Wish by Barbara O’Connor

Wish

Barbara O’Connor, Author

Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Aug. 30, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Separation, Dogs, Family Relationships, Friendship, Social Issues, Hope

Synopsis: Charlemagne (Charlie) Reese has been making the same secret wish every day since fourth grade. Charlie knows all the ways to make a wish, like looking at a clock at exactly 11:11, finding a four-leaf clover, spotting a shiny penny in the dirt, observing a black cat cross the road or blowing on a dandelion. But when she is sent to live with and aunt and uncle she barely knows in a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, it seems unlikely that her wish will ever come true. That is until she meets Wishbone, a skinny stray dog who captures her heart, and Howard a neighbor boy who proves surprising in lots of ways. Suddenly Charlie is in danger of discovering that what she though she wanted may not be at all what she needs.

Why I like this book:

Wish is a richly textured an emotionally honest story about separation. Charlie’s father is in jail. Her mother is depressed and unable to care for her. Barbara O’Connor weaves together a moving story about friendship, belonging and finding family.

Wish is told from Charlie’s viewpoint. The narrative is seamless and the plot is well-paced with just the right amount of adventure and tension to keep readers turning pages.  It is also a beautiful story that is filled with heart and teaches the power and bond of community. Add a dog and you have the perfect read for teens.

Charlie is a spunky and resilient character with a temper, which she believes she inherited. She later regrets the mean and hurtful things she says. At first she hates Colby, N.C., the hillbilly kids and the ugly house she lives in that sits on the edge of a cliff. But she also shows her compassion to people and animals who are worth caring about — even though they are different or may be a scrawny stray dog she names Wishbone.  Howard is a great balance for Charlie. He has one leg shorter than the other and has dealt with mean kids and teasing his whole life.  He is kindhearted and has learned to forgive and accept others for who they are — a big lesson for Charlie. She even tests Uncle Gus and Aunt Bertha with her outbursts, but their love and patience give Charlie a sense of belonging.

Barbara O’Connor was born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina. She has written many award-winning books for children, including How to Steal a Dog and The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester. Visit Barbara O’Connor at her website.

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

The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff

The Great Treehouse War

Lisa Graff, Author

Philomel Books, Fiction, May 16, 2017

Suitable for Ages : 8-12

Themes: Parents, Divorce, Interpersonal relationships, Friendship, Tree houses, Humor

Synopsis: On the last day of fourth grade, everything in Winnie’s world changed. That was the day Winnie’s parents got divorced and decided that Winnie would live three days a week with each of them and spend Wednesdays by herself in a treehouse smack between their houses, to divide her time  evenly. Before the divorce, her parents didn’t care much about holidays except Thanksgiving. When her mother realized she was never going to celebrate Thanksgiving with Winnie because it fell on Thursday, she decided to pick a new holiday and celebrate it better. The competition began and soon every day was a special holiday, as each parent tried to outdo the other: Ice Cream Sandwich Day, Underwear Day, National Slinky Day, Talk Like Shakespeare Day, and so on. Winnie was kept so busy, she couldn’t study or finish her homework. Wednesdays in the Treehouse became a sanctuary with her cat, Buttons. When her teacher warned her she was at risk of  not passing fifth grade, Winnie had enough. That’s when Winnie’s seed of frustration with her parents was planted.  That seed  grew until it felt like it was as big as a tree itself.

By the end of fifth grade, Winnie decided that the only way to change things was to barricade herself in her treehouse until her parents come to their senses.  Her friends ,who have their own parent issues,  decided to join her. It’s kids versus grown-ups, and no one wants to back down first. But with ten demanding kids in one treehouse, Winnie discovered that things can get pretty complicated pretty fast!

Why I like this book:

Lisa Graff’s witty storytelling makes The Great Treehouse War a superb summer read for kids. And it will fulfill any child’s dream of wanting to live in a treehouse — especially a two-story treehouse built 15 feet off the ground.  It is equipped with a bathroom, art station, skylights, bookshelves, a toaster oven, shelves full of fruit loops and a zip line escape to Winnie’s Uncle Huck’s house.

