Saying Good-bye to London by Julie Burtinshaw

Saying Good-bye to London

Julie Burtinshaw, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Mar. 14, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 13 and up

Themes: Teen pregnancy, Family relationships, Friendships, Adoption

Synopsis: One night of unprotected sex can change your life forever. Francis Sloan is a shy 15-year-old when he meets edgy, confident 16-year-old Sawyer at a party he didn’t want to attend. Sparks fly…and Sawyer becomes pregnant. They barely know each other, but now must deal with both their relationship and the reality of a baby.

Francis has a lot of growing up to do, and now it seems like he is being forced to do it all at once. When his life collides with Sawyer’s, Francis is forced to confront his own stereotypes about loss, sexuality, and family.

Sawyer decides to give the baby up for adoption, but that’s just the start. Over the months they wait for the baby to be born, Francis and Sawyer try to deal with the choices they will have to make. Will Francis follow Sawyer’s brave example? Or will he turn his back and pretend his life has not changed? Where will they be when it’s time to say good-bye to baby London?

Why I like this book:

Julie Burtinshaw’s Saying Good-bye to London is a heart-wrenching  and emotional story about teen pregnancy with a contemporary appeal. It is a hopeful and optimistic story that challenges teens with the same tough questions that Sawyer and Francis face.

This story is character-driven. Francis is a shy, lanky, and likable character who plays basketball with his best friend, Kevin. At  fifteen, girls scare him. He’s naïve and never been on a date. He lives on the West side of Vancouver, comes from a stable and loving family, and attends a private boy’s school. Sawyer Martin is a year older than Francis. She is self-confident, independent, and has her own unique flare.  She is brave, resilient and vulnerable. Sawyer lives on the other side of Vancouver with her mother. They live in a small apartment and she attends public school. When Sawyer becomes pregnant, Francis is angry, scared, blames her and disappears from her life. Sawyer deals with her tears and growing baby bump alone.

There are many interesting themes in this novel, beyond teen pregnancy. Kevin’s father is dying from cancer. Francis’s family has twin adopted brothers from Africa. Sawyer’s best friend, Jack, is gay, has an abusive and homophobic father who kicks him out of the house. Sawyer’s father left and she’s being raised by her single mother. The author has woven these subtle themes into the story and they contribute to the important decisions that Sawyer and Francis make for baby London.

The plot is unique and very different from other novels I’ve read about teen pregnancy. The author does give a realistic account of Sawyer’s pregnancy from morning sickness to delivery.  But the main focus of the story is on how Sawyer, Francis, Jack, Kevin and Sawyer’s mother, work together with an adoption agency to select, interview and choose the right family for baby London. It honors the brave and mature decisions that Sawyer, Francis and their friends make together.

I recommend this book because it challenges teens and is an excellent discussion book. It is also a page-turner.

Julie Burtinshaw is an ward-winning author of novels for young adults, including The Darkness Between the Stars, The Perfect Cut, The Freedom of Jenny, Adrift, and Dead Reckoning. You can find Julie on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @WriterJulie.

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

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

Red Butterfly by A. L. Sonnichsen

Red Butterfly

A. L. Sonnichsen, Author

Amy June Bates, Illustrator

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Free Verse, Feb. 2, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Abandonment, Abnormality, Adoption, Family relationships, China, Multicultural

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Kara never met her birth mother. Abandoned as an infant in Tianjin, she was born with only two fingers on her right hand. She was taken into the home of an elderly American couple living in China. Her parents never tell authorities about finding Kara or try to formally adopt her, which leaves Kara without an identify. When papa’s teaching job is finished he returns to Montana.  Her mama remains because she can’t bear to part with Kara.

Much of Kara’s life is isolated to keep her safe. She has a daily routine that includes study, but doesn’t attend a Chinese school or have any friends. Her English is excellent, but she can’t read or write in Chinese. When her loud and overbearing American half-sister Jody comes for a visit and ends up in the hospital, the authorities are suspicious. They discover her mama’s visa expired and Kara’s is taken to an orphanage, where she is put up for adoption.

Why I like this book:

This is a complex and multi-layered story where Kara is the innocent victim of secrecy and poor choices made by her foster parents. A.L. Sonnichsen has written a deeply moving story about Kara learning to find her voice and discovering that love knows no boundaries. It is an emotional read.

Free verse is the perfect medium to share this story because it is told in Kara’s voice, which shows her confusion, desperation and loss. The language is beautifully executed, lyrical and carefully crafted with skill and a lot of depth. The story is beautifully paced and a quick read. Amy June Bates pen and ink  illustrations add a creative flare to the spare text.

The plot is courageous and complicated. A.L. Sonnichsen delves deeply into the loneliness of a pre-teen trying to make sense of her mother’s secretive behavior. When the walls crumble around Kara, she has to find her way forward. She begins to find her strength at the orphanage where she helps care for the abandoned children with disabilities. She learns to build trust with some compassionate souls who try to make things right for her.

