Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Earth Day, April 22, 2019
Theme for Earth Day — Protect our Species

Song for a Whale

Lynne Kelly, Author

Delacorte Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Feb. 5, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12 (adults will enjoy)

Pages: 299

Themes: Deaf girl, School, Whales, Grandmother, Communication, Hope, Travel

Synopsis:

From fixing the class computer to repairing old radios, twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius. But she’s the only deaf person in her school, so people often treat her like she’s not very smart. If you’ve ever felt like no one was listening to you, then you know how hard that can be.

When she learns about Blue 55, a hybrid whale (his mother a blue whale, his father a fin whale) who is unable to communicate with other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. Most whales call out at frequencies of 35 hertz and lower, but Blue 55 sings at 55 hertz. His unique voice isn’t understood by the other whales. He has swum alone for decades with little contact with other whale pods or his family.

Iris has an idea to invent a way to “sing” to him. She uses her tech skills, works with the school musicians to record a song at Blue 55’s frequency, and mixes it with his own song. She sends it to a marine biologist from  an Alaskan sanctuary trying to tag Blue 55.  Iris hopes that sanctuaries will play it as he migrates along the west coast, so he can hear his song. The marine biologist responds enthusiastically and says she will play the recording. Iris wants to be there, but Blue 55 and the sanctuary are three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him? How will she see him?

Why I LOVE this book:

Lynn Kelly’s Song for a Whale is a captivating story about the connection between a deaf girl and a whale. Kelly is a remarkable storyteller who weaves together the parallel lives of these two unlikely characters, who are lonely and want to be heard. With Iris narrating, readers will gain insight into what it’s like to be deaf in a hearing world.

Iris’s quest to help Blue 55 hear his own song will melt your heart. It is so refreshing to read a novel about a spunky and determined deaf girl who uses her smarts and unique technical talents to improve the life and well-being of a whale that is lonely. Iris is a perfect role model for young people, who have their own struggles. She is also a reminder to readers that we each have our own inner strengths and abilities to make a difference in the world.

Iris’s bond with her deaf grandmother is the most interesting in the story — and I love intergenerational relationships. Her grandmother is a recent widow, who is dealing with her grief. It was exciting to watch her grandmother’s growth in the story as she begins to live again and heal. It adds a lot of lightness and humor to the story. Most important she understands and believes in Iris. There are many other memorable, lovable, quirky and flawed characters in the story, but my favorite was the grandmother.

The plot is fast-paced and engages readers from the first chapter. Time is of the essence for Iris, because Blue 55 could appear at any time, any where. When Iris’s parents tell her she can’t go to Alaska, her deaf grandmother steps in and secretly arranges the trip. Their trip to “the beach,” turns out to be to Alaska, unbeknownst to her parents. Iris and her karaoke-loving grandmother have a grand time together and new friendships are made. But when and where will Blue 55 surface. The suspense and the unexpected twists in the plot will have readers rapidly turning pages.

Resources: Make sure you read the information from the author about “Whale Communications and the 52-Hertz Whale’ at the end of the book  She also includes information about “Deafness and Sign Language.” This book is a timely share for Earth Day — Protect our Species.

Lynne Kelly’s work as a sign language interpreter has taken her everywhere from classrooms to hospitals to Alaskan cruises. Her first novel, the award-winning Chained, was named to seven state reading lists and won the SCBWI’S Crystal Kite Award. She liver near Houston, Texas, with her adorable dog, Holly. Visit Lynne Kelly at her website.

Favorite Quote:

“I was the one who was lonely, and I’d wanted the whale to hear me,” said Iris. Page 261

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.

Tears of the Mountain by Michelle Isenhoff

Tears of the Mountain (The Mountain Trilogy, Book 3)

Michelle Isenhoff, Author

Amazon Digital Services, Fiction, Dec. 2, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 13 and up (adults will enjoy)

Themes: Ancient land, War, Journey, Prophecy, Fantasy

Synopsis A simple act of obedience has the power to change the world.

Jubal wants only to live in peace, but ancient feuds from neighboring kingdoms steal away any hope of tranquility. He is a son of the grand vizier when he would rather be a hermit living high in the mountains playing his flute. Jubal is expected to be part of the Kindolin army, but he doesn’t like battle, unlike his best friend Sark. He would rather study with his wise tutor, Doli, about Kindolin’s unknown history.

