Monday, April 15, 2019

April is National Poetry Month -- how do you celebrate?

Sadly, I've neglected reading poetry during this national month celebrating Poetry. But now I'm reading an inspiring novel in verse. 

Does that count?


White Rose by Kip Wilson (April 2, 2019, Versify/HMH, ages 12 and up)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Disillusioned by the propaganda of Nazi Germany, Sophie Scholl, her brother, and his fellow soldiers formed the White Rose, a group that wrote and distributed anonymous letters criticizing the Nazi regime and calling for action from their fellow German citizens. The following year, Sophie and her brother were arrested for treason and interrogated for information about their collaborators. This debut novel recounts the lives of Sophie and her friends and highlights their brave stand against fascism in Nazi Germany.

Why I recommend it: The verse is spare and simple and gorgeously written. Interestingly, the narrative jumps back and forth in time, but even my injured brain is having no trouble following it. Keep in mind this is YA. It's a somewhat difficult, though perhaps timely, subject.

Bonus: This novel in verse was written by a young woman I met at the Highlights Foundation in 2017. So proud of you, Kip!

Favorite lines (so far, from p. 46):  

                                        It's been five years since
                                        Herr Hitler's thundering rise
                                        to power, and
                                        in that time so much has
                                        changed in our small city:
                                                  red flags draped
                                                             over offices, schools, homes
                                                  armed soldiers blocking entrance to
                                                             Jewish businesses
                                                  thick, hard dread
                                                              spilling over the streets
                                                              sharp as glass.


If you're looking for more traditional posts for National Poetry Month:

Please visit Jan Godown Annino at Bookseedstudio and Linda Mitchell at A Word Edgewise.

(And coincidentally, I met them both at Highlights, in 2016!)

Monday, April 8, 2019


The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles (April 2, 2019, Versify, 304 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Otto and Sheed are the local sleuths in their zany Virginia town, masters of unraveling mischief using their unmatched powers of deduction. And as the summer winds down and the first day of school looms, the boys are craving just a little bit more time for fun, even as they bicker over what kind of fun they want to have. That is, until a mysterious man appears with a camera that literally freezes time. Now, with the help of some very strange people and even stranger creatures, Otto and Sheed will have to put aside their differences to save their town—and each other—before time stops for good.

Why I recommend it: This is lively, fast-paced and funny, with plenty of kid-like humor. A winning combination. Heck, even I want to live in a town like Fry! There's a Gnarled Forest where trees never have leaves, an Eternal Creek, with no beginning or end, and strangers arrive through shimmering portals. All this is perfectly normal for Fry.

The cousins make a great crime-solving team. Before the story begins, they've already solved several cases like The Laughing Locusts, and The Mystery of the Woman in Teal. Wish we could read about those cases too! But freezing time is a great concept and Lamar Giles has a vivid imagination.

Favorite lines:  "(Otto) looped an arm over Sheed's shoulder, hoping his cousin didn't have his usual awkward smile. Their picture had been in the Logan County Gazette a bunch of times, and Sheed always looked like he was trying to suck broccoli from his teeth."

Lamar Giles is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books, and the editor of FRESH INK! Visit his website.

Here's Greg Pattridge's take on The Last Last-Day-of-Summer from March 24, 2019.

For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts, visit Greg's website.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

UPDATE to my March 25th post about THE BRIDGE HOME by Padma Venkatraman

Remember my last post, a review of THE BRIDGE HOME by Padma Venkatraman?

Courtesy Penguin Random House Audio

I'm pleased to announce THE BRIDGE HOME has been chosen as the Middle School Read-Aloud by The Global Read-Aloud ("One Book to Connect the World"). 

If you're a teacher, you can sign up here (the link may not work yet; it was showing the 2018 sign-up and you need the 2019) .

I'm thrilled for Padma!

Monday, March 25, 2019

THE BRIDGE HOME by Padma Venkatraman

The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman (February 5, 2019, Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, 208 pages, for ages 10 and up)

This beautifully written novel, set in modern-day Chennai, India, follows two sisters, Viji and Rukku. After their father abuses their mother, who refuses to leave him, and then attacks both girls in a drunken rage, Viji convinces her special-needs sister Rukku to run away with her and live on the streets. Eleven-year-old Viji misses school, but realizes they can never go back.

