Just Dance by Patricia MacLachlan

Just Dance

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Margaret K. McElderry Books, Fiction, Sep, 12,  2017

Suitable for Ages: 7 and up (Grades 3-5)

Themes: Families, Country life, Singer, Reporter, Newspaper writing

Book Synopsis:

Sylvie Bloom does not understand her mother. She used to be a famous opera singer and Sylvie can’t figure out why she would give up her singing career in front of thousands of people for life on their small Casper, Wyoming farm. Sylvie wants something more exciting than that for herself this summer. She wants an adventure.

Sylvie’s teacher, Mrs. Ludolf, notices her writing talent and suggests that Sylvie take over Sheriff Ludolf’s   local newspaper column. Her job will be to report on the local happenings and follow the sheriff on his rounds. But even as she starts writing about town events, Sylvie can’t help but wonder if she and her younger brother, Nate, have been holding their mother back from doing the same. Nate is more philosophical and tells Sylvie she has “too many preconceived notions.” And when her mother’s old duet partner James Grayson writes that he’s coming to perform nearby, will she be tempted to return to the stage, without them?

Why I like this story:

Just Dance is a cozy book and a perfect summer read. MacLachlan has written a heartfelt and lyrical story about family love, community and music, in her signature minimal style. The setting is so vivid that it makes you want to go live on the prairie near Sylvie’s small town.

Throughout the story, Sylvie’s mother’s beautiful voice is heard in the background — a mystery for Sylvie. Her mother sings in the shower, while her family gathers outside the door to listen and name the music. Her mother sings a different song to the cattle, sheep and chickens and they stop to listen. As do the passing neighbors who hear her lilting voice across the fields — even the crows.

MacLachlan’s characters are memorable with emotional depth. Sylvie, like her mother, has her own talents. As she travels about town with the local sheriff reporting the daily news, she admires his wisdom and compassionate approach to solving problems. She meets a kindred spirit in Tinker, who lives very simply with his wolf, Bernie. Tinker is a poet, artist and observer of life and encourages Sylvie, who writes her columns in free verse or as a Haiku poem. Here’s a sample of Sylvie’s artistic way of reporting for the paper, which the community enjoys:

Sheep in the meadow

Blue-eyed man and a sweet friend

A good day of peace. (Meeting Tinker)

_____________

Boys too young to say

Build a fire on windswept day

Sent home, ponder deeds.  (Boys playing with fire)

________________

Wily crowd of crows

Back to plunder Elmer’s corn

Maybe try sweet song?

Just Dance is a quiet novel to savor. It’s about how Sylvie finds a way to express her own unique voice, while she tries to understand her mother’s choice to leave the lime light for a prairie. This is a good book for kids moving into middle grade books. With short chapters, it can also be read out loud to young children.

Patricia MacLachlan is the celebrated author of many timeless novels for young readers, including Newbery Medal winner Sarah, Plain and Tall; Word After Word After Word; Kindred Souls; The Truth of Me; The Poet’s Dog; and My Father’s Words. She is also the author of countless beloved picture books, a number of which she cowrote with her daughter, Emily. She lives in Williamsburg, Massachusetts.

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.

Connecting Dots

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Sharon Jennings, Author

Second Story Press, Mar. 1, 2015

A Gutsy Girl Book (4): 197 pages

Suitable for Ages: 9-13; Grades 6-8

Themes: Self-Esteem, Family Relationships, Loss, Abuse, Coming of Age, Friendship

Opening: Until I was five, I thought my grandmother was my mother. In kindergarten, I found out the truth.

Book Synopsis: My name is Cassandra. Some people think I’m an orphan.  They say that truth is stranger than fiction, and in my case that’s definitely true. My best friend, Leanna, keeps bugging me to write my life story. She loves writing. Me, I’d rather be an actress. But telling the truth for once about my life could feel good. You see, I always thought my grandma raised me because I was an orphan. But when she died, I found out that was a lie. It’s hard to find out that nobody wants you. For a long time I didn’t have a real home, or any real friends. But things can change, and now I’m sitting here at my desk in my room, writing my story so you can read it, strange or not.

Why I like this book:

Sharon Jennings has written a heartbreaking and heartwarming coming of age story about a 12-year-old girl who is shipped off to the homes of many cruel relatives who treat her with disdain. Cassandra suffers abuse, hardship and finds little love. All she really wants is to find a family and a home where she feels she belongs.

