Zora and Me: The Summoner by Victoria Bond

Zora & Me: The Summoner

Victoria Bond, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 13, 2020

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Zora Neale Hurston, Storyteller, African-American, Racism, Jim Crow South, Community, Loss, Grief

Synopsis:

For Carrie and her best friend, Zora, Eatonville—America’s first incorporated Black township—has been an idyllic place to live out their childhoods. But when a lynch mob crosses the town’s border to pursue a fugitive and a grave robbery resuscitates the ugly sins of the past, the safe ground beneath them seems to shift. Not only has Zora’s own father—the showboating preacher John Hurston—decided to run against the town’s trusted mayor, but there are other unsettling things afoot, including a heartbreaking family loss, a friend’s sudden illness, and the suggestion of voodoo and zombie-ism in the air, which a curious and grieving Zora becomes all too willing to entertain.

In this fictionalized tale, award-winning author Victoria Bond explores the end of childhood and the bittersweet goodbye to Eatonville by preeminent author Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960). In so doing, she brings to a satisfying conclusion the story begun in the award-winning Zora and Me and its sequel, Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground, sparking inquisitive readers to explore Hurston’s own seminal work.

Why I like this book:

Victoria Bond captures the untamed spirit of the famous writer Zora Neale Hurston in this daunting story of her fictionalized childhood. In this final contribution to her celebrated trilogy, Bond deftly confronts the harsh realities of racism in Jim Crow’s south in 1905. Bond’s narrative is rich and poetic and the dialogue is suspenseful and humorous. The plot is haunting, gripping, and dangerous.

The story is set in Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated black township in the United States in 1887. The historical facts about the town, with the only black mayor, is fascinating. It is out in the middle of nowhere. The black community lives peacefully together for many years enjoying their freedom, owning their own businesses, and farming their own land. They have a church and pastor, a doctor, and a post office. All the children are enrolled in school. When trouble begins in 1905 with the lynching of a black fugitive followed by a series of other unsettling events, and the town of Eatonville is on edge.

The story is narrated by Zora’s best friend, Carrie, who knows that what ever problem or mystery the two friends may be chasing, always means trouble. Zora is a rambunctious and strong-willed character with a wild imagination. She loves telling stories and eventually begins to writing them down. Her sight, as Carrie notes, “is always set on the horizon.”

Other memorable characters include Old Lady Bronson, who is the town midwife, healer and wise woman.  Joe Clarke, who’s been Eatonville’s mayor for 18 years and also owns the general store, is anxious to expand the town.  Zora’s father, the boisterous Rev. John Thurston, pastor of the church, decides to run against the mayor. Zora’s mother, Lucy, is very ill and poor Chester Cools, a troubled soul. Mr. Calhoun is the kind school teacher who helps Zora during turbulent times. And Zora and Carrie’s friend Teddy Baker, is training to be a doctor with Dr. Brazzle.  All of the characters add intrigue to the story.

Zora & Me: The Summoner is both heart wrenching and inspiring. Bond’s deliberate pacing and tension will keep readers fully engaged. There are many surprises for readers. It is an exceptional story, that gives readers a “hint” of the famous author’s life. She inspired many black female authors, like Alice Walker, with her courage and strength, but didn’t benefit monetarily from all her writings.

Resources: Make sure you check out the biography of the remarkable Zora Neale Hurston and a timeline that chronicles her life, which are at the end of the story. And, read Carrie’s letter to her granddaughter at the beginning, as it will give you a snapshot of 1905 and her thoughts about Zora.

Amazon Review: “In the third and final volume of Zora and Me, readers are treated to a lustrous look at several facets of the anthropologist, folklorist, and novelist Zora Neale Hurston. . . . I sing the praises of what Victoria Bond has imagined and crafted here, both in deference to my aunt and as a way of honoring Zora’s legacy.” — Lucy Hurston, niece of Zora Neale Hurston

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 the publisher in exchange for a review.

The Power of One by Trudy Ludwig

The Power of One: Every Act of Kindness Counts

Trudy Ludwig, Author

Mike Curato, Illustrator

Alfred A. Knopf, Fictions, Aug. 25, 2020

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Kids making a difference, Kindness, Listening, Friendship, Community

Opening “Sometimes One can feel like a small and lonely number. But don’t let this little number fool you.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Change begins with one person standing up for what is right. And one act of kindness can start a chain reaction: One shy smile can lead to a friendship. One good listener can make even the smallest voice heard. One thoughtful idea can bring a community together.

