I Am Farmer by Baptiste and Miranda Paul

I Am Famer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon

Baptiste & Miranda Paul, Authors

Elizabeth Zunon, Illustrator

Millbrook Press, Nonfiction,  Feb. 5, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 7-11

Themes: Farmer, Agriculture, Cameroon, Environmentalism, Making a difference

Opening: This is Northwestern Cameroon. Green. Wet. Alive. The rainy season has begun.

Book Synopsis: When Tantoh Nforba was a child, he loved the dirt and all that grew in his grandmother’s garden. In school, his fellow students mocked him by calling him Farmer. His older brother told him to study hard so he could one day get a job in an office. But Tantoh knew that wasn’t the right path for him. Instead he listened to his heart.

Today Tantoh is proud to call himself Farmer. Farmer Tantoh is an environmental leader, bringing clean water and bountiful organic gardens to the central African nation of Cameroon.  He is also the founder of the international charity Save Your Future Association.

Why I like this book:

Baptiste and Miranda Paul’s book is my favorite kind of story to share — children who see a problem and try to make a difference in their communities. In this case it is a boy from Cameroon, Tantoh Nforba, who loves nature, gardening and farming. He learns as much as he can from his grandmother and at school, eventually studies agriculture in the United States and returns to help his country. He finds ways to save the rain, find clean underground water and grow crops without poisoning the soil. It is also a story about how Tantoh discovers his greatest resources is the people in his community who work together to produce food, flowers and green spaces.  This is a book for readers who want to make a difference.

The full-page, mixed-media illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon are beautiful, colorful, and lively. Many include collages which add texture and meaning to the story. The book also includes pictures of Farmer Tantoah, Cameroon, maps, Author’s Note, a glossary and many more pictures of the community at work.

Resources: Encourage your children to grow seeds during the winter so they can plant in their very own gardens in the spring and summer. Encourage them to get the hands dirty and tend to the watering, weeding and the harvesting of produce and flowers they grow. The book is an excellent resource for parents and teachers.

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 purchased copy.

Emily Out of Focus by Miriam Spitzer Franklin

Emily Out of Focus

Miriam Spitzer Franklin, Author

Sky Pony Press, Fiction,  May 7, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: China, Adoptions, Siblings, Travel, Photography, Family Relationships, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Emily is flying with her parents to China to adopt and bring home a new baby sister. She’s excited but nervous to travel across the world and very aware that this trip will change her entire life. And the cracks already starting to show the moment the reach the hotel — her parents are all about the new baby and have no interest in exploring with Emily.

In the adoption trip group, Emily meets Katherine, a Chinese American girl whose family has returned to China to adopt a second child. The girls eventually become friends and Katherine reveals a secret: she’s determined to find her birth mother, and she wants Emily’s help. But both girl’s families have forbidden the girls to leave the hotel room to explore even the lobby gift shops with out adults. How will they be able to execute Katherine’s plans?

New country, new family, new responsibilities — it’s all a lot to handle, and Emily has never felt more alone.

What I like about this book:

Emily Out of Focus is a heartwarming and fast-paced read that will appeal to readers who are expecting new additions in their families through birth, adoption or fostering a child. It drew me in immediately since both our children were adopted — an older son from India and a newborn daughter locally.

Emily’s regular diary entries give readers insight into her reluctant feelings about the adoption her new sister, Mei Lin, from China.  After all, isn’t she enough? She also has fears about flying, eating real Chinese food, losing her Nana’s prized camera she’s hiding in her backpack, and not being able to really see China and taking the photos she needs to win a photographic scholarship to a special camp because she’ll be stuck in a hotel room with a new baby and family. And, then there is the secret photojournalist project she’s working on keeping to help her friend.

Emily’s shared love of photography with her deceased grandmother, who was an award-winning photographer for National Geographic, is touching. Her grandmother’s voice always seems to be around to guide her through her journey and the final project Emily focuses on at the end.

Emily’s friendship with Chinese-American Katherine, who wants to locate her Chinese mother or family members. Designated “finding spots” in China was a new concept for me. With the limitation on how many children parents could have, China has designated places where mothers can leave a new born.

