Caleb and Kit by Beth Vrabel

Caleb and Kit

Beth Vrabel, Author

Running Press, Fiction, Sep. 12, 2017

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Friendship, Cystic Fibrosis, Disability, Divorce

Opening: Kit said we were destined to meet, but I really was just going for a walk.

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Caleb is shorter, frailer, and more protected than most kids his age. That’s because he has cystic fibrosis, a diagnosis meaning his lungs fill with mucus and he has a shortened lifespan. Caleb tries not to let his disorder define him, but it can be hard with an overprotective mom and a perfect big brother.

Then Caleb meets Kit — a vibrant, independent, and free girl — and his world changes instantly. Kit reads Caleb’s palm and tells him they are destined to become friends. She calls birds down from the sky and turns every day into an adventure. Her magic is contagious, making Caleb question the rules and order in his life. But being Kit’s friend means embracing deception and danger, and soon Caleb will have to decide if his friendship with Kit is really what is best for him–or her.

Why I like this book:

Beth Vrabel has beautifully crafted a sensitive, compelling and heartwarming novel about Caleb, who happens to have cystic fibrosis. Vrabel strikes a nice balance between Caleb desperately wanting to live a normal life and his living with a serious illness. The narrative is written in first person and gives the reader deep insight into Caleb’s world. It is a beautiful story of self-discovery and vulnerability.

The woodland setting is rich and visual. The plot is multi-layered, courageous and complicated. The pacing is fast, engaging and keeps readers turning pages. The story is as captivating and creative as it is heartbreaking.

The characters are authentic, colorful and carefully developed. Caleb is a determined teen who defies his parent’s over-protectiveness, skips summer camp, and strikes up a relationship with Kit, a spirited teen who creates a fantasy world to avoid dealing with her own real-life problems. Their great adventure is both magical and appealing to Caleb at first, but he begins to see potential dangers. It is a powerful story of friendship, where Caleb is challenged to make decisions that may save more than one life.

It’s important for kids to see themselves in books and there are few novels published for youth with cystic fibrosis (CF) and their families and friends. The story gives readers a glimpse into Caleb’s daily routine that includes taking enzymes before meals to help him digest food, the large amounts of food he must consume, nebulizer medications that help him breathe more easily, and a compression vest to loosen mucous in his lungs. There are trips to the ER and hospital stays when he develops a lung infection. His life with CF is realistic, but doesn’t take over the story.

Resources: I recently learned that cystic fibrosis is called a “rare” disease because there aren’t enough individuals with CF to meet the magic number for major medical research funding. Sad. To learn more about cystic fibrosis visit their website. This book would pair nicely with The Baking Life of Amelie Day (MG) by Vanessa Curtis, and Changing Fate (YA) by Michelle Merrill.

For the next few months Greg Pattridge will be hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Thank you Greg for keeping MMGM active while author Shannon Messenger is on tour promoting her sixth book, Nightfall, in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, which was released November 7.

A Time to Dance and a Book Giveaway

I reviewed A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman, when it was first released in 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books.  It is a beautiful story written in free verse.  The author has sent me an autographed paperback copy (2015) to give away to one lucky reader. All you need to do is leave a comment below indicate your interest, follow my website, and be a resident of the US or Canada. I will announce the winner on September 13.  I have included part of my earlier review of this remarkable gem. The hardback copy is a permanent resident on my bookshelf.

Suitable for ages: 12 and up

Awards: ALA Notable Book, Booklist Editor’s Choice, Kirkus, other national and international awards

Themes: Dance, India, Amputee, Disabilities, Abilities, Loss, Courage, Recovery

Book Jacket SynopsisVeda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance–so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown up used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling.

But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.

Why I like this book: This inspirational and courageous novel is lyrical with each word carefully chosen.  Verse is the perfect medium. Padma Venkatraman weaves together a story about loss and resilience of a girl determined to dance once again her beloved Indian Bharatanatyam. This is not a story about disability, but one of ability. It is about finding the deeper spiritual meaning of the dance over the applause. “For my invisible audience of the One I begin to dance./ Colors blur into whiteness and a lilting tune that is and is not of the world resonates within and without me./ My body feels whole./In the beat of my heart I hear again the eternal rhythm of Shiva’s feet.”

Reading Venkatraman’s novel is an experience of India in all its beauty, cultural traditions, senses and sounds. If you listen closely you can hear the faint echo of a dancing rhythm. Thaiya thai. Thaiya thai.  I highly recommend this beautiful novel for tweens and teens who have faced challenges in their lives.  This book is a treasure!

Padma Venkatraman is a chief scientist and oceanographer by training and a writer by choice. She is the author of Climbing the Stairs and Island’s End, both multi-award winners.  Padma was born in India, but is now an American citizen. Visit Padma at her website. It has discussion questions and teaching resources.

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

The Moon Children

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Beverley Brenna, Author

Red Deer Press, Fiction, 2007

Suitable for Ages: 9 and up

Themes:  Fetal Alcoholism Spectrum Disorder (FASD), Foreign Adoption, Friendship, Abilities

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Billy Ray is unhappy because his father has left home and the things they planned to do together aren’t going to happen.  His mother is pregnant, and works a lot.  A watchful older neighbor is a great cook, invites Billy to visit daily and treats him to a good meal.  School is hard for Billy because he has Fetal Alcoholism Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and he has many challenges.  He can’t sit still without falling out of a chair.  He is unable to focus on schoolwork.  Words get jumbled in his mind and he can’t read.  Billy is a target for bullies.  He wonders what’s wrong with him.  If only he can enter the talent show at the local park and impress his father with the 21 tricks he’s mastered with his Typhoon yo-yo.  Will his father show?

