Category: Elementary School

Forest World by Margarita Engle

Forest World by Margarita Engle

Forest World by Margarita Engle (9781481490573, Amazon)

Released August 29, 2017.

Edver isn’t pleased to be headed to Cuba to meet his father for the first time since he was a baby. Now that the laws have changed, families can once again be reunited with people who escaped to the United States from Cuba. Edver has to leave behind the Internet and his favorite video game and cope with power outages and a lack of transportation and other technology. When he gets to Cuba, Edver discovers that he has an older sister that he’d never known about. Luza had stayed with her father in Cuba, wondering why her mother left her behind. Both of their parents work to protect endangered species. Their father protects one special forest in Cuba while their mother travels the world to find newly rediscovered species. As Luza and Edver start to become siblings, they find that a poacher has come to Cuba, drawn by an email they sent to try to get their mother to come. Now it is up to them to protect the forest they both love.

Engle is a master of the verse novel, writing of difficult subjects and using the poetic format to dig deeper than prose would allow. She tells the story in alternating poems in the voices of Edver and Luza as they discover the poverty of Cuba, the wealth of America, and the fact that there are different types of wealth in life like parental attention, grandparents and a sense of home.

Engle explores the world of Lazarus animals and protecting endangered species in this novel. The subject works in a lovely parallel to Cuban Americans being reunited with their families. There is a sense of delicacy and care, a feeling of finding the right habitat suddenly, and a sense of exploration and discovery heightened with surprises.

Another adept verse novel from a true master, this is a book that explores home, habitat and family. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Atheneum.

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh (9780062430083, Amazon)

Harper and her family have moved to Washington DC after she was injured during her stay at a hospital. Harper has no memory of how her injuries happened, but they may be the key to understanding the family’s new house. Harper’s little brother has been acting strangely since they moved in, speaking to an imaginary friend and then becoming almost another person. As Harper makes a new friend in the neighborhood, the two of them start researching what happened in the house in the past and discovering that the threatening presence that Harper feels in the house may be a ghost! In fact, Harper may be one of the special people who can sense ghosts in the world, but she has to figure out how to do so safely and who to trust with her secret.

Oh is the founder of We Need Diverse Books. She has crafted here a middle grade novel that has Korean-American main characters and uses their culture skillfully as an important part of the story and the solution to their haunting issues. She has also created a book that is pure scary fun. This is not a serious book about diversity and modern society, but instead a romp of delightful scares that make the book real fun to read.

The lightness of the book will have young readers loving it. Oh allows the young protagonist and her siblings and friends to be the real heroes of the book, even as the dangers they face grow in size. The pace of the book is key to its success as well, as Oh allows it to pick up pace towards the ending, controlling it just enough but also allowing it to get wild and zany.

A great pick for fans of Ghostbusters or scary stories, I look forward to more adventures with these characters. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

A New School Year by Sally Derby

A New School Year by Sally Derby

A New School Year: Poem Stories in Six Voices by Sally Derby, illustrated by Mika Song (9781580897303, Amazon)

Six children, ranging in age from kindergarten through fifth grade, tell the stories of their first day of school. Each of them begins with the night before where readers will see that even children who are older worry about school and who their teacher will be. Arriving at school is busy and quick, though some have time to say hello to old teachers or to be the first to arrive and meet the class pet. They meet new teachers, say hello to old friends and make new ones too. Finally, they all head home to tell their families about their day, even if some aren’t home right away.

Derby writes in poems that wonderfully universal to the school experience. She moves this from being about starting kindergarten or starting a new school to a wider subject of returning to school and the fact that everyone feels similarly. Still, in making this a universal story, Derby makes sure to also speak to children of different backgrounds and races, children with different sizes of families and latchkey children.

Song’s illustrations highlight the individual children, moving with them through the day, each both a part of the overall school but also entirely themselves as well. The illustrations are simple and will work well shared with a class.

A great book to start the new school year with poetry. Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia (9780062215918, Amazon)

Newbery-Honor winner Williams-Garcia returns with another book that is filled with love, loss and family. Clayton loves playing the blue with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, in the park. It’s something they do together when his mother works double shifts, since she doesn’t approve of the blues or his grandfather. Clayton knows he is ready for a solo on his blues harp, but Cool Papa wants him to wait a bit longer. Then one night, Cool Papa doesn’t wake up and Clayton is left with his mother’s anger at her father and his own deep loss. School becomes almost impossible for Clayton as he struggles with his grief and when his teacher makes him read the same book that Cool Papa had been reading aloud to him, it is too much. Clayton decides to hit the road, find the blues men that his grandfather played with and join them on their travels. But it’s not that simple and Clayton soon finds himself on an unexpected journey on the New York subway.

This book is simply incredible. Williams-Garcia writes with an ease that welcomes readers deep into the story. She manages in well under 200 pages to tell a deep and rich story that resonates. It’s a story of the power of music to connect generations, of grandfathers who teach and lead, of subways and busking, of urban landscapes and neighborhoods. It’s a story of loss and grief, of self discovery too. It is a multilayered book that will inspire discussion and connection.

