Undiscovered Country by Jennifer Gold

Undiscovered Country

Jennifer Gold, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Apr. 4,2017

Suitable for Ages: 13-18

Themes: Grief, Coming of age, South America, Humanitarian work, War, Mental Illness, Ethnic Minorities

Book Jacket Synopsis: You can run from grief, but it will follow…

Cat’s life is divided. There is the time Before her mom died, and After. When her mom got sick, Cat still did her homework and got accepted into a prestigious college, while her father slowly shut down. Now, everything seems meaningless.

Before, Cat was happy and had momentum. After, she feels stuck. And angry. There might be five stages of grief, but Cat can’t get past stage two. She’s so filled with rage, her doctor tries to medicate her. A pill to make her feel like a zombie? No thanks.

When Cat finds a brochure for Students Without Boundaries – a volunteer program that will send her to South America — she grabs it. It’s her escape from the memories of her mother and the reality of her absence. But life as a “voluntourist” is not an escape. The new people and places Cat meets bring new perspectives and challenges she never expected. Life may still have meaning after all.

Why I like this book:

Jennifer Gold has written a compelling coming of age story about Cat, who is trying to find meaning and purpose in her life after the death of her mother. Gold’s story is carefully crafted with skill and depth.

The story is written in first person with alternating chapters. The “Before” story focuses on Cat’s close bond with her mother throughout her battle with cancer and final moments of death. It is powerful and it carries secrets that will give readers insight into Cat’s choices to leave. “After,” shows Cat’s journey to the jungles of South America, the extreme hardships, poverty, violence, and danger she encounters and her important work in the Infirmary. The alternating chapters work because of the strong “Before” storyline.

The characters are authentic and vulnerable. Cat is a strong and convincing character that readers will connect with and like from the start. She knows that doing humanitarian work in of a war-torn country is a way for her to not dwell on her mother’s absence in her life. She meets other volunteers in the program, like Taylor, Margo, and Melody, who are running away from their own demons in a similar manner. Rafael is a local, who captures Cat’s heart. He heads up a local  resistance movement against the corrupt government and makes deals with some dark figures. Cat’s relationship with him is tricky and will challenge her to make grown-up decisions.

Readers will find the plot is courageous with complicated and multi-layered themes I haven’t even mentioned. The jungle setting is so realistic that readers will feel like they are dripping in sweat, slapping huge mosquitoes, and checking their boots every morning for snakes. It is not a safe place to be with danger an ever-present concern.  The tension is palpable and will keep readers engaged.

Jennifer Gold is a lawyer and mother of two. She is the author of the YA novel Soldier Doll. A history buff, she also has degrees in psychology, law, and public health. She lives in Toronto. Visit Gold online at her website.

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

*I was provided with a copy of this book from the publisher in turn for a fair and honest review.

My Demon’s Name is Ed by Danah Khalil

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My Demon’s Name is Ed

Danah Khalil, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Oct. 4, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 12-16

Themes: Anorexia Nervosa, Eating Disorders, Peer Pressure, Mental Health, Self-Esteem, Courage, Hope

Synopsis: Danah’s eating disorder has a personality — it’s a demon she calls Ed, the voice in her head that undermines her self-esteem and her perception of the world. How can she explain to her family and friends that even when she tries to develop healthier eating and exercising habits, there is a demon wriggling inside her mind, determining her every step?

ED: “There is nothing wrong while I am in control.”

“You see? It is “normal” to lose weight. I told you. Yes, I am always right. You must keep going. Keep going.

While Danah knows that what she is doing is unhealthy, the validation and sense of control that her “demon” gives her begins to win out over everything and everyone else.

Why I like this book:

Danah Khalil has written compelling novel based on her own struggle with an eating disorder, anorexia nervosa. She is 14 years old when her dieting begins. It takes guts to share something so profoundly emotional and deeply personal. I applaud Danah for bravely sharing her realistic story. Her suffering is visceral. Her voice is completely authentic. The solitude and misery she plummets into is dark and seductive. She calls the demon who lives in her head, “Ed.” And, with every journal entry, Ed’s voice  (written in italics,) is there to coax, command and control her every thought and action.

