Remembering Ethan by Leslea Newman

Remembering Ethan

Lesléa Newman, Author

Tracy Bishop, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Apr. 7, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Death, Sibling, Loss, Grief, Family relationships, Healing, Hope

Opening: My big brother Ethan was so tall, he had to duck his head when he walked through the front door. My big brother was so handsome, somebody once thought he was a movie star and asked for his autograph.

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Ethan. Ethan. Ethan. Sarah misses her adored big brother with all her heart. She wants to celebrate all the fun times she and her parents spent with him. But ever since Ethan died, Mommy and Daddy won’t mention him. Sarah can’t even say his name without upsetting them.

Why don’t they want to remember Ethan?

Why I like this book:

In this time of the COVID 19 pandamic, Lesléa Newman’s picture book is a timely one to share with readers who may be searching for books to help their children and themselves deal with with the loss of a loved one. That is why I’m sharing it today.

Newman’s delicate perspective on Remembering Ethan shows the heartbreaking impact of the loss of a sibling on a younger child. Sarah tries to cope with the death of her big brother with little support from her grieving parents.

The story is told from Sarah’s viewpoint, which is quite powerful as it gives voice to her feelings. She is sad, but she wants to talk about all her happy memories of Ethan! She wants to say his name out loud. She wants to write his name. She wants to draw happy pictures of Ethan and hang them on the refrigerator. She is angry that her efforts upset her parents. In desperation, Sarah stomps upstairs to Ethan’s room and shouts, “Doesn’t anyone but Buttons and me even remember Ethan?”

Grief is tricky and I applaud the author for sharing Sarah’s family’s first reaction to dealing with their loss. It highlights how each family member finds coping mechanisms when they are overwhelmed with grief. I observed a very similar situation in our family, when a grandson died.  Sharing memories is an important way for children to keep favorite memories and stories of a lost sibling or loved one near them.

Tracy Bishops beautiful illustrations are in soft pastels. They are expressive, comforting, and hopeful.

Resources: This book is a wonderful resource. Make sure you check out Note to Readers at the end of the book provides valuable information to parents, caregivers, and teachers about the many different ways to deal with childhood grief. The information will touch the entire family and help them through a rough time.

Lesléa Newman has created over 70 books for readers of all ages, including A Letter to Harvey Milk; October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard; I Carry My Mother; The Boy Who Cried Fabulous; Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed;Heather Has Two Mommies; Sparkle Boy; and Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story. Visit Newman at her website  or on Twitter @lesleanewman.

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 in exchange for a review.

Grandpa’s Top Threes by Wendy Meddour

Grandpa’s Top Threes

Wendy Meddour, Author

Daniel Egenéus, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction,  Sep. 3, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 2-5

Themes: Multigenerational Families, Grandparents, Love, Loss, Hope

Opening: “Henry was talking…But Grandpa was gardening. Again.”

Book Synopsis:

Henry loves talking with Grandpa, but Grandpa has stopped listening. Mom says to just give him time. But Henry wants to talk to his grieving Grandpa now. So Henry tries his favorite game: Top Threes. And something amazing happens: Grandpa starts talking again. Out of a tale of favorite sandwiches and zoo animals, outings and trains, emerges a moving story about love, loss, and the wonder of grannies and grandpas.

Why I like this book:

This is a heartwarming story about love, loss and the strong bond between a grandson and his grandpa. When Grandpa is lost in grief for his wife, Henry comes up with a clever game to help him move forward and return to living.

Wendy Meddour’s sweet story is a perfect share with children who may be dealing with a death of a grandparent or family member for the first time. It is respectful, honest and fun as Henry and Grandpa move from talking about their top three sandwiches to talking about granny’s top three things and sharing their memories. The ending is a surprise. I love the simplicity of the text as it encourages children to read the book on their own.

Daniel Egenéus’s expressive and playful watercolors show Grandpa coming out of his funk, engaging with Henry and living life again.

Resources: This book is a lovely resource for both children and parents to use to help children deal with grief.  Play Henry’s top three game.  It’s fun and catchy.

Wendy Meddour was a lecturer at Oxford University before becoming a full-time writer. She is the author of numerous picture books, but Grandpa’s Top Threes is her Candlewick Press debut. She lives in the U.K.

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 publisher.

