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

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.

Good Rosie! by Kate DiCamillo

Good Rosie!

Kate DiCamillo, Author

Harry Bliss, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 4, 2018

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Dog, Lonely, Friendship, Humor

Opening: Rosie lives with George. Rosie is a dog.

Synopsis:

Beloved storyteller Kate DiCamillo and cartoonist Harry Bliss introduce some delightfully doggy dogs in a warm, funny tale of a timid pup who needs a friend.

Rosie is the adorable and faithful doggy companion to her owner, George. Rosie likes taking walks with George. She chases a squirrel up a tree. George enjoys looking at the cloud pictures, while Rosie wants to see other dogs. She feels lonely.

One day George takes Rosie to the dog park, but the park is full of strange dogs that Rosie doesn’t know. She doesn’t like the dog park and feels lonelier than ever. When big, loud Maurice and small, yippy Fifi bound over and want to play, Rosie’s not sure how to respond. Is there a trick to making friends? And if so, can they all figure it out together?

Why I recommend this book:

This is not your typical dog story. It is sweet story by Kate DiCamillo that is heartwarming, entertaining and has and unexpected ending. Harry Bliss is a cartoonist and his water-color illustrations are expressive, and will delight children. He uses a kid-friendly paneled comics format which accurately depicts the behaviors of dogs and adds to the doggy charm and humor.

Good Rosie is also a perfect gift book for children learning to read. It is a fun read-a-loud during story time. This book is a winner.

Resources/Activities: If you have a dog, play fetch. My poodle goes nuts over his squeaky toes and loves chase them. Take your dog for walks and visit a dog park, if you live near one. If you don’t have a dog, offer to walk or play with your neighbor’s dog.

Kate DiCamillo is the beloved author of many books for young readers, including the Mercy Watson and Tales from Deckawoo Drive series.  Her books FLora & Ulysses and The Tale of Despereaux both received Newbery Medals. A former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, she lives in Minneapolis.

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.

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

Saving Winslow

By Sharon Creech

Joanna Cotler Books (Imprint HarperCollins) Fiction, Sep. 11, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 176

Themes: Donkey, Rescue, Farm Animals, Loss, Friendship, Neighbors

OpeningIn the laundry basket on the kitchen floor was a lump.  “Another dead thing?” Louie asked.  “Not yet,” his father said.

Synopsis:

Louie doesn’t have the best luck when it comes to nurturing small creatures. So when his father brings home a sickly newborn mini donkey, Louie lifts the donkey from the basket and holds it close. The donkey nuzzles his neck and makes a small sound that sounds like please. He’s determined to save him.  Louie names him Winslow. Taking care of the donkey helps Louie feel closer to his brother, Gus, who is  far away in the army.

Everyone worries that Winslow won’t survive, especially Louie’s new friend, Nora, who has experienced a loss of her own. But as Louie’s bond with Winslow grows, surprising and life-altering events prove that this fragile donkey is stronger than anyone could have imagined.

Written in the spirit of Creech favorites Moo and Love That Dog, this standout tale about love and friendship and letting go will tug at the heartstrings.

Why I like this book:

Sharon Creech’s storytelling is so sweet and full of heart. Although her novel is about a boy saving a donkey, there are other themes cleverly woven throughout the story — a boy struggling to find his purpose, a girl who has felt loss and is afraid to get close to Winslow, and a family dealing with a son serving his country overseas. Winslow unites the family.

Louie is such a kind-hearted and determined character. After holding the donkey, he immediately accepts “the mission” to do everything in his power to save the newborn donkey’s life — even when his parents and friends are skeptical the donkey will survive a day, let alone a week. He holds the donkey tight to his chest and rubs him with a blanket begging Winslow to live. Nora is a quirky character. She thinks Winslow is “icky,” looks like a possum-goat and doesn’t see the point in becoming attached to a donkey that’s going to die anyway. Yet she sure spends a lot of time around Winslow.

Animals lovers will treasure Winslow’s story. The plot is convincing, the text is spare and it is a quick read. It is a story that can be read out loud to younger children. Visit Creech at her website.

Sharon Creech has written 21 books for young people and is published in over 20 languages. She is the author of the Newbery Medal winner Walk Two Moons and the Newbery Honor Book The Wanderer. Her other work includes the novels Hate That Cat, The Castle Corona, Replay, Heartbeat, Granny Torrelli Makes Soup, Ruby Holler, Love That Dog, Bloomability, Absolutely Normal Chaos, Chasing Redbird, and Pleasing the Ghost, as well as three picture books: A Fine, Fine School; Fishing in the Air; and Who’s That Baby? Ms. Creech and her husband live in upstate New York.

