Fox Magic by Beverley Brenna

Fox Magic

Beverley Brenna, Author

Red Deer Press, Fiction, Dec. 15, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Pages: 115

Themes: Teen suicide, Grief, Loss, Bullying, Courage, Hope

Opening: The week after the Bad Thing happened, Chance is back in school. She’s walking away from the water fountain and Monika is right there in front of her.  “She was my cousin, you know,” Monika hisses. “It should have been you.”

Synopsis: Chance Devlin and her two best friends make a pact to commit suicide. They dress in their best clothes and meet at a planned site. Chance changes her mind and runs home. She doesn’t tell anyone. Now her two friends have killed themselves. Chance struggles with grief, loss, and guilt that she didn’t tell anyone or try to stop them. Kids at school bully her and leave nasty notes in her desk and backpack: “Traitor. You’re better off dead.” She keeps the Bad Thing a secret, feels empty inside and escapes through sleep.

Enter her parents. They immediately get Chance into counseling, which is agonizing for her. Her therapist encourages her to write in a journal. Her father is my hero. He takes some time off so he can be at home with Chance, cook her pancakes for breakfast, drive and pick her up from school, make her exercise with him in fun and sometimes nerdy places. And he takes her to see her mom at work as a nurse in a neonatal unit, where she observes the tender and loving care her mother gives each newborn.  Her father shares with her a very important story.

A fox begins to magically appear in her Chance’s life. The fox, she names Janet Johnson, helps Chance to begin to get in touch with her grief, the past, her feelings, find her voice and move forward towards healing.  Is it her subconscious? I like Brenna’s sweet touch of magical realism as it allows the readers to decide for themselves what the fox symbolizes.

Why this book is on my shelf:

Brenna’s coming of age novel is brave and skillfully written. Each chapter is short and features pen and ink drawings to highlight each chapter. Suicide is a difficult but timely subject for older middle grade students that offers a wealth of opportunities for family and classroom discussions. This is a hopeful book.

Brenna doesn’t linger on the suicide pact or reveal the details of that night, which makes this realistic story very approachable for middle grade students. The story is told from Chance’s viewpoint. Readers will grow with Chance’s character as she deals with pain and grief and finds the courage and determination to move forward in her life. She’s authentic, honest and believable. There are many memorable characters that play supportive roles in her growth.

Brenna is from Saskatchewan where there many Indigenous children. I like how she includes both “First Nation and Metis” beliefs in Chance’s classroom as the students talk about school bullying and come up with clever solutions. This classroom interaction plays another important role in Chance’s healing.

Resources: There is an excellent interview with Beverley Brenna with discussion questions, an afterword with a mental health professional, and resource links. Brenna has prepared a teacher’s guide on her website for use in the classroom.

Beverley Brenna is the author of the award-winning Wild Orchid series, about a girl on the autism spectrum. She teaches at the University of Saskatchewan in Suskatoon.

Greg Pattridge is the host for 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.

The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds

The Word Collector

Peter Hamilton Reynolds, Author & Illustrator

Orchard Books, Fiction, Jan. 30, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Collecting words, Sharing, Individuality, Imagination, Kindness

Opening: Collectors collect things… coins…art…comic books.  And Jerome?

Synopsis:

Some people collect stamps. Some people collect bugs. Some people collect baseball cards. Not Jerome. He collected words. Printed words. Short and multi-syllable words. Words that roll off your tongue and feel good to say. Words that sing. Words that make you laugh. He organized and filled scrapbooks with his favorite words. One day he was carrying an armload of scrapbooks when he slipped.  His words went flying through the air and landed in a mess around him. He began stringing the words together and made a powerful discovery. Perhaps his words weren’t so mixed up.

Why I like this book:

Reynolds captures the magic of words in Jerome’s pure joy of sharing words with others. There is a charm in this book. There is kindness. The tone of the text is wistful and alluring, inviting the reader along Jerome’s magical journey of discovery and possibilities. This book fosters a curiosity for  words and a love of language! It is both empowering and heartwarming with a satisfying ending that will put a smile on a children’s faces. It is spindiddly!