Birdie by Eileen Spinelli

Birdie

Eileen Spinelli, Author

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Novel in Verse,  Apr 9, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 9-14

Pages: 208

Themes: Family life, Grief, Friendship, Dating, Multigenerational families, Birding, Verse

Opening: I pick the hairs / from my brush. / I put them in / my pocket. / I will drop them / on the grass / on my way to / Mrs. Bloom’s. / I do this / every Saturday.

Book Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Roberta “Birdie” Briggs loves birds. They bring her comfort when she thinks about her dad, a firefighter who was killed in the line of duty. The past few years without her dad haven’t been  easy. At least Birdie still has Mom and Maymee, and her friends Nina and Martin.

But then Maymee gets a boyfriend, Nina and Martin start dating, and Birdie’s mom starts seeing a police officer. And suddenly not even her beloved birds can lift Birdie’s spirits. Her world is changing, and Birdie wishes things would go back to how they were before. But maybe change, painful as it is, can be beautiful too.

With compelling verse and a light-hearted touch, Eileen Spinelli captures the poignancy of adolescence and shows what can happen when you let people in.

Why I like this book:

Eileen Spinelli’s Birdie is a tenderly-crafted coming-of-age story filled with love and hope. Birdie is coping with the loss of her father and a move to a small town to live with her grandmother. Much of her conflict is emotional and dealt with internally. It also involves a lot of change.

Birdie’s voice is strong and perceptive, and it works well as a novel in verse. Spinelli’s realistic verse is deceptively simple, but expresses the disappointment, anger and fear that Birdie experiences as she worries about losing her friends, her mother’s love and her father’s traditions. I particularly felt an intimacy with Birdie, that I may not have felt if the story was told in prose. Spinelli assigns a title to each poem, which feels like a guide for readers since the novel was free from chapters.

I also love multigenerational stories. Maymee is a hoot. Widowed, Maymee finds love again, which shocks Birdie at first, but it gives her a chance to see how time heals and how people can love again.

Birdie is a quick read and a perfect way to introduce readers to poetry. Birdie would be a nice addition to any school library.

Eileen Spinelli made her debut in 1991 with Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch, which won a Christopher Award. Since then she has written more than forty children’s books, including Thankful, When No One Is Watching, and Jonah’s Whale. She lives in Pennsylvania with Jerry Spinelli, her husband and fellow children’s author. Visit Spinelli 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.

Finding Orion by John David Anderson

Finding Orion

John David Anderson, Author

Walden Pond Press, Fiction, May 7, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 368

Themes: Death, Grandfather, Family relationships, Fathers and sons, Love, Humor

Book Synopsis:

Rion Kwirk comes from a rather odd family. His mother named him and his sisters after her favorite constellations, and his father makes funky-flavored jellybeans for a living. One sister acts as if she’s always on stage, and the other is a walking dictionary. But no one in the family is more odd than Rion’s grandfather, Papa Kwirk.

He’s the kind of guy who shows up on his motorcycle only on holidays handing out crossbows and stuffed squirrels as presents. Rion has always been fascinated by Papa Kwirk, especially as his son—Rion’s father—is the complete opposite. Where Dad is predictable, nerdy, and reassuringly boring, Papa Kwirk is mysterious, dangerous, and cool.

Which is why, when Rion and his family learn of Papa Kwirk’s death and pile into the car to attend his “Funneral” and pay their respects, Rion can’t help but feel that that’s not the end of his story. That there’s so much more to Papa Kwirk to discover. He doesn’t know how right he is.

Why I like this book:

This is one wacky story and it tops my list for the oddest book I’ve ever read. That being said, it’s also charming and funny, and heart-warming and downright bizarre. Anderson takes quirkiness to a new level when a singing clown shows up to tell them Rion’s grandfather, Frank, has died. Who does that? What a great “gotcha” opening for readers. You are compelled to read on.

The plot is hilarious and engaging. The “FUNNeral” is held in the Greensburg, Illinois town park, with speeches, a barbershop quartet, a marching band and food trucks to feed the guests. This is not your normal send-off, but it is original, fulfills Papa Kwirk’s final  wishes and allows the community to come together to share happy memories of “Jimmy,” a man they loved, with his family. Rion’s father is done with all of the untraditional nonsense and ready to head home when Aunt Gertie announces that there is a scavenger hunt to find Papa Kwirk’s ashes. The hunt is important journey in the story. It is an opportunity for everyone in the family to know Papa Kwirk better and to heal the divide between Rion’s father and grandfather.

