Mia Mayhem Breaks Down Walls by Kara West

Mia Mayhem Breaks Down Walls (Book 4)

Kara West, Author

Leeza Hernandez, Illustrator

Little Simon, Fiction, Jul. 16, 2019

Suitable for Ages:  5-9

Themes: Superhero, Learning to use powers, Chaos, Friendship

Opening: My room is a mess. I’m digging around in my closet because I’ve ripped another shoelace.

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Mia is determined to be the best in her top secret strength-training class, Program for In Training Superheroes (PITS), so she can learn how to lift cars, and climb super tall buildings! But when her own super strength gets the better of her, she ends up causing absolute mayhem — everywhere. Will Mia be able to rebuild the walls she broke down at PITS, one-by-one?

Why I like this book:

Mia Mayhem is a perfect chapter book series that will captivate the hearts and imaginations of young readers who are transitioning from picture books. The language is simple, with short sentences. The print is bold and a little larger, making reading easier. The writing is fast-paced with a lot of action to satisfy readers.  The plot is simple and deals with everyday real-life situations for kids, like panic, clumsiness and friendship. And, their are places with bold words, like “CRASH!…SNAP…BAM…SPLOSH!” will entertain young readers.

Mia is a spunky, high-energy character, who creates a lot of chaos in her wake.  She is strong and ambitious, and kind.  At regular school, she is regular Mia Macarooney, and keeps her hero status a secret. “I admit, sometimes I wish I could tell the whole world, But as a superhero, I need to protect my secret identity.” Her ego is well intact, after all she is able “to save the day before the day even starts.”  Mia’s best friend Eddie knows her secret, and is a great side-kick in covering for her when she accidentally pulls off the classroom doorknob, breaks the her desk leg and punches a hole in the gym ceiling during volleyball game. Will she get her superpowers under control. There is a great cast of diverse characters in the story.

The cartoon-like illustrations are just right for this series. They are part of the text at times, which help young readers understand the action.

Make sure you check out the Mia Mayhem series: Mia Mayhem Superhero!, Mia Mayhem Learns to Fly!, Mia Mayhem vs. the Bully!, Mia Mayhem Stops Time!

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.

Dream Within a Dream by Patricia MacLachlan

Dream Within a Dream

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Margaret K. McElderry Books, Fiction, May 7, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 128

Themes: Farm Life, Multigenerational relationships, Family, Adolescence, Island, Storms, Friendship, Love

Opening: My grandfather Jake’s Deer Island farm runs down to the sea – sweet grass slipping to water.

Book Synopsis

Louisa, short for Louisiana, is in for a long summer.

When her globe-trotting, bird-watching parents go abroad, they leave Louisa and her younger brother, Theo, on Deer Island with their grandparents, Jake and Boots, same as they always do.

Jake brings a library of books to read. Louisa would rather be off having adventures with their parents. She’s a secret writer, and there’s nothing on all of Deer Island to write about—right?

The difference is that this year, Jake’s eyesight if failing.

This year, Theo doesn’t want to go back to the mainland at the end of the summer.

This year, Louisa meets George, a boy who helps her see the world in a whole new light.

Why I like this book:

Patricia MacLachlan’s signature style showcases her talent to tell a heartwarming story that celebrates multigenerational family relationships, friendship and love — new and old — with beauty and simplicity. Her prose is lyrical, the narrative is gentle, the plot is engaging with the right amount of tension, and the ending is satisfying and uplifting.

The characters are memorable. Louisa is an adventuresome spirit with a large mass of curly red hair. Theo is an “old” soul, thoughtful, contemplative and kind. For Theo, the island is a dream. Grandmother Boots, is a lively, upbeat and strong force in the family. Her real name is Lily, but she loves and stomps around in colorful “wellies,” so her family call her Boots. Grandpa Jake, a farmer, is losing his eyesight. He remains positive and is secretly teaching a neighbor boy, George, how to drive, so he doesn’t lose his freedom and his prized 1938 Cord car. George and his family live on the island, but spend a lot of time in Africa.