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.

*Library copy.

The Polar Bear Wish (A Wish Book) by Lori Evert

The Polar Bear Wish

Lori Evert, Author

Per Breiehagen, Photographer

Random House Books for Young Readers, Sep. 4, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Polar Bear, Blizzard, Norway, Arctic, Woodland Animals, Friendship

Opening: Long, long ago, so high in the mountains and close to the stars that on clear nights you didn’t need a lantern, lived an adventurous girl named Anja.

Synopsis:

On a snowy winter’s eve, Anja’s wish to go to a special Christmas party is answered when her cousin, Erik, arrives with his dogsled. Erik has packed everything they need for the trip, including food and blankets in the event of an emergency. The excited children set out for the party with their husky pups, Birki and Bria.

Along their way they see foxes, a lynx and a bright red cardinal. Snow gently begins to fall, but by the time they leave the woods it is snowing so hard they can’t see their dogs pulling their sled. They are caught in a blizzard and are lost. Birki and Bria hear wolves howling in the distance and follow their sounds which leads them to shelter.

A baby polar bear who has lost his mama in the storm, comes to their tent looking for refuge. He looks scared, so the cousins invite him into the tent. The next morning they set out to find the baby polar bear’s mama. They travel across glaciers and through beautiful frozen fjords. Can Anja, Erik and their animal friends help the little bear find his mother?

Courtesy of Per Breiehagen

Why I like this book:

Lori Evert and her husband, Per Breiehagen, creators of the bestselling The Christmas Wish, have teamed up to create their sixth enchanting and richly textured Nordic Christmas tale starring their rosy-cheeked daughter, Anja. The Polar Bear Wish is a magical tale of friendship, bravery and believing. It will give children something to wonder about and keep that special feeling of magic alive in their hearts.

The setting is realistic and contributes to the fairy tale charm. Anja is bundled up in authentic 18th century Norwegian clothing and reindeer boots. She gets around on a dog sled and slender wooden skis with straps. Her rustic log house has an earthen roof covered with snow. The text is friendly and imparts information about nature and survival in the arctic.

Per Breiehagen’s photograph are so mesmerizing and enchanting that children and adults will want to study them to absorb the magic of each scene. He captures this beautiful story with his  breathtaking landscapes and playful scenes of Anja interacting with Birki, Erik, arctic animals and nature.

The Polar Bear Wish is perfect for lap reading in front of a fire or during holiday story time. It is a Christmas treasure. Check out The Christmas Wish website which will lead you to all of the six books along with many of the beautiful and endearing photographs from each book. The family hopes their books will inspire wonder, kindness, and a love for animals and nature.

Resources: Take children on a nature walk to explore the winter wonderland and the many wonders found in the fields, forests and frozen streams. Watch the cloud formations as they transform the landscape. Take along a camera and a journal and encourage kids to record birds and animals they see. Track animal footprints in the snow and make up stories. Make snow angels and build a snowman.

LORI EVERT is the author of The New York Times bestseller The Christmas Wish, The Tiny Wish, The Reindeer Wish, The Brave Puppy, and The Puppy’s Wish. She and her family created The Wish books together. They split their time between Minnesota and Norway.

PER BREIEHAGEN is an award-winning, internationally acclaimed photographer from Norway. His credits include National Geographic, Audubon, and The New York Times Magazine. He created the images for The Wish Books with his daughter, Anja, and wife, Lori Evert.

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.

Hank Zipzer: The Cow Poop Treasure Hunt

Hank Zipzer: The Cow Poop Treasure Hunt

Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver, Authors

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Nov. 13, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Pages: 144

Themes: Underachiever, Survival Camp, Comical, Adventure

Synopsis:

Underachiever Hank Zipzer goes on an unfortunate school camping trip in a comical, kid-friendly novelization of the popular BBC series based on Henry Winkler’s best-selling books.

What will it take for Mom and Dad to trust Hank to go to the mall unsupervised with his friends? Cooking a family dinner — er, disaster — doesn’t exactly say “responsible.” But what if Hank signs up for the school’s legendary survival camp and makes it through the whole weekend? Maybe he should factor in being teamed up with his nemesis, McKelty, in a leaky tent, not to mention a desperate search for a cell phone in a field of cow pies. . . . The amiable character originated by Henry Winkler — inspired by his own childhood — comes to life in a humorous adventure set in a font designed to boost readability for kids with dyslexia.

