The Case of the Missing Auntie by Michael Hutchinson

The Case of the Missing Auntie (A Mighty Muskrats Mystery)

Michael Hutchinson

Second Story Press, Fiction, Mar. 17, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes: Mystery, Adventure, First Nations, Canada, Indigenous Children, Government, Bullies

Publisher’s Synopsis:

In this second book in the Mighty Muskrats Mystery series, the four problem-solving cousins (now bona fide amateur sleuths) are off to the city to have fun at the the Exhibition Fair. But when Chickadee asks Grandpa what he would like them to bring back from the city, she learns about Grandpa’s missing little sister. The sister was “scooped up” by the government and adopted out to strangers without her parents’ permission many years ago — like many Indigenous children. Their grandfather never stopped missing her or wondering what happened to her. Now the Mighty Muskrats have a new mystery to solve.

Once in the bright lights of the big city, the cousins get distracted, face-off with bullies, meet some heroes and unlikely teachers, and encounter racism and many other difficulties First Nations kids can face in the city. The Muskrats’ search for their missing auntie will take them all the way to the government, where they learn hard truths about their country’s treaatment of First Nations people.

Why I like this book:

The Mighty Muskrats are back again and they have a new mystery to solve, finding their Cree grandfather’s missing sister, Charlotte. The story is entertaining in the beginning as the four cousins leave the reservation (rez) to have fun in the big city and sobering once they settle down to pursue every lead to discover what happened to Charlotte.

Michael Hutchinson’s captivating mystery brings history to life and helps readers learn about the injustice done to indigenous First Nations children between 1950-1980. The stories of mistreatment and betrayal by the government must be told so youth of today don’t forget what happened to many of their relatives.

Chickadee takes the lead in this story. She is a savvy and unstoppable detective who is not going to let the government bureaucracy get in her way as she travels back and forth between agencies and administrators who go by the book when they could show some heart.  For, Atim attending the Exhibition Fair is his mission. Otter’s heart is focused on getting concert tickets to see his favorite band, “The Wovoka Wail.” Samuel leads them into trouble with dangerous gangs and bullies, before he gets serious about the search for their great-aunt Charlotte. After some teenage missteps, the three male cousins show their super sleuth abilities and stand with Chickadee.

I enjoyed this contemporary story about four resourceful teens, the Indigenous “rez”, mixed with tribal wisdom of their grandfather, a respected elder. The ending is well done and I don’t want to give anything away for readers. Just make sure you have a box of kleenex handy.

Make sure you check out the first book in this Mighty Muskrats Mystery series, The Case of Windy Lake, about growing up on a First Nations reservation. This book is ideal for school libraries and classroom reading.

Michael Hutchinson is a member of the Misipawistik Cree Nation. He currently lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he works with organizations that advocate for First Nations families in Manitoba and across Canada.

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.

*Review copy provided by the publisher.

Just Lucky by Melanie Florence

Just Lucky

Melanie Florence, Author

Second Story Press, Sep. 17, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 13 -18

Themes: Multigenerational family, Alzheimer’s, Indigenous children, Drug abuse, Foster families, Bullying

Book Synopsis:

When Lucky Robinson was a baby, her mother was arrested for drug abuse and she was raised by her loving Cree grandparents for the next 15 years. She barely knows her mother, who she’s not sure she’d be able to pick out in a police line-up. Home life is happy, she attends a good school and her best friend, Ryan, lives next door.

Grandma may like to shout out the answers to Jeopardy, but sometimes she forgets things…like turning off the stove, wandering out the door, and stepping infront of a car. But her grandpa takes such good care of them, that Lucky doesn’t realize how bad her grandma’s memory is until he suddenly dies unexpectedly.

Lucky takes over the responsibility of caring for her grandmother and tries not to leave her alone. But when her grandmother accidentally sets the kitchen on fire, Lucky can’t hide what is happening any longer. Grandma is hospitalized and the authorities intervene and place Lucky into the foster care system — temporarily, she hopes. Lucky quickly learns that some foster families are okay. Some really, really aren’t.

