Category: Middle School


red butterfly

Red Butterfly by A. L. Sonnichsen

Kara was abandoned as an infant and taken in by an American woman living in China. Her Mama never leaves the apartment they share and Kara doesn’t attend school. Kara does get to leave the apartment each day to run errands on her bicycle, her favorite time of day. In China where the one-child limit is in effect, parents leave infants who have physical challenges like Kara who was born with one hand with only two small fingers on it. Mama longs to return to the United States, but she can’t without abandoning Kara, who has no identification papers and has not been formally adopted. When Mama’s American daughter comes to visit, Kara finds their entire lives turned upside down and their secret exposed. Will Kara be able to bring their family back together again?

Told in lovely rich verse, this novel is elegantly written and conceived. It shows the results of the one-child policy in China and the children who were abandoned because of it. Yet it is far from a condemnation of China or the United States. It is a portrait in contrasts and complexity, showing that there is good and bad in both systems. It is also the story of one very strong young girl who has already lost one family and is determined not to lose another.

Kara is the voice of the book with the poems told from her point of view. She is unique in many ways, including being able to speak English better than she Chinese due to her upbringing. Kara’s disability is handled in a matter-of-fact way for the reader. While she is profoundly ashamed of it, her hand and disability do not label her at all in the novel. Kara’s situation is complicated by the politics of adoption and identity. In her journey to a resolution of where she will live, there are episodes in an orphanage and then later in a home in the United States. These are all deftly and clearly drawn, showing both the universal nature of family and love but also the differences in cultures.

Radiant verse and a very strong young protagonist make this verse novel a treat to read. The unusual subject matter of an older orphan from China makes it a unique read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books.

listen slowly

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

Born in California, Mai has grown up as a beach girl in Laguna.  So she has big plans this summer to spend time at the beach and time with a boy she’s interested in. But her plans have to change when her parents force her to accompany her Vietnamese grandmother back to Vietnam to see if rumors of her grandfather still being alive after the War are true. Mai hates Vietnam immediately, while the food is good and there’s so much of it, it’s also hot, smelly and filled with mosquitoes who love to bite Mai more than anyone else. Mai hides the fact that she can understand the language even if she won’t try to speak it at all. Now she is stuck alone with her grandmother in a tiny village filled with her extended family, dial up Internet access, and a grumpy cousin who seems to only care for her pet frog. Yet as time passes, Mai discovers the beauty of Vietnam, of slowing down and of taking care of family.

Lai has created another wonderful read, this one almost a love letter to Vietnam. She takes readers into the country side and village life, showing first the oppressive heat and lack of modern conveniences, but then revealing in a beautifully natural way that there is much to value perhaps because the days are filled with extra time to be together. The changes in Mai happen organically as she slowly acclimates to her new surroundings and the new society. Nothing is rushed here, even the storytelling is gently done though never dull.

Mai makes a great lens to see Vietnam through, both outsider and relative. Her struggles with the language are cleverly portrayed along with some details about pronunciation in Vietnamese. When she begins to try speaking, the words move to broken English on the page, indicating her troubles speaking the language. At other times, it is Vietnamese on the page. Mai’s growing friendship with her cousin also happens at its own pace and with its own blend of English and Vietnamese.

Rich in details and completely immersive, this novel will inspire travel dreams in those who read it, perhaps to discover their own family roots. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and HarperCollins.

The shortlist has been announced for the 2015 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize.  There are 18 books on the shortlist for this British children’s book prize and refreshingly 15 of them are by women.  The winner in each category as well as the overall winner will be announced on March 26.

BEST ILLUSTRATED BOOK

Atlas of Adventures: A collection of natural wonders, exciting experiences and fun festivities from the four corners of the globe. Blown Away

Atlas of Adventures by Lucy Letherland, words by Rachel Williams

Blown Away by Rob Biddulph

The Dawn Chorus The Queen's Hat

The Dawn Chorus by Suzanne Barton

The Queen’s Hat by Steve Antony

The Sea Tiger Where Bear?

The Sea Tiger by Victoria Turnbull

Where Bear? by Sophy Henn

 

BEST FICTION FOR 5-12s

A Boy Called Hope Boy In The Tower

A Boy Called Hope by Lara Williamson

Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen

Cowgirl Girl With a White Dog

Cowgirl by G. Gemin

Girl with a White Dog by Anne Booth

Murder Most Unladylike (Wells and Wong, #1) Violet and the Pearl of the Orient

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

Violet and the Pearl of the Orient by Harriet Whitehorn, illustrated by Becka Moor

 

BEST BOOK FOR TEENS

The Apple Tart of Hope Dead Ends

The Apple Tart of Hope by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

Dead Ends by Erin Jade Lange

Half Bad (Half Bad, #1) Only Ever Yours

Half Bad by Sally Green

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

Smart The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Smart by Kim Slater

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

echo

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Released February 24, 2015.

