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.

The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman

The Bridge Home

Padma Venkatraman, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, Feb. 5, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Themes: Runaways, Homelessness, Survival, India, Friendship, Social issues, Hope

Opening: Talking to you was always easy, Rukku. But writing’s hard.

Synopsis:

Life is tough on the teeming streets of Chennai, India, as runaway sisters Viji and Rukku quickly discover. For cautious-minded Viji, this is not a surprise — but she hadn’t realized just how vulnerable she and her sister would actually feel in this uncaring, dangerous world.

Fortunately, the girls find shelter — and friendship — on an abandoned bridge that’s also the hideout of Muthi and Arul, two homeless boys. The four of them soon form a family of sorts, sharing food and supplies and laughing together about the absurdities of life. And while making their living scavenging the city’s trash heaps is the pits, the kids find plenty to take pride in, too. After all, they are now the bosses of themselves — and are truly hoping to keep it that way…

Padma Venkatraman’s moving survival story brings to light the obstacles faced by young people in many parts of the world, and is inspired by children she met during her years in India. Her heroic characters will touch readers with their perseverance and unwavering love for each other.

Why I love this book:

Padma Venkatraman’s passionate, heartbreaking and hopeful novel sheds light on the extreme poverty of four homeless children in India. Her powerful storytelling and vivid imagery, draws readers into their extraordinary journey. The setting is culturally rich. Venkatraman is a lyrical writer and there are many poetic turns of phrase. The novel is a beautiful love letter written by Viji to her sister, Rukku.

The four heroic children in the story are homeless for different reasons and will touch reader’s hearts. Viji and Rukku bravely flee an abusive and alcoholic father.  Arul’s parents are killed in accident. Muthu’s stepbrother sells him into child labor. Other street children are abandoned on streets or dumped in orphanages. Viji is protective of Rukku, her developmentally challenged sister.

The plot is dangerous and suspenseful, making this story a page turner. Life may be harsh for this four-some as they scale the garbage heaps, but it also shows their resilience, sense of adventure, deep friendship and hope. The richness of their close relationship makes this story shine brightly, even in the face of adversity. They are brothers and sisters. “We’re not just friends, we’re family,” says Arul. 

There are lighter moments when Rukku befriends a stray puppy, she names Kutti. Rukku doesn’t like sifting through garbage and sits beneath a tree stringing beads into intricate necklaces. Her jewelry brings a nice profit in the local markets and helps feed their family. Viji also begins to see what her sister can do, rather than what she can’t do. I love these uplifting moments.

Growing up in India, Venkatraman’s memories of starving children provide the inspiration for her novel, The Bridge Home.  Her story is well-researched and she draws her story from the tales of the children she meets while doing volunteer work with her mother at respectable children’s homes and schools. Most important, I love that she writes about a culture she knows so well. I hope we see more uplifting novels from her in the future.

Padma Venkatraman was born in India and became an American after living in five countries and working as an oceanographer. She is also the author of A Time to Dance, Island’s End, and Climbing the Stairs. Visit her at her website. I highly recommend her other novels.

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

*Purchased copy.

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair

Amy Makechnie, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jun. 12, 2018

Pages: 336

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Brain injury, Memory, Family relationships, Moving, Farm life, Missing persons, Mystery, Friendship

Opening: “I was ten when Gaysie Cutter tried to kill me. It was just like her too — always leaving a bad first impression. Her idea of a welcome wagon came in the middle of July, during my first Iowa heat wave, which was as hot as you know what.”

Synopsis:

Ten-year-old Guinevere St. Clair is going to be a lawyer. She is the fastest girl in New York City. She knows everything there is to about the brain. And she wants to ride into her first day at her new school on a cow named Willowdale Princess Deon Dawn. Gwyn is definitely not the kind of girl you forget.

But that’s just what her mother has done — forgotten. Gwyn’s mother, Vienna, hasn’t been able to remember anything past the age of 13, since she suffered a hypoxic brain injury. Gwyn and her little sister, Bitty, don’t exist in Vienna’s mind. As Gwyn tells Vienna’s new nurse, “we’re practically orphans.”

