‘Lily and Dunkin’ by Donna Gephart: Excellent middle grade fiction about heavy topics


“Lily and Dunkin” by Donna Gephart is a wonderful middle grade/young adult book about mental illness and being transgender. The publisher, Delacorte Press, says this book is appropriate for ages ten and up. This reviewer agrees.

While the topics are sensitive and, at times, difficult to read, the story presents the issues in a matter-of-fact way. While the issues are important — essential even — to the story, Gephart’s characters steal the show. She tells the story in first person narrative from the viewpoints of both main characters, Lily and Dunkin.

The first chapter is labeled “Girl” in script. When the reader first meets Lily, she says, “Lily Jo is not my name. Yet. But I’m working on that.” And she goes on to dress in her mother’s dress and go outside to help her father with the groceries. That’s when the reader learns that Lily Jo is “Timothy” and his/her father is not happy that he/she is outside in a dress.

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Wonderful board books for young children entertain and teach

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Board books are a fabulous choice for very young children. Their sturdy composition defies small clumsy fingers, and their often-complete stories are as good as many picture books. Some new board books are out just in time for the gift-giving season.bakingdayatgrandmas185

“Baking Day at Grandma’s” by Anika Denise and illustrated by Christopher Denise (Philomel) is the board book version of the charming picture book. It’s about young bear cubs going out on a cold, snowy winter day to visit Grandma and bake at her happy home. The text is filled with lyrical rhyme that flows beautifully, and the chorus of “It’s baking day! It’s baking day! It’s baking day at Grandma’s!” makes the story like poetry. Perfect for grandmas, perfect for bakers, perfect for anyone under (or over) the age of three. Continue reading

Holiday board books for the very young

Just in time for the holidays (including Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year) are several board books worthy of mention.

ladygub-girl-full-day“Ladybug Girl Gives Thanks” by David Soman and Jacky Davis is just what the title implies — Ladybug Girl giving thanks for all her favorite things. That includes books and family! For Ladybug Girl fans, there is also a three board-book set called “A Day Full of Ladybug Girl” which would be a perfect holiday gift. In that set are “Ladybug Girl Says Good Night,” “Ladybug Girl Makes Friends” and “Ladybug Girl Dresses Up.” All four books will warm the hearts of young dog lovers and those who love to dress up and play pretend.

madeline“Madeline’s Christmas” by Ludwig Bemelmans is filled with the well-known “Madeline” rhymes. The story is clever, the illustrations traditional, and it has, of course, a happy ending. A magic carpet ride will thrill the imaginations of young readers. Older siblings who are Madeline fans will love reading this one to younger sibs.

“An Otis Christmas” by Loren Long is the heartwarming story of a horse whose life is in danger on Christmas Eve. She is having trouble giving birth to her baby. But Otis comes to the rescue, and when a snowstorm blocks the roads, Otis is able to get the doctor. The horse and her baby are saved. Otis’ Christmas gift of a horn helped save the day, and all have a happy Christmas.happy-new-year-spot

“Happy New Year, Spot!” by Eric Hill is a board book featuring the yellow puppy Spot with his various animal friends including an alligator, a monkey, and a blue hippo. They all gather for a New Year’s Eve party and talk about their wishes for New Year’s. Spot is thrilled the next day when his wish comes true!

Please note: This review is based on the final board books provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Adorable bilingual board books

Three fabulous (or should I say fabuloso?) board books for children would make great gifts for the youngest of readers. “Amigos” by fabuloso author Eric Carle (Philomel Books) is a translation of his recent picture book “Friends.” It features the same brilliant illustrations. Ask a young reader to pick a favorite page. The blue rain scene is a particularly wonderful one. The Spanish seems to be a direct translation. This is for those who know their español.

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Injured dog in danger after one month at high kill shelter


An eight-year-old gold German shepherd mix is in danger at the Miami Dade Animal Services. He arrived at the shelter a month ago with an injury to one of his rear legs. Since then, he has been treated with painkillers, but nothing else. Now volunteers fear that his time is up. The shelter has sent out email pleas asking for a rescue to take him.