On the day of the annual Sun Festival, a well-planned coup erupts from within the palace walls and Jubal’s family is slaughtered along with many others. War erupts in Kindolin and Sark’s father is involved in the coup. Jubal and Liena go to Doli’s home, where the wise man helps him flee to the mountains. Doli tells Jubal he “has been given a calling and it his destiny to play out a role on a divine stage.” It is a prophecy where Jubal will end a curse.

“Mud and mire shall birth a tree;

A sprout shall grow of ancient seed.

The five unite to break the one;

The curse of man shall be undone.

But brothers rise ere dragon’s bane; 

The last shall smite the first again.” 

Jubal finds himself flung into a quest of even greater antiquity. For victory lies not in the strength of arms but in this promise given long ago. His path, fraught with betrayal, loss, and his own lack of faith, carries him far beyond the boundaries of Kindolin. Will Jubal be strong enough to lay down his own life in fulfillment of his task? Or will Kindolin disappear into the pages of history?

Why I like this book:

Isenhoff has written a captivating novel about the ancient orient. It is about a prophecy and the destiny of a boy to slay the dragon, Ju-Long, and end an ancient curse. Isenhoff’s storytelling is superb and her language is lyrical and poetic. The untamed beauty of the lush mountains setting creates both joy and challenges as the seasons change. The plot is thrilling, courageous and perilous.

The characters are fascinating and unforgettable. Jubal is the son of the vizier, where much is expected of him. He is a gentle soul who has no interest in being part of the army, bearing arms, training and learning battle strategies. He would rather study with his wise tutor, Doli, about Kindolin’s ancient beginnings. Jubal values his childhood friendships with Sark and Liena, and the three share their skills. Sark likes war and teaches Jubal and Liena martial arts. Liena shows them the forest plants that they will need to  sustain them. And Jubal helps Sark with his school lessons. Liena’s destiny is intertwined with Jubal’s task and a love story emerges within the story.

Journey back to the first age of men in Isenhoff’s final installment of the Mountain Trilogy that ties Song to his family’s very earliest beginnings. There are three books in this trilogy, Song of the Mountain (free on Kindle), Fire on the Mountain and Tears of the Mountain. They can be read together, or as stand-alone novels. I have read and loved all three inspirational novels. Isenhoff includes a Prologue at the beginning, so readers have an understanding of the story. I choose to read a book in hand

Sample of Isenhoff’s lyrical style: “Under normal circumstances, music bubbled out of Jubal like water from a spring. He was forever humming or whistling or tapping his fingers to some new tune. He heard them everywhere –in the syncopation of raindrops, in the minor key of the wolf’s cry, even moonlight carried a soft melody. And when the surrounding peaks sent their breath strumming through the forest, it produced an entire symphony.”

Michelle Isenhoff is a former teacher and longtime homeschooler. She has written extensively in the children’s genre, most notably her work in historical fiction: The Ella Wood series and The Divided Decade collection. She also writes fantasy: The Recompense series and The Mountain Trilogy. She has been lauded by the education community for the literary quality of her work. These days, she writes full-time in the adult historical fiction and speculative fiction genres. Visit Michelle’s fabulous 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 purchased copy of the book.

Over the Moon by Natalie Lloyd

Over the Moon

Natalie Lloyd, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Mar. 26, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Coal miners, Servants, Disability, Courage, Friendship, Competition, Magic, Legends

Opening: Dustflights are trained to sense explosions in the Down Below. Honeysuckle is my papa’s Dustflight, a tiny yellow bird they give every miner in Coal Top. 

Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Mallie Ramble knows better than to dream. In Coal Top, you live the story you’re given: boys toil in the mines in the Down Below and girls work as servants. Mallie can’t bear the idea of that kind of life, but her family is counting on her wages to survive. Her father is injured in the mines.

It wasn’t always this way. Before the Dust came, the people of Coal Top could weave starlight into cloth. They’d wear these dreaming clothes to sleep and wake up with the courage to seek adventure . . . or the peace to heal a broken heart. But now nothing can penetrate Coal Top’s blanket of sorrow.

So when Mallie is chosen for a dangerous competition in which daring (and ideally, orphaned) children train flying horses, she jumps at the chance. Maybe she’ll change her story. Maybe she’ll even find the magic she needs to dream again. Maybe she will help her community to heal.

