Book PREview: Seven Clues to Home by Gae Polisner and Nora Raleigh Baskin

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Joy and Lukas had been friends ever since second grade, when Mr. Carter told each student with a summer birthday to stand up and be recognized before the end of the school year. “August…How weird is that? What are the chances?” (p.15) Lukas loved math, so he tried to figure out the chances. Joy played along. As time moved along, the two became closer, literally living in next-door apartment buildings. They studied math together, solved puzzles and riddles, and Lukas set up an elaborate scavenger hunt for Joy to figure out each year on her birthday. Even though Lukas had a troubled older brother, Joy hung out with him while her parents cautiously watched. Her own family was a little difficult, with a sort-of-snobby-but-caring older sister and two younger siblings who needed lots of attention. So Joy and Lukas were the perfect pair — together for all time. Until Lukas died on Joy’s twelfth birthday.

A year later, Joy strums her beautiful red birthday guitar and thinks about Lukas. She thinks about his troubled older brother – how people warned her about “that family.” She knew none of it was true. As she celebrates her birthday, she thinks about her friend who will not celebrate this year. She thinks, “If I don’t tell the stories – of cupcakes and scavenger hunts and holes in the sand – they will be lost forever.” (p.11) She must tell the story of her friend, Lukas, the story that’s true. She decides to open the envelope that held the first clue to the scavenger hunt Lukas set up for her a year earlier. Before his death. Before he could reveal the one thing that he never could during his lifetime. Now, Joy has to keep the birthday tradition alive. She has to find the next clue.

Seven Clues to Home is the story of Joy and Lukas: their friendship, their families, and their last scavenger hunt. Told in alternating chapters, Joy tells the story of the hunt in present time while Lukas tells his story of setting up the hunt the year before, and how the clues would lead to his biggest secret, finally revealed. Although it’s a story about grief and loss, it’s also a friendship story, a family story, and a town’s story of sticking together in the best and worst of times.

I love Gae Polisner and Nora Raleigh Baskin. Separately, their writing is intriguing, interesting, inspiring. When they collaborate…wow! Make sure you don’t miss Seven Clues to Home, coming June 9, 2020 from Alfred A Knopf Books. Start your summer with this 5-Star book.

 

Book Review: The Wonder of Wildflowers by Anna Staniszewski

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The Wonder of Wildflowers is a MUST read, but also MUST discuss title. This book covers lots of topics in a kid-friendly way — and encourages empathy while also staying true to yourself. 

Amber is a liquid magic — when you drink the recommended amount each day, you are stronger, healthier, and smarter. Amberland is the place to be to experience the benefits of Amber. Mira’s family moves to Amberland by invitation — her mom is a scientist working with Amber. But as an immigrant, Mira is not allowed to have Amber like her friends, Krysta (the mayor’s daughter) and the others, at least not until the citizenship papers come in, which will be any day now. 

Mira is excited to see what Amber can do for her, but her new science partner for the wildflower project, Daniel (the weird classmate who doesn’t seem to benefit from the magic), is a constant reminder that Amber may not work the way it’s intended. But, why? Tata (Mira’s father) refuses to use Amber, saying he is enough without it, and Mira’s current talents (like writing) are enough, too.

Will Mira and her family be able to reap the benefits of magical Amber? Or will Mira discover something else instead? As the story unfolds, so does the mystery.

I am moved by how many social issues are presented through the pages of this book, recommended for ages 8 and up. I would posit that middle school and high school students could benefit from deep discussions surrounding immigration, government funding and regulation of foods and drugs, corruption, as well as peer pressure and school-based issues. I love how the story is perfect for the elementary age range, but the handling of these deeper topics is also compelling for the older group.

The Wonder of Wildflowers by Anna Staniszewski is timely and important, and Tata (MC Mira’s father) is my favorite parent of #kidlit so far this year. 

Thank you, Simon & Schuster and Ms. Staniszewski, for allowing me an Advance Reader Copy of The Wonder of Wildflowers. I enjoyed it, and I know fellow readers will, as well.

