All the Impossible Things by Lindsay Lackey

All the Impossible Things

Lindsay Lackey, Author

Roaring Brook Press, Fiction, Sep. 3, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Foster Families, Separation, Addiction, Rescue Animals, Friendship, Magic

Book Synopsis:

Red’s inexplicable power over the wind comes from her mother. Whenever Ruby “Red” Byrd is scared or angry, the wind picks up. And being placed in foster care, moving from family to family, tends to keep her skies stormy. Red knows she has to learn to control it, but can’t figure out how.

This time, the wind blows Red into the home of the Grooves, a quirky couple who run a petting zoo, complete with a dancing donkey, a goat that climbs trees and a giant tortoise. With their own curious gifts, Celine and Jackson Groove seem to fit like a puzzle piece into Red’s heart.

But just when Red starts to settle into her new life, a fresh storm rolls in, one she knows all too well: her mother. For so long, Red has longed to have her mom back in her life, and she’s quickly swept up in the vortex of her mother’s chaos. Now Red must discover the possible in the impossible if she wants to overcome her own tornadoes and find the family she needs.

Why I like this book:

Lindsay Lackey’s debut novel speaks powerfully of Red’s deep anger and hurt, which takes the form of strong winds and tornadoes when she loses control of her emotional pain. Her story is as captivating and healing as it is heartbreaking. I

The plot is complex, realistic and skillfully executed. It digs deeply into many themes that include 10-year-old Red’s loss of her “Gamma” three years earlier, her mother’s drug addiction and inprisonment, and her unsuccessful placements in several foster homes. She has a fresh start when the Grooves, welcome her into their home. They have a farm and petting zoo full of rescue animals.

The characters are believable, vulnerable and memorable. Red is somewhat detached at first and finds a healing bond with Tuck, a 400-pound tortoise. She makes friends with a Hawaiian boy, Marvin, who is really into sharing his culture and helps Red with a special project. Red is surprised to find kindred spirits in Celine and Jackson, a middle-aged couple who immediately love her. They support Red in her desire to leave the foster care system and be reunited with her mother, Wanda. And they are there for her when she realizes that they are her forever family.

There is a tad of magic in this story. Both Red and her mother’s power stir up wind storms, has both a magical and emotional quality about it. And, Celine’s ability to make the stars sing when she and Red gaze into the heavens at night. Red hears their songs an finds they soothe her. It really isn’t explained, but I was okay with the wonder of it all. And the fabulous cover shouts magic and will attract readers.

Lindsay Lackey has trained as an opera singer, worked in children’s and teen services at a public library, and worked for a major publishing house in publicity and marketing. All the Impossible Things is her debut novel. Visit Lindsay at her website.
Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

The Dog Who Lost His Bark by Eoin Colfer

The Dog Who Lost His Bark

Eoin Colfer, Author

P.J. Lynch, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 10, 2019

Pages: 144

Suitable for Ages: 7-10 years

Themes: Boy, Dog, Rescue shelter, Divorce, Music, Multigenerational family

Opening: “The LOUD MAN called him DOG. Or PUP. Or MONGREL. But mostly DOG.”

Synopsis: Patrick Coin’s dad is a musician and in Australia, while Patrick and his mother are spending their summer vacation at Grandad’s house. Patrick is puzzled by his father’s absence and isn’t satisfied with his mother’s answers. She suggests Patrick get a dog.

Patrick has longed for a dog of his own forever. With his father away, he could use a best friend more than ever. Grandad suggests they visit the local rescue shelter. Patrick chooses a small, sad dog in the last cage. He names him Oz.

In his short doggy life, Oz has suffered at the hands of bad people. Somewhere out there, he believes, is an awesome boy — his boy. And maybe, when they find each other, Oz will learn to bark again.

Why I like this book:

The cover shouts “read me.” Dog’s face is so sad and lonely.  Nearly every page is accompanied by P.J. Lynch’s realistic and expressive pencil illustrations that illuminate  Eoin Colfer’s heartwarming story and makes it sing.