Why I like this book:

Melanie Florence has written a sensitive and timely story about a 15-year-old girl living with a grandmother with Alzheimer’s. Some readers will identify with Lucky’s sadness because they will understand what it is like to have a grandparent, parent or relative suffering memory loss.  Lucky’s situation is particularly interesting becuase she has to become the caregiver and lives in secrecy so that she can keep her family together. She has no one else.

The characters are diverse and memorable. Lucky is a caring, compassionate and resilient narrator. As she is placed in a variety of foster homes and new schools, readers will observe the emotional toll it takes on her. She becomes somewhat detached and eventually doesn’t unpack her backpack because she knows that she’ll be moved again.  But she is also clever and resourceful as she finds ways to fit in. Her friendship with Ryan, offers some comic relief. They love comic books and he’s always there to support her.

For teens in foster care, Lucky’s story offers a snapshot of reality. Lucky is placed in three different foster homes. She has to deal with a foster parent who tries to climb into her bed. Lucky is indigenous and experiences racism. When she is repeatedly bullied by a popular girl in a new school, Lucky is fed up and strikes the girl. She is forced to leave a foster home she likes and is moved again to another foster home and school. But her story also offers a good dose of hope. This book stands out and is worth reading!

Melanie Florence is a writer of Cree and Scottish heritage based in Toronto. She was close to her grandfather as a child, a relationship that sparked her interest in writing about Indigenous themes and characters. She is the author of Missing Nimama, which won the 2016 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award and is a Forest of Reading Golden Oak Finalist. Her other books include Righting Canada’s Wrongs: Residential Schools and the teen novels He Who Dreams, The Missing, One Night, and Rez Runaway. For more information, visit Florence’s 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.

*Review copy provided by the publisher.

Just South of Home by Karen Strong

Just South of Home

Karen Strong, Author

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Fiction, May 9, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 320

Themes: African Americans, Family Relationships, Racism, Crimes, Georgia, Ghosts, Supernatural

Book Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Sarah is finally in charge. At last, she can spend her summer months reading her favorite science books and bossing around her younger, brainy brother, Ellis, instead of being worked to the bone by their overly strict grandmother, Mrs. Greene. But when their cousin, Janie, arrives for a visit, Sarah’s plans are completely squashed.

Janie has a knack for getting into trouble and asks Sarah to take her to the burned-down ruins of Creek Church, a landmark of the small town that she heard was haunted with ghosts. It’s also off-limits. Janie’s sticky fingers disturb the restless ghosts (or haints), who are unleashed upon the town. It is up to Sarah, Janie, Ellis and his best friend, Jasper to uncover the deep-seated racist part of the town’s past that is filled with unimaginable crimes against the black community. With a bit of luck, this foursome will heal the place they call home and the people within it they call family.

Why I like this book:

Karen Strong’s Just South of Home is a haunting and extraordinary experience for readers who are interested in looking at racist atrocities committed in the South and how they impact a community who wants to forget the past. The author doesn’t shy away from dealing with the burning of the town’s Creek Church by the Klan and a boy who is brutally murdered and buried near the church. His restless spirit is trapped and needs to move into the light realm.

The characters are loveable and memorable. Sarah’s safe and logical science-filled background is overturned once she experiences the force of evil and the unrest of the haints. Janie is fearless and nudges Sarah to do things she wouldn’t normally do — like breaking into their grandmother’s attic
to search for clues about Creek Church and getting caught. Mrs. Greene is unmoving and won’t think twice about using a willow switch as a form of punishment. But she is also very generous with her famous red velvet cake. Evolving family relationships are central to this novel.

Strong’s plot is thrilling and suspense-filled. It is mystery that Sarah, Janie, Ellis and Jasper desperately want to solve. Her deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. Teens looking for something original and creative will enjoy this novel. It is an excellent discussion book because of the historical themes.

Karen Strong was born and raised in rural Georgia. She spent most of her childhood wandering the woods, meadows, and gardens on her grandmother’s land. She now lives in Atlanta. Just South of Home is her first novel. Visit the author at her website.