But the situation proves even more dangerous when Mallie uncovers a sinister mystery at the heart of Coal Top’s struggles — a mystery some powerful people, like Mortimer Good and his Guardians, will do anything to protect.

Why I like this book:

Over the Moon is an enchanting tale that will transport readers to Coal Top, a community that has lost its joy and is blanketed in sadness. And there is a girl, Mallie, who is pure of heart and brave enough to dream of flying among the stars. Natalie Lloyd creates a magical experience with a touch of realism. Her storytelling and literary style sets her apart as an original voice in children’s literature.

The characters are complex and unforgettable. Mallie is the loveable narrator who is wild and brave on the inside, “a fire-popper in a glass jar.” She has a short right arm and wears a fake orange “Popsnap,” that attaches at her elbow. She is her family’s breadwinner. She’s spirited and determined to keep her younger brother, Denver out of the mines. Adam is Mallie’s best friend and only sees her abilities. Together they make a good team. Honor and his friends are bullies. Iggy is a three-foot tall woman who cares for the flying horses. She is a tough trainer with a tender heart. Mortimer Good, is a beguiling and evil manipulator who wields a lot of control over Coal Top.

The plot is courageous, thrilling, and dangerous, with a sinister twist. Seeking “riches untold,” Mallie, Adam, Honor and other mountain kids show up for Mortimer Good’s competition. But they must prove themselves by capturing a magical flying horse (Starbirds) in the dangerous West Woods, which is full of monsters. There is adventure in training their horses, wonder in flying, danger in collecting riches from the mountains, and mystery in the origins of the dust.

Over the Moon is a labor of love for Natalie Lloyd, as she draws upon her own experience with a physical disability to create her main character, Mallie. In doing so, Lloyd shows her own source of courage as she pours her heart into brave, adventurous and kind-hearted Mallie.   

The heavy Dust that blankets Coal Top and snuffs out the light, becomes a powerful metaphor for the “dust” in our daily lives. Mallie is a reminder for readers that they need to push through their own challenges and darkness to find their inner light.

Over the Moon will touch your heart and soul. It is a tale of love, friendship, hope and courage. Lloyd’s fans will be “over the moon” with her new novel.

‘Mountain girl, lift up your eyes,

The stars are shining bright for thee.

Reach out and take the silver chord,

Braid beauty there for all to see.”

Natalie Lloyd is the New York Times bestselling author of A Snicker of Magic, which has been optioned for television by Sony TriStar. Lloyd’s other novels include The Key to Extraordinary, and The Problim Children series. Lloyd lives in Tennessee with her husband, Justin and her dogs Samson and Biscuit. Visit Lloyd at her website.

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

*Review copy provided by the publisher.

Dust Storm! (Survivor Diaries) by Terry Lynn Johnson

Dust Storm! (Survivor Diaries #4)

Terry Lynn Johnson, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Nov. 6, 2018

Pages: 128

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes: Dust Storm, Desert, New Mexico, Lost, Knowledge, Survival Skills, Courage

Synopsis:

Sixth-graders Jen Chiu and Martin Diaz are geared up to participate in one of the most exciting geocaching field trips ever in New Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert.  Former best friends, Jen wants to find all of the caches before Martin does. When their van gets a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, the students help the teacher pass out water bottles and set up a tarp next to the bus for shade. Jen returns her backpack to the bus and discovers Martin peeking into the teacher’s briefcase to get the latitudes and longitudes for the upcoming competition. He darts from the bus to the trailer and grabs his mountain bike and takes off. Jen grabs her bike from the trailer and races after him.

When Jen catches up with Martin, she sees a wall of dirt rise high into the air.  A dust storm. They ride as fast as they can to stay ahead of it, but the blinding dust storm overpowers them. They are knocked off their bikes when they ride off a cliff they can’t see. Nothing looks familiar. The dust burns their eyes and skin, and is gritty in their mouths. They are far from their group and in the desert alone. They don’t have water, food, tools, proper clothing, sunglasses, and survival gear. They left their backpacks on the bus. Jen and Martin are lost. Night is falling, coyotes are calling, and small critters are crawling. They will have to use all of their knowledge and grit to survive.

