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.