Favorite Quote: Page 100

I couldn’t deny it. What we had seen was as real as the sun, the stars, and the planets in our solar system. Those shadows were physical things, and they weren’t human. I didn’t need any more theories. No more explanations. Creek Church was haunted. 

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 library copy.

The Lying King by Alex Beard

The Lying King

Alex Beard, Author and Illustrator

Green Leaf Book Group Press, Fiction, Sep. 4, 2018

Pages: 54

Suitable for Ages: 4 -9 (and adults)

Themes: Animals, Lying, Bullying, Stealing, Integrity, Honesty

Opening: There once was a king who liked to tell lies. He said it was day beneath the night skies.

Synopsis:

There was a warthog who wanted to be king.  He lied to feel big “a runt who wanted to be a huge pig.”  His lies were small in the beginning. When it rained outside, he said it was dry. But his lies became tall tales.  He was so full of himself that he  said he was great at whatever he did.  And he bullied others to make himself feel good.

Even though the other animals saw through his outrageous behavior, they remained silent and did nothing to stop the warthog from becoming king. Once in power, the king stole to pad his purse and called the most honest, cheaters. He turned his loyal subjects against one another until they didn’t know who they could trust. The king’s lies were so bold that they got out of hand, and no one believed a word the king said. Will animals stand up to him? Will the truth catch up with the king?

Why I like this book:

Beard’s contemporary tale is clever and entertaining and has lessons for everyone about integrity and being truthful, trustworthy and fair. For children, this is a timeless tale about how unacceptable it is to lie and what happens when lying gets out of control. It is a perfect book that will teach children the importance telling the truth and knowing when they are being lied to. For adults, it carries a socially relevant and important message for our times.

I LOVE the lively and whimsical watercolor illustrations in this story. They are appealing and humorous and will communicate the author’s message loud and clear. His use of white space makes the art stand out. I also like that the text is beautifully handwritten.

Resources: Use this book as a resource. Ask children why they think the warthog lied? Why didn’t the other animals call out the warthog? Why didn’t anyone stop the warthog when he bullied other animals?  What did they learn about the importance of telling the truth?  Play an honesty game with children where you create scenarios where they have to say what they would do.

Alex Beard is an artist and author. A NYC native, he lives in New Orleans’ Garden District in The Pink Elephant with his wife and two children, two dogs, a cat, three turtles, a hedgehog, and a pair of finches. Visit the author at his website.

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 Kathleen Carter Communications.

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Finding Langston

Lesa Cline-Ransome, Author

Holiday House, Fiction, Aug. 14, 2018

Pages: 108

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Loss, Single-parent families, Moving, Bullying, Poetry, the Great Migration, Chicago, History

Opening: “Never really thought much about Alabama’s red dirt roads, but now, all I can think about is kicking up their dust.”

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Langston is a long way from Alabama. After his mother dies in 1946, and he and his father move to Chicago’s Bronzeville. Langston must leave behind everything that he cherishes — his family, friends, Grandma’s Sunday suppers, the red clay and the magnolia trees his mama loved so much. He misses the slow pace of life at home and how he could take his time walking home before he starts his chores.

Bronzeville is noisy. Their kitchenette apartment is just a lonely room with two beds, a table and chairs and a hot plate. Dinner is what daddy brings home and throws into a pot. At night, the sounds are loud. People talk loudly on stoops, music blares from radios, and huge rats run down the hallways. At school, Langston is teased for being too country and three boys bully him after school. But his new home has something his old home didn’t have: the George Cleveland Hall Library that welcomes the community, black and white.

The library becomes a refuge from the bullies and a place where Langston joyfully discovers another Langston, a poet whose words are powerful and speak to him of home. With the help of a kind librarian, he reads all of Langston Hughes’ poetry, discovers the power of words and is transported.  A neighbor, who is a teacher, also introduces Langston to other black poets. Through poetry Langston begins to understand his mother, uncovers one of her secrets and finds healing through his namesake.