It seems apparent that Stewart, as he has been named, has not had an easy life. According to the medical notes, all canines and incisor teeth are missing as well as other teeth. He is very underweight. In spite of his pain, Stewart appears to have allowed handling.  Continue reading

Emaciated dog urgently in need of rescue in Miami


Note: Rescued by No Paw Left Behind. Donation information on Facebook thread.

A dog who is skin and bones is urgently in need of rescue from Miami Dade Animal Services. This poor animal arrived at the shelter with a body condition of 1/9 — which is as bad as it gets. A rescue would need to have him rushed to a veterinarian to get medical care as just feeding him is not enough for a dog in this condition. He does have pledges on his Facebook thread to help with medical care.

This poor creature is dehydrated and the notes state, “almost a complete loss of skin elasticity.” He was not eating well, although he took a bit of moist food when offered by hand.

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‘Class Dismissed’ by Allan Woodrow: When the students take over the class they are in for a big surprise



“Class Dismissed” by Allan Woodrow has an irresistible premise. A 5th grade class drives their teacher to distraction and she quits suddenly. But no one in the office realizes it. The students discover they are on their own — and they decide to take advantage of it!

What happens in the end is predictable, but the the ride is very enjoyable, so don’t miss it. The story is told through the eyes of five very different students. Samantha is the pampered daughter of a wealthy family who has believed her whole life that her daddy can buy her anything she wants or needs. Maggie comes from a very competitive African American family, and her ancestors attended Harvard. She is determined to attend Harvard, and even though she’s only in fifth grade, she’s getting prepared.

Kyle is one of the class goof-offs. He is kind of a bully, and very forgetful when helping his mother around the house. Whenever she asks him to help her, he messes up. In school, he is always making rhymes about what is going on. He is also willing to speak up when needed. Eric is the kid who just wants to blend in to the background and not be noticed. He never raises his hand because he doesn’t want to stick out in any way. But when difficult questions are asked and those around him freeze, it’s Eric who is able to say just the right thing. Adam is the kid who is always getting sent to detention. It’s Adam who answers the phone in the principal’s office when Mrs. Bryce, their teacher, calls and quits. Because of a plumbing accident, everyone’s attention was elsewhere, so one else knows Mrs. Bryce quit.

Except her class-full of students. And they aren’t telling.

Teachers will love this story because it brings home to those reading it how difficult the job of a teacher is. At the beginning of the story, the kids think that a teacher’s job is an easy one. They just hand out homework and grade them. That’s all. But when Maggie creates homework for the other students (just so their parents won’t suspect anything), she realizes that creating the homework is much more difficult than doing the homework.

The students learn a lot from their two-week teacher-less time. They become more independent, more confident, and more of a cohesive group. They learn from their mistakes, they learn about their classmates, and they learn — maybe most importantly — the value of a teacher.

The story is filled with humor, but it’s also filled with situations and real feelings that all readers should be able to identify with. From the anxious, stressed-out, good-student Maggie, to Kyle the goof-up, a wide range of children and children’s feelings are included. Woodrow does a magnificent job sharing the message about the importance of cooperation and knowing when to ask for help — without ever being preachy.

This book is a perfect choice for third grade through middle school. Middle school readers would have to be able to get past the fact that the book is about fifth graders.

Please note: This review is based on the advanced reader’s copy provided by the publisher, Scholastic, for review purposes.

‘The Bookshop on the Corner’ by Jenny Colgan is a charming story of love and a bookworm who learns to live outside of a book


“The Bookshop on the Corner” is written by Jenny Colgan, author of the charming “Little Beach Street Bakery” books. She keeps her characters in Great Britain, but changes the bakery for a bookstore.

The main character, Nina Redmond, loves to pair up people and books. Like many a lover of reading, she loves to find that perfect book that will make reading exciting and wonderful. And she finds reading exciting and wonderful — much more wonderful than real life.

