The Case of the Bad Apples by Robin Newman

The Case of the Bad Apples (A Wilcox and Griswold Mystery)

Robin Newman, Author

Deborah Zemke, Illustrator

Creston Books, Fiction, Sep. 1, 2020

Suitable for ages: 5-11

Themes: Animals, Pigs, Farm, Mystery, Detectives, Crime, Bad apples

Opening: “Boys and girls, this case is about some bad apples on Ed’s farm.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Detective Wilcox and Captain Griswold are on the case again, trying to discover who poisoned the apples Porcini pigged out on. Was it Sweet Pea, the piglet next door; Herman the Rat; or Hot Dog the nosy pooch? Who had motive, means, and no alibi? Follow the clues and figure out who was behind Porcini’s terrible tummy ache.

Why I like this book:

Robin Newman has penned a spirited and comical third chapter book in The Wilcox and Griswold Mystery series. Wilcox and Griswold (Missing Food Investigators or MFI’s) are called daily to solve a food problem on Ed’s Farm. This time a troublemaker has left a gift basket of poisoned Granny Smith apples for Porcini to hog down. And he’s hog sick.

No one hits the sweet spot with food- and animal-based wordplay like Newman. PIG-DIC-U-LOUS! She’s a master and her food-related crimes are hilarious! She had me chuckling from page one with “Porcini  pigged out” on apples.  Rushing to the scene, the MFI’s get caught in heavy rush hour traffic. “There are road hogs, squealing, oinking, and grunting, but they finally let us pass. Typical road hogs. Typical indeed.”

Everyone is suspect on Ed’s Farm for the attempted “hamslaughter.” Sweet Pea, the piglet; Herman, the rat; Fowler, the owl; and Hot Dog, the nosy pooch, who Porcini claims regularly steals his food. Will Dr. Alberta Einswine, from Whole Hog Emergency Care, be able to help the detectives get to the rotten core of this mystery?

Don’t miss the fun details on every page: Porcini looking pretty green with his tummy ache, hoof prints left on the remaining apples, and other gathered evidence. And make sure you check out the endpapers for the detective details, case report, and evidence folder. Dr. Einswine’s report is not to be missed! And there is a recipe for Apple Pockets that kids can make at home, with supervision.

Deborah Zemke‘s colorful and expressive illustrations fill each page and contribute to the silliness of this perfect mystery about “who done it.” Another exceptional collaboration between the author and illustrator. Here’s hopping for more Wilcox and Griswold cases to solve.

Resources: Check out Robin Newman’s website. She has a wonder Teacher’s Guide to use with student that covers this puzzling mystery about who wanted to make pork chops out of Porcini. Wanna be detectives will delight in going through all of the steps of solving a crime.

Robin Newman was raised in New York City (a/k/a the Big Apple) and Paris where she was a practicing attorney and legal editor, but she now prefers to write about witches, mice, pigs, and peacocks. She lives
in New York with her husband, son, two English Cocker Spaniels, and one French Bulldog. Visit her at her website.

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

*Review copy provided by the author in exchange for a review.

Lulu the One and Only by Lynnette Mawhinney

Lulu the One and Only

Lynnette Mawhinney, Author

Jennie Poh, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Jun. 9, 2020

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Racially-mixed people, Prejudices, Individuality, Self-esteem, Family Relationships

Opening: “My name is Luliwa Lovington, but everyone calls me Lulu. It means “pearl” in Arabic.

Synopsis:

Lulu and Zane’s mother is from Kenya. Their father is white and he coaches Zane’s hockey team. When she’s with her dad, kids think they are adopted. But being a mixture of both her parents stirs up the inevitable question…”What are you? ” Lulu hates that question.

Her older brother Zane, says the question is annoying. But he’s proud of his family and being brown. So he creates a power phrase that he uses: “I am magic made from my parents.”   He says “It helps people understand who you are, not what you are.” Will Lulu find her power phrase?

