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.

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.

Escape From Aleppo by N. H. Senzai

Escape From Aleppo

N.H. Senzai, Author

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, Fiction, Jan. 2, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Family, War, Refugees, Syria, Bravery, Survival, Hope, Freedom

Publisher Synopsis:

Silver and gold balloons. A birthday cake covered in pink roses. A new dress.

Nadia stands at the center of attention in her parents’ elegant dining room. This is the best day of my life, she thinks. Everyone is about to sing “Happy Birthday,” when her uncle calls from the living room, “Baba, brothers, you need to see this.” Reluctantly, she follows her family into the other room. On TV, a reporter stands near an overturned vegetable cart on a dusty street. Beside it is a mound of smoldering ashes. The reporter explains that a vegetable vendor in the city of Tunis burned himself alive, protesting corrupt government officials who have harassed his business. Nadia frowns.

It is December 17, 2010: Nadia’s twelfth birthday and the beginning of the Arab Spring. Soon anti-government protests erupt across the Middle East and, one by one, countries are thrown into turmoil. As civil war flares in Syria and bombs fall across Nadia’s home city of Aleppo, her family decides to flee to safety in Turkey. Nadia gets trapped and left behind when a bomb hits their home. She is alone and must find a way to catch up with her family.  There are many detours along the way and an old man tries to help her. Inspired by current events, this novel sheds light on the complicated situation in Syria that has led to an international refugee crisis, and tells the story of one girl’s journey to safety.

Why I like this book:

N. H. Senzai has written a timely story that explores the culture and history of Syria as it moves from normalcy to the harsh realities of civil war, as witnessed by Nadia. The author weaves chapters into the story depicting life before the war begins giving readers a feel for family and life in Syria. Nadia enjoys birthday parties, painting her nails, playing with her cat, watching Arab’s Got Talent and shopping in the markets.

Senzai’s powerful storytelling and vivid imagery draws readers into Nadia’s harrowing experience. Her journey is quite extraordinary as she befriends other Syrians along the way, an old man and two orphans. The elderly book binder, Ammo Mazen, promises to help Nadia reach the Turkish border, but it is a round about journey, with some unusual characters and missions involved. Just who is this mysterious Ammo Mazen? But he protects Nadia and the two orphans and navigates them around rebels groups, the Syrian Army, and ISIS fighters. As they journey across the Old City, readers catch a glimpse of Nadia memories of the colorful shops and a lively community, which is in stark contract to the crumbling city before her. There are many road blocks, but Nadia turns her fear into a strong determination to survive and reunite with her family.

This plot is gripping, suspenseful, heart-wrenching and hopeful. Readers will experience what it means to be displaced from their home, family and lifestyle. It raises questions for readers about how they would survive if everything they know is gone in a flash and they are thrust into a war-torn environment. Would they be able to survive?  This is tough and timely read for youth trying to grasp what they are seeing and hearing on television about this complicated and troubled country. They are able to  experience the human side of war through Nadia. This is a must read and belongs in school libraries.

N.H. Senzai is the author of the acclaimed Shooting Kabul, which was on numerous state award lists and an NPR Backseat Book Club Pick. Its companion, Saving Kabul Corner, was nominated for an Edgar Award. Visit the author at her 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.

The River Boy by Jessica Brown

The River Boy

Jessica Brown, Author

Finch & Fellow Publishing Home, Historical Fiction, 2016

Pages: 148

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Montana Frontier, Abuse, Friendship, Adventure, Imagination, Courage, Hope

Synopsis:

Nine-year-old Clara is worried about spending a lonely and boring summer on her family ranch in Montana, which is two miles outside of town. It is 1909 and she lives with her parents and two older brothers on a ranch that her grandfather built after the civil war. Everyone pitches in to keep the ranch operating — weeding cornfields, planting gardens and caring for the livestock.

Feeling that “hollow” space inside her, Clara heads to her special place, the grassy banks of the river. There in the middle of her river, she spots a boy sitting on a big rock. Josiah invites her to join him and lends his hand. He asks Clara if she knows what the rock is here for?  “It’s for people who  know how be still,” says Clara. He smiles at her and at that moment, Clara knows they will be friends. Josiah is unlike anyone she has ever met before. He enjoys exploring nature,  is full of full of ideas and has a huge imagination. They decide to write a book together and hope to travel all over town and countryside to collect people stories.