Why I like this book:

There is so much beauty in Lesa Cline-Ransome’s coming of age novel. Langston will melt your heart as he deals with loss and loneliness, and struggles to find his voice through words and poetry. It is an inspiring story that is relevant today.

The story also gives readers insight into the Great Migration of black families in search of better jobs in larger cities, like Chicago and New York. They leave behind a slower-paced life and close family relationships, to live in sub-standard housing in noisy, concrete cities.

The chapters are short, the narrative is strong and the writing is lyrical. The plot is compelling and there are themes that will spark important discussions among teens and adults.  This is an important book to add to any classroom curriculum.

Favorite lines: Langston’s first visit to a public library.

I trace the letters on the covers of each and stop. One has my name. I pull it out and open to the first page.

I pick up my life

And take it with me

And I put it down in 

Chicago, Detroit,

Buffalo, Scranton.

Feels like reading words from my heart. (Pg. 21-22)

Lesa Cline-Ransome is best known for her award-winning picture books. Her most recent book, Before She Was Harriet, is illustrated by her husband, James Ransome, received six starred reviews, a Christopher Award, a Coretta Scott King Honor Award for illustration, and a nomination for a NAACP Image Award. Finding Langston is her first novel. Visit the author at 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 library copy.

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.

Check out the Teacher’s Guide, published by Candlewick Press.

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.

Fox Magic by Beverley Brenna

Fox Magic

Beverley Brenna, Author

Red Deer Press, Fiction, Dec. 15, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Pages: 115

Themes: Teen suicide, Grief, Loss, Bullying, Courage, Hope

Opening: The week after the Bad Thing happened, Chance is back in school. She’s walking away from the water fountain and Monika is right there in front of her.  “She was my cousin, you know,” Monika hisses. “It should have been you.”

Synopsis: Chance Devlin and her two best friends make a pact to commit suicide. They dress in their best clothes and meet at a planned site. Chance changes her mind and runs home. She doesn’t tell anyone. Now her two friends have killed themselves. Chance struggles with grief, loss, and guilt that she didn’t tell anyone or try to stop them. Kids at school bully her and leave nasty notes in her desk and backpack: “Traitor. You’re better off dead.” She keeps the Bad Thing a secret, feels empty inside and escapes through sleep.

Enter her parents. They immediately get Chance into counseling, which is agonizing for her. Her therapist encourages her to write in a journal. Her father is my hero. He takes some time off so he can be at home with Chance, cook her pancakes for breakfast, drive and pick her up from school, make her exercise with him in fun and sometimes nerdy places. And he takes her to see her mom at work as a nurse in a neonatal unit, where she observes the tender and loving care her mother gives each newborn.  Her father shares with her a very important story.

A fox begins to magically appear in her Chance’s life. The fox, she names Janet Johnson, helps Chance to begin to get in touch with her grief, the past, her feelings, find her voice and move forward towards healing.  Is it her subconscious? I like Brenna’s sweet touch of magical realism as it allows the readers to decide for themselves what the fox symbolizes.

Why this book is on my shelf:

Brenna’s coming of age novel is brave and skillfully written. Each chapter is short and features pen and ink drawings to highlight each chapter. Suicide is a difficult but timely subject for older middle grade students that offers a wealth of opportunities for family and classroom discussions. This is a hopeful book.

Brenna doesn’t linger on the suicide pact or reveal the details of that night, which makes this realistic story very approachable for middle grade students. The story is told from Chance’s viewpoint. Readers will grow with Chance’s character as she deals with pain and grief and finds the courage and determination to move forward in her life. She’s authentic, honest and believable. There are many memorable characters that play supportive roles in her growth.

Brenna is from Saskatchewan where there many Indigenous children. I like how she includes both “First Nation and Metis” beliefs in Chance’s classroom as the students talk about school bullying and come up with clever solutions. This classroom interaction plays another important role in Chance’s healing.

Resources: There is an excellent interview with Beverley Brenna with discussion questions, an afterword with a mental health professional, and resource links. Brenna has prepared a teacher’s guide on her website for use in the classroom.

