A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

A Wish in the Dark

Christina Soontornvat, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Mar. 24, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  Fantasy, Privilege, Oppression, Poverty, Justice, Friendship, Courage, Self-discovery

Book Synopsis:

After a Great Fire destroys the city of Chattana, a man appears before the starving people and offers to bring peace and order to the city. He is called the Governor and he magically lights the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights across the river represent freedom and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them in the city. But when Pong escapes from the prison, he realizes that the world outside is just as unfair as the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb lights, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.

Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, Christina Soontornvat’s twist on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a dazzling, fast-paced adventure that explores the difference between law and justice — and asks whether one child can shine a light in the dark.

Why I like this book:

A Wish in the Dark is a timeless Asian fantasy that is exquisitely penned by Christina Soontornvat.  Her storytelling and literary style elevate readers’ sense of wonder. The magical Thai setting, well-crafted characters, riveting plot and the gorgeous imagery are so beautifully intertwined that they create an electrifying experience.

At the beginning of the story, the main characters Pong, Somkit and Nok, are 10 years old. As the story unfolds readers will experience their character growth to age 13, as they journey towards self-discovery, which is different for each. Pong is an observer, who has become restless in the confines of a prison. He wants his freedom. Pong looks out for his best friend, Somkit, a small boy who has health issues. When Pong flees, he feels guilt over leaving his defenseless friend behind. The bond between the boys is so natural that they feel like brothers. Nok is the warden’s daughter. She lives a privileged life and is brainwashed by the Governor’s magic and believes his teachings are sacred. Pong and Nok are complete opposites and their journey is fraught with tension and excitement.

This stand-alone novel deals with many social justice issues: the inequality among classes, poverty, oppression, greed, corruption and power. In this novel, power is used by the Governor to control and manipulate those he claims to care about. In Father Cham, a monk, and Ampai, a woman living among the poorest citizens, power is used in loving kindness for the good of all people.  It is a particularly relevant discussion point for students in classrooms.

Verdict: This book is a gem. It may appear to be dark, but don’t let that fool you. Because at its center, there is heart and light.

Christina Soontornvat grew up in a small Texas town, where she spent many childhood days behind the counter of her parents’ Thai restaurant with her nose in a book. She is the author of engaging picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books for children, including the fantasy series, The Changelings, and the upcoming nonfiction account of the Thai Cave Rescue, All Thirteen. She now lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two children.

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 an exchange for a review.

Feminist, Social Justice-Themed Board Books for Children

I Want to Be…, Nibi is Water and I am Violet, are part of Second Story Press’s first season releasing feminist, social justice-themed board books for babies and toddlers, ages 0-3 years. The three books explore some  amazing and unusual jobs people do; talk about how we use our precious water; and celebrate the color of our skin. Such a wonderful and diverse series of books for little ones! There is simplicity in all three books and they are beautifully illustrated in bright colors that will please toddlers.

I Want to Be…A Gutsy Girls’ ABC

Farida Zarman, Author and Illustrator

Apr. 14, 2020

Synopsis: Filled with diversity and empowerment, little girls will see that they can be anything they want. There are an alphabet of possibilities for when you grow up. Some jobs sound fun — ice sculptor, toymaker, dog handler, kite designer, party planner, and wind farmer. And some jobs sound exciting and important — jockey, aerialist, novelist, sportscaster, oceanographer, and mountain climber. Each fun letter is complimented by an illustration of a girl filled with delight and wonder as she shows us how we can be anything we want to be.

Nibi is Water (Nibi Aawon Nbiish)

Joanne Robertson, Author and Illustrator

Apr. 14, 2020

Synopsis: A first conversation about the importance of nibi (water) told from an Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) perspective. Toddlers will learn about the many forms of water in rain, snow and ice. They use water to drink, bathe, brush their teeth and flush the toilet. They build snowmen in the winter, swim in the pool or canoe on a lake. Nature depends upon water to grow plants, food, and trees. Animals need water to drink and fish swim in water. Our role is to thank, respect, love and protect nibi in our daily activities.