Jerome is a child of color, but the story has nothing to do with his color or ethnicity. The supporting characters in the story are all diverse, which lends itself to inclusiveness. It is so important for children to see themselves in a story.

Reynolds’ pen and ink illustrations are playful and contribute to the joyful spirit of Jerome’s journey. Make sure you check out the endpapers.

Resources: After reading the book, look at the endpapers which are packed with words.  Reynolds urges children “Reach for your own words / tell the world who you are / and how you will make it better.”  Each word is strung together on separate pieces of paper.  Encourage kids to write four or five words that they like on separate index cards. They may be familiar, happy, caring, loud, funny and so on. Then ask them to share what the word means to them.

Peter Hamilton Reynolds is a New York Times bestselling author and illustrator of many books for children, including The Dot, Ish, and Happy Dreamer. His books have been translated into over twenty-five languages around the globe and are celebrated worldwide. In 1996, he founded FableVision with his brother, Paul, as a social change agency to help create “stories that matter, stories that move.” He lives in Dedham, Massachusetts, with his family. Visit Reynolds at his 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. 

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Ghost Boys

Jewell Parker Rhodes, Author

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Apr. 17, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 198

Themes: Police Shootings, Racism, Profiling, African Americans, Racial Injustice

Publisher Synopsis: Only the living can make the world better. Live and make it better.

Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.

Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father’s actions.

Once again Jewell Parker Rhodes deftly weaves historical and socio-political layers into a gripping and poignant story about how children and families face the complexities of today’s world, and how one boy grows to understand American blackness in the aftermath of his own death.

Why I like this book:

Jewell Parker Rhodes’ tugs at her reader’s heart from the first page. Her unforgettable novel enlightens readers and helps them deal with the racial prejudices and tensions that continue to exist in our society. It is a current story about a black boy being shot by a white police officer out of fear and prejudice.

The chapters alternate between “Dead” and “Alive,” so readers experience Jerome’s untimely death and the impact it has on his family, the police officer’s family and the community. The “Alive” chapters give readers a sense of Jerome, his family, and school life before the shooting.

Jerome narrates the story as the “ghost boy.” Jerome is a good student who does well in school and has dreams for his future. He is loved by his family and idolized by his little sister. He is kind, responsible and walks his sister to and from school, making sure she isn’t harmed along the way.  Jerome is bullied at school by three boys, but doesn’t tell anyone. He befriends a Latino boy, Carlos, who is also being bullied. After his death, Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, is the only one who can see the ghost boy. Through Sarah readers are able to see how Jerome’s untimely death upsets both families, even her relationship with her father. Sarah represents hope in this story.

Jerome meets another ghost boy, Emmet Till, who was unjustly killed in 1955. I like how Rhodes’  connects the historical past of Emmet Till with the present, deftly showing that racial injustice continues. There are many other ghosts boys that appear to Jerome. They share one thing in common, they were robbed of the opportunity to grow up and live.

Jewell Parker Rhodes is the author of Ninth Ward, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book, Sugar, winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, Bayou Magic, and Towers Falling. She has also written books for adults.

Resources: Make sure you read the author’s Afterword that provides a little history.  And there are 16 Discussion Questions, that will encourage dialogue among students in the classroom and with family members. Recommend parents read this age-appropriate book. Visit Jewell Parker Rhodes at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for 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.

My Friend, Mi Amigo by Kristin Tripathy

My Friend, Mi Amigo

Kristin Tripathy, Author

Denise Turu, Illustrator

Authors as Heroes Publishing, Fiction, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Bilingual story, Play, Zoo, Friendship

Opening: Hola!…Huh? / Hello!…Eh?

Synopsis: Interacting with others who don’t speak the same language can sometimes be challenging. However, when an English-speaking boy encounters a Spanish-speaking boy at the zoo, nothing can stop them from having an engaging and playful time…not even a language barrier. After all, friendship speaks louder than words.

