Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Harbor Me

Jacqueline Woodson, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, Aug. 28, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 10 -12

Themes: School, Friendship, Diversity, Open-minded dialogue, Deportation, Racism, Loss, Empathy, Courage

Synopsis: It all starts when six kids are sent to a room for a weekly chat – by themselves, with no adults to listen in. At first they fear this new unfamiliar and wonder what on earth they’ll even talk about. But in the place they dub the ARTT (“A Room to Talk”), they discover it’s safe to discuss stuff they usually keep private.

A father has recently gone missing, and that starts a conversation about the things causing angst their lives, from racial profiling and fears of deportation to a deep yearning for family history and a sense of belonging. When the six of them are together, they find they can express the feelings and fears they usually hide from the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.

With her always honest, lyrical writing, acclaimed author Jacqueline Woodson celebrates the power of friendship, open-minded dialogue and empathy. Harbor Me digs in deep to show how so many of America’s social issues affect today’s kids — and they creatively learn to forge their way in spite of them.

Why I like this book:

Jacqueline Woodson’s Harbor Me is a powerful and timely book that is soulful and moving. Her first-person narrative is intimate and perfect for this poetic story. The setting, the characters, the plot and the imagery are brilliantly intertwined to create an exceptional experience for readers. They will feel the awkward silence of being in an unfamiliar place with six diverse students with only one rule — to treat each other with respect. Otherwise, they can talk about anything.

Woodson’s focus on 5th and 6th graders is perfect, because it is such a transitional time in the lives of kids. They want to be cool, but still have an urge to play with Nerf water guns and American Girl dolls. The boys voices haven’t deepened. There are no boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. They are six students who develop a lasting bond because they are able to share their secrets, feelings and fears in an honest way. They become best friends.

The characters, two girls and four boys, are memorable. Their backgrounds differ, but each one has a story to share in a place with a group of friends where they feel safe and supported. Twelve-year-old Haley narrates. She is bi-racial and longs for a real family life. Her mother was killed in a car accident, her father is in prison and her uncle cares for her. Her best friend Holly is fidgety and has trouble censoring herself. Esteban’s father is an undocumented immigrant who is taken from his job. Esteban is desperate to find out news of his father’s whereabouts and what it means for his family. Ashton is the only Caucasian in the group and is bullied by older students who call him Ghostboy and Paleface. Amari hides behind his artwork, but shares his feelings about racial profiling. Tiago is from Puerto Rico and speaks Spanish and English. His puppy dies and he struggles with feeling at home in America.

This is a celebratory book of the human spirit for six young people coming of age. The plot is distinctly realistic, honest, brave and complicated. It tackles relevant topics young people deal with daily. During their Friday group discussions, they learn to be vulnerable, build trust, listen without judgement and be sensitive each others challenges — a recipe that allows kindness, empathy and freedom to blossom. I highly recommend this novel. It belongs in school libraries as it is an important classroom discussion book.

Jacqueline Woodson is the 2018-19 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. She received the 2018 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and the 2018 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. Her memoir Brown Girl Dreaming won the 2014 National Book Award and was a NY Times Bestseller. Her adult novel, Another Brooklyn, was a National Book Award finalist and an Indie Pick in 2016. Jacqueline is the author of nearly thirty books for young people and adults including Each Kindness, If You Come Softly, Locomotion and I Hadn’t Meant To Tell You This.  She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

Greg Pattridge hosts the 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.

Book: Library copy.

The Sky at Our Feet by Nadia Hashimi

The Sky at Our Feet

Nadia Hashimi, Author

Harper Collins, Fiction, Mar. 6, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 291

Themes: American-Afghani boy, Undocumented immigrant parent, Family Relationships, Runaways, Epilepsy, Courage, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Jason has just learned that his Afghan mother has been living illegally in the United States since his father was killed in Afghanistan. Although Jason was born in the US, it’s hard to feel American now when he’s terrified that his mother will be discovered—and that they will be separated.

When he sees his mother being escorted from her workplace by two officers, Jason feels completely alone. He boards a train with the hope of finding his aunt in New York City, but as soon as he arrives in Penn Station, the bustling city makes him wonder if he’s overestimated what he can do.

