The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz

       World Refugee Day, June 20, 2017

The Only Road

Alexandra Diaz, Author

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Book, Fiction, Oct. 4, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Child Refugees, Immigration, Guatemala, Courage, Hope, Freedom, Multicultural

Awards: Pura Belpre Honor Book and ALA Notable Book

Book Synopsis: Jaime is sitting on his bed drawing when he hears a scream. Instantly he knows Miguel, his cousin and best friend is dead.

Everyone in Jaime’s small town in Guatemala knows someone who has been killed by the Alphas, a  powerful gang that’s known for violence and drug trafficking. Anyone who refuses to work for them is hurt or killed — like Miguel. With Miguel gone, Jaime fears that he is next. There’s only one choice. Accompanied by his cousin Ángela, Jaime must flee his home to live with his older brother, Tomas, in the United States.

Inspired by true incidents, The Only Road tells an individual story of a boy who feels that leaving his home and risking everything is his only chance for a better Life. It is a story of fear and bravery, love and loss, strangers becoming family, and one boy’s treacherous and life-changing journey.

Why I like this book:

Alexandra Diaz’s novel is powerful and timely. It is about two cousins fleeing from dangerous drug  trafficking gangs in Guatemala and making the treacherous journey north to the United States. There are no guarantees that they will survive. Their story is heartbreaking, but it underscores the problem of why many Central American children illegally immigrate to America.

The richly textured Latino text is peppered with Spanish words and expressions, which contribute to the reader’s experience. At the end of book, there is a glossary of words and expressions used throughout the story.

The story is distinctly character-driven. Jaime’s third person narrative will move readers. Twelve-year-old Jaime is driven by his grief over the death of his cousin. Jaime is brave and compassionate. He’s also a talented artist and sketches his journey. Fifteen-year-old Ángela is  a mother figure for Jaime and to other younger children they meet along their trip. She’s smart, cautious and reminds Jaime they can’t trust anyone. She’s particularly adept at changing her Guatemalan accent to a Mexican accent so she can fool immigration officers (la migra) and town locals. When they need more money for safe passage across the border, Jaime draws portraits and Ángela alters clothing for women.

The plot is multilayered, gripping and complicated. The trip is long and hazardous, which Diaz handles with care. Jaime and Ángela dodge brutal gangs, bandits, and immigration officers. Food and water is scarce. They are herded into a freight car heading north and nearly suffocate from the heat. They rest at safe houses and make friends with other teens who teach them survival techniques. They learn how to hop freight trains (la bestia) and ride on top the cars as they travel north through Mexico to the border of New Mexico. Their final challenge will be to find the right smuggler (coyote) who will help them safely cross the Rio Grande.

Immigration is a hot topic today. The UN reports there are 10 million refugees world-wide. This is an important book for middle school libraries to help students gain a better understanding of refugees, immigration and the reasons they risk their lives to find freedom.

Alexandra Diaz is the author of When We Were, which was an ALA Rainbow List book and a New Mexico Book Award finalist. Alexandra is the daughter of Cuban immigrants and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Make sure you read her Author’s Note at the end of the book that will give you further insight into immigration. Visit Diaz at her website.

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

Hand Over Hand by Alma Fullerton

Hand Over Hand

Alma Fullerton, Author

Renné Benoit, Illustrator

Second Story Press, Fiction, Mar. 14, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Fishing, Gender roles, Courage, Empowerment, Intergenerational, Multicultural

Opening: On the shores of a Filipino fishing village an old banca boat rocks as waves lick its keel. WHOOSH, WHOOSH, WHOOSH.

Synopsis: Nina wants to convince her grandfather – lolo –  to take her fishing with him on his old banca boat. Lolo’s answer is always the same: “A boat is not the place for a girl. Your job is on shore.”  Nina doesn’t want to dry fish with the women and is determined to show her grandfather that a girl can go fishing and do everything a boy can do. When she promises lolo that she will bait her own hook and remove her own fish, her grandfather says “Okay, we will try it. Just for today.”  The other fisherman scoff.  While lolo’s buckets fill with fish, Nina waits for a single tug. Will she prove to her village that a girl can fish?

Why I like this book:

Alma Fullerton has written a charming story about a Filipino girl with big ambitions and a lot of courage. It is also an empowering story for children to see Nina believe in herself. She wants to prove to her grandfather and her village that a girl can do what ever she wants. She’s smart and doesn’t give up, especially when she’s not getting any nibbles.

This a beautiful intergenerational story that celebrates the relationship between  a grandfather and his granddaughter who spend the day fishing together. Lolo is very patient with Nina and offers her helpful advice. And Nina makes lolo proud when she reels in the biggest catch of the day and proves that she can do anything.