I Am Violet

Tania Duprey Stehlik, Author

Vanja Vuleta Jovanovic, Illustrator

Synopsis: This book celebrates and explores how people come in a rainbow of beautiful colors. A little girl looks around her and sees that some people are blue, some are green, some are red. People in the world come in a rainbow of colours and Violet herself is a wonderful mixture of her mom and dad. Her mom is red, her dad is blue, and, as the little girl declares: “I am proud to be both. I am proud to be me! I am Violet!” Her message of pride and acceptance has been simplified for the youngest among us so it can be shared even earlier.

Resources: All three books are great first discussion books. Parents can help toddlers  identify letters associated with amazing gender-neutral jobs; they can talk with them about protecting water and learn dual language words (glossary at the end); and they can help their little ones explore their own skin color and the skin color of others.  Encourage children to draw pictures of fun jobs, how they use water, and self/family portraits showing their skin colors in bright colors. Children have big imaginations.

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 copies provided by the publisher.

The Case of the Missing Auntie by Michael Hutchinson

The Case of the Missing Auntie (A Mighty Muskrats Mystery)

Michael Hutchinson

Second Story Press, Fiction, Mar. 17, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes: Mystery, Adventure, First Nations, Canada, Indigenous Children, Government, Bullies

Publisher’s Synopsis:

In this second book in the Mighty Muskrats Mystery series, the four problem-solving cousins (now bona fide amateur sleuths) are off to the city to have fun at the the Exhibition Fair. But when Chickadee asks Grandpa what he would like them to bring back from the city, she learns about Grandpa’s missing little sister. The sister was “scooped up” by the government and adopted out to strangers without her parents’ permission many years ago — like many Indigenous children. Their grandfather never stopped missing her or wondering what happened to her. Now the Mighty Muskrats have a new mystery to solve.

Once in the bright lights of the big city, the cousins get distracted, face-off with bullies, meet some heroes and unlikely teachers, and encounter racism and many other difficulties First Nations kids can face in the city. The Muskrats’ search for their missing auntie will take them all the way to the government, where they learn hard truths about their country’s treaatment of First Nations people.

Why I like this book:

The Mighty Muskrats are back again and they have a new mystery to solve, finding their Cree grandfather’s missing sister, Charlotte. The story is entertaining in the beginning as the four cousins leave the reservation (rez) to have fun in the big city and sobering once they settle down to pursue every lead to discover what happened to Charlotte.

Michael Hutchinson’s captivating mystery brings history to life and helps readers learn about the injustice done to indigenous First Nations children between 1950-1980. The stories of mistreatment and betrayal by the government must be told so youth of today don’t forget what happened to many of their relatives.

Chickadee takes the lead in this story. She is a savvy and unstoppable detective who is not going to let the government bureaucracy get in her way as she travels back and forth between agencies and administrators who go by the book when they could show some heart.  For, Atim attending the Exhibition Fair is his mission. Otter’s heart is focused on getting concert tickets to see his favorite band, “The Wovoka Wail.” Samuel leads them into trouble with dangerous gangs and bullies, before he gets serious about the search for their great-aunt Charlotte. After some teenage missteps, the three male cousins show their super sleuth abilities and stand with Chickadee.

I enjoyed this contemporary story about four resourceful teens, the Indigenous “rez”, mixed with tribal wisdom of their grandfather, a respected elder. The ending is well done and I don’t want to give anything away for readers. Just make sure you have a box of kleenex handy.

Make sure you check out the first book in this Mighty Muskrats Mystery series, The Case of Windy Lake, about growing up on a First Nations reservation. This book is ideal for school libraries and classroom reading.

Michael Hutchinson is a member of the Misipawistik Cree Nation. He currently lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he works with organizations that advocate for First Nations families in Manitoba and across Canada.

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.

Stand Up! by Wendy L. Moss

Stand Up!: Be an Upstander and Make a Difference

Wendy L. Moss, PHD, author

Magination Press, Nonfiction, Dec. 3, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 13-19

Pages: 112

Themes: Caring, Kindness, Courage, Assertiveness, Social Justice, Making a Difference

Book Synopsis:

Do you want to be an Upstander who makes the world a better place by standing up to bullying and injustice in your school, home, or community? If so, this book is for you!

