Just Under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno

Just Under the Clouds

Melissa Sarno, Author

Knopf Books for Young Readers, Jun. 5, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-11

Pages: 225

Themes: Siblings, Family relationships, Loss, Homelessness, Shelter life, Belonging, Difference, Nature

Book Synopsis:

Always think in threes and you’ll never fall, Cora’s father told her when she was a little girl. Two feet, one hand. Two hands, one foot. That was all Cora needed to know to climb the trees of Brooklyn.

But now Cora is a middle schooler, a big sister, and homeless. Her mother is trying to hold the family together after her father’s death, but they are evicted from their home. Cora must look after her sister, Adare, who’s just different, their mother insists. Quick to smile, Adare hates wearing shoes, rarely speaks, and appears untroubled by the question Cora can’t help but ask: How will she find a place to call home?

After their room at the shelter is ransacked, Cora’s mother looks to an old friend for help, and Cora finally finds what she’s been looking for: Ailanthus altissima, the “tree of heaven,” which can grow in even the worst conditions. It sets her on a path to discover a deeper truth about where she really belongs.

Just Under the Clouds will take root in your heart and blossom long after you’ve turned the last page.

Why I like this book:

I am always searching for books on homelessness.  And Melissa Sarno’s, Just Under the Clouds, offers readers a different perspective of how we view the homeless in a raw, heartbreaking, touching and hopeful way. Not all homeless people live on the streets. It’s a reminder that anyone can unexpectedly find themselves in a similar situation. When Cora’s father dies, her family is eventually evicted from their home.

The story is more character-driven than it is about the plot. Yes, the family moves from run-down apartments to homeless shelters where their safety is always an issue. But this beautiful lyrical story focuses a variety of relationships between family, friends and school. Cora is courageous and resilient and shoulders the responsibility of her sister, Adare, who is born special — her brain is deprived of oxygen at birth. Adare is my favorite character, because she has a unique perception of the world. She has a soft-song voice, says hello to everyone, stares endlessly at the sky, spins in the rain and befriends cats and crows.

Cora’s relationship with a quirky friend, Sabina, offers a happy balance to the story. Cora’s mother is an artist, who has to give up her talent to take low-paying jobs to support the family. When her mother’s childhood friend, Willa, invites them into her classy apartment, Cora is hopeful she can finally stay in one place. But how long will her mother accept Willa’s help?

The one constant in Cora’s life is her father’s “tree journal,” which he left her. He loved to map out trees in their community. Cora picks up where he has left off and it helps her feel close to her dad. She maps the trees around her, draws pictures and records seasonal information. There is a lot of symbolism for Cora ash she searches for her own “roots.”

Just Under the Clouds has a heartwarming message about understanding the struggle of others. It is a story that will create empathy among readers. It should be required reading for youth because the face of homelessness is changing.

Melissa Sarno is a freelance writer and editor with and MFA in screenwriting. She lives in the Lower Hudson Valley of New York with her family. Visit her at her website and follow her on Twitter at @melissasarno.

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.

*Copy: Library

One Good Thing About America by Ruth Freeman

One Good Thing About America

Ruth Freeman, Author

Holiday House Books, Fiction,  Mar. 21, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 160

Themes: Refugee, Immigration, Africa, Differences, Fitting in, New customs, Language, Foods, Friendships

Synopsis: Back home in Africa, Anais was the best English student in her class. Here in Crazy America she is placed in fourth grade and feels like she doesn’t know English at all.  Nothing makes sense. For example, how can you eat chicken fingers? Anais misses her family: Papa and grandmother Oma and big brother Olivier. Here in Crazy America she has only little Jean-Claude and Mama. So Anais writes lots of letters to Oma — in English because Oma insists. Oma has a friend who translate the letters and writes letters back to Anais.

Anais tells Oma how she misses her and that she hopes the fighting is over soon in the Congo. She worries about her father who is being tracked by government soldiers or rebels as he makes his way to a refugee camp in Kenya, and Olivier who is injured in a skirmish.

