Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

Prairie Lotus

Linda Sue Park, Author

Clarion Books,  Fiction, Mar. 3, 2020

Suitable for ages: 10-12

Themes: Fathers and daughters, Chinese Americans, Racially mixed people, Bullying, Frontier and pioneer life, Dakota Territory, Dressmaking

Synopsis:

When Hanna arrives in the town of LaForge (Dakota Territory) in 1880, she sees possibilities. Her father could open a shop on the main street. She could go to school, if there is a school, and even realize her dream of becoming a dresmaker — provided she can convince Papa, that is. She and Papa could make a home here.

But Hanna is half-Chinese, and she knows from experience that most white people don’t want neighbors who aren’t white themselves. The people of LaForge have never seen an Asian person before; most are unwelcoming and unfriendly — they don’t even know her! Hanna is determined to stay in LaForge and persuade them to see beyond her surface.

In a setting that will be recognized by fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, this compelling story of resolution and persistence, told with humor, insight, and charm, offers a fresh look at a long-established view of history.

What I like about this book:

Linda Sue Park has penned an insightful and  beautifully poignant novel about a Chinese American girl, traveling from California to the Midwest with her widowed white father. The author has placed Hanna in the middle of America’s heartland, where most white people have never seen Asian Americans, but hold an unwavering prejudice against anyone of color, including Native Americans.

I enjoyed Hanna meeting some women and children from the Ihanktonwan tribe and sharing a meal with them before she and her father arrive in LaForge. They grace her with a string of prairie turnips. This scene sets the stage for how people of color were displaced and treated in 1880. Hanna meets them again later in the story when she’s looking for prairie rose bushes and they are digging turnips. (Park includes some of the Native dialogue, during the encounters.) Hanna wonders why it isn’t possible for whites and Ihanktonwan tribe to share the land together, a reflection of her own situation.

Hanna is a memorable, likable, determined and courageous character with a strong voice. She has big dreams of going to school and graduating and becoming a dressmaker, like her mother. She hopes to make one best friend. Hanna has experienced prejudice her entire life,  But It’s still hard for Hanna to deal with the stares, cruel comments, racist attitudes, parents pulling their kids out of school in protest and outward physical abuse. But her Chinese mother’s words are always there to remind her of who she really is.

Park says she intended to write a version of her favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books that speaks the truth for Asians, Native Americans and people of color, who were involved in the settling of America, but were treated second class. Her research is impeccable and furthers the understanding of our country’s long history of prejudice. She visited the town of DeSmit, and some reservations.

Make sure you check out the lengthy “Author’s Note” at the end of the book, which deals with her love and struggle with the Little House books. This is a perfect class discussion book.

Linda Sue Park is the author of Newbery Medal winner A Single Shard and best-selling novel A Long Walk to Water, along with numerous novels and picture books. Ms. Park has been a gymnast, a food journalist, an advertising copywriter, and an ESL teacher, and now writes full time. As an advisory board member of We Need Diverse Books and a board member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, she is a well-known advocate for diversity, inclusiveness, and reading. She lives in Rochester, New York, with her family. Visit her website or on Twitter @LindaSuePark

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.

*Reviewed from a library book.

Daring Darlene: Queen of the Screen by Anne Nesbet

Daring Darleen: Queen of the Screen

Anne Nesbet, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 14, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Silent films, Acting, Kidnappers, Villains, Danger, Adventure, Courage

Synopsis:

Lights! Camera! Kidnapping? When a publicity stunt goes terribly wrong, twelve-year-old Darleen Darling, star of the silent film era, must defeat villains both on screen and off in this edge-of-your-seat adventure.

It’s 1914, and Darleen Darling’s film adventures collide with reality when a fake kidnapping set up by her family studio becomes all too real. Suddenly Darleen finds herself in the hands of dastardly criminals who have just nabbed Miss Victorine Berryman, the poor-little-rich-girl heiress of one of America’s largest fortunes.