You may doubt that one kid can make a difference. You can’t fly like Wonder Woman or scale walls like Spiderman, but you could be a hero to someone else by speaking up. Small changes can lead to bigger and bigger changes!

Chock full of quizzes, examples, practical advice, and small steps you can take in your real life, Stand Up!: Be an Upstander and Make a Difference takes readers through the ways to be an Upstander, including being kind to yourself, having empathy for others, spreading kindness, and dealing with conflicts.

Why I like this book:

My favorite kind of stories to share are books that show kids making a difference in their schools, communities and world. This remarkable resource speaks directly to teens who want to focus on helping themselves and others in a multitude of social situations. It may be in standing up for equality and fairness. Being the kindness that you want to receive. Dealing with situations that involve anger and conflict in a respectful manner.

I like the term Upstander which means “a person who stands up to support fairness and respect while also trying to decrease bullying and injustice.” Being an Upstander begins with understanding yourself — how you do you feel most of the time? It’s hard to help others until you know what pushes your buttons.

This book is about empowerment and is not preachy!  And it is a fun read. Moss provides ideas and strategies throughout the book that work. Each chapter has a theme and is packed with real-life stories, situations, quizzes, and practical suggestions and strategies to help readers handle difficult moments with sound advice.

Educators: This book belongs in your classrooms. It is a much-needed resource to help  students stand up for what is right. It also encourages team work among students.

Wendy L. Moss, PhD, ABPP, FAASP, has her doctorate in clinical psychology, is a licensed psychologist, and has a certification in school psychology. Dr. Moss has practiced in the field of psychology for over 30 years and has worked in hospital, residential, private practice, clinic, and school settings. She has the distinction of being recognized as a diplomate in school psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology for her advanced level of competence in the field of school psychology.

Dr. Moss has been appointed as a fellow in the American Academy of School Psychology. In addition, she is the author of Bounce Back: How to Be a Resilient Kid, Being Me: A Kid’s Guide to Boosting Confidence and Self-Esteem, and Children Don’t Come With an Instruction Manual: A Teacher’s Guide to Problems That Affect Learners; coauthor, with Donald A. Moses, MD, of The Tween Book: A Growing-Up Guide for the Changing You; coauthor, with Robin A. DeLuca-Acconi, LCSW, of School Made Easier: A Kid’s Guide to Study Strategies and Anxiety-Busting Tools; coauthor, with Susan A. Taddonio, DPT, of The Survival Guide for Kids With Physical Disabilities & Challenges; and has written several articles.

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.

Our Future: How Kids are Taking Action by Janet Wilson

Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Jan. 31, 2020

#ReadYourWorld

Our Future: How Kids are Taking Action

Janet Wilson, Author and Illustrator

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Sep. 10, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Child Activists, Making a Difference, Climate Action, Cyberbullying, Gun Violence, Social Justice

Opening: “As anyone will admit, listening to the news can be scary — hurricanes, school shootings, forest fires, wars. What are we to make of a world that seems ever more troubled and fragile?… And so kids are taking action, rising to question the sanity of common practices.” 

Book Synopsis:

From climate action to cyberbullying, from gun violence to animal protection, these young activists have brought about real change.

Young people from across the globe are raising awareness about what issues matter to them most and working to protect the future of the worlds we all share.

American Jaelun Parkerson kneels with his football teammates during the national anthem to protest racial injustice, Canadian Autumn Peltier spoke in front of the United Nations to raise awareness about water pollution; and Tiassa Mutunkei from Kenya started a club for young people to stop elephants from being killed for their ivory tusks. All of them are making a difference for the future of our plaent — and you can too!

Why I like this book:

Janet Wilson writes empowering and timely nonfiction books about ordinary young people who see injustice around them and take action  — no matter how small or large — and make a contribution in their communities, countries and world.

