Archive for the ‘Children’s Fiction Review’ Category

Review of Harbor Me, by Jacqueline Woodson

Sunday, July 5th, 2020

Harbor Me

by Jacqueline Woodson

Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin), 2018. 176 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 30, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#9 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

It’s unfortunate when you read as many children’s books as you can, all put out in the same year, when some of the books lose some of their impact because you’ve read a similar story already. Harbor Me reminds me of Between the Lines by Nikki Grimes. In both cases, you’ve got a group of kids from tough backgrounds coming to care about each other as they open up and share their stories. In Just Like Jackie, something similar happens. I’m a little tired of hearing about teachers pulling this off, because I’m starting to be skeptical – but at the same time, personal stories do have a powerful effect.

In the case of Harbor Me, it’s a group of six 5th and 6th graders in the same class. Every week, they get to meet for one hour in a room without a teacher and say whatever they want. They learn each other’s stories.

It begins with Esteban, whose father was taken away and put in a detention center. Esteban was born in America, but now his mother is afraid she’ll be taken, too.

And Haley, our narrator, who’s thinking back over the year, has a dad who was in prison. She’s lived with her uncle as long as she can remember.

This book isn’t poetry, but Jacqueline Woodson has a poet’s facility with language. This may also explain why my favorite parts of the book were Esteban’s father’s poems, which he wrote in the detention center and sent to his son, who translated them into English.

The book feels a little short – I’d like to know more about more of the kids’ stories – but it’s also refreshing to read a book for 5th graders that’s less than 200 pages long. This book is about kids on the margins, and it is short enough that kids on the margins themselves might not be intimidated by it.

The day I read this, I also reviewed Jacqueline Woodson’s new picture book, The Day It Begins — which is also about making friends by sharing your stories. We are all different, but we all have things in common. When we hear stories, we can find those things in common. The picture book tells about that, and the novel fleshes it out.

Yes. Let’s share stories. And then we’ll have people to harbor us when times are hard.

jacquelinewoodson.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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Source: This review is based on a book sent by the publisher

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Doughnut Fix, by Jessie Janowitz

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020

The Doughnut Fix

by Jessie Janowitz

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2018. 298 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 20, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#8 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

This book is a whole lot of fun to read. Doughnuts! What could be better?

Tristan and his two sisters get taken on a road trip one Saturday – and then told that they’re moving out of New York City to Petersville. Their parents have bought a ramshackle old house a bike ride away from the tiny center of town. His mother is going to open a restaurant.

When Tristan bikes into town the morning after they move, he spots a sign that makes him hungry – “Yes, we do have chocolate cream doughnuts!” Except the trouble is, the sign is a lie. Winnie, the lady in the general store says she quit making the doughnuts because they were so popular, it was too much bother to make them. They were so good, they were in the newspaper.

“Too much work. After that story, people came in here from all over, all hours of the day and night. Nearly drove me crazy. I really had no choice.”

Just in case you think you don’t get it, let me tell you, you do: the General Store’s chocolate cream doughnuts were so good, and people liked them so much, they decided not to make them anymore.

Tristan can’t stop thinking about those doughnuts. So when they’re told that they don’t need to start school until after Winter Break, and his parents tell them to work on a project – Tristan chooses to bring back the doughnuts to Petersville.

It’s not all that simple. He needs to get the recipe from Winnie, and then she wants him to make a business plan. He needs to negotiate a good price on the ingredients, and they have to get a business license, not to mention making the doughnuts and filling them with chocolate cream – despite his four-year-old sister’s “help.”

Maybe that all sounds boring, but the quirky characters in the town combined with Tristan’s unusual family and Tristan’s determination to get these doughnuts made – all add up to a funny and absorbing tale.

Of course, Tristan also needs to make a new friend – and he gains some insight about his former best friend. Meanwhile his gifted and talented sister Jeanine is having more trouble adjusting than he is, which comes as a surprise for him.