I enjoyed learning that the author grew up in Hong Kong and spent eight years there as an adult, where she was visited many local orphanages. Her passion for the abandoned children became the inspiration for the story.  Chinese law is complicated and it took the author and her husband seven years to adopt their daughter from a Chinese orphanage. During that time she worked with an organization that worked to improve conditions in orphanages.

Resources: There is a beautiful Author’s Note that talks about her personal experiences in China, as well as the “fall-out” from China’s one-child policy. There is a Reading Group Guide at the end, which would be perfect for classroom discussions. Visit the author at her website.

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

Taking Flight

TTaking Flight9780385755115_p0_v3_s260x420aking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina

Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince, authors

Alfred A. Knopf,  Memoir, Oct. 14, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 12-17

Themes: Michaela DePrince, Ballet, War orphan, Sierra Leone, Adoption, Vitiligo, Courage, Hope

Synopsis: Michaela DePrince was born in 1995 in war-torn Sierra Leone and named Mabinty Bangura.  She was born with Vitiligo, a medical condition that causes blotchy spots on her skin. To the villagers she was a curse and called a spotted leopard. However, she had loving parent who taught her to read, write and speak four different languages. When the rebels killed her father and her mother died, her uncle sold her to an orphanage, where she became #27 .  She was starved, abused, and faced incredible dangers from the rebels. One day she found a picture of a ballerina in a magazine which affected her life forever. At four, she and her best friend Mia were adopted by an American family. The family encouraged her love of dancing and made it possible for her to study at the Rock School for Dance Education and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre.  She is now a member of the world-famous Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam.

What I like about this book:

  • The heart of this story is the strong mother/daughter relationship which translates into a remarkable collaboration and a gripping memoir about Michaela’s journey from Mabinty Bangura, a war orphan in Sierra Leone, to a 17-year-old professional ballerina.
  • The story’s real strength lies in Michaela’s lifelong passion to become a ballerina and her remarkable determination to break through racial barriers to dance classical and neo-classical ballet with a professional company.  She shows great discipline and sacrifice to be the best.
  • The narrative about Michaela’s journey is compelling and unforgettable. Taking Flight is written in such a manner that young readers would be able to handle the details of war and be interested in learning some history about West Africa.
  • The story is simply told in prose, but is filled with satisfying detail. The pacing is perfect and the book is a page-turner.  This book is ideal for any reader, but young black ballet dancers will especially find hope in Michaela’s story.
  • I found Taking Flight a joy to read because of its authenticity and honesty. Michaela thought America was wonderful until she began to notice the bigotry she experienced while living with her white family, especially when they went out in public. But it took true grit to face the racial discrimination and profiling she encountered in the ballet world. She heard comments that “black women are too athletic for classical ballet…to muscular…and aren’t delicate enough to become  world-class dancers.” She still struggles with “the racial bias in the world of ballet.”
  • There is a section of photos in the middle of the book documenting her life — from the African orphanage, her new home and family, to her ballet training and dancing. These photos will help young readers better grasp her life.

Resources:  Michaela DePrince starred in the ballet documentary First Position, which can be found in many libraries.  She hesitated to be featured but decided that it was something that she could do to help African-American children who dream of dancing.  She felt she had a responsibility to write a memoir and share the “hardy dose of hope” she had been blessed with.  Visit Michaela DePrince at her website.

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.

GreenBean: True Blue Family

GreenBean180801648GreenBean:  True Blue Family

Elizabeth Blake, author and illustrator

Nisse Press, LLC, Fiction, 2012

Suitable for:  Ages 4 and up

Themes:  Adoption, Different Families,  Identity, Visual Impairment

Opening/Synopsis:   “Oh No! Green Bean thought.  Maybe I don’t belong in this family.  I am green.  They are blue.”  GreenBean one days realizes that she doesn’t look like the other members of her family.    She has long ears and they have short ears.  She frets about all the differences and compares herself to her friend Anna who is the same color as her family.   It isn’t until GreenBean’s blind brother is surprised by her statement and offers her a new perspective of family.  GreenBean begins to see the diversity among her friends.  And, she learns that being loved and accepted by her blue family is what counts.

What I like about this book:  This is the first book written and illustrated by Elizabeth Blake.   The language is simply written as are her bold and colorful illustrations.   Both my children are adopted and struggled with identity issues and feeling different.  I would have welcomed her book.  In today’s world, there are many different kinds of families — divorced, single-parent, foster, mixed multicultural and ethnic, and gay families.  Blake’s excellent book  helps children understand diversity is part of who we are globally.   Otherwise we’d be pretty boring.   Blake’s credits her blind brother  “who taught her that sight is not necessary for insight.”   He has been inspiration to her in learning about uniqueness and differences.  Visit Elizabeth Blake at her website.

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

Never Fall Down – Child Soldiers

Never Fall Down

Patricia McCormick, Author

Balzer & Bray, May 2012, Fiction

Suitable for:  YA Fiction, ages 14 and up

Themes: Child Soldiers, Cambodia History, Courage, Genocide, Khmer Rouge, War

Opening Synopsis:  “When Arn Chorn-Pond was eleven, the Khmer Rouge, a radical Communist regime, came to power in Cambodia, herding the entire population to work camps in the countryside.  Families were separated, and everyone, including children, was forced to work long, grueling hours digging ditches and growing rice…Nearly two million people died — one quarter of the population.  They were buried in mass graves called the Killing Fields.  It is the worst genocide ever inflicted by a country on its own people.”