This is a good story for readers moving into middle grade books. With short chapters, it can also be read out loud to young children. It is a lively summer read with dancing and tropical storms.

Favorite Quote:

Boots knows most everything. She knows, for instance, that her son — my father — and his wife — my mother — are “dense” about some things even though they’re “disturbingly intelligent,” as she puts it. Boots is my hero.

Patricia MacLachlan is the celebrated author of many timeless novels for young readers, including Newbery Medal winner Sarah, Plain and Tall; Word After Word; Kindred Souls; The Truth of Me; The Poet’s Dog; and My Father’s Words. She is also the author of countless beloved picture books, a number of which she cowrote with her daughter, Emily. She lives in Williamsburg, Massachusetts.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Birds of Paradise by Pamela S. Wight

Birds of Paradise

Pamela S. Wight, Author

Shelley A. Steinle, Illustrator

Borgo Publishing, May 1, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Birds, Overcoming fear and danger, Self-confidence, Bullying, Friendship

Opening: “Bessie and Bert are Birds — sparrows, humans call them. They just call themselves birds.” 

Synopsis:

Bessie and her brothers and sisters hatch from their shells, while their parents feed them fat bugs and  warn them about the danger that lurks around them. Thunderstorms and Blue Jays scare Bessie. But so do cats. When it’s time to fly from the nest, Bessie is hesitant to leave its security and needs some nudging from her mom. Still she stays close to the tree, afraid to explore the world around her.

Bessie meets Bert, a risk taker who finds joy in life. He dives for grass seed and soars high above the forest listening to the wind.  Bert is so busy enjoying life that he lets his guard down and nearly becomes dinner for a prowling cat. After he loses his tail to the cat, Bert is bullied by the other birds for his recklessness. Bessie and Bert become friends and encourage each other. Together they explore the world.

Why I like this book:

Pamela Wight’s Birds of Paradise is a heartwarming story for children about balancing fear with the simple joys of life.  And chirping sparrows are the perfect medium to tell a beautiful story of friendship and taking care of each other — all valuable life lessons. This is a story for all ages.

Wight is a lyrical author. Her captivating prose simply transport her readers. “Like the sunrise after a snowstorm?” Bert asks with excitement. “Or the flock of birds diving together in the summer sunshine?” 

Shelley A. Steinle’s illustrations are beautiful, lively and expressive. She depicts a variety of bird species with intricate detail. There is a lot to study on each page. Children will enjoy searching for the lady bug Steinle has hidden on each page.

Resources: Birds of Paradise will encourage children to observe birds in their own backyards. Summer is ending and birds are preparing for the winter. Some will migrate. Take a walk in the woods and listen to their bird chatter. Search the skies for the migrating bird formations. Draw a picture of what you observe.

Pamela Wight is a successful author of romantic suspense as well as the author of the illustrated children’s book, Birds of Paradise, enjoyed by readers ages 3 to 93. She earned her Master’s in English from Drew University, continued with postgraduate work at UC Berkeley in publishing, and teaches creative writing classes in Boston and San Francisco. The gorgeously illustrated book was a  finalist in the 2018 International Book Awards. Visit Wight at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Review copy provided by the author.

Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo

Beverly, Right Here

Kate DiCamillo, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 24, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Pages: 256

Themes: Runaways, Loss, Family relationships, Friendship, Kindness

Opening: “Buddy died, and Beverly buried him, and then she set off toward Lake Clara.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Beverly Tapinski has run away from home plenty of times, but that was when she was just a kid. Now that she’s fourteen years old, she figures it’s not running away. It’s leaving,

Determined to make it on her own, Beverly finds a job and a place to live and tries to forget about her dog, Buddy, now buried underneath the orange trees back home; her friend Raymie, whom she left without a word; and her alcoholic mom, Rhonda, who has never cared about anyone but herself. Beverly doesn’t want to depend on anyone, and she definitely doesn’t want anyone to depend on her. But despite her best efforts, she can’t help forming connections with the people around her — and gradually, she learns to herself through their eyes.