Since the author is experienced in adopting children from China, the details, red tape and ceremonial dress traditions and picture-taking that are part of the process are fascinating. I enjoyed the group trips to the box store (huge Walmart) where the families buy baby clothing, bottles, strollers and diapers; the visit to the orphanage where new infants lay in little cribs close to the floor and strapped to the railings; and the visit to the “finding spot” for each adopted child.

Miriam Spitzer Franklin has been sharing her love of reading and writing with students for years as an elementary and middle school teacher. She is the author of Extraordinary and Call Me Sunflower. She currently teaches language arts to middle school students in Waxhaw, NC. Miriam lives with her husband, two daughters-one who was adopted from China, and two pampered cats in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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.

Chasing Helicity Into the Wind by Ginger Zee

Chasing Helicity Into the Wind, Book 2

Ginger Zee, Author

Disney-Hyperion, Fiction, Apr. 23, 2019

Pages: 250

Suitable for Ages: 10-13

Themes: Weather, Storms, Meteorology, Storm chasers, Texas, Bed and Breakfast, Family relationships

Publisher’s Synopsis:

When fourteen-year-old Helicity Dunlap flies for Texas to spend time with her best friend Mia she hopes to leave the tragedies of the devastating tornado and flash flood back in Michigan — at least for a little while. Her responsibilities at Mia’s Aunt Suze’s beachfront bed and breakfast are pretty simple and leave her lots of time to enjoy hunting for sea glass, sunbathing, and exploring a summer romance.

But Helicity comes by her name honestly — Helicity means to spin — and her troubles from home follow her south. Her concerns about her older brother Andy intensify even though he shows up to surprise her in Texas.

And if there’s one place in the world that has weather to rival Michigan’s, it’s Texas. She and her friends go out for a day sail and get caught up in a derecho — a line of intense, widespread, and fast-moving windstorms — that once again turns her boat and life upside down. And there’s a hurricane brewing in the Gulf. She’ll have to face her fears and muster all her strength and knowledge to fight her way out of the nightmare.

Why I like this book:

Author Ginger Zee, chief meteorologist for ABC, has cleverly penned an ideal book for teens who like science and are fascinated by weather, storms and meteorology. I must admit one of my favorite movies is Twister, so when I saw Chasing Helicity Into the Wind, I was intrigued. This is the first novel I’ve read  about severe tropical weather that is gripping and packed with cool science and weather information. I learned about dangerous, fast-moving windstorms that form quickly over water, called “derechos.” This story is fast-paced and action-packed, which will please readers from 10-14.

The characters are convincing and vividly drawn. Helicity is a head-strong weather junkie and loves anything that has to do with meteorology. She is a determined survivor and not a victim, a mantra that she whispers to herself during difficult situations. Her brother, Andy and friend, Sam, join her in Texas. Andy is dealing with his own demons (pain killers) from the Michigan tornado. Sam is a stable partner in the story and a great balance for Helicity. It’s is fascinating to watch Helicity, Sam and Andy use their knowledge of storms, to identify a dangerous weather condition, take swift action and seek safety. Yes, there is melodrama and even a little romance.

The books ends with a huge cliff-hangar and I was bummed. So readers, beware, there will be a book 3. I plan to read the first book to better understand the series and the depth of Helicity, Adam and Sam’s painful memories of surviving the tornado and raging flood in Michigan, even though this book could be a stand-alone read.

Chasing Helicity Into the Wind is a perfect summer read with the unpredictable weather — tornadoes, storms, and potential upcoming hurricane season. Readers will learn a lot about the weather that may just keep them safe. It is also makes STEM subjects more exciting and relatable to readers.

Quotes: Pages 113-114

Suddenly, something on the horizon stole Helicity’s attention. She blinked, not sure what she was seeing at first. when she figured it out, her stomach lurched. “Sam,” she said urgently, “we need to find Mia and Trey and get to shore. Now.”

An ominous dark cloud sat like a hulking beast over the distant shore. But as frightening as it looked, the cloud wasn’t what had Helicity urging Sam to power up the motor and find their friends. It was the wind.