As their adventure unfolds, Clara realizes that Josiah has dark secrets. He lives with his sister and father, who is an abusive alcoholic. Clara hopes that if Josiah can publish his book, he will be able to move to somewhere safe. They run an advertisement in the town newspaper and invite people to submit their stories. But they butt heads with the publisher, Dr. Lowell, who is furious and prints a retraction. It will take much gumption for Clara and Josiah to fight for their book. And there is a town full of people who each have a story to tell. The town’s folk come together and send their stories to Clara and Josiah and stand up to the arrogant Dr. Lowell. Ultimately Clara realizes that sometimes assumptions about people may not be correct and it may take time to look deeper to truly get to know what drives behavior.

Jessica Brown has penned an original novel about the power of a story to connect people despite all their differences. It is a heartwarming tale full of hope with believable characters you will love, rich dialogue, and vivid imagery appropriate to Montana in 1909.  The pacing is perfect with short chapters. Brown creates a satisfying and story about friendship and courage for young readers. It reminds you a bit of Sarah, Plain and Tall, one the author’s favorite childhood books.

Jessica Brown  loves to cook, hike, read, and go on road trips with her husband and son. She grew up in Texas and has since lived in Indiana, Boston, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, England, Ireland and New Zealand. Her graduate studies include English, creative writing and spiritual formation. She has written a memoir, The Grace to Be Human, which will be released this year. Visit Jessica at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the permanent 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.

*The author provided me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Finn and Puss by Robert Vescio

Finn and Puss

Robert Vescio, Author

Melissa Mackie, Illustrator

EK Books, Fiction, Oct. 1, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 3-6

Themes: Animals, Lost cat, Loneliness, Friendship, Hope, Integrity

Opening: “This is Finn.  This is Puss”

Synopsis: Finn a young boy, is lonely. Puss, a cat, is lost. When the two meet on the street and Finn stoops down to scratch his ears, Finn isn’t lonely anymore.  Puss purrs and seems happy to be with Finn. When Finn sees a “Lost” picture of Puss taped to a building by the cat’s owners, he’s faced with a tough decision.  Will he do the right thing?

Why I like this book:

This is a sweet tale by Robert Vescio about a boy who finds a lost cat and makes a new friend. It explores the boy’s choices of ignoring the notice and keeping the cat, or doing the right thing and notifying the owner, who misses her cat. This is an important lesson children will face many times in their lives. It has difficult lessons about honesty and integrity. It is a good reason to start teaching this lesson to young children. There are heartwarming rewards when children learn to do the right thing.

Finn and Puss only has 80 words, so it is the perfect book for children learning to read independently on their own and for reluctant readers.

Melissa Mackie’s soft watercolor illustrations are expressive and really capture the dynamics of the story. I particularly like her use of white space because it symbolically sheds “light” on this story about building character.

Resources: This is an excellent discussion book for home and school. Ask children what they would do if were in Finn’s shoes? Would they want to keep the cat or return it to its sad owner. What would they do if found a toy that they knew belonged to a friend? What would they do if they saw a stranger drop money on the ground?

Robert Vescio is a full-time children’s author whose aim is to enthuse and inspire children to read and write and leave them bursting with imaginative ideas.

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 Three Sunflowers – Los Tres Girasoles by Janet Lucy

The Three Sunflowers – Los Tres Girasoles

Janet Lucy, Author

Colleen McCarthy-Evans, Illustrator

Publishing by the Seas, Fiction, Sep. 26, 2017

Awards: Seal of Excellence for an Educational Storybook and a Preferred Choice Award for a Kids, Storybook from Creative Child Magazine.

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes:  Sunflowers, Life Cycles, Nature, Courage,  Hope, Harmony, Peace, Patience, Wisdom

Opening“Dawn awoke early one morning washing the summer sky in fresh new shades of pink, orange and lavender.” 

Synopsis:  Life in the garden was alive with activity. Gloria, a tall and wise sunflower, sprung up earlier in the season near a pepper tree. She was once a black and white seed in one of the bird feeders and was dropped by a bird to the ground where she planted herself and grew. Two smaller sunflowers, Florecita and Solecito grew beside Gloria.

Their day was peaceful until a hawk swooped down to the feeders and disturbed the tranquility in the garden. The birds flew off, but Florecita and Solecito were frightened and shouted at the hawk.  Through it all, Gloria guides and reassures the youngsters and reminds them of the nature and purpose of a sunflower’s life. “We are sunflowers, golden and radiant. Our job is to be loving and peaceful wherever we stand.” Peace returned to the garden, but later that afternoon a thunderstorm darkened the skies and threatened the strength and stability of the sunflowers. Once again the youngsters held on by their roots afraid they might tumble. Gloria reached for their stalks and pulled them close.  Their resiliency was tested in the face of a big storm.

