Monday, July 23, 2018


The Girl with More than One Heart by Laura Geringer Bass, (2018, Amulet Books, 233 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the book jacket):  When Briana’s father dies, she imagines she has a new heart growing inside her. It speaks to her in her Dad’s voice. Some of its commands are mysterious.

Find Her! it says. Be Your Own!

How can Briana “be her own” when her grieving mother needs her to take care of her demanding little brother all the time? When all her grandpa can do is tell stories instead of being the “rock" she needs? When her not-so-normal home life leaves no time to pursue her dream of writing for the school literary magazine? When the first blush of a new romance threatens to be nipped in the bud? Forced by the loss of her favorite parent to see all that was once familiar with new eyes, Briana draws on her own imagination, originality, and tender loving heart to discover a surprising path through the storm.

Why I recommend it: The writing is superb. It gives this book a luminous and lovely quality, one you can't tear yourself away from.  Briana is so compelling a character, you feel every bit of her grief, working through all the stages with her. She could easily be a real 13-year-old. Perhaps one you know.

The northern Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood becomes a vibrant character in this book. Although I lived in Manhattan for two years, I never went to Inwood. But the author brings it fully to life here, making me wish I'd seen it for myself.

Favorite lines (oh, there are so many! I'll try to limit myself)

p. 23  When he was tired or upset he always drooped like that, as if his skull were heavier on that side. It made him look like a dandelion someone had stepped on but not quite crushed.

p.44  Mom shows me how to paint and glue paper wings on the clothespins. We work with our heads close together. Mom's curly hair brushes my cheek. Clamped down tight with little handmade guardian angels, our clothes dance on the line, casting long shadows.

p, 66  I settled in next to him, fitting comfortably into the shape his shadow made as he leaned against the wall. It was good to have a friend big enough to make shade.

Visit Laura Geringer Bass's author page.

Monday, June 4, 2018


From the publisher

JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS by Melissa Sarno  (June 5, 2018,  Knopf /Penguin Random House, 240 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

SYNOPSISIS (from the publisher):

Can you still have a home if you don't have a house?

Always think in threes and you'll never fall, Cora's father told her when she was a little girl. Two feet, one hand. Two hands, one foot. That was all Cora needed to know to climb the trees of Brooklyn.

But now Cora is a middle schooler, a big sister, and homeless. Her mother is trying to hold the family together after her father's death, and Cora must look after her sister, Adare, who's just... different, their mother insists. Quick to smile, Adare hates wearing shoes, rarely speaks, and appears untroubled by the question Cora can't help but ask: How will she find a place to call home?

After their room at the shelter is ransacked, Cora's mother looks to an old friend for help, and Cora finally finds what she has been looking for: Ailanthus altissima, the "tree of heaven," which can grow in even the worst conditions. It sets her on a path to discover a deeper truth about where she really belongs.

Why I recommend it:

I love finding a new MG author and a new book that touches me deeply while also appealing to readers who are looking for "issue books". This one is so much more than an issue book. It's bursting with character, voice, and a gorgeous sense of place. Even if you've never been to Brooklyn, you'll feel you've known it forever. Mostly, though, it's Cora who will grab your heart from the first page.

Imagine how thrilled I was to receive a review copy from Knopf of JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS. I've been following Melissa for many years on social media and I could tell by her posts that she's a wonderful writer. Now you can find out for yourself by buying and reading this lovely book. The story line is captivating. The characters feel ultra-real, the metaphors and similes are gorgeous. I can't wait to see what Melissa comes up with next.

Favorite lines:

From p. 3: Adare was born special, Mom always says. She tells the story like it's a legend. She talks about the wind that night, in its quickening swirl... She talks about the moment Adare came into the world without a sound ---Not blue, no, more like lavendar, like sunset--and in that moment all the oxygen gone from the world, the trees forgetting to breathe their gift, Adare forgetting, too.

From p. 86: Meredith Crane parades past, her friends cascading behind her like a frilly gown draping the floor.

Visit Melissa Sarno

Monday, May 14, 2018

THE PENDERWICKS AT LAST -- the final installment of the Penderwicks series!