Rion (Orion) is probably my favorite character because he is a smart and observant narrator, funny and awkward on his path to self-discovery. Rion may feel very ordinary among his odd parents and siblings, but he notices things that others don’t. The remainder of the characters are just plain fun and of course quirky. The sibling dynamics are delightfully normal with all the usual sibling pranks. And not to forget Cass’s pet python named Delilah.

I fell in love with the Kwirk family and their emotional journey as they explore the joy and pain, and regret and recovery of being a family. Readers will discover many laugh-out-loud and irreverent moments. I highly recommend this unforgettable book.

Favorite Quote:

“Seriously?” I shouted, my voice carrying through the amphitheater. “This freakin’ family can’t even die normally.”  Page 140

“One thing could be said for my grandfather, through: he was one of a kind. And there was a whole town full of people who would never forget him.” Page 335

John David Anderson is the author of many highly acclaimed books for kids, including Ms. Bixby’s Last Day as well as Posted, Granted, Sidekicked, and The Dungeoneers. Visit Anderson’s website for more information.

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.

Speechless by Adam P. Schmitt

Speechless

Adam P. Schmitt, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Nov. 6, 2018

Pages: 304

Suitable for Ages: 12 and up

Themes: Death, Grief, Mental Illness, Family Relationships, Speech, Humor

Synopsis:

How do you give a eulogy when you can’t think of one good thing to say? A poignant, funny, and candid look at grief, family secrets, difficult people, and learning to look behind the facade.

As if it weren’t uncomfortable enough being stuffed into last year’s dress pants at his cousin’s wake, thirteen-year-old Jimmy has just learned from his mother that he has to say a few words at the funeral the next day. Why him? What could he possibly say about his cousin, who ruined everything they did? He can’t recall one birthday party, family gathering, or school event with Patrick that didn’t result in injury or destruction.

As Jimmy attempts to navigate the odd social norms of the wake, he draws on humor, heartfelt concern, and a good deal of angst while racking his brain and his memory for a decent and meaningful memory to share. But it’s not until faced with a microphone that the realization finally hits him: it’s not the words that are spoken that matter the most, but those that are truly heard.

What I like about this book:

Adam Schmitt’s complex story deals with bullying, death, grief, suicide and dysfunctional family relationships. These heavy topics are all introduced through the lighthearted perspective of a 13-year-old Jimmy, who narrates the story. Jimmy is one of the best characters I’ve read in a while.  He has a strong voice. Even though he can’t remember one positive memory of his cousin, he delivers a eulogy at the end that readers won’t forget.

It is important to see mental illness addressed in stories. I remember knowing kids like Patrick when I was in school, so this story intrigued me from the start. I appreciate how carefully Schmitt develops his characters. He even makes me care about Patrick by the end of the story.

Patrick is off-the-charts disturbed. He has no friends except his cousin, Jimmy — and that is pushing the envelope. Jimmy can’t recall a single positive memory of his cousin. When he got a toy, Patrick broke it. If he got ice cream, Patrick would find a way to make him drop his cone.  At a Fourth of July party, Patrick injures Jimmy with firecrackers. Patrick’s family doesn’t know what to do about Patrick’s behavior, and their reactions are unpredictable.

Each chapter begins with a small truth that Jimmy learns about funerals: people who show up, people who enjoy the drama of attending a wake, family members who show their true colors, things you may hear that you don’t expect, everyone has a story, and listen more than you speak. Jimmy’s observations offer a lot of comic relief. And he constantly worries that the button on his tight-fitting pants, which is too loose, will finally pop at the wrong moment.

The author took some risks with this story, but the ending makes it worth the read. Even though I would  like to know why Patrick did what he did, it lends itself to some good discussions with middle grade readers. Speechless is an intriguing story.

Adam P. Schmitt has been a middle-school educator for more than fifteen years. Speechless is his debut middle-grade novel. “This story came to me in a single moment while at the funeral of a former student…The characters here don’t represent any one person, but several people in my life who had stories to tell and didn’t know how to find someone to listen.” Schmitt lives in Oswego, Illinois, with his wife and two sons. Visit Schmitt’s 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.

Lord of the Mountain by Ronald Kidd

Lord of the Mountain

Ronald Kidd, Author

Albert Whitman & Company, Fiction, Sep. 1, 2018

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Pages: 296

Themes: Family Secrets, Grief, Family Relationships,  Mountain Music, Self-discovery

Synopsis:

Nate’s family has a secret. And it’s wrapped up in a song. Ever Since Nate Owens saw a needle glide across a 78-rpm record, he’s been fascinated by the science and beauty of music. Before long, he is devouring Popular Science magazines and making his own crystal set radio.