Soon real life starts to seem like a bona fide adventure serial, complete with dramatic escapes, murderous plots, and a runaway air balloon. Will Darleen and Victorine be able to engineer their own happily-ever-after, or will the villains be victorious?

Why I like this book:

Daring Darleen is a fascinating peek into early silent films. There is so much to love about Anne Nesbet’s latest piece of historical fiction about a daring 12-year-old heroine and her family of movie makers. Money is low in 1914, so Matchless Studios gives the gives the public what it wants, “chases, plunges, trains, and villains.” And Darling Darleen becomes Daring Darleen. This story is a page-turner with an engaging plot.

The authentic friendship that develops between Darlene and heiress Victorine Berryman, really gives the story its heart. Their backgrounds couldn’t be more different. Darleen is a spunky, clever and resourceful heroine who is even more couragous in real life. After she and Victorine are kidnapped, she plots their escape from a seventh-story building window. Victorine is refined and elegant. She loves to read and is quite the world traveler. Telling the truth matters most to Victorine. The girls bond over the loss of Darlen’s mother and Victorine’s grandmother. They have a mystery to solve and together they are relentless. As the story progresses, readers will marvel at Victorine’s growth in self-confidence.

The girls also befriend the elegant French-speaking Madame Alice Guy Blaché, owner of Solax Studios, who helps them uncover a mystery regarding Victorine’s inheritance and cruel guardians. I was delighted that Nesbit includes Madame Blanché in her story, as a tribute to her real-life contribution in early film history. Blanché was the first filmmakers to “tell a story” in film and was the first woman to run a film studio.

Although the novel is a work of fiction, it is based on the “thrilling true story of the rise of the film industry.” And the story is set in Ft. Lee, NJ, where many of the “photoplays” were filmed. Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end of the story to learn more about the history of film making, because Anne Nesbit is a Professor of Film and Media history at the University of California.

Anne Nesbet is the author of the historical middle-grade novels Cloud and Wallfish and The Orphan Band of Springdale, as well as three fantasy novels for middle-graders. Her books have received numerous accolades, including multiple starred reviews and appearances on many best book and notables lists. A professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Anne Nesbet lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area.

*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.

Efrén Divided by Ernestro Cisneros

Efrén Divided

Ernestro Cisneros, Author

Quill Tree Books, Fiction, Mar. 31, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Undocumented parents, Mexican Americans, Deportation, Family, Friendship, Culture

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Efrén Nava’s Amá is his Superwoman—or Soperwoman, named after the delicious Mexican sopes his mother often prepares. Both Amá and Apá work hard all day to provide for the family, making sure Efrén and his younger twin siblings, Max and Mia, feel safe and loved.

But Efrén worries about his parents; although he’s American-born, his parents are undocumented. And according to the neighborhood talk, or local chisme, families like his are in great danger. Sure enough, Efrén’s  worst nightmare comes true one day when Amá doesn’t return from work and is deported across the border to Tijuana, México.

Now it’s up to Efrén to be brave and figure out how to act soper himself. While Apá takes an extra job to earn the money needed to get Amá back, Efrén looks after the twins, washes laundry, fixes meals, and does his schoolwork. He helps his best friend’s probably-doomed campaign for school president, and worries about what might happen to his family next.

When disaster strikes, Efrén is faced with crossing the border alone to see Amá and deliver a special package. There is danger all around him. More than ever, he must channel his inner Soperboy to help reunite his family.

Why I like this book:

Ernestro Cisneros’s powerful and timely debut novel, Efrén Divided, captures the humanity of children of undocumented Mexican-American families living in the US.  I love that Cisneros wrote this novel for his children to show that Mexican Americans “are worth being written about.” Some of the book was taken from his own childhood.

The plot is both dangerous and heartwarming. The richly textured narrative is peppered with Spanish words and expressions, which are nicely woven into the story in a way that readers will grasp the translation. But there is a glossary of words and expressions at the end of the book. The diverse cast of characters are memorable, especially David, who adds for some fun comic relief.

