Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

5 stars Middle School

Sigh. As Langston made his way into the library, I felt that I could breathe again as he had finally found a place where he was safe.  The father-son duo left behind their slow-paced life in Alabama for the hustle and bustle of Chicago, searching for a better life. As father works, Langston attends school where his peers constantly bully him.  From his clothes, his shoes, and even his accent, the students wouldn’t leave Langston alone as he tried to adjust to his new surroundings.  I got emotional as I read this section as the students physically and vocally abused him.  His own classroom teacher even got in on the action, when they drew attention to his accent.    

I felt for the two of them as living in Chicago was so different from their previous life in Alabama.  When Langston discovers the public library, I was hoping this would provide some relief.  Would he find a room that he could study in, could he make friends with a librarian so he’d have an adult he could talk with, or might he meet someone new there?  In reality, Langston found much more there.  Langston’s first discovery was that this public library was different than the one back in Alabama. Langston was actually allowed to walk through the front door. This library allowed everyone, regardless of color to use its facilities.  It’s what’s inside the library that really changes him.  As he walks inside, up on the walls, so that everyone can see them, are famous black individuals.  Langston can’t believe he’s seeing them, on the walls. 

The librarian Mrs. Cook is a nice woman who helps Lanston discover what the library holds and what Langston has within him.  I felt this relief, a restoration working within Langston as he visited/thought about the library, for now with Mrs. Cook’s assistance, he had something bigger, a desire.  I really enjoyed this book.     

The Thing I’m Most Afraid Of by Kristin Levine

4.5 stars MIddle School

The cover doesn’t do this book any justice but since I’ve really loved a few of the authors other books (The Lions of Little Rock and The Paper Cowboy), I wanted to read a few of her other books.  Twelve-year old Becca is brilliant.  In my world, she’s gifted and Becca’s Doomsday Journals are a testament to this.  If you could ask her, she could pinpoint for you, exactly where she wrote down each anxiety that she has faced, in the numerous Doomsday Journals that she keeps.  And now, Becca is flying to Austria to spend the summer with her father.  Do you realize what this entails? I’m not sure Becca has enough new journals for this trip.

The characters inside this book were fantastic.  We have Becca, who needs to pack-up her anxiety, hop on a plane, and visit her father for the summer.  Wait, it gets even better because her father has a girlfriend with a son, Felix that’s about Becca’s age.  With the adults working during the day, they hired Sara to entertain the kids and take them on trips throughout the city.  I’m getting anxiety just thinking about this, so I can’t imagine what must be running through Becca’s head.  Becca’s mom is flying with her to Austria (thank you, mom) and then, mom’s taking a backpacking trip (I guess she won’t be easily available should Becca need her).  Wow, that’s a lot for Becca to process!

Becca doesn’t want anyone to know about her anxiety and she tries to hide it but obviously, she can’t.  As Sara tries to show them a good time, Becca’s hesitation and reluctancy shows.  When Becca comes clean, she realizes that she’s not alone but what’s next? Now that the three of them have come together, how can they move forward? 

I loved how they worked together and encouraged one another.  I enjoyed the inspiration, the motivation, and the friendship that they built.  Although they each felt alone with own challenges, they really had similar feelings that when they finally expressed them, they could worked together/help each other to find solutions.  Another great book. 4.5 stars

Shark Summer by Ira Marcks

4 stars Middle School graphic novel

What a great adventure! Gayle had led her team to the Championship but now, the star pitcher was nursing her wrist and reflecting back on that flyball that landed her in the emergency room.  With her mother’s dream on hold, Gayle’s shoulders felt heavy with guilty. Her mother would now have to seek employment at a hotel and the doors to the Black Cat Creamery would stay shut.  Gayle’s medical bills needed to be paid off before she could continue on with the store’s grand opening.

I liked how honest Gayle’s mother was, how responsible Gayle felt and how Gayle wanted to help remedy the situation.  Gayle being a teen, sees beyond herself while at the same time, she acts like a kid.  When Gayle comes across a flyer for a contest, she’s determined to win the cash prize, and she begins putting in motion, what she has to do to get that accomplished.  

To win this contest, it’s not as easy as it first seems.  In their effort to win, the small group discovers an old mystery which they attempt to solve……….