Wilson’s books are my favorite kind of books to share because there is an urgency in our world and kids are concerned that adults aren’t doing enough. We hear it in the plea from 15-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden who is leading worldwide protests for climate change and speaking before the United Nations because she feels leaders are failing her generation. Meet Melati and Isabel Wijsen of Indonesia, who saw firsthand the negative impacts of plastic pollution and petitioned their government to ban plastic bags in Bali.

These children and teens are bold and brave and are working for the rights of children in a peaceful way.  Wilson captures their engaging stories in a double-page spread which features a warm and beautifully painted illustration of the featured child on the left and text and photographs about the child’s contribution on the right, along with a colorful sidebar of other kids doing similar projects globally. Read their stories and you will be inspired! This multiculatural book belongs in school libraries.

Resources: The book is a resource. At the end there is a section for students on “What YOUth Can Do,” that will spark many lively discussions and encourage kids to think about what they may do alone or together to make the world a better place. What will you do? Visit Janet Wilson at her website.

Quote:

“Young people are a part of the largest generation in history — two billion strong. Around the globe young people are coming together to build a movement for success…Yes we face a lot of big problems, but we can start fixing them through a lot of small actions…If each one of you takes action, you will create a wave of action like this world has never, ever seen. Be a part of two billion acts for good. Because, step by step, little by little, we will get to a better world. Together let’s get the job done.” Amina Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General

Janet Wilson is an artist and author of many picture books on child activism including  Our Earth: How Kids are Saving the Planet, and Our Rights: How Kids are Changing the World, and Our Heroes: How Kids are Making a Difference, which are popular with educators and students. She also wrote Shannen and the Dream for a School and Severn and the Day She Silenced the World.  Winter’s books  have won many awards.

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.

Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice

Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice

Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, Authors

Jennifer Zivoin, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, Apr. 4, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Racial injustice, Police shooting, Racism, Prejudice, Inequality, Social Justice

Opening “Something bad happened in our town. The news was on the TV, the radio, and the internet. The grown-ups didn’t think the kids knew about it.”

Book Synopsis:

This story follows a White family and a Black family as they discuss their reactions to a recent police shooting of a Black man. Emma and Josh first hear some older kids discussing the shooting at school. And they have a lot of questions when they go home.

Emma questions her white parents about the tragedy. Emma wants to know why the police shot the man. Her parents say the shooting was “a mistake.”  Her sister, Liz, says “the cops shot him because he was Black.” This leads them to a discussion about racism, inequality, slavery and prejudice.

Josh is Black and wants to know if the White policeman can go to jail? It gives his family the chance to have an open discussion about the shooting, racial profiling, inequality and the unique issues for African American families. They inspire him with stories about Black leaders who stood up for people treated unfairly.

When Emma and Josh return to school, there is a new boy in their classroom. His name is Omad. At recess none of the kids want to include Omad in a soccer game because he is different. But Emma and Josh remember their discussions with their parents and take action.

Why I like this book:

Kudos to the authors for writing this timely and compelling book for children about a difficult topic — police shootings. I also like the fact that both Emma and Josh have older siblings who speak their minds. The book narrative and language is age-appropriate and encourages questions and thoughtful discussions.  The illustrations are expressive, colorful and capture the tension in the story. I hope that Something Happened in Our Town receives a lot of book love because it is a powerful and relevant resource for classrooms. The positive resolution empowers kids to make an effort to connect with kids who may be ignored and make a difference in their communities.

Resources: The book is a wonderful resource for parents and teachers. There is a Note to Parents and Caregivers at the end that provides general guidance about addressing racism with children, child-friendly vocabulary definitions, conversation guides, and a link to additional online resources for parents and teachers. In addition to modeling conversations about race, this book provides messages of acceptance, empowerment and positive community support.

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.

We Say #Never Again: Reporting by Parkland Student Journalists

We Say #Never Again: Reporting by the Parkland Student Journalists

Melissa Falkowski & Eric Garner, Editing by MSD Teachers

Crown Books for Young Readers, Nonfiction, Oct. 2, 2019

Pages: 272

Suitable for Ages: 14 and up

Themes: School shooting, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Student reporters, Social activism

Finalist: Senior High Nonfiction category of the Cybils Award, which will be announced Feb. 14, 2019

Book Synopsis: Our story. Our lives. Our School.

