Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Merci Suárez Changes Gears

Meg Medina, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sept. 4 2018

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Pages: 346

Themes: Cuban-American, Bullying, Aging grandparents, Alzheimer, Friendship

Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Mercedes (Merci) Suárez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she has no idea just how different. Merci has never felt like she fits in with the other kids at her private Florida school because she and her brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t live in a big house, and they have to do community service to make up for their tuition. Roli adjusts because he loves science and is a stellar student. When Merci is assigned to be a Sunshine Buddy with the new boy at school, bossy Edna Santos is jealous.

Things aren’t going well at home, either. Merci’s grandfather, Lolo, has acted differently lately. He forgets his glasses, falls off his bike, tries to pick up the wrong twin grandsons at school, wanders off and gets angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what’s going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.

Why I like this book:

Meg Medina skillfully writes a heartwarming and engaging novel that tackles several big topics. There is a mean, rich-girl bully theme at school, due to the differences in social status and culture. While the rich kids show up in expensive SUVs, Merci arrives in the old truck Papi drives for his painting business. Instead of expensive vacations, Merci is stuck watching her twin cousins. And there is her grandfather’s Alzheimer diagnosis, which her parents shield Merci from until the end of the novel. Her concerns for Lolo turn into anger when she discovers that she is being lied to and treated like a child. After all, the Suárez family prides itself in being truthful.

This richly textured Latino story is peppered with Spanish expressions from her Cuban-American family. Medina uses humor in this true-to-life story that is topsy-turvy and filled with heart. The Suárez family is a large multigenerational family that live in a group of three pink houses where all family members come and go, regardless of who lives where. The three identical houses are affectionately called Las Casitas. Needless to say there is a lot of chaos. The Suárez family is a close-knit family that work, cook and eat together, share childcare, and support each other, even if money is tight.

The characters are memorable. Medina uses authentic voices to create a story about a tween girl who has worries, frustrations and angst about her looks. Merci is a strong-willed, but it  takes her a long time to realize that she is genuinely liked by many of her classmates and forms connections with ease as long as she is herself. This is a winning and completely satisfying coming-of-age story.

Meg Medina is the author of the YA novels Burn Baby Burn; Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, for which she won the Pura Belpre Author Award; and The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. She lives in Richmond Virginia. Visit Meg Medina 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 publisher.

Mango, Abuela, and Me

Mango, Abuela and Me 61mOUGgpH9L__SX425_BO1,204,203,200_Mango, Abuela, and Me

Meg Medina, Author

Angela Dominguez, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Aug. 25, 2015

2016 Pura Belpré Honor Book medal for literature

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Aging grandparents,  Love, Family relationships, Learning a new language, Hispanic, Diversity

Opening: “She comes to us in winter, leaving behind her sunny house that rested between two snaking rivers.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: Mia’s “far-away” grandmother leaves behind her sunny house with parrots and palm trees to come live with Mia and her parents in the city. But when Mia tries to share her favorite bedtime story with Abuela, she discovers that Abuela can’t read the words.  Mia helps Abuela with her English while they cook, and Mia learns some Spanish, too. But it’s still hard for Abuela to learn the words she needs to tell Mia all her stories. So when Mia sees a parrot in the pet-shop window, she has the perfecto idea for how to help Abuela.

Why I like this book:

What a treat to review Meg Medina’s book, just after she received the 2016 Pura Belpré Honor Book medal for literature. Her heartwarming story about the bonds of love, family and culture is a testament to how important Latino books are for children.

Medina weaves her magic as she includes both Spanish and English words into her uplifting and endearing bilingual story about Mia finding a way to communicate with her Hispanic grandmother — especially since they share a bedroom together. Language barriers are likely a familiar issue for many multi-generational immigrant families.

Mia and Abuela’s memorable characters are artfully crafted. Mia is caring, creative and determined to find a way to bridge the communication gap and does so in a very clever and humorous way. (No spoilers.) Abuela is sad and homesick at first, until she begins to cook with Mia and learn new words. Both learn to be patient with each other.