Although parents immigrate to the US to provide a better life for their children, there is an underlying worry, pain, and fear for all family members. When Efrén’s mother is discovered by ICE, it forces him to grow up too quickly. Although he is a courageous and resilient teen, he carries a huge burden filled with responsibilities. He can’t confide in anyone — even his best friend David — because he puts his undocumented father and family at risk. 

When Efrén crosses the border alone into Tijuana to see his mom, he sees first-hand the reasons why his parents and others risk the trip north. There is danger lurking on every street corner and down every alley. He feels eyes watching him. There is poverty. Young kids are forced to work or beg for money instead of playing. Men and women of all ages sell handmade items along the curbs. He shudders at the US-built border fence where separated families meet with loved ones at a chain link fence.

There will be many teens who will relate to Efrén’s story, whether they have undocumented parents, family members, or know someone who does. This book should be at the top of the list in school classrooms because it is perfect for meaningful discussions.

The ending surprised me. It is realistic and hopeful. Perhaps there is a sequel in the works? Verdict: This book is a winner!

Ernesto Cisneros was born and raised in Santa Ana, California, where he still teaches. Efrén Divided is his first novel. He holds an English degree from the University of California, Irvine; a teaching credential from California State University, Long Beach; as well as a master of fine arts in creative writing from National University. As an author, he believes in providing today’s youth with an honest depiction of characters with whom they can identify. The real world is filled with amazing people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. His work strives to reflect that. You can visit him at his website.

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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer

The Story That Cannot Be Told

J. Kasper Kramer, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Reader, Fiction, Oct. 8, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Romania, History, Revolution, Folktales, Family life, Writers, Courage

Opening: “Once upon a time, something happened. If it had not happened, it would not be told.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Ileana has always collected stories. Some are about the past, before the leader of her country, tore down her home to make room for his golden palace; back when families had enough food, and the hot water worked on more than just Saturday nights. Others are folktales like the one she was named for, which her father used to tell her at bedtime. But some stories can get you in trouble, like the dangerous one criticizing Romania’s Communist government that Uncle Andrei published — right before he went missing.

Fearing for her safety, Ileana’s parents send her to live with the grandparents she’s never met, far from the prying eyes and ears of the secret police and their spies, who could be any of the neighbors. But danger is never far away. Now, to save her family and the village she’s come to love, Ileana will have to tell the most important story of her life.

Why I like this book:

J. Kasper Kramer’s The Story That Cannot Be Told is gripping and haunting, powerful and hopeful. The tempting title and perfect opening line beckon readers to enter Illeana’s world. Once they begin, they won’t be able to put this novel down.

It is set in Romania in the 1980s, when communist leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, terrorized his country to control them. His secret police, the Securitate, enlisted ordinary people and kids to spy on their neighbors, friends and family. There is greed, death, starvation and brutality under his regime.

The characters are multi-layered and complex. Illenia is smart and courageous. Like her missing Uncle Andrei, Illenia is a writer and storyteller. She’s named after a character, Cunning Ileana, in a Romanian folktale that her father tells her at bedtime. This tale is woven throughout the novel. Illenia has written a collection of stories, poems, and folktales, that she’s compiled in her Great Tome. Most of them are harmless, but a few stories reveal truths that could get her family in serious trouble. Her father becomes fearful for his daughter’s safety, burns her tome and sends her to her grandparent’s farm village high in the mountains. Life there is backwards and operates at a slower pace. She dislikes her new environment at first. Illenia makes a new friend, Gabi, and learns that the village may soon be overtaken by the Romanian Army. She and Gabi make a plan to save the townspeople’s property.