While the world reported on the events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Feb. 14, 2018, the students themselves were reporting the story and living through it. Many of the most impactful voices in the #NeverAgain movement came through the school’s journalism and broadcasting programs, and they have credited their teachers and the training they received for allowing them to think critically and communicate clearly – enabling them to launch a movement that has inspired a nation.

But how do student journalists report effectively when they have become the story? How do the write about loss when it impacts their own lives so deeply? The insight the students have gained about the media, ethics and researching the public has not only motivated others to join this movement, but has encouraged them to start movements of their own.

Reporting from inside the media storm that followed the Parkland tragedy, these clear-eyed and passionate young reporters bring a fresh perspective to a crucial American issue, while shining a bright light on the importance of journalism in our free society.

Why I love this book:

This sensitive and convincingly penned book is a natural outcome of the events of the horrific shooting of 17 students and faculty members at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas (MSD) on Feb. 14, 2018. It is a story that only the students can tell. It is raw, honest and powerful. It is a hopeful story about a generation who wants to make a difference in their world.

The book was written by the students, but edited by teachers Melissa Falkowski (journalism) and Eric Garner (broadcasting). Each teacher wrote compelling opening chapters in the book that gave an account of the events that fateful day and how the student reporters and broadcasters stepped forward as professionals to report for the school newspaper, website and TV station. The teachers provide  convincing arguments for the importance of supporting high school journalism/broadcasting programs and student-run newspapers.

The students contributed short chapters about being thrust into the spotlight, dealing with criticism, meeting politicians, managing their own trauma, becoming activists, reporting extraordinary acts by MSD students and teachers, dealing with criticism, and managing their own trauma. The book is well documented with photographs of people and events.

The students were trained and prepared by their teachers in the MSD journalism and broadcasting programs. They were part of the story, but they reported the story. From the start the editorial staff decided they would not name the shooter and give him the notoriety he sought. They felt it would be irresponsible journalism. He was not mentioned in the school newspaper or when staff members were interviewed by the national media, spoke at rallies and wrote this magnificent book. It was refreshing to see these students stand strong in their beliefs of what was right and wrong in the reporting of this monumental event in their lives. Their reporting was impartial as they held to a standard that surpasses much of the sensationalism we see in  media today. When they moved into the role of activism at the forefront of the March for Our Lives movement against gun violence, they were prepared and supported.

I studied journalism in high school and in college. What stood out for me was how the MSD multi-media programs inspired high schools students to find their voices and stand up for a cause they believed in — gun violence in America. This book is an excellent discussion book for high school students and teachers. It belongs in every school library.

Melissa Falkowski has been the faculty adviser of the Eagle Eye for the last three years. She has been teaching English and creative writing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for 14 years. Once a student journalist herself, Melissa became a teacher to empower students and help them find their voices through journalism.

Eric Garner leads the Television Production Academy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, preparing students for the broadcast journalism and film industries. He has been a television production and film instructor for over 25 years and has worked at WPTV in West Palm Beach, Florida’s News Channel, and WTVJ in Miami/Fort Lauderdale.

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.

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees

Mary Beth Leatherdale, Author

Eleanor Shakespeare, Illustrator

Annick Press, Nonfiction, Apr. 11, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 10-12

Pages: 64

Themes: Boat refugees, Children refugees, Seeking asylum, Persecution, War, Natural Disasters, Courage

Publisher Synopsis:

The plight of refugees risking their lives at sea has, unfortunately, made the headlines all too often in the past few years. This book presents five true stories, from 1939 to today, about young people who lived through the harrowing experience of setting sail in search of asylum: Ruth (18) and her family board the St. Louis to escape Nazism; Phu (14) sets out alone from war-torn Vietnam; José (13) tries to reach the United States from Cuba; Najeeba (11) flees Afghanistan and the Taliban; and after losing his family, Mohamed (13) abandons his village on the Ivory Coast in search of a new life. But life is not easy once they arrive. It’s hard to fit in when you don’t speak the language. These child refugees face prejudice. Yet the five make it and lead successful lives.https://gpattridge.com

Stormy Seas combines a vivid and contemporary collage-based design with dramatic storytelling to produce a book that makes for riveting reading as well as a source of timely information. These remarkable accounts will give readers a keen appreciation of the devastating effects of war and poverty on youth like themselves, and helps put the mounting current refugee crisis into stark context.

