Trevor and Me by Yuno Imai

Trevor and Me

Yuno Imai, Author

Liuba Syroliuk, Illustrator

Yumo Imai, Fiction, Jun. 16, 2020

Suitable for ages: 5-9

Themes: Intergenerational friendship, Declining health, Loss, Grief, Inspirational

Opening: “Trevor is my best friend. With a shining smile like the sun, silver curly hair, and a wrinkled face He always wears his favorite red beret.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Trevor and Me defies the boundaries of age, gender and race. It is a heartwarming story based on the real-life friendship between an elderly Caucasian man and a young Asian girl. As Trevor’s health starts to decline and he prepares to die, he promises to always be with the girl even after he’s gone. Trevor dies and the girl is filled with grief until one day she begins to receive signs to let her know Trevor is and always will be with her.

Why I like this book:

Trevor and Me is a celebration of life and portrays an afterlife in a non-religious, beautiful and gentle manner. It is an inspirational and poetic journey about the unbreakable friendship between a girl and her special grandfatherly friend, Trevor. They enjoy long walks in the park and stops at a café until one day the girl notices he is growing weak.  Trevor begins to prepare the girl for his death and promises to always watch over her.

Trevor and Me is based on the author’s own real-life experience with an elderly gentleman, named Trevor. It is with great love that she turns her experience into such an uplifting story to read and discuss with children who have lost a grandparent or family member. Trevor and Me brings hope and puts a smile on your face. Liuba Syroliuk’s delicate illustrations and beautiful watercolor illustrations evoke emotions of love, grief, and joy. Lovely collaboration.

Resources/Activities: Help children plant a special tree in memory of a loved one. Have them draw or write about special memories they had with the loved one so they won’t  forget. Make a memory box where you can put something special the belonged to a loved one side. You may want to add photos, card/letters written to the child by the loved one. This will help a child touch, read and look at the items so they keep their favorite memories alive.

Yuno Imai is a Los Angeles based children’s author, food and travel writer, and copy editor. She is also author of the book, The Last Meal. She is originally from Hamamatsu, Japan, and came to the United States as a high school foreign exchange student in a small Kansas town. After graduating from high school in Japan, she returned to the US to attend San Francisco State University. She graduated with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. She has over 10 years experience as a translator and has work extensively for major American and Japanese companies and celebrity clients. Visit Yuno at her website.

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

*Review copy provided by the author in exchange for a review.

Trowbridge Road by Marcella Pixley

Trowbridge Road

Marcella Pixley, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 6, 2020

Suitable for ages: 10 and up

Themes: Mother and daughter, Family relationships, Aids, Grief, Mental illness, Bullying, Domestic Abuse, Friendship, Community, Hope, Magic

Book Jacket Synopsis:

It’s the summer of ’83 on Trowbridge Road, and June Bug Jordan is hungry. Months after her father’s death from complications from AIDS, her mother has stopped cooking and refuses to leave the house, instead locking herself away to scour at the germs she believes are everywhere. June Bug threatens this precarious existence by going out into the neighborhood, gradually befriending Ziggy, an imaginative boy who is living with his Nana Jean after experiencing troubles of his own. But as June Bug’s connection to the world grows stronger, her mother’s grows more distant — even dangerous — pushing June Bug to choose between truth and healing and the only home she has ever known.

Trowbridge Road paints an unwavering portrait of a girl and her family touched by mental illness and grief. Set in the Boston suburbs during the first years of the AIDS epidemic, the novel explores how a seemingly perfect neighborhood can contain restless ghosts and unspoken secrets. Written with deep insight and subtle lyricism by acclaimed author Marcella Pixley, Trowbridge Road demonstrates our power to rescue one another even when our hearts are broken.

Why I like this book:

Marcella Pixley has written a poignant novel, that is both heart wrenching and beautiful. Although it is set in the 80s, it is relevant because Pixley doesn’t side step heavy topics like mental illness, neglect, closet homosexuals, homophobia, AIDS, bullying and domestic abuse. Trowbridge Road will appeal to a large range of readers who are coping with secrets and family issues. And they will find hope, courage and love.