From the acclaimed author of The Invisible Boy comes a  lyrical tale as simple — and simply inspiring — as the the golden rule, beautifully brought to life by Mike Curato’s bold multimedia artwork.

Why I like this book:

Trudy Ludwig and Mike Curato team up to create this beautiful picture book that will capture your heart! Ludwig’s fluid and sparse text and Curato’s spacious illustrations really SHOW this story. Several double-spreads pages have no text, but are brimming with feeling and meaning! Curato uses white space well to make his artwork pop with color! Gorgeous!

Children will recognize themselves in the young girl who is teased on the playground. A friendly bystander (one girl) steps away from her friends to reach out to the girl in loving kindness to let her know that she cares. This ONE act of kindness has a ripple effect at school and in the community and is a giant leap towards making the world a better place to live in.

This is a perfect book for teacher’s to read to their classrooms at the beginning of the school year! It is a treasure.

Resources: This book is a wonderful resource to get children sharing stories. Ask kids if they’ve seen someone sad or lonely; heard someone tease another student; or seen a child excluded from an activity. Have any of these things happened to them?  Ludwig includes an Author’s Note and recommends many websites that teachers and parents may find helpful like the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.

Trudy Ludwig  is a nationally acclaimed speaker and an award-winning author of ten books, including The Invisible Boy and My Secret Bully. Through her work with the International Bullying Prevention Association, Sesame Street Workshop, Committee for Children, and ConnectSafely, Trudy is committed to helping kids connect with their peers in kinder, more inclusive ways. Visit her at her website or follow her on Twitter at @TrudyLudwig.

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 author in exchange for a review.

War is Over by David Almond

War is Over

David Almond, Author

David Litchfield, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, May 12, 2020

Pages: 128

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Themes: Children, Effects of War, Women, WW I effort, Homefront, Community

Synopsis:

It’s 1918, and war is everywhere. John’s father is fighting in the trenches far away in France, while his mother works in a menacing munitions factory just along the road. His teacher says that John is fighting, too, that he is at war with enemy children in Germany. But John struggles. “I am a child. How can I be at war?”

One day, in the wild woods outside town, John has an impossible moment: a dreamlike meeting with a German boy named Jan. John catches a glimpse of a better world, in which children like Jan and himself can one day scatter the seeds of peace.

David Almond brings his ineffable sensibility to a poignant tale of the effects of war on children, interwoven with David Litchfield’s gorgeous black-and-white illustrations.

What I like about this book:

David Almond’s short novel, War is Over, is a both a poignant and sensitive novel. It explores the emotions of a boy and the attitudes of his community about war and peace. This novel raises many questions for readers and is a timely discussion topic in classrooms.

John is conflicted about the war. His father has been gone so long that he can’t remember what he looks like. He just wants the war over. So he writes letters to the King of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury and asks them when the war will end — no answers.

The book addresses the impact of the war on the homefront. There is fear and hatred for the Germans that carries over into the classroom. Especially when the teacher tells his students “they are children at war” and makes John and his classmates march like soldiers as they go on an outing to visit the munitions factory, where most of their mothers work making bombs. Some of the boys play war after school, but not John.

John and his classmates encounter a friend’s Uncle Gordon, who is ridiculed because he’s a conscientious objector. Uncle Gordon traveled to Germany before the war, and has a fist full of drawings of young German children. He impresses upon the students that “children aren’t monsters and are children like you.” John manages to snatch a picture of a boy named “Jan from Düsseldorf.” He writes Jan a friendly letter. He dreams of Jan and a better world. He imagines seeing Jan in the forest, which becomes a coping mechanism for John until the war ends.

Almond’s lyrical text meanders around the beautiful pen and ink drawings by David Litchfield, which fill  every page. Doves fly above and turn into falling bombs and tears turn into shrapnel. His artwork shows the starkness of the factory as shifts begin and end and women make their way home. A somber topic, but presented so sympathetically and poetically.

