Riders of the Realm: Through the Untamed Sky by Jennifer Alvarez

Riders of the Realm #2: Through the Untamed Sky

Jennifer Alvarez, Author

HarperCollins, Fantasy, Mar. 26, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Pegasi, Jungles, Giants, Dragons, War, Survival, Loyalty, Bravery, Freedom

Book Synopsis:

After winning the wild Pegasus mare named Echofrost in a contest, Rahkki Stormrunner becomes an official Rider in the Sky Guard army. But Rahkki is terrified of heights, and Echofrost is still difficult to tame. And with Echofrost’s herd captured by the giants and the growing threat of battle looming over the realm, the new Pair will have to work through their fears in order to fly with the army and free the herd.

Meanwhile, back in Rahkki’s village, rebellion is brewing, and Rahkki learns there is a sinister plot to overthrow Queen Lilliam. But the queen suspects Rahkki’s behind it, and he is under intense watch.

As Rahkki and Echofrost travel to Mount Crim to free Storm Herd, Rahkki fears that the greatest danger may not come from the impending battle against the giants, but from within his own clan.

Why I like this book/series:

Fans have waited a year for the release of Jennifer Alvarez’s second novel in the Riders of the Realm series. It was worth the wait. Riders of the Realm: Through the Untamed Skies is an exhilarating and epic journey.  Alvarez’s storytelling is exquisite and her world-building outstanding.

Alvarez has created a matriarchal culture within the Sandwen seven clans, all ruled by a monarch queen. The men in the clan are honored battle warriors. Their flying steeds (Kihlari) are tame and paired for life with a flyer, but their mission is to protect the clans from giants, dragons, huge snakes, and killer plants.

The story is character-driven. Kind-hearted Rahkki, the 12-year-old stable groom for the wild Echofrost, has won the steed in a contest. He built a relationship of trust with her in the first novel. Rahkki’s goal in competing is to save her life and free the Pegasus so she can find her herd. But now they are bound to each other for life. And Rahkki is her Rider.  Princess I’Lenna is the eldest daughter of Queen Lilliam. Unlike her evil mother, the princess is kind, smart, clever and wants to build peace among the clans. She is Rahkki’s best friend and their relationship is crucial to the future of the realm and freeing Storm Herd from the Giants. But there is an uprising building within the clan and Rahkki isn’t sure who are his friends or enemies.

Alvarez ends the book on a huge cliff hangar which will catch readers completely off-guard and leave them imagining the future of the realm and their favorite characters. They will have to wait for the final volume next year.  This will give new readers an opportunity to check out the original Guardian Herd series, where the Pegasus are free.

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez received a degree in English literature from UC Berkeley. She is an active horsewoman, a volunteer for the US Pony Club, and the proud mother of three children. She also is the author of the Riders of the Realm: Across Dark Waters and the Guardian Herd series. To learn more about her winged universe of novels, please visit 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.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.

Scaredy Book by Devon Sillett

Scaredy Book

Devon Sillett, Author

Cara King, Illustrator

EK Books, Fiction, May 8, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Shyness, Anxiety, New experiences, Comfort zones, Library, Friendship, Bravery

Opening: “Book was full of potential. But sometimes, a pinch of pizzazz, a sprinkling of gumption and a drop of courage come in handy. Book wished to have all those things. But Library was very, very comfortable.”

Synopsis:

Book longs for adventure but is too scared to leave the library. The library is warm, peaceful and safe. Book desperately wants to go outside and feel the sunlight on his pages, but is intimidated by what might happen “out there.” A page might be torn. Book’s cover might get dirty. Book might never be returned to the library! Book watches from his nook what happens to other returning books. He comes close a few times to letting go.

Meanwhile, Emma loves visiting the library, going on great adventures and exploring the world in the stories she reads. When Emma meets Book, they find they are just what each other needs. Together, Book and Emma move out of their comfort zone to try new things, meet new people and enjoy quiet adventures — climbing trees, laughing in the rain, and cheering the players at a soccer match. Along the way they discover that “out there” needn’t be scary if you just take it one step at a time.

Why I like this book:

Devon Sillett skillfully captures the vulnerability of his main character, Book, who is frightened of just about everything. He is bound to win over readers with his originality and clever wit. Who every heard of a scared book? Children will be captivated by Book’s pursuit to be brave, especially those who are nervous about taking risks and stepping outside of their comfort zone.

When Emma returns Book to the library, it isn’t in the same condition that it left. There are a few crumbs in the pages, a smudge on a page, and a splash of water in the ink. In fact Book is proud of its new battle scars, a mark of its bravery.

What a sensational cover! Cara King combines delicately textured and warmly hued watercolors to show Book’s strong desire to try new things and its struggle to take the first step. Make sure you check out the endpapers, as they carry a story of their own.