What I like about this book:

This is a clever bilingual book for both English- and Spanish-speaking children. Kristin Tripathy features two boys visiting the zoo. Each double-spread page shows the boys visiting animals at the zoo with bubble comments highlighting their conversation. When one boy says, “Look! A gray elephant.” The other responds “Como?”  On the opposite page the Spanish-speaking boy says “Mira! Un elefante gris.”  This makes translation easy for children.

This is a book about friendship and the creative way two boys overcome a language barrier so that they  have a grand time exploring the zoo together. It has humor and a great theme.  Denise Turu’s large, colorful and bold illustrations compliment the story. Visit the author at her website, Authors As Heroes.  The book is also published in English and Hindi, which you will find by visiting the website.

Photos courtesy of Kristin Tripathy.

Resources: The book is a resource. Both English- and Spanish-speaking children will learn new vocabulary as it is simply presented in bubble comments. It definitely can be used in the classroom to teach both language and animals

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.

*The author provided me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Recompense Trilogy by Michelle Isenhoff

Michelle Isenhoff’s  has managed to captivate me in her fresh and diverse YA fantasy/dystopian series, the Recompense Trilogy, published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing.  It is an ambitious undertaking for Isenhoff, with all three novels, Recompense, Betrayal and Retribution, published since January 2018.  Readers can binge read and pick up the next volume when they finish each novel!

Isenhoff ‘s trilogy is a heart-pounding and thrilling read with gorgeous writing, mesmerizing world building and gripping story line that culminates in a series that is absolutely addictive. She masterfully builds a world that is believable, haunting and creates a realistic backdrop for her multi-layered and authentic characters in Jaclyn (Jack), Will, Ethan, Aunt Opal, Willoughby and Jewell. They are flawed, powerful, vulnerable and will draw you deeply into their high-stakes story. The heroine, Jack, is such a likable character, who repeatedly demonstrates strength of body, mind, and spirit throughout the series. You’ll be cheering for her from the very first page. The thing I liked about the large cast of characters is that you never know who you can trust and when you can trust them. They keep you on your toes and utterly glued to the pages. And there is a sweet love story.

Readers will enjoy sinking into the thoughtfully constructed details of Isenhoff’s ravaged future Earth, as well as a number of terrifying action sequences that build to a game-changing twist. The plot is riveting, action-packed and complex. Isenhoff has a sweeping imagination and you never know what to expect next. Each chapter ends with a cliff-hangar which keeps you reading because you want to know the outcome. I lost a couple of nights of sleep because I couldn’t put her engaging novel down.

Instead of reviewing each book separately, I’ve given you my impression of the complete trilogy. I’ve also decided to share the synopsis of each book below, so readers can grasp the depth of this brilliant trilogy.

Synopsis: Born into Capernica’s lowest social tier and not permitted to leave Settlement 56, Jaclyn (Jack) Holloway refuses to pour out her years in the local fish cannery. She gambles on the one chance available to her to advance–the high school Exit Exam. In a country that still keenly remembers the horrors of the Provocation, the period of unexplained disappearances that led to revolution, the smartest and strongest are richly rewarded in exchange for military service. Jack is adamant that her best friend, Will Ransom, join her in striving for induction.

But if Jack fails to pass the stringent physical standards and Will succeeds, she will not be allowed to see him again until his tour of duty is completed–in twenty years.

Meanwhile, the government has been keeping a tight lid on a new string of abductions. Jack’s Exam score places her in a position to aid Axis, an underground organization charged with investigating events that threaten national security. The evidence leads her back forty-seven years, to a series of high-profile cover-ups linked to the Provocation. Blowing the whistle could place her in danger, but holding her silence means history will likely repeat. And Capernica could never survive a second Provocation.

Synopsis: Jack and her teammates at Axis have succeeded in stopping the widespread abduction of Capernica’s teenage girls and neutralized the operatives living among them. Now they turn their attention to uniting the nation against the Bruelim. It’s time to take the fight through the portal and make sure, once and for all, that the Provocation never repeats.