After an accident lands him in the hospital, Jason finds an unlikely ally in a fellow patient. Max, a whip-smart girl who wants nothing more than to explore the world on her own terms, joins Jason in planning a daring escape out of the hospital and into the skyscraper jungle—even though they both know that no matter how big New York City is, they won’t be able to run forever.

Why I like this book:

Nadia Hashimi has skillfully penned a moving and sensitive tale about two brave teens on the run in New York City (NYC) when difficult circumstances uproot their lives. Their amusing adventure through the Big Apple showcases the city’s character with its subways, NYC Marathon, Central Park Zoo, food trucks, and police officers on horses.

The characters are authentic and believable. Jason’s strong narrative highlights/underscores the dilemma for children of undocumented immigrant families. He witnesses his mother being arrested by police at work because she didn’t renew her visa and is an illegal immigrant. What will happen to him? He sneaks into their apartment, packs his backpack, and embarks on a journey to find his Auntie Seema in NYC.

Jason blacks out in the train station and wakes up in a hospital with a head injury. There he meets Max, a girl who is smart and artful in helping Jason dodge a police officer’s questioning. She’s trapped like an inmate in her hospital prison and longs to experience a big adventure before she undergoes a major surgery. Together they plot an epic hospital escape and navigate the streets evading police officers.

The author sets aside the political aspects involved in deportation of decent immigrant parents and their American children. Instead she focuses on the emotional and physical impact on a teen like Jason. His fear that his mother may be sent back to Afghanistan forever, is daunting. How is a Muslim boy in America supposed to cope with something so big? His mother hasn’t created a plan for Jason if she’s arrested. He’s left to his own resources to find Auntie Seema.

The plot is original and courageous with moments of humor, action, danger, and suspense that will keep readers quickly turning pages. When Max has a seizure along the way, Jason is challenged to find the way on his own. This is an engaging read about current and thought-provoking issues. It is also heartwarming and hopeful and a good choice for classroom discussions.

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.

Book: Library copy.

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees

Mary Beth Leatherdale, Author

Eleanor Shakespeare, Illustrator

Annick Press, Nonfiction, Apr. 11, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 10-12

Pages: 64

Themes: Boat refugees, Children refugees, Seeking asylum, Persecution, War, Natural Disasters, Courage

Publisher Synopsis:

The plight of refugees risking their lives at sea has, unfortunately, made the headlines all too often in the past few years. This book presents five true stories, from 1939 to today, about young people who lived through the harrowing experience of setting sail in search of asylum: Ruth (18) and her family board the St. Louis to escape Nazism; Phu (14) sets out alone from war-torn Vietnam; José (13) tries to reach the United States from Cuba; Najeeba (11) flees Afghanistan and the Taliban; and after losing his family, Mohamed (13) abandons his village on the Ivory Coast in search of a new life. But life is not easy once they arrive. It’s hard to fit in when you don’t speak the language. These child refugees face prejudice. Yet the five make it and lead successful lives.https://gpattridge.com

Stormy Seas combines a vivid and contemporary collage-based design with dramatic storytelling to produce a book that makes for riveting reading as well as a source of timely information. These remarkable accounts will give readers a keen appreciation of the devastating effects of war and poverty on youth like themselves, and helps put the mounting current refugee crisis into stark context.

What I like about this book:

This is a timely and powerful story about resilience and determination. The book doesn’t pull any punches. It is the true stories of five refugee children who face real danger as they escape by sea. One sails aboard an ocean liner and the other four drift in open, unseaworthy boats that are overloaded. There are no lifejackets or bailing cans. Food and water is scarce. They face stormy weather and pirate attacks at sea. The boat refugees leave with hope in their hearts of seeking asylum and freedom from persecution, civil war, drought and natural disasters. They arrive at their destinations ill and needing medical treatment. Some end up in detention or refugee camps.

Reading stories about immigrants that span 80 years, offers readers a greater insight into the current refugee crisis in the Middle East, South America and Africa. It is interesting to compare the past with current events. The stories of the past echo similar themes refugees face today — they are not welcome by many countries. They are ostracized and treated like prisoners. This is an excellent and current book for middle grade students and belongs in school libraries.

Stormy Seas features a beautiful collage design with historical fact sidebars, maps of each child’s journey, timelines, quotes from leaders, and refugee data that includes costs and how many boat people die at sea. This book format is perfect for reading true stories and for research projects. Readers will gain new insights into a social justice issues that date back 600 years. Make sure you read Introduction and the Brief History of the boat people which dates back to 1670 with the Huguenots leaving France for England seeking refuge from religious persecution.

