Monday, March 30, 2020

ON THE HORIZON by Lois Lowry

I'm so glad I heard Lois Lowry chatting about this book on her Facebook a few weeks ago. After listening, I immediately ordered a copy.

ON THE HORIZON is written in a series of poems and reflects on Lois Lowry's memories of living in Honolulu at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It wasn't until later that she realized she and her grandmother were on the beach at the time the USS Arizona passed on the horizon. Not long after that, the great ship lay on the bottom of Pearl Harbor along with most of her crew.

Lowry recounts her memories, and she also shares events as they may have been experienced by some of the sailors on the USS Arizona. She also explains what the days that followed may have been like for the crew of the Enola Gay as they released the bomb on Hiroshima, and the terror of the Japanese who witnessed the explosion of the bomb, many losing their lives instantly or painfully years later. 

Lowry spent some of her childhood in Tokyo where she learned even more about the war and those who survived. Much later in life her path even crossed that of an individual she realized she knew from her early years in Tokyo. Shared memories of Lowry riding her green bicycle add tender moments to this heartfelt story.

Although ON THE HORIZON is less that 100 pages, it is packed with history and emotion only an author like Lois Lowry can express. Fans of Lowry's or those who simply appreciate a beautiful nod to history are sure to be touched by this book.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

DEAR SWEET PEA by Julie Murphy

Most readers know Julie Murphy as the author of PUDDIN' and DUMPLIN' (a Netflix film). DEAR SWEET PEA is her first middle grade novel. It would be a good fit for any reader fifth grade and up.

Sweet Pea is adjusting to a lot. Her parents recently divorced, and she is now living between two houses on the same street. Her therapist mother decided the best thing for Sweet Pea was to have both her parents living in almost identical houses separated only by Miss Flora Mae, the neighborhood eccentric.

Another change Sweet Pea is still trying to come to terms with is the loss of her former friend, Kiera. Always best friends, Kiera and Sweet Pea went their separate ways when Kiera chose to hang out with a group of older girls, leaving Sweet Pea behind. Kiera didn't just move on to different friends; she also became a mean girl. Sweet Pea struggles to ignore Kiera's snide remarks about her weight and her parents' divorce. Little does she know, Kiera is dealing with struggles of her own. Oscar, Sweet Pea's true best friend, is also acting a bit weird lately. 

Fortunately, Miss Flora Mae offers Sweet Pea a distraction when she asks Sweet Pea to gather her mail and water her plants while she is off helping her ailing sister. Sweet Pea has always been fascinated by Miss Flora Mae I, an advice column in the local newspaper. Having written many letters to Miss Flora Mae, Sweet Pea relishes the opportunity to sneak peeks at the letters she's been asked to forward on to the old columnist. She even tries her hand at answering a few and slipping them into the return delivery to the newspaper's editor. Seeing her advice letters printed is certainly a thrill.

DEAR SWEET PEA takes a look at friendship, family struggles, and secrets. Sweet Pea learns that dealing with relationships means being open, caring, and trustworthy. There's a little something for everyone in Julie Murphy's debut middle grade book. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020


When Pip submits the idea for her senior Capstone project, she never dreamed it would turn so many lives upside-down. Ever since the disappearance and supposed death of Andie Bell, Pip has wondered about the tragedy that upset the small town of Fairview.

The subject of Pip's project is given the required approval, however, she is warned that she is not permitted to contact the families of the victim or the accused murderer. Well, Pip has never been one for following directions. She decides to start her inquiry by interviewing the brother of Sal Singh who was accused of Andie's murder and later committed suicide in the woods near her home. 

Sal's brother Ravi at first rejects Pip's questions, but finally decides to help her in her quest to convince everyone of Sal's innocence. Together they uncover unexpected information about Andie's friends and family and about teachers and community members who have knowledge the police never learned. As Pip gets closer to the truth, her safety and that of her family and Ravi are threatened by someone who knows a lot more than they are willing to admit. 

A GOOD GIRL'S GUIDE TO MURDER is Holly Jackson's debut novel. Her detailed plot, complete with plenty of twists and turns, is sure to please readers looking for a challenging mystery. Pip and Ravi make a great team that will have readers rooting for them as they seek the answers that will clear Sal and determine exactly what happened to Andie Bell.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

DRAGON HOOPS by Gene Luen Yang

I've been a fan of Gene Luen Yang since I met him and heard him discuss his Boxers and Saints graphic novels. I'm glad I ordered a copy of DRAGON HOOPS and can't wait to share it with others.

Gene tells the story of the championship basketball team at the high school where he taught for seventeen years. Not a sports fan himself, he shares his discovery of why sports make such an impact on the lives of others. Throughout the story he interviews players and coaches and makes decisions about who to include and highlight in the book and who should take a backseat or possibly even be excluded. Along the way he also makes some personal discoveries that lead him to make his own life-changing decision.