Resources: This is a great discussion book to have on hand when your child is trying something new, like going to school, attending a sleepover, trying new foods, and learning to ride a bike without training wheels. And it is a good book to remind parents that they have to let go and let their child try.

Devon Sillett is the author of The Leaky Story, her debut picture book, Saying Goodbye to Barkley. She is a former radio producer, turned writer and reviewer. Born in the US, Devon now calls Australia home. She has loved books as long as she can remember — so much so that she even married her husband Matthew in a library! Currently, she teaches in the writing department at the University of Canberra, where she is also a PhD student, researching Australian children’s picture books. If she isn’t writing or reading, you’ll find her playing Lego or hide-and-seek with her two young sons, Jay and Aaron.

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.

Mari’s Hope by Sandy Brehl

Mari’s Hope (Book 3 in the Odin’s Promise Trilogy)

Sandy Brehl, Author

Crispin Book, Historical Fiction, Sep. 5, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Norwegians, WW II, Underground resistance, German occupation, Dogs, Bravery, Courage

Synopsis: Mari’s Hope is set in a small village in occupied western Norway during the final years of World War II.  Thirteen-year-old Mari has been assisting Dr. Olson for over a year, studying by day, and making home visits to treat villagers in the afternoons and evenings. She wears her hair in a long girlish braid so that the German soldiers ignore her activities. She also plays a role in her family’s efforts in the local resistance, despite ever-present dangers, especially from the a soldier named Goatman and from Leif, her one-time school friend, now a German collaborator.

Mari’s Hope delivers the dramatic conclusion to the middle-grade historical fiction trilogy begun with Odin’s Promise, awarded the 2014 Midwest Book Award for Children’s Fiction, and Bjorn’s Gift, published in 2016.

Why I like this book:

Sandy Brehl writes a powerful and authentic story about the harsh realities of Mari’s life in her village of Ytre Arna, under the watchful eyes of Germans. Brehl’s writing is a richly detailed and visual story of danger, bravery courage and hope. A lot of research went into this series.

The setting is realistic and readers will feel the bone-chilling cold as Mari trudges through snow and dark Norwegian nights to care for patients in their homes, dodges patrolling soldiers, maintains her strength on a daily diet of clear broth soup with a few bits of carrots or turnips, and makes some harrowing and risky trips for the resistance.

Great characters make a good story and Brehl has succeeded with Mari, a mature, intelligent, independent and caring character from the start. Her credibility grows as she proves her trustworthiness and takes on many dangerous missions. Leif, a childhood friend who joined the Germans, is a nice balance in the story. Leif watches out for Mari, but she doesn’t trust him. But who can you trust during war?

Brehl focuses on the strong sense of community that emerges among the Norwegian villagers as they stand strong against the invading Nazi troops, who have come as “Viking Brothers” claiming to protect their neutral Norway from the Allies. The plot is tense and dangerous as Mari’s parents, brothers and sister along with neighbors launch a very strong underground resistance to thwart the German plans — with some humor at times. They also help local Jewish members escape. There is also an overriding theme of love of family, love of community and love of country in this story.

New readers to this series will enjoy Mari’s Hope based on its merits. It is not necessary to read the first two books to understand the story. I know I will be catching up with the first two volumes of this exciting  trilogy. Below is a synopsis of the first two books.

Resources: Check out the Author’s Note at the end to learn how she beautifully weaves together fiction with historical and real-life events. There is also a glossary at the end the helps readers with Norwegian expressions. Visit Sandy Brehl on her website for more information about her trilogy.

Odin’s Promise is a story of the first year of German occupation of Norway in World War II as seen through the eyes of a young girl. Eleven-year-old Mari grew up tucked under the wings of her parents, grandma, and older siblings. After Hitler’s troops invades Norway in Spring 1940, she is forced to grow beyond her “little girl” nickname to deal with harsh new realities. At her side for support and protection is Odin, her faithful elkhound. As the year progresses, Mari, her family, and her neighbors are drawn into the activities of the Norwegian underground resistance.

Bjorn’s Gift is the second book in the trilogy and continues the exciting adventures of Mari, who faces growing hardships and dangers in her small village in a western fjord. German occupation troops and local Nazi supporters move closer to her family’s daily life, and her classmate Leif becomes active in the Norwegian Nazi youth party. Mari struggles to live up to her brother Bjorn’s faith in her, as she becomes more involved in risky resistance activities, trusting only her family and a few close friends. Across Norway, oppressive laws are imposed in the months from late 1941 to early 1943, with dire local consequences. Still, difficult decisions force Mari to admit that many things in life are not easily sorted into good or bad, and she begins to wonder if Hitler will ever be defeated and whether the occupation of Norway will ever end.

