Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action (7) by Darlene Foster

Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action (7) (Amanda Travels)

Darlene Foster, Author

Central Avenue Publishing, Fiction, Sep. 3, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes: Adventure, Travel, Holland, Mystery, Friendship

Synopsis:

Amanda Ross is in Holland with her best friend Leah Anderson to visit the sites, while Leah’s father is doing business there. Top of her list is to visit and photograph all of the tulip fields. Amanda and Leah travel the canals of Amsterdam, visit the Anne Frank House, take pictures at Keukenhof Gardens, see windmills, and visit a wooden shoe factory.

Amanda is eager to find out what happened to her great uncle who never returned from WWII and was declared missing in action. What she doesn’t expect to find and fall in love with is Joey, an abandoned puppy. While trying to find a home for him, she meets Jan, a Dutch boy who offers to help, a suspicious gardener, a strange women on a bicycle and an overprotective goose named Gerald. Follow Amanda, an intrepid traveler, around Holland, as she encounters danger and intrigue as she tries to solve more than one mystery in a foreign country.

Why I like this book:

Darlene Foster has crafted another lively adventure story for young readers who enjoy traveling and solving a good mystery. Fans of the Amanda Travels series will be delighted with this new fast-paced book which has several different themes woven into the story, including a lost puppy and missing rare tulip bulbs, that beautifully come together at the end.

Amanda is an inquisitive and fun-loving character, even though her curiosity causes some mishaps and tense moments — TROUBLE — in the story. But she is a lovable character with  keen radar about people and always ready to solve a good mystery. Her friend Leah is quite the opposite and is a nice balance for Amanda.

Foster captures the gorgeous scenery of Holland through Amanda’s eyes as she samples wonderful pastries like  bankets, filled with an almond paste; samples traditional  Dutch dishes like Hotchpotch Stamppot, mashed potatoes mixed with carrots and onions; inhales the perfume of tulip fields and visits the world’s only floating flower market; visits a wooden shoe, klompen, factory; tours an operational windmill; travels to the top of A’DAM Lookout and ride’s Europe’s highest swing; celebrates King’s Day; and sees more bicyclists than she’s ever imagined.

When Amanda visits the Holten Canadian War Cemetery, history really comes to life. She learns about how the Canadian forces helped liberate Holland during WW II. She walks among the grave sites and feels proud. She remembers her great uncle who joined the Canadian forces in Holland and was reported “missing in action.” Her family never knew what happened to him.  With the help of the cemetery employee, she may find some answers. 

She also learns a little geography about how  Holland is beneath sea level. The country has creatively dealt with this constant environmental issue by building dikes and constructing homes on stilts that are buried deep beneath the ground.

Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action is the seventh book in the Amanda Travels series: Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask; Amanda in Spain: The Girl in the Painting; Amanda in England: The Missing Novel; Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone; Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music; and Amanda in New Mexico : Ghosts in the Wind. Foster has written the books in such a manner that they can be read in any order, but I recommend you start with the first book.

Resources: Make sure you check out the discussion questions at the end of the book.

Darlene Foster grew up on a ranch outside of Alberta. She dreamt of writing, travelling the world and meeting interesting people. She also believes everyone is capable of making their dreams come true. It’s no surprise that she’s now the award-winning author of a children’s adventure series about a travelling twelve-year-old-girl. A world-traveler herself, Darlene spends her time in Vancouver, Canada and Costa Blanca in Spain with her husband and amusing dog, Dot. Visit Darlene Foster 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 author.

The Dog Who Lost His Bark by Eoin Colfer

The Dog Who Lost His Bark

Eoin Colfer, Author

P.J. Lynch, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 10, 2019

Pages: 144

Suitable for Ages: 7-10 years

Themes: Boy, Dog, Rescue shelter, Divorce, Music, Multigenerational family

Opening: “The LOUD MAN called him DOG. Or PUP. Or MONGREL. But mostly DOG.”

Synopsis: Patrick Coin’s dad is a musician and in Australia, while Patrick and his mother are spending their summer vacation at Grandad’s house. Patrick is puzzled by his father’s absence and isn’t satisfied with his mother’s answers. She suggests Patrick get a dog.

Patrick has longed for a dog of his own forever. With his father away, he could use a best friend more than ever. Grandad suggests they visit the local rescue shelter. Patrick chooses a small, sad dog in the last cage. He names him Oz.

In his short doggy life, Oz has suffered at the hands of bad people. Somewhere out there, he believes, is an awesome boy — his boy. And maybe, when they find each other, Oz will learn to bark again.

Why I like this book:

The cover shouts “read me.” Dog’s face is so sad and lonely.  Nearly every page is accompanied by P.J. Lynch’s realistic and expressive pencil illustrations that illuminate  Eoin Colfer’s heartwarming story and makes it sing.

Readers first meet Dog, who is mistreated and discarded in a dump by previous owners. Dog stops barking because he knows barking means no food and trouble. He’s rescued and taken to a shelter. When Patrick meets Dog, he sees the pup as a “potential soul mate.” Patrick names him Oz. Dog is cautious and afraid, but Patrick is patient and loving.

The story also follows Patrick who has to cope with an absentee father, his parents’ separation and new partners, and some tough choices to make. Foturnately Patrick has a strong bond with his grandfather and a devoted dog who loves him. I enjoy reading stories about multigenerational relationships.