There’s a lot of activity in this graphic novel.  This being said, I think that they did a great job with the panels in this book.  They provided a variety of sizes to keep the story interesting and to keep the story flowing smoothly.  There’s just enough detail in the artwork and the color choice was on the darker side, which added to the mystery and drama of the story.  I enjoyed how this new group of friends worked together also.  

Harrow County, Vol. 1: Countless Haints by Cullen Bunn

4 stars Graphic Novel

If you’re looking for an interesting, eerie story, I might have found the right one for you.  I picked up this graphic novel based on the illustrations, which as a horror fan, I thought they were fabulous.  I can see how some readers though, might find some of them disturbing.  When you’re discussing ghosts, torturing a witch, a skinned boy, and a corpse, there’s bound to be some interesting illustrations.  I felt that the storyline jumped a round a bit but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this story. 

They didn’t just hang Hester in the tree, but they beat, shot, and stabbed the witch before finally setting her body on fire, to make sure that she would finally leave this world once and for all.  As Hester’s body scorched the tree from which she hung, she told those in attendance that she would return and they should be ready, a vow that would hang over them.  

Emmy lives with her Pa and in a few days, she’ll be turning 18.  Is it a coincidence that Emmy has dreams of a tree and she sometimes feels that there’s something beside her?  There’s something special about Emmy, she has a gift and I wasn’t quite sure what this was until I read further but I knew that she was using it for good.   Emmy begins to wonder if she should find herself a man, now that she’s turning 18, which makes sense. Her Pa knew something and was suggesting that she stay with him on the farm as he needed help.   Wait, wait, wait……what the heck is Emmy doing now?  This is some twisted stuff and why is that all happening.

https://harrowcounty.bandcamp.com/album/harrow-county-vol-1

Sweet Emmy was such a nice person and now all this!?!  Leaving me with a cliffhanger was not good either.  I absolutely loved the illustrations in this graphic novel and then, just when I finally got the storyline all in sync, I now, have to find the second volume in this series.  4 stars

Alone by Megan Freeman

4.25 stars Middle School

I have to admire an author that can take me on a journey using verse.  The word selection, the sentence structure, the punctuation, everything about the story has to be carefully selected by the author so they can lead their reader on a magical journey.  Set in Colorado, Megan introduces us to 12-year-old Maddie, who thought she was going to pull a fast-one on her parents but unfortunately, in the long-run Maddie ends up paying the price for what she did.  Alone, is a fantastic book about a world in which Maddie finds herself alone in, which had plenty of emotions as Maddie tries to survive on her own. 

I think we all have done something like this before but now, it was Maddie’s turn to try it.  She was telling her mom that she was staying at her dad’s house and then, telling her dad that she was staying at her mom’s house. Her friends are telling similar lies. Goal: sleepover at Maddie’s grandparent’s empty apartment.  Sounds like a great time but her friends get caught lying.  Maddie is by herself at her grandparents’ empty house. There’s noise outside the apartment during the night, but she’s technically not there so she stays hidden. In the morning, with her phone charged, alerts and warnings pop up on her screen. Imminent threat? Alert? When no one picks up or returns her calls, Maddie races home.  What is happening? Why isn’t anyone picking up their phone or returning Maddie’s phone calls?

Dang! What Maddie found is not good! Cell phones abandoned and individual houses look like people left in a hurry?  What was so urgent?  Maddie found the neighbor’s dog George, so at least she has someone to talk to but everyone, and I mean everyone is gone.  Eventually, Maddie has to start looking for food and supplies.  Searching in other people’s houses Maddie finds other pets that were left behind, some alive and some dead, they have been trapped in their houses. The two of them seem to be making it but for how much longer?  When Maddie has a question, the internet is no longer an option nor can someone provide the answer for her so Maddie takes her questions to the library.  Maddie looks up her questions at the library and while she’s there, Maddie begins to bring back books with her to read.  I liked reading about her experiences with the library.

It’s Colorado and the days are getting shorter.  Oh, I hate winter and just thinking about Maddie and winter, gave me the chills.  There’s also no electricity so Maddie has this to consider.  Would she be better off just packing some stuff and traveling to another city?  A year has passed and Maddie still wonders “when” they will be coming back for her.  I wonder, “if” they will be coming back.