Why I like this book:

Lynnette Mawhinney has written a sensitive and heartfelt story that empowers children who are mixed race, biracial, or multiracial. Lulu is always being asked the BIG question: What are you? In the story she learns how to deal with her feelings about being mixed race and how to stand proud when she is asked that inevitable question.  There is so much beauty in this story.

Mixed race children often deal with teasing, like her brother Zane. When Lulu is asked THAT question, it comes across as curiosity from some kids, teasing from others. Lulu is a spunky character who is fortunate to have an older, confident brother in Zane, who can help her.

I like that the story is based on the real-life experiences of the author. It is a book that multiracial children and their families will identify with, but it is also a story that should be shared with all children. It is a perfect discussion book for classrooms.

Jennie Poh’s adorable illustrations are cheery and uplifting. They also showcase the bond Lulu and Zane have with their parents.

Resources: The author is biracial and shares many ways parents can start conversations with their children about race. Make sure you check out her Author’s Note at the end.

Lynnette Mawhinney, Ph.D, is the author of many books on education and teaching, but this is her first children’s book. She is a teacher educator that helps to prepare future teachers for the classroom. Lynnette uses her power phrase whenever she needs it as she is proud to be biracial. She lives in Chicago with her husband.  Visit her at her website.  Visit her on twitter: @lkmawhinney.

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 publisher in exchange for a review.

Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Black Brother, Black Brother

Jewell Parker Rhodes, Author

Little Brown and Company, Fiction, Mar. 3, 2020

Suitable for ages:

Themes: Fencing, African Americans, Brothers, Racism, Preparatory schools, Family life, Friendship

Opening: I wish I were invisible. Wearing Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak or Frodo Baggins’s Elvish ring. Whether shrouded in fabric or slipping on gold, it wouldn’t matter to me. I’d be gone. Disappeared.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

“Framed. Bullied. Disliked. But I know I can still be the best.”

Sometimes, 12-year-old Donte wishes he were invisible. As one of the few black boys at Middlefield Prep, most of the students don’t look like him. They don’t like him either. Dubbing him “Black Brother,” Donte’s teachers and classmates make it clear they wish he were more like his lighter-skinned brother, Trey.

When he’s bullied and framed by the captain of the fencing team, “King” Alan, he’s suspended from school, arrested and taken to jail for something he didn’t do. Just because he is black.

Terrified, searching for a place where he belongs, Donte joins a local youth center and meets former Olympic fencer Arden Jones. With Arden’s help, he begins training as a competitive fencer, setting his sights on taking down the fencing team captain, no matter what.

As Donte hones his fencing skills and grows closer to achieving his goal, he learns the fight for justice is far from over. Now Donte must confront his bullies, racism, and the corrupt systems of power that led to his arrest.

Powerful and emotionally gripping, Black Brother, Black Brother is a careful examination of the school-to-prison pipeline and follows one boy’s fight against racism and his empowering path to finding his voice.

Why I like this book:

Jewell Park Rhodes’s Black Brother, Black Brother is a timely, intelligent and well-executed novel for children and adults. Rhodes masterfully captures the pain of racial injustice for a 12-year-old black boy attending an all-white prep school outside of Boston. It is also a story about hope, believing in yourself, and choosing a higher path.

The characters are multi-layered and complex. The bond between brothers Donte and Trey is strong. Donte’s skin is like their African-American mother, and Trey’s is like their Norwegian father. Trey is a star athlete at school; Donte is not.  But what really stands out is the love and support they share as brothers. Their bond is unbreakable. And their parents are right there with them. Then there is a privileged  Middlefield Prep student, Alan, who punishes Donte for being darker than his brother. Alan is filled with so much hate and taunts Donte by calling him “Black Brother.”

Black Brother, Black Brother is also an engaging sports story. Readers will find fencing fascinating, as it requires skill, focus, honor, respect, patience and intuition.  Learning the sport from Arden Jones, an African-American national fencing champion, helps Donte find his voice and embrace who he is. For me, Donte’s relationship with “Coach” is the best part of the story. And it becomes clear that both coach and student need each other. They practice at the Boston Boys and Girls Club along with black twins, Zion and Zarra. Trey joins their small team in support his brother and learn the sport.