There are recipes in the back of the book plus tips on starting a business. The flap says that this is the first book in a series – that makes me happy, because these characters are a whole lot of fun.

Beware, though – This book will make you hungry.

jessiejanowitz.com
jabberwockykids.com

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Source: This review is based on a book sent by the publisher.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Out of Left Field, by Ellen Klages

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020

Out of Left Field

by Ellen Klages

Viking, 2018. 314 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 3, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Historical Children’s Fiction

This book is historical fiction set in 1957 when San Francisco is about to get a major league baseball team, the Giants. Katy Gordon is the best pitcher in the neighborhood, and she’s thrilled when she tries out for Little League and makes the team. But when they find out she’s a girl, she’s not allowed to play, and she gets an official letter from Little League saying baseball has always been a man’s sport.

Katy suspects that’s not true. She starts at the library and discovers a woman who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig – consecutively.

One thing leads to another. Katy interviews women, writes letters, and does more research – and uncovers hundreds of women who played professional baseball, some in their own leagues, some in the Negro leagues, and some as barnstormers playing exhibition games along with men.

It’s interesting how much fun it is to read about a kid doing research. Back in 1957, most of these women were still alive, and Katy was able to meet them and talk with them. And Katy’s research is interwoven with her baseball games and perfecting her pitching. I like the part when she gets to pitch to Willie Mays!

With all the kids’ books I’ve been reading, it was refreshing that even though Katy’s best friend Jules got assigned to a different teacher this year, and even though she doesn’t like playing baseball and has other interests instead – the girls stay friends and stay supportive of each other. What’s more, there are no dead parents in this book! Okay, Katy’s parents are divorced, but this doesn’t seem to be traumatic in her life and her father sends supportive messages.

I learned a whole lot about women’s baseball by reading this book – but all the information never got in the way of the story of Katy, the best pitcher in the neighborhood.

penguin.com/YoungReaders

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Ambrose Deception, by Emily Ecton

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

The Ambrose Deception

by Emily Ecton

Disney Hyperion, 2018. 359 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

This book opens with three unlikely candidates from three different Chicago schools being offered a $10,000 scholarship opportunity. When Melissa Burris, Bondi Johnson, and Wilf Samson arrive at the office, they’re first made to sign a form saying they won’t discuss the clues with absolutely anyone. Then they’re given an envelope with three clues and told to take a picture of the clue solution. They are also given a cell phone, a camera, a debit card – and the use of a car and driver to take them anywhere in Chicago city limits.

Now, the kids are pretty sure something’s fishy. Given the title of the book, the reader is pretty sure, too. Wilf decides to enjoy the car and driver while he has them and plans a list of fun activities in Chicago. But Melissa and Bondi start seriously tackling their three clues.

So begins a clever and inventive puzzle novel. The clues all lead to locations in Chicago – and they are clues that require some thought. I now wish I’d tried to solve some using the internet – but I was reading the book in bed and didn’t bother. I imagine kids who live in Chicago might have an advantage, but this is still a legitimate puzzle that you feel like you as a reader can solve along with the characters.

I like the way they repeat the clues periodically – so you don’t have to keep turning back in the book.

I like that the characters are pretty ordinary kids, each with their own quirks. In fact, the drivers also have their own quirks. Wilf is a real slacker, trying to take advantage of this. Melissa is very suspicious, not wanting to even use the debit card or the car and driver. Bondi is a take-charge kind of kid, but he jumps to conclusions in a few spots.

I won’t say what the “deception” is in the title, but it’s all very satisfying when it works out. A puzzle novel with ordinary kids cast as the solvers, kids whom adults had written off.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Parker Inheritance, by Varian Johnson

Monday, May 18th, 2020

The Parker Inheritance

by Varian Johnson

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2018. 331 pages.
Review written in 2018 from a book sent by the publisher.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 Contemporary Children’s Fiction
2019 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book
2019 Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book

The Parker Inheritance is a wonderful tribute to The Westing Game, with a mysterious millionaire leaving money to enhance a town in the south – if and only if someone can solve the clues and tell the story of discrimination that happened in the past.