Danah tells her story entirely through diary entries she started at age 14, at the beginning of the anorexia through her recovery at age 18. Although it is an interesting way to watch the progression of her anorexia, the entries become very focused on meal plans, weighing herself, daily workouts, anger towards her parents, and some lovely poetry. This is the isolation she creates for herself. My only sadness is that I never really get to know Danah, her family and friends, even after she enters a treatment facility. I hoped her therapy would reveal more family interaction.

Danah’s story is a hopeful story for families with a child who has an anorexia, or for anyone who is close to someone with an eating disorder. Although Danah recovers, she acknowledges that it will be with her forever and she will need to stay vigilant. Many years ago I worked with teens and young women with eating disorders and it brought back many memories. My Demon’s Name is Ed  is an excellent book that will alert parents, siblings, friends, and teachers to the earliest symptoms of eating disorders and seek help.

Resources: The book includes information on common symptoms and book recommendations. I recommend that readers also check out the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA),  which provides information about the eating disorders, support groups, treatment options and stories of hope.

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

The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

Seventh Wish51YFk8Hy66L__SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Seventh Wish

Kate Messner, Author

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, Fiction, Jun. 7, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Magic, Wishes, Ice Fishing, Irish Dancing, Siblings, Family Relationships

Opening: “I’ve only seen the ice flowers once.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: When Charlie Brennan goes ice fishing on her town’s frozen lake, she’s hoping the fish she reels in will help pay for her dream: a fancy Irish dancing dress for her upcoming competition. But when Charlie’s first catch of the day happens to be a talking fish offering her a wish in exchange for its freedom, her world turns upside down, as her wishes go terribly — and hilariously — wrong.

Just as Charlie is finally getting the hang of communicating with a magical wishing fish, a family crisis with her older sister brings reality into sharp focus. Charlie quickly learns that the real world doesn’t always keep fairy-tale promises and life’s toughest challenges can’t be fixed by a simple wish.

Why I like this book:

Kate Messner’s charming coming of age book, The Seventh Wish, is appropriate for all middle grade students. Her imagery is beautiful as she cleverly weaves magic into the story with Charlie’s catching a talking fish that grants her wishes. The wishes may at first seem like an easy way to help herself and her friends, but she soon discovers that life’s challenges aren’t always easy. Especially when Charlie discovers her older sister has a drug addiction and overdoses.

Messner bravely addresses some meaty issues, like heroin addiction, in an age-appropriate manner. I know this has caused some controversy. But I believe it is an issue that siblings may face with older brothers and sisters. And as in any family health crisis, Charlie feels invisible when her parents’ focus shifts to concern about Abby’s addiction and Abby’s treatment. Because of Abby, Charlie dreams are put on hold as she has to adjust her life, make excuses to her science fair team and dance friends, misses an important Irish dance competition and can’t buy her new glittery costume. I know some families who would appreciate this book.

The story is character-driven, with Charlie narrating. Her voice is an authentic and typical of a middle grade girl and a younger sister. She loves school and is interested in her friends and boys. Her passion is Irish dancing and she’s working hard to move up to higher levels of difficulty. She overcomes her fear of the ice and spends a lot of time ice fishing on the pond with her neighbor, Drew, and his grandmother,  Mrs. McNeill, who bring some balance to Charlie’s life. She catches a lot of perch and realizes that she can earn enough money to buy her first real dance glittery Irish dress.

The strong plot is clever and engaging. In the first half of the story we really get to know Charlie and her relationship with her family and friends. After the fateful call about sister’s overdose, the second half  focuses on Abby and the family in crisis mode. The pace is fast-moving with many unexpected twists that will have reader fully engaged and surprised. This is an excellent book that will help teens to discuss drugs and addiction with family and teachers.