Image result for the penderwicks at last

THE PENDERWICKS AT LAST by Jeanne Birdsall, (May 15, 2018, Alfred A. Knopf, 294 pages,for ages 8 to 12 )

I loved every minute of this delightful novel for middle grade readers. If you're looking for gentle (but not prissy), funny (but not goofy) family stories, and especially if you devoured the first four books from Jeanne Birdsall, you'll adore this lovely middle grade novel. Perhaps even more so because it's the last of the five-book series.  It's ostensibly about Rosalind's upcoming wedding -- a homemade event that the Penderwicks decide to hold at Arundel, where it all began. Rather fitting, I'd say.. There's also an important subplot about making new friends when you're a shy tween.

This book reminded me of my own childhood. And of spring melting into summer.. The child you first met as a toddler in THE PENDERWICKS IN SPRING, Lydia or Lids, as her older sisters call her, is now a tween.

And wow! All the girls from the first books are actually... grown up.  Or growing up. Even Batty, who's now in high school. The return to Arundel and the presence of Jeffrey and even Mrs. Tifton (the villain of the first book) made me smile. Best of all, Rosalind's getting married! But we see it all from Lydia's point of view.

A well-developed plot, realistic characters who feel like people you know, and cameos from all your favorite characters, like Hitch, the three-legged dog, add to the charm. Picking up this book each time (I can no longer read a book in one sitting, unfortunately -- see previous post) was like joining a fun gathering of loved ones. Every day,  I eagerly looked forward to my precious afternoon reading time.

Jeanne Birdsall's website

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Part 2 of What Happened to Me


There's a very good reason I never responded to those comments (thank you all for your good wishes) from my last post  about what happened to me in the six months prior to that.  I posted that on January 22, 2018. And I remember feeling pretty good then.

Within days I was back in the hospital with a shunt infection. Since then I've been through another five months of illness and recuperation, including a month in the hospital (three different operations and I now have shunt #4) and a few months in rehab.  I don't remember most of it. Then I finally came home and had about six weeks with home health care -- physical and speech therapists who came to our house at our convenience to work with me. They all just discharged me this week and all told me I made amazing progress. A few even admitted they weren't sure I was ever going to come back to what I had been.

I'm thankful to be back. To be able to talk. To know what year it is, what day it is. And besides everything you would expect me to be grateful for, I'm thankful I can still type. And I can still read. But I won't be posting reviews very often because I find reading (and writing) for more than ten to fifteen minutes at a time gives me nasty headaches. And anyone with my history needs to pay attention to headaches.

But I read some gorgeous children's books this spring as I've recuperated, so I'll be telling you about them in my next few posts. 

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers reading this post!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Where I've been and what happened to me

"I would really rather feel bad in Maine than feel good anywhere else."  
                                  E. B. White

Where I've been and what happened to me:

I'm going off topic here. Anyone who knows me or has followed this blog for a while knows that I survived a ruptured brain aneurysm in 2005. I always felt lucky, not just because I survived something most people don't but because it was the only aneurysm in my brain.

Until recently.

On September 29, 2017, my husband and I were enjoying the first full day of another vacation in Maine (we wanted to see the fall foliage) and at dinner I said to him, "I think you better take me to the hospital". Not that I have any memory of this. 

Nor do I remember that next eight weeks.

Doctors at Maine Medical Center found two more aneurysms on the basilar artery (the same artery as my 2005 rupture) and one had ruptured. They coiled it and later also installed a shunt, to drain the excess blood in my brain. 

It was a long recuperation (in fact, I'm still recuperating, even though I'm home now). After a month in the hospital, I went to a rehab center in Maine. And after six weeks there, they allowed us to come home to Pennsylvania and transfer to a different rehab center. This second rehab center is the only part I remember. 

I don't know if those lost memories will ever come back to me, but in a way I'm not sorry. Who wants to remember being in pain, having your head cut open, and being hooked up to multiple machines?

When I look at these photos my husband took I feel like I'm looking at a stranger

I know that I'm extremely lucky -- to have survived a rupture not once but twice in twelve years. I also had wonderful nurses and doctors and a supportive husband who visited me every day (my kids came when they could).

