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Friday, April 30, 2021

Novel In Verse: Your Heart My Sky


Your Heart My Sky

by Margarita Engle


Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division


205 pages

ISBN: 9781534464964

Gripping, profound, moving, Your Heart My Sky is a must-read.

Cuba 1991: a humanitarian crisis. Thousands of Cubans are starving including fourteen-year old Alina. Skipping forced work camp and putting her family in danger, Alina happens upon a mystical dog she befriends. The "singing" dog is starving like the people, but he leads Alina in her search for food. They meet a boy, Amado, who skipped out on work to forage for food and the trio become a unit.

Police patrol the streets looking for anyone who has not reported for forced work, so Alina and Amado hide in the shadows in order to keep their parents safe. Hunger is constant. It is the only thing Alina can think of except the fact she can share her hunger with a sensitive boy. Together, they search and hope and dream. Their island has no opportunity for them and no food, yet it is their homeland and their soul. 

The Pan-Am Games are to be held in Cuba, and all the food is for tourists, not for citizens. Alina dreams of opening a restaurant and having enough food to feed not only herself but hungry guests. The kids plant a garden with the hope of harvesting food. "How can love be enough in a time of hunger?" Alina asks. 

Thousands of islanders are leaving Cuba in rafts, hoping to reach freedom and food, but many drown. Alina and Amado consider taking the chance, but worry one of them will drown. What will the survivor do? How lonely is survival? Amado realizes, "Hope is the only cure for hunger." They will stay in their homeland and they will nurture their garden and they will work for their dreams to become reality. 

The author's note is especially poignant and Cuba's singing dogs are real (Engle believes so, and I agree).  

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Non-Fiction Pick: A Day in the Life of a Poo, a Gnu, and You


A Day in the Life of a Poo, a Gnu, and You: A Laugh-Out-Loud Guide to Life on Earth 

by Mike Barfield

Illustrated by Jess Bradley


Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division

original copyright 2020 in U.K.

2021 U.S. edition

128 pages full color illustrations 

ISBN: 9781534467217

Where was this ESSENTIAL book when I was in middle school? The author explores the human body, the animal kingdom and earth and science. Fun, fascinating facts and cartoon-like illustrations by Jess Bradley make this a great pick for reluctant readers and fans of non-fiction. This is a teaching tool for any beginning science class as well. 

Features include "A Day in the Life of a Hiccup," "A Day in the Life of a Pimple, how your major organs work, and "You and Your Poo" teaches how to tell if you need more fiber, more water or if your poo is healthy! Any middle school reader will love that! 

In the animal world, earthworms, spiders, dung beetles, weird types of fish like the gulper eel and the long-nosed chimaera, koalas, skunks, pandas and other animals are highlighted. Did you know pandas poop up to fifty times in one day or that worms can be both female and male? 

In the science and earth section, readers will learn about some plants, fungi, weather, volcanos, auroras among many other subjects. A fun-filled, illustrated glossary ends the book.  Kids won't even realize how much they've learned because this little gem is so much fun to read. Who knew science was so cool? 

HIGHLY, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. This is a must-have, must-read for any science buff and even those readers, like me, who really aren't into science. Note to educational publishers: maybe if you made science books more fun, more kids would excel in the sciences. 

Grade 4 and up. Easy to read, each page is filled with illustrations and fun facts. The pages will turn fast! 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Series Pick: City Spies: Golden Gate (book 2)


City Spies: Golden Gate (Book 2)

by James Ponti


Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division


432 pages (but these pages are so great, you'll want more the minute you read the last page!)

ISBN: 9781534414945

See this page for a fun seek and find!

Another blockbuster by James Ponti! The City Spies series is my favorite tween/teen reads in a long time. Perfection! Book two is BETTER than book one which is an uncommon feat for most authors, but not a pro like Ponti. He pulls out all the stops: a young team of teens brought together by an agent they call Mother train in a castle in Scotland. They learn all kinds of great things and use competition to hone their skills in cryptology, bomb building, lock picking, escaping a dangerous spot, hand to hand combat--you know, the normal things kids learn at boarding school. 

Aboard the Sylvia Earle, two of the City Spies are undercover posing as "normal" school kids on a trip to inspire girls to pursue the sciences. MI6 places Brooklyn and Sydney on board to insure the safety of two girls--one a daughter of a member of Parliament and the other a daughter of a Duke, #32 in line for the crown. When hijackers board their vessel, Sydney isn't where she should be--fast asleep on board. She's in the water on a solo scuba dive. Brooklyn wakes the two girls she's supposed to protect and hides them. Worried about Sydney, Brooklyn has her hands full.

When she's not fighting huge men, she's outsmarting the hijackers. She is able to send a message to the Coast Guard who are on their way. The girls save the day! Brooklyn argues with Sydney and is jealous of her. She regards Sydney as the "ultimate spy," and feels like a failure next to her. 

The two girls will have to quell their differences. Back at the castle, Mother divulges his secret: his own two children are in danger and someone inside MI6 is a double agent. Using the embedded metadata from a photograph, the team discovers Mother's children are in San Francisco. It's time to head there, locate and save the kids, and stop the rogue agent wherever they are. 

Full of twists and turns, crosses and double crosses, plus teen drama and tough friendships, City Spies: Golden Gate delivers! 

Readers will love, love, love this book! Waiting for book 3 will be a Herculean effort. 

Highly, highly recommended. This one will be in the running for many best lists and awards! 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Ready*To*Read Pick: Bird Singing, Bird Winging


Bird Singing, Bird Winging

Ready*To*Read Pre-Level One

by Marilyn Singer

Illustrated by Lucy Semple

Simon Spotlight

Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division

32 pages


ISBN: 9781534441439

Colorful illustrations capture all kinds of birds and their behavior from woodpeckers to eagles to penguins--birds of every size and color. Children will see each bird in their habitat doing what they are most famous for--woodpeckers pecking for food, penguins staying warm, eagles hunting, mama bird tending. 

Simple words will become easy sight words for early readers. The rhyming text make this a fun read aloud that children will want to practice for themselves. Marilyn Singer has a magic ear for rhyme and it makes Bird Singing, Bird Winging a real stand-out. 

Three pages follow with interesting facts about the various birds featured in the book. Young readers will learn fascinating things about the birds they see in their own neighborhoods or at the aviary. 

Highly recommended ages 3-5. 

Monday, April 5, 2021

Beautiful Picture Book: Together We Grow


Together We Grow

by Susan Vaught

Illustrated by Kelly Murphy 

A Paula Wiseman Book

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers


40 pages

ISBN: 9781534405868

Together We Grow is a beautifully rendered picture book. One stormy night, a family of foxes wonder where they can find warmth and a place to stay dry. The barn is crowded with all the farm animals, but foxes don't belong among the domesticated animals. 

Fear sets in as they search for a place. A small chick approaches them and invites them in. There is a place for everyone. The foxes enter the barn and aren't a threat to the others. Pigs, cows, horses, geese, raccoons, rabbits and foxes bed down for the night because together they grow. 

The message is clear: there is a place for everyone. Everyone is accepted and welcome. Together we are better. 

The illustrations will steal your heart. The animals' faces are expressive and lovely. Rhyming text captures the foxes' plight and the animals' delight. This is a MUST HAVE, MUST READ for every child, every parent and every adult. Buy this book for the child in your life. 

Highly, highly recommended ages three and up!