David Almond is the acclaimed author of many award-winning novels for children, including Skellig, Kit’s Wilderness, and My Name is Mina. David Almond’s books are beloved all over the world, and in 2010 he was the recipient of the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award. He lives in England.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

The Summer We Found Baby by Amy Hest

The Summer We Found Baby

Amy Hest, Author

Candlewick Press, Aug. 4, 2020

Suitable for ages: 9 and up

Themes: Family, Friendship, Community, WWII, Secrets, Mystery

Synopsis:

On the morning of the dedication of the new children’s library in Belle Beach, Long Island, eleven-year-old Julie Sweet and her six-year-old sister, Martha, find a baby in a basket on the library steps. At the same time, twelve-year-old Bruno Ben-Eli is on his way to the train station to catch the 9:15 train into New York City. He is on an important errand for his brother, who is a soldier overseas in World War II. But when Bruno spies Julie, the same Julie who hasn’t spoken to him for sixteen days, heading away from the library with a baby in her arms, he has to follow her. Holy everything, he thinks. Julie Sweet is a kidnapper.

Of course, the truth is much more complicated than the children know in this heartwarming and beautifully textured family story by award-winning author Amy Hest.  The novel captures the moments and emotions of a life-changing summer — a summer in which a baby gives a family hope and brings a community together.

Why I like this book:

The Summer We Found Baby is heartfelt and genuine, especially as Amy Hest explores the idea of family, friendship and community. Set during World War II in a cozy little town on Long Island, it’s a short novel with a fast-paced plot that will keep readers happily engaged.

The narrative is told from three different viewpoints: Bruno Ben-Eli is a resident of Belle Beach, and Julie and Martha Sweet, the “summer people” who are visiting with their widowed father who seeks a place to finish his book.  The three-some each have their own unique spin on things, which makes solving the baby mystery even more interesting.

The characters are memorable. Bruno is worried about his brother and hasn’t quite figured out girls yet. Julie refuses to talk with Bruno because he reads a letter she’s written. Martha feels Julie is too bossy and finds a doating mother figure in Mrs. Ben-Eli, who happens to live next door.

And there is the big grand opening of the new Children’s Library, which Bruno’s mom is in charge of. Julie takes it upon herself to send an invitation of the library opening to a famous woman she admires. Will she accept the invite? This is a perfect summer read for teens.

Amy Hest is the author of many beloved books for young readers, including Remembering Mrs. Rossi, Letters to Leo, and the Katie Roberts novels. She is also the author of many picture books, indluing Kiss Good Night, When Jessie Came Across the Sea, and On the Night of the Shooting Star. She lives in New York City.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the MMGM link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

Grow Kind, Grow Grateful, Grow Happy by John Lasser and Sage Foster-Lasser

Grow Kind

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 3, 2020

Ages: 4-8

Synopsis: Blackberries for Keisha. Sunflowers for Mr. Carrol. Ripe tomatoes fo Ms. Stevens. Peppers and corn for Matt and Mitch. Potatoes for Dr. Thompson.

Kiko works hard in her garden. She grows, nurtures, cultivates and harvests her fresh fruits and veggies and shares her bounty with her friends, neighbors, and family. She shows readers how easy it is to be kind to others, and how kindness can create a happiness within themselves and with everyone around.

Grow Grateful 

Fiction, Oct. 15, 2018

Synopsis: Head off with Kiko on a camping trip with her class and how she figures out what being grateful is and what it feels like. Throughout the trip, Kiko discovers different things she appreciates about her family, friends, and experiences. The warm feeling of gratefulness can come from anywhere — a beautiful sunset, toasted marshmallows, help from a friend when you’re feeling afraid, or sharing kindness with others. Kiko grows grateful.

 

Grow Happy

Fiction, Feb. 13, 2017

Synopsis: Kiko is a gardener. She takes care of her garden with seeds, soil, water, and sunshine. In Grow Happy, Kiko also demonstrates how she cultivates happiness, just like she does in her garden. Using positive psychology and choice theory, this book shows children that they have the tools to nurture their own happiness and live resiliently. Just as Kiko possesses the resources needed—seeds, soil, water—to build a thriving garden, she also has the tools to nurture her own happiness—including social support, choices, and problem-solving skills.

What I like about this series of books:

This is a perfect time to share John Lasser and Sage Foster-Lasser’s charming series for children about cultivating kindness, gratitude and joy in their own lives, and sharing it with others. Children are learning very early that the world is a tough place in which to grow up. Giving kids the tools to get it done will be a tremendous boost. And these three books contribute to that effort in a delightful way.