Patricia McCormick, who is known for taking on complex and tough subjects, has done it again with the story about the genocide that occurred in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge seized control of Cambodia and tortured and killed its own people.  This extraordinary  story about Arn Chorn-Pond, an 11-year-old boy who survived, is true.  The author spent two years with Arn, retracing his life during the three years, eight months and twenty days reign of terror by the Khmer Rouge.  This book is powerful, emotional, horrific, gruesome, and brutal.  It is an important book for young people and adults to learn about this period of history.   Yet, it is an inspirational story of survival, courage, hope and a testimony to human spirit.

Arn is a care-free boy catching frogs with his best friend and selling ice cream with his brother.   One day an army of soldiers dressed in black enter the village and force everyone to the countryside.  His aunt, four sisters and a brother gather a few belongings and food, and join the throngs of people who are walking away from their homes.  Arm works in the rice fields until, the Khmer Rouge separate him from his family and send him to another labor camp.  He watches starving kids die in the rice fields, and he tells himself that he must never fall down.  Arn finds every possible means to survive.

When the soldiers ask if any of the kids can play an instrument, Arn volunteers without knowing a single note.  The Khmer Rouge want to hear revolutionary songs and Arn becomes a very good musician.  He does so to keep himself and other kids alive.  He also learns to dance and entertain which gives him more freedom in the camp and access to more food, which he sneaks to kids.  Arn is taken to the Mango Trees, where he sees the piles of earth and smells the stench of death.  He knows  these Killing Fields  and the Khmer Rouge force him to do unthinkable things.  There is so much death, starvation and brutality, that we see Arn transform over time into an emotionless and numb boy.   As the Vietnamese approach, he is given a gun and used as a child soldier and spy.  He quickly realizes that the Khmer Rouge is using the kids as bait in the jungles.  He is always running, because if he falls down he knows he won’t get up.

Why I like this book:  Patricia McCormick chose to write the book in Arn’s natural speaking voice — broken English.  The story is told in first person making it an even more powerful, convincing, and real.  In Never Fall Down, McCormick gives Arn a voice to speak his truth and share the pain, which he found cathartic and part of his healing process.  He tells his story so people will know first hand what happened.  McCormick is the author of Purple Heart, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2009, and SOLD, a National Book Award finalist.

Today Arn Chorn-Pond has dedicated his life to peace and humanitarian causes around the world.  He founded the Children of War, an organization that aids children held hostage by war and violence.  He is the founder of Cambodian Living Arts, a group that helps preserve the traditional arts of Cambodia by pairing young students with the few master musicians who survived the Khmer Rouge.   He has received the Amnesty International Rights Award, the Reebok Human Rights Award, and the Spirit of Anne Frank Outstanding Citizen Award.  He lives in Cambodia and spends part of his year speaking in the United States.

  

Goyangi Means Cat – Perfect Picture Book

Goyangi Means Cat

Christine McDonnell, Author

Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, illustrators

Viking, 2011, Fiction

Suitable for:  Ages 3 and up

Themes:  Adoption, Families, Cats, Friendship, Language

Opening/Synopsis“When Soo Min came from Korea to her new home in America, she spoke no English.  Her new family knew just a few Korean words.  Mok-da – eat.  Chim-dae – bed.  Bahp – rice.  Jip – house.  In the first few days, Soo Min quickly taught them more words: Anyah – no! when she didn’t want to go to bed. Ah-po – hurt, when she scraped her knee.  Gom – teddy bear, which she carried in the hood of her jacket. Po-po – kiss, a gift she gave her parents.   Best of all was Goyangi — the cat.”   This is a very sweet story about Soo Min and the adjustments she has to make coming to live with her new parents.   Soo Min loved Goyangi right away and followed the cat everywhere.  Goyangi curls up on her bed at night and helps to lessen her anxiety.   Soo Min is not afraid when Goyangi is with her. It is through her relationship with Goyangi, that Soo Min finds her place with her new parents and in her new  home.

Why I like this book:  I am partial to books for kids who have been adopted from other countries.  We adopted our son from India in 1985.   It is such a learning curve for all involved.   Like Soo Min, our son attached himself to our dogs.  And, I remember how we learned more from him, as he pointed out things in his native tongue, Tamil.  Christine McDonnell has done a lovely job of incorporating Korean words into the entire book, so that children will learn a little Korean.   The lovely illustrations, by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher, are warm collages that highlight the colorful textiles that decorate the walls and furniture throughout the pages, lending an Eastern-western look.

Activities:  I found the most useful activities for parents adopting older children at the Administrations for Children and Families website for foster and adoptive families.  Creating a Life Book, is one good example.  There are also support organizations for families who have done international adoptions.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.