She tells Oma about Halloween, snow, mac ‘n’ cheese dinners and princess sleepovers. She tells her about the weird things Crazy Americans do, and how she just might be turning into a Crazy American herself. Over the school year, Anais begins to make friends, feel like she’s part of a community, and finds many good things about America.

Why I like this book:

It is always hard to be the new student in a new school, especially when you come from another country and struggle with the language, look different, eat strange foods, celebrate different holidays and leave  loved ones left behind. Ruth Freeman’s compelling and hopeful book explores differences and common grounds among cultures. She humorously captures Anais’ angst through first person narrative. The story is told in a series of letters that Anais writes to her grandmother, Oma.

After much whining about Crazy America, Anais promises Oma she will try to find one good thing she likes about America daily, whether it is sledding, tasting hot chocolate, backpacks, helpful school teachers, a close group of immigrant friends, and Christmas trees decorated with pictures. This is a good classroom or home practice for youth everywhere. Find something you like in your life daily and be grateful.

As Anais becomes more comfortable in her surroundings, readers will see her growth as she takes the lead and helps newly arriving immigrant children from Iraq, Libya and Somalia adjust to America. This is a timely story for readers as it reminds us that America is a nation of immigrants, where we must learn about each other and celebrate our differences.

Ruth Freeman grew up in rural Pennsylvania but now lives in Maine where she teaches students who are English language learners, including many newly arrived immigrants. She is the author of several nonfiction picture books and this is her first novel.

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.

Copy: Library book.

Line and Dot by Veronique Cauchy

Line and Dot

Véronique Cauchy, Author

Laurent Simon, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Mar. 12, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Creativity, Imagination, Diversity, Cooperation, Respect

Opening: One day, Line met Dot…and they decided to play together!

Synopsis:

The story begins with a white Line and a black Dot. They begin to make bold and brand new things. It is so much fun that Line and Dot decide to invite their friends — big and small, young and old — the more the merrier. They bring with them more ideas. With so many new friends they realize that together they sky is the limit and they are empowered to create so much more. Soon they have built a large city.  But something is missing. Line and Dot have another big idea. They invite their friends who live in distant lands. They arrive from all of the corners of the world to their city. The lines and dots are a festival of color — blue, yellow and pink, black and white — and they create something very wonderful.

Why I like this book:

Line and Dot is a joyful and engaging book for young children and one that belongs in classrooms. It encourages creativity and imagination. It cleverly shows the importance of accepting differences, learning something new from others, and living peacefully while maintaining individuality, differences and diversity. With simple text and whimsical illustrations, this story demonstrates the importance of mutual respect and cooperation.

Resources: This is a great classroom resource with endless possibilities for use. Teachers can simply focus on creativity and imagination by encouraging children to draw a picture using line and dots. Put kids on teams and encourage them to work together to come up with an idea and paint or draw it with lines and dots. There are no right or wrong answers, just the fun of creating something together.

Véronique Cauchy was born in Normandy in 1969. She had a penchant for writing at a very early age…but instead she studied business, going from Paris to Berlin via Reims and Sacramento! An expert in international trade, she directed a human resources company in her native Normandy, but her life changed when she had children. She discovered children’s literature and threw herself into the crazy adventure of writing for  young readers.

*Copy provided by the publisher.

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.

The Theory of Hummingbirds by Michelle Kadarusman

The Theory of Hummingbirds

Michelle Kadarusman, Author

Pajama Press, Fiction, Oct. 16, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Club Foot, Differences, Abilities, Self-Acceptance, Dreams, Friendship

Publisher Synopsis: “Hummingbirds and angels don’t need two good feet. They have wings.” That’s what Alba’s mother always says. Of course, Alba doesn’t have wings or two good feet: she has Cleo. Cleo is the name Alba has given to her left foot, which was born twisted in the wrong direction. When she points this out, though, her mother just smiles like the world has some surprise in store she doesn’t know about yet.
Well, Alba has her own surprise planned. After one final surgery and one final cast, Cleo is almost ready to meet the world straight on―just in time to run in the sixth grade cross-country race. Unfortunately, Alba’s best friend Levi thinks there’s no way she can pull it off. And she thinks there’s no way he’s right about the school librarian hiding a wormhole in her office. Tempers flare. Sharp words fly faster than hummingbirds. And soon it looks like both friends will be stuck proving their theories on their own.