What I like about this book:

This is a timely and powerful story about resilience and determination. The book doesn’t pull any punches. It is the true stories of five refugee children who face real danger as they escape by sea. One sails aboard an ocean liner and the other four drift in open, unseaworthy boats that are overloaded. There are no lifejackets or bailing cans. Food and water is scarce. They face stormy weather and pirate attacks at sea. The boat refugees leave with hope in their hearts of seeking asylum and freedom from persecution, civil war, drought and natural disasters. They arrive at their destinations ill and needing medical treatment. Some end up in detention or refugee camps.

Reading stories about immigrants that span 80 years, offers readers a greater insight into the current refugee crisis in the Middle East, South America and Africa. It is interesting to compare the past with current events. The stories of the past echo similar themes refugees face today — they are not welcome by many countries. They are ostracized and treated like prisoners. This is an excellent and current book for middle grade students and belongs in school libraries.

Stormy Seas features a beautiful collage design with historical fact sidebars, maps of each child’s journey, timelines, quotes from leaders, and refugee data that includes costs and how many boat people die at sea. This book format is perfect for reading true stories and for research projects. Readers will gain new insights into a social justice issues that date back 600 years. Make sure you read Introduction and the Brief History of the boat people which dates back to 1670 with the Huguenots leaving France for England seeking refuge from religious persecution.

Greg Pattridge hosts the 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.

Loving Vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell

loving-vs-virginia-51cjcya2hll__sx361_bo1204203200_

Loving Vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case

Patricia Hruby Powell, Author

Shadra Strickland, Artist

Chronicle Books, Historical Fiction, Jan. 31, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Interracial Marriage, Race Relations, Prejudice, African-Americans, Civil Rights, Social Justice, Virginia, Supreme Court

Synopsis: This is the story about Mildred Jeters, an African-American girl, and Richard Loving, a Caucasian boy, who live near one another, are childhood friends, and fall in love.  Mildred becomes pregnant in 1957 and delivers their first son. and a second son in 1958. They want to get married, but in Virginia, interracial marriages are against the law. They decide they won’t allow Sheriff Brooks and the government to tell them who they can marry. They travel to Washington D.C. and are married by a preacher. When they return home to Caroline County, Virginia, they have to be careful. They are arrested and put in jail. They are released as long as Mildred lives with her parents and Richard lives with his family. Even though they hire an attorney and go to court, they are not allowed to be seen together. They move to Washington D.C. to live with family. Richard continues to work as a brick layer in Caroline County and drives the 90 miles back Washington D.C. to spend the weekends with his wife  and children. After living in Washington D.C. for five years, Mildred hates the noise and crowded city and longs to raise her children in rural Virginia. After being arrested sneaking home, they contact the American Civil Liberties Union and meet an attorney, Mr. Cohen. He is eager to help the Loving’s face each stage of the legal system and takes their discrimination case to the highest court, the U.S. Supreme Court.

What I like about this book:

Patricia Powell chose to write the narrative of this powerful story in free verse, alternating the voices of Mildred and Richard. It effectively achieves a balance between the Loving’s beautiful love story and their determination to fight the discrimination to live as husband and wife and win. The last thing the wanted was publicity. They wanted to raise their growing family at home in Virginia, where their children could run barefoot through the grass, see the stars at night and be near grandparents.

The author and artist craftily weave factual information, photographs and illustrations around the lyrical narrative, which lends itself to “visual journalism,” says Strickland. There are page inserts about court rulings on school segregation; the Virginia state, federal and supreme courts refusal of interracial marriages; and the U.S. Supreme Court final ruling in 1967 to uphold the 14th Amendment. There are news clippings from former Alabama Gov. George Wallace and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a 1958 map showing the 24 states that banned interracial marriage. There are photographs showing the contrasts between white schools and black schools, protest marches for and against integration and equality.