Kramer’s original debut novel is a collection of folklores, memories, research, and fairy tales, that she beautifully weaves together into this unforgettable story that is part fact and part fiction. It is a story that will remain with you because of the profoundly human characters, thrilling and dangerous plot and the worthwhile ending. It is an excellent discussion book for teachers to use in the classroom, because it’s a part of history many students aren’t likely to know. It is very relevant today.

Resource: Make sure you read the Prologue at the beginning and the Author’s Note at the end. Visit Kramer at his website.

J. Kasper Kramer is an author and English professor in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She has a master’s degree in creative writing and once upon a time lived in Japan, where she taught at an international school. When she’s not curled up with a book, she loves researching lost fairy tales, playing video games. and fostering kittens.

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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

A Wish in the Dark

Christina Soontornvat, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Mar. 24, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  Fantasy, Privilege, Oppression, Poverty, Justice, Friendship, Courage, Self-discovery

Book Synopsis:

After a Great Fire destroys the city of Chattana, a man appears before the starving people and offers to bring peace and order to the city. He is called the Governor and he magically lights the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights across the river represent freedom and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them in the city. But when Pong escapes from the prison, he realizes that the world outside is just as unfair as the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb lights, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.

Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, Christina Soontornvat’s twist on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a dazzling, fast-paced adventure that explores the difference between law and justice — and asks whether one child can shine a light in the dark.

Why I like this book:

A Wish in the Dark is a timeless Asian fantasy that is exquisitely penned by Christina Soontornvat.  Her storytelling and literary style elevate readers’ sense of wonder. The magical Thai setting, well-crafted characters, riveting plot and the gorgeous imagery are so beautifully intertwined that they create an electrifying experience.

At the beginning of the story, the main characters Pong, Somkit and Nok, are 10 years old. As the story unfolds readers will experience their character growth to age 13, as they journey towards self-discovery, which is different for each. Pong is an observer, who has become restless in the confines of a prison. He wants his freedom. Pong looks out for his best friend, Somkit, a small boy who has health issues. When Pong flees, he feels guilt over leaving his defenseless friend behind. The bond between the boys is so natural that they feel like brothers. Nok is the warden’s daughter. She lives a privileged life and is brainwashed by the Governor’s magic and believes his teachings are sacred. Pong and Nok are complete opposites and their journey is fraught with tension and excitement.

This stand-alone novel deals with many social justice issues: the inequality among classes, poverty, oppression, greed, corruption and power. In this novel, power is used by the Governor to control and manipulate those he claims to care about. In Father Cham, a monk, and Ampai, a woman living among the poorest citizens, power is used in loving kindness for the good of all people.  It is a particularly relevant discussion point for students in classrooms.

Verdict: This book is a gem. It may appear to be dark, but don’t let that fool you. Because at its center, there is heart and light.

Christina Soontornvat grew up in a small Texas town, where she spent many childhood days behind the counter of her parents’ Thai restaurant with her nose in a book. She is the author of engaging picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books for children, including the fantasy series, The Changelings, and the upcoming nonfiction account of the Thai Cave Rescue, All Thirteen. She now lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two children.

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 an exchange for a review.

Mermaid Dreams by Janet Lucy

Mermaid Dreams

Sueños de Sirena

Janet Lucy, Author

Colleen McCarthy-Evans, Illustrator

Seven Seas Press, Fiction, 2019 (bilingual version 2020)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Mermaid, Dreams, Caribbean Tale, Overcoming fear, Courage

Opening: Maya dreams of being a mermaid. / Her long dark hair hangs / in silky strand / down her back / nearly reaching the top / of her favorite skirt – / the one her mama made / with seven tiers of turquoise net. 

Synopsis:

Maya is a dark-skinned girl who dreams of being a mermaid. She dances to Caribbean mermaid music as her favorite skirt rises and falls about her. She loves swimming and diving for coins in the pool. But she is afraid of swimming in the ocean and has frequent nightmares.