Even as they prepare, disgruntled Lowers hang on the brink of revolution. Their rebellion has the potential to split Capernica along its caste lines just when the nation should be pulling together against a common enemy. But how can Axis convey the importance of cooperation when they’re unable to tell the people exactly what dangers they’re facing? Forty-seven years ago, Governor Macron expressly forbid any investigation into the Bruelim and ordered the evidence from the Provocation destroyed. No one’s certain what she’ll do when she learns the files have been reopened.

Meanwhile, Jack remains crazy hopeful that upcoming Military maneuvers might once again throw her into contact with her best friend Will, while Ethan, her capable Axis partner, strongly hopes they do not. Neither she nor Ethan are prepared for the testing their partnership is about to undergo. Or the revelation of their most immediate threat.

Synopsis: Jack was the revolution’s contingency plan. With the assault on the Macron City Military Base shattered, she was to assassinate Governor Andromeda Macron and revert Capernica back to Capernican control. But she failed, the revolution lies in ashes, and the one person she loves more than anyone in the world has betrayed her.

Alone in Brunay, Jack becomes an anonymous cog in the vast Bruelim slave economy, where callous wardens aren’t the only threat to her safety. The labor compound she’s been assigned to has an inmate hierarchy dominated by descendants of the Provocation’s original victims, and they don’t welcome newcomers. But Jack also finds friendship among the displaced laborers, and like her grandmother, Ruby, she burns with the desire to see them all home.

More importantly, Jack discovers the key to freeing Capernica from Bruel aggression forever. But even if she managed an escape, how could she leave Will in Brunay, trapped in the body of a Berkam?

Isenhoff has made Recompense available free for download on Amazon kindle. I ordered the paperbacks. This new original series will please fans of Hunger Games, Divergent, and Maze Runner. Isenhoff has completed a prequel to the trilogy, Provocation, which will be released soon. Visit Michelle Isenhoff at her website to view all her published work.

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.

Heal the Earth by Julian Lennon

Happy Earth Day, Apr. 22, 2018

Heal the Earth

Julian Lennon with Bart Davis, Authors

Smiljana Coh, Illustrator

Sky Pony Press, Fictions, Apr. 3, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-6

Themes: Nature, Environment, Conservation, Ocean reefs, Rain forest, Medicines, Green spaces

Opening: Welcome to our planet Earth.

Book Synopsis:

The magical White Feather Flier is back on a new adventure to heal the Earth! Use your imagination power to make it fly and take you on a great helping journey.

The Flier’s mission is to transport readers around the world, to engage them in helping to save the environment, and to teach one and all to love our planet. Just press a button printed on the page, and point the plane up in the air to fly, or down to land it!

Bring medicine to people in need!
Dive below the ocean to bleached coral reefs!
Visit the city to cultivate green spaces!
Help the rain forest return and give its animals a home!
Explore the planet, meet new people, and help make the world a better place!

An inspiring, lyrical story, rooted in Lennon’s life and work, Heal the Earth is filled with beautiful illustrations that bring the faraway world closer to young children.

Why I like this book:

It beautiful interactive book that speaks directly to younger children and empowers them to be part of the magic of healing and loving our planet and its inhabitants. The spare text is lyrical and skillfully written with vivid imagery. Smiljana Coh’s gorgeous illustrations will appeal to children’s senses. She includes a diverse cast of characters and children will see someone who looks like them.

Readers are asked questions and invited to join the adventure.  They will be encouraged to use their imaginations and push buttons at the bottom of the pages to transport them to areas of the earth that are in need of healing. They  see the problems that exist and then are given the opportunity to make a positive impact. Every time they succeed, they are congratulated for a job well done.

There is age-appropriate geographical information about the planet and how it is divided into continents. Kids are encouraged to touch each continent, say its name and pick the continent where they live.

The book includes words to a new, special poem written by Julian Lennon, specifically for Heal the Earth. It is a lovely addition to the book and could be a stand-alone-book.

