‘Call It What You Want’ by Brigid Kemmerer is a compelling story of teenagers grappling with the fallout from mistakes that may or may not be their doing

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“Call It What You Want” is another example of fine writing by Brigid Kemmerer, author of “A Curse So Dark and Lonely.” One of her talents is writing about people by using such effective dialogue and narrative style and technique that her characters become extremely realistic and worthy of compassion. Her two main characters in this novel are both flawed teenagers, but in spite of — or perhaps because of — those shortcomings, they grow insightful and compassionate, and they help right wrongs. The story is told in alternating first person narratives, a strategy which works well to make readers feel that they understand each character’s feelings and motivations.

Maegan is the daughter of a cop, and while she has been held to high expectations, she has also been caught cheating during an SAT exam. All of the other students’ exams have been voided, and she feels as if she has been branded with a huge CHEAT on her forehead. She keeps her head down in school, and the only friend she has left is Rachel. But lately, Rachel’s new boyfriend Drew has been making derogatory comments about Maegan, and Maegan is hurt that Rachel doesn’t stand up for her.

Rob had everything — money, athletics, good looks. But then his father was arrested for defrauding his clients of their money. After a failed suicide attempt, his father is now a body that must be tube-fed, cannot talk or even respond to stimuli, and lives with Rob and his mother in the now-empty mansion that they have called home for years. Many of the parents of his fellow students lost money because of Rob’s father. Even the school librarian is now still working because his retirement money had been invested with Rob’s father. And his friends and acquaintances wonder how much Rob knew about the theft. The worst loss was his best friend, Connor, who didn’t come when Rob needed him and now is openly hostile to Rob.

When Rob and Maegan are paired up for a calculus project, it’s awkward at first. But as they get to know and eventually trust each other, a wonderful thing happens. They start questioning what is going on in each of their lives, their behaviors, and what is right and wrong.

Readers, too, will be forced to think about haves and have-nots. Is it okay for someone to take something from someone who is so wealthy they won’t even know it’s gone in order to give it to someone who desperately needs it? A friend of Rob’s gets a free meal, a cheese sandwich, from the school. He’s ridiculed for it. Yet the wealthy students don’t mind splurging on cookies so that the lacrosse team can buy new sticks.

The divide between those who have a lot and those who struggle to survive will make readers pause and examine their own beliefs. Rob thinks about what he used to take for granted, and he regrets much of his old behavior. He’s torn between hating his father for what he did, but also loving his father because no matter what, he was a wonderful father.

There are good people, forgiving people, and villains in this story. But at its core, it’s about forgiveness, growing, and having compassion. Not only is this is an engrossing novel that, once begun, is difficult to put down, it would also be a great choice for a class read or a book club.

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

‘Stay’ by Bobbie Pyron is a middle grade story about how dogs make us human and how a dog can — almost — save a person’s sanity

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In “Stay,” author Bobbie Pyron creates a story that will grab readers by the heartstrings as they root for practically everyone in this tale of homelessness, pride, friendship, mental illness, and above all — dogs. For in this middle grade novel, the dogs are important parts of the story and important — vitally — to those with whom they live.

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7 Picture books with surprisingly sweet messages

 

Read to children, as much as possible, and repeat. Often. The secret to raising book- loving youngsters is to read fabulous books to them from infanthood and never stop until they go to college. Or maybe high school. But even older children often love reading with parents. Here are some clever and humorous picture books that also have clever and important messages for young readers. Continue reading

‘I Can Make this Promise’ by Christine Day is touching and diverse middle grade realistic fiction

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“I Can Make this Promise” by Christine Day explores the emotional impact of finding out about one’s own heritage and culture, and at the same time shares a part of our history that is both shocking and horrifying. This book would be an excellent companion choice to Joseph Bruchac’s “Two Roads,” about Native Americans sent to “Indian School” and the discrimination suffered by Native Americans a century ago.

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‘The Paris Project’ by Donna Gephart is wonderful middle grade fiction about love and loss and betrayal

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“The Paris Project” by Donna Gephart is an impactful story about the fact that children are not their parents, and that no one should be ashamed of their family because our families do not define who we are.  Gephart’s novels, including “Lily and Dunkin,” and “In Your Shoes,” are about kids who are different and who may be imperfect on the outside, but are perfectly wonderful on the inside. Continue reading

Five diverse picture books for older readers

Children often learn about the world around them through the books they read or the books that are read to them. The books that parents and educators choose to share can have a huge impact on a child’s view of the world and the diverse people in it. By exposing young readers to diverse literature, children learn that not all children have the same experiences that they do, and they learn that others are worthy of our compassion, our friendship, and our support. Continue reading

‘Survivor Girl’ by Erin Teagan is a middle grade story which proves that survival is not just about staying alive; a student review

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“Survivor Girl” by Erin Teagan is so good you will not stop reading it, and when you are done, you will want a sequel. Alison, the main character, has mixed feelings about her dad. She learns things about him that disappoint her, but she also learns aspects of herself that help her in life-threatening situations. If you want a good and intriguing page-turner, flip to the first page of “Survivor Girl.” Be prepared for adventure! Continue reading

Three captivating computer coding picture books

What better way to introduce children to the language and ideas behind computer coding (or just codes in general) than by reading picture books that combine real information with a bit of story-telling to inform and entertain.

“How to Code a Rollercoaster” written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Sara Palacios is a code rollercoasterlively story about Pearl, who visits an amusement park with her robot, Pascal. This brightly illustrated picture book introduces kids to the language of computers. Readers learn what words like “loop,” “code,” “variable,” and “value” mean. In fact, they also learn computer reasoning like true and false and “if-then-else.” Adults just might learn a bit about computer programming from this quick, interesting read. The author knows what he writes about because he’s a software engineer. This is not his first picture book. (Viking)

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‘Winterwood’ by Shea Ernshaw is a bewitching young adult fantasy

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“Winterwood” by Shea Ernshaw is about witches. Specifically it’s about Nora — daughter, granddaughter, great-granddaughter, and more — descended from a long line of witches who live and practice their magic along the shore of Jackjaw Lake and in the shadow of the forest outside the town of Fir Haven.

The Walker women came out of the forest back in the days when Fir Haven was a small gold mining town, and ever since, they have lived in a log cabin between the summer cabins and the dark forest. Nora lives there with her mother, now that her grandmother has died, leaving Nora with her moonstone ring. But Nora’s mother has left to sell her honey (charming bees is her particular magic), and Nora is alone in the cabin with only her wolf, Fin, to protect her when a blizzard envelopes the town and cuts off electricity and the roads.

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‘The Beast: A Darkdeep Novel’ by Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs is the second in this middle grade horror novel

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The series began with “The Darkdeep,” a horror story by Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs, and now the stories of the monsters and the mystery behind the appearance of “The Beast” might just be solved. In the first book, we learn about the quiet town of Timber in the Pacific Northwest, and about several of its teenage residents.

Nico is the son of an environmentalist, and with his friends Opal, Emma, and Tyler, and another teen, Logan, the son of the richest businessman in town, all happen upon a houseboat in the middle of an unnamed island. Strange things happen both in the houseboat and in the waters around it, but in this second book, they learn that the fate of the world may be on their teenage shoulders.

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