Many years ago, Candice’s grandmother was city manager of Lambert, South Carolina. She got one of the original letters and tried to solve the clues – but succeeded only in disgracing herself by digging up some tennis courts and not finding the treasure.

Now Candice and her mother are living in her grandmother’s old home for the summer. In the attic, she finds an envelope addressed to her from her grandmother. In the envelope is the original letter – promising treasure for the town and for the person who solves the clues.

Brandon, a neighbor kid from across the street is there in the attic with her when she finds the letter. (They were looking for books to read, because her grandma was good about that, too.) Together, they start researching the people mentioned in the letter, the Washington family, who got run out of Lambert back in 1957.

The book gives periodic interludes from the story of the Washingtons while we follow the main story of Candice and Brandon solving the clues.

And Candice and Brandon have to learn about what happened in 1957. They look at pictures in the library. They need to find yearbooks from both the white high school and the colored high school. They find out about a secret tennis match between the two schools. The African Americans won, and there were repercussions.

The puzzle is well done, but the story supports it well – making this much more than just a puzzle book. I’m going to have to reread The Westing Game. It also tells a story of racism – which was sad back in 1957, but is largely overcome over the years. I especially like Siobhan Washington’s emphasis on love and forgiveness and rising above.

varianjohnson.com
scholastic.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Orphan Band of Springdale, by Anne Nesbet

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

The Orphan Band of Springdale

by Anne Nesbet

Candlewick Press, 2018. 433 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 25, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 Historical Children’s Fiction

Reading The Orphan Band of Springdale made me happy. I liked the main character, Gusta Neubronner, and seeing the world through her eyes was a delightful experience.

The book begins as her father puts her on a bus – and leaves! He told her where to sit and put her suitcase onto the rack above her, and then got off the bus. Instead of getting back on, two men in uniforms came onto the bus looking for him.

The setting of the book is 1941 in Maine. Gusta had lived with her parents in New York City. Her father, who was born in Germany and hated the Nazis, was a union organizer. But anti-German sentiment being what it was, as well as anti-union sentiment, he had become a fugitive. Her mother got a job and couldn’t take care of Gusta, so she was sent to her grandmother in Springdale, Maine.

Now, Gusta’s mother had told her a story about her grandfather, who built the house in Springdale. He had been a sea captain and found a chest full of real wishes. They looked like coins that sparkled mysteriously. He didn’t believe it at first, and made frivolous wishes, which all came true.

“He said that after a day or two, he suddenly realized the seriousness of the situation. These were actual wishes, and he was wasting them. He would pick up one of those odd little coin things and wish for his sardines (for example), and after that, he said, he could tell that Wish was all used up. It didn’t sparkle anymore, he said. It just looked empty.”

“How can a coin be empty?”

“I don’t know. That’s how he described it. And of course that made him realize he couldn’t keep wasting those Wishes; he needed to think it all through more carefully, make wishes that counted. And then – right that very day – something really terrible happened: the ship he was on hit a reef and sank.”

The entire chest with Wishes sank in the sea. But one Wish remained, in his pocket.

“A single Wish,” said her mother. “One last Wish left. He kept that Wish safe, and he brought it back home with him. And you know what? He never used it, his whole life long. That’s what he told me, anyway, and I knew him when he was very, very old.”

He’d put the Wish in a box on a shelf, somewhere in the house. Can Gusta find it while she’s there? Can she use it to solve some problems?

And there are some problems while she’s there. Her father’s a fugitive. She meets her grandmother, who now runs an orphanage, and other relatives, including her uncle, whose hand was injured working in the mill and now needs an expensive operation or he can’t work. Gusta knows that the law is on his side, but without a union there, what can one person do?