Billy needs a friend and discovers that one of his classmates, an adopted Romanian girl, lives across the street from him.  Natasha never talks and Billy occasionally gets her to smile.  An unlikely friendship develops between the Billy and Natasha and they share secrets.  Billy discovers Natasha is keeping a moon journal.  Every day she draws a picture of the phase of the moon and writes.  He feels her sadness and knows there is a hidden story she’s trying to tell.  His  friendship with Natasha show’s Billy’s many abilities — he’s compassionate, caring, and helps Natasha  when no one else can.  Even though he has his heart set on winning that talent contest, Billy discovers what is most important in his life.

Why I like this book:  Beverley Brenna has chosen complex topics and presented them in a very positive manner, focusing on abilities over challenges.  Brenna writes believable characters that stay with you long after you put the book down.  You don’t realize that Billy has FASD right away, but you experience the roller coaster he rides daily.   FASD is revealed when he overhears his parents talking about “the new baby won’t be like Billy.”  This comment upsets and confuses Billy until he talks with his mother and learns about her drinking problem during her pregnancy with him.  Brenna carefully handles this topic with concern for Billy and his mother.  Brenna also tackles the subject of  Romanian adoptions and the difficult adjustments for the children in their new homes in Canada and America.  This is an excellent book for kids with FASD to read so they can better understand themselves through Billy.  It’s also a good book for the classroom.

Resources:   Beverley Brenna has a teacher’s guide for The Moon Children.   Visit her website to view all the books she’s authored.   And, click here for information on the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS).  The website provides a wealth of information for those interested.

ADHD in HD: Brains Gone Wild

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Jonathan Chesner, Author

Free Spirit Publishing,  Non-fiction, April 2012

Suitable for: Teens and Young Adults

Themes:  ADHD, Special Brains, Abilities, Relationships with Family and Friends,  School and Homework, Interactions with Co-workers

Opening/Book Jacket Synopsis:  “From an early age, Jonathan knew he had the kind of brain that would wear a Hawaiian shirt, bright red pants, and cool painted shoes to a wedding while most other people’s brains would wear three-piece suits. He also knew that if he learned how to manage the difficulties of ADHD and harness its awesome powers, he would help other “special brains” by sharing this knowledge in a book to slay all other books.

This is that book. If people say you’re always distracted, but you can spend hours zoned in on something you love, this book is for you. And if you’re coping with homework or haters or schedules or meds, this book is definitely for you. Read how to do big things, follow your dreams, and be like Mr. T.”

Why I like this book:  This book stands above anything I have read on the ADHD.  Jonathan Chesner has written one of the most creative, entertaining and inspirational books for teens and young adults with ADHD. The cartoon-like artwork is expressive, bold, outrageous and hilarious. There were times when I laughed until I cried. It is the kind of book I wished I could  have  handed to my daughter when she was a teen. It is so upbeat and uplifting. It focuses on the special brains ADHD kids and all the positive things they can do. No room for negativity in this book – only possibilities. Chesner, who was diagnosed at age 9,  shares his own personal stories of failure and successes. He offers many tips on how to carry out things that don’t come easy. Chesner gives advice about interacting with families and friends, finding the best way to learn at school and complete homework, dating, getting a job, connecting with peers and co-workers, and eating the right diet. Chesner says “that ADHD isn’t all that bad — it can actually be a blessing in disguise.”

Chesner is an actor appearing in commercials and television shows such as Veronica Mars and Bones. While attending college, he turned his off-campus apartment into an art studio/art gallery/surfboard shaping room/T-shirt factory. Major surf companies including Von Zipper and Future Fins have incorporated his conceptual work. You may visit Jonathan Chesner at his website.  View his great video below!

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This book has been provided to me free of charge by the publisher in exchange for an honest review of the work.

Anthony Best

Anthony Best9781616089610_p0_v1_s260x420Anthony Best

Davene Fahy, Author

Carol Inouye, Illustrator

Sky Pony Press, September 2012

Suitable for Ages: 5 and up

Themes:  Asperger’s Syndrome,  Autism Spectrum Disorder, Friendship, Abilities

OpeningMy next door friend is Anthony.  If you ask Anthony his name, he always says, “My name is Anthony Best and I am the best..”  But do you want to know a secret?  He’s not always the best boy.

Synopsis:  Hannah narrates the story about her friend, Anthony,  who screams when he hears loud noises, crosses streets without looking for cars, and throws sand at kids in the sandbox.  But, Hannah likes to play with Anthony, even when he wants to play by himself.  When Anthony spins, Hannah spins.  When he’s in a flipping mood, Hannah flips her pages.  Hannah knows that makes Anthony happy.  She also teaches Anthony how to play with other kids.  One day a big delivery  truck pulls up in front of Anthony’s house.  The next day Hannah hears beautiful music floating out the window and follows the sound.  She is very surprised when she discovers Anthony’s hidden talent.

Why I like this book:  Davene Fahy may show all the things that makes Anthony different from other children, but she also shows how those differences makes him special.   This is a nice story that teaches children about their autistic friends and why they act the way they do.  I especially like how Fahy has Hannah following Anthony into his world so that she can better understand her best friend.  Carol Inouye’s illustrations are colorful, and expressive.  You may want to visit Davene Fahy at her website.

Resources: There is back matter at the end with suggested resources.  But the ending of the book is a great way to start discussions with children about differences and special abilities.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.