This is a compelling book to use to jump start the discussion about racism, privilege, and bias in our country — especially at school. Readers will be able to gain insight into the everyday experiences of their friends of color. It will help them develop empathy for others and hopefully encourage them to stand up for fairness and respect when they observe injustice at school and in their communities. If you are reading this book, it means you can make a difference! I hope this book becomes required reading in middle schools because it offers an opportunity for important dialogue among students.

*This book hit home for me, because we adopted a 13-year-old son from India in the 1985. He was darker than many black people and had shiny black hair. Everyday he dealt with questions like, “What are you?” Fortunately some white neighbor boys his age befriended him and had his back with school bullies. They remain his best friends today. As a successful adult, he still deals with racial profiling.

Jewell Parker Rhodes is the author of Ninth Ward, winner of a Coretta Scott King Honor, Sugar, winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, and the New York Times bestselling Ghost Boys, as well as Bayou Magic and Towers Falling.  She has also written many award-winning novels for adults. When she’s not writing, Jewell visits schools to talk about her books and teaches writing at Arizona State University.

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

*Reviewed from a library book.

Celebrate International Dot Day Sep. 15, 2020

Virtual Dot Day Celebration on Facebook with Peter H. Reynolds

Tuesday, Sep. 15, 2020 at 1 p.m. EDT

International Dot Day is upon us and 19,072,152 students from 188 countries have begun celebrating by making their dots.  I have personally watched this phenomenon grow year after year and it couldn’t be more timely and relevant to see children connecting, creating and caring about each other globally. The world needs Dot Day!

It all began with a book. The Dot. Written by Peter H. Reynolds in 2003. Iowa teacher Terry (T.J.) Shay, who held the very first Dot Day celebration in 2009, has been the motivational force behind this extraordinary annual event.

And a girl named Vashti, who claimed she couldn’t draw. Her teacher believed in Vashti and asked her to make a dot. She stabbed her dot on a piece of paper and handed it to her teacher. Her teacher asked her to sign it. A few days later, Vashti saw her “dot” framed and hanging at the front of the class.

Seventeen years later, Vashti’s act of courage continues to inspire children worldwide. Around September 15ish, over 19 million children will celebrate creativity, courage and collaboration as they participate in International Dot Day.

Each year teachers and students continue to take International Dot Day to a new level, using many ways to connect and partner with teachers and students in all 50 states and 186 countries. This is truly a global event where children are connecting the dots with each other around the world.

It’s not to late to sign up for International Dot Day. Register at www.TheDotClub.org to be part of this year’s tally, and get free downloadable #DotDay guide, certificate & multi-language posters.  Just beneath the picture of the world, you can click on language and 110 different languages will appear so may participate in your own language.  You will also find all the information and resources you will need to get started, inspired and connected. Teachers, make sure you check out the special section Skype in the Classroom to learn how to connect with students from other schools.

Follow International Dot Day on:
Facebook: Share on the Dot Day Facebook page (facebook.com/InternationalDotDay)
Twitter: Connect on Twitter using (twitter.com/DotClubConnect)
Use the hashtags: #DotDay and #Makeyourmark

The Three Little Yogis and the Wolf Who Lost His Breath by Susan Verde

The Three Little Yogis and the Wolf Who Lost His Breath

Susan Verde, Author

Jay Fleck, Illustrator

Abrams Books for young Readers, Fiction, May 5, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Anger, Worry, Wolf, Pigs, Fairy Tale, Yoga, Breathing

Opening: “Once Upon a time, there was a wolf who lost his huff and his puff. As you might imagine, this was a problem for the wolf…a BIG, BAD problem.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Once upon a time there lived a wolf who lost his huff and his puff. It was a BIG, BAD problem!

One morning, the wolf came upon a peaceful little yogi doing sun salutations. The wolf wanted to huff and puff and blooow her hut down into a big pile of straw. But instead the yogi suggested, “Let’s meditate on that!”