 

Book Thoughts: White Bird by R.J. Palacio

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After reading Wonder for the “ump-teenth” time, I was adding it to my list of “Books of the Decade” today and I WONDERED how this book has stayed at the top of “kids’ favorites” lists for so long. Of course, it’s the story, which is universal and “real” for students in schools (and their parents and teachers). I was thinking about my top books of 2019 this week. Yesterday, I had a student run into the library. (What? No running!) He slammed White Bird (by R.J. Palacio) down on the counter (What? Why slam the book?) and pushed it towards me. (Hey! Are you okay?)

“This is the BEST BOOK I EVER READ!” I was stunned. This particular student reads a lot. White Bird has been on my “To-Be-Read” list for a while, but I never really looked at it much while it was circulating in the library. It has been popular since its recent release and a “Want to Read” title on my Goodreads account, so I said, “I’ll read it next. Thanks for the recommendation.”

I’m glad I read this book now. This year. This week.

White Bird tells the story of Julian’s grandmother (from Auggie & Me/Wonder), who hid from the Nazis during World War II. Julian has some schoolwork to do for class, so he calls Grandmère to learn more about his family history. What he learned took his breath away. (From Goodreads: “This is Grandmère’s story as a young Jewish girl hidden away by a family in Nazi-occupied France during World War II told in graphic novel form.”)

My thoughts: This book is a call for kindness, good deeds, and love of humanity – we really do need to take care of each other in this world. We must not let others steal our light; we must be a light for others. (I think this is true for any human, religious or not. #weareALLhuman)

Although it’s fictional (but historically accurate – see back matter), White Bird is a heart-wrenching tale of a survivor and the people who helped her survive. It’s about loving your neighbor. It’s also a warning and a prophecy: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana) The quotes throughout the book hit me like a “ton of bricks,” as the saying goes. In 2019, we need these messages (and we need to act!) more than ever before (in my lifetime, anyway).

White Bird by R.J. Palacio is an important book with strong, not subtle, messages about the world we all live in. I’m giving the book 5 stars and adding it to my “Best Books of the Year” list tonight. If you haven’t read it yet, take my student’s advice: Read it now.

 

Book Review: 7 Ate 9, by Tara Lazar

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I just love using picture books for my middle school classroom! This book will help both math and reading teachers spread the book love. This is 7 Ate 9: The Untold Story, by Tara Lazar, and illustrated by Ross MacDonald, and it is comic genius in picture book form. 

Private I tells the story of his newest case: 6 banged on the detective’s door, scared that 7 is coming to get him. Private I took the odd case and started looking for the root of the problem. But 7 cannot be found for questioning. There are a number of suspects, and quite a few witnesses to interview, too. Private I’s work seems to multiply as the case moves forward. Can he solve the case in time, or will the numbers be subtracted, one by one?

If you’re looking for a twisted mystery, Tara Lazar provides the narrative. If you’re looking for some math vocabulary to add to your lesson plans, this book is a positive addition to your library. If you want to read a beautifully-illustrated picture book during your child’s bedtime routine, Ross MacDonald serves up the cake — I mean, pi.

Have fun reading 7 Ate 9 soon!

IMWAYR: Roll With It – Rolling into Winter Break

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Continuing the push to winter break, I read…

ROLL WITH IT by Jamie Sumner

This is the story of Ellie (Lily, actually), the girl with cerebral palsy who won’t let her wheelchair slow her down. She’s got some attitude and mad baking skills for her age, and wants everything in her family to be okay, even though they need her now more than ever. Mom is overworked and has taken a leave of absence to travel to Oklahoma and take care of her ailing dad (Grandpa has dementia), without telling her mother she’s coming to stay for more than a visit. When grandma finds out, she’s upset (of course), but wants to make the best of things — she DOES get to see her granddaughter more.

Grandma’s neighbor, a girl Ellie’s age, is happy to have a new friend, but Ellie isn’t too sure about the friendship at first. Ellie’s motives change when she finds out about the baking competition in town and she just knows she can make it as a professional baker IF things go just right. She’s doing better with her medical needs (she even got to throw away the seizure medicine!) and with her new life in Oklahoma. New friends make all the hardships at school and home a little easier to handle, but Ellie’s got to keep it together to meet her goals.

This story is full of heart — a struggling family with characters as real as my own family. “Rolling with it” comes with the territory, literally and figuratively. Read this one as soon as possible; you might even be left hungry for more.

 

More Bruce books! We love Ryan T. Higgins and Bruce, the grumpy bear.