Why I like this book:

Michelle Kadarusman has crafted a richly textured story about Ada, who has a leg that is directionally challenged. It is a powerful and captivating story about differences and abilities and “learning to love who you are and what you can do.” It is emotionally honest and filled with heart.

It is important for readers to see themselves in realistic characters like Ada. You don’t feel sorry for Ada because of her determination and resilience.  She is believable and won’t let anyone put limitations on her. I love how she names her club foot “Cleo,” out of kindness. Her best friend Levi spends recess indoors with her because of his asthma. His obsession with time travel and wormholes provides a lot of comic relief.

The author’s use of hummingbirds as a poignant metaphor to help Alba embrace her life in a meaningful way and pursue her big dream. “Hummingbirds don’t sit around moaning about their tiny feet and that they can’t walk,” she says. Like Ada, the author was born with talipes equinovarus (CTEV), more commonly called club foot.

The plot is paced well with the perfect amount of tension to keep readers intrigued, engaged and guessing.  This is an excellent book for any school library.

**I won on Rosi Hollinbeck’s wonderful website The Write Stuff. Check if out. She always has gifts and tips for her writer friends.

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.

So Many Smarts! by Michael Genhart

So Many Smarts!

Michael Genhart, PhD, Author

Holly Clifton-Brown, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Sep. 12, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Individuality, Smarts, Abilities, Differences, Social skills, Friendship

Opening: Did you know there’s more than one kind of Smart? In fact, there are many! Where do we start? No two people show their Smarts the same way. Each of us is different, and that’s A-Okay!

SynopsisSo Many Smarts! introduces kids to a variety of “smarts” and teaches them that there is more than one way to be smart. It encourages readers to look at their own combination of brain power and skills to determine how they might learn best, excel, and be themselves. Based on the theory of multiple intelligences, this book shows kids that all of the different skills they have require various types of smarts as well as how they can celebrate their differences.

Why I like this book:

Today I am singing the praises of Michael Genhart’s book. It wowed me! While reading, writing and  mathematics are important skills, there are other skills that make children smart. So Many Smarts inspires children to explore a variety of skills through a delightful array of animals who show them many ways to be smart. There is a bear detective following clues. A flamingo playing a ukulele. A pelican playing catch on an iceberg. A fox reading a book. An ape drawing a rocket. A rabbit band playing and dancing to music.

The book emphasizes how the animals are good at different things. Children will have fun identifying the skills that make them unique.  It encourages them to hone in on their own special capabilities and talents — their own special Smarts. This story will really resonate with children, parents and teachers.

Holly Clifton-Brown combines traditional painting, mixed media and collage with contemporary technique to create imaginative visual language. Genhart’s rhyming text flows nicely giving the bold illustrations time to tease children’s imaginations.

Favorite lines:

No one Smart is better than another.

Your own mix of Smarts will take you far, help you learn, do your best, and be who you are.

References: A Note to Parents, Caregivers, and Educators offers more information about the different smarts outlined in the book and ways to support children exploring their unique strengths. This is a perfect classroom book.

Michael Genhart PhD, is the author of Peanut Butter & Jellyous, Cake & I Scream!, Mac & Geeeez!, I See You, and Ouch Moments: When Words Are Used in Hurtful Ways.

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.

Reena’s Rainbow by Dee White

Reena’s Rainbow

Dee White, Author

Tracie Grimwood, Illustrator

EK Books, Fiction, Sep. 30, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 years

Themes: Friendship, Dog, Inclusion, Deaf, Homeless, Differences

Opening: In Reena’s world, sounds scattered and scrambled and made no sense. But her clear blue eyes saw everything.

Synopsis: Reena is deaf and Dog is homeless, but they are so much more than that. At first Reena and Dog feel like they don’t belong. But when they are a team they help each other. Reena is very observant and doesn’t miss a thing. When they play hide and seek with the other hearing children in the park, Dog shows the kids the best hiding places and Reena always finds them.  Their special bond and friendship helps them discover that everyone is different and special in their own way.

