Monday, January 30, 2017

BONE JACK by Sara Crowe

Edited 1/31/17 to change from British cover to American!

Bone Jack by Sara Crowe (February 7, 2017, Philomel, 256 pages, for ages 10 and up)

Synopsis (from the publisher): 
Times have been tough for Ash lately, and all he wants is for everything to go back to the way it used to be. Back before drought ruined the land and disease killed off the livestock. Before Ash’s father went off to war and returned carrying psychological scars. Before his best friend, Mark, started acting strangely.

As Ash trains for his town’s annual Stag Chase—a race rooted in violent, ancient lore—he’s certain that if he can win and make his father proud, life will return to normal. But the line between reality and illusion is rapidly blurring, and the past has a way of threatening the present.

When a run in the mountains brings Ash face-to-face with Bone Jack—a figure that guards the boundary between the living world and the dead—everything changes once more. As dark energies take root and the world as he knows it is upended, it’s up to Ash to restore things to their proper order and literally run for his life.

Why I recommend it: 
Dark, haunting, and atmospheric, this reminded me a little of The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (my favorite fantasy of all time). It works for ages 10 and up, though the violence might frighten younger readers. Ash is a believable, likable character, and the reader will sympathize with his desire for life to return to normal. I especially loved the way the author deftly wove in the fantasy elements so that the line between reality and fantasy gradually dissolves. Brilliant. And the cover is simply stunning.

Favorite lines:  
          "He looked the way Ash remembered: tall, broad-shouldered, tough as teak. He was dressed in civilian clothes and his dark hair was starting to grow out of the regulation army cut, but he still looked like a soldier through and through.
         Captain Robert Tyler, home from war.
         Then Dad walked out onto the lawn and it all started to fall apart."

About the author (from the publisher): Sara Crowe was born in Cornwall and raised all over England by her restless parents. She taught cinema and photography studies until 2012, when she and her partner bought a van and spent the next eighteen months traveling around the British Isles. She currently lives in a tumbledown cottage in Lincolnshire. Bone Jack is her first novel.

Find her on Twitter: @dark_fell

For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts, see Shannon Messenger's blog

Monday, January 23, 2017

HOW I BECAME A GHOST by Tim Tingle for Diversity Monday

How I Became a Ghost: A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story by Tim Tingle (paperback 2015, The Road Runner Press, 141 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): Told in the words of Isaac, a Choctaw boy who does not survive the Trail of Tears, How I Became a Ghost is a tale of innocence and resilience in the face of tragedy. From the opening line, "Maybe you have never read a book written by a ghost before," the reader is put on notice that this is no normal book. Isaac leads a remarkable foursome of Choctaw comrades: a tough-minded teenage girl, a shape-shifting panther boy, a lovable five-year-old ghost who only wants her mom and dad to be happy, and Isaac's talking dog, Jumper. The first in a trilogy, How I Became a Ghost thinly disguises an important and oft-overlooked piece of history.

Why I recommend it: This short, compelling novel will stun you with both the power of its writing and the way it humanizes a terrible event in our nation's past. The narrator, 10-year-old Isaac, tells us about his family and some of the other families on the forced walk from their homeland in the Deep South to their new home in what would eventually be called Oklahoma. His story will move you to tears at the extraordinary resilience of the Choctaw people. First the U.S. soldiers set fire to their homes, then made the people walk a thousand miles in brutal icy conditions, with very little food. Many of the Choctaw died from smallpox-laden blankets given to them deliberately by the soldiers. Written in spare and rhythmic language, this is a story that will infuriate you but at the same time inspire you.The way Isaac is able to help his people even after he becomes a ghost is heartwarming.

I learned some Choctaw words from reading this book. Hoke means okay. Yakoke means thank you. And Choctaws never say goodbye. Instead they say chi pisa lachike, meaning "I will see you again, in the future."

Favorite lines: I am not a ghost when this book begins so you have to pay very close attention. I see things before they happen. You are probably thinking, "I wish I could see things before they happen."
Be careful what you wish for.

Bonus: This is the first volume of a trilogy! I'm definitely planning to read the others when they become available.

Tim Tingle is an Oklahoma Choctaw, whose great-great-grandfather walked the Choctaw Trail of Tears in the 1830s.

Tim Tingle's website

Follow Tim on Twitter

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It's Diversity Monday here at My Brain on Books. Look for other diverse posts at Pragmatic Mom,  Jump Into a Book, and The Logonauts.

Multicultural Children's Book Day is coming January 27th! The Multicultural Children's Book Day website has a helpful reading list here.

The #DiverseKidLit linkup theme this month is human rights.

Monday, January 16, 2017

STELLA BY STARLIGHT by Sharon Draper for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, and I'm commemorating it with another Diversity Monday here at My Brain on Books! This is a book I missed reading last year, so during my November/December blogging break, I caught up.

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper (hardcover January 2015, paperback March 2016, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 336 pages, for ages 9 to 13)

Synopsis (from the publisher):  It's 1932. Stella lives in the segregated South in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can't. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn't bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they're never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella's community, her world, is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don't necessarily signify an end.