Why I like this book:

It is always a pleasure to read and review a new Kate DiCamillo book. Her imagery and vocabulary sparkle without weighty text. A gifted storyteller, DiCamillo challenges readers with big questions about the meaning of home, family, friendships, belonging, and self-discovery. There is so much to love about Beverly, Right Here and it’s heroine, Beverly Tapinski was first introduced to readers in Raymie Nightingale.  It is the final book in the series about three friends. If you haven’t read the second book, Louisiana’s Way Home, make sure you grab a copy.

I love the voices DiCamillo creates for her main characters. Beverly’s voice is determined and defining because of her soul searching journey to embrace herself. She sees herself as an independent loner. She doesn’t want or need anyone. Or does she? Once she arrives in Tamaray, it doesn’t take Beverly long to land a job at a fish restaurant busing tables.  She finds a couch to sleep on at Iola Jenkins, an eccentric old woman who lives alone in a trailer park. Along the way she meets Elmer, who works at a convenience store before he heads to Dartmouth College in the fall. He’s shy and self-conscious, but has a generous heart. A colorful, humorous and engaging relationship unfolds between Beverly, Iola and Elmer.

Beverly, Right Here is an excellent middle grade discussion book. Once released, there will be a teacher’s guide and a book group discussion guide.

Favorite Quote:

“Imagine if you hadn’t found my trailer. Imagine if I didn’t need someone to drive the Pontiac. Then me and you wouldn’t have become friends, and you wouldn’t know how to dance. Oh, I’m glad I needed you. I’m glad you needed me. “I didn’t really need you,” said Beverly. “Yes, you did, honey,” said Iola. “Yes, you did,” said Elmer from the back seat. “Okay,” said Beverly. “Whatever you people say.” Page 207

Kate DiCamillo is the author of many books for young readers. Her books have been awarded the Newbery Medal (Flora & Ulysses in 2014 and The Tale of Despereaux in 2004); the Newbery Honor (Because of Winn-Dixie, 2001), the Boston Globe Horn Book Award (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, 2006), and the Theodor Geisel Medal and honor (Bink and Gollie, co-author Alison McGhee, 2011; Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride, 2007). She is a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Emerita, appointed by the Library of Congress.

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

*Review copy provided by publisher.

Emily Out of Focus by Miriam Spitzer Franklin

Emily Out of Focus

Miriam Spitzer Franklin, Author

Sky Pony Press, Fiction,  May 7, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: China, Adoptions, Siblings, Travel, Photography, Family Relationships, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Emily is flying with her parents to China to adopt and bring home a new baby sister. She’s excited but nervous to travel across the world and very aware that this trip will change her entire life. And the cracks already starting to show the moment the reach the hotel — her parents are all about the new baby and have no interest in exploring with Emily.

In the adoption trip group, Emily meets Katherine, a Chinese American girl whose family has returned to China to adopt a second child. The girls eventually become friends and Katherine reveals a secret: she’s determined to find her birth mother, and she wants Emily’s help. But both girl’s families have forbidden the girls to leave the hotel room to explore even the lobby gift shops with out adults. How will they be able to execute Katherine’s plans?

New country, new family, new responsibilities — it’s all a lot to handle, and Emily has never felt more alone.

What I like about this book:

Emily Out of Focus is a heartwarming and fast-paced read that will appeal to readers who are expecting new additions in their families through birth, adoption or fostering a child. It drew me in immediately since both our children were adopted — an older son from India and a newborn daughter locally.