 

 

 

It’s Monday! What are YOU reading?

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…you just might discover your next “must-read” book!

Kellee Moye, of Unleashing Readers, and Kathryn decided to give “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children’s literature – picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit – join us! We love this meme and think you will, too. We encourage everyone who participates to visit at least three of the other kidlit book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.

 

Book PREview: All of a Sudden and Forever by Chris Barton

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I was reading some new Net Galley titles tonight, and I came across Chris Barton’s upcoming, All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing (due February 2020). I felt compelled to write, since the Oklahoma City bombing happened while I was in labor with my second daughter. I remember watching the news story unfold between ice chips and contractions almost 25 years ago; now this book captures the day to be remembered in a creative picture book.

This book is a lovely way to honor those affected by the events of April 19,1995. These words by Barton are perfect (especially repeating “not all at once,” to reinforce that healing takes time) and Nicole Xu’s faceless-and-yet-totally-descriptive characters add so much to the story of the Survivor Tree. I hope every child gets a chance to read this book and learn more about how to take care of each other in this world, especially after tragedy.

Add this book to your preorder list now. Share the story. Feel the love.

 

Book Review: Stargazing by Jen Wang

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“Moon is everything Christine isn’t.” The back cover describes this new middle grade graphic novel to a tee. When you’re young, you naturally compare yourself to the people around you, and that’s exactly what happens in this book. Christine is reluctant to meet Moon, the new girl across the street. Their parents get along and want the kids to be friends, but Moon is sort of…different…okay, weird. At school, Moon is known as “the girl who fights” – a rumor started after people ask where she came from, what is she doing here?

Soon enough, though, Christine becomes friends with Moon. As neighbors, they start with the convenience of being the same age and sharing Chinese food and culture. Moon’s interesting and fun; she loves dancing to K-Pop music and is a talented artist. The girls spend lots of time together and Christine feels like a new person around Moon – not the stuffy “do-your-homework-and-get-all-As” student of the past. But hanging around with Moon also leads to other observations, starting with stargazing. Moon says she belongs among the stars, and sees celestial beings telling her that she isn’t from Earth. (Well, that’s…interesting.)

Christine also notices that Moon sometimes “spaces out,” and this leads to events at school and at a birthday party that may be dangerous for the friendship, and for Moon’s well-being. When Moon gets into another fight, her world changes drastically. Now the fun-loving, dancing, happy Moon is not. Can Christine be the friend that Moon needs, or will the friendship end in disaster?

Why I Loved This Book: I loved Stargazing because this story is parallel to any young person’s life in school and with friends. Feeling (and being) weird, insecure, and out of this world are issues everyone faces at one point or another, and Christine and Moon’s stories are not unlike our own.

Why You Should Read Stargazing: This is an important book about friendships, families, and life issues. It’s also an easy-to-share graphic novel that friends and families can read together. Christine and Moon will help you to understand life better and hope for more dancing days to come.

My rating: ****

Recommended for ages 8 and up. Published by First Second, 2019.

Book Review: Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me (April, 2020)

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Gae Polisner’s new novel, Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me, is due in April 2020 from Wednesday Books, but you should pre-order this now.

JL Markham’s teen years seem typical, and yet this main character grabs the reader’s attention and holds on for dear life. In Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me, JL’s stories surround her butterfly habitat, her family struggles, and her relationship with Max Gordon, who she hopes will take her away from all the high school drama when he graduates and moves to California. She’s packed and ready to leave as soon as Max is. He’s sort of a roughneck with a cool ride, but he’s also intelligent and cares for JL. Right?

JL’s mother has dissociative disorder and depression, which provides a major conflict for JL — a mother who lives alternate realities, wearing revealing kimonos around the house and writing letters to a dead author (enter Jack Kerouac). Dad took another stint with his out-of-town business and left JL and Mom in the best possible position he could, financially anyway. Mom doesn’t deal well most days, but she sees Dr. Marsdan faithfully so that she might get better sooner than later. JL’s “best friend forever,” Aubrey Andersson, now has new friends, Niccole and Meghan (think “Mean Girls”), so JL wraps her energy into raising beautiful butterflies in the solace and safety of her bedroom. She even learned to fix one’s broken wing by watching a video. Butterflies are stronger than we humans think, and they provide a safe and stable environment for JL in an otherwise cruel world. As for Max, he’s invested, he’s all in, he’s there for JL every step of the way. Right?