The narrative flows effortlessly. “My name is Kiko. I grow kind. I will show you how, but first, I have a question for you.” Christopher Lyles’s cheerful and textured illustrations invite children to spend time pondering each theme! Happy and colorful, they fit the tone for each book.

Each book features a lovable protagonist, Kiko, who is of Asian heritage. She appears to be adopted because her parent are caucasian. The series features a cast of supporting characters that are diverse. She also guides children through her adventures.

Resources: Each book includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers with information that will help create opportunities to explore the social and emotional skills that are important to our overall well being: kindness, gratitude and happiness. In these books children will learn how to develop these skills within themselves and in their relationships with others.

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 copies provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

Village of Scoundrels by Margi Preus

Village of Scoundrels

Margi Preus, Author

Amulet Books, Fiction, 2019

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Jews, Teens, Underground movements, Refugees, France, WW II, German occupation, Smuggling, Community

Synopsis:

Forging documents, smuggling people over the border, carrying coded messages for the French resistance — the teenagers of Les Lauzes find ways to help the refugees in their midst. For the first years of World War II, the remoteness of their village offers them a certain amount of protection and the townspeople take on the task of sheltering Jewish children rescued form French concentration camps. But as the Nazi occupiers infiltrate every corner of France, the noose tightens, and the operation becomes increasingly dangerous.

First, a French policeman, Officer Perdant, is sent to spy on their doings and uncover the village “scoundrels” — the teenagers, pastors and others who have been aiding the visitors. Little does he know that the villagers watch him. And when the Gestapo arrives with a list of names, the young people must race against time to get their new friends to safety.

Based on a true story, Village of Scoundrels tells how ordinary people opposed the Nazi occupation and stood up for what was right, in spite of intensifying peril.

Why I like this book:

Margi Preus‘ The Village of Scoundrels is a courageous and suspenseful tale that has many heart-stopping moments. Expertly researched, her story is based on the true stories of real people that are woven together into a fictionalized tale that involves danger and a desire to save human lives at the risk of losing their own. Led by their hearts and the will to do good, this extraordinary mountain village of scoundrels — teens, pastors, teachers, farmers and shop owners — stand together and save the lives of 3,200 Jews.

The story is set in Les Lauzes, a village surrounded by beautiful forests and farmland. It has a high school that “promotes peace and international unity” and attracts teens from all over France and Europe. There is no single location for this non-traditional school, as classes are held in many different places throughout the village. The students live in a variety of boarding houses in the village. So it is easy for Jewish children to fit in when they are rescued and brought to the school.

The story is driven by a cast of young and brave characters! There is John-Paul Filon, 17, a Jew who is the master forger of documents, identity cards, and ration books. He even forges a letter so he can attend medical school. Céleste, 16, is a Parisian and has become a courier for the resistance. Philippe, 17, is a red-headed student from Normandy who wears a Boy Scout uniform and helps smuggle Jewish refugees across the border into Switzerland. Henni, 17, and Max, 21, are concentration-camp survivors from Germany and meet again in Les Lauzes. The school provides a home for Henni, before she and Max flee to Switzerland. Jules is the local 10-year-old goatherd who knows the mountains, town and its secrets better than anyone. He passes messages and creates diversions. French Officer Perdant makes Jules his spy and their relationship is quite comic, as he outsmarts Perdant.

Madame Desault is a Jew from Paris, who rescues the children from the French concentration camps and brings them by train to the village. Madame Créneau is the organizer of the network  and finds safe places for the refugees and smuggles children and others to Switzerland.  Pastor Autin preaches peace and practices non-violent resistance.

I always welcome a new WW II book, because I realize that many of the survivors will soon be gone. It is so refreshing to read their stories. Each story offers a different perspective about how ordinary adults and children from many different countries come to the aid of the Jews and make a difference.