Why I like this book:

The Three Sunflowers – Los Tres Girasoles is the bilingual version of the award-winning first edition, The Three Sunflowers. This version offers both English and Spanish on each page, as “a teaching tool and to bridge cultures by illuminating the universal themes, hopes and dreams we all share for all children.”

Janet Lucy has written an inspiring book for children with many gentle life lessons about staying centered when turbulence is swirling around you, being who you are supposed to be, living in the moment, being present with those we love and being thankful. These are all concepts children will grasp.  There is so much depth to this story and I had to be careful not to give it away.  It is also a story about life cycles, death, and transformation. Colleen McCarthy-Evans’s watercolor illustrations are exquisite and expressive. I like her use of white space. It is a lovely collaboration between author and illustrator.

The book is dedicated to La Virgen of Guadalupe, Divine Mother of compassion, comfort and protection. She is the inspiration for the wise character, Gloria, in the book. Her story and a glorious watercolor illustration of Her is on the back of the book. La Virgen de Guadalupe’s saint / holy day is celebrated on December 12. The author and illustrator are donating 20% of the profits to non-profits who provide immigration advocacy and legal support.

Resources:   Sunflowers are an international symbol of Peace. Lucy urges children to plant seeds of peace in their gardens. Visit The Three Sunflowers website to find wonderful resources, activities and a teaching guide to share with children. I was intrigued with how many virtues are included in this story, all great topics for discussion.

Janet Lucy  (left) is an award-winning writer and poet, and author of Moon Mother, Moon Daughter – Myths and Rituals that Celebrate a Girl’s Coming of Age. Janet is the Director of Women’s Creative Network in Santa Barbara, California, where she is a teacher, counselor/consultant and the mother of two radiant daughters.

Colleen McCarthy-Evans (right) is an award-winning watercolorist, writer and board game inventor, as well as a passionate fiber artist. She’s a co-founder of the Santa Barbara Charter School, which teaches conflict resolution along with academics and the arts. She lives in Santa Barbara, California with her husband and dog, and enjoys being in and out of the garden with her two grown sons.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

La La La: A Story of Hope by Kate DiCamillo

La La La: A Story of Hope

Kate DiCamillo, Author

Jaime Kim, Illustrator

Candlewick, Fiction, Oct. 3, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Loneliness, Connecting, Hope

Synopsis: “La la la . . . la.” A little girl stands alone and sings, but hears no response. Gathering her courage and her curiosity, she skips farther out into the world, singing away to the trees and the pond and the reeds — but no song comes back to her. Day passes into night, and the girl dares to venture into the darkness toward the light of the moon, becoming more insistent in her singing, climbing as high as she can, but still there is silence in return. Dejected, she falls asleep on the ground, only to be awakened by an amazing sound. . . . She has been heard. At last.

Why I like this story:

Kate DiCamillio and Jaime Kim team up to create this strikingly beautiful wordless picture book that highlights a girl’s journey to connect with life — the trees, the pond, the woods, and the moon. The girl is persistent, curious and endearing. Her journey is about overcoming loneliness and never giving up hope no matter how rejected she may feel. She sings out a very simple call “La la la,” and listens for a response.

Jaime Kim’s gracefully captures the girl’s longing through her captivating illustrations. They breathe life into this expressive young adventurer and send her off on a captivating journey.

Resources: Make sure you read the author and illustrator notes at the end of the book to gain greater understanding about their lovely collaboration. Children will relate to the feelings of loneliness and will imagine the wordless story. This is a great discussion book.

Kate DiCamillo is the beloved author of many books for children, including Flora & Ulysses and The Tale of Despereaux, both of which received Newbery Medals. A former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, she lives in Minneapolis.

Jaime (Jimyung) Kim was born and raised in Korea before moving to the United States at the age of eighteen. She works in gouache and acrylics to create her beautiful, tender, and dreamlike landscapes and characters. Jaime Kim lives in North Carolina.

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.

Saying Good-bye to London by Julie Burtinshaw

Saying Good-bye to London

Julie Burtinshaw, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Mar. 14, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 13 and up

Themes: Teen pregnancy, Family relationships, Friendships, Adoption

Synopsis: One night of unprotected sex can change your life forever. Francis Sloan is a shy 15-year-old when he meets edgy, confident 16-year-old Sawyer at a party he didn’t want to attend. Sparks fly…and Sawyer becomes pregnant. They barely know each other, but now must deal with both their relationship and the reality of a baby.

Francis has a lot of growing up to do, and now it seems like he is being forced to do it all at once. When his life collides with Sawyer’s, Francis is forced to confront his own stereotypes about loss, sexuality, and family.