I thought Maddie’s actions were typical for someone her age and I was happy to see that she didn’t get depressed or angry about her situation.  She addressed it a few times but she knew that she couldn’t just sit around and wait for someone to come rescue her.  She had to actively try to get food and supplies for herself and her dog so they could stay alive till someone came.  For more than 3 years, Maddie fought the elements, from the weather, to food, to emotional, and onto physical factors.  From snow and horrible rain storms, to fighting for food and hunting for it, to anger and being scared, and also enduring physical pain and exhaustion.  I still had some questions at the end of the book about the whole emergency situation, why Maddie was left alone so long and I really felt that the ending was rushed but I really enjoyed this book and the author use of verse to do so.  4.25 stars.

“If a birthday falls in the forest

but there’s no one there to celebrate

do we still get older?”

“Loneliness and insanity

are twin houseguests

and

it’s hard to entertain one

without inviting the other in

as well”

In a Flash by Donna Jo Napoli

4.5 stars Middle School

Once I got onboard with the story, I enjoyed the journey that these two sisters took. I was having a hard time understanding some of the choices that their father made but I wasn’t walking in his shoes so perhaps I didn’t know the complete story.  I knew that he was trying to provide the best life for his daughters and money was key to this success but still, money can’t always be your driving force.  His daughters were wonderful and considering everything that they endured, their relationship emerged stronger than before. 

Papa accepts a new position in Tokyo, Japan, leaving his mother-in-law and the grandma to his two small children behind in Italy.  With a bump in salary, a 1–2-year commitment in Italy (that Papa feels will be sufficient), and other benefits for his children, Papa feels this is a great opportunity.  Enrolling 8-year-old Simona in public school, was a great financial decision until he realizes how important the private schools are, for helping foreign children learn the Japanese language.  Little Carolina is brought to work with him each day as she will have someone there, about the same age as her, that she can play with. 

It’s not all perfect in the beginning but over time, things change and the girls begin to love Japan.  It’s hard to believe but time passes so quickly and although Papa’s “sufficient time period” is over, Papa and the girls aren’t ready to go back home to Italy. I’m wondering now, should Papa stick with his 1–2-year time period?  Just because his children are not ready to return home, does that matter? Papa wasn’t doing anything fantastic besides what he was doing from Day #1 so basically life was just going on smoothly and the girls were settling in. Do you stay based on their opinion or go back?  Time to do more reading.

There had been talk of war but now, the realities of it were hitting home.  Papa is worried about Italy; will it be taken over? What will happen to their family and friends back home?  Pearl Harbor has been attacked by the Japanese and tension is mounting, elsewhere.  Hostility against foreigners is intensifying as the officials begin to gather them for relocation.  As Papa and his girls are rounded up, the girls get separated from their father. Now what?  They’re too young to be by themselves and I visualize Papa digging ditches or I don’t want to think where else Papa could end up at.  The girls never give up hope of being reunited with their Papa as they take on different roles to survive as the world, enters WWII.

Wow, I really enjoyed this book but I thought it was sad.  I liked how the sisters kept trying to find their father and how they accepted life.  I liked how they took on a variety of identities to survive and they didn’t let their emotions control their lives.  Their curiosity, bravery and support from each other helped them get through another day.  A very eventful book that gave me a different view of this time period.

Ship in a Bottle by Andrew Prahin

5 stars Children’s

Living together, cat and mouse had some issues.  Mouse had some things that she liked to do yet she never could do them alone.  Cat, on the other hand, had only one thing on his mind, he wanted to eat mouse! This was hilarious in the book, as I loved how the author made this contrast stand out.  Cat was constantly watching and spying on Mouse, making Mouse feel uncomfortable and scared.  Searching for a better life, Mouse set sail in her ship in a bottle. 

In the beginning, this new life was fantastic for Mouse. The river was quiet and tranquil, and Cat was not there watching her every move.  Then, they dropped out the sky!  Seagulls!  Her quiet ride down the river was gone and Mouse’s hunt for a new home is underway. 

