY398_BO1,204,203,200_Betsy’s Day at the Game

Greg Bancroft, Author

Katherine Blackmore, Illustrator

Mighty Media Press, Fiction, 2013

Mom’s Choice Awards, 2013 Winner

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes: Baseball, Keeping score, Intergenerational relationships, Family traditions

Opening:  “Elisabeth, Grandpa’s here,” Betsy’s mom called out.  A car pulled in to the driveway. Betsy came running with her Boo Bag.”

Synopsis: Betsy is going to a baseball game with her grandfather. She packs her baseball glove, score book, pencil and hat in her special bag.  Betsy puts on her cap and they head toward the city ballpark. They sit just behind home plate. Betsy is eager to work on her score keeping with her grandpa, who drills her and offers advice.  As the action begins, Betsy keeps track of the players, the foul balls, the strikes and the home runs.  When a batter hits a ball into the stands, Betsy grabs her glove and catches the grand slam home run ball.  She has a lot to share with her mother. But, her mother has a surprise to share with Betsy.

Why I like this book:

This is a heartwarming intergenerational story about a girl and her grandpa spending the day together at the ballpark.  What a perfect way to share family traditions about America’s favorite pastime — baseball.

Bancroft’s story celebrates everything there is to love about a baseball game — the sights, the smells, the sounds and the thrill of catching a ball in the stands.  Katherine Blackmore’s illustrations are warm, inviting, colorful and support the story. There are maps of the field with scorecard codes and separate squares detailing scoring information on the players.

The story focuses on teaching children how to keep score at a baseball game through the happy chitchat between Betsy and Grandpa.  The author provides fully illustrated scorecards at the end, which can be copied and used when a child watches a baseball game.

Resources:  Learning how to keep score is a great way for parents, grandparent and children to interact and have fun. The story itself will teach parents (if you don’t know) and children about keeping score.  Take your child to a local baseball game for a fun family outing and work together to fill out the scorecards. This is a great way to make family memories.  Click here for a free downloadable Educator’s Activity Guide.

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

Listen, Slowly 513tozBfREL__SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Listen, Slowly

Thanhha Lai, Author

Harper Collins, Fiction, Feb. 17, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Vietnam, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture-shock, Diversity, Intergenerational relationships, Family relationships, Respect, Friendship, Vietnam War, History

Synopsis: Mai is a 12-year-old California girl eager to spend her summer vacation at the beach with her best friends. Instead, her Vietnamese parents have planned her summer for her. They want Mai to accompany her grandmother to Vietnam so she can meet a man who may provide her answers to her husband’s disappearance during the war and find some closure. Her parents also want Mai to learn more about her own roots, meet relatives and develop some bonds. Mai barely understands the language. Trapped in a remote village, Mai must find a balance between her two different worlds if she has any hopes of surviving Vietnam.

Why I like this book:

  • Thanhha Lai beautifully crafted a love story between a granddaughter and her grandmother, as they travel to Vietnam together. It is a powerful intergenerational novel for teens.  It is richly textured, emotional, honest and humorous.
  • Lai skillfully shows Vietnam as a land of many contrasts. Her setting is very realistic of Vietnam today.  Lai’s writing touches all the senses so that the reader smells, hears, sees, and feels the unforgiving heat, heavy rain, sticky moisture, nasty mosquito bites, pungent smells, toxic fumes, noises and seas of mopeds on the overcrowded streets of Hanoi.
  • This is touching character-driven story. Mai (Mia) is a head-strong, outspoken, humorous and compassionate protagonist. In the beginning, Mai’s constantly plotting her trip out of Vietnam. Every angry/whiny text message to her mother begins with “I want to come home.” As she settles into the gentle pace of life surrounding her, it is a joy to watch Mai deal with the culture shock and mature. She’s a trooper and her challenges turn into acceptance of her doting family and surroundings. Mai’s fragile grandmother has clung to the old ways and is proper. She is patient, tender, quiet-spoken. Her family is surprised by her strong resolve to track down important leads that may reveal the truth of her husband’s death. Mai’s cousin, Ut, is the complete opposite of Mai. She wears a buzz haircut, crumpled pants and t-shirts, and hangs out with her frogs. They become partners in crime that lead to many hilarious moments.
  • The plot is multi-layered, complicated, courageous and hopeful. Lai delves deeply into Mai’s loneliness, the shock of living in an unfamiliar culture and the courage that it takes for her to handle a difficult situation. There are unexpected surprises and a realistic and satisfying ending.
  • I enjoyed learning about modern Vietnam. The story is so detailed that it feels like you are walking with Mai as she experiences the homeland of her family. I loved this story.

Thanhha Lai is the author of the Newbery Honor and National Book Award-winning Inside Out & Back Again. Click [here] to read my review. She was born in Vietnam and now lives with her family in New York. Visit Lai at her website.

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

Ouch! Moments: When Words Are Used in Hurtful Ways

Ouch! Moments51oze-lcWOL__SX399_BO1,204,203,200_Ouch! Moments: When Words Are Used in Hurtful Ways

Michael Genhart, Author

Viviana Garofoli, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Sep. 22, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Hurtful words, Microaggressions, Insults, Conduct, Caring, Empowerment

Opening: “When a bee stings, Ouch! That hurts! Catching a finger in a closing door hurts a lot. Ouch! Hearing a mean thing or ugly word hurts too. That is definitely an Ouch moment!”