The text is lyrical and has a rhythm to it like the rocking of a boat. Nina observes lolo’s fluid and swift movements “hand over hand ” and “fish after fish.” Children will enjoy the repeating this refrain with Nina throughout the story. Renné Benoit’s illustrations are soft and soothing watercolors that contribute to the mood of the story and show the joy of Nina’s journey .

Resources: This is a perfect classroom discussion book for all young children. Use Hand Over Hand to start a conversation about how girls and boys see each other. Can girls put worms on hooks, become scientists, or drive a truck? Can boys tap dance, babysit, or become a nurse?  The story takes place in another country. Do they think there may be more gender stereotypes for children living in another country like the Philippines?

Alma Fullerton is the award-winning author of the picture books A Good Trade, Community Soup and In a Cloud of Dust, When the Rain Comes. Visit Fullerton 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 Perfect Picture Books.

Ebb Tide by Michelle Isenhoff

Ebb Tide (Volume 3 – Ella Wood Series)

Michelle Isenhoff, Author

CreateSpace Independent Publishing, Historical Fiction, Apr. 24, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 14 – adult

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

Opening: Emily felt the explosion before she heard it. Her ribcage thrummed like the plucked strings of a guitar, then the sky split open, pouring sound and fury down upon the world below. Her bones bucked against the sudden pulse of energy. Glass fractured. Horses plunged and screamed, slamming vehicles together with a crunch of wood on wood. Escape mocked them. Everyone in Charleston had joined the mad rush to safety.

Book Synopsis: When the Union navy fires on Charleston, Emily must flee to Ella Wood — and to a father who has never forgiven her for attending the Maryland Institute against his will. There, she grapples with Jack’s secret plans for the plantation and his final admonition that she carry them to fruition. But as a woman back under the authority of her father, evoking even the slightest change might prove too much to hope for. In the meantime, old jealousies place Emily’s life in danger, and her desperate hopes for Jovie’s safe return begin to fade. As the war rumbles to its conclusion, she must draw upon every ounce of courage in a final bid for love and freedom.

Why this book is on my shelf:

Ebb Tide brings Michelle Isenhoff’s Ella Wood trilogy to a heart-pounding conclusion. It is powerful, emotion-laden novel with secrets and many unexpected outcomes. Ebb Tide brightly shines as her finest literary accomplishment to date. The prose is beautiful, the language is rich and the dialogue lively. The trilogy has been an ambitious undertaking for the author and fans will be deeply satisfied with her third novel. It is my favorite!

Character development is Isenhoff’s strength. As Emily faces the destruction of Charleston, the uncertainty for Ella Wood, the loss of loved ones and shattered dreams, her ferocious spirit and determination will leave readers breathless. The rich cast of characters are tender and lovable, while others are abusive and gritty. And Isenhoff doesn’t let you rest until all of their fates are known — a monumental effort considering the large cast of characters central to Emily’s journey from debutante to accomplished artist. Readers will be satisfied.

The high-stakes plot is riveting, dangerous and deliberately paced with nonstop adventures. There are tragic incidents at Ella Wood. Emily’s responsibilities increase as the Union Army presence threatens livelihood at Ella Wood. There is a shortage of food, clothing and shoes. Finishing her studies in Baltimore seems out of reach. And Jovie is missing in action. Ebb Tide also has more tender moments with romance, weddings, births, and the reappearance of important characters from earlier books.

Ebb Tide is impeccably researched and offers readers a penetrating look into the emotional landscape of the south, its role in the civil war, customs, culture, the suppression of women’s rights, the searing treatment of slaves and freedom for other slaves. Michelle Isenhoff’s website has links to a pictorial representation of many of the people, places, and events that are featured in Ebb Tide and to her behind-the-scenes research.

** Readers can download a free Kindle copy of Ella Wood until June 15 on Amazon.  

Ella Wood Novellas: In July readers can get to know three prominent characters better: Lizzie, Jack and Jovie. This upcoming series of novellas, available exclusively for Kindle, will fill in additional details in the Ella Wood trilogy’s main story line. Experience Lizzie and Ketch’s escape north. Follow Jack into the Confederate army. And find out exactly what happened to Jovie after Gettysburg. Visit Isenhoff’s website for details.

Michelle Isenhoff is the author of Ella Wood and Blood MoonThe 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 FindulTaylor Davis and the Clash of KingdomsThe Color of Freedom; and The Quill Pen.

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

When I Carried You in My Belly by Thrity Umrigar

When I Carried You in My Belly

Thrity Umrigar, Author

Ziyue Chen, Illustrator

Running Press, Fiction, Apr. 4, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 2-5

Themes: Unborn Child,  Parent and child bond, Love, Family Relationships

Opening: When I carried you in my belly, we went to a party once. A little boy pointed at me and yelled, “Mama, that lady ate all the food!” “No, no, honey” his mama whispered. “She has a baby in her belly.” The boy’s eyes grew large. “She ate a whole baby?”

