Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Wolf Hollow 61UonXDCtXL__SX333_BO1,204,203,200_Wolf Hollow

Lauren Wolk, Author

Dutton Children’s Books, Fiction, May 3, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 10-13

Themes: Bullying, Mean girls, Lies, Courage, Family relationships, Community, Tolerance

Prologue: “The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie.  I don’t mean the small fibs that children tell. I mean real lies fed by real fears — things I said and did that took me out of the life I’d always known and put me down hard into a new one.”

Synopsis: It is 1943. Eleven-year-old Annabelle McBride lives on a farm in a small, western Pennsylvania town, with her parents, two brothers, grandparents and Aunt Lily.  Annabelle leads a quiet, ordinary and carefree life, going to school everyday, doing her farm chores, supervising her younger brothers, and helping her mother cook meals in the kitchen. Then one fall morning a very mean-spirited girl named Betty Glengarry moves to Wolf Hollow and changes everything for Annabelle and the community. Betty is cruel and manipulative and easily spots the victims of her bullying through their weaknesses. For Annabelle, Betty threatens to harm her brothers if she doesn’t comply with her demands. Annabelle suffers many beatings on the path to school, until a quiet WW I veteran, Toby intervenes. Betty turns her vengeance on the kind-hearted recluse, and Toby becomes a target of her heartless and ruthless attacks. There are other victims too. As tensions mount, Annabelle’s goodness is her inner strength to do what is right.

Why I like this book:

Lauren Wolk’s debut novel, Wolf Hollow, is gripping and haunting, heartbreaking and beautiful. The setting, the characters, the plot and the gorgeous imagery are so brilliantly intertwined that they create an extraordinary experience for readers. One that you will remember for a long time. You learn about Wolf Hollow and its history of capturing and killing wolves. You feel the silence as you walk the path with Annabelle and ponder its darkness. You experience an extended family living under one roof preparing meals together, canning peaches and baking fresh bread in the oven. And you see contradictions in people who are frightening and neighbors who spread gossip at lightening speed.

The characters are multi-layered and complex. Annabelle is kind-hearted to her very core. She is resilient and courageous. I loved experiencing the story narrative through her innocent and wise character.  She learns how to lie to protects others. Betty Glengarry is vicious and cruel. She knows how to use her charm to manipulate an entire community. Annabelle, who knows Betty’s contradictions, wants her to leave. I want her gone. Yet, as a reader I hope for her redemption and wonder about her vulnerabilities.  What made her so ruthless that she could break a quail’s neck, throw a rock and blind another student, string wire across the road to hurt Annabelle’s brother, and falsely accuse Toby of throwing her in a well?  Was she bullied herself? Even though she’s a bad apple, you worry for her safety. Toby is my favorite character. He’s a gentle man who goes to war, struggles with the atrocities he’s seen, becomes a recluse and wanders into Wolf Hollow. Toby is a quiet presence and his words are few.  He lives in a smoke house and walks the hollows. People think he’s odd, but he is a rare soul who is decent to his very core.

Wolk refrains from sharing all the detail about her characters leaving the reader to decide some things for themselves. The plot is riveting and full of tension. Her deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. Like Annabelle, I found myself contemplating different scenarios. It is a story that will haunt you because of its depth, contradictions and unspoken truths. When I completed the Wolf Hollow, I was convinced I had been there. It is a story that will stay with you because of the profoundly human characters and the untidy ending.

This is an excellent discussion book for teachers to use with middle grade students. There are so many themes that can be explored.

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

Big Red and the Little Bitty Wolf by Jeanie Franz Ransom

Big Red 61GdGSYfgnL__SX398_BO1,204,203,200_Big Red and the Little Bitty Wolf: A Story About Bullying

Jeanie Franz Ransom, Author

Jennifer Zivoin, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Feb. 15, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-6

Themes: Animals, Wolves, Bullying, Fairy Tale, Courage

Opening: “There was only one path that led from where Little Bitty Wolf lived to where he went to school at Pine Cone Elementary. And that was a problem.”