Why I like this book:

Dee White’s endearing story is about Reena’s abilities and not her disability.

The bond between Reena and Dog is unbreakable and heartwarming.  They find each other’s strengths and work together as a team so that Reena interacts more easily with other hearing children.

Reena has skills and heightened senses that help her navigate her world.  She notices things other children don’t, like a branch that breaks and nearly injures another child. When playing hide-and-seek, she’s clever because she notices “eyes peeping through pampas,” and a” pink cardigan camouflaged in cherry blossoms.”

The is a beautiful story of inclusion that teaches children how to respect and celebrate their strengths and differences. The rainbow symbolically embraces the range of differences in our colorful human family. It is a heartwarming story that also shows children the importance of acceptance and friendship.

Tracie Grimwood’s soft, pastel illustrations are lively and add a joyful spirit to the special friendship between a girl and her dog.  This is a beautiful collaboration between author and illustrator.

Resources: The book is an excellent is an excellent resource. Learning about differences offers new experiences and fosters compassion in children. Ask children if they know anyone with a disability. Make a list of the disabilities or differences they have seen. It will help them realize that we’re all humans, even if we may need to wear hearing aids, use a walking device or wheelchair, have Down Syndrome or autism.

*The publisher provided me with an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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.

Big and Little Are Best Friends by Michael Garland

Big and Little Are Best Friends

Michael Garland, Author and Illustrator

Orchard Books, Fiction, May 9, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes: Animals, Elephants, Mice, Best Friends, Differences, Acceptance, Rhyme

Opening: Big and Little / Are best of friends. / Though the things / that they like / Are at opposite ends.

Synopsis: Big is an elephant and Little is a mouse.  They are opposites in every possible way. One likes loud music, the other prefers soft. One loves hot weather, the other loves cold. One is shy and the other is bold. One wears plain, the other wears frilly. They are as different as night and day. Sometimes they fight, but they always make put their friendship first.

Why I like this book:

Michael Garland has written a timely and heartwarming story for children that celebrates tolerance. Elephant and a mouse are very different in surprising ways, but they learn to compromise and accept each other. They learn that they don’t need to change who they are in order to become best friends. Elephant and mouse discover that their differences can lead to a lot of fun when they are together. The story also breaks down some preconceived stereotypes.

Garland’s simple rhyming text includes fun synonyms and antonyms and is perfect for beginning readers. Garland’s signature double page-spreads feature lively, humorous and colorful illustrations that will appeal to children’s imaginations.

Resources: Use Garland’s concept book to teach children about opposites, like “big and little.”  Ask children their favorite color, food, toy, sport, book, movie and so on. Compare the similarities and differences with siblings or classmates. Apply the idea to friendship. Would they still be friends if one liked cake and the other preferred pie?  Depending upon the age of the child, you may want to include bigger topics that include diversity.

Michael Garland has 35 books in print. Four of Garland’s books are New York Times Bestsellers, and Miss Smith’s Incredible Storybook won State Reading Awards in Delaware, California and Texas. He lives in Patterson, NY.  You can visit Garland at his website.

There’s a Cat in Our Class! by Jeanie Franz Ransom

There’s a Cat in Our Class!: A Tale About Getting Along

Jeanie Franz Ransom, Author

Bryan Langdo, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Aug. 15, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Animals, Dogs, Cats, Diversity, Embracing differences, Tolerance

Opening: “There were eighteen students in Miss Biscuit’s class. Until…”

Synopsis: Just before lunch, Miss Biscuit shared the exciting news that there would be a new student joining the classroom — Samantha. Max, Rusty, Ginger, and Tanner assume that their new classmate will be just like them … a  DOG.  But Samantha is a cat! “But cats make me nervous,” Rusty said. Me, too! Ginger said. “I’m going to start shedding any minute.”  How does that make Samantha feel? That leads to some hilarious acting out and a heap of questions among the classmates.  When Samantha saves the ball game at recess, the other dogs thinks she’s a pretty cool cat. Then Miss Biscuit announces that there will be another new student arriving tomorrow…