Synopsis: A young mother explains to her daughter how love, kindness, and a sense of fun shaped her even before her birth. The girl’s laughter, her love of music, her sweet disposition, and her caring spirit can be traced back to her time in her mother’s tummy, when her free-spirited mom would sing and dance with her, eat chocolate cake, and feed little birds and stray kittens.

Why I like this book:

Thrity Umrigar’s has written a beautiful love song from a mother to her child. Each refrain begins with “When I carried you in my belly… I sang…I danced… I talked…”  The lyrical text is spare with each word carefully chosen.  It is repetitive and uplifting.  Ziyue Chen illustrations are double-page spreads. They are tender, exquisite and beautifully capture the bond between parent and child.

The book celebrates the love a mother has for her unborn child and how it influences the girl she is becoming. It also captures the love and importance of family –Dad, Grandpa and Grandma are part of the story. What a beautiful story to share with an older child, especially if another baby is on the way! It would lead to some intimate and meaningful discussions between mother and child. Children love to hear stories about their birth and how much they are wanted.

This is a book I would happily gift to a new mother or to a mother with young children. It encourages mothers to love their changing bodies, joyfully embrace motherhood and tenderly connect with the unborn child growing in her belly.

Favorite line:

“When I carried you in my belly,

I sang to you all day.

In many different languages.

I sang you songs of joy.

And that is why you feel at home…

any place in the world.”

Resources: This book is a the perfect resource for parents to use with curious young children. Share pictures and ultrasounds you have of your pregnancy and early birth pictures. Let them know characteristics they share with both parents and other family members — grandpa’s smile, mommy’s artistic talents, and daddy’s love of nature.

Thrity Umrigar is the bestselling author of a memoir and six novels, including The Space Between Us, If Today Be Sweet, and the Story Hour. When I Carried You in My Belly is her first picture book. Visit her on 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 Perfect Picture Books.
** I won When I Carried You in My Belly, from Sue Morris’ website, Kid Lit Reviews.
Check out her honest and objective reviews of the most recent book releases.

Fort by Cynthia DeFelice

Fort

Cynthia DeFelice, Author

 Square Fish; Reprint edition May 17, 2016, Fiction

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Building a fort, Friendship, Bullies, Standing up for yourself

Opening/Prologue: This is the 100 percent true story of the summer I — Wyatt Jones — was eleven and built a fort in the woods with my friend Augie Valerio.  It isn’t the story I handed in to my teacher about how I spent my summer vacation. See, there’s stuff that happened that you can’t really talk about in school. Not unless you want to get in trouble…

Synopsis: Wyatt and his friend Augie aren’t looking for a fight. They’re having the time of their lives hanging out in the fort they built in the woods, fishing and hunting, cooking over a campfire, and sleeping out. But when two older boys mess with the fort — and with a kid who can’t fight back — the friends are forced to launch Operation Doom, with unexpected results for all concerned.

Why I like this book:

This is a fast-paced adventure story for boys and a terrific summer read! It’s a summer experience boys would dream of having. It is set in the woods of upstate New York and reminds me of a different time period. Wyatt and his dad visit every summer, where his father teaches at a college. Wyatt hangs out with his best friend, Augie who lives there. Wyatt’s father gives him the trust and freedom to just be a boy and enjoy his summer, which is opposite from his mother’s parenting style.

Wyatt and Augie are very different characters. Wyatt is more tech savvy and strategic and Augie is smart about nature, hunting, fishing and survival in the woods. Both boys have a healthy respect for each other’s differences. As a result, their joint talents contribute to the best summer vacation both boys have ever had. There are other interesting characters there to support the boys when needed. But this is really a kids story.

I was pleased that Wyatt and Augie do the right thing when they realize Gerard, who is differently abled, has been mistreated and threatened by the bullies. They befriend Gerard, draw him into their plan, and help him find his voice.

The plot is believable, thrilling, tense and action-packed. It will keep readers quickly turning pages. When Augie and Wyatt discover two older bullies have messed with their fort, it’s time to act. Together they devise the most awesome strategic plan to teach two bullies a valuable lesson. It isn’t mean-spirited, but will make readers chuckle!

Cynthia DeFelice is the author of many popular books, including Wild Life, The Ghost of Fossil Glen, Signal, and the Missing Manatee. Her novels have been nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award and listed as American Library Association Notable Children’s Books. Visit DeFelice at her website.

