Sunday, September 6, 2020

What Middle Grade Books I Read in August


I read eight middle-grade books in August.  Time to get back to reading books to help my library patrons find just the right book!  I'm starting to record video reviews for middle-grade books on my YouTube channel. I linked those videos to the titles of the books. With hybrid and distance learning, we are encouraged to do more videos with our faces to help students connect. So, I'm not trying to make money or be a YouTube star...I just want to connect books to readers.  

3 Stars | Every Shiny Thing | Cordelia Jensen & Laurie Morrison | 2018 | Grade 5-9

The story is about two middle school girls and is told in alternating views. One is free verse and the other is traditional. Foster care, autism, family dynamics, addiction, Quaker school, simplicity, stealing like Robin hood to help the poor are all part of this book. The story dragged a little and I wanted it to move along. Otherwise, I liked it. Great for Middle school and division 2.

4 stars | Resistance | Jennifer A. Nielsen | 2018

This book is 2020-2021 Maud Hart Lovelace nomination for Division 2 which is for middle school or grades 6-8. The interest level from the publisher lists this book for grades 5-8. Because most of the Division 2 books interest level starts at 5th grade, I usually buy and promote these titles for 5th grade. Many 5th graders are looking for edgier middle school reading. I am saying all of this because this book is intense! I actually did not read this until this week. I will let 5th graders know that sensitive readers may want to wait and read this book later. (Yes, I know this will entice some to read this because of my warning.)

This is a story of a Jewish teenage girl from Poland who is working with the resistance to defy the Nazis. It is very specific in describing the atrocities of how Jews were treated. You also go along with resistance groups and experience the danger and harrowing as well as heart-breaking activity they plan and play out. This book is more plot and action than a character study. For those students looking for WW II books, they will read about lots of details as to what the resistance groups experienced. It is so sad to read about such evil and yet, many Jewish people held tightly to their faith and experienced love and help from others despite the dangers.
May we never forget and may it inspire us to do better and love people.

I really liked this book and its perspective. I recommend it highly to adult readers too. 

Jerome is a black 7th grader in Chicago who tries to avoid the bullies and do well in school. A new boy comes to school and Jerome tries to help him avoid a bully attack. The new boy uses a toy gun to scare them away and then gives the gun to Jerome to play with. Later, in the park, as Jerome plays, a police car arrives and shoots Jerome and he dies. Jerome now looks on as a ghost at how the rest of the days play out.

Jerome meets the Ghost of Emmitt Till and is also able to communicate with Sarah who is the daughter of the police officer who shot him. Sarah begins to see how she can become an activist to make a change in our world.

This book is heart-breaking and outstanding. It is so well written and tells an important story. History is so important in helping us change for the better if we could only learn our lessons well. I hope parents and teachers use this book for a discussion or read aloud. I rated it a 5 because it gave me that reading feeling at the end where I want to press this book into everybody’s hands to read.

I love author Linda Sue Park even more because she loved reading “Little House” as much as I did as a kid. This book is her adult response to challenge the racism in Wilder books and then give a diverse perspective to an American pioneer story. 

Park writes about a father, Ben, and his daughter, Hanna, who arrives in a small town in Dakota Territory in the 1880s to open a dress shop. They are coming from California and looking for a new life after the death of Hanna's mother. Hanna is half-Chinese. Unfortunately, she encounters lots of people who are unwelcoming to her and refuse to have any contact with her. People even keep their children away from the school she is eager to attend. Hanna's dream is to assist her father in the clothing shop they are opening by using the seamstress skills that she learned from her mother. Many people she encounters are not open to a Chinese person in their midst. Will they end up having to leave with all of their work and dreams dashed?

Encounters with Native Americans is one of the plot points in this book. Park is careful to show how Hanna is respectful and empathetic to the people she makes friends with. The author's notes at the end explain how Park did much research and had many people help her to get the scenes just right. (I recognized many of the experts from her list!)

Many of the scenes take place in the schoolhouse. I imagined a place similar to the “When Calls The Heart” television show. Even though there are a lot of tough things in this story...I still got the warm pioneer story vibes from this book. Kids may not be reading Wilder books as much anymore, but fans of “When Calls The Heart” might really enjoy reading this one. This book is a great addition to the frontier life genre and adds much-needed diversity.

3 stars | The Pumpkin War | Cathleen Young | 2019 | IL 4-6

This story takes place on Madeline Island in Wisconsin on Lake Superior. Every year they have a pumpkin race in the fall. People grow large pumpkins and then hollow them out and use them as a boat for the race. 12-year-old Billie is convinced that her best friend Sam purposely did something to cause her to lose in the past year. She had not been friendly with him since that time.  