Soon the wolf met a second yogi, and then a third. He may have lost his huff and puff—but with the help of three new yogi friends, can the wolf find his breath?

The calming spin on a classic fairy tale helps little wolves everywhere learn just what to do when they feel like huffing and puffing.

This is Book 1 in the Feel-Good Fairy Tales series introduces a calming spin on a classic from #1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Verde.

Why I like this book:

Susan Verde provides a modern twist on this beloved fairy tale. Children will identify with and empathize with the wolf’s fear and anger. It’s interferring with his “huff and puff.” Little wolf can’t breath because he’s so wound up and tense inside. Enter the three little pigs, who are master yogis.

There is a gentle flow to Verde’s sparse text. Jay Fleck’s striking digital illustrations are colorful and soothing.  Readers will experience their calming impact as they turn the pages.  They will learn yoga poses along with the wolf. Lovely collaboration.

This is a great classroom read-aloud. Teaching children to help calm themselves through yoga and deep breathing will give them them a wonderful coping tools for life. I am delighted that there are many more books available on yoga, which is a simple everyday practice at school or home.

Resources: There is an Author’s Note at the end of the book with tips for teachers and parents on how to teach children breathing exercises and detailed yoga poses that will help them feel better.

Susan Verde is the author of the instant #1 New York Times bestseller I am Human. Her books include The Museum, You and Me, I Am Yoga, I Am Peace, I Am Love, My Kicks, The Water Princess, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Soul. In addition to writing books, she is a certified yoga and mindfulness instructor for kids of all ages. She lives in East Hampton, New York, with her three children, a cat, a dog, and a tarantula. Follow Susan Verder online.

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.

Wondrous Rex by Patricia MacLachlan

Wondrous Rex

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Emilia Dzubiak, Illustrator

Katherine Tegen Books, Mar. 17, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Dog, Animals, Words, Imagination, Stories, Writing, Friendship, Magic

Opening: “I am seven years old, and my life is soon to be full of “wondrous” happenings. “Wondrous” is a word I learned from my aunt Lily, a writer of books.”

Synopsis:

Grace’s aunt is a writer. She works with words every day and teaches Grace interesting words like “melancholy” and “delirious.” But Lily is often “flummoxed” by her writing. Her stories don’t go anywhere, her desk is a mess, and her writer’s group can’t help.

So Lily posts an ad for an assistant: A writer of books needs an assistant, a coach, a helper, for inspiration and some magic!

The next day, Grace opens the door, and there is Rex: a Labrador retriever who will change Grace’s life, and Lily’s. The word “amazing” is an everyday word for Rex, who inspires Lily, and helps Grace find the words to write her own story.

Newbery Medal-winning author Patricia MacLachlan has written a magical and funny tale about the joy found in using words, sharing stories, and loving a wondrous dog named Rex.

Why I like this book:

Patricia MacLachlan has written a magical and charming story about seven-year-old girl, Grace, who loves big words but isn’t sure how to use them to write a story. However, her teacher has confidence in her. What fun it would be to be Grace who has an Aunt Lily, who is a writer. But Grace quickly discovers that even writers have their moments coming up with story ideas.

And then there is Rex, a smart dog, who knows things and can keeps very good secrets. He appears to inspire Aunt Lily and Grace. Readers will fall in love with Rex, as does everyone in the story. Rex is central to the story. (*No Spoilers)

Wondrous Rex introduces children to the process of writing stories and poetry. They also get a peek at how author’s interact and support each other in their “writer’s groups.”  The story is also peppered with a few large words like, “flummoxed and wondrous.” I would have just loved this story as an eight-year-old,  because I was always writing poems, stories and plays, with no one to guide me.

The book has twelve chapters with 88 pages, perfect for older elementary students learning to tackle early middle grade books or reluctant readers.

Emilia Dzubiak’s pen and ink illustrations are lively, entertaining and perfect for text.