**I won Fort in drawing on Greg Pattridge’s popular website, Always in the Middle. He reviews interesting and entertaining middle grade books. Please check it out!

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

Cowboy Car by Jeanie Franz Ransom

Cowboy Car

Jeanie Franz Ransom, Author

Ovi Nedelcu, Illustrator

Two Lions, Fiction, Apr. 11, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Cars, Pursuing Dreams, Courage, Friendship

Opening: Ever since he was knee-high to his daddy’s hubcaps, Little Car wanted to be a COWBOY.

Synopsis: Little Car grew up in a crowded city garage where he saw cowboys on TV. He learned that cowboys lived in a place called Out West, where there was a lot of space and they could sleep under the stars. Cowboys could wear big hats, drive the range, herd cattle and circle the campfire.  Little Car wanted to be a cowboy. He didn’t want to live in noisy big city.

Everyone told him that cars couldn’t be cowboys. His dad wanted him to be a taxi cab, like him. His mother wanted him to be a family car, like her. One day Little Car packed up his trunk and headed west until he found a big ranch and Dusty, a cowboy. “Cars can’t be cowboys. They can’t ride horses!” Little Car was so convincing, that Dusty gave him a chance. Will Little Car prove he’s got what it takes to be a cowboy?

Why I like this book:

In his heart Little Car knows he’s destined for greater things.  Little Car has character and determination. Kids will cheer for Little Car and his big ambition to pursue his dream of becoming a cowboy.  They will laugh when Dusty asks him to move a big bales of hay and Little Car ends up beneath the pile. But when Dusty is thrown from a mean bull at a rodeo, Little Car struts his stuff with a big VROOOMMM and drives off to help his friend. The ending is endearing.

Jeanie Franz Ransom’s text flows nicely, with fun wordplay (brake dancing) and excellent pacing.  Ovi Nedelcu adds to the excitement of Little Car’s big adventure with his colorful, expressive and zany illustrations, which will quickly draw children into this entertaining story. Wait until kids get a look at Little Car’s fifty-gallon hat! Verdict: This book is a winner!

Resources: Ask children what kind of car/vehicle (truck, boat, golf cart, camper, bus, train etc.) they would like to be. What color would they want to be? Would they have a name?  Would they have an important job like to do like helping people?  Ask kids to draw a picture of the car/vehicle they’ve selected.

Jeanie Franz Ransom was a cowgirl growing up. She had a pony and a showed horses all over the Midwest. She is now an award-winning author. Her recent titles include Big Red and the Little Bitty Wolf and There’s a Cat in Our Class.  I’ve reviewed both books. You can visit Ransom at her website to learn more.

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 Perfect Picture Books

Seasons of Joy by Claudia Marie Lenart

Seasons of Joy: Every Day is for Outdoor Play

Claudia Marie Lenart, Author and Illustrator

Loving Healing Press, Fiction, Apr. 1, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 2-4

Themes: Seasons, Nature, Animals, Multicultural Children, Playing outdoors

Opening: Wake up! It’s Spring. / Trees are tipped in wisps of green. / Let’s stretch our legs and run on soft, fresh grass. / Up and down the hills we hop and jump / Like newborn bunnies do.

Book Jacket Synopsis: The pure and simple delight of children playing outside is captured in needle-felted wool paintings created by Claudia Marie Lenart. The picture books pairs dreamy images of multicultural children, animals, flowers and trees with verse that expresses the joy young children experience in nature’s seasons. Children can see themselves in the diverse characters and can be inspired to spend more time playing outdoors and connecting to nature.

What I like about this book:

Claudia Marie Lenart’s Seasons of Joy is magical.  Her rhyming prose conjures such beautiful visual images of each season and encourages young children to go outside to picnic in a meadow, watch butterflies dance, float on waves, pile leaves high, gather nuts and pine cones, make snow angels and build snow castles. Just read the opening (above) and let her words roll around your mouth and feel their power.

Accompanying her lyrical language is Lenart’s signature wool artwork, which will captivate children as they study all of the beautiful detail in each dreamy scene. Children will experience the wonder, joy and adventure in spending a day romping in nature throughout the seasons. This is a perfect bedtime story.

Resources: Spend a day outdoors picking violets, climbing a tree, playing games in the meadow with friends, exploring creeks or counting the stars at night.

Claudia Marie Lenart is a fiber artist whose passion is needle felting.  Her soft sculpture characters are created by repeatedly poking wool and other natural fibers, like alpaca, with a barbed needle. She illustrated three books for the late children’s author Jewel Kats: Jenny and Her Dog Both Fight Cancer, Prince Preemie, and Hansel & Gretel: A Fairy Tale with a Down Syndrome Twist.  To learn more about Lenart’s artistry and books, visit 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 Perfect Picture Books.