The text is simple and lyrical, the plot engaging and timeless. The narrative is a springboard for Angela Dominguez’s lively, colorful and expressive illustrations which are a blend of  ink, gouache and marker. This is a lovely collaborative effort between Medina and Dominguez.

Resources: Children learn a second language very easily. No matter if your child is learning English or Spanish, you can teach them simple words. For instance, Mia makes words cards for her abuela and tapes them to the lamp, rug, door, phone, chair, blanket, pillow.  Teach your child to count and say the alphabet in Spanish or English. Visit this creative Bilingual Teaching Activities page for children on Pinterest.

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

Kindred Souls

Kindred Souls9780060522995_p0_v2_s260x420Kindred Souls

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Fiction, 2012

Suitable for ages: 6-10

Themes: Aging Grandfathers, Sod houses, Prairies, Family Life, , Dogs, Loss

Book Synopsis: Jake’s grandfather, Billy, hears the talk of birds, is eighty-eight years old, and is going to live forever. Even when Billy gets sick, Jake knows that everything will go on as always. But there’s one thing Billy wants: to rebuild the sod house where he grew up. Can Jake give him this one special thing? 

What I like about this book: Patricia MacLachlan’s book is a heartwarming story about a bond between a boy and his grandfather (kindred souls), their shared love of nature, and what Jake does to fulfill his grandfather’s wish.  The story is set on the family’s prairie farm. The story has a lovely rhythm about it. The plot is paced well for young readers with short chapters and an air of adventure in building the sod house, from research to recruiting the entire family to help after Billy becomes ill. Even the sudden appearance of Lucy, the stray “angel dog,” who never leaves Billy’s side, adds to the love and grace that permeates this story about family and letting go. This is a beautiful story.

Patricia MacLachlan is a Newberry Medalist for her book Sarah, Plain and Tall. I reviewed her powerful 2013 picture book about grief and renewal, Snowflakes Fall, which was dedicated to the families of Newtown and Sandy Hook, CT. I also reviewed Fly Away and The Truth of Me,  both middle grade novels about complicated family relationships.

 

The Little Word Catcher

The Little Word Catcher9781897187449_p0_v1_s260x420The Little Word Catcher

By Danielle Simard, Author

Genevieve Cote, Illustrator

Second Story Press, Fiction, 2008

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Grandparents, Memory Loss, Family Relationships

Opening: “Did you know that words could get lost? My Grandmother misplaces her words all the time. She loses them even more often than her keys. Do they fly off just to play tricks on her? I wonder where they go.”

Synopsis: Elise watches her grandmother begin to lose her words. Sometimes her grandmother is sad. annoyed, and frustrated when she can’t remember her words.  Elise is puzzled because her grandmother knew millions of words. Are her words hiding? Can she catch every single lost word in a net and bring them back to her grandmother before it’s too late?  A special bond develops between grandmother and granddaughter.  And Elise decides that her grandmother’s words are wearing out like an old dress. And maybe her grandmother is giving the words they shared to her as a gift.

What I like about this book:  Danielle Simard has written a moving and sensitive story about a girl trying to make sense of her grandmother’s memory loss.  I especially like how Simard allows the girl to come up with her own heartwarming thoughts about memory loss and how she chooses to deal with her grandma. Such beautiful and inspiring text with a loving and satisfying ending.  This is one of the most unusual stories I’ve read about grandparents with memory loss or dementia. I highly recommend The Little Word Catcher if you have aging loved ones with memory issues. Genevieve Cote’s award-winning watercolors are whimsical and emotive. They add some lightness to a serious topic.

Resources: The book alone is a great resource to use to start a discussion with your children when you have aging parents with memory loss. Parents may want to check out the Kids and Teen page of the Alzheimer’s Association and a post from the Carolina Parent blog about Talking to Kids About Aging Grandparents.

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.