Life on the streets is much harder than Viji anticipated, until they receive food from the kind wife of a cafe owner. Seeking a place to sleep, the girls discover a crumbling, abandoned bridge, where two homeless boys, Arul and Muthi, are already living. The boys welcome them and give them a tarp for a tent. They also teach the girls how to earn money by picking through stinking trash heaps for useful metals and other items they can sell to the junkman. Well, Viji works in the trash heaps, while Rukku plays with a puppy who followed them.

But it's Rukku who ends up earning the most money by making beautiful bead necklaces out of the beads the cafe owner's wife gave them. College girls buy the pretty necklaces and all four children get to feast that day. The children almost enjoy their homelessness, knowing they're in charge of their own lives. But when Rukku and Muthi both become sick, Viji and Arul realize they need to trust an adult.

There is both sadness and sweetness in this gorgeous novel, written as one long letter from Viji to Rukku. You know right from the start that there's a reason the girls are separated but you won't know what it is for most of the book. Viji is a wonderful character, full of resilience and love for her sister.

This timely, important, and life-affirming novel not only makes an inspiring read but would be an excellent addition to classrooms and libraries. See also Melissa Sarno's Just Under The Clouds (my review here), about homelessness and special-needs sisters.

Favorite lines (from p. 48): "Sleep well in your new home," Arul said.
     We crawled into our tent. I took out the book Parvathi Teacher had given me and strained my eyes, trying to read in the semi-darkness, but I could hardly make out the words. I put the book away and thought of how kind she had been to us.
    "When I grow up, I want to be a teacher," I told you.


I'm honored to have met and learned from the brilliant Padma Venkatraman at two Highlights Foundation workshops! I've now read all four of her novels published in this country, and look forward to whatever she writes in the future. Please visit her website: Padma Venkatraman for more information.

Monday, March 11, 2019

FAR AWAY by Lisa Graff for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Far Away by Lisa Graff (March 5, 2019, Philomel/Penguin Random House, 272 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher):  CJ’s Aunt Nic is a psychic medium who tours the country speaking to spirits from Far Away, passing on messages from the dearly departed. And CJ knows firsthand how comforting those messages can be — Aunt Nic’s Gift is the only way CJ can talk to her mom, who died just hours after she was born.

So when CJ learns that she won’t be able to speak to her mother anymore, even with Aunt Nic’s help, she’s determined to find a work-around. She sets off on road trip with her new friend Jax to locate the one object that she believes will tether her mother’s spirit back to Earth . . . but what she finds along the way challenges every truth she’s ever known. Ultimately, CJ has to sort out the reality from the lies...

Why I recommend it: A funny, gorgeous and powerful novel about love and loss... and family secrets. CJ, short for Caraway June, is a 12-year-old girl full of spirit and gumption. She's had an unusual life: being homeschooled and raised by her Aunt Nic, a psychic medium, and she gets to travel around the country in a van so her aunt can perform in shows. CJ even teaches new crew member, 16-year-old Jax, how to drive stick! Plus she helps him with his anxiety issues. But despite acting all grown up, CJ is really just a lonely little girl who wishes she still had a mom.

The most intriguing part of this story is the octopus messages that appear and then vanish. What happens is unexpected, to say the least. No spoilers here! Just read it.

Best opening paragraph ever (pg 1):  People always try to feel sorry for me when they find out my mom died, but I like to look on the bright side. Like, she never stops me from eating extra cookies, or forces me to study when I don't want to. She's never scolded me for staying up past my bedtime either-- although she usually tells Aunt Nic to scold me later.

Lisa Graff is the celebrated author of A Tangle of Knots, A Clatter of Jars, Absolutely Almost, Lost in the Sun and other beautifully-written middle grade novels.  Here's the "All About" page from her official website.

For other MMGM posts, please visit Greg Pattridge's blog.

Friday, February 15, 2019

SONG FOR A WHALE by Lynne Kelly

SONG FOR A WHALE by Lynne Kelly (February 5, 2019, Delacorte Press/Penguin Random House, 320 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): From fixing the class computer to repairing old radios, twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius. But she's the only deaf person in her school, so people often treat her like she's not very smart. If you've ever felt like no one was listening to you, then you know how hard that can be.