Why I like this book:

Dust Storm! Survivor Diaries is a great adventure series that will get kids, especially reluctant readers, interested in reading. Terry Lynn Johnson has written a fast-paced series that is authentic and fun to read. Pen and ink drawings add to the drama of what is unfolding in the story.

The plot is engaging and the tension palpable. Dust Storm! focuses on Jen and Martin using skills they know after they get caught in a desert dust storm and become disoriented. What do they do first? How much time do they have before they become dehydrated? How do they  stay calm? What skills do they need most?

Dust Storm! is the fourth book in the Survivor Diaries. This series 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 are clear: Stay calm. Stay Smart. Survive. This is an important story for kids and families who like to hike to read together. It is also an excellent classroom book that belongs in every school library.

Johnson stories are inspired by true events. She began researching this desert story after she learning about two separate tragedies involving tourists who both died from dehydration after trying to walk for help after a car became stuck on a back road.

Resources: The best part of Johnson’s Survivor Diaries is that backmatter she includes: Survival Tips if you get you get lost and the bare essentials you need to carry while hiking a wilderness trail. After you’ve read the book, readers can visit her website to play the interactive Game – Will You Survive? 

Terry Lynn Johnson, author of Ice Dogs, Sled Dog School, and the Survivor Diaries (Overboard, Avalanche, Lost and Dust Storm) series, has lived in northern Ontario, Canada, for more than forty years. Before becoming a conservation officer, she worked for twelve years as a canoe-ranger warden in a large wilderness park. Visit Johnson 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.

*Purchased Copy.

The Little Blue Dragon by Colleen McCarthy-Evans

The Little Blue Dragon

Colleen McCarthy-Evans, Author and Illustrator

Seven Seas Press, Fiction, Nov. 5, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Hurricane, Separation, Loss, Childhood trauma, Courage, Friendship

Opening: In a land not so far away / and not too long ago, / a powerful hurricane / with winds swirling in all directions / separated the Little Blue Dragon / from her mother.

Synopsis: The Little Blue Dragon becomes separated from her mother after a hurricane. When things settle down, she realizes she’s alone in an unfamiliar place. The Little Blue Dragon embarks upon a journey to search for her mother. She flies to south, east, west and north where she meets a variety of friends who guide and loan her a cave to sleep in — monkeys, ducks, dogs, bats, polar bears and a chameleon.

Why I like this book:

This is a lovely book that addresses trauma, separation and loss in a comforting manner. Sometimes scary things happen to children and they don’t know how to cope with the situation. That is when a book like The Little Blue Dragon can be useful in helping children express their feelings and fear.

Colleen McCarthy-Evans’ colorful illustrations take readers on a visual journey through the dragon’s loss and despair to her making a new friend in a chameleon, who is separated from her little ones in a flood. Together they search for their families and find healing along the way. Friendship and courage allows them both to move forward. I like that the story is open-ended and allows children to make up their own ending.

I want to give a little more detail about the unique artwork, which beautifully compliments the story. McCarthy-Evans’ multi-media illustrations are a specialized photographic treatment of dioramas with animals she hand-paints from stones collected from the Pacific Coast of California.

Resources: There is a discussion guide at the end of the book with six great questions that help children and parents take a deeper look into the story. The discussion encourages children to share their feelings and explore how they handle difficult times. This book is also a good resource for teachers and counselors. There also is a list of activities that accompany the story. Children are encouraged to collect rocks and paint them to recreate the animals from the story.

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 Perfect Picture Books.

*A review copy was provided by the author.

Delivery Bear by Laura Gehl

Delivery Bear

Laura Gehl, Author

Paco Sordo, Illustrator

Albert Whitman & Company, Fiction, Sep. 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes: Animals, Bear, Pursing dreams, Courage, Being yourself, Empathy

Opening: Even as a tiny cub, Zogby knew what he wanted to be when he grew up.

Synopsis:

Delivering Fluffy Tail Cookies has always been Zogby’s dream job. One day he reads a job notice for a delivery animal in the grocery store window. But he’s a bear and all the other delivery animals are cute bunnies with fluffy tails. The manager is skeptical, but gives Zogby a one-day trial.

When Zogby rings a doorbell and sings the delivery song, he scares the customer again and again! Wearing bunny ears, whiskers, and a fluffy rabbit tail doesn’t fool his customers. Blinking back his tears he rides back to the factory singing the last verses from his song, “Please remember when you chew…You are special. You are you!”