Greg Pattridge hosts the 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.

What You Can Do With A Chance? by Kobi Yamada

What Do You Do With a Chance?

Kobi Yamada, Author

Mae Besom, Illustrator

Compendium, Inc., Jan. 10, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Taking a chance, Conquering fear, Risks, Courage, Opportunity

Opening: “One day, I got a chance. It just seemed to show up. It acted like it knew me, as if it wanted something.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:  What do you do with a chance? Especially one that seems too big or too wild or just out of reach?

Do you hold back? Do you act like you don’t care? Do you let it slip away?

This is the story of some remarkable chances and the child who doesn’t know quite what to do with them. But the more chance come around, the more the child’s fascination grows. And then, one day, a little courage makes all the difference in the world.

This is a story for anyone, at any age who has ever wanted something, but was afraid of wishing too much to get it. It’s a story to inspire you to embrace the chances that come into you life. Because you never know when a chance, once taken, might be the one to change everything.

What I like about this book:

This inspiring book challenges kids to find their courage, step outside of their comfort zones and take some risks. Chances are fleeting and may not appear in the same manner. It is a special book that is soulful and moving.

The tone of the text is simple and straightforward. The story takes children on a journey of self-discovery. Each step along the way, we can feel the child moving forward, holding back and finally taking the leap to victory over self-doubt and fear. Children will relate to this story

There is so much beauty in this book. Mae Besom’s pastel abstracts are wistful and wondering, yet carry the child’s raw emotions that culminate in excitement and exhilaration. The color yellow appears in the beginning of the story in a butterfly, and gradually explodes into yellow and gold as the child succeeds. Creative teamwork between author and illustrator.

Resources: This is a wonderful discussion book for home and classrooms. Taking a chance isn’t easy and Yamada opens the door for kids to explore the topic with the chances they have taken –riding a bike without training wheels, riding a roller coaster, singing a solo, writing a poem, and making a new friend.

Kobi Yamada is the award–winning creator of The New York Times best sellers What Do You Do With an Idea? and What Do You Do With a Problem?  He is the president of Compendium, a company of amazing people doing amazing things. He happily lives with the love of his life and their two super fun kids in the land of flying salmon where he gets to believe in his ideas all day long. He thinks he just might be the luckiest person on the planet.

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.

Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin

Where the Watermelons Grow

Cindy Baldwin, Author

HarperCollins, Fiction, Jul. 3, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Schizophrenia, Mental Illness, Family Relationships, Guilt, Courage, Farm Life, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis: When twelve-year-old Della Kelly finds her mother furiously digging black seeds from a watermelon in the middle of the night and talking to people who aren’t there, Della worries that it’s happening again—that the sickness that put her mama in the hospital four years ago is back. That her mama is going to be hospitalized for months like she was last time.

With her daddy struggling to save the farm and her mama in denial about what’s happening, it’s up to Della to heal her mama for good. And she knows just how she’ll do it: with a jar of the Bee Lady’s magic honey, which has mended the wounds and woes of Maryville, North Carolina, for generations.

But when the Bee Lady says that the solution might have less to do with fixing Mama’s brain and more to do with healing her own heart, Della must learn that love means accepting her mama just as she is.

Why I like this book:

Cindy Baldwin has penned a timely and important debut novel that will appeal to a large range of readers, especially teens who cope with a family member who has a mental illness. It will tug at readers’ hearts, but it’s an excellent portrayal of schizophrenia. And it is a good southern read about farm life in North Carolina. It reminds me a bit of The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.

Della’s story is timely, realistic and will resonate with teens who have parents or siblings with a mental illness. It will also promote understanding and compassion for other readers who may be their friends. It is nice to see a spotlight shown on schizophrenia and the toll it takes on a family because of its unpredictable nature.

Della’s first-person narrative is powerful and pulls no punches. When dealing with her schizophrenic mother, she never really knows who her mama is going to be. Will she be the loving mama who laughs, sings and tells stories? Or will she be the mama who leaves baby Mylie soaked, soiled and screaming in her crib? As her mother’s illness rapidly declines, Della realizes that no sickness in the world could make her mama’s love for her less real.