She listens to her mother’s bedtime stories about living on an island in the Caribbean sea where the beaches are sandy and the water is turquoise. One night, her mother tells her about her namesake, Yemaya, a river spirit and mermaid of the Yoruba people and a Goddess of the Ocean. That night she meets Yemaya in her dreams and they go on a magical undersea journey together. Mermaid Dreams shines a light on the universal fears of children and the vastness of the ocean.

There is now a bilingual version of Mermaid Dreams/Sueños de Sirena, 2020.

Why I like this book:

Janet Lucy has penned an enchanting and magical tale about a girl who wants to be a black mermaid, like her namesake, Yemaya, from a Caribbean legend. Yemaya is courageous, kind and full of wisdom. Lucy’s lyrical and richly textured prose invokes both the turbulence and beauty of the ocean. Colleen McCarthy-Evans illustrations are dreamy and have a mystical quality to them.

The story empowers children to face their fears, no matter what they may be. For Maya, it is an overwhelming fear of the ocean — even wading in shallow water. She lives along the California coast, where the waves are big and crash loudly onto the beach. One of the lessons Maya learns is that she has the power to change the ending of her scary dreams and take baby steps to dealing with her fear.

The author was inspired to create Maya after a real little girl who is a beautiful blend of her Caribbean and American parents. Her heritage reaches back to Africa, Europe and the Americas, “representing multiple threads of the extraordinary tapestry of humanity.” I love that quote. Visit Lucy at her website.

Resources: There is a Discussion Guide with 15 questions to help parents and teachers to continue a discussion with children about Mermaid Dreams.  There is also a list of fun activities for children ranging from drawing pictures of a mermaids and their dreams to listening to Caribbean or Yoruba music on the Internet. And there is a list of resources and a note from the author.

Janet Lucy is an award-winning writer and poet, and author of Moon Mother, Moon Daughter – Myths and Rituals that Celebrate a Girl’s Coming of Age and The Three Sunflowers/Los Tres Girasoles. Janet is the Director of Women’s Creative Network in Santa Barbara, California, where she is a teacher, therapist/consultant, facilitates women’s writing groups and leads international retreats. She has lived in Mexico, Costa Rica and Italy, connecting with the Divine Feminine in all her glorious guises and cultural richness. Janet is the mother of two radiant daughters.

*Review copy provided by the author.

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.

Once Upon a Garden Series by Jo Rooks

Once Upon a Garden Series

Jo Rooks, Author and Illustrator

Magaination Press, Fiction

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Sophie’s Shell

Aug. 20, 2019

Book Synopsis: Sophie was always ponders big questions, like
Why is the sky blue?
Why are raindrops wet?
and What are stars made of?

But when Sophie starts school, there’s a wobbly feeling in her tummy and she can’t help popping back into her shell.  She is left with one big question Why am I so shy?

When Sophie meets Stanley, she realizes that she’s not the only one who feels shy. Can she gain the confidence to help a new friend?
A heart warming tale about a sensitive snail who overcomes her shyness with a little help from her new friends.

Lucy’s Light

Aug. 20, 2019

Book Synopsis: Lucy is a lightning bug and the most talented flyer in the squad. There’s just one problem: she doesn’t light up! When it’s time to learn night flying, Lucy is anxious. She tries everything to get her light to shine but nothing works. Lucy is about to give up when her friends are captured by a nasty toad and his gang, who hatched a plan to brighten up their bog. Does Lucy have what it takes to save her friends? Or is she just an “ordinary” bug after all? A sweet story which shines a light on inner confidence, self-acceptance, and courage. Lucy learns that doing a good deed will always make you shine bright!

Doug’s Dung

Mar. 21 2020

Book Synopsis: Doug has trouble lifting heavy balls of dung. He just doesn’t feel as strong as the other dung beetles. When Doug feels down that he isn’t tough enough, a passing butterfly helps him see things in a different light and he realizes that strength comes in many forms.

An uplifting story of a determined dung beetle who finds his unique strength in creating beautiful things inspired by nature, flowers, friends, and the garden.