I love how Colfer uses the power of music to heal the mistreated dog, and later, Patrick.  When Grandad plays a melody on a tin whistle, Oz whines most of the tune back to him. Patrick pulls out his violin and starts to play a tune and Oz howls it back to him. Oz finds music soothing and the two create a bond of trust, that carries through to the end of the story, when Patrick discovers the truth of his parents’ separation. Oz knows what Patrick needs to heal.

This inspiring story by Eoin Colfer, internationally best-selling author of the Artemis Fowl fantasy series, is certain to enchant many readers, who will undoubtedly relate to Patrick’s sitution.

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 provided by the publisher.

On Snowden Mountain by Jeri Watts

On Snowden Mountain

Jeri Watts, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 10, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 208

Themes: Mental illness, Separation, WW ll, Abuse, Mountain community, Friendship

Book Synopsis:

Ellen’s mother has struggled with depression before, but not like this. With her father away fighting in World War II and her mother unable to care for them, Ellen’s only option is to reach out to her cold, distant Aunt Pearl. Soon enough, city-dwelling Ellen and her mother are shepherded off to the countryside to Aunt Pearl’s home, a tidy white cottage at the base of Snowden Mountain.

Adjusting to life in a small town is no easy thing: the school has one room, one of her classmates smells of skunks, and members of the community seem to whisper about Ellen’s family. She worries that depression is a family curse to which she’ll inevitably succumb, Ellen slowly begins to carve out a space for herself and her mother on Snowden Mountain in this thoughtful, heartfelt middle-grade novel.

Why I like this book:

Jeri Watts has written a richly textured story with a heartwarming narrative about the bond of family, community and their connection to each other. I meandered my way through this story which culminated in a satisfying ending that left me feeling hopeful for Ellen, her family and friends.

The characters are colorful. Ellen is resilient even though her mother is lost to a spell of deep sadness within and her father overseas serving his country. This Baltimore city girl has a lot to get used to living with lively Aunt Pearl — no indoor plumbing, no electricity and outhouses.  Aunt Pearl is a strong woman who speaks her mind. She is stern on the outside and creates a safe space (with structure and hard work) for Ellen, but on the inside she is a generous soul. Ellen develops a friendship with a creative and sensitive boy, Russell Armentrout (Skunk Boy) can’t read or write because he is forced to trap skunks by his drunk and abusive father. Russell teaches Ellen about the nature around her and the special traits of animals. Ellen teaches him to read and count. She also meets other memorable characters who impact her life like Moselle Toms, the town gossip and troublemaker and Miss Spencer, the school teacher.

Watts introduces the reader to some heavy topics: parental separation, mental illness (depression and bipolar disorders), alcoholism, physical and emotional abuse (both child and spousal).  Both Ellen and Russell form a bond as they confront the issues of their parents. These are timely and important issues that many readers will easily identify with. This is an excellent discussion book for students.

Favorite Quotes:

She was right. It was “very different” from Baltimore. There were no streetlights, so velvet darkness wrapped around us that night — a dark of such depth I felt it cloaking me so tightly that I was strangling in it.  So soft, so smooth — and yet so deep as to swallow you.”

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.

Snitchy Witch by Frank J. Sileo

Snitchy Witch

Frank J. Sileo, Author

MacKenzie Haley, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Sep. 10, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Tattling vs. Telling, Witches, School, Friendship, Halloween

Opening: It was a full moon at Camp Spellbound. Every year, witches from all over fly in on their brooms. It’s a hair-raising, fun time.

Book Synopsis:

Wanda Witch is a snitch. And Winnie and William and all the other witches at Camp Spellbound can only take so much! Will the snitchy witch find out on her own that she needs to stop snitching? Or will her friends need to use their magical powers to get Wanda to quit?

Why I like this book:

I love how Frank J. Sileo tackles the topic of tattling in a Halloween-themed story. There is a lot of fun word play and a great colorful cast of charachters.

Snitchy Witch is a story kids will understand whether they are the tattler or the teller. This is a perfect book to tackle social skills with children at home or in the classroom. Tattling can be hurtful to others and it can be isolating for the tattler. No one wants to be around a snitch.  It makes other kids angry. Telling is when something is not safe or in trouble.

Wanda is a spunky little witch who just won’t mind her own business. I enjoyed how the other little witches confront her on their own terms and share their feelings of anger and hurt. When Wanda continues to snitch, they cast a spell on her to teach her a lesson.

Oh moon so full, round, and bright. For witches who tattle, witches who snitch, tie their tongues, zip their lips! No witch shall squeal or tell on friends. This spell will be broken when the snitching ends!” 

MacKenzie Haley’s beautiful illustrations are lively, entertaining and colorful. Just look at that cover! She perfectly captures the snitching theme in a humorous tale of learning when it’s important to say something to a teacher/parent or try to work things out on your own.

Resources:  There is a Note to Grown-Up Witches at the end of the book about snitchy little witches. The guide will help little witches talk about the difference between “snitching” and “telling.” This is a great classroom exercise.

Frank J. Sileo, PhD, is a psychologist and the founder and executive director of The Center for Psychological Enhancement in Ridgewood, New Jersey.  He is the author of nine other award-winning children’s books, including Sally Sore Loser: A Story About Winning and Losing, Don’t Put Yourself Down in Circus Town: A Story About Self-Confidence, A World of Pausabilities: An Exercise in Mindfulness, Did You Hear?: A Story About Gossip, Bee Still: An Invitation to Meditation, and Bee Calm: The Buzz on Yoga. Visit  Sileo at his 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 publisher.

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.