June Bug’s first-person narrative is powerful and pulls no punches. She is sad because she has lost her  father from AIDS, and her fragile mother is drifting further into depression, spending her days in bed. The only time her musical mother seems calm and peaceful is when she picks up her bow and plays her cello. When Uncle Toby brings June Bug food once a week, her mother goes into a cleaning frenzy and scours the house after he leaves with bleach — germs are the enemy. There is no one to care for June Bug. Her circumstances are heartbreaking, but she manages to remain a brave and resilient protagonist.

The relationship between June Bug and Ziggy is believable and unforgettable. Ziggy has his own problems. His mother is in an abusive relationship and he’s bullied by kids because of his long red hair, quirky clothing and his smelly, pet ferret perched on his head. He’s come to live with Nana Jean, who provides, love and stability for Ziggy — something June Bug desperately wants.  June Bug and Ziggy understand and accept each other unconditionally. They become best friends and create their own  imaginary world in the woods behind Nana Jean’s house — the ninth dimension — where they escape the pain of their lives. Pixley’s novel reminds me a bit of The Bridge to Terabithia.

Trowbridge Road is richly textured, lyrical and beautifully penned. I love June Bug’s description of Nana Jean’s kitchen the first time she’s invited to breakfast. “Nana Jean’s kitchen smelled like the gossip of garlic and bacon and oregano. It smelled like the laughter of sun-dried tomatoes and sausages and cheese. The recipes whispered to each other from the glazed windows to the spaces between floorboards to the countertops. We have fed the children and grandchildren in here. We meals. We blessed, blessed meals.  I entered like Alice on the threshold of Wonderland, or Dorothy taking her first steps into the Emerald City — the prickling feeling that I was about to enter something glorious.” (Pg. 185)  Verdict: This is a winner.

Make sure you check out the “Author’s Note” at the end of the book, where she discusses AIDS in 1983 and mental illness.

Marcella Pixley is the author of three critically acclaimed books for young adults, including Ready to Fall. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize for poetry and holds a mast of letters from Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. She teaches writing to middle-schoolers in Massachusetts, where she lives with her family.

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

*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

Echo Mountain

Lauren Wolk, Author

Dutton Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Apr. 21, 2020

Suitable for ages: 10-13

Themes: Great Depression, Family Relationships, Nature, Accident, Healing, Hope, Friendship

Opening: “The first person I saved was a dog.  My mother thought he was dead, but he was too young to die, just born, still wet and glossy, beautiful really, but not breathing.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

When the Great Depression takes almost everything they own, Ellie’s family is forced to leave their home in town and start over in the untamed forests of nearby Echo Mountain. Her father was a tailor and her mother a teacher. Life is hard, but Ellie has found a welcome freedom, and a love of the natural world, in her new life on the mountain. But there is little joy, even for Ellie, as her family struggles with the aftermath of an accident that has left her father in a coma. An accident unfairly blamed on Ellie by her older sister, Esther.

Determined to help her father, Ellie will make her way to the top of the mountain in search of the healing secrets of a woman known only as “the hag.” But the hag, and the mountain, still have many untold stories left to reveal and, with them, a fresh chance at happiness.

Echo Mountain is celebration of finding your own path and becoming your truest self. Lauren Wolk, the Newbery Honor– and Scott O’Dell Award–winning author of Wolf Hollow and Beyond the Bright Sea weaves a stunning tale of resilience, persistence, and friendship across three generations of families, set against the rough and ragged beauty of the mountain they all call home.

Why I like this book:

Lauren Wolk is a beautiful storyteller and her writing is exquisite. Set in the Maine wilderness during the Great Depression, her imagery in Echo Mountain is rich and poetic. Her characters are well-developed, with 12-year-old Ellie the kind of girl readers will want to befriend. Wolk’s plot is courageous, gripping, and humorous at times. Her deliberate pacing keeps reader’s fully engaged and wondering what will happen next.

Ellie finds beauty in a wilderness that speaks to her. When her father is injured, Ellie is resilient, curious and eager to learn the secrets of healing from an “old hag” living high in the mountain. There is friendship with the hag’s grandson, Larkin, who reveals a talent of his own. There are secrets, unexpected surprises and harrowing moments for many of the characters, including Ellie’s mother and siblings, Esther and Samuel. They all learn lessons about their inner own inner strengths during a crisis –even the hag. (Sorry, no spoilers.)