But the most fun is the oldest girl in the orphanage, Josie, and Gusta’s cousin Bess. Gusta has brought her father’s French horn with her. When she plays it, she’s letting out her heart. Josie has a beautiful voice. Together they form the Honorary Orphan Band of Springdale (Josie being the only one who’s an actual orphan).

I laughed delightedly when I read this paragraph when the band finally performs:

They played “Angeline the Baker” and “Hard Times in the Mill” and a couple of cheerful, quick-moving songs they had made up themselves, and it’s safe to say no band composed of French horn, ukulele, voice, and bean jar ever had a more enthusiastic reception anywhere.

You’ll learn a little history reading this book about life on the home front just before the United States joined World War Two. But mostly you’ll have fun reading about some good-hearted characters in difficult circumstances trying to set things right – with or without a Wish.

candlewick.com

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Review of Wonderland, by Barbara O’Connor

Thursday, April 30th, 2020

Wonderland

by Barbara O’Connor

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018. 282 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 29, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

Wonderland is an utterly delightful friendship story, with a charming dog rescue and friendship-with-elderly-gentleman plots thrown in.

Mavis and her mother are moving again. This time, Mavis is determined to have a best friend. Will they even stay in Landry, Alabama long enough? But her mother’s going to be working as a maid in a big home, and they’ll live in an apartment over the garage – and there’s a girl her age who lives in the house.

Rose is getting tired of how her former friend Amanda treats her. And she’s worried about Mr. Duffy, the gatekeeper, whose dog recently died. He just hasn’t been the same. And now her mother and friends are saying that he’s not doing his job well enough.

When Mavis moves in, their two worlds collide in wonderful ways. And there’s a stray dog living in the woods. Mavis is determined that Mr. Duffy needs a new dog. That will cheer him up and make everything better!

Rose is not so sure. Mr. Duffy says he doesn’t want another dog. And finding the dog would mean going into the woods and breaking rules.

There are some spats in their time together, and definitely some difficulties – but this ends up being a story of discovering a wonderful friendship that leaves both girls changed.

barbaraoconnor.com
mackids.com

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Review of Louisiana’s Way Home, by Kate DiCamillo

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020

Louisiana’s Way Home

by Kate DiCamillo

Candlewick Press, 2018. 227 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 27, 2018, from an advance reader copy.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 Historical Children’s Fiction

This is the first time Kate DiCamillo has returned to a character from one of her earlier books, and I find I like this second book even better than the first – but you don’t have to have read Raymie Nightingale to enjoy Louisiana’s Way Home.

Louisiana’s crazy granny has finally really gone nuts. She gets Louisiana up in the middle of the night and drives north. They cross the state line into Georgia, and still don’t stop.

But then Granny starts moaning. She needs a dentist. What’s a girl to do? Louisiana is nothing if not resourceful and drives the car herself until she finds a dentist in Richford, Georgia.

But after Granny has all her teeth removed, they need a place to stay. She arranges payment with Louisiana’s beautiful singing voice.

But Louisiana wants to get back home. And there are still more adventures, good and bad, ahead of her. And she finds out that the story she’s been telling of the Flying Elefantes is not precisely true.

As always, Kate DiCamillo’s characters are quirky yet lovable. (Either that, or quirky and annoying, like the organ player.) There’s a lot of warmth and compassion in this book – and Louisiana is up against great big odds.

Now, the final situation resolved itself maybe a little too easily – but I was happy with the result and happy with Louisiana’s choice.

And when all is said and done, she does find her way home.

Perhaps what matters when all is said and done is not who puts us down but who picks us up.

katedicamillostoriesconnectus.com
candlewick.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Eleventh Trade, by Alyssa Hollingsworth

Tuesday, April 14th, 2020

The Eleventh Trade

by Alyssa Hollingsworth

Roaring Brook Press, 2018. 298 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 4, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

Sami has newly arrived in Boston with his Baba from Afghanistan by way of Iran, Turkey, and Greece. His father had been an interpreter for the American army, which made him a target of the Taliban.

