Saturday, November 30, 2019

Middle Grade Pick: On Snowden Mountain

On Snowden Mountain
by Jeri Watts
Candlewick Press
193 pages
ISBN: 9780763697440

Twelve year old Ellen's father goes off to fight World War II, and her mother sinks into her deepest depression yet. Ellen has nowhere to turn except her distant Aunt Pearl. Pearl shows up, takes everything into her own hands and packs the family up to live in her small frame home at the base of the mountains in West Virginia.

Ellen is used to big city Baltimore and going to school with children her age. In the mountains, there's nothing but a one room schoolhouse, a gruff teacher, farm kids, mountain kids and a stinky skunk kid. There's nothing to do in the small village and Ellen isn't one to explore the mountain. Her mother is like a walking zombie, and Ellen fears she may end up with her mother's illness after she learns her grandmother also suffered depression.

Aunt Pearl's distance thaws out over time, and Ellen enjoys spending time with her and hearing about the past. Although her mother doesn't seem any better, Ellen gets a letter with news her father is coming home.

Issues of abuse, mental illness, poverty, depression, war and friendship are deftly handled by author Jeri Watts. Although the issues seem for a much older crowd this is a lower middle grade read that could easily be read by age eight and up.

Recommended grade 4 and up and for introspective readers who enjoy a "quiet" story.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Middle Grade Pick: Extraordinary Birds

Extraordinary Birds
by Sandy Stark-McGinnis
Bloomsbury Children's Books
214 pages
ISBN: 9781547601004

Eleven-year old December has seen her share of foster homes. They never seem to work out for her. She dreams of flying away like a bird. So much so, that she convinces herself that the scar on her back is where her wings are now forming. Once her wings are complete, she will fly away from all the human sadness.

December studies birds all the time; her constant companion and security blanket is a book her mother left behind: Complete Guide to Birds: Volume One. She knows the book by heart and if given a page number, she can tell what bird is featured on that particular page.

December knows more about birds that anything else, and when she's placed with a foster parent who rescues birds, it's a match made in heaven, but December fights it as the reader would expect. In school, December makes friends with another bullied student, Cheryllynne who adds to the story in all the right ways.

December knows that most bullies don't want to be mean; they do it because they've been hurt--which is a very mature thought for an eleven-year old to have. She is wise beyond her years, and young readers will have such empathy for her. They will root for December to find her place on the ground with foster mom Eleanor.

With her friendship growing between Cheryllynne and her heart open for family and a home, December is finally able to face her past abandonment. She helps a Henrietta the hawk rehabilitate and learn to fly again, and when she soars skyward, December knows everything will finally be alright. All animals need a home and maybe, just maybe, she's found hers.

What an extraordinary book! The is the gem of 2019 and a MUST READ which is likely to become One Book for many schools and will win many awards this season. Did someone say Texas Bluebonnets? This someone just did! And I'm always right about award books!

Highly, highly recommended and FIVE STARS! BOOK OF THE YEAR, in my opinion.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Alphabet Pick: Bear Is Awake! An Alphabet Story

Bear Is Awake! An Alphabet Story
by Hannah E. Harrison
Illustrations by the author
Dial Books
32 pages

Available November 26, 2019

A different kind of alphabet story! Bear Is Awake! features an adorable bear who wakes up early and a clever little girl who becomes his willing playmate. After his long winter nap, Bear is famished and quickly raids the little girl's family's pantry. She scolds him and they travel across the town to the library (my FAVORITE part!) where the L stands for library, listen and learn. The only drawback to this two-page spread is that the librarian appears to be a stereotype: although she is black, she is middle-aged and shown wearing glasses. Authors and illustrators should be more careful about picturing librarians and teachers as always female, always middle-aged and always wearing glasses, but the rest of the story makes up for this little error. Because I'm a career librarian and educator, I'm hyperaware of this long standing stereotype.

The girl and the bear share adventures, but she knows Bear must go back to the forest and she takes him there, tucks him in and leaves him a note after he falls asleep: See you in the Spring! the note reads.

Illustrations are wonderfully whimsical. Bear will become every child's new best friend. Children should easily be able to explain the message of this sweet story: friendship, care, love and empathy.

Bear Is Awake! is a must have for any child's book shelf and all pre-school collections. This is the best alphabet book you'll ever read! FIVE STARS!

Highly, highly recommended! I love this book! Picture book of the YEAR! This book could be used with older students in art classes and creative writing classes. Writers would have fun coming up with new alphabet books of their own.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Middle Grade Pick: Britfield & the Lost Crown

Britfield & the Lost Crown
by C.R. Stewart
Devonfield Publishing
386 pages
ISBN: 9781732961210

First in a planned seven book series, Britfield & the Lost Crown reads likes a fairy tale. Tom, an orphan, enlists the help of fellow orphans to escape the evil orphanage with his best friend Sarah. Before he leaves, his good friend Patrick  steals a folder from the office and Tom learns a secret about his past and parentage. His parents are alive! Now he has even more questions and no answers.

The pair escape a determined and dogged detective who makes it his business to catch runaway orphans and elude police capture as the navigate by a hot air balloon which just happened to be sitting unattended in a field along their way. Somehow, two kids with no knowledge of ballooning learn to fly the balloon all over England. The story rollicks along London and many famous landmarks.

The kids meet several people who help them unlock Tom's secret and set up the next book in the series. Tame enough for younger middle grade and easy to read, Britfield's page count may terrorize reluctant readers. In that case, perhaps an audiobook or full class read would work better.

This books seems set in the past and pre-Internet, pre-cells phone bygone eras, yet some dialog between the characters is slang of today. One in particular: a character asks, "Too much information?" which if TMI in text and recent (last decade). Dialog in particular is this book's weakness. As a career middle grade (middle school) librarian, the dialog is all wrong.

Recommended younger middle grade. Middle school readers may find the story too predicable.

Grade 5- 6. Grade 7 and up may want a more YA experience.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Alphabet Book Pick: P Is For Poppadoms! An Indian Alphabet Book

P Is For Poppadoms!
An Indian Alphabet Book
by Kabir and Surishtha Sehgal
Illustrated by Hazel Ito
Beachfront Books
32 pages
ISBN: 9781534421721

What a fun way to introduce learners to new words while learning their alphabet! American children may not be familiar with any of the Indian words in this book, but they will love learning about another culture and country. Colorful illustrations by Ito make the alphabet come alive, and the choices of words for each letter convey Indian foods, musical instruments, locations, people, festivals, animals, and flowers. Included is a page of the words written in the Indian alphabet to practice writing.

This is a must have for any multicultural classroom or library. Parents will love this alphabet book for its unique appeal and lessons about the world's largest population.

Highly, highly recommended for any child's library or book shelf. This is a gem of an alphabet book which teaches so much more than the letters of the alphabet. Purchase this one for a kid you love today!

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.