Emily’s regular diary entries give readers insight into her reluctant feelings about the adoption her new sister, Mei Lin, from China.  After all, isn’t she enough? She also has fears about flying, eating real Chinese food, losing her Nana’s prized camera she’s hiding in her backpack, and not being able to really see China and taking the photos she needs to win a photographic scholarship to a special camp because she’ll be stuck in a hotel room with a new baby and family. And, then there is the secret photojournalist project she’s working on keeping to help her friend.

Emily’s shared love of photography with her deceased grandmother, who was an award-winning photographer for National Geographic, is touching. Her grandmother’s voice always seems to be around to guide her through her journey and the final project Emily focuses on at the end.

Emily’s friendship with Chinese-American Katherine, who wants to locate her Chinese mother or family members. Designated “finding spots” in China was a new concept for me. With the limitation on how many children parents could have, China has designated places where mothers can leave a new born.

Since the author is experienced in adopting children from China, the details, red tape and ceremonial dress traditions and picture-taking that are part of the process are fascinating. I enjoyed the group trips to the box store (huge Walmart) where the families buy baby clothing, bottles, strollers and diapers; the visit to the orphanage where new infants lay in little cribs close to the floor and strapped to the railings; and the visit to the “finding spot” for each adopted child.

Miriam Spitzer Franklin has been sharing her love of reading and writing with students for years as an elementary and middle school teacher. She is the author of Extraordinary and Call Me Sunflower. She currently teaches language arts to middle school students in Waxhaw, NC. Miriam lives with her husband, two daughters-one who was adopted from China, and two pampered cats in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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.

Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh

Nowhere Boy

Katherine Marsh, Author

Roaring Brook Press, Fiction, Aug. 7, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Boat refugee, Syrian crisis, American boy, Belgium, Resilience, Friendship, Self-discovery, Hope

Book Synopsis: Fourteen-year-old Ahmed is stranded in a city that wants nothing to do with him. Newly arrived in Brussels, Belgium, Ahmed fled a life of uncertainty and suffering in Syria. He loses his mother and sister when their home is bombed. He flees with his father on a perilous journey to the shores of Europe. The rubber boat they are in takes on water, and Ahmed’s father jumps into the water with two other men to pull the boat to shore. But his father is lost to the sea. One of the men, Ibrahim looks after Ahmed and takes him to Belgium, where they end up in a tent city. Ahmed flees and is struggling to get by on his own, with no one left, no money and nowhere to go, his hope  fading.

Then he meets Max, a thirteen-year-old boy from Washington D.C., who is living with his family in Belgium for a year. Max is having trouble at his new school learning French and just can’t seem to do anything right, according to his parents. But with one startling discovery, Max and Ahmed’s lives collide and a friendship begins to grow. Ahmed is hiding in a wine cellar of Max’s home and needs help. Together Ahmed and Max will defy the odds, learning from each other what it means to be brave and how hope can change your destiny.

Why I like this book:

Nowhere Boy has a gripping plot that won’t let you go until you finish the book — all 358 pages. Ahmed’s journey is perilous across the sea. But the journey that Ahmed and Max make across Europe is even more thrilling. It gives readers an important snapshot of how refugees are welcomed in some countries and treated like criminals in others. There are so many themes covered in this book: refugee crisis, Syrian war, terrorism in France and Belgium, Islamophobia and heroism. This is an important classroom book.

The alternating chapters by Max and Ahmed’s strong voices, adds depth to the characters and the expert storytelling. Readers will enjoy meeting Max, Ahmed, Farah and Oscar. Max is clearly the hero of the story when he decides to hide Ahmed in his basement wine cellar to keep him safe from the unwelcoming Belgium police. Although he isn’t doing well in his new school,  he is smart, determined and cleverly outsmarts a lot of people. Max has an intuitive sense of people and a huge heart. Ahmed is resilient, thoughtful and never gives up on his dreams of returning to school and making a better life for himself.  Max recruits Farah, a Muslim girl born in Belgium and Oscar, the school bully to help him create an identity for Ahmed so he can attend school. Oscar is a surprising character and who has an interesting journey of his own in this story.