Beverley Brenna is the author of the award-winning Wild Orchid series, about a girl on the autism spectrum. She teaches at the University of Saskatchewan in Suskatoon.

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.

Big, Brave, Bold Sergio — Baxter and Danny Stand Up to Bullying

Today I am sharing two new books about bullying, published by Magination Press. They both deal with different aspects of bullying and compliment each other well. They are both great classroom discussion books.

Big, Brave, Bold Sergio

Debbie Wagenbach, Author

Jamie Tablason, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 19, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Turtles, Animals, Bullying, Peer Pressure, Taking a stand, Kindness

Opening: Sergio liked swimming with the Snappers. He felt BIG when they scattered the minnows.

Synopsis: Sergio and The Snappers are the toughest turtles in the pond! Swimming with them makes Sergio feel Big, Brave and Bold! But soon he starts to notice how the other animals run and hide when the Snappers swim by; frogs flee, tadpoles tremble, and ducks depart the pond! Sergio doesn’t like it, and stands up to his friends, only to become the new target of the gang’s bullying, especially after he befriends some of the fish. But then something happens to one of the Snappers and Sergio has a choice to make.

Baxter and Danny Stand Up to Bullying

James M. Foley, Author

Shirley Ng-Benitez, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 15, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Animals, Bullying, Taking a stand,  Problem-solving, Friendship

Opening: Baxter the Bunny was the fastest animal in the forest. Danny the Bear was the best dancer.

Synopsis:  When Baxter, Danny and the rest of the forest animals are picked on by Buford Blue Jay and his bird friends, they have to figure out what to do. The piercing “screech, screech” of the Blue Jays was loud and their name calling was hurtful. With the support of all the forest animals and Queen Beth of the Bees, they all learn to stand up to Buford’s bullying in a positive way.

Why I like these bullying books:

Each book approaches bullying from a different perspective — the bully and the victims. In the first book Sergio is a bully until his conscience begins to bother him. He deals with peer pressure from the other Snappers and soon  becomes their target. In the second book the animals of the forest are the target of bullying by the Blue Jays. Working together helps empower the animals and gives them the confidence to take a stand.

Readers will identify with the name-calling, insults, threats, fear and anger. They will learn how to cope with peer pressure, assert themselves, build self-esteem, problem solve and find solutions that  work. I also like the emphasis on learning to have compassion.

Children will be delighted with the large, bold and expressive artwork. There is so much detail to explore. Both illustrators ably capture the lively action in the stories and compliment the authors’ text.

Resources: Both books include “Note to Parents and Caregivers” about how to prevent bullying, cope with peer pressure, become resilient and develop an attitude of kindness towards others. Theses are great discussion books for home or classroom reading.

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.

*I received a review copies of  Big, Brave, Bold Sergio and Baxter and Danny Stand Up to Bullying from the publisher. The opinions in this review are entirely my own.

Caterpillars Can’t Swim by Liane Shaw

Caterpillars Can’t Swim

Liane Shaw, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Mar. 6, 2018

Pages: 256

Suitable for Ages: 13-18

Themes: Cerebral Palsy, LGBT, Depression, Family Relationships, Bullying, Homophobia, Prejudices, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis: For sixteen-year-old Ryan, the water is where he finds his freedom. Ever since childhood, when he realized that he would never walk like other people, has loved the water where gravity is no longer his enemy. But he never imagined he would become his small town’s hero by saving a schoolmate from drowning.

Jack is also attracted to the water, but for him it’s the promise of permanent escape. Disappearing altogether seems better than living through one more day of high-school where he is dogged by rumors about his sexuality. He’s terrified that coming out will alienate him from everyone in town — and crush his adoring mother.

Ryan saves Jack’s life, but he also keeps his secret. Their bond leads to a grudging friendship, and an unexpected road-trip to Cosmic Con with Ryan’s best friend Cody, the captain of the swim team. They make an unlikely trio but each of them will have the chance to show where he is brave enough to go against the stereotypes the world wants to define him by.