It is a cleverly designed book by Graff for kids who are in fifth grade and preparing to move on to middle school. It offers readers both tantalizing prose and humorous drawings and doodles, maps, sticky note comments, how-to instructions, plans, and treehouse rules. It has a comic book appeal to it and is perfect for the intended age group.

There are 10 Tulip Street kids with 10 very distinct and quirky personalities, which add to the fun and mayhem. Their diversity is uneventful, because the only way you know they are diverse is by their names like Winifred Malladi-Maraj (aka Winnie). Winnie is a spunky, creative, compassionate and courageous heroine.  She possesses what she and Uncle Huck describe at “artist vision,” where she is able to intuitively observe the needs of others. Her cat, Buttons, is the greatest cat in the world.  Other memorable characters include: Lyle and his tooth collection; Jolee the scrabble champ; Greta and her friendship bracelets; the twins Brogan the acrobat and Logan the jokester; and Tabitha and her lizards.

The plot is wacky and unique because Winnie’s divorced parents have her trapped in the middle of their selfish battle for equal access to their daughter. Any child being pulled in two different directions by divorced parents, will relate to the unfairness of it all.  Graff’s silly and sometimes outrageous approach to divorce is age appropriate and makes the topic easier to digest. There are other unusual subplots that make this book such a clever read, but I won’t spoil it for readers.

Lisa Graff is the critically acclaimed and award-winning author of A Clatter of Jars, Lost in the Sun, Absolutely Almost, A Tangle of Knots, Double Dog Dare, Sophie Simon Solves Them All, Umbrella Summer, The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower, and The Thing About Georgie. You can visit Lisa Graff at her website.

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

Mine! by Jeff Mack

Mine!

Jeff Mack, Author and Illustrator

Chronicle Books, Fiction, May 9, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 2-5

Themes: Mice, Animals, Possessiveness, Quarreling, Sharing, Friendship

Opening: Mine!

“Mine!” This one word is powerful when you add two mice, who find a large rock and each one declares ownership. A battle ensues with the two trying to outsmart each other by dangling tantalizing morsels of cheese from a fishing pole and bearing other gifts. As the stakes get higher for who will own the rock, a dump truck backs up with a load rocks to knock one of the mice off the rock. One victor is momentarily triumphant, while the other builds a rock fortress around his rock. A wrecking ball brings the rock wall tumbling down. In the final battle, the two mice both stand on top of the rock facing each other with fists raised and yelling “Mine! Mine! Mine!” at each other. And then something happens and they both are in for a big surprise!

This is the first time I’ve reviewed a picture book with only one word. Jeff Mack’s zany story is highly entertaining with great pacing. His bold and  colorful illustrations are expressive and show the building tension between the two mice, one blue and the other orange, as they try to outsmart each other. You have to love that cover!

This is a perfect read-aloud story for young children who are learning to share.  It is a clever book about sibling rivalry and one that will elicit giggles from children. It’s a great book for about learning how to solve problems. This book belongs in every pre-school classroom.

Jeff Mack has drawn since early childhood, when he would illustrate his own stories, particularly about monsters, robots and pinball machines. He has illustrated more than 30 children’s books, including Ah Ha! and Good News, Bad News, both of which he also authored. Visit Jeff Mack at his website.

** I won Mine! from Sue Morris’ website, Kid Lit Reviews. Check out her honest and objective reviews of the most recent book releases.

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.

Time Jump Coins By Susan May Olson

Time Jump Coins: An Adventure in Historic Philadelphia

Susan May Olson, Author & Publisher

Fiction, May 17, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Time travel, Historic Philadelphia, Different Abilities, Diversity, Friendship

Synopsis (GoodReads): Imagine if you could time travel to the past just by rubbing the date on a penny!