Clayton is a wonderful main character with his grandfather’s porkpie hat on his head and his harmonica in his pocket or in his hands making music. He is clearly a gifted musician and it is a treat to have a young character playing music like the blues and then mixing it with hip hop. Clayton is an individual and proud of it, yet he loses one of his main anchors in life and has to find a way forward once again.

Deep and resonating, this novel is a demonstration of real skill and the power of books and music. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Thornhill by Pam Smy

Thornhill by Pam Smy

Thornhill by Pam Smy (9781626726543, Amazon)

Released August 29, 2017.

A grand Gothic graphic novel, this book is surprising and delightfully dark. The story is told in two parallel stories, one in images and one in text. Both stories take place in the same neighborhood and revolve around Thornhill, a home for orphans. Mary’s story is told in text and is set in 1982 where she is one of the last children to leave Thornhill. As the other girls leave, Mary is left with a girl who has been bullying her for some time and the story builds to a terrible climax. The illustrated story is that of Ella in 2016 who has just moved to town and doesn’t have any friends yet. She can see Thornhill, now disused and old, from her house. When she glimpses a girl there, she decides to figure out the story of Thornhill and the girl.

This is the sort of story, you curl up with and read as fast as possible. Happily, Smy’s writing and illustrations make it almost impossible to leave this book behind for even a moment. The illustrations linger with the reader, haunting in their black and white details. The text invite readers into the past, showing them what being an orphan in was like before rules were put in place to protect children. There is a brilliance to not setting the history piece in the 1800’s, but allowing shocking situations of a more modern time to surface.

The art pieces in the book allow the reader to piece together that the girl being described in the text is not the one in the images quickly. The images are done only in black and white, filled often with deep shadows and lit by bright light at other times. They are dynamic and interesting, telling their own wordless story of Ella and her own losses.

Get this into the hands of children who enjoy ghost stories, because this one will haunt readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Roaring Brook Press.

 

 

Patina by Jason Reynolds

Patina by Jason Reynolds

Patina by Jason Reynolds (9781481450188, Amazon)

Released August 29, 2017.

This book follows Ghost in Reynolds’ popular and amazing Track series. In this book, the focus is on Patty, another member of the newbie group on the track team. Ghost is still in the book, shown as a member of the team and the book begins where Ghost’s story left off. Patty lives with her godparents and her little sister, since her mother lost her legs to diabetes and can’t take care of them. They still see their mother on Sundays for church and Patty has to follow certain rules about the way she dresses and what makeup she wears to meet her mother’s expectations. Patty takes care of her little sister, making sure that she does her homework, eats enough, and has her hair braided neatly with 90 red beads. Still, Patty struggles with the changes in her life and moving away from her neighborhood and friends and into a fancier school. It is on the track that she feels most like herself, even as she learns to run relay where she has to learn to trust her teammates entirely.

The first book in the series set a high level of expectation for the second and fans will not be disappointed with this second book. Readers will enjoy getting to know Patty better and her family situation. Patty has a lot of anger inside her, something that she internalizes and struggles with. At the same time, she is strongly caring and loving of her family, trying to hold them all together and do as much as she can. This complexity in a middle grade novel is what makes this series so special.

The focus on teamwork in this second book echoes throughout the novel not just on the track and relay team. As Patty learns to trust her teammates, she also becomes more open to help from others in different settings like her classwork and new friends. Her family is complicated and strong, stepping up when necessary. The theme of legs resonates throughout the book as well, Patty carrying her mother’s legs with her on the track even as her younger sister imagines them touring the world and having adventures.

Every public library should have this series on their shelves. It will run right off the shelves. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Atheneum.

 

The Quest for Z by Greg Pizzoli

The Quest for Z by Greg Pizzoli

The Quest for Z: The True Story of Explorer Percy Fawcett and a Lost City in the Amazon by Greg Pizzoli (9780670016532, Amazon)

The author of Tricky Vic returns with another rip-roaring nonfiction picture book. It is the true story of Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who searched for an ancient city hidden in the Amazon rainforest. Fawcett had dreamed his entire life of being an explorer and as an adult took many treks into South America to map the region. They faced many dangers, such as huge snakes and natives with weapons. Many of the men he traveled with perished on the adventures but Fawcett survived. Others thought that the Amazon city was a myth while Fawcett insisted that it existed. If he found it, it would make him one of the most famous explorers of all time and one of the wealthiest too. This book tells his tale as he searched for the lost city.

Pizzoli has a knack for selecting real life stories that most people, adults and children, will not have heard of. This one is a fascinating story of belief and bravery, about a man who left family and country behind in his quest to discover the unknown. Pizzoli tells the story with lots of action and a sense of adventure in his prose. There are moments where Pizzoli allows the action to slow, the wonder of the moment to grow, and the dangers to almost overwhelm. It’s written with skill and knowledge, building to a conclusion that suits the life of Fawcett to a Z.

The book design and illustrations add so much to this nonfiction read. Done in a simple and clever style, just like Pizzoli’s picture books, the images add necessary humor to the book. The design of the book also allows additional information to be added on sidebars. Pizzoli uses his illustrations to also create moments of tension and drama, pausing the action for effect.

Smart, stylish and successful, this nonfiction picture book will take readers on quite an adventure. Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from library copy.