Layla’s Luck

Mar. 21, 2020

Book Synopsis: Layla is a ladybug with a lucky charm for ever occasion: lucky socks for running races, a lucky pencil for test, and a lucky watering can for her flowers. When Layla enters a baking event, she is counting on her good luck to help her bake a delicious cake. But is luck the only ingredient that matters?

A clever tale of a ladybug who learns that success comes form her own smarts, skill and hard work — not lucky charms and chance.

Why I like this series:

Explore the the world of self-discovery with four adorable creatures from the natural world — Layla, Doug, Lucy and Sophie — in the Once Upon a Garden series by author-illustrator, Jo Rooks. The four curious characters are fun-loving and appear in all of the stories. The series is perfect for young children who are working with issues of shyness, self-acceptance, and courage, and discovering new talents, skills and hard work. There is simplicity in the text and the illustrations are happy and bright, and compliment the emotions and themes in each book. This series is sure to boost the self-confidence of children.

Resources: Visit your backyard and identify the insects visiting your flower beds, gardens and trees. Draw a picture of your favorite insect or make up story about what the insect is doing. The books alone are excellent resources for parents and teachers.

Jo Rooks is an award-winning author-illustrator who studied graphic design and illustration at Bath School of Art and Design. She has illustrated several books including A Box of Butterflies and Hector’s Favorite Place.

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 from the publisher.

Stand Up! by Wendy L. Moss

Stand Up!: Be an Upstander and Make a Difference

Wendy L. Moss, PHD, author

Magination Press, Nonfiction, Dec. 3, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 13-19

Pages: 112

Themes: Caring, Kindness, Courage, Assertiveness, Social Justice, Making a Difference

Book Synopsis:

Do you want to be an Upstander who makes the world a better place by standing up to bullying and injustice in your school, home, or community? If so, this book is for you!

You may doubt that one kid can make a difference. You can’t fly like Wonder Woman or scale walls like Spiderman, but you could be a hero to someone else by speaking up. Small changes can lead to bigger and bigger changes!

Chock full of quizzes, examples, practical advice, and small steps you can take in your real life, Stand Up!: Be an Upstander and Make a Difference takes readers through the ways to be an Upstander, including being kind to yourself, having empathy for others, spreading kindness, and dealing with conflicts.

Why I like this book:

My favorite kind of stories to share are books that show kids making a difference in their schools, communities and world. This remarkable resource speaks directly to teens who want to focus on helping themselves and others in a multitude of social situations. It may be in standing up for equality and fairness. Being the kindness that you want to receive. Dealing with situations that involve anger and conflict in a respectful manner.

I like the term Upstander which means “a person who stands up to support fairness and respect while also trying to decrease bullying and injustice.” Being an Upstander begins with understanding yourself — how you do you feel most of the time? It’s hard to help others until you know what pushes your buttons.

This book is about empowerment and is not preachy!  And it is a fun read. Moss provides ideas and strategies throughout the book that work. Each chapter has a theme and is packed with real-life stories, situations, quizzes, and practical suggestions and strategies to help readers handle difficult moments with sound advice.

Educators: This book belongs in your classrooms. It is a much-needed resource to help  students stand up for what is right. It also encourages team work among students.

Wendy L. Moss, PhD, ABPP, FAASP, has her doctorate in clinical psychology, is a licensed psychologist, and has a certification in school psychology. Dr. Moss has practiced in the field of psychology for over 30 years and has worked in hospital, residential, private practice, clinic, and school settings. She has the distinction of being recognized as a diplomate in school psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology for her advanced level of competence in the field of school psychology.