Why I recommend it: Not only is the writing lovely, but this is an important story about a dreadful part of our history (which, unfortunately, in some ways is still going on). It's also written in a way that's accessible for the age group, despite the subject matter.

Furthermore, Stella is one of my new favorite MG characters, spunky, and smart, with so much honesty and heart that it fairly spills from the pages. Her struggles to write are relatable for any student who has trouble in school. This book may look long, but the 50 chapters are each quite short, some only two pages.

Favorite lines: "Stella loved the feel of that table--she loved to trace the circular patterns in the warm brown wood.  Made of elm and built by her father when he married her mother, the table was large, sturdy, and dependable--and so much more than a place for meals. " (from p. 4 of the paperback edition)

Bonus: An excellent discussion-starter about the KKK, segregation, and mistreatment of African-Americans, as well as life during the Great Depression.

Sharon M. Draper's website

Find links to other MMGM posts on Shannon Messenger's blog

Find plenty of diversity posts at Pragmatic Mom and The Logonauts

Read about Multicultural Children's Book Day here

Thursday, January 5, 2017


I'm honored to be part of the blog tour for The Warden's Daughter, Jerry Spinelli's new novel!

The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli (January 3, 2017, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 352 pages, for ages 9 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): Cammie O'Reilly is the warden's daughter, living in an apartment above the entrance to the Hancock County Prison. But she's also living in a prison of grief and anger about the mother who died saving her from harm when she was just a baby. And prison has made her mad.
In the summer of 1959, as twelve turns to thirteen, everything is in flux. Cammie's best friend is discovering lipstick and American Bandstand. A child killer is caught and brought to her prison. And the only mother figures in her life include a flamboyant shoplifter named Boo Boo and a sullen reformed arsonist of a housekeeper. All will play a role in Cammie's coming-of-age. But one in particular will make a staggering sacrifice to ensure that Cammie breaks free from her past.

Jerry Spinelli
copyright Elmore DeMott

Why I recommend it: A new novel from Jerry Spinelli is always reason to celebrate. And this lovely historical novel revisits Two Mills, the town (based on Norristown, PA) that was the setting of Maniac Magee, my favorite Jerry Spinelli novel. Like all of Spinelli's novels, The Warden's Daughter is full of heart, sly humor, and gasp-inducing moments of drama. This one is also chock-full of 1959 culture (pedal pushers, crew cuts, convertibles) and of Philadelphia-area details, like Dick Clark's American Bandstand, Tastykakes, and scrapple. (I was born in Philadelphia and now live outside of it and yes, I've eaten scrapple, but I definitely do not like it!).

Cammie is a complex character who really grows on you, a curmudgeon of sorts, a 12-year-old who is not happy. But knowing about her past, you understand her and you feel for her. There are introspective chapters but there's also plenty of action, as Cammie rides her bike all over town and sometimes gets into fights. (There's a reason they call her Cannonball O'Reilly!)

Favorite lines:  "Some kids had tree houses. Some kids had hideouts. I had the Tower of Death." (from p. 35)

Bonus: To hear more about The Warden's Daughter from the author himself, watch this brief video:

Jerry Spinelli's website

Here are the next few stops on the blog tour:

January 6: Book Blather
January 9: Bookhounds YA
January 10: Reviews Coming at YA
January 11: Project Mayhem

For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts, visit Shannon's blog.

Monday, January 2, 2017


I'm back! Hope everyone had a safe and happy New Year's and I wish you all the best in 2017. Today I'm featuring another Diversity Monday.

Flying Lessons & Other Stories, edited by Ellen Oh (January 3, 2017, Crown Books for Young Readers, 240 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the bookjacket):  We need diverse stories. Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos,  first crushes, or new neighborhoods, these stories celebrate the uniqueness in all of us. Award-winning and bestselling middle grade authors Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Pena, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina,  Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson are joined by newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in this anthology partnership with We Need Diverse Books, edited by Ellen Oh. From ten distinct authors come ten unique stories ready for flight.

Why I recommend it: Providing diverse stories for our children (whether it's so they can see themselves, or so they can develop a better understanding of others) is more important than ever in these troubling times.  And these ten stories by a diverse group of middle-grade authors are accessible, fast-paced, and filled with memorable characters. They can be read in little sips (one story at a time) or big gulps (several at a time). They can be read in any order.

I believe that diversity should include more than different racial backgrounds, so, while all these stories are important, I'm also grateful for Walter Dean Myers's story about a boy on a wheelchair basketball team, and Tim Federle's story about gender identity.

Favorite story: These stories are all so fine and so well written that I had a hard time picking out a favorite. Read them all! (However, I admit I may be a bit partial to Kwame Alexander's intriguingly-titled story in verse, "Seventy- Six Dollars and Forty-Nine Cents".)

Bonus: This is an excellent read-aloud for classrooms or at home, and the perfect conversation-starter with your kids about diversity.

We Need Diverse Books website

Find other diverse children's books at: Pragmatic Mom and The Logonauts