Patricia MacLachlan is the celebrated author of many timeless books for young readers, including Sarah, Plain and Tall, winner of the Newbery Medal. Her novels for young readers include My Father’s Words, The Poet’s Dog, Word After Word After Word, Kindred Souls, and The Truth of Me.  She is also the author of many beloved picture books, a number of which she cowrote with her daughter, Emily. She lives in Williamsburg, Massachusetts.

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

*Reviewed from a library book.

Dot. Goes Fishing

Dot. Goes Fishing

Candlewick Entertainment, Author, Fiction, Mar. 23, 2020

Suitable for ages: 5-8

Pages: 80

Themes: Fishing, Father and daughter, High tech gadgets, Nature

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Dot is all set to spend the day on the lake fishing with her dad. They’ve got fishing rods, bait, and lots of sandwiches. And since Dad always comes home from his fishing trips empty-handed, Dot has figured out the perfect high-tech way to make this the most successful trip ever: the Fisherman Joe Fish-Finder! All she has to do is put this amazing frog gadget in the water and open up the app on her tablet, and she and Dad can use sonar to detect all the fish in the lake. But Dot and Dad get a little more than they bargained for when the gadget gets eaten by a giant fish that is bent on traveling with it. Can Dad’s fishing expertise help save the day?

Why I like this book:

This is a clever and timely story about a father and daughter who have very different ideas about fishing. Dad enjoys making his salami sandwiches, relaxing in his rocking boat on the lake, enjoying the beautiful view, and spending time with his daughter. Dot is concerned that her father never brings home any fish from his trips.  For Dot, the fish always seem to outsmart her dad. So Dot goes high tech and surprises her dad with a “fish-finder.” Perhaps high tech isn’t always best — a great theme to discuss with kids.

Dot. Goes Fishing is a perfect summer read for children who are reading on their on and are preparing for middle grade books. The story is very entertaining for this age group. There are eight chapters with colorful and lively digital illustrations on every page by the Jim Henson Company.

This is new adventure is based on the animated TV series Dot, which debuted in 2016. Now, viewers can read about their favorite TV character in chapter books which include diversity.

Dot. Goes Fishing, based on a character created by Randi Zuckerberg, is the award-winning animated TV series produced by Industrial Brothers in association with the Jim Henson Company and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). The series has received a Kidscreen Award for Best New Series, a Parents’ Choice Silver Honor, a Common Sense Media five-star rating, a BANFF World Media Festival Rogers Prize for Excellence in Canadian Content, and other accolades. Dot. airs on Universal Kids and Hulu.

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

*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review

For Spacious Skies by Nancy Churnin

For Spacious Skies: Katharine Lee Bates and the Inspiration for “America the Beautiful”

Nancy Churnin, Author

Olga Baumert, Illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Biography, Apr. 1, 2020

Suitable for ages: 5-8

Themes: Katharine Lees Bates, Biography, Musical history, Poet, Writer, Scholar, Suffragist, “America the Beautiful”

Opening: “When Katharine Lee Bates was very young, the Civil War raged. Some of her earliest memories were of men trudging home in tattered blue. When Abraham Lincoln was shot, Katharine’s mother wept. A hush suffocated the streets of her village. The country’s heart was ripped in two.”

BookJacket Synopsis:

Katharine Lee Bates first wrote the lines to “America the Beautiful” in 1893, on a summer evening after a stirring visit to Pikes Peak. But the story behind the song begins with Katherine herself, who grew up with memories of the country divided by the Civil War and who pushed beyond conventional expectations of women to become an acclaimed writer, scholar, suffragist, and reformer.

She became the extraordinary woman who penned one of our country’s favorite songs. She believed in the power of words to make a difference, and in “America the Beautiful,” her vision of the nation as a great family, united from sea to shining sea, continues to uplift and inspire us all.

Why I like this book:

Nancy Churnin’s For Spacious Skies, is an inspiring and beautifully written biography about a young Katharine Lee Bates who defies the social norms for young women to sew, cook and marry in the 1880s. She wants to be a writer, studies hard and graduates from Wellesley.  It is heartwarming how her widowed mother believes in her daughter’s dreams. She takes in washing and sewing, and sells vegetables to help pay Katherine’s college tuition.