Why I like this story:

Jeanie Franz Ransom has written a clever and humorous story for young children about embracing the differences in each other. With the growing diversity in our country, this is a very timely book.  The students in this story are curious and brutally honest with their questions to their new classmate, Samantha. They want to know if she eats mice, walks on a leash, wags her tail and uses a litter box or goes outside. The  cast of characters are lively and learn about acceptance, tolerance and how to get along. Bryan Langdo’s illustrations are colorful, expressive and tickle the imagination! I love the book cover.

Reading this book to children will help them discover how they are more alike than different, no matter their skin color, ethnicity, language, LGBT issues or disability.  There’s a Cat in Our Class emphasizes compassion and connectivity with our beautiful diverse human family. Although their lives may vary, children enjoy learning, playing games and sharing feelings of joy and sadness. This book fosters acceptance of others.

Resources: This book includes A Note Readers written by Gayle E. Pitman, PhD, that discusses how parents, teachers, and other adults can talk with children about diversity in a way that’s meaningful and effective.

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.

Barefoot Book of Children – Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Jan. 27, 2017

Multicuturalblogger buttonMulticultural Children’s Book Day – Jan. 27, 2017

Today I am a book reviewer for the Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCBD). The official social media hashtag is #ReadYourWorld. It was founded “to spread the word, raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature and get more of multicultural books into classrooms and libraries.” Please click on the highlighted link above to see all of 300+ book reviews.

barefoot-book-for-children-61bby4xv8bl__sx423_bo1204203200_Barefoot Book of Children

Tessa Strickland and Kate DePalma, Authors

David Dean, Illustrator

Barefoot Books, Nonfiction, Oct. 1, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Diversity, Race, Inclusivity, Connectivity, Commonality, Differences, Global Family

Opening: Every morning, millions of children open their eyes and start another day. We are all somewhere. Where are you? What can you see or hear or smell from where you are?

This is a timeless and empowering book that gives children a peek into how other children live around the world. The Barefoot Book for Children takes readers on a visual tour of their world and nudges them to think about their own lives in comparison to the lives of kids living in New Zealand, Israel, Brazil, Italy, Africa, Pakistan and China. What are their names? How do the dress? What language do they speak? What do their homes look like? Do they live with a single parent, gay parent or an extended family? What are their favorite foods? Do they go to school? What kind of transportation do they use? Do they have hobbies or like to play games?  What is their faith? In learning about others, children experience a richer view of the world community.

Why I like this book:

Tess Strickland and Kate DePalma’s approach is fresh, versatile and appealing for children. The Barefoot Book of Children is celebration of our diversity, inclusiveness and common humanity. Children are naturally curious about why they are where they are in their specific life. They wonder why they are born to a certain family, what part of the world they are born in and why their lives may feel more challenging or privileged. They may live in a farming community, a jungle or a crowded city. They may be a refugee from a war-torn country. They may be walking miles daily across dusty terrain to gather water for family bathing, cooking and drinking. There are millions of children on the planet, each one leading a life all their own — just as they are.

The Barefoot Book of Children is a thought-provoking book that explores the why of our situation and helps children discover how they are more alike than different, no matter their skin color, language, dress or faith. This book emphasizes connectivity with a beautiful diverse human family. Their lives may vary, but they also enjoy studying the same subjects in school, playing the soccer or swimming, and share similar feelings of joy and sadness. This book fosters acceptance of others.

The first half of the story is a beautiful narrative picture book. The end of the book is nonfiction, informative and interactive. It invites children to take a closer look at all the illustrations presented earlier and delve more deeply into the details. The book encourages important discussions about our common humanity.  David Dean’s illustrations are colorful, lively and engaging. They contribute significantly to this beautiful book. Children will enjoy studying the detail on each page.

