Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth by Sheila O’Connor

5 stars Middle School

Covers can be deceiving and this one truly was.  I thought the cover of this book looked dull yet the inside of the book was just the opposite.  Written in letter correspondence, I found myself on an incredible journey with Reen, as she tries to save her family.  What started out as a business correspondence between Reen and Mr. Marsworth turned into something more impressive than they both expected. 

Reen and her older two brothers have been living with their grandma, since their mother’s death. Since Reen has no other friends, she hangs out with her youngest brother Dare.

Mr. Marsworth was a customer on Reen’s paper route and she needed important information to do her job.  Known as a loner/recluse, Reen (11), takes to paper and pencil to get the answers she needs.  In his responsive letter, he’s right to the point but that’s not the end of this. Reen keeps the letters flying a few times back and forth. Reen is a talker but in this case, a writer, and so she does, to Mr. Marsworth.  Soon, it’s just Reen writing and waiting, waiting for a reply from her new friend.  I really got impatient and angry too, why wasn’t he responding to her and when she pleaded to him to respond, what was he doing?

Reen begins to pour out her heart to Mr. Marsworth in her letters. It’s not just the newspaper information she needs now but she needs a friend, someone she can talk to. I could feel the love, the anxiety and the desperation in her words as she wrote.  She wrote him about her day, her issues and she’d ask him some questions.  She found that there are some questions that Mr. Marsworth just couldn’t answer.  Those questions were too difficult and/or he just wasn’t ready to answer them for her.   How Reen handled this really said a lot about Reen, I thought.  What she had with Mr. Marsworth meant more to her than the answers.  Now, that is good stuff!

The story occurs in 1968 when the Vietnam War was on everyone’s mind including Reen’s. Her old brother, Billy’s future is on the line: college, sign up for the military, or be drafted?  For Reen, there is only one answer and she’s determined to make that happen.

Reen also has been corresponding with a soldier in the war.  She received his name from her teacher as part of a project. Reen now knows first-hand what war is all about.  I loved how she takes this project seriously and how much time she devotes to it.  

That ending was fabulous!  I had suspected something an ending like that but nothing as involved as that.  I had to get out the tissues as the tears were flowing and I couldn’t stop them.  What an awesome book!!  Good heavens!! Can someone erase my brain so I can read it over again??  I loved it!

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson

5 stars Graphic Novel

I loved this graphic novel.  I could feel the dedication and love throughout this book.  I still get teary-eyed thinking about this graphic novel and the situations that these young boys went through.  It is such a fantastic book; I cannot say enough about it but I highly recommend that you read it.  Read it yourself, read it to your children, buy a copy for your classroom and even buy a copy and donate it to someone as this story needs to be told.

They used to live in Somalia.  Now, they live in Kenya, in a refugee camp called Dadaab.  Individuals who want to live come here from Sudan, Ethiopia, and other African area, this is home.  Dadaab is a huge camp, so large that they divided it into 3 separate camps.  Omar came here with his little brother, Hassan.  They’ve been there for seven years.  Yes, I said seven years!

Where’s their parents? Good question and one the boys want to know.  Who is taking care of them? Omar is taking care of Hassan as best as he can for a young brother.  He’s been missing out on school to take care of his brother. They’ve also been assigned a woman (like a foster mother) Fatuma, to help them. This woman was amazing too, she truly cared for these boys like they were her own.  Inside the camp, the boys have their own tent across the way from Fatuma.  Many days, the boys were hungry.  Hassan only says one word yet the brothers communicate. 

When Omar finally gets the chance to go to school, he is torn.  Leaving his brother behind, Omar worries for his brother yet he knows this opportunity for him will open doors for their future.  The boys still question their parent’s whereabouts and their village.  They wonder about returning home yet Omar knows the danger that lies outside the camp.

With bright, colorful illustrations and easy-to-read font, I was emerged into the brother’s story.  It was captivating, interesting, and powerful.  Omar fought for a better life, there were wonderful successes and moments of frustration and struggles yet he continued on. 