Echo Mountain is definitely a stand-out novel and I highly recommend it for teens. The characters will remain with you long after you finish. Wolk’s novel captured my heart and I will eagerly read it again.

Favorite Quote “I myself was two opposite things at the same time. One: I was now an excellent woods-girl who could hunt and trap and fish and harvest as if I’d been born to it. Two: I was an echo-girl. When I clubbed a fish to death, my own head ached and shuddered. When I snared a rabbit, I knew what it meant to be trapped. And when I pulled a carrot from the sheath of its earth, I, too missed the darkness.” Page 16

Lauren Wolk is an award-winning poet, artist, and author of the adult novel Those Who Favor Fire, the Newbery Honor-winning novel Wolf Hollow, and the Scott O’Dell Award-winning novel Beyond the Bright Sea. She was born in Baltimore and has since lived in California, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Canada, and Ohio. She now lives with her family on Cape Cod.

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

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.

Efrén Divided by Ernestro Cisneros

Efrén Divided

Ernestro Cisneros, Author

Quill Tree Books, Fiction, Mar. 31, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Undocumented parents, Mexican Americans, Deportation, Family, Friendship, Culture

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Efrén Nava’s Amá is his Superwoman—or Soperwoman, named after the delicious Mexican sopes his mother often prepares. Both Amá and Apá work hard all day to provide for the family, making sure Efrén and his younger twin siblings, Max and Mia, feel safe and loved.

But Efrén worries about his parents; although he’s American-born, his parents are undocumented. And according to the neighborhood talk, or local chisme, families like his are in great danger. Sure enough, Efrén’s  worst nightmare comes true one day when Amá doesn’t return from work and is deported across the border to Tijuana, México.

Now it’s up to Efrén to be brave and figure out how to act soper himself. While Apá takes an extra job to earn the money needed to get Amá back, Efrén looks after the twins, washes laundry, fixes meals, and does his schoolwork. He helps his best friend’s probably-doomed campaign for school president, and worries about what might happen to his family next.

When disaster strikes, Efrén is faced with crossing the border alone to see Amá and deliver a special package. There is danger all around him. More than ever, he must channel his inner Soperboy to help reunite his family.

Why I like this book:

Ernestro Cisneros’s powerful and timely debut novel, Efrén Divided, captures the humanity of children of undocumented Mexican-American families living in the US.  I love that Cisneros wrote this novel for his children to show that Mexican Americans “are worth being written about.” Some of the book was taken from his own childhood.

The plot is both dangerous and heartwarming. The richly textured narrative is peppered with Spanish words and expressions, which are nicely woven into the story in a way that readers will grasp the translation. But there is a glossary of words and expressions at the end of the book. The diverse cast of characters are memorable, especially David, who adds for some fun comic relief.

Although parents immigrate to the US to provide a better life for their children, there is an underlying worry, pain, and fear for all family members. When Efrén’s mother is discovered by ICE, it forces him to grow up too quickly. Although he is a courageous and resilient teen, he carries a huge burden filled with responsibilities. He can’t confide in anyone — even his best friend David — because he puts his undocumented father and family at risk. 

When Efrén crosses the border alone into Tijuana to see his mom, he sees first-hand the reasons why his parents and others risk the trip north. There is danger lurking on every street corner and down every alley. He feels eyes watching him. There is poverty. Young kids are forced to work or beg for money instead of playing. Men and women of all ages sell handmade items along the curbs. He shudders at the US-built border fence where separated families meet with loved ones at a chain link fence.

There will be many teens who will relate to Efrén’s story, whether they have undocumented parents, family members, or know someone who does. This book should be at the top of the list in school classrooms because it is perfect for meaningful discussions.

The ending surprised me. It is realistic and hopeful. Perhaps there is a sequel in the works? Verdict: This book is a winner!

Ernesto Cisneros was born and raised in Santa Ana, California, where he still teaches. Efrén Divided is his first novel. He holds an English degree from the University of California, Irvine; a teaching credential from California State University, Long Beach; as well as a master of fine arts in creative writing from National University. As an author, he believes in providing today’s youth with an honest depiction of characters with whom they can identify. The real world is filled with amazing people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. His work strives to reflect that. You can visit him at his website.

