‘Pony’ by R. J. Palacio is a superb new novel about devotion

Pony by R.J. Palacio

While the plot of “Pony” by R. J. Palacio reminded me a bit of another middle grade book about a pony, “Some Kind of Courage” by Dan Gemeinhart, the stories are quite different apart from being historical fiction with both boys having a horse that they love dearly. Each story is beautiful in its own right, and “Pony” is one that will not be quickly forgotten. In “Pony,” Palacio forces us to think about love, loss, and the connections that bind us to each other.

Continue reading

‘Sugar Town Queens’ by Malla Nunn is an emotional tale of familial discrimination and the slums of South Africa

Sugar Town Queens by Malla Nunn

In “Sugar Town Queens,” author Malla Nunn takes us on a journey to the slums of South Africa, where fifteen-year-old Amandla lives with Annalisa, her white mother. Where they live, in the slum called Sugar Town for its proximity to the sugar cane fields, her mother is the only white person, and the oddity of her existence there extends beyond her skin color. Annalisa’s accent marks her as upper class, as does her insistence on living in an immaculate house—even though it’s one room made from tin — teaching Amandla how to make tea the correct way, and speaking correctly. The narrative is powerful, and we see the world through Amandla’s clever, perceptive eyes.

Continue reading

‘Tips for Magicians’ by Celesta Rimington is a superb middle grade book that deals with overcoming loss, family and friendship

Tips for Magicians by Celesta Rimington

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from “Tips for Magicians,” a new middle grade book by Celesta Rimington. The title sounded cute—but I realized the book is much more than “cute.” It’s a powerful and touching story of a boy who loses his mother in an unexpected accident, and we see that the grief and the resulting damage to his family seems overwhelming. Harrison’s mother was a beautiful classical singer, and she performed all over the world. His father was her stage manager, and since her death he’s been working a lot. We don’t know if he needs to work or wants to be busy to assuage his grief, but he’s gone a lot. Since her death, Harrison’s father can’t stand to hear music in their home, and Harrison has been grieving not only the loss of his mother, but the loss of the music that both he and his mother loved and shared together.

Continue reading

‘Island Queen’ by Vanessa Riley is historical fiction based on the life of a rags-to-riches story that was really slave-to-riches

Island Queen by Vanessa Riley

Those who start life with nothing and eventually become wealthy have nothing on Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, who started with less than nothing but became an extremely rich, powerful woman in her own right. How does one start with less than nothing, you might wonder? In “Island Queen,” by Vanessa Riley, we meet Dolly, as she was known, who was born a slave. Her father, the Irish plantation owner, taught her numbers and the value of money. She was determined to earn enough money to free herself, her mother, and her sister. Dolly ended up accomplishing that and much, much more.

Continue reading

‘The Tiger Mom’s Tale’ by debut author Lyn Liao Butler is a story of conflicting cultures and the love of family that is at the center of both

The Tiger Mom’s Tale by Lyn Liao Butler

Lyn Liao Butler knows what it’s like to experience conflicting cultures, so the different cultures she depicts in “The Tiger Mom’s Tale” ring true. Butler’s Instagram videos of her parents demonstrating cooking traditional Taiwanese dishes show that while she lives in America, fosters dogs, has a child, and lives the American dream, her roots (her parents) are from Taiwan. Main character Lexa’s roots are American, like her mother’s. But there is also the part of her that is Taiwanese, like the father she didn’t meet until she was eight. And until a traumatic event happened in Taiwan when Lexa was fourteen, she thought that she could straddle both cultures and be lucky enough to be loved by both her American family and her Taiwanese family. We find out that’s not always as easy as one might imagine.

Continue reading

‘What a Dog Knows’ by Susan Wilson is about the connection we have with the animals we live with and about searching for family

What a Dog Knows by Susan Wilson

In “What a Dog Knows,” author Susan Wilson gives us an entirely relatable main character who is not a young woman, and who has been dealt a tough hand since birth. While she is a grandmother, she is certainly not your typical grandmother, although she does, on occasion, knit. Ruby Heartwood, formerly known as Mary Jones, was left at a Canadian convent as an infant. Her only family is a daughter, conceived after Ruby was raped as a young teenager, and a dog who found shelter with her after a thunderstorm.

Continue reading

Picture books and beginning chapter books: Biographies about important people and events

Reading biographies about important people—those who live near and far—is crucial for young minds to learn that at heart, we are all alike, and also to learn about people whose actions can inspire the rest of us to be better and think about how our actions can affect others.

Some American heroes include Dr. Fauci, the physician and scientist who led the fight against COVID-19 during the pandemic; Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman in Congress; and Hallie Morse Daggett, the first female fire guard in the US. All of these people serve as inspiration to others to fight for what they believe in as well as to help others. There are also quiet heroes, people whose names aren’t familiar in most households. Frieda Caplan was a woman who changed the way we eat, and Nicholas WInton saved the lives of children in the Holocaust. These people, and others, are featured in these children’s books which should all be considered for classroom and library shelves.

Continue reading

‘Dog Days: A Novel About Love, Loss and What It Is To Be Human’ by Ericka Waller

Dog Days by Ericka Waller

The novel “Dog Days” by Ericka Waller is kind of like what might happen if Fredrik Backman decided to write a novel with Jenny Colgan. It has Backman’s sardonic view of life and the people we might encounter and Colgan’s setting on the coast of England with blustery weather and beautiful views and muddy dogs. In this novel, we meet several important characters: Dan, a counselor who is OCD, and who has not had the courage to come out as gay; Lizzie, who lives in a women’s shelter with her son, Lenny; and George, an irascible old man whose wife has died and who doesn’t know how to cope.

Continue reading

‘Rez Dogs’ by Joseph Bruchac is a touching, timely, terrific middle grade novel about life during COVID on the reservation

Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac

“Rez Dogs” by acclaimed author Joseph Bruchac is not only a timely story about life on the reservation during COVID, it’s also the story of a girl and her dog, as well as a brief overview of the history of the government’s treatment of Native people even recently. All this in Bruchac’s evocative verse, succinct yet poetic and lovely.

Continue reading

Incredibly — ‘Better, Not Bitter: Living On Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice’ by Yusef Salaam an inspiring read

Better Not Bitter by Yusef Salaam

The set of blazing emotions provoked by Yusef Salaam’s memoir, “Better, Not Bitter: Living On Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice,” includes strong doses of disgust, shame, anger — and inspiration. In 1989, five teenagers, all Black or Hispanic, were convicted in the notorious case of a young White female jogger who had been raped, beaten, tortured, and left for dead in Central Park. Salaam was one of those five teenagers.

Continue reading

Three feel-good picture books

One of the reasons to read picture books is to teach children about emotions and feelings. These three picture books are wonderful stories that will help start conversations about feelings and children’s feelings of self-worth. One of the books is about how pleasant it is to read with another person — or cat, as the case many be — so it’s not a solitary activity. The illustrations are very different in each book, but each interesting and well-suited for the stories.

Continue reading

‘Charlie Thorne and the Lost City’ by Stuart Gibbs is a worthy sequel to the first middle grade adventure about a young genius

Charlie Thorne and the Lost City by
Stuart Gibbs

The first book in this series, “Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation” pitted young genius Charlie against none other than Albert Einstein. In its sequel, “Charlie Thorne and the Lost City,” author Stuart Gibbs pits Charlie against Charles Darwin, and it’s not surprising that Charlie comes out as the more compassionate genius.

Continue reading