Ten-year-olds Joey (Johanna) and Eli can time travel to any year between 1859 and 1909, simply by rubbing a coin from a set of Indian Head pennies! Old Philadelphia can be a lot of fun. They see the first phone and climb up the arm of the Statue of Liberty at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition. They get to go on a sleigh ride through a Wissahickon winter wonderland.

In between trips, Hal, proprietor of Hal’s Coins and Collectibles, teaches them tons of interesting facts about coins. However, their adventures take a serious turn when they wind up in a textile mill in Manayunk. They are shocked by the conditions for children working in the mill. They get mistaken for workers and are forced to work. They’ll be lucky if they don’t fall into the dangerous gears of the machines!

Joey wants a friend more than anything. The fact that Eli is a super-smart history whiz should make him the ideal time travel partner. But Joey has a bad temper, and Eli has Asperger’s Syndrome. Will their quirks drive them apart, or worse, get them stranded in the past forever?

Why I like this book:

Susan May Olson’s debut novel is a whimsical time-travel adventure to historic Philadelphia for Joey (Johanna) and Eli. Olson has spun a story of pure magic around an inherited 50-coin collection of Indian Head Cents, that when rubbed can take the two fifth graders back to Philadelphia between 1859-1909,  and when pinched can return them home. What a clever way to travel back in time and experience history first-hand.

The main characters are memorable, but couldn’t be more opposite. Joey has a bad temper and Eli has different abilities and is socially awkward with people. But they share one thing in common — neither have friends. They are assigned to sit next to each other on the bus and they gain a respect for each other. Since Eli is a history buff, Joey shares her magic coin collection with him and its secret. Eli does much of the research for their coin jump leaps. Their growing friendship throughout the story is perhaps the highlight of the book for me.

The plot is clever, fast-paced and filled with adventure, wonder, mystery and danger — if you get lost, injured or lose the penny and don’t return in time.  There are some secrets and surprises in the story. This is a great summer read and I predict tweens will enjoy the Time Jump Coins.

I especially liked Joey and Eli’s interaction with Hal, the coin collector. I had no idea that each coin has a mint mark on it beneath “In God We Trust.”  P for Philadelphia, D for Denver, S for San Francisco and W for West Point.

Favorite entry from Joey’s Journal:

“The most popular kids are like a pop song you hear on the radio that everyone likes right away…And then there are other kids that are like a painting hanging on a wall that most people including you walk right by and never notice. But one day you walk by that painting and take a long look. You’re not even sure you like it at first, but you walk by slowly because you want to get to know it better. The more you get familiar with the painting, the more you realize how much there is to it and how cool it is. My friend Eli is that kind of painting.”

Susan May Olson is a former speech-language pathologist who lives with her family in Chapel Hill, N.C.  Time Jump Coins is her debut novel. Visit Susan at her website, where she’s reviewed over 150 time travel stories.

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

Fort by Cynthia DeFelice

Fort

Cynthia DeFelice, Author

 Square Fish; Reprint edition May 17, 2016, Fiction

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Building a fort, Friendship, Bullies, Standing up for yourself

Opening/Prologue: This is the 100 percent true story of the summer I — Wyatt Jones — was eleven and built a fort in the woods with my friend Augie Valerio.  It isn’t the story I handed in to my teacher about how I spent my summer vacation. See, there’s stuff that happened that you can’t really talk about in school. Not unless you want to get in trouble…

Synopsis: Wyatt and his friend Augie aren’t looking for a fight. They’re having the time of their lives hanging out in the fort they built in the woods, fishing and hunting, cooking over a campfire, and sleeping out. But when two older boys mess with the fort — and with a kid who can’t fight back — the friends are forced to launch Operation Doom, with unexpected results for all concerned.