Ginger Zee is the Chief Meteorologist for ABC News, forecasting for and reporting on the nation’s weather from Good Morning America to World News Tonight. Zee has been on the ground before, during and after almost every major weather event and dozens of historic storms including Hurricane Katrina. She watched as the eye of Superstorm Sandy passed over Atlantic City and then covered the devastated Jersey Shore; she was there for the Colorado floods and wildfires; and the destructive tornadoes in Moore and El Reno, Oklahoma.

Zee’s dedication to science began at an early age, watching powerful thunderstorms rush across Lake Michigan. Her passion for meteorology brought her to stormchase in college at Valparaiso University where she earned her bachelor of science in meteorology. Throughout her career and especially in this book, Zee is dedicated to getting young people interested in science, respecting the environment and atmosphere around them.

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.

Warren and Dragon: Scary Sleepover by Ariel Bernstein

Warren and Dragon: Scary Sleepover, Book 4

Ariel Bernstein, Author

Mike Malbrough, Illustrator

Viking Books for Young Readers, Jun. 25, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Pages: 90

Themes: Sleepover, Fears, Homesickness, Family relationships, Imaginary friends

Opening: Some people might think that having a dragon for a pet is scary. I guess it sounds like it might be scary, because of the fire breathing and all, but I have a dragon for a pet and most of the time it’s pretty normal. Except when Dragon does his weird dancing jig. That’s always terrifying… He’s my pet.

Book Synopsis:

Warren’s friend Michael just got a cool new tent as a present. It’s too cold to go camping outdoors, so Michael invites Warren over for a sleepover where they can camp inside.

At first Warren is excited. They’ll order pizza, play foosball, and make ice-cream sundaes! Then they’ll  go down to the basement, crawl into their sleeping bags inside the tent and tell scary stories. Gulp! The more Warren thinks about sleeping somewhere besides his own safe bed, the more worried he gets. And his sidekick, Dragon, isn’t exactly reassuring.

But when Warren confesses his concerns to his friend Alison, he realizes that he isn’t the only kid nervous about sleepovers. The two of them make a pact to face their fears.  But will Warren be brave enough to camp in a dark basement that creaks and groans and listen to Michael’s scary stories?

Why I like this book:

This clever new chapter book series is realistic, heartfelt and delightful.  It is the fourth Warren & Dragon chapter book by Ariel Bernstein this past year. Sleeping overnight at a friend’s house for the first time can create a lot of anxiety for children. What if I get homesick? What if I get scared? What if I embarrass myself if I want to go home?  This fast-paced book is the perfect read-aloud at home or school. It is a great discussion starter for kids nervous about sleepovers.

Bernstein tackles this early right-of-passage with humor and authenticity. Warren’s character is a tad quirky and naïve, but believable. He is opposite of his outgoing twin sister. Warren’s imaginary marshmallow-loving, side-kick, Dragon, is quite the prankster and is good for many chuckles. Warren’s friendship with Alison is supportive as they come up with a pact and a plan. Mike Malbrough’s pen and ink illustrations are expressive and fun.

I like that the author shows diverse families with Warren’s friend, Michael, having two moms.  It’s always special when kids can see a family like theirs, whether it is a single parent, grandparent, two dads, or in this case two moms. Kudos to the author.

Ariel Bernstein loved sleepovers growing up, and was only afraid there wouldn’t be enough pizza and ice cream. Other books in the series include: Warren & Dragon 100 Friends; Warren & Dragon Weekend with Chewy; and Warren & Dragon Volcano Deluxe. She is also the author of I Have a Balloon and Where is my Balloon? Visit Bernstein 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.

*Copy reviewed from a library copy.

You Weren’t With Me by Chandra Ghosh Ippen

You Weren’t with Me

Chandra Ghosh Ippen, Author

Erich Ippen Jr., Illustrator

Piplo Productions, Fiction, Feb. 12, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Separation, Fear, Understanding, Love, Healing

Book Synopsis:

Little Rabbit and Big Rabbit are together after a difficult separation, but even though they missed each other, Little Rabbit is not ready to cuddle up and receive Big Rabbit’s love. Little Rabbit needs Big Rabbit to understand what it felt like when they were apart. “Sometimes I am very mad. I don’t understand why you weren’t with me,” says Little Rabbit. “I worry you will go away again.” Big Rabbit listens carefully and helps Little Rabbit to feel understood and loved. This story was designed to help parents and children talk about difficult separations, reconnect, and find their way back to each other.