Dr. Moss has been appointed as a fellow in the American Academy of School Psychology. In addition, she is the author of Bounce Back: How to Be a Resilient Kid, Being Me: A Kid’s Guide to Boosting Confidence and Self-Esteem, and Children Don’t Come With an Instruction Manual: A Teacher’s Guide to Problems That Affect Learners; coauthor, with Donald A. Moses, MD, of The Tween Book: A Growing-Up Guide for the Changing You; coauthor, with Robin A. DeLuca-Acconi, LCSW, of School Made Easier: A Kid’s Guide to Study Strategies and Anxiety-Busting Tools; coauthor, with Susan A. Taddonio, DPT, of The Survival Guide for Kids With Physical Disabilities & Challenges; and has written several articles.

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.

Dog Driven by Terry Lynn Johnson

Dog Driven

Terry Lynn Johnson, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Dec. 3, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Themes: Dogsledding, Sled dogs, Visual disabilities, Wilderness, Survival

Synopsis:

Ever since her vision started deteriorating, fourteen-year-old McKenna Barney has felt out of place in the world. Out of place at home and at school and even on the trail with her dogs.

Now, to help her younger sister with her own ongoing battle with an eye disease — Stargardt — McKenna finds herself at the head of her team of eight sled dogs in a race she’s not sure she can even see, let alone win. For three days of shifting lake ice, sudden owl attacks, bitterly cold nights, and frequent show squalls, McKenna faces both the Canadian wilderness and her own terrifying vision loss.

But she hides the truth from everyone, including her toughest rival, Guy, despite their budding alliance during the race. Will McKenna risk her survival as well as that of her dog team to keep her secret?

Why I like this book:

Dog Driven is a thrilling new survival novel by Terry Lynn Johnson, who once owned and raced 18 huskies.  She knows firsthand how breathtaking, peaceful, and unforgiving the wilderness can be. Reading a novel based on Johnson’s knowledge and experience, makes for great realistic fiction and a very vivid setting. Her original plot is fast-paced with high-stakes adventure, danger, courage and hope. The tension is palpable.

McKenna and Guy are the primary characters in the first Great Superior Mail Run sled dog race across Canada. McKenna is passionate about dog sledding because she’s been running dogs since she was very young. She’s a skilled musher who is enthusiastic about her sport and has a deep connection with her dogs, especially Mustard, her lead — they take care of each other. McKenna is running the race to help raise awareness for Stargardt disease. Guy is a good balance in the story and offers a bit of comic relief with his pranks. His trusted lead dog, Zesty, is blind, but they work together. Guy’s running the race to save his sled dogs from being sold by his dad. Together McKenna and Guy look out for each other during the race, until the finish line approaches.

But McKenna has a secret — her vision is rapidly blurring and she fears Stargardt disease. The stakes are high now that she realizes her vision puts her in danger and her dogs at risk on unfamiliar trails under severe weather conditions. They could die. But McKenna sees how her helicopter parents hover over her sister not allowing her to do anything for herself. Their behavior fuels McKenna’s determination to prove to herself and to her parents, that vision loss doesn’t limit her abilities. This is an excellent discussion question to pose to readers. Is Mckenna being selfish/reckless in taking a huge risk that could affect her, her sled dogs and other racers? What would readers do?

During the race, the mushers each carry a mailbag full of letters that they’ve been responsible for getting stamped along the race route. Readers will learn more about the great mail couriers from 1865 to the early 1900s along the White River Trail, an historical mail route between Pukaskwa Depot and White River. Throughout the book, Johnson includes letters from William Desjardins to his family, which give a real sense of a bygone era and a peek into history.  A great deal of research went into Johnson’s creating the race route and story.

Terry Lynn Johnson is the author of Ice Dogs, Sled Dog School, Falcoln Wild and the Survivor Diaries series. She lives at the edge of a lake in Ontario, Canada. For many years she was the owner and operator of a dogsledding business with 18 huskies. She taught dogsledding near Thunder Bay, Ontario. She also worked as a conservation officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Reources and Forestry for 17 years. Her lifelong passion for adventure and wilderness continues to inspire her books. Visit 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 a library copy.