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.

A Happy Hat – Perfect Picture Book Friday

A Happy Hat9781433813382_p0_v1_s260x420A Happy Hat

Cecil Kim, Author

Joo-Kyung Kim, Illustrator

Imagination Press, Fiction, Sep. 28, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes:  Hats, Resilience, Self-worth, Contentment, Optimism, Hope

Opening: “I am a hat. I am worn out here and there. I have a few holes, and even a few weeds sticking out. But I am still very much a hat. A very happy hat. I have lots of stories to tell.”

Synopsis: This is the story of a very happy and stylish hat made by the most popular hat maker in town. It is a  black silk hat decorated with peacock feathers. There are many gentlemen who want to buy the hat.  But, its first owner is a new groom on his wedding day. The hat feels very special to be worn for such a festive occasion.  As time passes the hat ends up in a second-hand store for sale where it is purchased by a magician. The hat feels lucky that it can make so many children laugh. The hat eventually ends up with a street musician who turns it upside down to collect coins to feed his hungry family. The hat is joyful to have children dance and giggle around it. One day a dog steals the hat and abandons it in the woods where it weathers the seasons with a positive attitude, until a mother bird makes her nest in the hat. What will happen to the hat?

Why I like this book:  Cecil Kim has written a beautiful story about an extraordinary hat that manages to find the good in life no matter its challenges. I love that it is told from the hat’s upbeat viewpoint. There are many teachable moments for children to learn about disappointment, challenges, self-worth, self-discovery, hope and optimism — all presented in the tale of a silk top hat. Before it was translated, it was originally published in Korean in 2011.  Joo-Iyung Kim’s illustrations are bold and colorful and remind me of a collage.

Resources: The book itself is a resource. The tale ends with a double-page spread of illustrations that give children the opportunity to imagine and write a caption about what the hat, the magician and street musician are thinking.  After the baby bird leaves the hat, children are encouraged to draw a picture of who they think should be the hat’s next owner. There also is a double-page spread written by Mary Lamia, PhD, for parents, teachers and caregivers on how to teach children about disappointment, encourage hope, and develop a positive outlook on life.

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.

Cloudette

Cloudette is written and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld for children 4 to 8 yrs.  A very simple and charming book about a little cloud with a big message.  The pastel illustrations are beautiful and unique.   This book is a winner children of all ages will enjoy reading again and again.

Cloudette is a very small cloud, as clouds go.  There are some advantages to being small.  Cloudette has lots of friends, she can  fit in tight spaces, and she has her own cozy place to sleep.  There is only one problem, Cloudette isn’t big enough to do what the BIG clouds do, like create huge rain and snow storms, and water crops.   As she watches from a distance, she wants to make a difference in the world.  Then a big storm  hits her neighborhood and she is blown far away where she finds herself on a journey.  Through much determination,  perseverance and courage, Cloudette finds a way to do something important.  A very sweet book about self-discovery.  Watch the book following book trailer.