Favorite quote:

“We will resist,” Céleste whispered to herself. “Without fear.” After the sermon, Céleste had felt calm. Here was someone who knew what to do. Even if the whole world had gone mad, there was one man who knew what was right and was determined to live it. She felt a sense of purpose. She felt that everyone felt the same way, although no one spoke of it again. They simply began to live it.  Pg. 154

Resources: Make sure you check out the Cast of Characters and a Pronunciation Guide at the beginning of the book. Read the Epilogue, because the author matches her characters with the real-life people who inspired her story. She includes photographs and detailed information about each person. There also is information on the school and guesthouses, the French Boy Scouts and concentration camps. She also includes a timeline and additional resources.

Margi Preus is the author of the Newbery Honor book Heart of of a Samurai and other books for young reachers that include West of the Moon, Shadow on the Mountain and The Bamboo Sword. Visit her at her website and on twitter @MagriPreus.

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.

My Name is Konisola by Alisa Siegal

My Name is Konisola

Alisa Siegel, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Mar. 17, 2020

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Themes: Refugees, Nigeria, Canada, Generosity, Hope, Community

Publisher’s Synopsis:

On a freezing cold winter night, nine-year-old Konisola and her mother step off a plane in Canada. They have almost nothing with them except the clothes on their backs. They are running for their lives from an abusive uncle in Nigeria.

Soon after they land, disaster strikes. Konisola’s mother becomes sick, and Konisola is forced to fend for herself in a strange country with no family or friends. Then she meets a remarkable Canadian nurse, and things begin to change for the better. But Konisola’s future remains uncertain. Will this new life, this new home and the friendships she has found be taken from her? Will she be allowed to stay in Canada as a refugee? Will her mother? Or will they both be sent back across the ocean?

Why I like this book:

I love to share stories of hope and generosity of the human spirit, especially when it relates to refugees. They leave behind their families, homes and lives because of persecution, abuse, and war, and seek refuge in a strange new country. In My Name is Konisola, it is Canada who opens its arms to embrace Konisola (Konnie) and her mother Abimbola.

Alisa Siegel’s captivating novel is based on a true story — a bonus for readers. Siegel does an excellent job of comparing and constrasting the real challenges Konisola faces as she begins her new life in Canada. They are moved from apartment to apartment in the beginning. She can’t speak English, doesn’t understand the customs and isn’t allowed to leave the apartment.

Konisola is a brave, strong and resilient 9-year-old girl. When her sick mother is hospitalized,  she moves again, this time to live with a kind nurse, Darlene Priestman, and her family. She feels like a stranger living with a white family. Everything is unfamiliar. She is afraid of the family cat — in Nigeria cats aren’t pets. Shopping malls and grocery stores overwhelm her. They aren’t like the open-air markets at home. When Darlene takes Konisola to visit her mother at the hospital for the first time, she gags at the smells. Seeing her mother so thin and ill is upsetting.

The relationship between Konisola and Darlene is endearing. Darlene is patient and loving. She always rushes to Konisola’s bedside when she has nightmares about her uncle’s rampages. After Darlene gets off work, she takes Konisola to visit her mother every evening.  Darlene gets permission to bring Abimbola to her home for Christmas Eve festivities and has Nigerian friends prepare her favorite dishes.

The pacing is fast and the chapters are short, making this story a quick read. The plot is engaging. There is friction between Konisola and Darlene’s grown daughter, Sara, who bosses Konisola around. At school Konisola wants to blend in and not stand out, but her English is poor. Kids tease her about being a refugee and living with a white mother. She makes friends with one friend, Omara. She worries about the upcoming Immigration and Refugee hearing to determine their fate.

This is a story about a community wrapping their arms around a girl and her mother. There are many more characters who step in and help: a counselor who works with Konisola and helps her design a special shawl for her mother; a retired children’s lawyer who advises on immigration matters; doctors and nurses from the hospital who go above and beyond to help; and the local Nigerian community.

I won’t spoil the ending, so you will have to read the story.  I highly recommend this story as it is a wonderful addition to any school library. Make sure you read the Epilogue.

Alisa Siegel makes radio documentaries for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Her work has been recognized with many international awards. Her first radio documentary was a story about her father’s escape from Germany to the West Indies on the eve of the Second World War. Over the past 20 years, Alisa has produced stories on subjects as varied as the Underground Railroad for refugees in Fort Erie, daring women artists in 1920s Montreal, the return of the trumpeter swan, Canadian nurses in World War I and violence in elementary school classrooms. She lives in Toronto with her family.

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 publisher.