But when she loses her job at the local library, Nina takes a risk and travels to Scotland to buy a van she will make into a traveling bookshop. It’s her dream-come-true. Problems ensue and instead of being able to take her van to Edgbaston, where Nina lives, she ends up moving to Scotland to sell books from her van, moving into the cottage on the property of an irascible Scot who comes complete with kilt, sheep, and sheepdog.

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‘Something in Between’ by Melissa de la Cruz: Young adult story about being American


In “Something in Between,” bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz takes the subject of undocumented families and makes their stories real. This is specifically about a smart and driven girl who wins a national award for academics only to find out that her family is undocumented.

Her parents had been hiding the situation from Jasmine and her two brothers. De la Cruz allows the reader a glimpse into what thoughts and feelings would flood someone in this terrible spot. She creates an authentic character who was born in the Philippines, but who has lived in the United States for most of her life. She considers herself American, and she is stunned to learn that she is not.

Jasmine has spent her whole life working toward being the best — student, cheerleader, daughter — and getting admitted to a top college. She is determined to make the most of her life, and her parents, strict Filipino parents, help her. Jasmine meets Royce, the son of a Congressman, and they fall in love. But Royce’s father is against any immigration reform. Can the couple overcome that which threatens to separate them? It’s not just a matter of social inequality, it’s also about the stigma of being undocumented — an alien. Learning that she is not an American changes the way Jasmine thinks of herself until she learns what is important in life. She learns that “No one — not the law, not a college admissions officer, not your friends, not your teachers or parents or any other people, can define who you are.” Only she can do that.

The story is written beautifully, and it’s difficult to put the novel down. Jasmine and her struggle represent the very real threat that faces thousands of young people in our country. If telling the story helps bring empathy to those people, then this should be required high school reading. While this book is not entirely autobiographical, de la Cruz and her family did come to America from the Philippines when she was thirteen years old.

Jasmine may be from the Philippines, but those who share her struggle and her despair come from almost every continent. It’s easy to take citizenship for granted, but after reading “Something in Between,” readers might just think twice about it.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Harlequin Teen, for review purposes.

‘The Last Cherry Blossom’ is a touching middle grade historical fiction about the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima

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In “The Last Cherry Blossom,” Kathleen Burkinshaw writes about an incident that has largely been ignored in middle grade literature. While there are many books about the effect of the internment camps that Japanese Americans were forced into, often losing all their belongings and savings, little has been written about the effects of the atomic bomb on the people in Hiroshima.

Yuriko tells her story in first person narrative. She lives with her father, her aunt and her young cousin. Her father is a wealthy publisher; her mother is dead. The reader becomes slowly involved in Yuriko’s life as she shares details about her life including her doubts about her father’s new lady friend. When Yuriko learns something devastating about her family, readers will feel touched by her plight.

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‘Ms. Bixby’s Last Day’: Hugely touching novel about a teacher and three students she inspired


“Ms. Bixby’s Last Day” by John David Anderson is the kind of story that inspires, touches, and changes those who read it. In creating the character of Ms. Bixby, Anderson has touched on the ideal of what a teacher should — and could — be. The story revolves around this special, unique teacher and what three of her students do to try to bring her a bit of happiness during a difficult time in her life.

Ms. Bixby was the kind of teacher who helped students want to achieve their best. They loved her because she looked at them as individuals, and she gave each of them what they needed. Brand, Steve and Topher are three students whom she helped a lot, and Anderson shares their story through first person narrative from each of them. Slowly, Anderson lets the reader know just how Ms. Bixby touched the lives of each of them in a manner which changed their lives permanently. Continue reading

‘The Female of the Species’ by Mindy McGinnis: Riveting YA novel


“The Female of the Species” by Mindy McGinnis is a commentary on justice, our society, small town life, and women’s mistreatment by ignorant — and at times savage — males. Her protagonists each tell the story in strong, individual voices that McGinnis does an excellent job of differentiating.

Alex is the meter-out-of-justice. When her sister was killed by a predator after being tortured, and the killer was not charged for the crime because of a lack of evidence, Alex decided to take justice into her own hands. The killer died a horrible death. Maybe not as horrible as the death that Anna, the sister, suffered, but it was not a quick end.

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