A portion of the proceeds from book sales will go to support the environmental and humanitarian efforts of the White Feather Foundation, the global environmental and humanitarian organization that Lennon founded to promote education, health, conservation, and the protection of indigenous culture.

Resources: The book is a great way to approach the subject of caring for the earth, during Earth Day. It is a resource because it encourages children to discuss problems around the globe and ask a lot of questions about getting involved in preserving their planet.

Julian Lennon is a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, photographer, documentarian, philanthropist, and author of the New York Times bestselling children’s book Touch the Earth. Born in Liverpool, England, Lennon is an observer of life in all its forms developing his personal expression through his artistic endeavors. He hopes that his kids book trilogy will inspire and educate children to preserve our planet for future generations.

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.

Escape From Aleppo by N. H. Senzai

Escape From Aleppo

N.H. Senzai, Author

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, Fiction, Jan. 2, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Family, War, Refugees, Syria, Bravery, Survival, Hope, Freedom

Publisher Synopsis:

Silver and gold balloons. A birthday cake covered in pink roses. A new dress.

Nadia stands at the center of attention in her parents’ elegant dining room. This is the best day of my life, she thinks. Everyone is about to sing “Happy Birthday,” when her uncle calls from the living room, “Baba, brothers, you need to see this.” Reluctantly, she follows her family into the other room. On TV, a reporter stands near an overturned vegetable cart on a dusty street. Beside it is a mound of smoldering ashes. The reporter explains that a vegetable vendor in the city of Tunis burned himself alive, protesting corrupt government officials who have harassed his business. Nadia frowns.

It is December 17, 2010: Nadia’s twelfth birthday and the beginning of the Arab Spring. Soon anti-government protests erupt across the Middle East and, one by one, countries are thrown into turmoil. As civil war flares in Syria and bombs fall across Nadia’s home city of Aleppo, her family decides to flee to safety in Turkey. Nadia gets trapped and left behind when a bomb hits their home. She is alone and must find a way to catch up with her family.  There are many detours along the way and an old man tries to help her. Inspired by current events, this novel sheds light on the complicated situation in Syria that has led to an international refugee crisis, and tells the story of one girl’s journey to safety.

Why I like this book:

N. H. Senzai has written a timely story that explores the culture and history of Syria as it moves from normalcy to the harsh realities of civil war, as witnessed by Nadia. The author weaves chapters into the story depicting life before the war begins giving readers a feel for family and life in Syria. Nadia enjoys birthday parties, painting her nails, playing with her cat, watching Arab’s Got Talent and shopping in the markets.

Senzai’s powerful storytelling and vivid imagery draws readers into Nadia’s harrowing experience. Her journey is quite extraordinary as she befriends other Syrians along the way, an old man and two orphans. The elderly book binder, Ammo Mazen, promises to help Nadia reach the Turkish border, but it is a round about journey, with some unusual characters and missions involved. Just who is this mysterious Ammo Mazen? But he protects Nadia and the two orphans and navigates them around rebels groups, the Syrian Army, and ISIS fighters. As they journey across the Old City, readers catch a glimpse of Nadia memories of the colorful shops and a lively community, which is in stark contract to the crumbling city before her. There are many road blocks, but Nadia turns her fear into a strong determination to survive and reunite with her family.

This plot is gripping, suspenseful, heart-wrenching and hopeful. Readers will experience what it means to be displaced from their home, family and lifestyle. It raises questions for readers about how they would survive if everything they know is gone in a flash and they are thrust into a war-torn environment. Would they be able to survive?  This is tough and timely read for youth trying to grasp what they are seeing and hearing on television about this complicated and troubled country. They are able to  experience the human side of war through Nadia. This is a must read and belongs in school libraries.

N.H. Senzai is the author of the acclaimed Shooting Kabul, which was on numerous state award lists and an NPR Backseat Book Club Pick. Its companion, Saving Kabul Corner, was nominated for an Edgar Award. Visit the author at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for 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.