Synopsis: Little Bitty Wolf has a big problem. He used to love to walk to school until Big Red Riding Hood moves into the neighborhood. Big Red is mean and she loves to tease and terrorize Little Bitty.  She hides behind trees and scares Little Bitty, trips him, pulls his tail and snatches his lunch basket. He tries to ignore her. He stands up to her and tells her to stop, but nothing works. What will he do? Little Bitty talks to his parents and to the school counselor, Mr. Know-It-Owl. He tries something totally unexpected to get Big Red to stop!

Why I like this book:

Jennifer Zivoin has penned a charming twist on the classic story of Little Red Riding Hood. The author turns the story topsy-turvy and Little Bitty Wolf is the target of taunting and bullying by a larger-than-life mean girl, Big Red.  Children will identify with the relentless teasing in this very original fairy tale. Little Bitty Wolf is an adorable  character with heart and determination. Kids will cheer for this little wolf as he attempts to reason and outsmart Big Red in order to get her to stop.  Jennifer Zivoin’s illustrations are richly textured, beautiful, lively and powerful!  The expressions on the faces of Big Red and Little Bitty are priceless. I like the teamwork between the author and illustrator.

Resources:  This is a perfect topic for the beginning of the school year and a way to engage students in a discussion about how they treat each other!  Big Red and the Little Bitty Wolf is an excellent resource for teaching children good emotional techniques and to stand up for what is right. The book includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers about how to spot the common signs that indicate their child is the victim of bullying, witnesses bullying or is the perpetrator of bullying.

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.  

Ouch! Moments: When Words Are Used in Hurtful Ways

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Michael Genhart, Author

Viviana Garofoli, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Sep. 22, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Hurtful words, Microaggressions, Insults, Conduct, Caring, Empowerment

Opening: “When a bee stings, Ouch! That hurts! Catching a finger in a closing door hurts a lot. Ouch! Hearing a mean thing or ugly word hurts too. That is definitely an Ouch moment!”

Synopsis:  Sometimes kids use hurtful words to put down another child. They can be said by a child when they are trying to be funny, “oink goes the pig” or “he throws like a girl.” They can be used by kids to have power over other kids to make them feel small. Ouch moments happen quickly and other kids don’t know what to do. When these moments occur, the perpetrator, the victim and the bystanders need help. Readers will be encouraged to be caring and take a stand.

Why I like this book:

Michael Genhart introduces readers to “ouch moments” that are usually directed towards a child that is different. His thoughtful book will help parents, teachers and children recognize mean, ugly, and hurtful words.  The language is simple, hopeful and ideal for kids. The characters are believable. Children will learn strategies that will empower them to stand up to insults and hurtful language. This is a book that all children can identify with because they have been on both sides, as the perpetrator and receiver. Genhart also helps kids to recognize their own hurtful language in a way that doesn’t shame. Many times they repeat something they’ve heard from someone else. Viviana Garofoli’s illustrations are colorful, expressive and compliment the story.

Resources:  This book is a resource for home and in the classroom. It is great resource for school teachers at the beginning of the school year to talk with kids about hurtful language and share their  “ouch moments.” There is a Note to Parents and Caregivers about microaggressions, and strategies for talking to children about hurtful language, discrimination and bias.

Blackbird Fly

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Erin Entrada Kelly, Author

Greenwillow Books, Fiction, Mar. 24, 2015

Paperback Reprint Mar. 1, 2016, 320 pages

Suitable for Ages: 8-12 years

Themes: Bullying, Outcasts, Filipino Americans, Family relationships, Friendships, Middle School, Music, Multicultural

Book Synopsis:  Twelve-year-old Apple Yengko believes that there are at least three interesting facts about every person on Earth. Unfortunately, her three IFs make her an outcast in Chapel Spring Middle School in Chapel Spring, Louisiana. She has slanted eyes, a weird Filipino nickname, and a weird mother.

When Apple is voted the third ugliest girl in school, her life quickly falls apart. The boys bark at her in the halls and rumors spread that she eats dogs for dinner. Music is her only escape. All she needs is enough money to buy a guitar, and then she’ll be able to change herself and her life forever. So what if her mother doesn’t understand and thinks she’s becoming too American. So what if her supposed best friends turn the other way…

It might be the Beatles and their music who save Apple, or Mr. Z (Chapel Spring Middle’s awesome music teacher) — or it could be two unexpected friends who show her that standing out in a crowd is better than getting lost in it.