Like many youth in Della’s situation, she’s forced to grow up too quickly. She becomes the adult caring for her baby sister, cleaning the house, cooking and helping her father with the family produce stand. She blames herself for her mother’s “sickness.” It is her fault and she wants to fix her mama. She keeps secrets to protect her mother. And Della worries if she will inherit schizophrenia.

Baldwin has created a strong sense of community for Della and her family. There is her best friend Arden, her grandparents and a host of mother figures who love and support Della through the chaos. Other  “mamas” appear when she needs them the most.

Where the Watermelons Grow is richly textured, lyrical and impeccably researched. The theme may seem heavy, but it doesn’t overwhelm its targeted audience. I highly recommend this novel for middle grade teens and adults. To learn more about Cindy Baldwin, visit her website.

Resources: There is a Teacher’s Guide available on the publisher’s website that includes classroom discussion questions about mental illness, family relationships, guilt and personal responsibility. There also are extension activities related to things that occur in the book.

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.

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Amal Unbound

Aisha Saeed, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, May 8, 2018

Suitable for ages: 10-13

Themes: Indentured servants, Pakistan, Family Life, Dreams, Courage

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Amal’s dream of becoming a teacher one day is dashed in an instant when she accidentally insults a member of her Pakistani village’s ruling family. As punishment for her behavior, she is forced to leave her heartbroken family behind and go work at their grand estate, surrounded by a high brick wall and gate guards.

Amal is distraught but has faced setbacks before. So  she summons her courage and begins navigating the complex rules of life as a servant, with all its attendant jealousies and pecking-order woes. Most troubling is Amal’s increasing awareness of the deadly measures the Khan family will go to in order to stay in control. It’s clear that their hold over her village will never loosen as long as everyone is too afraid to challenge them — so if Amal is to have any chance of ensuring her loved ones’ safety and winning back her freedom, she must find a way to work with the other servants to make it happen.

Why I like this book:

Fans of Aisha Saeed’s Written in the Stars, will eagerly devour Amal Unbound, a heartbreaking and hopeful story about believing in yourself and finding courage in the midst of danger. Saeed’s bold and skillfully penned novel creates an exceptional reading experience that will  touch your soul.

The setting is culturally rich as it is about Pakistani traditions, village schools, small villages, shopping in local markets, food preparations, the landscape, neighbors knowing everyone’s business, and the pressure on mothers to birth baby boys.

The first-person narrative with Amal offers greater depth into her character. Amal is a strong, determined and clever protagonist who loves school and dreams of going to the university and becoming a teacher one day. When her mother suffers postpartum depression after the birth of a fifth daughter, her father makes Amal quit school to care for her siblings. Not one to give up, she manages to find a creative way to keep up with her school work. When Amal stands up to the wealthy Kahn son, Jawad Sahib, at the market and refuses to give him her purchases, her world begins to crumble. As a punishment, he makes her a servant at the Khan family home.  The characters are well-developed, memorable and despicable. They will stay with you after you finish.

The plot is suspenseful and dangerous at times. The author shows much of the action, which is more powerful than words. Even though Amal is living in luxury serving the kind mother of the brutal landlord, it will always be a prison for Amal. But Amal is smart and resourceful and she uses it to her advantage.  Amal Unbound is a page-turner and I could not put it down. The author manages to surprise me with the unexpected ending. Readers will be cheering.

It is so hard to imagine that indentured servitude is a problem that still exists for millions of people globally. It takes many forms and occurs in the United States. It is a corrupt and dangerous business. It is Saeed’s hope that Amal’s story will shine a light on the brave girls enduring servitude.

Favorite Quote:

“I balanced the tray in my hands and walked to the kitchen. I tried to pretend I didn’t care what the woman said, but I did.  I doubted I would every get used to being discussed like cattle at the market.” Page 109

Aisha Saeed is the author of Written in the Stars. As a Pakistani American and one of the founding members of the much-talked-about We Need Diverse Books Campaign, she is helping to change the conversation about diverse books. Visit her 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.

Lost! Survivor Diaries by Terry Lynn Johnson

Lost! Survivor Diaries 

Terry Lynn Johnson, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Jul. 3, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes: Lost, Jungle, Costa Rica, Extreme elements, Survival skills, Courage

Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Carter and his parents are interested in birding and travel to the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica, to observe over 400 species of birds. At the resort where they are staying, Carter meets Anna who is 12, and vacationing with her parents. While they wait to go to dinner with their parents, they decide to explore a well-marked jungle trail to see an ancient monkey statue and a waterfall.