I Am Enough by Grace Byers

I Am Enough

Grace Byers, Author

Keturah A. Bobo, Illustrator

Balzer + Bray, Fiction, Mar. 6, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes:  Individuality, Love, Respect, Kindness, Diversity

Opening: “Like the sun, I’m here to shine.”

Book Synopsis: I Am Enough is an essential book for everyone — an inspiring lyrical ode to loving who you are, respecting others, and being kind to one another.

Why I like this book:  Grace Byers’ soulful book is a magnificent poem to girls encouraging self-esteem, individuality, respect and kindness. It empowers girls to be themselves and encourages them to realize their endless potential. Readers will learn how each day is filled with possibilities to dream, soar, love, use their voices, fail, succeed, disagree, and love.  The poetic tone of the text is celebratory, inviting the reader on an adventure of self-discovery and self-acceptance. Keturah Bobo’s expressive and vibrant illustrations showcase racial and cultural diversity and shows a girl playing jump rope in a wheelchair.  They compliment the uplifting and positive affirmation that “I am enough!” And that cover just draws you into the story. This is a perfect gift book.

Resources: This is an ideal discussion book. Ask girls what it means to be enough. Let this conversation evolve into what is uniquely beautiful about her and every other girl. Although written for girls, I believe boys will enjoy this book.

Grace Byers is an actor and activist who stars in Fox’s hit series Empire. As a multiracial young girl and a child of deaf adults, Grace was bullied throughout her childhood. This book was born out of her desire to empower young girls against the effects of bullying. In her spare time, she volunteers with the nonprofit anti-bullying organization Saving Our Daughters. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, actor Trai Byers.

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.

Phoebe’s Heron by Winnie Anderson

Phoebe’s Heron

Winnie Anderson, Author

Crispin Books, Historical Fiction, Feb. 5, 2018

Pages: 226

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Nature, Birds, Wildlife, Colorado, Conservation, Friendship, Courage

It is 1900. Twelve-year-old Phoebe Greer, her family and Nurse Daisy move from their home in Denver to a newly built cliff-top cabin in Ridge, at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The doctors recommend that the dry, fresh, clean air in the mountains may be the cure for her mother’s tuberculosis.

While Phoebe wants her mother to get well, she misses her busy city life in Denver (a dusty cow town) and her best friend Lisbeth, whose parents own Denver’s finest millinery store. The two girls have spent hours in front of the looking-glass parading with fancy feathered hats on their heads. They also have fun trying to teach the millinery shop parrot to curse.

Phoebe loves to draw. Her father gives her a sketchbook so she can explore her new surroundings. She follows Bearberry Trail which winds along Bear Creek and ends up at a breathtaking lake. There she meets a local boy, Jed.  However, Jed is a plume hunter, a commercial hunter of birds. He desperately wants to find a great blue heron, whose feathers are in great demand for women’s hats.

The two youth gradually become friends. Jed shows Phoebe the delights of the natural world in the Colorado Rockies, and their friendship deepens. They meet at a large flat rock in the lake, where she sketches and he catches large trout with his swift bare hands. Her views of living in the wild and nature begin to change her and blend nicely with her passion for capturing its beauty in her artwork. One day, Phoebe sees a magnificent great blue heron in the creek, which she sketches in her book. She does not tell Jed about spotting this bird, because she can’t bear the thought of this majestic creature losing its freedom even though it is “survival” for Jed.

Phoebe hears about the Audubon club that wants laws to protect birds from being killed for their feathers. Phoebe’s mother tells her that the movement has come to Denver and a chapter is forming. But Phoebe’s mother grows worse, and soon, things may change.

What I love about this book:

Winnie Anderson’s debut novel is wistful and poetic. Her beautiful words create vivid imagery of Phoebe’s new life on the mountain top. The setting is so appealing that it becomes a beloved character. The rich dialogue paints a picturesque view of Colorado in 1900.  You want to leap into the story and observe the untamed country with Phoebe and Jed.