What I like about this book:

Chandra Ghosh Ippen’s timely book addresses  a wide variety of painful situations in which a child is separated from a parent: divorce, military deployments, parental incarcerations, parental drug abuse and immigration-related separations. Indeed it is a treasure!  We need more stories like this to help jump-start the important conversations about challenging separations between children and parents. Only then can healing begin.

The animals characters make this book a perfect choice in dealing with tough issues. It isn’t a happy homecoming story, as both Little Rabbit and Big Rabbit have to learn to deal with their feelings and get use to each other. Little Rabbit is angry that Big Rabbit left, worries he/she may leave again and doesn’t trust it won’t happen again. The author gives Little Rabbit time to share his concerns before Big Rabbit responds and they find a way to reconnect.

Ippen’s illustrations are rendered in soft pastels and are priceless. The text is minimal with the illustrations carrying much of the story. There is an occasional burst of color that signals the feelings being shared. I especially like the physical distance and space between the rabbits throughout the story.  Little Rabbit needs time and space until trust is established again.  Slowly they move closer to one another. And the facial expressions are spot on for the feelings being communicated. Great collaboration between the author and illustrator.

Resource: This book is a resource due to the way it is written. It will encourage many important discussions. I think it would be fun to take some of the expressive illustrations and have children fill in their own dialogue.

Chandra Ghosh Ippen combines her love of story and cute creatures with her training in clinical psychology. She is the author of Once I Was Very Very Scared. She has also co-authored over 20 publications related to trauma and diversity-informed practice and has over 10 years of experience conducting training nationally and Internationally.

Erich Ippen Jr. was always interested as a boy to drawing cartoons and character designs. In his professional career, he has created visual effects for movies like Rango, Harry Potter, The Avengers, Star Wars and many other films. He is also a singer, songwriter, music producer and founding member of the local San Francisco band, District 8.

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.

*Review copy provided by the author.

Taking Cover by Nioucha Homayoonfar

Taking Cover: One Girl’s Story of Growing Up During the Iranian Revolution

Nioucha Homayoonfar, Author

National Geographic Children’s Books, YA Nonfiction, Jan. 8, 2019

Suitable for Ages:  12 and up

Themes: Growing up during the Iranian revolution, Oppression, Family relationships, Friendships

Synopsis: Nioucha Homayoonfar is a French-Iranian American girl who moves to Tehran, Iran, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1976, at just five years old.  Nioucha must adjust to living in a new country, learning a new language, starting a new school, and making new friends. But none of that compares to the change Nioucha experiences during and after the revolution of 1979.

Religion classes became mandatory at school and the boys are separated from the girls. Nioucha has to cover her head and wear robes so that none of her skin shows. She has friends who parents are executed, and her own cousin is captured and tortured after he is caught trying to leave Iran.

And yet in the midst of so much change, Nioucha is still just a girl who’s trying to figure out her place in the world. She spends happy times with her family. She listens to forbidden music and idolizes pop stars, but has to do it carefully because Western music is banned. She gets her legs waxed and has her first boyfriend, but they cannot be seen in public together. They keep their relationship a secret. Will Nioucha ever get used to this new way of life?

Why I like this book:

Nioucha’s story immediately captivated me because I had a college friend who married an Iranian and moved to Tehran in the mid-70s. And I knew a woman whose father was a senior advisor to the Shah and fortunately lived in the Washington D.C. when the exile occurred. I was eager to learn more because so little has been written about the culture, the  oppression of women and Iranian life.  So I enjoyed this personal and moving true story about a 12-year-old girl navigating a very tense and complex time in Iran’s revolutionary history. One moment she is living in a very modern Iran where women enjoy a lot of freedom. When the Shah and his family are driven into exile, the Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran as its ruler. The changes are dramatic and scary at times, particularly when Iran and Iraq go to war and there are bombings in her neighborhood.

The first chapter is compelling and draws the readers to the everyday dangers of living in Iran after the revolution began. Smart opening!  “I knew I was in trouble when the white jeep made a U-turn. Driven by the Zeinab Sisters (or the Black Crows, as I called them), it raced toward me and screeched to a stop.”  The stage is set for readers when Nioucha is kidnapped by the Moral Police, thus allowing the author to back track and share vivid memories of her childhood, family life, food, customs, and traditions. She also includes eight photographs in the center of the book about her family, friends and her neighborhood.