Why I recommend this book:

The title is a sure giveaway that this book is a hilarious adventure for reluctant readers. Many kids will identify with Hank, who really wants to prove that he is responsible and gain the trust of his helicopter parents, but somehow he can’t stay on task. He really tries, but is easily distracted. He also can’t resist a good prank and his antics get him in trouble. Hank is a well-developed character that readers will cheer because he is so real and lovable. This story has heart!

Hank’s best friends, Frankie and Ashley, accept Hank for who he is — you never know what’s going to happen when they are together. They are also a nice balance for Hank, even though he convinces them to sign up for the survival camp.  Papa Pete is the only one who seems to understand Hank and encourages his parents to “let go.”

This series offers hope to children who learn differently. Based on Henry Winkler’s own struggle with dyslexia as a child and teen, he has taken special care to make sure that the book has been set in a OpenDyslexic font that has been created to increase readability for readers with dyslexia.  He continues to invite readers to comment on the font so that improvements can be made. What a gift for 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.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Louisiana’s Way Home

Kate DiCamillo, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 2, 2018

Pages: 240

Suitable for Ages: 10-12

Themes: Grandmother, Curses, Abandonment, Forgiveness, Friendship, Humor, Hope

Synopsis:

When Louisiana Elefante’s overbearing granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave their Florida home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. Granny has told Louisiana about the family curse and how it has been passed down through generations of her family.

But this time, things are different. Granny never intends for them to return and says they have a “date with destiny.” Separated from her cat and best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. Once they cross the line into Georgia, Granny isn’t feeling well and Louisiana has to drive the car, with a minor mishap. With Granny howling in the back seat about her teeth, Louisiana is desperate  to find a dentist and takes an exit to Richford, Georgia.

After Granny’s teeth are all removed, Louisiana finds a place for Granny to recuperate. She is feverish and can’t eat. Louisiana finagles a room at a motel called the Good Night, Sleep Tight. While Granny heals, Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of this small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy (Burke) with a crow on his shoulder. One day, Granny deserts Louisiana and drives out of her life. She leaves behind a letter that explains difficult truths about Louisiana’s life, making her wonder, “Who am I?” She worries that she is destined only for good-byes, but she is hopeful that maybe this town can break that curse.

Why I like this book:

Fans of Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale, will be thrilled with her latest novel about Louisiana Elfante’s story. It is gripping and haunting, heartbreaking and humorous. The plot is intriguing, especially the mystery about the terrible family curse. Readers will get to know Louisiana in a gentle and tender way. They will learn about her secrets and of her abandonment. Where there is pain, there is an opportunity for Louisiana to grow and find love. She is a resilient and spunky character worth getting to know and love.

I like DiCamillo’s first person narrative. Louisiana’s voice is strong and determined. She begins the first chapter with “I am going to write it all down, so that what happened to me will be known, so that if someone were to stand at their window at night and look up at the stars and think, My goodness, whatever happened to Louisiana Elefante? Where did she go? They will know.” It was a joy to experience the story narrative through Louisiana’s vulnerable and wise character.

DiCamillo is a gifted storyteller who challenges readers with big questions about what is home, family, forgiveness and belonging. There is so much to love about Louisiana’s story. It’s a winner! You can visit DiCamillo at her website.

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.

*Advanced reading copy provided by publisher.

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Harbor Me

Jacqueline Woodson, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, Aug. 28, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 10 -12

Themes: School, Friendship, Diversity, Open-minded dialogue, Deportation, Racism, Loss, Empathy, Courage

Synopsis: It all starts when six kids are sent to a room for a weekly chat – by themselves, with no adults to listen in. At first they fear this new unfamiliar and wonder what on earth they’ll even talk about. But in the place they dub the ARTT (“A Room to Talk”), they discover it’s safe to discuss stuff they usually keep private.

A father has recently gone missing, and that starts a conversation about the things causing angst their lives, from racial profiling and fears of deportation to a deep yearning for family history and a sense of belonging. When the six of them are together, they find they can express the feelings and fears they usually hide from the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.

With her always honest, lyrical writing, acclaimed author Jacqueline Woodson celebrates the power of friendship, open-minded dialogue and empathy. Harbor Me digs in deep to show how so many of America’s social issues affect today’s kids — and they creatively learn to forge their way in spite of them.

Why I like this book:

Jacqueline Woodson’s Harbor Me is a powerful and timely book that is soulful and moving. Her first-person narrative is intimate and perfect for this poetic story. The setting, the characters, the plot and the imagery are brilliantly intertwined to create an exceptional experience for readers. They will feel the awkward silence of being in an unfamiliar place with six diverse students with only one rule — to treat each other with respect. Otherwise, they can talk about anything.