On their way Carter spots a red-bellied quetzal. He has already identified 308 different endangered bird species and is especially excited to see a quetzal. The quetzal jumps off the branch and flies down the path, with Carter trailing. They reach the waterfall and realize that is getting dark. Then they hear a very terrifying noise — howler monkeys shrieking and leaping in the branches all around them. Anna screams and sprints off the trail into the jungle dodging trees and branches as the monkeys follow. Carter yells at her at her to stop. When he finally catches up to her they try to find their way back to the familiar path, but the tangle of vines and trees all look the same. They are…lost.

Carter suffers from anxiety and panic attacks. As part of his therapy, he studies survival techniques and is prepared for his Costa Rica trip. He tells Anna they have to stay put — S.T.O.P, which means to stop, think observe and plan.  Carter tells Anna their parents and rescuers will be able to track them. The humidity in the rainforest is so intense they are soaked and are forced to stop. They are dehydrated and need water. Carter pulls an emergency kit he’s made and carries in a Ziploc bag in his pocket. It has a fire starter, whistle, aluminum foil, ground tarp, flashlight, bandages and water purification tablets. As they begin to clear the area to start a fire, build shelter and look for a water source, a troop of White-faced monkeys leap from above trees and steal Carter’s emergency kit. Sobbing he sits on a log and is stung by a scorpion.

Their journey is only beginning and will test Carter’s ability to stay calm and focused and use what ever is available in the jungle to stay alive. They only have a machete, a rope and a large garbage bag. Will they find a water source? What will they eat? What about the dangerous animals, snakes and spiders lurking nearby? Should they stay or try to find their way out. How will they mark a path so rescuers can follow them? Carter knows that the difference between staying and leaving could mean life or death.

Why I like this book/series:

Lost! is another thrilling chapter book in Terry Lynn Johnson’s Survivor Diaries series. It is inspired by true stories of hikers lost in the rainforests of Costa Rica. The plot is riveting,  exciting and fast-paced. I like how it makes kids think about what it would take to survive a difficult situation.

It would be challenging to stay calm when you know you may not make it out alive. I like how Johnson pushes the envelope a little and creates Carter, who already has a problem with anxiety and panic attacks, as the main character. His anxiety is a major reason Carter has become such an expert about survival in the jungle. It may seem obsessive, but in Carter’s case it is empowering because he prepares for every “what if” situation he encounters. When his emergency kit is stolen he learns to learn to trust himself and use the tools he knows to survive. If he can survive a scorpion bite, he can survive anything.  Anna is a nice balance to Carter. She’s a year older, taller, stronger, bossy and wants to control the situation. But she is out of her element when it comes to survival and has to depend on Carter.

The Lost! Survivor Diaries will have huge kid-appeal because the element of danger and the universal need to know what to do if you are unexpectedly caught in a situation where your life depends upon what you know. Johnson’s words of real-life advice echo loud and clear: Stay calm. Stay Smart. Survive. After reading this book, you’ll be better prepared for surviving a real-life disaster. It is an important story for families, who are birdwatchers and hikers, to read together. It is also an excellent book that belongs in every school library.

Resources: Make sure you check out the Author’s Note and tips from the Canadian Red Cross on Building Your Own Safety Kit at the end of the book. Do you have what it takes to survive? Check out Johnson’s Online Survival Game to see if what you’ve learned from Carter and Anna will help you survive.

Terry Lynn Johnson, author of the acclaimed Ice Dogs, Sled Dog School, Falcon Wild, and the Survivor Diaries, writes adventures based on her 17 years of experiences and training in the wilds of northern Ontario. Her next sequel, Dust Storm! will be published in November. She has been dragged on her face by her dog team, been lost in the bush more than once, and even chased a bear with a chainsaw. She owned a team of eighteen sled dogs for many years and currently works as a conservation officer. Visit her at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the permanent 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.

Abracadabra! The Magic of Trying

Abracadabra! The Magic of Trying

Maria Loretta Giraldo, Author

Nicoletta Bertelle, Illustration

Magination Press, Fiction, Apr. 23, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Animals, New experiences, Fear, Practice, Setbacks, Courage, Perseverance

Opening: “Today was an important day at the little birds’ school. Today was the day they all learned how to fly!”