Gwyn’s father is obsessed with solving the mystery of Vienna’s brain.  He moves his family from New York to Crow, Iowa, where he and Vienna lived as children. He hopes that going home to Crow and surrounding Vienna with familiar friends and family, will jog her memory and help in her recovery.

As soon as they arrive in Crow, Gwyn is hot on the trail of a different case — one she thinks can actually be solved. Farmer Wilbur Truesdale is missing and there’s only one person who could know what happened to him: her brand new next-door archenemy, Gaysie Cutter.

The more Gwyn goes looking for answers, through, the more questions she encounters — about Wilbur, about Gaysie, but also about the mother she’s never gotten the chance to know. Gwyn’s determined to hunt down the truth about everything, but what if the truth isn’t as simple as pointing the blame at someone? What if sometimes the most terrible things that happen aren’t actually anyone’s fault at all?

Why I liked this book:

Amy Makechnie’s debut novel is complex, heartbreaking and hopeful. Her great opening immediately draws readers into the story. The vivid setting, poignant narrative, suspenseful plot and extraordinary characters create and unforgettable experience for readers. Her storytelling is richly crafted and heartwarming.

Gwyn is a genuine and unique character with whom you feel an immediate emotional bond. She is smart, curious, imaginative and jumps to conclusions a little too quickly. Her mother’s hypoxic brain injury impacts Gwyn and forces her to grow up too quickly. The author beautifully weaves Vienna’s injury into the story as a part of Gwyn’s life experience — it’s hard to “not exist” in your mother’s eyes. In her pursuit to solve the mystery about Wilbur’s disappearance, Gwyn uncovers her mother’s past and realizes how much she is like her.

There is a cast of quirky secondary characters that add comic relief. There’s Gaysie, a giant woman who lives in a rundown house with a “backyard that looks like an art exhibit”and is known for burying dead things on her property. Gwyn become best friends with Jimmy, who is always up for an adventure, and Micah (Gaysie’s son), who likes to wear bright pink shorts, sparkling silver shoe laces and is a target for school bullies.  Gwyn’s dentist father, Jed, is devoted to his wife, and Nana, is protective and takes responsibility for everything that happens.

Teens looking for something new and creative, will find The Unforgettable Guinevere St Clair a suspenseful, powerful and entertaining read. The characters will stay with you long after you finish.

Makechnie’s story also touched me on a personal level. Like Gwyn’s mother, my brain was deprived of oxygen following an unfortunate mishap nearly 15 years ago. This is the first children’s novel I’ve read where a hypoxic brain injury is mentioned. It took me back to my injury and made me think about how difficult it was on my family, who was loving, patient and supportive during my years of recovery. Fortunately my children were grown. Brain injuries vary and each person has unique symptoms and outcomes.

Thank you Rosi Hollinbeck for reviewing and recommending this book to me on your wonderful website. 

Amy Makechnie grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, where shoe once tried to sail to the Mississippi River on a large piece of Styrofoam (she didn’t make it). The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair is her first novel. Amy nurtures her fascination with the brain and human body by teaching anatomy and physiology to high school students in a small New England town, where they dissect hearts and memorize long anatomical words. She is the mother of a wily flock of children, all of who provide daily inspiration for writing. You can 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.

Scaredy Book by Devon Sillett

Scaredy Book

Devon Sillett, Author

Cara King, Illustrator

EK Books, Fiction, May 8, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Shyness, Anxiety, New experiences, Comfort zones, Library, Friendship, Bravery

Opening: “Book was full of potential. But sometimes, a pinch of pizzazz, a sprinkling of gumption and a drop of courage come in handy. Book wished to have all those things. But Library was very, very comfortable.”

Synopsis:

Book longs for adventure but is too scared to leave the library. The library is warm, peaceful and safe. Book desperately wants to go outside and feel the sunlight on his pages, but is intimidated by what might happen “out there.” A page might be torn. Book’s cover might get dirty. Book might never be returned to the library! Book watches from his nook what happens to other returning books. He comes close a few times to letting go.