A stellar intertwined story that swirls around a magical harmonica, this book is one-of-a-kind in the best possible way.  When Otto meets the three girls in the forest, he sent on a quest that includes a harmonica that sings in different tones from normal ones.  Later, three young people encounter that harmonic and it changes their lives at critical points, bringing both peace and music into the darkness they are living in.  There is Friedrich, a boy in Nazi Germany, who is struggling to hold his family together.  There is Mike in Pennsylvania, placed in an orphanage when his grandmother can no longer care for him and his younger brother, desperate to find a place they can be together.  Finally, there is Ivy in California, excluded from the normal public school because she is Mexican-American and hoping that this last move is one that gets her family a permanent home.  The stories speak to the heart, each child facing the difficulties with immense courage and love for others. 

This book is a delight to read.  It marries the magic of the harmonica with more realistic historical fiction components very successfully.  Ryan explores some of the darkest times for families, put under excruciating pressure by the society they are living in.  She always offers hope though, allowing the harmonica and the power of music to pierce through and give light to the circumstances.  Beautifully, each story ends in a crescendo, leaving the reader breathless and worried about what will happen before starting the next story.  In the end, the stories weave together musical and luminous.

Ryan successfully creates four unique stories in this book and then brings them all together in a way that is part magic and entirely satisfying.  She writes of the cares of each child with such empathy, allowing readers to feel the pressure they are under.  Here is how she describes Mike’s responsibility for his younger brother on page 204:

That responsibility had become another layer of skin.  Just when he thought he might shed a little, or breathe easy, or even laugh out loud, it tightened over him.

She successfully does this with each of the stories, allowing readers to feel that tightening and the threat of well-being for all of the characters.  There is no shrinking from the racism and bigotry that these characters experience.  It is presented powerfully and appropriately for the younger audience.

A powerful book, this novel is pitch perfect and simply exceptional.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.

The Rainbow Project is a joint project of the ALA Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table and Social Responsibilities Round Table.  Each year they select The Rainbow List, books with “significant gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender content, and which are aimed at youth, birth through age 18.” 

Here is their Top Ten list:

Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World Far From You

Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World by Janet E. Cameron

Far from You by Tess Sharpe

Grasshopper Jungle I'll Give You the Sun

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Not Every Princess Secret City

Not Every Princess by Jeffrey Bone and Lisa Bone

Secret City by Julia Watts

Sweet Tooth Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel

Sweet Tooth by Tim Anderson

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

This Day in June We Are The Youth

This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten

We Are the Youth: Sharing the Stories of LGBT Youth in the United States by Laurel Golio and Diana Scholl

Here are the 20 books on the longlist for The Carnegie Medal, a British award for exceptional writing for youth.  The shortlist will be announced on March 17.Apple and Rain Buffalo Soldier

Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan

Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman

Close Your Pretty Eyes The Company of Ghosts

Close Your Pretty Eyes by Sally Nicholls

The Company of Ghosts by Berlie Doherty

Cuckoo Song The Fastest Boy in the World

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

The Fastest Boy in the World by Elizabeth Laird

Grasshopper Jungle Hello Darkness

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Hello Darkness by Anthony McGowan

The Middle of Nowhere Monkey and Me

The Middle of Nowhere by Geraldine McCaughrean

Monkey and Me by David Gilman

More Than This My Brother's Shadow

More Than This by Patrick Ness

My Brother’s Shadow by Tom Avery

Picture Me Gone Scarlet Ibis

Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff

Scarlet Ibis by Gill Lewis

Smart Tinder

Smart by Kim Slater

Tinder by Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Roberts

Trouble Us Minus Mum

Trouble by Non Pratt

Us Minus Mum by Heather Butler

When Mr. Dog Bites The Year of the Rat

When Mr. Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan

The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss

Notable seal image

The Association for Library Service to Children have announced their list of the 2015 Notable Children’s Books.  The books are selected by committee and are defined as “Worthy of note or notice, important, distinguished, outstanding. As applied to children’s books, notable should be thought to include books of especially commendable quality, books that exhibit venturesome creativity, and books of fiction, information, poetry and pictures for all age levels (birth through age 14) that reflect and encourage children’s interests in exemplary ways.”

The list covers preschool through grade 8.  Lots of great reads!