Why I like this book:

  • This is a painfully realistic story by Erin Entrada Kelly about the impact of bullying on an Filipino-American teen who is trying to find her place in a Louisiana middle school. It is an emotionally honest novel about Apple, who feels like an outsider because of her ethnic background. Her best friends turn on her and their boyfriends put Apple on a secret Dog Log list of the ugliest girls at school. Teens who feel different and deal daily with cruelty in middle school, will find Apple a must read.
  • Apple is a strong, smart, quirky and likeable character who loves the Beatles, wants to play the guitar, and be the next George Harrison. Music is her only link to her deceased father. Her over protective mother forbids her to play the guitar or join the school swing choir at school. Apple is embarrassed by her mother who speaks with an accent, clings to old values and cooks Filipino foods. She becomes friends with a new boy, Evan Temple, who is self-assured and doesn’t care what others think of him. He accepts Apple for who she is and encourages her music. They befriend Helena Moffett, who is overweight, is on the Dog Log and has a secret weapon — a powerful singing voice.  Together, the three friends take on the bullies.
  • Kelly’s first-person narrative is extremely effective. The plot is courageous and stays true the theme of what it feels like to be an outsider. I love that Apple spreads her wings like her favorite Beatles song, Blackbird. The pacing is fast, which makes this novel a quick read. There are many unexpected surprises, including the ending which is happily satisfying. 

Erin Entrada Kelly grew up in south Louisiana. Her mother was the first in her family to immigrate to the United States from the Philippines.  Blackbird Fly is her debut novel. Visit Kelly at her website.

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

Since many of my reviews include diverse books, please check out Diverse Children’s Booksa brand new book-sharing meme designed to promote the reading and writing of children’s books that feature diverse characters. This community embraces all kinds of diversity including (and certainly not limited to) diverse, inclusive, multicultural, and global books for children of all backgrounds. Spread the word by using #diversekidlit on Twitter. Check out the logo in my sidebar.

A Monster Calls – Grief

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Patrick Ness, Author

Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd

Jim Kay, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, 2011; Reprint Aug. 4, 2015

Motion Picture Release: October 2016

Suitable for Ages: 14 -17

Themes: Grief, Loss, Monsters, Mothers and sons, Breast cancer,  Single-parent families, Bullying, School

Book Jacket Synopsis: The Monster Showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster, though, is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.

What I like about this story:

Patrick Ness has written a powerful and haunting story about a 13-year-old boy trying to deal with grief and loss. This beautifully crafted story is also filled with dark humor, vivid imagery, fear, rage, and courage.

The characters are realistic and fleshed out. Conor O’Malley is dealing with the nightly visits of a monster at precisely 12:07 a.m., but it’s not the monster that frightens him. It is the recurrent nightmare “that is filled with darkness, screaming and a hand slipping from his grasp.”  The dream begins when his mother starts chemotherapy and is so terrifying that he hasn’t told anyone. His father is remarried and living in America, his grandmother is cold and doesn’t understand him, and the kids bully him at school. Conor is totally alone. Ness brilliantly creates a monster that resembles a nearby ancient Yew tree to act as a catalyst to help Conor face his greatest fear. The monster shares three tales with him and tells Conor that he will tell the fourth story which will be his truth.

The plot is distinctly realistic and the tension is palpable. Readers will ride Conor’s roller coaster as his world spins out of control. In confronting his fear and releasing his rage, Conor destroys his grandmother’s living room — all important steps that will lead him to face the final truth and heal.

Jack Kay liberally uses his pen and ink drawings to illustrate the darkness and intensity of Conor’s fears and rage on each page, heightening the emotion and the scary truth that lies ahead. The total package is a beautiful collaboration between author and illustrator.

Note: In his introduction,  Patrick Ness says he never met Siobhan Dowd. She had a final story idea, but her premature death from cancer prevented her from writing this story herself. This would have been her fifth book.  According to Ness, “she had an idea, the characters, a premise, and a beginning.” With some hesitation, Ness undertook the project and decided from the start that “he would not write a novel that mimicked her voice.” Visit Patrick Ness at his website.