Readers first meet Dog, who is mistreated and discarded in a dump by previous owners. Dog stops barking because he knows barking means no food and trouble. He’s rescued and taken to a shelter. When Patrick meets Dog, he sees the pup as a “potential soul mate.” Patrick names him Oz. Dog is cautious and afraid, but Patrick is patient and loving.

The story also follows Patrick who has to cope with an absentee father, his parents’ separation and new partners, and some tough choices to make. Foturnately Patrick has a strong bond with his grandfather and a devoted dog who loves him. I enjoy reading stories about multigenerational relationships.

I love how Colfer uses the power of music to heal the mistreated dog, and later, Patrick.  When Grandad plays a melody on a tin whistle, Oz whines most of the tune back to him. Patrick pulls out his violin and starts to play a tune and Oz howls it back to him. Oz finds music soothing and the two create a bond of trust, that carries through to the end of the story, when Patrick discovers the truth of his parents’ separation. Oz knows what Patrick needs to heal.

This inspiring story by Eoin Colfer, internationally best-selling author of the Artemis Fowl fantasy series, is certain to enchant many readers, who will undoubtedly relate to Patrick’s sitution.

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.

*Copy provided by the publisher.

On Snowden Mountain by Jeri Watts

On Snowden Mountain

Jeri Watts, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 10, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 208

Themes: Mental illness, Separation, WW ll, Abuse, Mountain community, Friendship

Book Synopsis:

Ellen’s mother has struggled with depression before, but not like this. With her father away fighting in World War II and her mother unable to care for them, Ellen’s only option is to reach out to her cold, distant Aunt Pearl. Soon enough, city-dwelling Ellen and her mother are shepherded off to the countryside to Aunt Pearl’s home, a tidy white cottage at the base of Snowden Mountain.

Adjusting to life in a small town is no easy thing: the school has one room, one of her classmates smells of skunks, and members of the community seem to whisper about Ellen’s family. She worries that depression is a family curse to which she’ll inevitably succumb, Ellen slowly begins to carve out a space for herself and her mother on Snowden Mountain in this thoughtful, heartfelt middle-grade novel.

Why I like this book:

Jeri Watts has written a richly textured story with a heartwarming narrative about the bond of family, community and their connection to each other. I meandered my way through this story which culminated in a satisfying ending that left me feeling hopeful for Ellen, her family and friends.

The characters are colorful. Ellen is resilient even though her mother is lost to a spell of deep sadness within and her father overseas serving his country. This Baltimore city girl has a lot to get used to living with lively Aunt Pearl — no indoor plumbing, no electricity and outhouses.  Aunt Pearl is a strong woman who speaks her mind. She is stern on the outside and creates a safe space (with structure and hard work) for Ellen, but on the inside she is a generous soul. Ellen develops a friendship with a creative and sensitive boy, Russell Armentrout (Skunk Boy) can’t read or write because he is forced to trap skunks by his drunk and abusive father. Russell teaches Ellen about the nature around her and the special traits of animals. Ellen teaches him to read and count. She also meets other memorable characters who impact her life like Moselle Toms, the town gossip and troublemaker and Miss Spencer, the school teacher.

Watts introduces the reader to some heavy topics: parental separation, mental illness (depression and bipolar disorders), alcoholism, physical and emotional abuse (both child and spousal).  Both Ellen and Russell form a bond as they confront the issues of their parents. These are timely and important issues that many readers will easily identify with. This is an excellent discussion book for students.

Favorite Quotes:

She was right. It was “very different” from Baltimore. There were no streetlights, so velvet darkness wrapped around us that night — a dark of such depth I felt it cloaking me so tightly that I was strangling in it.  So soft, so smooth — and yet so deep as to swallow you.”

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.

You Weren’t With Me by Chandra Ghosh Ippen

You Weren’t with Me

Chandra Ghosh Ippen, Author

Erich Ippen Jr., Illustrator

Piplo Productions, Fiction, Feb. 12, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Separation, Fear, Understanding, Love, Healing

Book Synopsis:

Little Rabbit and Big Rabbit are together after a difficult separation, but even though they missed each other, Little Rabbit is not ready to cuddle up and receive Big Rabbit’s love. Little Rabbit needs Big Rabbit to understand what it felt like when they were apart. “Sometimes I am very mad. I don’t understand why you weren’t with me,” says Little Rabbit. “I worry you will go away again.” Big Rabbit listens carefully and helps Little Rabbit to feel understood and loved. This story was designed to help parents and children talk about difficult separations, reconnect, and find their way back to each other.