Connecting Dots is a richly textured story narrated by Cassandra.  Cassandra’s character is memorable, strong, resilient, fearless and wise. In the face of such adversity and unimaginable abuse, she finds a bosom buddy in Leanna Mets, who encourages her to write her life story. As Cassandra shares her pages with Leanna, she finds writing cathartic, empowering and healing. Acting in school plays and with a kid’s theater company strengthens her resolve to never lose sight of her dream to become an actress.

The plot is strong, honest, tough and clever, with many twists and turns.  When you finish, you’ll want to cheer Cassandra for connecting the dots in her life. This third installment lives up to the “Gutsy Girls” book. Connecting Dots is definitely a companion book to Home Free, where Cassandra’s friend Leanna is the protagonist.

Note to Parents: There is a mention of Cassandra being sexually abused by an uncle Ernie and punished by an aunt with an enema and beatings. Although the book is for readers 9-12, parents may want to judge their child’s maturity level.

Other Gutsy Girl Books: Finding Grace, by Becky Citra; The Contest, by Caroline Stellings; Home Free, by Sharon Jennings; and Connecting Dots, by Sharon Jennings.

Sharon Jennings has written over 60 books for young people, many of them award winners and nominees. Home Free, the prequel to Connecting Dots, was nominated for a Governor General’s Award, the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award, and the Silver Birch Award. Visit Sharon Jennings at her website.

Check out the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books reviewed and listed on author Shannon Messenger’s blog.

MMGM2

Taconi and Claude: Double Trouble

Taconi & Claude9781616331306_p0_v1_s260x420Taconi & Claude: Double Trouble

Margot E. Finke, Author

Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc., Fiction, Jan. 2011

Themes:  Aboriginal boy, Australian Outback, Multicultural, Coming of Age, Courage

Suitable for Ages:  Middle Grade

Opening:  “The full moon cast a cold light on Taconi’s naked body as four wizened elders pinned him on the ground close to a blazing fire.  Sweat rolled off him, and his heart raced the thump, thump, thump of the feather drums: faster and faster.”

Synopsis:  This is a 1950’s coming of age story about a young aboriginal boy living in the Australian outback.  Nearly 13, Taconi  knows he will soon face his upcoming man ceremony  and suffers night terrors.   Secrecy shrouds the ceremony and he has no one to talk with except Claude, his chatty Cockatoo.  He’s also torn about leaving his mother and tribe to live with his father, who is a cook at the Coorparoo Cattle Station.   His father says that it’s good for Taconi to learn and understand the white man’s world if he’s to serve his tribe in later years.   Taconi will train as a jackaroo (cowboy) on the cattle ranch.  The Boss and the Misses throw a big party which gives Taconi’s father the chance to become the head “Cookie,” at the ranch.   But the meal is jeopardized when dingoes (wild dogs) raid the chicken house, leaving no meat for the soup.  Taconi wants to help his father and goes on a dangerous walkabout  into the bush with Claude to find good aboriginal meat for the soup.  He kills a Bandy-Bandy snake, searches for Witchetty grubs, a Goanna (lizard) and catches Yabbies (shell-fish) for his father’s soup.  Only Taconi and his father know the secret of a good pot of soup.  Trouble still lurks before the big ranch party.   And, Taconi must have the courage to deal with the Dreamtime Spirits planning his future.         

Why I like this book:  I was wowed  by Taconi and Claude from the first chapter.  Margot Finke has written a gripping story that weaves Aussie language and vivid tales of Medicine Men and tribal customs with an adventure that boys and girls won’t be able to put down.  Finke quickly draws the reader into Taconi’s life in the outback and the challenges he faces.  Each chapter is a page turner.   The characters are fleshed out, including his awesome Cockatoo, Claude, who provides much comic relief throughout the story.  The plot is exciting, funny and packed  with action.  Readers will enjoy learning about eating live Witchetty Grubs,  catching Yabbies and being covered by green fire ants.  There is a glossary of Aussie terms at the end of the book that will introduce readers to a variety of new vocabulary and expose them to a new culture.

Clara Bowman-Jahn also reviewed Taconi and Claude last year on her blog.

Margot Finke is an Aussie transplant who writes middle grade adventure fiction and rhyming picture books. For many years she has lived in Oregon with her husband and family.  Visit Margot Finke  on her website.