Baba’s rebab, a stringed instrument like a lute, is one of the only things they still have from Afghanistan, and Baba plays it in the subway station. But after Sami’s first day of school, he’s playing the rebab while Baba takes a break – and a thief snatches it out of his hands and gets away on the subway.

Well, Sami finds a new friend who looks up the instrument and finds the shop where the thief took it. But the shop wants $700 for it. It’s the start of Ramadan and Sami wants to get it back for Baba to give him at Eid al-Fitr. But Sami has no money.

Then a bully notices Sami’s Manchester United key chain. He’ll trade an ipod for it. Of course, then it turns out the ipod is broken. However that new friend of Sami’s knows how to figure out how to fix an ipod.

Thus begins a series of trades. If Sami can trade each thing for something a little better, maybe he can get that rebab back for Baba by the end of Ramadan.

This is the second book I’ve read recently about “elevator trades.” But in the other book, it was more of a scam. This book has heart. Sami doesn’t have to scam anyone – he finds what people want. And I love the way he builds connections with people as he finds out what they care about and what they want.

Along the way, we find out about Sami’s story, watch him join a soccer group, and see him learn about the power of friendship as he adjusts to this new place.

You end this book wishing all good things for Sami and his Baba. You also have a feeling they’ll find them.

Added later: Looking back at this book a year and a half later, I still have such warm feelings for this book and its characters. Just a wonderful book.

alyssahollingsworth.com
mackids.com

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Review of Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth, by Sheila O’Connor

Friday, April 3rd, 2020

Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth

by Sheila O’Connor

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018. 356 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 24, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 Historical Children’s Fiction

Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth is a story told through letters. The setting is 1968 in a small town named Lake Liberty. Reenie Kelly is staying at her grandmother’s house with her big brothers Billy and Dare. She has just gotten a paper route and she’s determined to show that an eleven-year-old girl can do just as good a job as any boy. She wasn’t able to meet Mr. Marsworth, since he didn’t come to the door, but she puts a friendly note in his milk box.

Mr. Marsworth answers with a friendly note in the milk box back to her. He doesn’t want to meet her, but says, “Any child of Betsy Kelly’s will be a perfect papergirl, I’m sure.” He sends a P.S. with his sympathy about her mother’s recent death from cancer.

I know it’s been some time since your mother passed away, but she was among the best this world has known. Such a strong young heart. How terrible that she left this earth too soon.

So begins a wonderful correspondence. Reenie is nothing if not loquacious, and she doesn’t have friends yet in Lake Liberty, so she pours out her thoughts to Mr. Marsworth.

She does already have another pen pal – a soldier named Skip fighting in Vietnam. But she doesn’t like to send him any bad news. And some bad news like trouble with bullies does start to come up.

But Reenie’s biggest worry is that her oldest brother Billy has turned 18 and that he’ll get drafted. She is trying to save money on her paper route so that he can afford to go to the University of Missouri. If he doesn’t go to college, surely he’ll get drafted. She doesn’t realize that their family is bankrupt because of paying for her mother’s cancer treatments.

Mr. Marsworth agrees with her that she should try to keep Billy from being drafted. It turns out that he was a conscientious objector during World War I and spent time in prison. The town still dislikes him for that. Reenie gets Billy to go to Minneapolis to talk to the folks at the Draft Information Office about how to become a conscientious objector. But when Billy writes a letter to the Tribune, the whole town turns against them and their troubles with bullies get much worse.

So that’s the basic outline of how things begin. But leaves out the charm, the life and spunk of Reenie’s letters, and the gentle wisdom coming from Mr. Marsworth. You fall in love with both of them. I was moved to tears before the book ended, and in a good way.

sheilaoconnor.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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