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

Refugee by Alan Gratz

Refugee

Alan Gratz, Author

Scholastic Press, Historical Fiction, Jul. 25, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes: Child Refugees, Immigrants, Germany, Cuba, Syria, Courage, Bravery

Synopsis: Josef is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board the MS St. Louis, a ship bound from Germany to Cuba with 937 passengers. Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994, with riots and unrest plaguing her country. She and her family set out on a home-made metal boat, hoping to find safety in America. Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by war, violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek through Europe to find “home.”

All three kids go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers — from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, shocking connections will tie their stories together in the end.

Why I LOVE this book:

Alan Gratz had me sitting on the edge of my seat swiftly turning the pages of his powerful and heart-breaking story about three young refugees seeking safety from dangerous and life-threatening conditions in their countries. No matter what their country or culture, these three heroes share a desire for safety and a place they can call home. This is a difficult novel told with brutal honesty and sensitivity.

His storytelling is masterful as Gratz tackles past and current refugee stories and skillfully weaves them together to show their relevancy today. Each character’s story is told sequentially in alternating chapters. Gratz keeps readers turning pages because of powerful cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter. Readers won’t want to miss a moment of the story.

The characters are brave, courageous and resilient 11- and 12-year-olds, who are forced to grow up quickly and make life and death decisions that help their families survive. Josef becomes the man of the family when his father returns from a concentration camp emotionally damaged. Isabel sacrifices her beloved trumpet to purchase the gas needed to power their boat from Cuba to Florida, and she saves the boat captain when he falls out of the boat. When the raft Mahmoud and his family are riding in crashes into a rock and sinks, he makes the painful decision to save his infant sister by handing her to a woman in passing raft. He knows he may never see her again. Courage!

Refugee is well-documented. Even though the three main characters are fictional, their tales are based on true stories. The MS St. Louis was a real ship not allowed to dock in Cuba. The captain, the crew and many passengers mentioned were real. With food shortages in Cuba in 1994, Cuban president Fidel Castro did allow unhappy and starving to leave Cuba for five weeks without being thrown into jail. Many lost their lives at sea, while others call America their home. After six years of war, Syrians continue to flee their decimated country and their chapter in history is still being written on the world stage.

Refugee comes to a resounding conclusion, with the fates of the three protagonists revealed. It’s emotional and there are some unexpected reveals. This timely book can’t help but stir empathy among young readers and help them grasp their role as global citizens. Some readers may see their own family stories among the pages. Verdict: Refugee is a winner that should be required reading in school.

Resources: Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end of the book that gives detailed information  about the research for each character.  There is also information about What You Can Do and maps that chart the routes of each child’s journey.

Alan Gratz is the acclaimed author of several books for young readers, including Refugee, Projekt 1065, Prisoner B-3087, Code of Honor, and The Brooklyn Nine. Visit Gratz at his website.

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

Sometimes We Were Brave – Perfect Picture Book

Sometimes We Were Brave

Pat Brisson, Author

France Brassard, Illustrator

Boyds Mills Press, Fiction, 2010

Suitable for:  Ages 4 and up

Themes:  Separations, Military Families, Bravery, Courage

Opening/Synopsis:  “My mom is a sailor.  She works on a big ship.  When her ship is in home port, she comes home every night…When her ship goes to sea, she goes, too.  She’s gone for a long time.  Mom hugs me hard before she goes…She says, “Be brave, Jerome.  I’ll be back as soon as I can.”  Dad does his best to care for Jerome and his dog Duffy, but it’s just not the same with Mom gone.  Jerome doesn’t feel very brave.  But, Jerome has Duffy to share his experiences.  Sometimes there are surprises.  Sometimes they both have accidents.  Sometimes they’re afraid during storms.  Sometimes they both get ice cream cones.  Sometimes they both have bad days.  And, they both learn about bravery in an unusual way.

Why I like this book:  Pat Brisson has written a very sensitive story about a military mother who serves in the Navy.  She creates a  skillful and realistic portrayal of what separation means.  Jerome’s loss isn’t glossed over, problems are faced head on, and the family makes the adjustments needed with hope, love and courage.  Brassard’s  illustrations are warm, gentle and covey the right amount of emotion for the story.  This is also an excellent book to use in the classroom with students.

Activities:   A special thank you to Barbara Gruener who recommended this book to me.  Check out her review.  Every year she reads this book to her students, and then has her students do projects for the military at school.  You can learn about what her students have done.  There are many classroom activities that support our troops, including writing postcards, e-mailing messages, sending care packages and cell phone cards.   It you have a military child in you classroom, invite the parent to visit and talk to students.  Support our Troops  also has a very complete list of organizations that sponsor activities.

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.