Book Synopsis:

All of the little birds have learned to fly…except one. Little Owl can’t do it! He is too afraid of falling. Blackbird, Robin, Sparrow and Hummingbird explain that it’s easy. All he has to do is say “abracadabra!”

At first, it doesn’t work, and Little Owl thinks the “magic” word is broken! But as he gets better and better, he realizes that the real magic is in himself. This book teaches children how to face challenges and keep trying, despite setbacks.

An empowering story of gradually overcoming fear that will resonate with young children. A great purchase for most collections.

Why I like this book:

Maria Loretta Giraldo’s engaging picture book realistically depicts how slow Little Owl’s progress may be, yet how rewarding it is when he overcomes his fear and succeeds in the end.  He glides through the sky and his self-confidence soars.

This story has a memorable cast of forest characters — the birds, a turtle, a mouse, hedgehog — who turn out to encourage Little Owl to take the leap and flap his wings. They offer suggestions and continue to support him. Each one tells him to say the magic word, “abracadabra,” but it doesn’t work.  No matter how many times Little Owl tries, he fails and crashes. But he doesn’t give up and keeps trying.

This book is a useful book for parents to have on hand when their child tries to do something new, like riding a bike or swimming. Some children may be afraid of failing, hurting themselves and don’t want to try. Like Little Owl, trying something new takes practice and perseverance, no matter the setbacks. It is so important to support a frustrated child. Practice takes time, but is well worth the effort.

Nicoletta Bertelle’s signature illustrations are colorful and whimsical and compliment the story. She is a long-term artistic partner with the author.

Resources: The book includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers with tips for encouraging kids to practice and persevere.

Maria Loretta Giraldo is an Italian children’s writer based in Verona, Italy. She is the author of more than 100 books published and translated all over the world. Nicoletta Bertelle has illustrated more than 80 books for many Italian and foreign publishers.

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.

A copy of this book was provided by Magination Press.

Sergeant Reckless by Patricia McCormick

Sergeant Reckless: The True Story of the Little Horse Who Became a Hero

Patricia McCormick, Author

Jacopo Bruno, Illustrations

Balzer + Bray, Historical Fiction, Sep. 12, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes: Horse, Korean War, Animal war hero, Marines

Opening: The small red mare whinnied for her supper.. But Korea was at war. Towns were shattered. Fields were scorched. And the racetrack was abandoned. No one paid attention to the hungry little horse.

Synopsis:

The inspiring true story of Reckless, the brave little horse who became a Marine.

When a group of US Marines fighting in the Korean War found a bedraggled mare, they wondered if she could be trained to as a packhorse. They had no idea that the skinny, underfed horse had one of the biggest and bravest hearts they’d ever known. And one of the biggest appetites!

Soon Reckless showed herself more than willing to carry ammunition too heavy for the soldiers to haul. As cannons thundered and shells flew through the air, she marched into battle—again and again—becoming the only animal ever to officially hold military rank—becoming Sgt. Reckless—and receive two Purple Hearts.

Why I like this book:

Patricia McCormick’s engaging picture book about a hungry little mare adopted by a group of Marines, will win the hearts of both horse and animals lovers, and historians. There aren’t many books written about the Korean War, which will add another layer of intrigue and interest. Reckless saved thousands of lives as she made 51 trips and carried 9,000 pounds of heavy ammunition up the hill into battle while shells rained down around her. She also enjoyed sneaking into one of the soldier’s tents to sleep and interrupting poker games. Reckless was the only animal to ever hold a rank. This story has a happy and satisfying ending.

Readers will be mesmerized by the illustration by graphic designer Jacopo Bruno. They are exquisite and at times life-like. Bruno’s format is reminiscent of a well-loved scrapbook.  Readers can’t help be drawn into the this little-known story of the love of a group of soldiers for this very determined, trusting, courageous, and loyal mare.

Resources: There is an author’s note at the end that talks about Reckless, the war and how the she lived out her days in a grassy compound at Camp Pendleton in California, and a real-life photograph of Reckless receiving her six medals.

Patricia McCormick is a former journalist and a two-time National Book Award finalist whose books include Cut, Sold, Never Fall Down, The Plot to Kill Hitler and the young readers edition of I Am Malala. She lives in New York. Visit McCormick 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.

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.