Readers will enjoy Nioucha’s spunk and inner rebellion. Like many teens she takes risks. She dislikes the religion class and tells the strict teacher that she is Christian and not Muslim. She manages to get out of attending class for quite a while before she is caught. She also has a secret boyfriend, which could cause her serious trouble if she gets caught. There is humor in her behavior as she tries to figure out who she is.

This book was published in time for the 40th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. It is an extraordinary story that breathes life into history and makes it come alive for readers. There are so many topics to explore in this memoir: revolution, oppression, tolerance, religion and history. Make sure you check out the foreword by Iranian-born author Firoozeh Dumas, who talks about pre-revolutionary Iran where women were making advancements in fields and where the population was secular and co-existing peacefully. At the end there is a map of Iran and the surrounding area and a time line of Iranian history.

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.

Because by Mo Willems

Because

Mo Willems, Author

Amber Rem, Illustrator

Hyperion Books for Children, Fiction, Mar. 5, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Music, Musicians, Concerts, Serendipity, Chance, Magic

Opening: “Because a man named Ludwig wrote beautiful music — a man named Franz was inspired to create his own. Because many years later, people wanted to hear Franz’s beautiful music — they formed an orchestra.”

Synopsis:

Best-selling author and illustrator Mo Willems composes a powerful symphony of chance, discovery, persistence, and magic in this moving tale of a young girl’s journey to center stage. Illustrator Amber Ren brings Willems’ music to life, conducting a stunning picture-book debut.

Why I like this book:

There is so much beauty in this book. The tone of the text is wistful and wondering, inviting readers along a journey with a powerful life lesson — if you work hard at something you love, it pays off. The story is inspiring with a lot chance and serendipity woven throughout. Because someone’s uncle caught a cold — someone’s aunt had an extra ticket for someone special. This someone special was a girl who heard the beautiful music written by Franz and it changed her life. Willems shows how one chance can have a ripple effect leading to another, and another, and culminating in a chain of events that inspire others.

Amber Rem brings the story to life with her stunning illustrations. She creates a ribbon of musical notes that float through the pages and weaves its own magic. She pays a lot of attention to detail, especially with facial expressions. This is Rem’s debut picture book, and her artwork is gorgeous. And make sure you check out the endpapers to see Franz Schubert’s music, and a composition composed for this story, called “The Cold,” by Hilary Purrington.

Resources: This is a spectacular book to share with children about music. Take them to a children’s concert, or a performance where there is an orchestra. And, check out Mo Willems’s story behind the story by visiting his website and watching this creative video.

Because Mo Willems grew up writing and drawing comics — he became a writer and animator on Sesame Street (where he won six Emmy Awards). Because Mo also loved reading as a kid — he wanted to make books. Because of many other becauses, Mo has written and illustrated over fifty children’s books and has been awarded three Caldecott Honors, two Theodor Seuss Geisel Medals, and five Geisel Honors.

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 library copy.

Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh

Nowhere Boy

Katherine Marsh, Author

Roaring Brook Press, Fiction, Aug. 7, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Boat refugee, Syrian crisis, American boy, Belgium, Resilience, Friendship, Self-discovery, Hope

Book Synopsis: Fourteen-year-old Ahmed is stranded in a city that wants nothing to do with him. Newly arrived in Brussels, Belgium, Ahmed fled a life of uncertainty and suffering in Syria. He loses his mother and sister when their home is bombed. He flees with his father on a perilous journey to the shores of Europe. The rubber boat they are in takes on water, and Ahmed’s father jumps into the water with two other men to pull the boat to shore. But his father is lost to the sea. One of the men, Ibrahim looks after Ahmed and takes him to Belgium, where they end up in a tent city. Ahmed flees and is struggling to get by on his own, with no one left, no money and nowhere to go, his hope  fading.

Then he meets Max, a thirteen-year-old boy from Washington D.C., who is living with his family in Belgium for a year. Max is having trouble at his new school learning French and just can’t seem to do anything right, according to his parents. But with one startling discovery, Max and Ahmed’s lives collide and a friendship begins to grow. Ahmed is hiding in a wine cellar of Max’s home and needs help. Together Ahmed and Max will defy the odds, learning from each other what it means to be brave and how hope can change your destiny.