The story takes over summer from planting to harvest time. Billie is part Ojibwa and many of the things she does come from her heritage....such as powwows, her grandmother's stories, and some of the food she cooks and eats.  She also works hard keeping bees, fishing, and managing her pumpkins. Her father's estranged father comes to visit and Billie learns about forgiveness.

This is a short book with a lot packed into it. When it came to describing beekeeping or pumpkin growing or many of the activities that Billie does the reader does not get much help in understanding it. So many times I thought this would make a good video so I could see the honey processing or other tasks that Billie does. I wanted more description for the reader. 

I thought Billie lived an amazing life and I loved the setting since I have visited several times. I don't think they really have pumpkin races though. I don't think the author is Ojibwa and so this is not an own voices book. I wanted to love this cozy fall book but it fell a bit short for me.

4 Stars | The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA | Brenda Woods | 2019 | Grades 4 - 7

It is just after WW II in a small town in South Carolina and Gabriel receives a new bike for his birthday. In his excitement and daydreaming, he doesn't pay attention to traffic on his first ride and gets in in front of a car on the road. A man named Meriwether Hunter pushes him into safety and then fixes his damaged bike...good as new. Meriwether is an African American war veteran who is having difficulty finding work in the Jim Crow South. Gabriel befriends him and gets his father to hire him at his auto shop. It is there that Gabriel learns how racism, segregation, and Jim Crow laws affect the life of a man who was an unsung war hero. He is a hero to Gabriel and his family for saving his life but other people in the community make his life very difficult because of his skin color. 
This book takes a light-handed approach in dealing with racism and Jim Crow laws. Gabriel and Meriwether are such likable characters! There are some quirky characters in the town in which some are funny and others difficult. It is a coming of age story where a boy with a happy go lucky life begins to realize that life can be unfair, unequal and disappointing. 
There is a caution scene for sensitive readers where a man dies in front of the characters. Overall, this would be a great classroom read-aloud about racism, The Great Migration from South to North, and the role of African American soldiers in WW II. I enjoyed this book.

This short book is mostly written in rhyming verse, free verse and haiku and is a personal narrative of the childhood of the author, Lois Lowry. She focuses on when she lived in Hawaii and Japan during and after World War II. Oh boy, is it emotional and heartbreaking. I shed some tears while I was reading this one! It is also a tribute to the USS Arizona which sunk during the bombing of Pearl Harbor. When Lowry's family moves to Japan, she also experiences the devastation of the bombing of Hiroshima. There is no doubt that Lois Lowry is the master of her craft because she writes a cohesive and beautiful memoir with so few words. This book isn't just about her. She includes stories of real people that connects to her, Pearl Harbor, or Japan. There is also the amazing connection she has with author and illustrator Allen Say! Read the author's notes in the back for some interesting details. I love Hawai’i and I know most visitors will visit The USS Arizona Memorial. I suggest this book as an essential read either before or after visiting. It is also another great book for the catalog of World War II stories. 
Including the author's notes, this book is 72 pages long. Kenard Park illustrates almost every page with lovely pencil drawings. 
“It was an island of rainbows.
My mother said that color arced across the sky
on the spring day when I was born.”

2 stars | The Miraculous | Jess Redman l 2019 | IL 4-6
Wunder is 11 years old and has been noticing and writing down miracles in his journal for most of his life. When his baby sister is born but dies on day 8, it puts the entire family into heartbreak. Mom is depressed and Wunder does not believe in miracles anymore. At the cemetery, he meets Faye who is a cape-wearing quirky girl who find a mysterious house nearby with a witch. The witch gives them some tasks that require Wunder to deliver letters all over town. It turns out that even though there are miracles attached to these people from Wunder's journal, there is also death and grief. Everyone is looking for hope.
This book was not for me. I thought the writing was fine...and it kept me turning pages, but I was depressed reading this book. It was also a bit too weird and mystical for my taste. I did not get a feeling of hope from this book. I was glad to have finished it so I didn't have to read anymore.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

What Adult Books I Read in August


I concentrated on reading more middle-grade books this month. But most of the books I read for adults were really good. Well, except for one.  You can see the last one was not for me. 
4 Stars | In Five Years | Rebecca Serle | 2020
Dannie and Bella are lifelong best girlfriends. Bella is wild, carefree and adventurous while Dannie is controlled, determined and a type-A lawyer. Dannie dreams one night of a life very different than the one she has planned; she is married to someone other than her fiancé. Later when Bella introduces her to her newest boyfriend, she finds herself facing the man of her dream. A few twists happen that I cannot mention so I won't give away the story. This is a fast read and I read it in one day! This book also gives New York City some love as the setting in this contemporary fiction story.