Kate Messner is a former middle-school English teacher and the author of All the Answers, Wake Up Missing, Eye of the Storm, Sugar and Ice, The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. and its e-book companion, The Exact Location of Home, Capture the Flag, Hide and Seek, and All the Answers. She has also written chapter and picture books. Follow Kate Messner at her website.

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

Jealous

Jealous9781632310071_p0_v2_s260x420Jealous

Esther Adler, Author

Shrutkirti Kaushal, Illustrator

Westlake Gavin Publishers, Nonfiction, Oct. 19, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Helping children cope with jealousy

Opening: “When I feel jealous, my mouth tastes sour like a green pickle. When I am jealous, I can’t stop thinking I want it to.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: In this book, children will learn how to identify the physical sensations of feeling jealous, explore typical situations where they might be prone to feeling jealous, and develop coping skills to manage their jealousy more effectively.

Why I like this book:

  • It is a clever book that is written in a simple and straightforward manner.
  • The book associates a specific color and animal character with a feeling. Children will easily identify with this concept!
  • It is a go-to book for parents and educators to use when they see a child is acting out and is not able to handle a feeling.
  • The book helps kids build a healthy awareness of their feelings and learn coping mechanisms.
  • The illustrations are simple, bold and colorful, and support the book theme.
  • It is also a great classroom discussion book.

Resources: There are “interactive exercises woven throughout the book” and a series of worksheets at the end where the kids can draw a picture of what they look like when are jealous; make a list of what makes them feel jealous; write a short story about a time when they felt jealous; and draw a picture  about a time when they felt jealous. The worksheets from the books can be printed and used for free at http://www.BrightAwareness.com/print.

Note: Jealous is the fourth book in the ColorFeeling series that help children identify the physical sensations of feelings.  The other books include Angry, Sad and Happy. See book covers below.

Esther Adler, LMHC, received her undergraduate degree in Psychology and graduate degree in Mental Health Counseling from Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. She counsels children of all ages in schools and privately. In her work within the field, Esther saw the need for the ColorFeeling series to help children develop a healthy awareness of their feelings. She is the mother of six children.

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

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Visiting Feelings

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Lauren Rubenstein, Ph.D., Author

Shelly Hehenberger, Illustrator

Magination Press,  Fiction, Sept. 28, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Being aware of feelings, Mindfulness,Yoga

Opening: “Do you have a feeling that’s visiting today?/Can you open your door and invite it to play?/Can you ask what it wants, and then check it out?/Welcome it and listen to what it’s about?”

Synopsis from Book Jacket: Visiting Feelings harnesses a young child’s innate capacity to fully experience the present moment. Rather than label or define specific emotions and feelings, Visiting Feelings invites children to sense, explore and befriend all of their feelings with acceptance and equanimity. Children can explore their emotions with their senses and gain an understanding of how feelings can lodge in the body, as conveyed by the common expressions like “a pit in the stomach” or “a lump in the throat.”

Why I like this book: Lauren Rubenstein has written a very poetic and sensitive book that helps children explore their feelings.  I wish I had this book when my daughter was young. She encourages kids to make friends with their feelings, get to know them, and find where they settle in their body. Rubenstein cleverly uses beautiful metaphors like: “Is it bright like the sun?/Dark like the rain?/Or is it a look you can’t even explain?” and “Is it warm or cold?/Sour or sweet?/Does it shiver with fear when the two of you meet?” and “How did this feeling enter your house?/ Did it barge right in!/Was it shy like a mouse?” Shelly Hehenberger’s illustrations are whimsical and dreamy lulling the reader along and adding to the  rhythm of the story. The illustrations are created digitally using hand-painted textures and overlays.

Resources: A clinical psychologist, Rubenstein includes a double- page spread  at the end of  the book with suggestions on how to teach children to practice mindfulness and nurture their emotional intelligence.  It is all about learning to stop and be aware of the moment. This is a wonderful book for parents and educators. She also believes in teaching children yoga.  Proceeds from Visiting Feelings will be donated to the Go Give Yoga Foundation, where she teaches yoga and mindfulness to children and adolescents in Haiti.