Woodson’s focus on 5th and 6th graders is perfect, because it is such a transitional time in the lives of kids. They want to be cool, but still have an urge to play with Nerf water guns and American Girl dolls. The boys voices haven’t deepened. There are no boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. They are six students who develop a lasting bond because they are able to share their secrets, feelings and fears in an honest way. They become best friends.

The characters, two girls and four boys, are memorable. Their backgrounds differ, but each one has a story to share in a place with a group of friends where they feel safe and supported. Twelve-year-old Haley narrates. She is bi-racial and longs for a real family life. Her mother was killed in a car accident, her father is in prison and her uncle cares for her. Her best friend Holly is fidgety and has trouble censoring herself. Esteban’s father is an undocumented immigrant who is taken from his job. Esteban is desperate to find out news of his father’s whereabouts and what it means for his family. Ashton is the only Caucasian in the group and is bullied by older students who call him Ghostboy and Paleface. Amari hides behind his artwork, but shares his feelings about racial profiling. Tiago is from Puerto Rico and speaks Spanish and English. His puppy dies and he struggles with feeling at home in America.

This is a celebratory book of the human spirit for six young people coming of age. The plot is distinctly realistic, honest, brave and complicated. It tackles relevant topics young people deal with daily. During their Friday group discussions, they learn to be vulnerable, build trust, listen without judgement and be sensitive each others challenges — a recipe that allows kindness, empathy and freedom to blossom. I highly recommend this novel. It belongs in school libraries as it is an important classroom discussion book.

Jacqueline Woodson is the 2018-19 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. She received the 2018 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and the 2018 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. Her memoir Brown Girl Dreaming won the 2014 National Book Award and was a NY Times Bestseller. Her adult novel, Another Brooklyn, was a National Book Award finalist and an Indie Pick in 2016. Jacqueline is the author of nearly thirty books for young people and adults including Each Kindness, If You Come Softly, Locomotion and I Hadn’t Meant To Tell You This.  She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

Greg Pattridge hosts the 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.

Book: Library copy.

The Sky at Our Feet by Nadia Hashimi

The Sky at Our Feet

Nadia Hashimi, Author

Harper Collins, Fiction, Mar. 6, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 291

Themes: American-Afghani boy, Undocumented immigrant parent, Family Relationships, Runaways, Epilepsy, Courage, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Jason has just learned that his Afghan mother has been living illegally in the United States since his father was killed in Afghanistan. Although Jason was born in the US, it’s hard to feel American now when he’s terrified that his mother will be discovered—and that they will be separated.

When he sees his mother being escorted from her workplace by two officers, Jason feels completely alone. He boards a train with the hope of finding his aunt in New York City, but as soon as he arrives in Penn Station, the bustling city makes him wonder if he’s overestimated what he can do.

After an accident lands him in the hospital, Jason finds an unlikely ally in a fellow patient. Max, a whip-smart girl who wants nothing more than to explore the world on her own terms, joins Jason in planning a daring escape out of the hospital and into the skyscraper jungle—even though they both know that no matter how big New York City is, they won’t be able to run forever.

Why I like this book:

Nadia Hashimi has skillfully penned a moving and sensitive tale about two brave teens on the run in New York City (NYC) when difficult circumstances uproot their lives. Their amusing adventure through the Big Apple showcases the city’s character with its subways, NYC Marathon, Central Park Zoo, food trucks, and police officers on horses.

The characters are authentic and believable. Jason’s strong narrative highlights/underscores the dilemma for children of undocumented immigrant families. He witnesses his mother being arrested by police at work because she didn’t renew her visa and is an illegal immigrant. What will happen to him? He sneaks into their apartment, packs his backpack, and embarks on a journey to find his Auntie Seema in NYC.

Jason blacks out in the train station and wakes up in a hospital with a head injury. There he meets Max, a girl who is smart and artful in helping Jason dodge a police officer’s questioning. She’s trapped like an inmate in her hospital prison and longs to experience a big adventure before she undergoes a major surgery. Together they plot an epic hospital escape and navigate the streets evading police officers.

The author sets aside the political aspects involved in deportation of decent immigrant parents and their American children. Instead she focuses on the emotional and physical impact on a teen like Jason. His fear that his mother may be sent back to Afghanistan forever, is daunting. How is a Muslim boy in America supposed to cope with something so big? His mother hasn’t created a plan for Jason if she’s arrested. He’s left to his own resources to find Auntie Seema.

The plot is original and courageous with moments of humor, action, danger, and suspense that will keep readers quickly turning pages. When Max has a seizure along the way, Jason is challenged to find the way on his own. This is an engaging read about current and thought-provoking issues. It is also heartwarming and hopeful and a good choice for classroom discussions.

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

Book: Library copy.