4 Stars | 500 Miles From You | Jenny Colgan | 2020
Lissa is a public health nurse in London who experiences a fatal car accident and suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Human Resources encourages her to take advantage of a nurse trade and go to a quiet country position to help her deal with the situation. Meanwhile, Cormac is a nurse in the Scottish Highlands who is persuaded to also take advantage of this program where you can advance your skills working in an urban setting. Lissa and Cormac both decide to do a trade and actually trade their living situations. Of course, fitting into both situations is comical and difficult for each of them. They are able to update each other on their cases and begin a relationship without ever having met.
This book is the third book in the Bookshop book setting. Lissa befriends both Nina and Zoe from the first two books. If you haven't read would still enjoy this one, them all. I liked all of them. This book made me want to stay awhile in Scotland and hang out with the characters. What a great read!

4 Stars | The Book of Longings | Sue Monk Kidd | 2020
I was a little fearful reading this book because it is imagining that Jesus was married as a young man to Ana. I was hoping it wouldn't be irreverent. The author did extensive research on the culture and history of the first century and was careful to respectfully write this non-traditional story about the humanity of Jesus during his years when we know little about his life. It was well done! Read the author's notes in the back when you get started reading to find out Kidd's thought process for writing this project.
The book is a story about his wife and how, as a woman at this time period, she has few rights and means to follow her dreams and longings. She is a writer who was raised in a wealthy home and was given some opportunities that were not typical. But she could never be independent and follow her own will. When an arranged marriage goes array, Ana finds herself in a predicament that could mean her death. Jesus, who she has briefly met, saves her and a relationship and marriage develops quickly. The story takes us through their marriage until the crucifixion of Jesus and what happens to Ana in her later life.
Experiencing the lifestyle of 1st century Nazareth, Jerusalem, and Alexandra, Egypt in both the wealthy and poor communities is one of my favorite things about this book. The author describes the scenery, food, clothing, smells, cities and homes with lots of details to help the reader see and feel this era. I was glad I read this as an eBook because I also looked up quite a few unfamiliar words for further definitions. The author shows us Jesus' perspective as he begins to see he is destined for ministry and how that plays out in the Gospels. You may not agree with every detail in this book, but overall, Sue Monk Kidd was successful in looking at the question...what if Jesus was married?
I don't know what to read next...this was really quite a rich experience that gave me plenty to think about. I may be rereading this book someday.

4 Stars | While We're Far Apart | Lynn Austin | 2010
Lynn Austin always writes a great story. In this historical fiction book, she writes about three families in Brooklyn, New York and their experiences during World War II.
While they wait for the war to end and for their loved ones to return, they deal with their own problems and difficulties. Penny volunteers to take care of widower Eddies's two children while he goes to fight. She has a big crush on Eddie and hopes he notices her! She also discovers secrets about her own childhood and takes charge of her independence from her parents. The children struggle as they miss their father. The elderly Jewish man in their apartment is accused of setting fire to the neighborhood synagogue while also learning how his own son is mistreated by the Nazis in Europe. So much difficulty on the home front. I really loved how the Jewish man explained his religion to the kids and how they befriended him. Hope amidst such a sad time period.

1 Star | White Out | Danielle Girard | 2020
This was an Amazon First free book and I was very disappointed in this mystery. I didn't even bother writing a review. I will post the publisher's summary:

After surviving a car accident on an icy road in Hagen, North Dakota, Lily Baker regains consciousness with no idea where or who she is. Scattered Bible verses and the image of a man lying in a pool of blood haunt her memory.

The same night of the accident, a young woman is murdered and tossed in a dumpster. Kylie Milliard, Hagen’s only detective, doesn’t immediately recognize the victim, but Kylie soon discovers that Lily and the dead woman share a dark past…if only Lily could remember what it was.

Lily and Kylie both want answers. But Kylie has to play by the book. Lily has to play it safe. And the more Lily learns about her identity, the more she fears the truth.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Ten Diverse Books I Loved

If you wanted me to gift you with ten diverse books with different genres that are great reads I would give you this set of books!  All of these titles are only a few years old and should be really easy to find in libraries both in audio, print or electronic formats. Click on the links for previous book reviews. 