It’s the summer of 1927 when Victor Records producer Ralph Peer comes to Nate’s hometown of Bristol,  Tennessee/Virginia, to audition “mountain music” singers and musicians. There’s no way Nate is going to miss the chance to get inside the studio and learn the mechanics of the recording business. He becomes friends with the technical team, the soon-to-become famous Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. The only problem is, Nate’s preacher father hates music and says it is evil — forbidding it in his home and his church. When he discovers that Nate’s been hanging around musicians and producers, he comes down hard. With nothing left for Nate at home, he decides to take off in search of answers to his family’s troubled past. He carries with him a picture of a grave site that says “Sweet Sister” on it.

Nate hops a train with the help of a man he meets, Bill. Bill quickly educates Nate about the rails — when to get on and off, how to  hide his possessions in his shoes, and the dangers he may encounter. He learns that the homeless are called “hoboes” and that they have “jungle” camps in towns near train routes. They offer a place to sleep, shared food, safety from the police and other thugs.

Nate ends up in Poor Valley, where the Carter Family lives. They welcome him into their home and Nate begins to work for the family. They travel around the mountains in search of songs they can record for Victor Records. Along the way Nate stumbles upon his own past and the secrets that have driven his father to religious fanaticism.

Set during the “big bang” of country music, this exciting historical novel tells of one boy’s journey of self-discovery at a moment when an entire region was finding its voice for the first time.

Why I like this book:

Ronald Kidd has written a captivating novel that cleverly weaves together a 13-year-old boy’s journey to discover the deep wounds that grip his father/family, and pursue his love of music and the science behind the recording industry. Wow, this novel is a treasure for readers who like historical fiction. I learned so much about  the birth of country music, which was known in the late 1920s as “mountain music!” A lot of research went into this novel.

The main characters and minor ones are multi-layered and unforgettable. You get a real feel for the musical details of the period and the fabric of the community –the Carters and hoboes included. Nate is a strong and determined character, not willing to accept his father’s fanatic rantings to his tent congregation. He’s driven by his passion for science and learning. His younger brother, Arnie, wants to be his father. Nate’s mother is gentle and seems to understand Nate’s father for reasons he can’t understand. His best friend Sue Dean, is a lovely balance to Nate, but she also has her secrets. Both their families are dysfunctional.

The setting is vivid and realistic. The plot is bold and adventurous with an ending readers won’t forget.  Readers looking for something new and creative will enjoy this book. This is a perfect book for school libraries.

What a pleasure it was to read Ronald Kidd’s novel. I look forward to catching up with his other novels.  As other’s have mentioned, this novel reminds you of Vince Vawter’s work.

Ronald Kidd is the author of 13 novels for young readers, including the highly acclaimed “Night on Fire” and “Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial.” His novels of adventure, comedy, mystery, and American history have received the Children’s Choice Award, an Edgar Award nomination, and honors from the American Library Association, the International Reading Association, the Library of Congress, and the New York Public Library. He is a two-time O’Neill playwright who lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

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.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

My Father’s Words by Patricia MacLachlan

My Father’s Words

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Fiction, Oct. 2, 2018

Pages: 133

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Loss, Grief, Love, Healing, Family relationships, Shelter dogs

Synopsis:

Declan O’Brien always had a gentle word to share, odd phrases he liked to repeat, and songs to sing while he played basketball. His favorite song was “Dona Nobis Pacem,” “Grant Us Peace.” His family loved him deeply and always knew they were loved in return.

But a terrible accident one day changes their lives forever, and Fiona and Finn O’Brien are left without a father. Their mother is at a loss. What words are there to guide them through such overwhelming grief?

At the suggestion of their friend Luke, Fiona and Finn volunteer at an animal rescue shelter where they meet two sweet dogs, Emma and Jenny, who are in need of comfort, too. Perhaps with time, patience, and their father’s gentle words in their hearts, hope will spark once more.

Why I like this book

Patricia MacLachlan’s captivating and unforgettable story is about a tragic loss, family relationships, love, laughter and healing. It is a well-written story that is realistic, inspiring and hopeful. Her narrative is gentle and heartfelt. The text is spare and powerful. Some may feel the story is sad, but I experienced it with wonder and awe.