Synopsis:  Sometimes kids use hurtful words to put down another child. They can be said by a child when they are trying to be funny, “oink goes the pig” or “he throws like a girl.” They can be used by kids to have power over other kids to make them feel small. Ouch moments happen quickly and other kids don’t know what to do. When these moments occur, the perpetrator, the victim and the bystanders need help. Readers will be encouraged to be caring and take a stand.

Why I like this book:

Michael Genhart introduces readers to “ouch moments” that are usually directed towards a child that is different. His thoughtful book will help parents, teachers and children recognize mean, ugly, and hurtful words.  The language is simple, hopeful and ideal for kids. The characters are believable. Children will learn strategies that will empower them to stand up to insults and hurtful language. This is a book that all children can identify with because they have been on both sides, as the perpetrator and receiver. Genhart also helps kids to recognize their own hurtful language in a way that doesn’t shame. Many times they repeat something they’ve heard from someone else. Viviana Garofoli’s illustrations are colorful, expressive and compliment the story.

Resources:  This book is a resource for home and in the classroom. It is great resource for school teachers at the beginning of the school year to talk with kids about hurtful language and share their  “ouch moments.” There is a Note to Parents and Caregivers about microaggressions, and strategies for talking to children about hurtful language, discrimination and bias.

The Great Good Summer

Great Good Summer 51pFkPl3l2L__SX334_BO1,204,203,200_The Great Good Summer

Liz Garton Scanlon, Author

Beach Lane Books, Fiction, May 5, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Runaways, Mothers and daughters, Absent mother, Family and Faith, Adventure, Friendship, Forgiveness

Pages: 213

Opening: “God is alive and well in Loomer, Texas, so I don’t know why Mama had to go all the way to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida to find him, or to find herself, either.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Ivy Green’s summer has gone all topsy-turvy since her mama ran off to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida with a charismatic preacher who calls himself Hallelujah Dave.

Hallelujah Dave, for goodness sake.

Ivy’s been left behind with her daddy and with the painful mystery of her missing mama. It’s no wonder she starts to lose faith in nearly everything she’s always counted on.

Meanwhile, Ivy’s friend Paul Dobbs is having a crummy summer too. The Space Shuttle program’s been scrapped, and Paul’s dream of being an astronaut look like it will never get off the ground. So Ivy and Paul hatch a secret plan to set things right and maybe, just maybe, reclaim their faith in the things in life that are most important.

Why I like this book:

Liz Garton Scanlon’s emotional and heartfelt story is a timely story for teens with realistic issues like parental betrayal and abandonment. It is also a lovely coming of age story as Ivy Green is pressed to rely on her own inner resources and an unwavering faith to track her mother from Texas to Florida. She sets off on a secret adventure with her best friend, Paul Dobbs, who is logical and obsessed with science and space. While their mission is to find Ivy’s mother and bring her home, they also plan to visit the Kennedy Space Center.

The plot is strong and complex, deftly interweaving the lives of two very good friends, Ivy and Paul. It is packed with so much suspense (one-way bus tickets, thugs that steal Ivy’s money, a jail visit) that it moves along rather quickly. The text is smart and polished. And, you have to love that cover!

Ivy is a strong and smart character, with a believable voice. She is the perfect narrator because she doesn’t hold back. She’s not afraid to ask tough questions, weave a few lies, stand up to her father, tell people off,  handle the truth and learn to forgive. Paul is the opposite of Ivy. He’s a dreamer, but offers a level-headed balance to Ivy’s impatience. Their friendship is honest and moving.

I was concerned the book would be heavy on a debate between religion and science, but it turns out that’s not what the story is about. The discussions between Ivy, who has faith and Paul, who only believes in science, add for some really great conversations that tie everything together at the end.  And it opens room for discussions among readers. The story does give readers a sense of Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie. Verdict: This is an excellent summer read for tweens and teens.

Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of many celebrated picture books, including Happy Birthday, Bunny!, Noodle & Lou, and All the World. The Great Good Summer is her first novel. Visit her at her website.

Tortuga Squad: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica

World Turtle Day, June 16, 2016

Tortuga Squad 61KgIBV6yyL__SY427_BO1,204,203,200_Tortuga Squad: Kids Saving Sea Turtles in Costa Rica

Cathleen Burnham, Author and Photographer

Crickhollow Books, Photodocumentary, Jan. 3, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes: Sea Turtles,  Environmental rescue, protection and rescue, Youth activism, Costa Rica, Global kids, Diversity

Synopsis: It is May and a group of children in Costa Rica are tirelessly working to protect and save the lives of sea turtles on Parismina Island. They call themselves the Tortuga Squad, which means “turtle” in Spanish.  They are on the outlook for poachers who are watching the beaches for sea turtles that come ashore to dig deep holes and lay their eggs. They steal the eggs and kill the mama turtles and eat their meat for dinner.