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

*Reviewed from a library copy.

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.

On the Horizon by Lois Lowry

On the Horizon

Lois Lowry, Author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Memoir, Apr. 7, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 10-13

Themes: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, World War II, Bombardment, Personal narratives, History, Verse

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Every person has a place in history.

Two-time Newbery medalist Lois Lowry reflects on her own in this moving account of the lives lost and forever altered in the bombings of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima and the lives lost in WWII’s most infamous events.

Drawing on the stories of real people at Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, as well as her own memories, Lois Lowry introduces readers to the only set of twin sailors aboard the USS Arizona, a Japanese child folding origami cranes in the wake of the unfathomable horror of the atomic bomb, and even her own grandmother. Through each vignette, this stunning work in verse contemplates humanity and war, sings with pain and truth, and emphasizes the importance of empathy in bridging cultural divides.

In turns haunting, heartbreaking and uplifting, On the Horizon searches for commonality and connection and will remind readers of the horrors and heroism in our past while offering hope for our future.

Why I love this book:

Lois Lowry personalizes WWII’s most infamous events — Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima — for young readers who may not be familiar with this period of our history. It brings history to life through the moving and heartbreaking stories of ordinary individuals, who are unaware of what will happen at 8:15 a.m. Some survived. Others didn’t.

The story is told in free verse which beautifully fits the tone of each vignette. It is told in three parts. Lowry carefully crafts each and every word so that readers feel that they have been part of something powerfully intimate. She does so with simplicity and sincerity.

Kenard Pak’s black and white illustrations are haunting and will evoke a response from readers. This book belongs in every school library.

Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end because you get a sense of how long it took Lowry to find a way to tenderly tell her story with reverence, which is intertwined with so many people and events. When readers finish the book, they will feel like they are holding something sacred in their hands and they have an obligation to work for a more peaceful tomorrow.

Lowry has also done an audio recording of On the Horizon. I believe it’s her first-ever recording. Make sure you have tissues on hand!

Lois Lowry lived in many places growing up, cincluding Hawaii and Japan during the years around World War II, and now lives in Maine. She is the author of more than forty books for children and young adults, including Newbery Medal winners, Nuber the Stars and The Giver. Visit her at her website.  You can also visit her on Twitter @LoisLowryWriter.

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 purchased copy.

My Name is Konisola by Alisa Siegal

My Name is Konisola

Alisa Siegel, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Mar. 17, 2020

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Themes: Refugees, Nigeria, Canada, Generosity, Hope, Community

Publisher’s Synopsis:

On a freezing cold winter night, nine-year-old Konisola and her mother step off a plane in Canada. They have almost nothing with them except the clothes on their backs. They are running for their lives from an abusive uncle in Nigeria.

Soon after they land, disaster strikes. Konisola’s mother becomes sick, and Konisola is forced to fend for herself in a strange country with no family or friends. Then she meets a remarkable Canadian nurse, and things begin to change for the better. But Konisola’s future remains uncertain. Will this new life, this new home and the friendships she has found be taken from her? Will she be allowed to stay in Canada as a refugee? Will her mother? Or will they both be sent back across the ocean?

Why I like this book:

I love to share stories of hope and generosity of the human spirit, especially when it relates to refugees. They leave behind their families, homes and lives because of persecution, abuse, and war, and seek refuge in a strange new country. In My Name is Konisola, it is Canada who opens its arms to embrace Konisola (Konnie) and her mother Abimbola.

Alisa Siegel’s captivating novel is based on a true story — a bonus for readers. Siegel does an excellent job of comparing and constrasting the real challenges Konisola faces as she begins her new life in Canada. They are moved from apartment to apartment in the beginning. She can’t speak English, doesn’t understand the customs and isn’t allowed to leave the apartment.

Konisola is a brave, strong and resilient 9-year-old girl. When her sick mother is hospitalized,  she moves again, this time to live with a kind nurse, Darlene Priestman, and her family. She feels like a stranger living with a white family. Everything is unfamiliar. She is afraid of the family cat — in Nigeria cats aren’t pets. Shopping malls and grocery stores overwhelm her. They aren’t like the open-air markets at home. When Darlene takes Konisola to visit her mother at the hospital for the first time, she gags at the smells. Seeing her mother so thin and ill is upsetting.