Fiona and Finn are working through their grief following their father’s untimely death. Fiona looks out for her younger brother, but she’s searching for memories of her time with her dad. Finn is a sensitive and gentle boy. He is quiet and thoughtful like his father. Their best friend, Luke, suggests they all volunteer at a local animal shelter. They each connect with and walk a dog. Finn reads, talks and sings “Dona Nobis Pacem” to Emma, who is depressed and faces a wall. Fiona takes Jenny for long walks in the park. The siblings learn that while you comfort a shelter dog, the dog is also comforting you.

This is perfect story for dog lovers. The plot is engaging, but the beautiful ending sneaks up on you. I thought I knew how it would end, but the author surprises me. Make sure you have tissues nearby. My Father’s Words is a refreshingly quiet book that gives readers time to ponder big questions and explore underlying truths and memories. It will make an excellent classroom read-aloud and discussion book.

Patricia MacLachlan is the celebrated author of many timeless books for young readers, including Sarah, Plain and Tall, winner of the Newbery Medal. Her novels for young readers include Skylark, Caleb’s Story, More Perfect than the Moon, Grandfather’s Dance, Word After Word After Word, Kindred Souls, The Truth of Me, and The Poet’s Dog; she is also the author of many 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.

*Library Copy

A Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker

A Stone for Sascha

Aaron Becker, Author & Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, May 8, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Pet, Death, Grief, Journey, Healing, Wordless picture book

Synopsis:

This year’s summer vacation will be very different for a young girl and her family without Sascha, the beloved family dog, along for the ride. After laying her dog to rest in the family’s backyard and showering the grave with flowers, the family goes on a camping trip. A wistful walk along the beach to gather cool polished stones becomes a brilliant turning point in the girl’s grief.  A major shift occurs in the story. There, at the edge of a vast ocean beneath an infinite sky, the girl uncovers, alongside the reader, a profound and joyous truth.

Why I love this book:

Aaron Becker’s breathtaking wordless picture book takes readers on an epic journey across the cosmos. This is a quiet and contemplative picture book. Readers will want to pour over all of the details in the dreamy illustrations of the girl’s extraordinary journey of healing that reaches beyond time and civilizations — because of one polished stone. A meteor strikes the earth, leaving a path of debris that is mined by ancient human workers. The golden stone is carved into a statue. During times of war the stone topples. It is carried away to serve other purposes and eventually ends up in the ocean where it is polished into a smooth stone by the churning waves and discovered by the girl. This is a book Becker hopes readers “will find comfort in stories that are older than our own and  inspire the reader to discover their own path.” Verdict: This book is a treasure.

Aaron Becker is the author of the award-winning Journey, Quest, and Return wordless picture book trilogy. A Stone for Sascha is a stand-alone book. Becker took care of a hermit crab for his pet merit badge in the Boy Scouts. When it died, he wasn’t too sad about it. But when lost Lily, his first cat, it was a different story altogether. Learning that love includes loss is a profound lesson that he’s learned from his animal companions over the years.

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.

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

The Stars Beneath Our Feet

David Barclay Moore, Author

Knopf Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Sep. 19, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 12 and up

Awards: Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent

Themes: African-American, Family relationships, Harlem, Gangs, Grief, Self-discovery, Friendship

Book Synopsis: It all started with two garbage bags full of Legos. Or not, maybe it started with the two thugs following 12-year-old Lolly down 125th that night.

Or maybe it was Jermaine’s dying. Or that fight they had before ‘Maine got shot. Yeah, probably it was that.

Lolly’s having a hard time knowing how to be without his older brother around. Seems like he’s either sad or mad. The thing that helps most is building. His mom’s girlfriend, Yvonne, gave him two huge bags of Legos for Christmas, and Lolly’s working on an epic city — a project so big it outgrows his apartment. The community center lets him work on his magical Lego city in a storage room which provides Lolly with an escape—and an unexpected bridge back to the world from his grief.

But there are dangers outside that persist. There are older guys who harass, beat up and rob Lolly and his friend Vega on the street. They pressure the boys to join a crew (gang), like his brother Jermaine. What would Jermaine want him to do? Get with a crew and take revenge? Or build a different kind of world for himself. Lolly’s going to have to figure this one out on his own.

Why this book is on my shelf:

David Barclay Moore has penned a powerful debut novel with a gripping plot and timely, real-life issues for young people of color. He opens readers eyes to how 12-year-old boys are easily targeted and drawn into gangs/crews as a way to survive. They don’t want to be part of gangs, but they are beaten, robbed, threatened and bullied into submission. It’s a way of life in many inner city neighborhoods where opportunities are limited. They believe that having the protection of a gang can save their lives, but it can also kill them, like Lolly’s brother, Jermaine.