Finding a Dove for Gramps by Lisa J. Amstutz

Finding a Dove for Gramps

Lisa J. Amstutz, Author

Maria Luisa DiGravio, Illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Fiction, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-7

Themes: Animals, Birds, Counting, Nature, Community

Opening: “Mom and I slip silently out the door. Today we’re going to count birds. It’s just the two of us this year, since Gramps flew south for the winter. “Just like the swallows!” he said.

Synopsis:

This year I want to find a dove.

Jay looks forward to participating in the bird count each winter with his mom and Gramps. It’s fun to spot different birds like a nuthatch, a black-capped chickadee, and even a golden-crowned kinglet! This year Jay wants to spot his Gramp’s favorite bird — a dove. But with so many different birds in the nature preserve, will Jay have a chance to locate one before the count is over?

Why I like this book:

This is  heartwarming tale is about a boy and his mother enjoying their time together outdoors counting birds. The boy grabs his clipboard and binoculars as they quietly step into nature, careful not to scare the birds. The story also involves community.

The illustrations are rendered in soft shades of blue and white, so that children can easily spot a wide variety of birds around them.

This book is a timely book to introduce children to bird counting and conservation. The annul Christmas Bird Count is inspired by a national citizen science project in which everyone can participate. Many hold special Christmas bird counts for kids. And there is a Backyard Bird Count and many other counts throughout the years. Great book for classrooms.

Resources: This is the perfect time of the year to join the Great Backyard Bird Count in February or one of the many other citizen science projects that take place through out the year. Visit the Audubon website for a list of count cirles near you. This year marks a 120-year celebration of counting.  And visit the Sonoma Birding website and the eBird website to do you own bird count any day of the year and track your counts. There also is a bird count check list at the end of the book.

Lisa J. Amstutz is the author of more than eighty books for children. She loves finding new birds to add to her yearly list. Lisa and her family live on a small farm in rural Ohio with Daisy the dog, two ornery goats, and a flock of chickens.  Visit Lisa at her 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 publisher.

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.

Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town by A. LaFaye

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Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town

A. LaFaye, Author

Nicole Tadgell, Illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Historical fiction, Jan. 1, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: African-American, Pioneer Settlement, Native Americans, Community, Kansas

Opening: The whoo-eeeh-follow-me holler of the six o-clock train rumbled right into Dede’s dreams. She rode across a prairie so wide even the angels couldn’t see the end of it. Her family had a plan. They would own a place in that open land.

Synopsis:

The Pattons want to leave sharecropping behind and have a farm of their very own. Mama sews dresses and Papa builds furniture to make extra money at night, and Dede shines shoes at the train station. It will take years before her family will save enough to pay off their debt and by their own place.

One day Dede sees a notice offering free land for colored folks in Nicodemus, Kansas. The Pattons pack their bags and board a train. It’s time for them to claim and stake out a homestead near the brand-new town of Nicodemus. They build a sod home along the bank of the Solomon River before winter. Papa stakes out the boundaries of their claim.  Before they can plow and plant their fields, they must face their first winter on the prairie. While they hunt for food, they meet Shanka Sabe, a member of the Native American Osage Nation, who shares his food with them. Will the Pattons  find a better future for themselves?

Why I like this book:

The cover is gorgeous, as are the expressive and detailed watercolor illustrations by Nicole Tadgell. They compliment A. LaFaye’s uplifting and poetic narrative about these African-American pioneers traveling west — building sod homes, hunting food, surviving harsh winters, plowing the spring fields, building fences, planting crops, meeting new neighbors and watching a town come to life.

Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town, is a perfect classroom share for Black History month. It is a wonderful peek into a period of history that few know about. Nicodemus was founded in the late 1870s by Exodusters — former slaves and sharecroppers, like Dede’s family, who flocked to the Kansas prairie to stake out land, build a homestead and farm. I love that it is shared in a children’s picture book.

Resources: Make sure you check out the historical information About the Exodusters in the back of the book. There is another important piece of history that is briefly touched on in the book — the Native Americans who were forced to sell their lands in the Great Plains and move to Oklahoma. Check out this website, to learn more about Nicodemus and the amazing people who settled there. Each year the current residents, the families of former resident, and the descendants of the original settlers celebrate the Nicodemus Emancipation and Homecoming during the third week in July.

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 publisher.