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 Perfect Picture Books.

Yell and Shout, Cry and Pout

yellshout1Yell and Shout, Cry and Pout: A Kid’s Guide to Feelings

Peggy Kruger Tietz, Ph.D., Author

Rebecca Layton, Illustrator

CreateSpace, Mar. 25, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 5 and up

Themes: Learning about emotions and feelings

Opening:What makes you laugh, or blush, or run and hide? What makes your eyes open wide? Can you guess? Do you know? Whatever you feel inside will show…Feelings tell you what’s happening to you. Learn all their names because each is there to take care of YOU.”

Book Synopsis: Yell and Shout, Cry and Pout is an essential guidebook for adults in steering children through the different facets of emotions. Each of the eight emotions is clearly defined through vignettes and illustrations, keeping both adult and child captivated, thus creating an opportune time for discussion. By recognizing that all humans experience these emotions throughout their lives, the book provides a true sense of comfort.  The different ranges of emotions are not to be shunned but rather embraced and explained to provide a positive development environment for all children.

Why I like this book: Peggy Kruger Tietz, Ph.D., has written a very clever and important guide to help children identify eight different emotions: anger, fear, shame, sadness, happiness, love, disgust and surprise. I hope I have your attention because I know when I mentioned emotions you immediately thought of negative ones. This isn’t the case because the author also deals with positive emotions. I also like her consistent and simple format. Each emotion has a color. She identifies an emotion like shame with the color gray. Shame “tells us we’ve done something wrong and helps us say we’re sorry.” On the following page you are asked how you might respond or what happens to you when you feel ashamed: turn bright red, hang your head, look away or try to leave. Then there are examples of what you might do when you feel ashamed: lying, not seeking help when a friend is bullied or calling someone a mean name. Then it ends with a question to the child, “What might make You ashamed?

This guide offers parents, teachers and counselors a peek into the inner emotional lives of children. I believe that both children and adults lack the language to express what they are feeling. It is a relief for children to have a way to describe their experiences. And a blessing for  parents to have some insight in how to deal with puzzling behavior.  Excellent team work between author and illustrator. Rebecca Layton’s illustrations are simple black and white drawings with a splash of color that matches the emotion being discussed.  The drawings also are lively and expressive.  I highly recommend this book.

Visit Peggy Kruger Tietz at her website.  She is a psychologist and has counseled parents and children for over 30 years.

 

Nobody’s Perfect – Chapter Book

Nobody's Perfect104038626Nobody’s Perfect:  A Story for Children About Perfectionism

Ellen Flanagan Burns, author

Erica Pelton Villnave, illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, 2009

Suitable for:  Ages 8 and up

Themes:  Perfectionism, Making Mistakes, Doing Your Best

Synopsis“Sally Sanders is a perfectionist — if she can’t be the best, she feels like a failure.”  This is a Chapter Book and each chapter features Sally in variety of situations that seem more like a series of examples — a piano recital, school play, school project, volleyball and soccer — where her perfectionism prevents her from having fun.   But, there is a very strong message for children who feel that they aren’t good enough.  Gradually, Sally learns with the help of her teachers, friends and mother, that no one is perfect and making mistakes is part of growing up.

Why I like this book:  Children want  to feel successful.  No child wants to feel like a loser.  But, sometimes wanting to be the best can lead to perfectionism and require help from parents, teachers and counselors.  Children can become anxious, stressed and not want to attend school.  With the beginning of the school year, it would be a good time to share this book with your kids and let them know that you don’t expect them to be perfect with everything they do.  The author, Ellen Flanagan Burns is a psychologist and writes a lovely introduction to the book with suggestions.  She mentions her own problem with perfectionism as a child.  The illustrations by Erica Pelton Villnave are colorful and expressive and appear on every page.