Meanwhile, Emma loves visiting the library, going on great adventures and exploring the world in the stories she reads. When Emma meets Book, they find they are just what each other needs. Together, Book and Emma move out of their comfort zone to try new things, meet new people and enjoy quiet adventures — climbing trees, laughing in the rain, and cheering the players at a soccer match. Along the way they discover that “out there” needn’t be scary if you just take it one step at a time.

Why I like this book:

Devon Sillett skillfully captures the vulnerability of his main character, Book, who is frightened of just about everything. He is bound to win over readers with his originality and clever wit. Who every heard of a scared book? Children will be captivated by Book’s pursuit to be brave, especially those who are nervous about taking risks and stepping outside of their comfort zone.

When Emma returns Book to the library, it isn’t in the same condition that it left. There are a few crumbs in the pages, a smudge on a page, and a splash of water in the ink. In fact Book is proud of its new battle scars, a mark of its bravery.

What a sensational cover! Cara King combines delicately textured and warmly hued watercolors to show Book’s strong desire to try new things and its struggle to take the first step. Make sure you check out the endpapers, as they carry a story of their own.

Resources: This is a great discussion book to have on hand when your child is trying something new, like going to school, attending a sleepover, trying new foods, and learning to ride a bike without training wheels. And it is a good book to remind parents that they have to let go and let their child try.

Devon Sillett is the author of The Leaky Story, her debut picture book, Saying Goodbye to Barkley. She is a former radio producer, turned writer and reviewer. Born in the US, Devon now calls Australia home. She has loved books as long as she can remember — so much so that she even married her husband Matthew in a library! Currently, she teaches in the writing department at the University of Canberra, where she is also a PhD student, researching Australian children’s picture books. If she isn’t writing or reading, you’ll find her playing Lego or hide-and-seek with her two young sons, Jay and Aaron.

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.

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship by Chitra Soundar

Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Jan. 25, 2019
Official hashtag: #ReadYourWorld

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship: Stories from India

Chitra Soundar, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Dec. 31, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Pages: 179

Themes: Folktales, India, Cultural traditions, Humor, Friendship, Multicultural

Synopsis:

Being a wise and just ruler is no easy task. That’s what Prince Veera discovers when he and his best friend, Suku, are given the opportunity to preside over the court of his father, King Bheema. Some of the subjects’ complaints are easily addressed, but others are much more challenging. How should they handle the case of the greedy merchant who wishes to charge people for enjoying the smells of his sweets? And can they prove that an innocent man cannot possibly spread bad luck? Will Prince Veera and Suku be able to settle the dispute between a man and his neighbor to whom he sells a well — but not the water in it? Or solve the mystery of the jewels that have turned into pickles? These stories are inspired by traditional Indian folktales.

Why I like this book:

I read as much as I can about the Indian culture because we adopted a son from India. Chitra Soundar’s chapter book is especially fun because it is about Prince Veera and his commoner friend, trying to outsmart some of the King’s trickiest subjects with wit and a great deal of humor!

Prince Veera and his friend, Suku, appear in every chapter of the book. Like his father the king, the prince is caring and compassionate. Because of his relationship with Suku, Prince Veera is more aware of what it happening in the kingdom than his father. Together, the prince and his friend, are clever, eager to investigate complaints, wise beyond their years, and witty in their dealings with the locals. They also show a great deal of compassion towards the poor and expose those in his father’s kingdom who are  mean and bully others.

Each page is illustrated with pen and ink drawing by Uma Krishnaswamy, which add to the overall feel of the Indian culture and traditions. This book is an excellent read-aloud at home and school. This is a fun book for children to discuss the stories and decide what is fair, right or wrong.

Check out: Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019.  Official Hashtag: #ReadYourWorld. There will be links to reviews of picture books, middle grade and YA novels.

Chitra Soundar is originally from the culturally colorful India, where traditions, festivals, and mythology are a way of life. As a child she feasted on folktales and stories from Hindu mythology. As she grew older,  she started making up her own stories. She is the author of the picture book Pattan’s Pumpkin: A Traditional Flood Story from Southern India. Chitra Soundar lives in London.

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 publisher.