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
4.2 | 5-8 | Pakistani | Contemporary

Apple in the Middle by Dawn Quigley
| 5.1 | 6-9 | Ojibwe | Contemporary

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome 
4.2 | 5-8 | African American | Historical

4 stars! Historical fiction set in Chicago during the migration of African Americans from South to North. The boy in this story is Langston and his father and he has moved to Chicago. His mother died and he is still grieving. His new school has a couple of bullies that make life miserable. He finds peace and solace at a neighborhood library where he is welcomed. The book is like a love story to this library which is also named after a famous African American from Chicago. I listened to this book and read it too. I highly recommend listening to this gem! I think this could be a crossover book. It would be a great read-aloud or book club for kids. 

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes 
4.2 | 5-8 | African American | Contemporary

Jerome is a black 7th grader in Chicago who tries to avoid the bullies and do well in school. A new boy comes to school and Jerome tries to help him avoid a bully attack. The new boy uses a toy gun to scare them away and then gives the gun to Jerome to play with. Later, in the park, as Jerome plays, a police car arrives and shoots Jerome and he dies. Jerome now looks on as a ghost at how the rest of the days play out. 

Jerome meets the Ghost of Emmitt Till and is also able to communicate with Sarah who is the daughter of the police officer who shot him. Sarah begins to see how she can become an activist to make a change in our world. 

This book is heart-breaking and outstanding. It is so well written and tells an important story. History is so important in helping us change for the better if we could only learn our lessons well. I hope parents and teachers use this book for a discussion or read aloud.  I rated it a 5 because it gave me that reading feeling at the end where I want to press this book into everybody’s hands to read.

Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis and Traci Sorell
4.2 | 5-8 | Native American | Historical

Love Sugar Magic by Anna Meriano
4.2 | 5-8 | Mexican American | Fantasy

Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
4.2 | 5-8 | Cuban American | Contemporary

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani  
4.2 | 5-8 | India-Pakistan | Historical

This book is set in 1947 when India was given independence from Britain and India was divided into the two countries of India and Pakistan. Pakistan became a Muslim country, and India was mainly Hindu. People were forced to leave and go to the country based on their practices. 12-year-old Nisha is the daughter of a doctor and he is Hindu. Nisha's mother has passed and she was Muslim. When it is no longer safe for them to stay in the country of Pakistan because of the danger they begin a difficult trek to India.  Nisha writes in her diary every night to her deceased mother and tells the story of the journey and her feelings about what is happening and how confusing it is for religion and beliefs to cause such anger. 

I loved this book because it taught me about something in history I was not aware of. It is very interesting and heartbreaking.   

A Place to Belong by Cynthian Kadohata
4.2 | 5-8 | Japanese | Historical

Stargazing by Jen Wang
4.2 | 5-8 | Chinese American | Contemporary

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Middle Grade Books I Read in July

All of the above titles were on my Maud Hart Lovelace list to review for nominations for the school year of 2021-22.  I did a video to describes these titles plus the ones I didn't finish reading.  I forgot to review Finding Langston and so I will put that one in my next video I film. See the video below!

If you see the yellow hands on each can count the number of stars I gave each book by the fingers that are raised! 

Books I Read in July

I was on vacation in July and read a lot of books by the pool! I read 11 adult books and 7 middle-grade books for a total of 18 books this month.  I have broken them into two parts. The first graphic show all of the adult titles I read. The graphic below shows the books I am read for my middle-grade books.

I will briefly describe each book.  For more details, check out my Facebook or Instagram posts. 

5 stars | The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek | Kim Michele Richardson
Another great book historical fiction book about the packhorse librarians in the 1930's. This one also explores the blue skin people who lived in Kentucky and how they also faced racism. Such a good read...I shed a few tears on this one. 

5 stars | Orphan Train | Christina Baker Kline | 2016
Great story about a young Irish immigrant girl and her harrowing childhood experiences as an orphan who was sent to the midwest to find a family.  I love stories like this. 

5 stars | Westering Women | Sandra Dallas | 2020
This is a dramatic historical fiction book about single and widowed women who joined a wagon train to get to California and seek husbands. 

5 stars | The 10,000 Doors of January | Alix E. Harrow
Fantasy and Historical Fiction mixed together with a lot of fairytale qualities is the basis of this novel. It was a slow start and I put it down. When I came back, I started over and loved 

4 stars | I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness | Brown
I listened to this one which was narrated by the author. It is her experiences helping organizations and individuals understand racism through her view. 

4 stars | Sweet Tea and Sympathy | Harper | 2017
Funny S
outhern romance that I listened to from Audible. 

4 stars | The Last Flight | Julie Clark | June 2020
A thriller that wasn't too scary for me but one I couldn't put down!

4 stars | The Masterpiece |  Francine Rivers |  February 2019
Christian romance about an artist who also does graffiti secretly at night and his new assistant who doesn't want to make any more mistakes in her life. 