What happens when childhood friendships end, but adult life has yet to begin? What’s next for 15-year-old JL? Will she be caged in – stuck in the past, or fly away to a bright future?

Why I Loved This Book: I loved Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me for the references to strong girls who are intelligent and can live life on their own (even if they don’t know how yet), for how the characters made me feel (reliving my own high school days), and for the twists and turns that the alternating timelines led me through. I wanted to smack JL’s friends and hug her at the same time, letting her know that life works out, eventually.

Why You Should Pre-Order Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me: You’ll want to learn more about raising butterflies (it’s fascinating!). You’ll want to scream at Aubrey. You’ll want to yell at Dad over JL’s phone. You’ll want to hug Mom and tell her everything will be okay. You’ll want to help Max see the love that is standing there, waiting for him. And you’ll want to encourage JL to live her best life, leaving her past behind. This book is remarkable. Gae Polisner has done it again. Add it to your list now, and be ready to read in 2020.

My Rating: *****

Book Review: Give and Take by Elly Swartz

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I was honored to receive an advanced reader copy of Give and Take by Elly Swartz (thank you, #booksojourn and Macmillan Publishers) and I was inspired! If you haven’t yet, pre-order this phenomenal middle grade novel. You won’t be disappointed.

About Give and Take: Maggie is a caring 12-year-old who loves her family and friends. Her daily life includes trapshooting with her friends at school (with her dad as the coach) and helping to care for Isabella, the family’s foster baby. Maggie has 2 brothers, as well, who give her a run for her money. Maggie would love to call Izzy her sister, but mom and dad made it clear that this is a temporary arrangement.

“Temporary” haunts Maggie — her grandmother recently passed, and didn’t remember her in the end. This devastates Maggie, and the thought of giving up another family member is too much. Maggie is obsessed with remembering every conversation, encounter, and memory that is important to her. Maggie doesn’t want to make the same “mistake” as her grandmother, so she collects artifacts in boxes and places them in her closet and under her bed. Even baby Izzie’s sock and pacifier sit in a new box of memories.

When Mom finds Maggie’s overwhelming secret stashes, she is more than concerned about the anxiety that has taken over her daughter’s mind. With the help of a doctor, family, and friends, Maggie must learn to cope with life’s give and take. With Izzie leaving to go to her forever family soon, it’s not going to be easy for Maggie to let go of anything.

Why I Loved Give and Take by Elly Swartz: I learned about the sport of trapshooting, child hoarding, and more about life as a foster family member. I was rooting for Maggie (and her friends) the whole time, and also got to relive a little bit of middle school (for better or worse!). This story is one that appeals to readers of all ages.

Why You Should Read Give and Take: Everyone will find something in common with Maggie, Mom, Dad, or her brothers. The family dynamics are realistic and well-written. The back matter includes information and resources that help families; I love “further reading” opportunities.

This book is an inspiring story of family, friendships, and growing up. Read Give and Take — take the story into your heart, and give the book to your friends when you’re done reading. (Due from FSG Books for Young Readers on October 15, 2019)

 

Book Review: Astro-Nuts, by Jon Scieszka

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Recommended for ages 8-12, Astro-Nuts is the newest creation by Jon Scieszka , illustrated by Steven Weinberg. In this first book in a planned trilogy, Mission One: The Plant Planet, NNASA (Not-NASA) charges four mutant animals hiding in Mt. Rushmore to travel to outer space and find other planets to support human life, since the humans have all but destroyed planet Earth. (Science concept: Climate change) In their attempt to report Plant Planet as habitable, the Astro-Nuts found that the plant citizens are ready to defend their home.

As they navigate the crazy colorful pages, readers find out much more about the science of plant life, and also increase vocabulary skills, learning words like ice caps, fossil fuels, vortex, and many more. Reporting back to Earth isn’t as easy as it seems.

Would you like a funny book that also teaches science concepts, aimed to explain deep content to children? Well, Jon Scieszka does it again — creating zany characters who ban together for exploration and learning fun. Blast off! This adventure in reading has just begun. (Due September 2019 from Chronicle Books)

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