The graphic format is crisp and exciting. The play-by-play action comes to life on the pages and had me turning pages rapidly to find out the outcome of important plays and games. The inclusion of historical facts about the origins of the game of basketball and its evolution for both men's and women's teams was a fascinating element of the book as well. 

I highly recommend DRAGON HOOPS. Both young and old will appreciate this book and be excited to share it with friends and family. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

CHIRP by Kate Messner

Mia is glad to back in Vermont. Living in Boston hadn't been her idea, and she'd missed Gram an awful lot. Now she could help Gram with her unique business, a cricket farm. That is she can help as long as her parents don't convince Gram it is time to sell the struggling company.

Helping Gram won't take all of Mia's time this summer so her mother insists she needs to do something other than sit in front of the TV and watch reality shows. Having recovered from a broken arm, Mia could go back to gymnastics, but she has decided that's an experience she rather forget. She chooses Maker Camp and a strength training camp called Warrior Camp. It doesn't take long for her to make some friends and begin to enjoy herself.

Two things weigh on Mia's mind though. One is the secret she has about her time at Tumblers Gymnastics. The other is the strange string of events threatening to shut down Gram's cricket farm. Mia isn't quite ready to talk about the gymnastics issue, but she is happy when several of her new friends offer to help do some detective work to figure out who is sabotaging Gram's business. 

CHIRP by Kate Messner explores the power of friendship and the strength it takes to speak up for yourself. Messner combines an intriguing mystery with a serious lesson about a #MeToo situation all too many readers may find touches home. I highly recommend CHIRP for middle grade and up.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

AUDACITY by Melanie Crowder

Clara Lemlich, a Russian Jewish immigrant, escapes persecution in Russia and immigrate with her family to New York City. She is sure this new world will provide countless opportunities she was denied in the old world.

Forced to find work to support her family, Clara begins working in the garment industry. The conditions are atrocious. The women, and often children, are locked in when they arrive each day. They are allowed to use the filthy facilities only once a day. The air is filled with lint and fibers that make it difficult to breathe. The workers suffer physical and verbal abuse if they seem to be slacking in any way. 

When Clara observes sexual abuse and fears for her own safety, she decides to speak up. She is fired immediately without getting the pay she is owed. Condemned by her parents for what they see as reckless behavior, Clara becomes determined to continue her education and eventually fight for the workers' right to unionize. Despite beatings and jail time, Clara works diligently to convince the men in the union that letting the women join will help their cause and win the battle against the evil bosses.

AUDACITY, written in verse, highlights the struggle of garment workers to earn a fair wage and work in safe conditions. Author Melanie Crowder, inspired by the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Uprising, uses Clara's strong voice to educate readers on the beginnings of the labor union movement. AUDACITY is an excellent addition to library and classroom historical fiction collections.

Monday, March 16, 2020

BE NOT FAR FROM ME by Mindy McGinnis

The jacket flap describes this book as "a compelling and harrowing story." That is a spot-on description. From the first page to the last, I was compelled to read this truly harrowing tale.

Ashley Hawkins is angry. Her mother left many years ago. She hates living in a crappy trailer, and her father annoys the heck out of her. Her friends want her to be something she is not, and loyalty is definitely not her boy friend's strength.

She is not looking forward to the high school party her friends want to go to. The only redeeming thing is that it is taking place in the Tennessee woods. Ever since her father introduced her to fishing and hunting in the woods, Ashley has loved spending time in the wild. Her friends are all about the party, while Ashley is all about the location.

The combination of too much beer and catching her boy friend with another girl sends Ashley stumbling deeper into the woods. Her anger sends her running headlong into the dark where she falls and crashes down a ravine. Now she has a crushed foot and is lost far from the party and the path back to her friends.

Ashley has nothing but her wits and determination to try to survive and make it back to civilization. Memories of a camp counselor who taught her the survival skills she hopes will keep her alive may not be enough to deal with an infected wound, lack of food, and the rain and cold. Her hopes of being rescued diminish day by day, and she knows she's in trouble when the animals aren't even startled by her anymore.

Author Mindy McGinnis taps into her own experience of backwoods hiking to create this incredible adventure. This reader felt panic, fear, disgust, and more as Ashley's emotional story unfolds. This is a must-have for any young adult collection!

Saturday, March 14, 2020

A BOY CALLED BAT by Elana K. Arnold

Bixby Alexander Tam, known to everyone as Bat, finds people to be quite complicated. He loves his mother and father and his older sister Janie, but he doesn't always understand them, and they don't always understand him. 

Bat loves facts, especially facts about animals. He is easily upset when things don't go exactly according to plan. When he is upset or nervous, he flaps his arms and jiggles his foot. Some people think Bat is weird, but Bat just carries on being Bat since that is who he is.