This hopeful and heartwarming coming of age story is about a teen dealing with a sick mother, family relationships, friendships and her passion to draw everything around her. I enjoyed watching her transformation from a privileged Denver teen to a thoughtful one who observes and develops her own beliefs. The characters are authentic, most are good-hearted but others are privileged and snobby.  This creates a dilemma for Phoebe in her friendship, with Jed, when her father tells her to stay away from him.

Phoebe’s view about use of bird feathers in the women’s millinery business becomes unbearable for her.  She takes a stand with both of her friends, Lisbeth and Jed, and tells them she wants to work with the Audubon club to protect the birds. The author makes short references to the early Audubon Society throughout the book.

Phoebe’s story is loosely based on Sarah Orne Jewett’s “A White Heron,” written in 1886. This book will be of interest to birders, Audubon Society members, and anyone interested in the early conservation movement at the beginning of the 1900s. This is the sixth middle grade novel I’ve reviewed in the past year that includes birding and conservation. It is an excellent novel for teens interested in environmental and conservation issues. This is a thoughtful story to read as Earth Day approaches April 22.

Resources: There is a detailed “Author’s Note” at the end the delves more into the Audubon Society. This book is an excellent classroom discussion book because of the many themes.

Winnie Anderson holds an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University, and has had stories published in various children’s magazines. This is her first novel. She lives in Baltimore, MD, and Evergreen, CO. Visit Anderson’s website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for  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.

*The publisher provided me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Big, Brave, Bold Sergio — Baxter and Danny Stand Up to Bullying

Today I am sharing two new books about bullying, published by Magination Press. They both deal with different aspects of bullying and compliment each other well. They are both great classroom discussion books.

Big, Brave, Bold Sergio

Debbie Wagenbach, Author

Jamie Tablason, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 19, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Turtles, Animals, Bullying, Peer Pressure, Taking a stand, Kindness

Opening: Sergio liked swimming with the Snappers. He felt BIG when they scattered the minnows.

Synopsis: Sergio and The Snappers are the toughest turtles in the pond! Swimming with them makes Sergio feel Big, Brave and Bold! But soon he starts to notice how the other animals run and hide when the Snappers swim by; frogs flee, tadpoles tremble, and ducks depart the pond! Sergio doesn’t like it, and stands up to his friends, only to become the new target of the gang’s bullying, especially after he befriends some of the fish. But then something happens to one of the Snappers and Sergio has a choice to make.

Baxter and Danny Stand Up to Bullying

James M. Foley, Author

Shirley Ng-Benitez, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 15, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Animals, Bullying, Taking a stand,  Problem-solving, Friendship

Opening: Baxter the Bunny was the fastest animal in the forest. Danny the Bear was the best dancer.

Synopsis:  When Baxter, Danny and the rest of the forest animals are picked on by Buford Blue Jay and his bird friends, they have to figure out what to do. The piercing “screech, screech” of the Blue Jays was loud and their name calling was hurtful. With the support of all the forest animals and Queen Beth of the Bees, they all learn to stand up to Buford’s bullying in a positive way.

Why I like these bullying books:

Each book approaches bullying from a different perspective — the bully and the victims. In the first book Sergio is a bully until his conscience begins to bother him. He deals with peer pressure from the other Snappers and soon  becomes their target. In the second book the animals of the forest are the target of bullying by the Blue Jays. Working together helps empower the animals and gives them the confidence to take a stand.

Readers will identify with the name-calling, insults, threats, fear and anger. They will learn how to cope with peer pressure, assert themselves, build self-esteem, problem solve and find solutions that  work. I also like the emphasis on learning to have compassion.

Children will be delighted with the large, bold and expressive artwork. There is so much detail to explore. Both illustrators ably capture the lively action in the stories and compliment the authors’ text.

Resources: Both books include “Note to Parents and Caregivers” about how to prevent bullying, cope with peer pressure, become resilient and develop an attitude of kindness towards others. Theses are great discussion books for home or classroom reading.

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.

*I received a review copies of  Big, Brave, Bold Sergio and Baxter and Danny Stand Up to Bullying from the publisher. The opinions in this review are entirely my own.