Max lives on a street named Albert Jonnart.  Jonnart hid a Jewish boy during WW II in his home, helped  him escape the Nazi’s, but was sent to a labor camp himself. Max sees the comparison between Jonnart and Anne Frank’s story and similarities between the Jewish and the Syrian refugees. He learns as much as he can about Jonnart. It gives Max the courage and inner strength to plan and execute what he feels is “right” for Ahmed, just like Jonnart did.

This is a timely book that clearly demonstrates what fear does to people.  Madame Pauline, a woman Max’s parents hired to keep an eye on him after school, views all Syrians and Muslims as dangerous and potential terrorists. Her life is consumed with fear and hatred, as are other characters in the story who remember how WW II weakened Europe. This is an important topic for discussion.

Nowhere Boy is an exciting read packed with history (past and present), but it’s also a book about friendship, self-discovery and hope. It belongs in classrooms as an important discussion book. Make sure you read the interview questions with the author, Katharine Marsh, at the end of the book and visit her website.

Katherine Marsh is the Edgar Award-winning author of The Night Tourist; The Twilight Prisoner; Jepp, Who Defied the Stars; and The Doors by the Staircase. Katherine grew up in New York and now lives in Brussels, Belgium, 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 link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord

Because of the Rabbit

Cynthia Lord, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Mar. 26, 2019

Pages: 192

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Rabbit, Rescue, New school, Feeling different, Special Needs, Friendship

Book Synopsis:

It is a powerful thing to rescue something. It changes both of you.

On the last night of summer vacation, Emma tags along with her game warden father on a call. They expect to rescue a wild rabbit that’s stuck in a picket fence, but instead they find a honey-colored little bunny, maybe someone’s pet. Emma convinces her father to bring him home for the night. She knows that rabbits can be lucky — and she needs all the luck she can get.

Because the next day, Emma starts public school for the very first time. After years of being homeschooled, she’s ready to ride the bus and eat in a cafeteria as a brand new fifth grader. More than anything, Emma wants a best friend, someone who’s always on her side.

But things don’t go as planned. On the first day of school, she’s paired with a boy named Jack for a project. He can’t stay on topic, he speaks out of turn, and he’s obsessed with animals. Jack does not fit in.

As Emma and Jack bond over her rescue rabbit, she worries that being seen with Jack will mean that’s she’s different, too. Will their friendship keep Emma from finding the best friend she’s meant to have?

Why I like this book:

A heart warming story about the bond between Emma and a rabbit that helps her face some major changes in her life. This sweet honey-colored rabbit nuzzles her neck and her worries melt away. She names him Monsieur Lapin, after a rabbit character in her deceased grandfather’s magical stories. Perhaps Pépère (grandfather) may be sending some rabbit magic and her life will be okay.

Lord writes characters with depth. I really enjoyed Emma’s relationship with her brother, Owen, and the clever banter between them that runs throughout the story. For example on Emma’s first day of school, Owen asks her, “So who’s ahead. Scared or Excited?” Emma responds, “excited has been training all summer for this day. Scared forgot to eat breakfast.”  Owen slides a rock into her hand that says, “Be Yourself,” and tells her to look at it when she needs it most. Their sibling relationship sealed Lord’s story for me, because it is such special and unusual. And Emma’s relationship with a classmate, Jack, who is on the on the autism spectrum, took time to develop and was well worth the outcome. Jack knows a lot of facts about rabbits and their relationship is sealed with their love of animals.

Each chapter of the book starts with a torn piece of notebook paper with a rabbit fact: “If a rabbit refuses food, it can quickly become an emergency,” or “Rabbits are the third-most surrendered pets to animals shelters, behind dogs and cats.” Fun tidbits readers will enjoy.