I’m in awe of the massive amount of research that went into this masterful book. Strickland’s  artwork of Richard and Mildred and their family throughout their story is a light and moving  tribute to their deeply moving journey that lasted about 10 years. She used photographs from  LIFE magazine to create her lively and brush and pen illustrations, which compliment the conversational text between Richard and Mildred.

Middle Grade students will find this oversized book a page-turner. Because it is in verse, it is a quick read. It belongs in every school library. It is a beautiful love story and a book full of resources with historical timelines and more information about the Loving family.

June 12 will be the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling by Chief Justice Warren on Loving Vs. Virginia.

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

The Ship to Nowhere: On Board the Exodus by Rona Arato

ship-to-nowhere-510uex6ka3l__sx404_bo1204203200_The Ship to Nowhere: On Board the Exodus

Rona Arato, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Oct. 6, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 155

Themes: Jewish Refugees, Escape by Ship, Exodus 1947 (Ship), Holocaust Remembrance,

Book Synopsis: World War II is over and 11-year-old Rachel Landesman and her family are determined to find a country where they can build a new life. They have decided to leave Europe on board the Exodus, a dilapidated ship smuggling 4,500 Jewish refugees to their biblical homeland, known as Palestine.

Despite having just survived the Holocaust, the refugees are willing to risk their lives again for a home free from hatred and oppression. But as war ships and soldiers quickly surround the Exodus, they realize their journey will not be easy. While Rachel, like the other children on board, plays games and makes friends, she also struggles to understand the politics and setbacks that plague their voyage. At times, it seems they will never be allowed to reach their new home. Nonetheless, the passengers refuse to give up hope. Their fight to find a place to live in peace will influence history.

Why I like this book:

  • Rona Arato has written a moving story based on the true experiences of 11-year-old Rachel Landesman, her family and the 4,500 Jewish refugees being smuggled to their homeland, known as Palestine. Despite the extreme hardships and the constant threat of the British warships trailing their ship, Rachel remains strong and entertains the children with games and activities.
  • The setting is vivid and realistic. The refugees are packed like sardines on two decks meant for 300 passengers. Rachel and her family are lucky to get a bunk bed, while others sleep on the deck. There is lack of water and food at times, deplorable bathroom conditions, and unimaginable fear and suffering when the five British destroyers attack the ship as it nears Palestinian waters. It nearly sinks.
  • Readers will be captivated by Rachel’s spirit and strong will. The strength in the book is in the bravery, determination and resolve of the refugees to not give up on their dream. They fight the British with fists, sticks and canned goods as the soldiers board the badly damaged ship. When the refugees are turned away from Palestine and put on another ship sailing to France, they refuse to disembark in France.  Their spirit and refusal to give up on their dream is truly inspiring.
  • The author did a remarkable amount of research. Many of the characters in the book are real people who made the treacherous journey on the Exodus 1947 — Rachel, her mother and sister, Captain Ike, second officer Yossi Harel, American volunteer Bill Bernstein, newspaper reporter Ruth Gruber and the many Haganah men and women who organized and ran the movement of illegal ships that tried to carry Jewish refugees to Palestine. Their journey is documented with real photos, bringing the story to life. The plight of the passengers on board the Exodus gained worldwide attention. It influenced the UN to vote for the creation of the state of Israel.
  • In her Preface, Rona Arato, says “that the story Rachel and its brave passengers and crew is especially relevant today because of the world’s ongoing refugee crisis. Millions of refugees around the world continue to seek safe havens where they can live in dignity and freedom.”
  • The author has taken a difficult story and told it with sensitivity for middle grade readers. It is a “Holocaust Remembrance Book for Young Readers” and will be a welcomed addition to any school’s library.

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

Note: Watch for Multicultural Children’s Book Day, which will be celebrated on Jan. 27, 2017.  Hashtag: #ReadYourWorld.