Monday, November 6, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey as a way to share what you have read and/or reviewed in the past week. It's also a terrific way to find out what other people are reading.

Jen Vincent, of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers have given this meme a children's literature focus: picture books, middle grade novels, etc. They "encourage everyone who participates to support the blogging community by visiting the other bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.

Another Halloween night has come and gone! Thankfully the weather was dry (although a bit chilly) for Trick-Or-Treat. We had a terrific time sitting out and watching the parade of costumed characters out in search of candy. We had quite a few visitors, but we still have quite a bit of candy left. At least we had the good sense to make sure the leftovers are all the ones we like! It's been a good week to curl up with my favorite candy and read some terrific books. Here's what I've been reading this week:

Middle Grade Fiction

I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this middle grade historical fiction novel in exchange for this review. I had been very curious to read this title. The Cuban Revolution occurred long before I was born, and through my studies of history I have had a largely negative impression of the Castro regime and the totalitarian system inflicted on the Cuban people. So, I think it’s awesome when a book comes along that sets the geopolitical animosities aside for a moment, and reminds us that the people of Cuba are not so different from everyone else.

When Fidel Castro and his brother, Raul, took over the Cuban government, they launched a campaign to end illiteracy in the country in a year. In 1961, Castro sent “literacy brigades” out into the mountainous, rural areas of Cuba to teach peasants to read and write. Because it was such a monumental task, the country called for young volunteers to go and live and work with families while teaching them to read and write.

This novel tells the story of Lora Diaz Llera, a brave thirteen-year-old girl who, against her parents’ wishes, volunteers to become a brigadista. It was a very dangerous mission, as they would be in remote areas with little protection or everyday comforts. Counter-revolutionaries roamed the wild areas determined to kill these brigadistas. This novel is very well written, and I was drawn into Lora’s world. Readers get to experience the beauty of the Cuban mountains along with the excitement of sharing the gift of literacy with people who desperately want it. The author also includes a note with some historical perspective along with a timeline of Cuba history for young readers unfamiliar with the events around this story.

This book could be a terrific way to introduce Cuban history with kids. This book would be best for older elementary or middle school kids because of the complexity of this time in history. Even so, teachers and parents may need to provide kids with background on the Cuban Revolution and the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this middle grade novel from NetGalley in exchange for this review. I really enjoyed reading this book. The novel shares the story of a family’s summer of healing and growth. Twelve-year-old Rose is very tall for her age, very mature, and a very talented cellist. Her twin brother, Thomas, is often mistaken for her younger brother. While Rose is busy preparing for an important musical competition, she and her brother help their neighbor, Mr. Pickering, with a giant pumpkin growing project in his back yard. When a freak accident occurs, everyone’s plans are altered, and the pumpkin project becomes even more important than ever.

I love how the pumpkin growing project brings together the folks in this Minneapolis/St. Paul neighborhood and allows everyone opportunities for the growth and healing that they need. This neighborhood has a rich diversity of culture and personality, and I think middle grade kids should read books that encourage tolerance and acceptance of all kinds of people and families. I also like that this novel introduces young people to music and classic movies that they might not ordinarily experience. I found myself finding Yo-Yo Ma’s Bach Suites for Cello on Spotify, so I could listen to them. I’m always pleased to find different music to enjoy. Also, the librarian encourages Rose and her friends to watch movie musicals such as The Music Man, Hello Dolly, and My Fair Lady. Again, young people might be inspired to check these out.

The book has great messages for middle grade students. The recurring theme of healing and repair is applied not only to Rose and her circumstances, but also to her friends and neighbors, who are dealing with their own issues. At over four hundred pages, the book may seem a bit long, especially to kids. But, the story is very engaging, and I found it to be a fairly quick read.

I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this middle grade fiction book in exchange for this review. The Ratso brothers are certainly a pair that many elementary grade readers will be able to relate to. They decide that the annual Big City Carnival is so much fun that they want to make their own arcade in an empty lot in the neighborhood. They clean up the junk in the lot, make up a bunch of carnival games with their friends, and gather their old toys together to make prizes. Along the way they must overcome several fears, including their fear of the Haunted House next door to the empty lot.

This story reminds me of the summers when my sister and our friends would always try to make carnivals in our backyard. We would try to plan different games, prizes, and refreshments. But once we all put it together, there was no one else left in the neighborhood to attend. At any rate, kids will enjoy reading about this fun bunch of characters. The characters also learn important lessons about overcoming fears, treating each other kindly, and not starting rumors about each other.

Sometimes, what appears to be a bad situation turns out to be better than we imagine. In this clever picture book, a wolf gobbles up a mouse. Most of us would agree with the mouse that this is horrible. But then, the mouse meets a duck who was also swallowed by the wolf and he is living it up inside the wolf’s stomach. Things are not as bad as they seem, and one should make the best of things. Now for the wolf, the two creatures who have made themselves at home inside of him are causing him great pain and discomfort. But they prove themselves to be a great help to him when he finds himself in a tough situation. Sometimes we must accept the consequences of our actions and decisions. I would imagine that there could be some good conversations with young readers about cause and effect, and perspective. The illustrations, digitally colored in dark shades of mostly brown and gray, a reminiscent of Jon Klassen’s art in books like Sam and Dave Dig a Hole.

When the cold winds start blowing and snow starts flying, all I want to do is curl up inside with my books and stay warm. Having big piles of cheese around would be nice, too. That’s all Lucy’s friends want to do. But Lucy loves putting her winter clothes on and playing outdoors. It’s fun, but it’s lonely. This fun story tells how Lucy figures out how to coax her friends outdoors. The cute, playful paintings do a wonderful job of supporting this winter, friendship book.

This is a hauntingly beautiful picture book that would be wonderful to share with young readers as the holidays approach. With an awesome message of the joy of opening doors and opening hearts to those who need kindness and love, this book tells the story of a little monkey and an organ grinder noticed by a little girl, Frances. Out the window of her warm, comfortable apartment she can see them standing on the street corner performing for coins. When she looks again on a cold, snowy night, she sees that they’re still there and this bothers her. The paintings that tell the story are stunning. This definitely belongs in any seasonal collection of books for classroom libraries or just to share and enjoy at home!


  1. The Wolf, The Duck and The Mouse has such an intriguing premise, and I've heard such good things about it, I can't wait to get a copy!

  2. I too want to read The Wolf, The Duck and The Mouse. Everyone seems to be loving it a lot. I too enjoyed Giant Pumpkin Suite, a great story for sure. Thanks for Mice Skating, looks cute & I'm chuckling. When you read my post, you'll see why, Jana! And, I'll be sure to look for Great Joy!

  3. I need to get to Pumpkin Suite and Brigadista Year (you know... when I figure out a way to not have to sleep!!)

  4. I just love the Infamous Ratsos. They are so sweet! Brigadista Year is one I have to read.

  5. Keep hearing such great things about The Wolf, the Duck & Mouse! Like Lisa, I also loved the Infamous Ratsos!

  6. I also loved this Barnett Klassen title. These guys are hilarious!

  7. Sounds like you read a number of great new books this week. I'm looking forward to Brigadista Year.