I enjoyed learning about at the end how Lord explains how her books begin from a tiny  “seed” of her real life and allows it to percolate over time until a story begins to form. And yes, she has rabbits.  Many of the characters in this story are based on family members, including her son who has a sensory issues. She beautifully weaves them into her story.

Cynthia Lord is the award-winning author of Rules, a Newbery Honor Book and a Schneider Family Book Award winner, as well as the critically acclaimed Half a Chance and A Handful of Stars. She made her picture-book debut with Hot Rod Hamster, which won several awards, including the Parents’ Choice Award, and is the author of the Shelter Pet Squad chapter book series. She lives in Maine with her family. Visit her 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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu

The Lost Girl

Anne Ursu, Author

Erin McGuire, Drawings

Walden Pond Press, Fiction, Feb. 12, 2019

Pages: 356

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Twin sisters, Differences, Bond, Magical realism, Mystery, Friendship

Opening: “The two sisters were alike in every way, except for all the ways that they were different.”

Synopsis: When you’re an identical twin, your story always starts with someone else. For Iris, that means her story starts with Lark. Iris has always been the grounded, capable, and rational one; Lark is inventive, dreamy, and brilliant — and from their first moments in the world together, they’ve never left each other’s side. Everyone around them realized early on what the two sisters already knew: they had better outcomes when they were together.

When fifth grade arrives, it is decided that Iris and Lark Maguire should be split into different classrooms. Something breaks in them both. Iris is no longer so confident and acts out at school. Lark retreats into herself as she deals with challenges at school.

At the same time, something strange is happening in the city around them when things both great and small go missing without a trace. And a peculiar store, “Treasure Hunters,” opens across the street from the Maguire home. The sisters are intrigued with the odd messages that appear on sign outside the shop –“We Are Here,” “We Are Hunters,” “We Can Find Anything.” While Lark focuses on redecorating a doll house, Iris is secretly trying to uncover the mystery of what is hiding behind the walls of this unusual shop with its very peculiar owner and a crow perched outside. Iris begins to understand that anything can be lost in the blink of an eye in her neighborhood. She decides it’s up to her to find a way to keep her sister safe.

Why I like this book:

Anne Ursu has written an exhilarating, multi-layered and complex novel that touches on magic and realism. The Lost Girl is a coming-of-age story about the magic of sisterhood. The magic of friendships you least expect. The magic of losing yourself, but discovering you are stronger than you imagine. But there is another mysterious magic lurking nearby that is morphing into something that is far more sinister and dangerous.  Fans will find her plot twist suspenseful and gripping and cheer for the sisters “when the monsters really come.”

Ursu is a lyrical writer, so readers will experience many poetic turns of phrases. The storytelling is exceptional, because a mysterious narrator tells the twins’ story, adding another layer of meaning and wonder. I will admit it did drive me crazy trying to identify the narrator. But, never fear. All is revealed at the end. McGuire’s beautiful pen and ink drawings compliment the story and draw readers deeply into the mystery.

Ursu’s character development is outstanding as she aptly captures how teen girls express themselves. In the beginning Iris and Lark appear to be normal girls, who are different in the way they dress and see the world. But they perfectly balance each other with their strengths and weaknesses. Iris is practical and Lark sees beyond the story. The twin bond is powerful and the story revolves around their relationship. Readers really begin to understand the twins when they are separated at school and join different afterschool clubs. Lark retreats into herself and Iris acts out. And I would be remiss in not mentioning Iris’s gang of capable girlfriends who appear to help the twins defeat the darkness in an unusual turn of fate.

The Lost Girl is an excellent book for school libraries and for group discussions. It is an exciting mystery, a tribute to family, sisterhood and new friendships, and finding yourself when you feel lost.

Anne Ursu is the author of Breadcrumbs, named one of the best books of 2011 by School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Amazon.com., and the Chicago Public Library, and The Real Boy, which was long listed for the National Book Award and chosen as one of the New York Public Library’s “One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing.” You can visit her at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) 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.

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.

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.