What I like about this book:

Chandra Ghosh Ippen’s timely book addresses  a wide variety of painful situations in which a child is separated from a parent: divorce, military deployments, parental incarcerations, parental drug abuse and immigration-related separations. Indeed it is a treasure!  We need more stories like this to help jump-start the important conversations about challenging separations between children and parents. Only then can healing begin.

The animals characters make this book a perfect choice in dealing with tough issues. It isn’t a happy homecoming story, as both Little Rabbit and Big Rabbit have to learn to deal with their feelings and get use to each other. Little Rabbit is angry that Big Rabbit left, worries he/she may leave again and doesn’t trust it won’t happen again. The author gives Little Rabbit time to share his concerns before Big Rabbit responds and they find a way to reconnect.

Ippen’s illustrations are rendered in soft pastels and are priceless. The text is minimal with the illustrations carrying much of the story. There is an occasional burst of color that signals the feelings being shared. I especially like the physical distance and space between the rabbits throughout the story.  Little Rabbit needs time and space until trust is established again.  Slowly they move closer to one another. And the facial expressions are spot on for the feelings being communicated. Great collaboration between the author and illustrator.

Resource: This book is a resource due to the way it is written. It will encourage many important discussions. I think it would be fun to take some of the expressive illustrations and have children fill in their own dialogue.

Chandra Ghosh Ippen combines her love of story and cute creatures with her training in clinical psychology. She is the author of Once I Was Very Very Scared. She has also co-authored over 20 publications related to trauma and diversity-informed practice and has over 10 years of experience conducting training nationally and Internationally.

Erich Ippen Jr. was always interested as a boy to drawing cartoons and character designs. In his professional career, he has created visual effects for movies like Rango, Harry Potter, The Avengers, Star Wars and many other films. He is also a singer, songwriter, music producer and founding member of the local San Francisco band, District 8.

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.

The Little Blue Dragon by Colleen McCarthy-Evans

The Little Blue Dragon

Colleen McCarthy-Evans, Author and Illustrator

Seven Seas Press, Fiction, Nov. 5, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Hurricane, Separation, Loss, Childhood trauma, Courage, Friendship

Opening: In a land not so far away / and not too long ago, / a powerful hurricane / with winds swirling in all directions / separated the Little Blue Dragon / from her mother.

Synopsis: The Little Blue Dragon becomes separated from her mother after a hurricane. When things settle down, she realizes she’s alone in an unfamiliar place. The Little Blue Dragon embarks upon a journey to search for her mother. She flies to south, east, west and north where she meets a variety of friends who guide and loan her a cave to sleep in — monkeys, ducks, dogs, bats, polar bears and a chameleon.

Why I like this book:

This is a lovely book that addresses trauma, separation and loss in a comforting manner. Sometimes scary things happen to children and they don’t know how to cope with the situation. That is when a book like The Little Blue Dragon can be useful in helping children express their feelings and fear.

Colleen McCarthy-Evans’ colorful illustrations take readers on a visual journey through the dragon’s loss and despair to her making a new friend in a chameleon, who is separated from her little ones in a flood. Together they search for their families and find healing along the way. Friendship and courage allows them both to move forward. I like that the story is open-ended and allows children to make up their own ending.

I want to give a little more detail about the unique artwork, which beautifully compliments the story. McCarthy-Evans’ multi-media illustrations are a specialized photographic treatment of dioramas with animals she hand-paints from stones collected from the Pacific Coast of California.

Resources: There is a discussion guide at the end of the book with six great questions that help children and parents take a deeper look into the story. The discussion encourages children to share their feelings and explore how they handle difficult times. This book is also a good resource for teachers and counselors. There also is a list of activities that accompany the story. Children are encouraged to collect rocks and paint them to recreate the animals from the story.

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.

*A review copy was provided by the author.

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.