As Bates travels across the country in 1893, she sees its magnificent beauty, but she also sees great division and despair among its people. When she reaches the top of Pikes Peak she is moved by the “most glorious scenery I ever beheld.” A poem forms in her mind and she’s moved to write it down. Two years later it is published in a national magazine. In 1910, Samuel A. Ward composes a melody and her poem is sung and loved across the country. She never accepts money for what she writes. It is her gift to America — a country she believes in her heart is more connected than divided.

Bates is someone children can look up to because she shows them that they too can make a difference when they see injustices in their local communities and world. Bates becomes a professor and an activist for the poor, believes in equality and the right for women to vote. Her passionate journey to bring the country together will certainly inspire elementary students.

The book is visually engaging for young readers, thanks to Olga Baumert’s the stunning illustrations.

Resources: This book is a resource. Make sure you check out the Author’s Note at the end of the book, and a Timeline of Bates’ life. There is also a revised version of “America the Beautiful,” which I encourage you to teach your children, if they don’t know it.

Nancy Churnin is the author of several picture book biographies, including South Asia Book Award winner Manjhi Moves a Mountain and Sydney Taylor Notable Irving Berlin, the Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing, both Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. She is also the author of a Beautiful Shades of Brown: The art of Laura Wheeler Waring, The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game, and The Queen and the First Christmas Tree: Queen Charlotte’s Gift to England.  Visit Churnin 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 Elephant’s Girl by Celesta Rimington

The Elephant’s Girl

Celesta Rimington, Author

Crown Books for Young Readers, Fiction, May 19, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Elephants, Zoo, Tornado, Ghosts, Adventure, Mystery

Opening: “The wind and I have a complicated relationship. Because of the wind, I’m the girl without a birthday, without a name, without a beginning to my story. See, the wind took my family away when I was small, and I don’t remember them or where I came from.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

An elephant never forgets, but Lexington Willow can’t remember what happened before an EF5 tornado swept her away when she was a toddler. All she knows is that it landed her near an enclosure in a Nebraska zoo; and there an elephant named Nyah protected her from the storm. With no trace of her birth family, Lex grew up at the zoo with Nyah and her elephant family; her foster father, Roger; her best friend, Fisher; and the wind whispering in her ear.

Now that she’s twelve, Lex is finally old enough to help with the elephants. But during their first training session, Nyah sends her a telepathic image of the woods outside the zoo. Despite the wind’s protests, Lex decides to investigate Nyah’s message and gets wrapped up in an adventure involving ghosts, lost treasure, and a puzzle that might be the key to finding her family. As she hunts for answers, Lex must summon the courage to leave the secure borders of her zoo to discover who she really is–and why the tornado brought her here all those years ago?

Why I like this book:

Celesta Rimington’s debut novel about Lexington’s mission to discover her true identity is full of heart, family, and friendship. Rimington’s writing is graceful and filled with vivid imagery and details. Readers will find themselves lured into Lex’s story from the first chapter.

This is a magical adventure about Lex’s unique relationship with the African elephant, Nyah, and a mysterious ghost, who both save her life on the night the tornado that sweeps through the zoo. Lex feels a connection to Nyah, who communicates with her telepathically. Nyah leads Lex to find Miss Amanda, who insists she’s a “misplaced spirit,” who has some unfinished business to attend to that involves a hidden treasure.

The characters are authentic and well developed. Lex is curious and determined to learn about her past. She loves Roger Marsh, the zoo’s train engineer, who becomes her legal guardian, when her family isn’t found. They live on the zoo grounds in his home. And for Lex, the zoo is home. When Lex starts school, kids are mean and call her “the elephant girl.” So she is home schooled by Mrs. Leigh, the zoo keeper’s wife and mother of her best friend, Fisher. Lex can always count on Fisher. Their summer involves searching for ghosts, chasing a lost treasure, mischief and danger. But because they live at the zoo, there are chores and many things to do. Readers are going to want to live at a zoo.