3 stars | Wild Montana Skies | Susan May Warren
Christian romance sent near Glacier National Park about a pilot who helps with rescue missions and has to face her ex-boyfriend and their rocky past. 

2 stars | One To Watch | Kate Stayman-London
A Bachelor-like television show asks plus size social media influencer to be the next bachelorette on their show. 

2 stars | Beach Read | Emily Henry
Two authors have houses next door to each other one summer and since they both are blocked, decide to switch genre styles and write the other person's type of book. 

Here are my middle-grade books for July!  I'll do another blog post about these titles later. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Books I Read in June

I did a lot of comfort reading in June with 7 adult books, 1 young adult, and 2 middle grade.  Here's my list!

Every Bride Needs a Groom | Janice Thompson | 4 Stars
This is a Hallmark type story set in Texas about a woman who wins a wedding dress in a contest but has a break up with her boyfriend and no wedding can be planned.  It is funny and I especially liked her brother's antics. A very sweet and clean romance.  I found this on my bookshelf and I am not sure where it came from.  There are more books in this series. 

Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel | Val Emmich | 3 Stars
This book is based on the broadway musical of the same name. It is about a lonely, anxiety-laden high school student who mistakenly is thought to be the best friend of a student who has died by suicide. He ends up rolling with it because it can't figure out how to tell the truth. It starts his own romance and a revolution of kindness in his school. I expected to be as moved as I was listening to the music but was let down a bit. I think in this case, the musical is better. This is a YA book and includes language and mature topics. A friend lent this book to me!

Indian No More | Charlene Willing Mcmanis | 5 Stars
This is a middle-grade book about a Native American family who leaves the reservation and moves to Los Angeles after the government declares they are no longer considered Native Americans.  I loved this book and I encourage everyone to read this book which illuminates a historical event most don't know anything about. I checked this book out of the library. 

Things You Save in a Fire | Katherine Center | 4 Stars
A woman firefighter moves from Texas to Boston to help her mother and join a new fire station. She ends up battling lots of prejudice and fighting for equality along with learning to forgive her mother. I loved this book and plan on reading more from her. I got this book from Book of the Month

The Ringmaster's Wife | Kristy Cambron | 4 Stars
Think Downton Abbey and Water for Elephants and The Greatest Show on Earth. There are two time periods to keep track of...but the author always gives a timestamp at the beginning of the chapter. One of the characters is based on Mabel Ringling who married John Ringling. Since there isn’t much information about her...the author imagines what she was like. I would love to visit their home in Sarasota, Florida now! I got this book from my church library. It is a clean read with messages of God’s love and forgiveness.

Out of Left Field | Ellen Klages | 4 Stars
It is 1957 and Katy wants to play little league but is rejected because she is a girl. She takes on a mission to find out the history of women in playing baseball in hopes to get them to change their minds. This is such a great story that promotes social change and women's rights. I really enjoyed this one. This is a middle-grade book and I got it from a school library. 

Chocolate Cream Pie Murder | Joanne Fluke | 3 Stars
This cozy mystery is about a cookie store owner in Minnesota who solves mysteries in her home town. It always includes lots of recipes and is really corny and sweet. It is really comfort reading.  I read this on Libby. 

When Love Calls | Lorna Seilstad | 4 Stars
This is a sweet vintage read set in Iowa about orphaned sisters. The oldest gets a job as a telephone operator and gives up her dreams of being a lawyer to provide for her sisters. Interesting to learn about the job of a telephone operator. I got this book series from my church library.

While Love Stirs 
| Lorna Seilstad | 4 Stars
The sisters move to St. Paul and the second sister follows her culinary dreams. One of her first jobs in promoting gas stoves by traveling around and doing cooking demonstrations. 

As Love Blooms 
| Lorna Seilstad | 4 Stars
The third sister follows her dream of horticulture and gets in involved in Como Park. I enjoyed this series because it really felt like a visit to local museum and learning about the family that lived there. They are also very charming and always promote women's suffrage and rights. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

5 stars | Grades 3-7 

This is a funny and heartwarming story about a girl who is a genius at math because of an electrical accident from lightning when she was 8. She had been homeschooled but at the age of 12, she returns to school. Yes, middle school. You know that will be difficult! Lucy knows she will face kids who will make fun of her. She's a savant when it comes to math but also deals with obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Now she needs to fit in and find friends! Throw in a pet shelter and rescue project and some quirky but loveable characters and you end up with a great book! I loved it!

This book reminded me a little of  Wonder by R. J.  Palacio but with more humor and math! This would also make an excellent read-aloud!