I like how the author helps Lolly deal with his brother’s loss through imagination, creativity, and his love of architecture. Lolly builds epic cities with fantastic stories. He doesn’t realize that he is a gifted artist and storyteller headed for great things.

The relationship between two very unlikely friends, Lolly, who doesn’t know what to do with his anger and grief, and Big Rose, who is on the autism spectrum, is my favorite part of the story. Lolly is furious about the center’s director giving Rose permission to build Lego cities in the storage room with Lolly. But, then he begins to see her talent and speed at building. They end up traipsing all over New York City studying, photographing and drawing its unique architecture. They need each other and are important to each other’s growth healing.

A major reason the author wanted to write this novel is because he feels “there aren’t enough books that speak with the voices of the characters in his story.” For instance a slang word in one Harlem neighborhood may not even be used in another neighborhood a few blocks away. So the narrative is richly textured and thought-provoking, and offers hope and an opportunity for self-discovery.

This novel belongs in the hands of every teenager and middle grade and high school. It offers students the opportunity to engage in important discussions about real life and modern social issues.

David Barclay Moore was born and raised in Missouri. After studying creative writing at Iowa State University, film at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and language studies at l’Université de Montpellier in France, David moved to New York City, where he has served as communications coordinator for Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone and communications manager for Quality Services for the Autism Community. He has received grants from the Ford Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, Yaddo, and the Wellspring Foundation. He was also a semi-finalist for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. David now lives, works, and explores in Brooklyn, N.Y.  You can follow him at his website.

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.

Fox Magic by Beverley Brenna

Fox Magic

Beverley Brenna, Author

Red Deer Press, Fiction, Dec. 15, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Pages: 115

Themes: Teen suicide, Grief, Loss, Bullying, Courage, Hope

Opening: The week after the Bad Thing happened, Chance is back in school. She’s walking away from the water fountain and Monika is right there in front of her.  “She was my cousin, you know,” Monika hisses. “It should have been you.”

Synopsis: Chance Devlin and her two best friends make a pact to commit suicide. They dress in their best clothes and meet at a planned site. Chance changes her mind and runs home. She doesn’t tell anyone. Now her two friends have killed themselves. Chance struggles with grief, loss, and guilt that she didn’t tell anyone or try to stop them. Kids at school bully her and leave nasty notes in her desk and backpack: “Traitor. You’re better off dead.” She keeps the Bad Thing a secret, feels empty inside and escapes through sleep.

Enter her parents. They immediately get Chance into counseling, which is agonizing for her. Her therapist encourages her to write in a journal. Her father is my hero. He takes some time off so he can be at home with Chance, cook her pancakes for breakfast, drive and pick her up from school, make her exercise with him in fun and sometimes nerdy places. And he takes her to see her mom at work as a nurse in a neonatal unit, where she observes the tender and loving care her mother gives each newborn.  Her father shares with her a very important story.

A fox begins to magically appear in her Chance’s life. The fox, she names Janet Johnson, helps Chance to begin to get in touch with her grief, the past, her feelings, find her voice and move forward towards healing.  Is it her subconscious? I like Brenna’s sweet touch of magical realism as it allows the readers to decide for themselves what the fox symbolizes.

Why this book is on my shelf:

Brenna’s coming of age novel is brave and skillfully written. Each chapter is short and features pen and ink drawings to highlight each chapter. Suicide is a difficult but timely subject for older middle grade students that offers a wealth of opportunities for family and classroom discussions. This is a hopeful book.

Brenna doesn’t linger on the suicide pact or reveal the details of that night, which makes this realistic story very approachable for middle grade students. The story is told from Chance’s viewpoint. Readers will grow with Chance’s character as she deals with pain and grief and finds the courage and determination to move forward in her life. She’s authentic, honest and believable. There are many memorable characters that play supportive roles in her growth.

Brenna is from Saskatchewan where there many Indigenous children. I like how she includes both “First Nation and Metis” beliefs in Chance’s classroom as the students talk about school bullying and come up with clever solutions. This classroom interaction plays another important role in Chance’s healing.

Resources: There is an excellent interview with Beverley Brenna with discussion questions, an afterword with a mental health professional, and resource links. Brenna has prepared a teacher’s guide on her website for use in the classroom.

Beverley Brenna is the author of the award-winning Wild Orchid series, about a girl on the autism spectrum. She teaches at the University of Saskatchewan in Suskatoon.

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.