Sawyer decides to give the baby up for adoption, but that’s just the start. Over the months they wait for the baby to be born, Francis and Sawyer try to deal with the choices they will have to make. Will Francis follow Sawyer’s brave example? Or will he turn his back and pretend his life has not changed? Where will they be when it’s time to say good-bye to baby London?

Why I like this book:

Julie Burtinshaw’s Saying Good-bye to London is a heart-wrenching  and emotional story about teen pregnancy with a contemporary appeal. It is a hopeful and optimistic story that challenges teens with the same tough questions that Sawyer and Francis face.

This story is character-driven. Francis is a shy, lanky, and likable character who plays basketball with his best friend, Kevin. At  fifteen, girls scare him. He’s naïve and never been on a date. He lives on the West side of Vancouver, comes from a stable and loving family, and attends a private boy’s school. Sawyer Martin is a year older than Francis. She is self-confident, independent, and has her own unique flare.  She is brave, resilient and vulnerable. Sawyer lives on the other side of Vancouver with her mother. They live in a small apartment and she attends public school. When Sawyer becomes pregnant, Francis is angry, scared, blames her and disappears from her life. Sawyer deals with her tears and growing baby bump alone.

There are many interesting themes in this novel, beyond teen pregnancy. Kevin’s father is dying from cancer. Francis’s family has twin adopted brothers from Africa. Sawyer’s best friend, Jack, is gay, has an abusive and homophobic father who kicks him out of the house. Sawyer’s father left and she’s being raised by her single mother. The author has woven these subtle themes into the story and they contribute to the important decisions that Sawyer and Francis make for baby London.

The plot is unique and very different from other novels I’ve read about teen pregnancy. The author does give a realistic account of Sawyer’s pregnancy from morning sickness to delivery.  But the main focus of the story is on how Sawyer, Francis, Jack, Kevin and Sawyer’s mother, work together with an adoption agency to select, interview and choose the right family for baby London. It honors the brave and mature decisions that Sawyer, Francis and their friends make together.

I recommend this book because it challenges teens and is an excellent discussion book. It is also a page-turner.

Julie Burtinshaw is an ward-winning author of novels for young adults, including The Darkness Between the Stars, The Perfect Cut, The Freedom of Jenny, Adrift, and Dead Reckoning. You can find Julie on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @WriterJulie.

*The publisher provided me with an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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

Wish by Barbara O’Connor

Wish

Barbara O’Connor, Author

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

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

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

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

Why I like this book:

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

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

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

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

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

Saved by the Boats by Julie Gassman

Saved By The Boats: The Heroic Sea Evacuation of September 11

Julie Gassman, Author

Steve Moors, Illustrator

Capstone Press, Nonfiction, Aug. 16, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Terrorist Attack, September 11, Boats, Sea Evacuations, Civilians, Hope, Kindness

Opening: An arc of sky framed the city in brilliant blue. The bright, golden sun beamed with warmth. But just below, gray smoke swelled and snaked through the air. And, silently, white ash fell in a thick snowfall, coating the city.

Synopsis: September 11,  2011, was a dark day in U.S. history. Amid the chaos of the attacks, sea captains and crews raced by boat to the tragic scene. nearly 500,000 people on New York City’s Manhattan Island were rescued that day in what would later be called the largest sea evacuation in history. In this rarely told story of heroism, we come to understand that in our darkest hours, people shine brightly as a beacon of hope.

Why I like this book:

Julie Gassman’s powerful and inspiring story is based on her own personal experience of fleeing Manhattan by boat on September 11.  Impressively researched, the narrative is presented in a straightforward, honest and compassionate manner. This beautifully crafted story demonstrates the best of humanity during times of tragedy.

This is a little known story about how ordinary captains of tugboats, ferry boats and private boats responded to the Coast Guard call and sped to the harbor to help 500,000 people escape the suffocating blanket of ash and travel to safety in Jersey City. Their spectacular demonstration of heroism deserves recognition. Their biggest concern was the safety of the passengers even though they knew that on open water they could be easy targets. Yet they continued to sail back and forth rescuing people and then carrying rescue workers, water and other supplies on their return.

Steve Moors soulful illustrations capture the crush of people with bewildered and dazed facial expressions, which are contrasted by the busy rescue workers wrapping people in towels and washing faces. His pen and ink drawings of the people and city is shaded in an ashen color, with a bright blue sky in the background. Yet, his artwork conveys a sense of hope.

Most of the youth who will read this book weren’t even born yet. Saved by the Boats really demonstrates to readers that during times of tragedy, we come together as Americans to help each other. With the country dealing with two recent hurricanes, it is an excellent time to encourage children to look for the  acts of kindness and the heroic deeds of ordinary people as we help each other through a difficult time.  It is an important book for youth in Grades 3-6 to read.

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