Resources: This book is a groundbreaking resource for parents and teachers to use to start important conversations.  Encourage children to write their own story, include drawings and photos of their own lives. Then encourage them to step inside another child’s shoes and imagine where they would like to spend a day in another part of the world. Ask them to pick a country, a different body, a new name, a language, a home, a family, food, clothing, and hobbies. Ask them to write a new story, draw a picture of their new life or tell their story in small groups.

multicultrual-twitterpartyMulticultural Children’s Book Day 2017 is in its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Their mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that.

Current Sponsors: MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books.

Author Sponsors include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawMaria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang.

Other shout-outs to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

MCBD Links to remember:

MCBD site: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teachers-classroom-kindness-kit/

Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents: http://bit.ly/1sZ5s8i

Join the Twitter party (#ReadYourWorld) and book give-away January 27, from 9 p.m. – 10 p.m. EST. Multicultural, diverse and inclusive book bundles will be given away. 

*I received a review copy of The Barefoot Book of Children from Barefoot Books. The opinions in this review are entirely my own.

Blackbird Fly

Blackbird Fly 51bUN1QbdVL__SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Blackbird Fly

Erin Entrada Kelly, Author

Greenwillow Books, Fiction, Mar. 24, 2015

Paperback Reprint Mar. 1, 2016, 320 pages

Suitable for Ages: 8-12 years

Themes: Bullying, Outcasts, Filipino Americans, Family relationships, Friendships, Middle School, Music, Multicultural

Book Synopsis:  Twelve-year-old Apple Yengko believes that there are at least three interesting facts about every person on Earth. Unfortunately, her three IFs make her an outcast in Chapel Spring Middle School in Chapel Spring, Louisiana. She has slanted eyes, a weird Filipino nickname, and a weird mother.

When Apple is voted the third ugliest girl in school, her life quickly falls apart. The boys bark at her in the halls and rumors spread that she eats dogs for dinner. Music is her only escape. All she needs is enough money to buy a guitar, and then she’ll be able to change herself and her life forever. So what if her mother doesn’t understand and thinks she’s becoming too American. So what if her supposed best friends turn the other way…

It might be the Beatles and their music who save Apple, or Mr. Z (Chapel Spring Middle’s awesome music teacher) — or it could be two unexpected friends who show her that standing out in a crowd is better than getting lost in it.

Why I like this book:

  • This is a painfully realistic story by Erin Entrada Kelly about the impact of bullying on an Filipino-American teen who is trying to find her place in a Louisiana middle school. It is an emotionally honest novel about Apple, who feels like an outsider because of her ethnic background. Her best friends turn on her and their boyfriends put Apple on a secret Dog Log list of the ugliest girls at school. Teens who feel different and deal daily with cruelty in middle school, will find Apple a must read.
  • Apple is a strong, smart, quirky and likeable character who loves the Beatles, wants to play the guitar, and be the next George Harrison. Music is her only link to her deceased father. Her over protective mother forbids her to play the guitar or join the school swing choir at school. Apple is embarrassed by her mother who speaks with an accent, clings to old values and cooks Filipino foods. She becomes friends with a new boy, Evan Temple, who is self-assured and doesn’t care what others think of him. He accepts Apple for who she is and encourages her music. They befriend Helena Moffett, who is overweight, is on the Dog Log and has a secret weapon — a powerful singing voice.  Together, the three friends take on the bullies.
  • Kelly’s first-person narrative is extremely effective. The plot is courageous and stays true the theme of what it feels like to be an outsider. I love that Apple spreads her wings like her favorite Beatles song, Blackbird. The pacing is fast, which makes this novel a quick read. There are many unexpected surprises, including the ending which is happily satisfying. 

Erin Entrada Kelly grew up in south Louisiana. Her mother was the first in her family to immigrate to the United States from the Philippines.  Blackbird Fly is her debut novel. Visit Kelly at her website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

Since many of my reviews include diverse books, please check out Diverse Children’s Booksa brand new book-sharing meme designed to promote the reading and writing of children’s books that feature diverse characters. This community embraces all kinds of diversity including (and certainly not limited to) diverse, inclusive, multicultural, and global books for children of all backgrounds. Spread the word by using #diversekidlit on Twitter. Check out the logo in my sidebar.