Meet 6-year-old Bianca, who is patrolling the beach from a hidden bush. She recognizes the poacher, waits until the coast is clear, and races to her friend Christian’s house to get help for the trapped turtle. Melanie, Dylan and other children hear the cry for help and rush with Bianca and Christian to help flip the turtle back over and watch her escape into the sea.

The Tortuga Squad patrols the beaches every evening and works hard to protect turtles and their eggs. Humans are their greatest threat. The children build a hatchery to safeguard the eggs until they hatch. Once the turtles are ready for release, the Tortuga Squad clears the beach of crabs, birds, dogs and other potential threats. They want to make sure that every little leatherback baby turtle make it to the water on its first journey over the shallow reef and to the ocean.

Tortuga kid-releasing-turtleCompliments of Crickhollow Books

Why I love the Tortuga Squad:

  • Cathleen Burnham is on a mission to find, highlight and photograph children who are united in a cause to rescue and save endangered marine and animal life around the globe. Her true and inspiring story is a call to children worldwide that they don’t have to be adults to make a difference. The kids of Parismina Island are passionate young activists who care and want to be involved in protecting the turtles.
  • The Tortuga Squad is an engaging story for readers and is perfectly paced. Keeping turtle nests safe is a busy job for the squad and readers will enjoy the important mission. There is factual information about the variety of sea turtles that visit Parismina Island to lay their eggs on the dangerous beach: leatherback, hawksbill, loggerhead and green turtles. There is also a map of Costa Rica and Central America. The Tortuga Squad is a winner and an excellent discussion book for children, parents and teachers.
  • Every page of the book is filled with rich, beautiful and moving photographs that show the young  Tortuga Squad  activists in action. Burnham also captures every aspect of life in Costa Rica including family life, the market place, and travel by boat. Burnham devotes many double-page spreads to the delicate ecosystem and the gorgeous endangered species living there, including howler monkeys, sloths, pelicans, crocodiles and beautiful birds.

Resources: To learn more about the amazing things children are doing to protect wildlife around the globe, visit the World Association of Kids and Animals (WAKA) and get involved. There is a special teacher’s guide available for classroom use. Make sure you read the Author’s Note about sea turtles and the kids of Costa Rica. Check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries  website. They will observe Sea Turtle Week, June 13-17.

Cathleen Burnham is a journalist, writer and photographer. In addition to the Tortuga Squad, Burnham is the author of Doyli to the Rescue, the first “photodocumentary” book in a series of six forthcoming books for young readers that profile wildlife preservation efforts being undertaken by kids around the globe.

Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World

Rachel Carson 61AB358vSJL__SY446_BO1,204,203,200_Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World

Laurie Lawlor, Author

Laura Beingessner, Illustrator

Holiday House, Biography, Reprint, Aug. 31, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 6 – 9

Themes: Rachel Carson, Biologist, Environmentalist, Nature, Change

Opening: Early one morning in May 1922, young Rachel Carson discovered a secret place deep in the woods fragrant with pine needles. “Witchity-witchity-witchity!” called a yellowthroat.

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Once you are aware of the wonder and beauty of earth, you will want to learn about it,” wrote Rachel Carson, the pioneering environmentalist. Rachel found many adventurous ways to study nature. She went diving to investigate coral reefs and tracked alligators on a rumbling “glades buggy” through the Florida Everglades. She worked for the U.S. Fish and Service. However, one of the bravest things she did was to write and publish Silent Spring, a book pointing out the dangerous effects of chemicals on the living world. Powerful men tried to stop the publication of the book, but Rachel and her publishers persisted, and Silent Spring went on to become the book that woke up people to the harmful impact humans were having on our planet.

Why I like this book:

  • I love true stories about strong girls who find a passion, pursue it into adulthood, and end up changing the world. That’s exactly what Rachel Carson did. She is an inspiring role model for children, especially for girls. Her story is inspirational for children who love nature and want to help protect the environment.
  • Laurie Lawlor has written a beautiful and extraordinary biography that tells the story of a young Rachel Carson (born in 1897) whose love of nature is nurtured by her mother. Rachel’s mother encourages her to explore the family’s 65 acres of orchards and woods, watch the starry nights and recognize the melodies of favorite birds. Laura Beingessner’s warm and colorful illustrations are true to the time period of  the early 20th century.
  • Rachel attends college and graduate school at great sacrifice to her family. She becomes a biologist, travels the world, studies and writes about the oceans. She begins to notice disturbing trends and wonders how they are effecting the web of life. She questions the rising ocean temperatures, investigates the deadly impact of insecticides on birds, wildlife and people. Her discoveries lead her to write a courageous book that the average person can understand, Silent Spring, in 1962. Her mission to warn people of threats caused by humans creates a big commotion. Unfortunately, she didn’t live to see the positive environmental changes she made in the world.

Resources: This book is really best suited for older children in the third to fifth grades. Don’t miss the lengthy Epilogue at the end about what happens after the book is published. There are other listed resources. Visit a national, state or local wildlife, waterfowl or marine life refuge in your area. Many have youth programs. Visit the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge website. Check out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a Conservation Kids page.