Teacup by Rebecca Young

teacup9780735227774-jpbTeacup

Rebecca Young, Author

Matt Ottley, Illustrator

Dial Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Oct. 4, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Leaving Home, Sea, Immigrant, Hope

Opening: Once there was a boy who had to leave his home…and find another.

Synopsis: A boy has to leave his home and sets off on a journey into the unknown with a backpack, a book, a bottle, a blanket and a teacup filled with the earth from his homeland.  His life at sea changes daily. Some days the sea is gentle and other days it is rough and unforgiving. Some days the light is bright and some nights are so dark he wishes to see the stars. He listens to the call of the whales and watches changing cloud formations.  One day a sprout appears in his teacup. It grows into a tree that gives him shelter, apples to eat and branches to climb so he can search the horizon for land. The boy finally finds land and he makes it home. He is alone, until…

Why I like this book:

Rebecca Young has written an inspiring and timely tale with spare text, allowing readers to use their imaginations. The language is poetic and hints at the mystery and wonder of the boy’s journey. She doesn’t say why the boy has to leave his home, which leaves this book open for age-appropriate discussions about the reasons people leave their homes. The fact that the boy has to leave his home, makes readers wonder if the boy is an immigrant or refugee. Perhaps he is pursuing a dream. There are many possibilities. This story can also be used to discuss topics like moving, separation, divorce, and homelessness. This is book for all ages and the perfect bedtime story.  The conclusion is very satisfying and hopeful. Matt Ottley’s oil paintings are luminous and show the light and darkness, the loneliness and joy of the boy’s journey.

Resources: This is an excellent discussion book for home and school. Why did the boy leave his home? Ask children to identify reasons.  How did the boy feel sailing in the small rowboat  on the endless ocean? How would they feel sailing in a rowboat on the sea? Encourage them to use their imaginations and make up a short story or draw a picture about their 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 Perfect Picture Books. 

Mountain Dog

Mountain Dog9781250044242_p0_v3_s192x300Mountain Dog

Margarita Engle, Author

Olga and Aleksey Ivanov, Illustrators

Henry Holt and Company, Fiction, 2014

Paperback Pages: 240

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Rescue dogs, Human-animal relationships, Family relationships, Foster care, Hispanic-Americans, Sierra Nevada

Opening: “In my other life there were pit bulls. / The puppies weren’t born vicious, / but Mom taught them how to bite, / turning meanness into money, / until she got caught.”

Book Synopsis: When Tony’s mother goes to jail for being cruel to animals, he is sent to live with a great-uncle he has never met in Sierra Nevada. It is a big move for Tony and different from his life in Los Angeles. Uncle Tio is a forest ranger and owns Gabe, a search-and-rescue dog (SAR). Tony learns the skills he needs to survive in his new environment. With the friendship of Gabe and the support from his uncle, Tony opens himself to a life and a future he never could have imagined.

Why I like Mountain Dog:

  • Margarita Engle writes a moving and sensitive novel that touches on historical facts that include immigration, unhealthy and healthy family relationships, cruelty of animals, and search-and-rescue dogs along the Pacific coast wilderness trails.
  • It is a beautifully inspiring story written in free verse, with alternating chapters in Tony’s and Gabe’s voices. The language is strong and captures Tony’s pain as he struggles with his complicated feelings about his mother and his new life. Gabe shares his upbeat insights into Tony and his unconditional doggy love. I believe it is a story that will appeal to both genders.
  • In many ways, this is a coming of age story for an 11-year-old boy who gets a real chance to experience family with his Tio and Gabe, as he settles into the search and rescue life of the community. The characters are realistic and memorable. There are friendships with Gracie and members of the Cowboy Church (which welcomes horses and dogs), and fellow hikers.
  • The plot is original with moments of action and tension in the vast wilderness that will keep readers turning pages. There is no tidy ending with Tony’s mother.  This is a very sensitive story about a boy who begins to dream, find purpose in his life, and heal.
  • Readers will also enjoy the facts woven into the story about the choice and training of SAR dogs, what to do if you get lost, and survival tips. Olga and Aleksey Ivanov’s black and white illustrations of the SAR dogs in action, bears and wildlife, wilderness treats, and paw prints contribute significantly to Tony’s story.