So my purpose today is to not only raise awareness of brain aneurysms but to let you know the blog is going to change. I will no longer be reviewing children's books on a regular basis. I'll still talk about an occasional superior book (how could I resist?) but I also want to share photos and thoughts on other topics. So it'll be "my brain on" other topics, not just books.

Bear with me as the blog reinvents itself.

And for more information on aneurysms, visit the Brain Aneurysm Foundation's website.

Monday, September 18, 2017

THE STARS BENEATH OUR FEET by David Barclay Moore for Diversity Monday

Welcome to another Diversity Monday!

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore (September 19, 2017, Knopf/Penguin Random House, 304 pages, ages 10 and up)

Synopsis (from the publisher)It’s Christmas Eve in Harlem, but twelve-year-old Lolly Rachpaul and his mom aren’t celebrating. They’re still reeling from his older brother’s death in a gang-related shooting just a few months earlier. Then Lolly’s mother’s girlfriend brings him a gift that will change everything: two enormous bags filled with Legos. Lolly’s always loved Legos, and he prides himself on following the kit instructions exactly. Now, faced with a pile of building blocks and no instructions, Lolly must find his own way forward.

His path isn’t clear—and the pressure to join a “crew,” as his brother did, is always there. When Lolly and his friend are beaten up and robbed, joining a crew almost seems like the safe choice. But building a fantastical Lego city at the community center provides Lolly with an escape—and an unexpected bridge back to the world.

Why I recommend it: The title drew me in and then the voice captivated me and enveloped me as if Lolly were right there in the room, whispering his story into my ear. The author presents an authentic portrait of a boy growing up in the projects, with all the pressures of life in Harlem. A gripping story and a beautiful, important book that deserves to win awards.

Oh, and then there are the Legos! My older son still loves Legos and he's not even a kid anymore, so I could relate to Lolly's passion for building.

Favorite lines:  "I waded my hands through all the Legos some more. There were so many. They made a sound like money, like quarters tumbling together."  (from p. 31)

Bonus: Writers, study this one for character growth. The realistic way Lolly changes how he sees the world makes him feel like an actual person, not a character in a book. This is also a moving portrayal of a boy coming to terms with grief.

David Barclay Moore's website

Follow him on Twitter

Monday, August 28, 2017

ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL by Leah Henderson

Welcome to another Diversity Monday.

One Shadow on the Wall by Leah Henderson (June 2017, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 438 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): Eleven-year-old Mor was used to hearing his father’s voice, even if no one else could since his father’s death. It was comforting. It was also a reminder that Mor had made a promise to his father before he passed: keep your sisters safe. Keep the family together. But almost as soon as they are orphaned, that promise seems impossible to keep. With an aunt from the big city ready to separate him and his sisters as soon as she arrives, and a gang of boys from a nearby village wanting everything he has—including his spirit—Mor is tested in ways he never imagined. With only the hot summer months to prove himself, Mor must face a choice. Does he listen to his father and keep his heart true, but risk breaking his promise through failure? Or is it easier to just join the Danka Boys, whom in all their maliciousness are at least loyal to their own?

Why I recommend it: I had the honor of meeting and getting to know Leah when I attended the first Novels in Verse workshop at Highlights in May 2016. Note, though, that this is not a novel in verse. This book was already in the works before I met her. What I remember most about Leah from that magical week is her vibrant, infectious laughter. She's also a world traveler, and her travels inspire her stories.

Leah Henderson, from her website

But even if I didn't know Leah, I'd still highly recommend this heartwarming and beautifully-crafted coming of age tale. Yes, it sounds long for MG, but Mor's story will soak into you like the hot Senegalese sun and you'll finish reading it before you want to let go. Mor and the other characters are fully fleshed out, the plot abounds with twists and turns, and the language is exquisite. One Shadow on the Wall is a stunning debut and I can't wait to see what Leah Henderson writes next.

Favorite lines: "But the thought would not rest, like an overturned beetle trying to right itself. It kicked and kicked at Mor's brain." (from p. 95)

Bonus:  Besides being the kind of novel that deserves to win awards, this book is an excellent choice for libraries and classrooms. I learned a great deal about the culture, language, and food of Senegal. But more importantly, I got to know and understand one peace-loving Muslim family, who vow to stay together, no matter what.

Learn more about Leah Henderson on her website

Follow Leah on Twitter