The 2015 Amelia Bloomer Project List has been announced.  It is part of the Feminist Task Force of the American Library Association’s Social Responsibility Round Table.  There are over 40 titles on the main list and then the list also has a Top Ten.  Here are the titles in the Top Ten:

Because I Am a Girl 18854750

Because I Am a Girl: I Can Change the World by Rosemary McCarney

Every Day Is Malala Day by Rosemary McCarney

Hidden I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban

Hidden by Donna Jo Napoli

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal My Notorious Life

Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson

My Notorious Life by Kate Manning

A Pair of Twins Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space

A Pair of Twins by Kavitha Mandana, illustrated by Nayantara Surendranath

Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space by Lynn Sherr

Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir A Woman in the House (and Senate): How Women Came to the United States Congress, Broke Down Barriers, and Changed the Country

Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince

A Woman in the House (and Senate): How Women Came to the United States Congress, Broke Down Barriers, and Changed the Country by Ilene Cooper, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

beastkeeper

Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen

Sarah’s family moves all of the time, away from the cold that her mother despises.  But when her mother walks out one day, Sarah’s father falls apart.  He barely eats and never grocery shops.  It all falls to Sarah to keep them both alive.  Her father seems to be becoming less human by the day, descending into an animal with scruffy hair and yellowed teeth.  Unable to care for Sarah, he takes her to her grandparents’ home, grandparents she had been told were dead.  Left in a moldering castle in a deep woods, Sarah begins to figure out the deep curse that keeps her entire family prisoner.  Her grandmother treats her coldly, putting her to work in the gardens.  Her grandfather is trapped in a cage, fully transformed into a beast yet still able to speak to Sarah at times.  Sarah doesn’t believe in the magic at work at first but soon is forced to admit that something is happening as she witnesses it for herself.  Yet there are twists to the curse that bind her to witches, boys in the wood, and the beasts of her family, including the beast inside herself.

Hellisen beautifully converts the story of Beauty and the Beast into something quite different and extraordinary.  Her writing is as lush as the forest itself and she weaves amazing descriptions onto the pages that bring the entire book to life.  She uses this technique for both characters and the setting.  Here is her description of the castle when Sarah first sees it on page 48:

It was a single squat turret, like a jabbing finger or a lone tooth, made of mottled stone, dribbled and spattered with lichen in yellows and reds.  Furry clumps of moss clung velvety and green at the base.  Ivy grew wild, so thick in some places it distorted the shape of the tower, and sprays of leaves crowned with little blue-black berries rose over the low walls around the outskirts.  Tumbled boulders marked the faint outlines of rooms that had long since fallen.

Talk about showing and not telling!  She is a master at that, creating mood with details that linger in your mind.  This castle is no fairy tale one, or is it?

Hellisen does not set her protagonist on a simple quest either.  Sarah slowly reveals the twists and turns of the curse, binding herself closer and closer to disaster with each revelation.  Disaster waits on the other side of each breath and at times it seems to have already won.  Sarah though is up to the challenge, willing to sacrifice herself to try to prevent the curse from continuing onward in her family. 

This is a gorgeously written tale of love, betrayal, revenge and family.  Fans of retellings of classic fairy tales will find so much to adore in this fantasy novel.  Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.

war that saved my life

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Ada has never been outside of her family’s one-room apartment.  Her mother won’t let her be seen by others, though Ada does sit at the window and wave at people.  Ada has one foot that is twisted and doesn’t work right, so she crawls around the apartment.  But when Ada realizes that she has to get stronger, she teaches herself to walk on her twisted foot, even though it is agony, making sure that her mother doesn’t find out.  World War II comes and children are being sent to safety outside of London.  Though her mother refuses to let Ada go, Ada escapes along with her little brother Jamie and gets on a train of evacuees.  From there they head into the country and are reluctantly taken in by a grieving woman.  Immediately Ada is given crutches which let her get around more easily and she stubbornly sets out to teach herself to ride her host’s ignored pony.  But there are many changes to come, ones that both test the strength of Ada and others that more strongly tie her to the woman who gave them shelter and care.

There are books that you read that tumble into, ones that are impossible to put down, but you don’t want to read them quickly because you are so entranced with the world they are showing you.  This was one of those books for me; I adored this novel.  All of the characters are human, they all make mistakes, lose their tempers, figure things out, move on and continue to care (in their own ways) for one another.  They are all brave in their own ways too, escaping from a life of imprisonment and hate, learning to live after loss, and creating their own family.  These are inspiring people, but the book also shows that community matters, that being accepted for who you are is vital, and that there are people out there to love us.

Bradley’s writing is exceptional.  It reads easily and beautifully.  She captures Ada perfectly, from her overwhelming fear of being beaten or put in a dark place to her determination and stubbornness; from her teaching herself to walk to the freedom of riding a horse.  Ada is remarkable.  She is a prickly child who does not let anyone into her world easily, but at the same time with the story told in her voice the readers understand her and witness how much she wants to connect and yet cannot.  That first person narration is a critical reason that this book works so well.

Brilliant characters shine on the page as this book looks at war, abuse, and love in a complex and heroic way.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dial.

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