Monday, August 6, 2018

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.

It's August and the start of a new school year is at hand. Television is full of Back To School advertising, this weekend is a sales tax holiday in our state with the purpose of helping parents and teachers shop for supplies and clothes. And at church yesterday we had the annual Blessing of the Backpacks. I think it's so moving to see all of the students and teachers in the congregation step forward for a special prayer and blessing for a wonderful and successful school year.

But while it seems like fall is just around the corner (there's already Halloween candy on display at the grocery store), it is still so hot and steamy outside. It's even uncomfortable in the shade. So it's time for me to sit in the air conditioning with a stack of my favorite books and something cool to sip. Here's what I've been reading this past week:

Middle Grade Fiction

I had the opportunity to read a NetGalley digital ARC of this middle grade novel in exchange for a review. I have to say that I was just blown away by how awesome this book was. I was attracted to it because of the subject matter – the refugee crisis in Europe. I think there needs to be more books that deal with this subject in an engaging way.

I was sucked into the drama and tension of this book right away. The novel tells the story of two boys that are roughly the same age. Ahmed is a Syrian refugee who, because of a tragedy during the journey to Europe, is also an unaccompanied minor. Thirteen-year-old Max has just moved to Brussels, Belgium with his family because his parents work for government organizations. An unscrupulous refugee smuggler tries to take advantage of Ahmed, and he is forced to run for his life through the streets of the city until he finds his way through an unlocked door into the basement of Max’s house.

Ahmed secretly lives in the cellar of the home for weeks until Max discovers him. The two forge a strong friendship that compels Max to keep Ahmed’s presence a secret from his family. Along the way, the pair enlist the help of some of Max’s schoolmates to help Ahmed along.
This well-researched book incorporates a lot of details about how immigrants are processed in Belgium and Europe. It also has actual terror incidents in Paris and Brussels as a backdrop for the circumstances facing Ahmed. There is suspenseful drama as the reader wonders if Ahmed will be caught, if he’ll ever find a way to fit into the community around him, and if Max will be able to turn to his family for help.

I think this book is a great mirror/windows book for middle grade readers. It’s a window into the world of undocumented immigrants and the fear and pain faced by refugees. And Max is a good mirror for adolescent readers who might wonder what they would do in a similar circumstance and if they would have the courage that he does to stand by his friend. I think that this book deals with an important issue for our times in a way that will make it a very popular book.

I had the opportunity to read a NetGalley digital ARC of this middle grade novel in exchange for a review. There’s a saying that luck is believing you’re lucky. This story illustrates that belief very well.

Emma Macintyre is a typical eighth grader dealing with the ups and downs of friend drama, school stress, and the heartbreaking loss of a dear family friend. When she receives a mysterious letter that tells her that her luck is about to change, with an enclosed $20 bill to start the upswing in her fortune, she’s not sure what to make of it. The letter tells her to list ten things she would like to have happen in the next thirty days and then watch as things start happening for her. The letter also tells her that she can’t tell anyone about it.

As the month passes, Emma rides a roller coaster of fortune with lots of dramatic ups and downs. Middle grade readers will definitely be able to relate to many of the important issues addressed in this book: bullying, cyberbullying, technology, and family tension. This book is written with a pretty authentic voice – although grown-up me bristles a bit when she’s a bit mouthy with her mother. The book also explores the topic of luck and superstition, which gives young readers something to think about. The book employs a bit of rough language and some situations that might be best for older middle school students, maybe seventh or eighth grade.

Picture Books

Being new in school can be scary, but especially so for children who from different countries and speak different languages. This book is a companion book to I'm New Here  by the same author. This book tells the stories of the same new students from the point of view of children in the class. This would be a terrific book to share at the beginning of the new school as a way to discuss making all students feel welcome in the classroom community.

This fun picture books shows the fun you can have when you learn to make the best of things and solve your own problems. Min wants her friends to play with her on a hot summer day. All they want to do is sit around and complain about the weather. Every suggestion Min makes just makes them moan and groan even more. But Min refuses to let her friends negativity get her down, she uses creativity and problem solving skills to make the day a lot more fun for everyone. This would be a great STEM-related book to help kids develop a growth mindset. Easy-to-read text makes this a book that kids can read independently.