When she learns about Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. Then she has an idea: she should invent a way to "sing" to him! But he's three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him?

Why I recommend it: Such a touching story! And so beautifully told. I have a young cousin, a social worker, who studied sign language at Gallaudet University (and I'm giving her the hardcover review copy. Thank you, Penguin Random House!). 

All the characters are multi-dimensional, and even the bully has a character arc. But it's the relationship between Iris and her deaf grandmother that really makes this book sing. The way the grandmother sneaks Iris onto the cruise to Alaska, only letting the parents know after Iris and Grandma are on the ship, is downright thrilling. Grandma, of course, has her own reasons for going on a cruise. And the scenes with the whale blew me away. You'll love reading this and you'll cheer for Iris and Blue 55. I'm also most impressed by the way the author, a sign language interpreter, chose to show the sign language dialogue between Iris and her Grandma. It's in italics, so it's easy to differentiate between other characters' spoken dialogue. 

Favorite lines (from p. 132): "Grandpa always wanted to touch a glacier." Grandma didn't turn back to the window, but kept looking right at me. She hadn't done that for a long time.

Lynne Kelly's website

Friday, February 1, 2019

Congratulations to all the ALA Youth Media Award Winners!

I'm thrilled that this year's Printz Award (as well as the Pura Belpre Author Award AND the National Book Award) went to a novel in verse!

From HarperCollins website

Congratulations to Elizabeth Acevedo and HarperCollins!

On a personal note, I'm also thrilled that my writing friend Traci Sorell won a Sibert Honor award for her nonfiction picture book WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA. It's well deserved.

Congrats, Traci and illustrator Frané Lessac!

From Charlesbridge publishing website

Saturday, January 19, 2019

RIP Mary Oliver, accessible poet of the natural world

Copyright 2011 Joanne R. Fritz

My favorite poem by Mary Oliver, who died Thursday January 17, 2019:

Starlings in Winter

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,

even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard, I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

~Mary Oliver, from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays, 2003

(Many thanks to my source The Exponent II,

Monday, January 7, 2019

MMGM -- thoughts on the Newbery Award

Happy New Year to all and I'm sorry I haven't been around for two months.

Believe it or not, I was so out of my mind last January, February, and part of March, that I only recently learned that Erin Entrada Kelly won the Newbery Medal in January 2018 for HELLO, UNIVERSE. (For sports fans, I'm from the Philadelphia area and I also didn't know the Eagles won the Superbowl until August 2018, when my husband finally thought to mention it to me. I said to him, "You're kidding, right? You're pulling my leg!")

I'm so embarrassed that I didn't know about this award back in January 2018. In November 2018, I suddenly remembered that I'd never seen the American Library Association's ALSC Book and Media awards, so I looked them up. Imagine my surprise to find out a Philadelphia author won the Newbery (she's a Professor at Rosemont College)! Plus, I've met her in person.

Huge and much-belated congratulations, Erin! It's so well-deserved. An intriguing, thought-provoking novel from four different points of view (even the bully) and the author pulls it off with great mastery. Three tweens have to work together to outsmart the bully and rescue Virgil, an 11-year-old Filipino American, from a well where he's been trapped. The three rescuers are Valencia (a Deaf girl on whom Virgil has a crush), Kaori Tanaka, a would-be fortune teller, and Kaori's sister Gen, her rope-skipping apprentice.

Coincidentally, HELLO, UNIVERSE was the last book I read a few days before my Sept 29, 2017 rupture. So I never got a chance to review it here. If you haven't read it, it's well worth the read.

As for this year's awards, I've only read half the books I normally read in a year, so I'm probably not the best person to make predictions, as I usually do. I'm quite partial to THE BOOK OF BOY by Catherine Gilbert Murdock and JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS by Melissa Sarno. So I'd be happy if either receives even an honor award. But I've heard good things about THE JOURNEY OF LITTLE CHARLIE by Christopher Paul Curtis and THE SEASON OF STYX MALONE by Kekla Magoon.

What are YOUR predictions?