Suddenly, Zogby has a BIG idea. When Zogby realizes it’s best to just be himself, he discovers a clever way to get the job done.

Why I like this book:

You can’t help but fall in love with Zogby. His customers — a rabbit, beaver, raccoon, porcupine and chipmunk — all yell a frightful “AAHHHHHH!” as they open the door and meet Zogby. Readers will commiserate with Zogby with each rejection and lost dream. But they will cheer this huggable bear as he picks himself up, sells cookies his way and realizes his dream.

Laura Gehl’s uplifting story is about learning to be yourself.  It has many teachable moments about empathy and compassion. This story is brimming with heart and connection.

Paco Sordo’s brightly colored illustrations really bring this story to life and showcase its message. The animals expressions and reactions are priceless. Take a good look at the lively book cover. Kids will love turning the pages. Great collaborative effort between author and illustrator. This book is a winner!

Resources:  This is a very useful discussion book for home and school — along with baked chocolate chip cookies. Ask children how they respond when they see someone who may not look or act like them — a homeless person, someone with a disfigurement or a child who is differently abled.  Are they curious? Are they frightened? Do they avoid the person? Are they friendly? Do they feel compassion?

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.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy by Tony Medina and 13 Artists

Thirteen ways of Looking at a Black Boy

Tony Medina & 13 Artists

Penny Candy Books, Poetry, Feb. 13, 2018

Pages: 40

Suitable for Ages: 6-11

Themes: Poetry, Black boys, Everyday life, Emotions, Creativity, Potential

Opening: Anacostia Angel

Fly bow tie like wings

   Brown eyes of a brown angel

His Kool-Aid smile sings

   Mama’s little butterfly

Daddy’s dimple grin so wide

Synopsis:

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy by Tony Medina offers a fresh perspective of young men of color by depicting thirteen views of everyday life: young boys dressed in their Sunday best, running to catch a bus, going to school, sitting on stoops on hot summer days, flirting with girls, participating in athletics, and growing up to be a teacher who gives back to the community who raised him. Each of Tony Medina’s tanka poems is matched with a different artist―including recent Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Award recipients.

Why I like this book:

Tony Medina has penned a stunning collection of 13 poems that celebrate the lives of black males, from birth to adulthood, who are brimming with potential. He focuses on the beauty found in the everyday lives of Black boys, who Medina considers “an endangered species.”

Medina’s has collaborated with 13 award-winning artists who show off their splendid skills through oil, watercolor,  pen and ink sketches, collage, and mixed media. I wanted to name all of the artists so readers will understand the powerful art that bring each poem to life. They include Floyd Cooper, Cozbi A. Cabrera, Skip Hill, Tiffany McKnight, Robert Liu-Trujillo, Keith Mallett, Shawn K. Alexander, Kesha Bruce, Brianna McCarthy, R. Gregory Christie, Ekua Holmes, Javaka Steptoe, and Chandra Cox.

The poems are written in tanka form, a Japanese syllabic, verse form, much like haiku.  It consists of 31 syllables distributed along five lines. Each poem is short, passionate and timely and introduces young people to reading and writing poetry.

This collection is a treasure for parents to read and reread to their children. There many creative ways to use this book at home and in the classroom.

Resources: There is a beautiful poetic Introduction by Medina. The backmatter includes information on the artists, and Notes that address the title, the poetic style (tanka), and the history of the Anacostia area in Washington D.C. This would be an excellent opportunity to encourage children to try write a poem using tanka or haiku. Or use the art in the book as inspiration to create their own drawing using a variety of mediums.

Tony Medina is a two-time winner of the Paterson Prize for Books for Young People (DeShawn Days and I and I, Bob Marley), is the author/editor of nineteen books for adults and young readers. A Professor of Creative Writing at Howard University, Medina has received the Langston Hughes Society Award, the first African Voices Literary Award, and has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes for his poems. Jacar Press recently published his anthology Resisting Arrest: Poems to Stretch the Sky, on police violence and brutalities perpetrated on people of color. Tu Books published Medina’s debut graphic novel I Am Alfonso Jones in 2017. He lives in Washington D.C.

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.

*Reviewed from library copy.

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.