Why I like this book:

This is a fast-paced adventure story for boys and a terrific summer read! It’s a summer experience boys would dream of having. It is set in the woods of upstate New York and reminds me of a different time period. Wyatt and his dad visit every summer, where his father teaches at a college. Wyatt hangs out with his best friend, Augie who lives there. Wyatt’s father gives him the trust and freedom to just be a boy and enjoy his summer, which is opposite from his mother’s parenting style.

Wyatt and Augie are very different characters. Wyatt is more tech savvy and strategic and Augie is smart about nature, hunting, fishing and survival in the woods. Both boys have a healthy respect for each other’s differences. As a result, their joint talents contribute to the best summer vacation both boys have ever had. There are other interesting characters there to support the boys when needed. But this is really a kids story.

I was pleased that Wyatt and Augie do the right thing when they realize Gerard, who is differently abled, has been mistreated and threatened by the bullies. They befriend Gerard, draw him into their plan, and help him find his voice.

The plot is believable, thrilling, tense and action-packed. It will keep readers quickly turning pages. When Augie and Wyatt discover two older bullies have messed with their fort, it’s time to act. Together they devise the most awesome strategic plan to teach two bullies a valuable lesson. It isn’t mean-spirited, but will make readers chuckle!

Cynthia DeFelice is the author of many popular books, including Wild Life, The Ghost of Fossil Glen, Signal, and the Missing Manatee. Her novels have been nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award and listed as American Library Association Notable Children’s Books. Visit DeFelice at her website.

**I won Fort in drawing on Greg Pattridge’s popular website, Always in the Middle. He reviews interesting and entertaining middle grade books. Please check it out!

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

Cowboy Car by Jeanie Franz Ransom

Cowboy Car

Jeanie Franz Ransom, Author

Ovi Nedelcu, Illustrator

Two Lions, Fiction, Apr. 11, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Cars, Pursuing Dreams, Courage, Friendship

Opening: Ever since he was knee-high to his daddy’s hubcaps, Little Car wanted to be a COWBOY.

Synopsis: Little Car grew up in a crowded city garage where he saw cowboys on TV. He learned that cowboys lived in a place called Out West, where there was a lot of space and they could sleep under the stars. Cowboys could wear big hats, drive the range, herd cattle and circle the campfire.  Little Car wanted to be a cowboy. He didn’t want to live in noisy big city.

Everyone told him that cars couldn’t be cowboys. His dad wanted him to be a taxi cab, like him. His mother wanted him to be a family car, like her. One day Little Car packed up his trunk and headed west until he found a big ranch and Dusty, a cowboy. “Cars can’t be cowboys. They can’t ride horses!” Little Car was so convincing, that Dusty gave him a chance. Will Little Car prove he’s got what it takes to be a cowboy?

Why I like this book:

In his heart Little Car knows he’s destined for greater things.  Little Car has character and determination. Kids will cheer for Little Car and his big ambition to pursue his dream of becoming a cowboy.  They will laugh when Dusty asks him to move a big bales of hay and Little Car ends up beneath the pile. But when Dusty is thrown from a mean bull at a rodeo, Little Car struts his stuff with a big VROOOMMM and drives off to help his friend. The ending is endearing.

Jeanie Franz Ransom’s text flows nicely, with fun wordplay (brake dancing) and excellent pacing.  Ovi Nedelcu adds to the excitement of Little Car’s big adventure with his colorful, expressive and zany illustrations, which will quickly draw children into this entertaining story. Wait until kids get a look at Little Car’s fifty-gallon hat! Verdict: This book is a winner!

Resources: Ask children what kind of car/vehicle (truck, boat, golf cart, camper, bus, train etc.) they would like to be. What color would they want to be? Would they have a name?  Would they have an important job like to do like helping people?  Ask kids to draw a picture of the car/vehicle they’ve selected.

Jeanie Franz Ransom was a cowgirl growing up. She had a pony and a showed horses all over the Midwest. She is now an award-winning author. Her recent titles include Big Red and the Little Bitty Wolf and There’s a Cat in Our Class.  I’ve reviewed both books. You can visit Ransom at her website to learn more.

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