I was drawn to this story because of my love of elephants. And Rimington doesn’t disappoint with her extensive research into how these intelligent elephants communicate with each other over distances through the thumping of their feet. They create an “infrasonic sound” that is too low for humans to hear. In the story, Lex and the elephant trainer, Thomas, both detect the sound as a thumping in their temples. I didn’t know that elephants have 40,000 muscles in their trunks. And I am also impressed with her research into the steam locomotives and what it takes to run a zoo and care for the wildlife.

The Elephant’s Girl weaves together realistic fiction, mystery and magical realism that will create an extraordinary experience for readers. The ending is bittersweet and satisfying. Fans of Katherine Applegate, Jennifer Holmes and Kate DiCamillo will enjoy this novel. Make sure you read the “Author’s Note” at the end, where you will learn about these majestic elephants and find additional websites about elephant research and wildlife sanctuaries.

Celesta Rimington is an elephant advocate, a musical theater performer, and an active participant in her local writing community. As a teenager, she worked at a zoo in Omaha, which is part of the reason she set her story in Nebraska. She now lives in Utah with her husband and two children, where they have a miniature railroad with a rideable steam train. Visit Rimington at her website.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Daring Darlene: Queen of the Screen by Anne Nesbet

Daring Darleen: Queen of the Screen

Anne Nesbet, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 14, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Silent films, Acting, Kidnappers, Villains, Danger, Adventure, Courage

Synopsis:

Lights! Camera! Kidnapping? When a publicity stunt goes terribly wrong, twelve-year-old Darleen Darling, star of the silent film era, must defeat villains both on screen and off in this edge-of-your-seat adventure.

It’s 1914, and Darleen Darling’s film adventures collide with reality when a fake kidnapping set up by her family studio becomes all too real. Suddenly Darleen finds herself in the hands of dastardly criminals who have just nabbed Miss Victorine Berryman, the poor-little-rich-girl heiress of one of America’s largest fortunes.

Soon real life starts to seem like a bona fide adventure serial, complete with dramatic escapes, murderous plots, and a runaway air balloon. Will Darleen and Victorine be able to engineer their own happily-ever-after, or will the villains be victorious?

Why I like this book:

Daring Darleen is a fascinating peek into early silent films. There is so much to love about Anne Nesbet’s latest piece of historical fiction about a daring 12-year-old heroine and her family of movie makers. Money is low in 1914, so Matchless Studios gives the gives the public what it wants, “chases, plunges, trains, and villains.” And Darling Darleen becomes Daring Darleen. This story is a page-turner with an engaging plot.

The authentic friendship that develops between Darlene and heiress Victorine Berryman, really gives the story its heart. Their backgrounds couldn’t be more different. Darleen is a spunky, clever and resourceful heroine who is even more couragous in real life. After she and Victorine are kidnapped, she plots their escape from a seventh-story building window. Victorine is refined and elegant. She loves to read and is quite the world traveler. Telling the truth matters most to Victorine. The girls bond over the loss of Darlen’s mother and Victorine’s grandmother. They have a mystery to solve and together they are relentless. As the story progresses, readers will marvel at Victorine’s growth in self-confidence.

The girls also befriend the elegant French-speaking Madame Alice Guy Blaché, owner of Solax Studios, who helps them uncover a mystery regarding Victorine’s inheritance and cruel guardians. I was delighted that Nesbit includes Madame Blanché in her story, as a tribute to her real-life contribution in early film history. Blanché was the first filmmakers to “tell a story” in film and was the first woman to run a film studio.

Although the novel is a work of fiction, it is based on the “thrilling true story of the rise of the film industry.” And the story is set in Ft. Lee, NJ, where many of the “photoplays” were filmed. Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end of the story to learn more about the history of film making, because Anne Nesbit is a Professor of Film and Media history at the University of California.

Anne Nesbet is the author of the historical middle-grade novels Cloud and Wallfish and The Orphan Band of Springdale, as well as three fantasy novels for middle-graders. Her books have received numerous accolades, including multiple starred reviews and appearances on many best book and notables lists. A professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Anne Nesbet lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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

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