Why I like this story:

Liane’ Shaw’s examines the paralyzing impact of bullying on teens in this raw, honest and emotional novel. What stands out for me is the prejudice against two teens — one who has a physical disability and the other teen who is struggling with his sexual identity.  This is the first time I’ve seen the differences appear together in a compelling story, especially when the teen who is disabled is the hero.

The characters drive the action in this story. The main character Ryan, was born with cerebral palsy and has spent his life in a wheelchair. However the story really doesn’t focus on his disability, but his funny, upbeat personality and his role on the school swim team. Jack is sad and depressed. He has no friends, and keeps to himself. Ryan befriends Jack, listens to his pain as he deals with his identity, and keeps his secrets. Kids suspect that Jack’s gay and bully him. Ryan’s friend, Cody, steps in when he sees the school bullies harassing both Ryan and Jack after school.  Cody is hyper, wacky, funny, obnoxious, and someone you can dislike one moment and love the next. He provides for a lot of comic relief in the story.

I really liked the metaphor of a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, a mirror of what happens when three unlikely teens come together to support each other. Especially Cody, who is homophobic. His growth as a character meant the most to me.

The plot is multi-layered, brave and complicated. Jack’s drowning happens early in the story with a lot of drama and action. Readers may wonder where the story is headed. But the pacing is fast, engaging and lighthearted at times. There is  more to this deeply moving novel that readers will find appealing.  It is an inspiring story about family, friends and hope.

Liane Shaw is the author of several books for teens, including thinandbeautiful.com, Fostergirls, The Color of Silence, and Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell. Liane was an educator for more than 20 years and lives with her family in Ontario.

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.

Fort by Cynthia DeFelice

Fort

Cynthia DeFelice, Author

 Square Fish; Reprint edition May 17, 2016, Fiction

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Building a fort, Friendship, Bullies, Standing up for yourself

Opening/Prologue: This is the 100 percent true story of the summer I — Wyatt Jones — was eleven and built a fort in the woods with my friend Augie Valerio.  It isn’t the story I handed in to my teacher about how I spent my summer vacation. See, there’s stuff that happened that you can’t really talk about in school. Not unless you want to get in trouble…

Synopsis: Wyatt and his friend Augie aren’t looking for a fight. They’re having the time of their lives hanging out in the fort they built in the woods, fishing and hunting, cooking over a campfire, and sleeping out. But when two older boys mess with the fort — and with a kid who can’t fight back — the friends are forced to launch Operation Doom, with unexpected results for all concerned.

Why I like this book:

This is a fast-paced adventure story for boys and a terrific summer read! It’s a summer experience boys would dream of having. It is set in the woods of upstate New York and reminds me of a different time period. Wyatt and his dad visit every summer, where his father teaches at a college. Wyatt hangs out with his best friend, Augie who lives there. Wyatt’s father gives him the trust and freedom to just be a boy and enjoy his summer, which is opposite from his mother’s parenting style.

Wyatt and Augie are very different characters. Wyatt is more tech savvy and strategic and Augie is smart about nature, hunting, fishing and survival in the woods. Both boys have a healthy respect for each other’s differences. As a result, their joint talents contribute to the best summer vacation both boys have ever had. There are other interesting characters there to support the boys when needed. But this is really a kids story.

I was pleased that Wyatt and Augie do the right thing when they realize Gerard, who is differently abled, has been mistreated and threatened by the bullies. They befriend Gerard, draw him into their plan, and help him find his voice.

The plot is believable, thrilling, tense and action-packed. It will keep readers quickly turning pages. When Augie and Wyatt discover two older bullies have messed with their fort, it’s time to act. Together they devise the most awesome strategic plan to teach two bullies a valuable lesson. It isn’t mean-spirited, but will make readers chuckle!

Cynthia DeFelice is the author of many popular books, including Wild Life, The Ghost of Fossil Glen, Signal, and the Missing Manatee. Her novels have been nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award and listed as American Library Association Notable Children’s Books. Visit DeFelice at her website.

**I won Fort in drawing on Greg Pattridge’s popular website, Always in the Middle. He reviews interesting and entertaining middle grade books. Please check it out!

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