I thought this was a cute book as Mouse goes on quite an adventure for the perfect home.  The illustrations are fantastic and you will love Mouse by the end of the book as she finds her perfect home and she adjusts to her new friends.  “And whenever the sun’s rays warmed the ground, Mouse would find a tiny little spot of her own and stretch out, without a care in the world.”  Make sure you check out the last illustration in the book, it was adorable.  A really fun read.      

Growing Up: Caterpillar to Butterfly by Stephanie Fitzgerald

5 stars Children’s Nonfiction

I have no idea why my library chose to put this book under the Easy section of the children’s library.  This is definitely a non-fiction book with a capital N and I will definitely bring this to their attention.  There was a lot to love about this children’s nonfiction book and being a newly butterfly nature lover, I’m all over this book.

Within the past couple years, we have planted butterfly bushes and have witnessed the lifecycle of the monarch butterfly firsthand.  I can tell you; this has been a truly remarkable and rewarding experience.  I never thought in my 50+ years of life, I would be having sleepless nights over aphids and buying ladybugs in the mail but now, I can say I have.   I like to find children’s books that talk about incredible process as I think children need to understand this process and if possible, witness this journey firsthand, as it’s part of nature unfolding.

I liked that this book is 32 pages of some incredible illustrations and the variety of text fonts makes this book fun to read.  The book begins with a Table of Contents listing exactly what you’re going to be reading about, from what a butterfly is, to the life cycle of the butterfly, to butterfly facts, and a glossary and an index in the back.  The text is big and bold and the illustrations give great captions of interesting information. 

This is one book that can be used as a great reference over and over again as you learn about butterflies and one that will never get old.    This is definitely one that you need to get a hold of and read – I highly recommend it!

” A caterpillar has 4,000 muscles in its body. People have about 650.”

“Threats to the butterfly change depending on the stage of its life cycle.”

How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle

4 stars Historical Fiction

So, how does one really become a ghost? I can’t imagine that everyone that leaves this earth, is sent in this direction.  Does Isaac come back as a helpful ghost or a ghost that has unfinished business to attend to?  A casualty of the Trail of Tears, Isaac narrates for us, how he became a ghost in 1830, while living in the Choctaw Nation in Mississippi, which I found entertaining and interesting.

Isaac begins his story as a 10-year-old child living with his family. His best friend is his dog which he does everything with.  Treaty Talk. When Isaac overhears his parents talking about the subject, he remembers that Treaty Talk and Nahullos go hand-in-hand, a serious situation for the Choctaw Nation.  Mother leads Isaac on a series of walks that day as he witnesses important events that are being held by his community.  Gracious!   What Isaac witnesses with his very own eyes is totally different from what his own mother sees, who is standing right beside him. Good heavens, Isaac is a young child and he sees this!?!  I’m with Isaac when he questions his mother about what he’s seeing, yet her response is not what I’d expect from his very own mother.  This Treaty Talk has a shattering effect on their town and the individuals inside it. 

I had a few questions as I read this book, perhaps it was because I analyzed what was happening too much instead of just going with the flow.  Why were some individuals shape shifters, some ghosts, some……?  Did that have to do with lineage?  Didn’t Isaac think it was strange as a child to hear a dog talk? Didn’t he once read in a book that dog’s go, bark, bark? Did he realize when he was little, that he was unique?  I liked learning about the Choctaw traditions and practices.  I enjoyed the relationships that Isaac built in the book and how he accepted his fate and assisted others.  There’s an engaging story inside this short book. 

“Choctaws never say “good-bye.” There is no word for it. We say “chi pisa la chike, which means, “I will see you again, in the future.””

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

4 stars Middle School

I listened to this book on audio and I really enjoyed the voices. I don’t know why I picked up this book, it must have been the title and the synopsis that lured me in.  I enjoy Star Wars but I can’t say that I’m a huge fan but I can say that I’ve known my share of students in school who stood out as being “different.” 

I thought Dwight was rather creative.  As the voice of Yoda, what advice does he actually give to those who call upon him?  What stake does Yoda have in the lives of the individuals around him? What a creative way for Dwight to find his way into the lives of his peers.  I thought the book was rather interesting and said a lot about Dwight.  Not having any illustrations to look at, I think that I processed this book differently than someone who actually read and looked at the illustrations.  Fun, entertaining, and short story. I highly recommend the audio. 4 stars