Why I like this book:

Nowhere Boy has a gripping plot that won’t let you go until you finish the book — all 358 pages. Ahmed’s journey is perilous across the sea. But the journey that Ahmed and Max make across Europe is even more thrilling. It gives readers an important snapshot of how refugees are welcomed in some countries and treated like criminals in others. There are so many themes covered in this book: refugee crisis, Syrian war, terrorism in France and Belgium, Islamophobia and heroism. This is an important classroom book.

The alternating chapters by Max and Ahmed’s strong voices, adds depth to the characters and the expert storytelling. Readers will enjoy meeting Max, Ahmed, Farah and Oscar. Max is clearly the hero of the story when he decides to hide Ahmed in his basement wine cellar to keep him safe from the unwelcoming Belgium police. Although he isn’t doing well in his new school,  he is smart, determined and cleverly outsmarts a lot of people. Max has an intuitive sense of people and a huge heart. Ahmed is resilient, thoughtful and never gives up on his dreams of returning to school and making a better life for himself.  Max recruits Farah, a Muslim girl born in Belgium and Oscar, the school bully to help him create an identity for Ahmed so he can attend school. Oscar is a surprising character and who has an interesting journey of his own in this story.

Max lives on a street named Albert Jonnart.  Jonnart hid a Jewish boy during WW II in his home, helped  him escape the Nazi’s, but was sent to a labor camp himself. Max sees the comparison between Jonnart and Anne Frank’s story and similarities between the Jewish and the Syrian refugees. He learns as much as he can about Jonnart. It gives Max the courage and inner strength to plan and execute what he feels is “right” for Ahmed, just like Jonnart did.

This is a timely book that clearly demonstrates what fear does to people.  Madame Pauline, a woman Max’s parents hired to keep an eye on him after school, views all Syrians and Muslims as dangerous and potential terrorists. Her life is consumed with fear and hatred, as are other characters in the story who remember how WW II weakened Europe. This is an important topic for discussion.

Nowhere Boy is an exciting read packed with history (past and present), but it’s also a book about friendship, self-discovery and hope. It belongs in classrooms as an important discussion book. Make sure you read the interview questions with the author, Katharine Marsh, at the end of the book and visit her website.

Katherine Marsh is the Edgar Award-winning author of The Night Tourist; The Twilight Prisoner; Jepp, Who Defied the Stars; and The Doors by the Staircase. Katherine grew up in New York and now lives in Brussels, Belgium, with her husband and two children.

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.

The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros

The Remember Balloons

Jessie Oliveros, Author

Dana Wulfekotte, Illustrator

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Aug. 28, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Aging grandparent, Memory, Family relationships, Balloons

Opening: I have lots and lots of balloons, way more than my little brother. “This one’s my favorite,” I tell him, pointing to the balloon filled with my last birthday party.

Publisher Synopsis:

James has a lot of balloons. They’re where he keeps his favorite memories of birthday parties, eating cake with chocolate frosting and riding a pony.

Grandpa has lived a long life and has the most balloons. Birthdays and long-ago summers, his wedding day, the birth of children and grandchildren, his favorite dog and special camping trips — Grandpa’s balloons hold so many great stories. James love to hear them all.

When Grandpa’s balloons start drifting away, so does his memory. James want to catch the balloons, but he can’t.  James now has to be the one share stories — to share his balloons with Grandpa.

Why I like this book:

What a treasure! Jessie Oliveros’ tackles the timely and difficult topic of memory loss in a sensitive way so that children will easily understand. With many seniors living older to see great- and great-great grandchildren, this is an important book for families to remember. This book is a treasure! A moving story about a girl trying to make sense of her grandmother’s memory loss.

Oliveros’ story is so beautifully written. We tend to hold our memories in things, and for James and his grandfather it is balloons. The balloon metaphor is ideal for children, because balloons hold many joyful memories.

Dana Wulfekotte’s black and white illustrations with splashes of color are perfect for this story. Children will see the racial diversity in the family, which the illustrator weaves into his illustrations. He also uses a lot of white space — space to breathe and collect your thoughts as you study each and every page.