One wonderful day Bat's mother, a veterinarian, brings home a baby skunk called a kit. The skunk's mother was killed and only he survived. Bat is immediately intrigued by the tiny animal. He decides to find out all he can about skunks so he can convince his mother that he should be able to keep the kit as a pet. He learns to feed and clean the little fellow, and he researches information written by a famous skunk expert, Dr. Jerry Dragoo. His teacher even helps him email Dr. Dragoo.

It isn't easy taking care of Thor, named by Bat's sister. Every other weekend Bat and Janie have to visit their father in his apartment, and Bat's mother won't allow him to take Thor along. It is difficult to leave him behind as Bat realizes he loves the little skunk, maybe as much as he loves his family. Can Bat convince his mother not to send the skunk kit to the wild animal rescue people? Can he be the best skunk caretaker in the world?

Author Elana K. Arnold's A BOY CALLED BAT is a wonderful, inspiring book about a special boy and his special pet. Readers will get a realistic glimpse into the world of autism as they get to know Bat and all his peculiarities. It would be a perfect read-aloud for elementary classrooms everywhere.

Friday, March 13, 2020


Donte attends Middlefield Prep. His older brother goes there, too, but life at school is quite different for the two brothers. Donte's brown skin and black dreads earn him taunts and the nickname "Black Brother." 

Donte looks like his mother while Trey looks like their white father. Being brothers of a bi-racial couple is definitely a challenge. Trey fits right in as a talented athlete and an excellent student. Donte does well in school, but he isn't particularly interested in sports, and he gets blamed for anything that goes wrong.

When a pencil is thrown in one of his classes and hits one of the popular girls, Donte gets the blame. He ends up in the principal's office which results in a suspension, handcuffs, and a trip to jail. The experience is traumatic. Donte sees first hand the plight of many black, young men who become trapped in a legal system out to get them.

While suspended, Donte wanders into a local Boys and Girls Club. He meets Arden Jones, a former Olympic fencing champion. Donte's biggest nemesis at Middlefield is the captain of the fencing team, "King" Alan. He begins to think he would feel better about himself if he could seek revenge against his chief tormentor if he could learn to fence and take down the team captain.

Arden Jones has demons of his own, but he connects with young Donte and encourages him to see himself, not just the anger he feels for Alan. Donte finds his niche in the sport of fencing. It might just provide the outlet he needs to deal with his frustrations.

Author Jewell Parker Rhodes looks at racism and bullying in her newest novel BLACK BROTHER, BLACK BROTHER. Through Donte, readers will feel the confusion and stress created by being part of a bi-racial family. Check this one out!

Friday, March 6, 2020


CLEAN GETAWAY is author Nic Stone's first middle grade novel. Her success started with DEAR MARTIN and continued with ODD ONE OUT and JACKPOT. No matter which of her books you pick up, you won't be disappointed.

William "Scoob" Lamar tries to make his dad proud, but it gets harder all the time. Being grounded during spring break vacation just about takes the cake, but then G'ma shows up. She's driving a Winnebago RV, and she's inviting Scoob to join her on an adventure. It seems like the perfect way to escape his current punishment so it doesn't take much convincing to get Scoob packed and on the road with G'ma.

There are some strange things that should have been clues that something isn't quite right with G'ma, but Scoob is enjoying the ride. He's learning about his grandfather who died in prison and about his grandparents' early relationship and their dreams for the future. He's also learning about how tough it was for a mixed race couple back in the day.

Despite stops at cool tourist attractions and G'ma's crazy antics, Scoob realizes that she is constantly avoiding phone calls from his father and insists that it's best if Scoob doesn't talk to him either. A mysterious treasure box and a pamphlet titled Travelers' Green Book seem to be guiding their strange journey prompting Scoob to wonder if he knows who G'ma really is.

Nic Stone takes middle grade readers on an adventure that reveals disturbing glimpses of racism and how even today in some places, a black person and white person seen together may raise unwarranted suspicions.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020


When Jay Reguero learns that his cousin in the Philippines is dead, his own plans of graduating and heading off to the University of Michigan seem totally unimportant. He knows Jun was murdered, but when he questions his father, he learns nothing which leaves him angry and confused.

Jay and Jun haven't been exact close, but for years they exchanged letters and often poured out their feelings on those pages. Jay knows enough about the country his father calls home to know about the drug war going on that has resulted in the unexplained deaths of many drug users at the direction of Philippine President Duterte.

With spring break of his senior year just days away, Jay convinces his parents that he should use the vacation time to visit his relatives in the Philippines. They agree to the idea but with strict instructions from his father to avoid the subject of his cousin's death. According to Jay's father, Jun's family prefers to move on and put Jun's death behind them. This seems unbelievable to Jay, and he's determined to use his time on the trip to get to the truth behind Jun's murder.

Author Randy Ribay takes readers along on Jay's adventure in search of truth and justice. It isn't easy when he doesn't speak the language and doesn't understand the culture that drives his father's people. Determination drives Jay to do whatever is necessary to find out what really happened to his cousin.