The relationship between Konisola and Darlene is endearing. Darlene is patient and loving. She always rushes to Konisola’s bedside when she has nightmares about her uncle’s rampages. After Darlene gets off work, she takes Konisola to visit her mother every evening.  Darlene gets permission to bring Abimbola to her home for Christmas Eve festivities and has Nigerian friends prepare her favorite dishes.

The pacing is fast and the chapters are short, making this story a quick read. The plot is engaging. There is friction between Konisola and Darlene’s grown daughter, Sara, who bosses Konisola around. At school Konisola wants to blend in and not stand out, but her English is poor. Kids tease her about being a refugee and living with a white mother. She makes friends with one friend, Omara. She worries about the upcoming Immigration and Refugee hearing to determine their fate.

This is a story about a community wrapping their arms around a girl and her mother. There are many more characters who step in and help: a counselor who works with Konisola and helps her design a special shawl for her mother; a retired children’s lawyer who advises on immigration matters; doctors and nurses from the hospital who go above and beyond to help; and the local Nigerian community.

I won’t spoil the ending, so you will have to read the story.  I highly recommend this story as it is a wonderful addition to any school library. Make sure you read the Epilogue.

Alisa Siegel makes radio documentaries for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Her work has been recognized with many international awards. Her first radio documentary was a story about her father’s escape from Germany to the West Indies on the eve of the Second World War. Over the past 20 years, Alisa has produced stories on subjects as varied as the Underground Railroad for refugees in Fort Erie, daring women artists in 1920s Montreal, the return of the trumpeter swan, Canadian nurses in World War I and violence in elementary school classrooms. She lives in Toronto with her family.

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.

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.

Just Lucky by Melanie Florence

Just Lucky

Melanie Florence, Author

Second Story Press, Sep. 17, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 13 -18

Themes: Multigenerational family, Alzheimer’s, Indigenous children, Drug abuse, Foster families, Bullying

Book Synopsis:

When Lucky Robinson was a baby, her mother was arrested for drug abuse and she was raised by her loving Cree grandparents for the next 15 years. She barely knows her mother, who she’s not sure she’d be able to pick out in a police line-up. Home life is happy, she attends a good school and her best friend, Ryan, lives next door.

Grandma may like to shout out the answers to Jeopardy, but sometimes she forgets things…like turning off the stove, wandering out the door, and stepping infront of a car. But her grandpa takes such good care of them, that Lucky doesn’t realize how bad her grandma’s memory is until he suddenly dies unexpectedly.

Lucky takes over the responsibility of caring for her grandmother and tries not to leave her alone. But when her grandmother accidentally sets the kitchen on fire, Lucky can’t hide what is happening any longer. Grandma is hospitalized and the authorities intervene and place Lucky into the foster care system — temporarily, she hopes. Lucky quickly learns that some foster families are okay. Some really, really aren’t.

Why I like this book:

Melanie Florence has written a sensitive and timely story about a 15-year-old girl living with a grandmother with Alzheimer’s. Some readers will identify with Lucky’s sadness because they will understand what it is like to have a grandparent, parent or relative suffering memory loss.  Lucky’s situation is particularly interesting becuase she has to become the caregiver and lives in secrecy so that she can keep her family together. She has no one else.

The characters are diverse and memorable. Lucky is a caring, compassionate and resilient narrator. As she is placed in a variety of foster homes and new schools, readers will observe the emotional toll it takes on her. She becomes somewhat detached and eventually doesn’t unpack her backpack because she knows that she’ll be moved again.  But she is also clever and resourceful as she finds ways to fit in. Her friendship with Ryan, offers some comic relief. They love comic books and he’s always there to support her.

For teens in foster care, Lucky’s story offers a snapshot of reality. Lucky is placed in three different foster homes. She has to deal with a foster parent who tries to climb into her bed. Lucky is indigenous and experiences racism. When she is repeatedly bullied by a popular girl in a new school, Lucky is fed up and strikes the girl. She is forced to leave a foster home she likes and is moved again to another foster home and school. But her story also offers a good dose of hope. This book stands out and is worth reading!