Resources: There is much back matter in the book from the author, who owns SAR dogs, which makes this a perfect classroom discussion book.  Margarita Engle is a Newbery Honor winner for The Surrender Tree and has written poems plus historical fiction works.  Visit Engle’s website where teachers can find activities for the classroom.

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

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Not This Bear: A First Day of School Story

not this bear22718686Not This Bear: A First Day of School Story

Alyssa Satin Capucilli, Author

Lorna Hussey, Illustrator

Henry Holt and Company, Fiction, Jun. 23, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 2-6

Themes: First day at school jitters, Bears, Separation,  Friendship

Opening: “It was Bear’s first day of school. Mama gave Bear an extra big hug and extra big kiss. Bear held on to Mama tightly.”

Synopsis: Bear is unsure about his first day at school. He’d rather stay at home with Mama. Bear soon discovers that school can be fun. He paints, listens to stories, builds block towers, dresses up, gives a doll a bath, makes a new friend and plays on the playground. After school, Mama is waiting and Bear has a surprise for her.

Why I like this book:

Alyssa Satin Capucilli has written a charming book for children who may be reluctant to attend preschool or kindergarten for the first time. The book sweetly deals with separation anxiety from Mama and is comforting. As Bear hesitantly explores the new and exciting wonders of school, he makes a friend. What I appreciate most about this book is that Bear doesn’t choose gender specific toys and activities. He dresses up like a pirate, plays in the kitchen, and gives a doll a bath. When Bear goes to the playground he prefers to blow bubbles with another bear and make rainbows with chalk instead of swinging and climbing with the other cubs. This is an excellent book to help prepare little ones for school.  Lorna Hussey’s watercolor and ink illustrations are expressive, fun, and endearing. They really contribute to the cozy charm of the story.

Resources: Reading this book to your child is a good way to jump-start a conversation about going to school for the first time. Like Bear, encourage your little cub to paint or draw without coloring books, learn to put things away, play games to learn to take turns, or make a book together about school. Most important, attend an orientation or visit the school ahead of time.

Even though Perfect Picture Books is on vacation until September 11, you can still visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books to see a complete listing of all thePerfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources. 

Rain Reign – Middle Grade

Rain Reign9780312643003_p0_v2_s260x420Rain Reign

Ann M. Martin, Author

Feiwel and Friends, Fiction, Oct. 7, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Winner: 2015 Charlotte Huck Award Winner and the 2015 Schneider Family Book Award

Themes: Animals, Autism Spectrum, Homonyms, Separation, Friendship, Family Relationships, Bravery, Hope

Pages: 223

Opening: “I am Rose Howard and my first name has a homonym. To be accurate, it has a homophone, which is a word that’s pronounced the same as another word but spelled differently My homophone names is Rows.

Book Jacket Synopsis: Rose Howard is obsessed with homonyms. She’s thrilled that her own name is a homonym, and she purposely gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein) which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Not everyone understands Rose’s obsessions, her rules, or the other things that make her different–not her teachers, not other kids, and not her single father. When a storm hits their rural town, rivers overflow, roads are flooded, and Rain goes missing. Rose’s father should not have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search.

Why I like this book: Rain Reign is told from Rose’s point of view. Superb storytelling by Ann Martin who helps her readers experience Rose’s high-functioning mind as she navigates her autistic world. This is not a story about disability, or autism, but a story about a fifth grader who uses her unique abilities and strengths to break some of her rules and routines to search for her lost dog, Rain. Martin’s narrative is seamless and gripping.  Her characters are believable with strong personalities, characteristics and quirks. The story is as captivating and creative as it is heartbreaking. It is set in a small rural town that is ravaged by a hurricane. The plot is well-paced with just the right amount of tension to keep readers intrigued, engaged and guessing. This is a realistic story that is emotionally honest and filled with heart.

Ann M. Martin is the author of Ten Rules for Living with My Sister, Ten Good and Bad Things About My Life, and Everything for a Dog, all from Feiwel and Friends. She won a Newbery Honor Award for A Corner of the Universe, and is the author of the beloved Baby-sitters Club series.