This fun picture book will be great to share with kids that appreciate a good car racing story and kids who enjoy fractured fairy tales. The Princess in this story is determined to win the car race against an all-star line-up of famous fairy tale characters. Even though she's told by her fairy godmother at the pit stop that she doesn't have a chance because she's so far behind. She gives it everything she's got and I'm sure that young readers will enjoy rooting for her to win it all. 

Manny and his friend, Gertie, love to play superhero games. They make believe to fight all sorts of villains and they have a wonderful time doing it. But when they realize that there is litter and trash everywhere, they take on a new enemy - litterbugs. This could be a fun book to share with young readers as a way to start a discussion about ways to take care of our neighborhoods and keep them clean for everyone to enjoy. This is a terrific back-to-school companion to Super Manny Stands Up!

I had the privilege of watching to these two awesome sister athletes grow up and compete with each other and against each other. They are amazing tennis players and very inspirational to young women. This beautifully illustrated picture book biography shares with young readers the beginnings of their tennis story, the adversity that they overcame, and the close relationship these two women share with each other. This would be a super book to share with young readers to help develop a growth mindset at the beginning of the school year. 

Starting a new school can be scary, especially for shy children. Often shy children so quiet, they can hard to notice by the others around them. Heidi knows all about that. It is her first day at Bug School and she is a stick insect. She blends into surroundings so well that the other children don't see her and the teacher mistakes her for a coat tree. Young readers will be able to relate to Heidi's problem and may even be able to consider ways to make others feel welcome at a new school. This book would pair well with The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig and would be a great book to share at the beginning of a new school year.

The first days of school are filled with lessons about how to be successful following school rules and routines. The lunch room is one of those places that can be scary if you're new to a school or just not used to buying the school lunch. With fun, narrative text and hilariously detailed illustrations, this book lays out the do's and don'ts of the cafeteria. This would be a fun text to share with kids before the first day of school. 

Starting school for the first time can be scary, and young children getting ready go will definitely appreciate Bear's reluctance to go by himself without his mom. This book will help young readers see what kinds of activities Bear learns to enjoy and might even have them looking forward to their own first day of school. This would be terrific to share with soon-to-be preschoolers or kindergarteners before they head off to school. 

As kids head back to class, it's always fun to share a book that can make everyone smile and feel good about school. Pete the Cat is headed to school too, and everywhere he goes he's rocking in his school shoes. This would definitely be a kick to read aloud and maybe rock out with on the first day of school. 

With easy to read and understand narrative text and gorgeous illustrations, this is a wonderful telling of the Old Testament story of Noah and the flood. 

This poem, along with the stunning artwork of Jean-Michel Basquiat, is the perfect ode to those that need a confidence boost in any stage of life. Whether one is nervous about starting school in the fall or facing life's challenges, this poem speaks of courage and standing up to that which scares you. This would be a terrific gift to anyone that's facing a tough time or just needs a reminder to be brave.


  1. Every important issues are explored in Nowhere Boy. I hope it's widely read. I read Game Changers this week, too. I learned a lot about the sisters that I didn't know.

  2. Now I'm even MORE excited about Nowhere Boy. Thank you for filing in more details. I can't wait to read it, myself. And coincidentally, I just checked out a large pile of Pete the Cat books to read with my kiddos this week. You have some great reads here, especially with back-to-school in full swing!

  3. I'm looking forward to Harbor Me, will get it when it comes out from the library! Lucky Little Things sounds very good, too, Jana & thanks for all the picture books, mostly new to me. I do have Twig coming from the library!

  4. Someone New is a title I am on the look out for. Thanks for the detailed reviews!

  5. Did love Nowhere Boy but will pass on Lucky Little Things. Harbor Me still bothers me-- the supervision of the children seemed lacking!

  6. Wow, back to school already! We don't go back until September, so we're still full in summer mode here."TWIG" looks so lovely, I can't wait to read it.

  7. We are back to school in 30 days and my youngest is starting Kindergarten so I have a list of books about school I want to read with him. Thank you for mentioning the back to school books (two were new to me) I added them to our list.

  8. Great list of books here, thanks for the post. I am adding books and being reminded of books I listed but never got to (Super Manny, it is not your fault but mine). Thanks for the post!

  9. Lucky Little Things sounds interesting, I would love to read more about the luck/superstition topic

  10. I'm hoping to get a copy of Nowhere Boy soon! Like you said, it seems to be a relevant topic!