Melanie Florence is a writer of Cree and Scottish heritage based in Toronto. She was close to her grandfather as a child, a relationship that sparked her interest in writing about Indigenous themes and characters. She is the author of Missing Nimama, which won the 2016 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award and is a Forest of Reading Golden Oak Finalist. Her other books include Righting Canada’s Wrongs: Residential Schools and the teen novels He Who Dreams, The Missing, One Night, and Rez Runaway. For more information, visit Florence’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.

Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh

Nowhere Boy

Katherine Marsh, Author

Roaring Brook Press, Fiction, Aug. 7, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 10-14

Themes: Boat refugee, Syrian crisis, American boy, Belgium, Resilience, Friendship, Self-discovery, Hope

Book Synopsis: Fourteen-year-old Ahmed is stranded in a city that wants nothing to do with him. Newly arrived in Brussels, Belgium, Ahmed fled a life of uncertainty and suffering in Syria. He loses his mother and sister when their home is bombed. He flees with his father on a perilous journey to the shores of Europe. The rubber boat they are in takes on water, and Ahmed’s father jumps into the water with two other men to pull the boat to shore. But his father is lost to the sea. One of the men, Ibrahim looks after Ahmed and takes him to Belgium, where they end up in a tent city. Ahmed flees and is struggling to get by on his own, with no one left, no money and nowhere to go, his hope  fading.

Then he meets Max, a thirteen-year-old boy from Washington D.C., who is living with his family in Belgium for a year. Max is having trouble at his new school learning French and just can’t seem to do anything right, according to his parents. But with one startling discovery, Max and Ahmed’s lives collide and a friendship begins to grow. Ahmed is hiding in a wine cellar of Max’s home and needs help. Together Ahmed and Max will defy the odds, learning from each other what it means to be brave and how hope can change your destiny.

Why I like this book:

Nowhere Boy has a gripping plot that won’t let you go until you finish the book — all 358 pages. Ahmed’s journey is perilous across the sea. But the journey that Ahmed and Max make across Europe is even more thrilling. It gives readers an important snapshot of how refugees are welcomed in some countries and treated like criminals in others. There are so many themes covered in this book: refugee crisis, Syrian war, terrorism in France and Belgium, Islamophobia and heroism. This is an important classroom book.

The alternating chapters by Max and Ahmed’s strong voices, adds depth to the characters and the expert storytelling. Readers will enjoy meeting Max, Ahmed, Farah and Oscar. Max is clearly the hero of the story when he decides to hide Ahmed in his basement wine cellar to keep him safe from the unwelcoming Belgium police. Although he isn’t doing well in his new school,  he is smart, determined and cleverly outsmarts a lot of people. Max has an intuitive sense of people and a huge heart. Ahmed is resilient, thoughtful and never gives up on his dreams of returning to school and making a better life for himself.  Max recruits Farah, a Muslim girl born in Belgium and Oscar, the school bully to help him create an identity for Ahmed so he can attend school. Oscar is a surprising character and who has an interesting journey of his own in this story.

Max lives on a street named Albert Jonnart.  Jonnart hid a Jewish boy during WW II in his home, helped  him escape the Nazi’s, but was sent to a labor camp himself. Max sees the comparison between Jonnart and Anne Frank’s story and similarities between the Jewish and the Syrian refugees. He learns as much as he can about Jonnart. It gives Max the courage and inner strength to plan and execute what he feels is “right” for Ahmed, just like Jonnart did.

This is a timely book that clearly demonstrates what fear does to people.  Madame Pauline, a woman Max’s parents hired to keep an eye on him after school, views all Syrians and Muslims as dangerous and potential terrorists. Her life is consumed with fear and hatred, as are other characters in the story who remember how WW II weakened Europe. This is an important topic for discussion.

Nowhere Boy is an exciting read packed with history (past and present), but it’s also a book about friendship, self-discovery and hope. It belongs in classrooms as an important discussion book. Make sure you read the interview questions with the author, Katharine Marsh, at the end of the book and visit her website.

Katherine Marsh is the Edgar Award-winning author of The Night Tourist; The Twilight Prisoner; Jepp, Who Defied the Stars; and The Doors by the Staircase. Katherine grew up in New York and now lives in Brussels, Belgium, with her husband and two children.

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*Reviewed from a library copy.