Resources: The book alone is a great resource to talk with your children about aging, memory loss and family history. Encourage your children to interview their grandparents and journal family stories. Parents may want to check out the National Institute on Aging for additional information to help children understand Alzheimer’s.

Jessie Oliveros grew up watching Kansas sunsets. Her childhood balloon is sunflower yellow and filled with memories of chasing tornadoes, romping through the woods and fishing with her grandpa. After a fulfilling career as a registered nurse, Jessie hung up her stethoscope to grow children and stories. These days you can find her in the Texas hill country with her husband and their four kids. You can visit Jessie Oliveros 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 library copy.

The Problim Children: Carnival Catastrophe by Natalie Lloyd

The Problim Children: Carnival Catastrophe Vol. 2

Natalie Lloyd, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Jun. 25, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Siblings, Suspense, Treasures, Mystery, Adventure, Family Relationships, Humor

Prologue: “The wind came as a night visitor, sneaking through the town of Lost Cove like a clumsy bandit. Knockings boats against each other in the harbor, pushing over trash cans, tossing tree limbs into the street, and swirling across the barren land where a river used to be. A purple-tailed squirrel sleeping in a tall magnolia tree on Main Street startled awake. It was not afraid of this weather … but it was definitely curious. “…” At House Number Seven, the wind burst through an upstairs window with a huff and a puff and a roar. It billowed down the stairs, all the way to the basement, and whispered over the face of a dark-haired girl as she dreamed.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

All the Problim siblings are capable of magic if they stick together. But trusting each other isn’t easy for the seven siblings when neighbors like Desdemona and Carly-Rue O’Pinion are working double-time to turn the town against them.

From catapulting cattle to runaway corndogs to spiders on the pageant stage, the Problim brothers and sisters are blamed for every catastrophe at this year’s carnival. And to top it all off, Mama Problim is missing!

Can the seven siblings come together in time to save the carnival and rescue their mom from a villain even more dastardly than Desdemona? Or will they discover too late what it truly means to be a Problim?

Why I like this book:

Natalie Lloyd never fails to delight with her exquisite, lyrical prose and fun-loving narratives.  She is a master with clever wordplay, rhymes and clues. She is an original voice in children’s literature. Her sequel, Carnival Catastrophe, is a witty romp in weirdness and chaos, as the siblings are frantic to rescue their missing mother (an archeologist) and have some fun in the town’s annual Corn Dog Carnival.

You can’t help but be enamored with the weird and beguiling Problim children and their beloved pig, Ichabod. Lloyd writes her characters with depth, emotion and charm. Each of the seven kids is named after a day of the week and  has a magical talent — from flatulent toddler “Tootykins” (Tuesday) to Wendell, (Wednesday) who works with water. In this sequel, Mona (Monday) takes center stage. She is creepy, odd, and wears spiders that dangle as earrings and from her finger tips. She is definitely the weird child. When she decides to participate in Lost Cove’s Corn Dog Carnival  beauty pageant, she dresses as a vampire. She is prone towards trickery, which proves to be scary during the pageant. Although Mona enjoys her individuality, readers will enjoy her profound character growth — something that takes great courage as she relates to her arch nemesis, Carley-Rue O’Pinion. and realizes that her assumptions may be wrong.

The plot is a thrilling and dangerous adventure, as Mona and her siblings search for treasure and their missing mother.  Scattered throughout the story are pen and ink drawings of the action, which adds to the quirky feel of the story. The book reminds me of my hours spent with Pippi Longstocking. But today’s readers will liken it to The Penderwicks and Lemony Snicket. There is a lot of fun and humor along their journey. For readers who are charmed by the Problim Children, there will be a final book in the trilogy. Lloyd leaves readers with a cliff hanger. Both young and older readers will enjoy Carnival Catastrophe. It is the perfect summer read!

Natalie Lloyd is the New York Times bestselling author of A Snicker of Magic, which has been optioned for television by Sony TriStar. Lloyd’s other novels include The Key to Extraordinary, and The Problim Children series. Lloyd lives in Tennessee with her husband, Justin and her dogs. Visit Lloyd 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.

*Review copy provided by the publisher.