Nobody!: A Story About Overcoming Bullying in Schools

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Erin Frankel, Author

Paula Heaphy, Illustrator

Free Spirit Publishing, Fiction, May 15, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Bullying, Differences, Accountability, Relational Aggression, Self-confidence

Opening: I used to like school. But that was before somebody decided to make my life miserable. Before somebody named Kyle made me feel like a NOBODY!

Publisher Synopsis: Thomas feels like no matter what he does, he can’t escape Kyle’s persistent bullying. At school, at soccer—nowhere feels safe! “Mom said Kyle would grow over the summer and stop picking on me, but he didn’t grow up, he just grew.” With support from friends, classmates, and adults, Thomas starts to feel more confident in himself and his hobbies, while Kyle learns the importance of kindness to others.

What I love about this book:

  • Erin Frankel and Paula Heaphy, who created the popular Weird series, have published a powerful stand-alone picture book for boys about bullying. Many of the beloved characters in the Weird, Dare and Tough, appear in the background of Nobody! 
  • Readers will identify with the name-calling, insults, threats, fear, and anger. The characters are realistic and the language is simple, but edgy.
  • Thomas narrates the story. We watch him grow from the victim who doesn’t like feeling like a nobody to a more self-confident somebody. I like how his narrative is accompanied with “bubble comments” from all the characters on each page. This allows the reader to be more engaged in the story dynamics as they hear from Thomas, the bully, siblings, parents, teachers and bystanders. The bully, Kyle, also learns a few lessons.
  • Nobody! is an excellent resource for teaching school-age children good emotional techniques to stand-up for what is right, to survive and grow beyond bullying. This is another book that belongs in every school library.
  • Paula Heaphy’s stand-out illustrations are pen and ink drawings with splashes of color. They are bold, expressive, emotive and capture the action in the story. I also like her use of white space. Children will find her illustrations especially appealing.

Resources: The book concludes with “activity club” pages for kids, as well as information to help parents, teachers, counselors, and other adults foster dialogue with children about ways to stop bullying. I would pair this book with the first three books, Weird, Dare and Tough.  Visit  Erin Frankel at her website.

Tilt Your Head, Rosie the Red

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Rosemary McCarney, Author

Yvonne Cathcart, Illustrator

Second Story Press, Fiction, Apr. 1, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-9

Themes: Bullying, Standing up for what is right, Differences, Friendship, Self-confidence, Diversity, Tolerance

Opening: Every night at bedtime, Rosie took off her special red cape and hung in on the bedpost. And every morning, she tied it over her shoulders before leaping out of bed to start the day.

Synopsis: Rosie arrives at school wearing her red cape and is stunned to see kids on the playground teasing the new girl Fadimata, who is Muslim and wears a hijab. Not all her classmates are being mean, but they seem afraid to stop the bullying. Before Rosie can say anything, the bell rings. She comes up with a plan to help her friend feel welcome. Rosie asks Fadimata if she will make her cape into a headscarf and wears it all day amidst the whisper of the other students. When Rosie arrives at school the next day, she realizes her solution proves that anything is possible and that differences can be celebrated.

Why I like this book:

Rosie is an optimistic, self-confident and strong role model for girls. She’s not afraid to stand up for what is right. If she sees something wrong, she tilts her head, looks at the situation from every angle before she takes action. She’s a superhero for girls. The character Rosie, is based on author Rosemary McCarney, who as a child had and “amazing sense of social justice.” Tilt Your Head, Rosie the Red, is the first of a three picture books starring Rosie the Red. Yvonne Cathcart’s illustrations are colorful and vibrant. They beautifully capture Rosie’s positive and expressive character. This is an inspiring book for home and school.

Resources: This is a great character book to use in the classroom. It addresses diversity, bullying, tolerance and the courage to do what is right. Do some role-playing and ask children to walk in Fadimata’s shoes? How would they feel if they looked different and were teased? Have they been teased and why? Have they ever been a bystander and afraid to help someone being teased? How did that make them feel? Is it hard to stand up to their friends? Did they like how Rosie stood up for Fadimata?

Rosemary McCarney is President and CEO of the Toronto-based Plan Canada, where she spearheads the Because I am a Girl Movement. She is the author of Every Day is Malala Day and Because I am a Girl: I Can Change the World.

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.