Fantastic graphic novel.  Definitely read the afterword that is located at the back of the book. I went through many emotions reading this book and I highly recommend it.    

We Dream of Space by Erin Kelly

5 stars Middle School

They lived under the same roof but they’re all living separate lives. Three siblings and their parents, coexisting at the same address.  Cash walked with a dark cloud over his head, as he was failing 7th grade for the second time.  He also worrying about his bench seat on the basketball team.  His brother, Fitch is an arcade wizard, who begins to get a temper when he’s harassed by his peers. Oh, why did you have to get involved with the girls, Fitch?

Then, there is Bird.  She writes instructional manuals, a job that she takes very seriously.  She’s a wonderful student, has great self-esteem: Bird’s life is good. One visit to a friend’s house changes all of this for Bird. 

The parents should be the connecting element with these siblings but they don’t connect.  The parents sit in their own corners; one reading and one watching the television.  We’re told there is a lot of verbal fighting between the two of them, with some of it escalating to items being thrown.  It’s sad that their children don’t get much support from them but I had to smile while reading, as the sibling created ways to work around this.

What I enjoyed about this book was the moments that were eye-opening experiences or experiences that made the siblings grow.  At the beginning of the book, the siblings were acting alone, they were their own island. As the book progressed, they began to see each other.  There were actual other individuals in their own home.  Worthy individuals!   

Linking the dramatics in the family and the excitement of the Challenger launch that occurred on January 28, 1986, you’ve got an excellent book.  Hopes, dreams, struggles, successes, and trying to find your way, it’s all inside here.  

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

4.5 stars Middle School

What a great book about what is not “normal” can be perfectly normal, if you allow it to be.  Armed with the notebook that her parents gave her, Bea finds that since her parents have divorced, life has become complicated.  Why can’t things be simple like they used to be, why must everything be so confusing now? Bea’s finding out that adjusting to change is hard.  Bea needs to discover, how to accept the changes in her life.    

When Bea’s parents announced that they were divorcing, they handed her a notebook.  Inside that notebook, contained a written, short list of items which they wrote to Bea, of Things That Will Not Change in her life, once they split up. Since then, Bea has added many things to that list.  It was nice to see the character of Bea reflect upon this list and to add her ideas to it.

Seeing a counselor, Bea also talks about her feelings and gets help managing her anxiety. Life is not the same since her parent’s divorce nor will it be the same ever again.  This will take some time to get used to for everyone involved.  What she has now, is a new family and that’s what she needs to understand.  I enjoyed the character of Bea as she was an honest, sincere, ten-year old girl just trying to adjust to the changes in her life.  4.5 stars

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart

5 stars Middle School

 I inhaled this book today.  For five years, Coyote and Rodeo had been putting the miles on Yager, traveling wherever their hearts led them. Every day was an adventure with very few rules for the two of them.  I loved how the author revealed the character’s story to the reader slowly throughout the book.  The past and present are important to this story and the author combines the two of them to present a sweet, emotional story about family, friendship and love.

I really enjoyed Coyote’s mannerism and attitude in this story.  In her early teens, she’s still a child but trying to act older.  She wants to please her father but she also has her own needs and she’s trying to find a balance.   I had quite a few “ahh” moments while reading this book, as they struck a sweet spot inside me. 

This journey was remarkable.  The individuals that they met were fantastic as each of them played an important part in their trip.   When Coyote showed Salvador her favorite place, oh my gosh!  What a scene!!  Then, there was the violin scene!  The campsite scene! Come on……..I loved every one of them.  Be ready when you read this book for all the great scenes, they’re to be savored.  The last 20+ pages in the book, the words were all flowing together as the tears were falling down my face. 

Coyote and Rodeo have different ways of looking at the past and the future.  Living in the present is a good concept but the present is also made up of your past, if you allow it.   I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it. 

Caleb and Kit

4.5 stars Middle School

I felt more compassion for the secondary character in this book than the main character. At first, I thought perhaps Kit was imaginary but then as the story progressed, I wanted to know more about Kit’s situation as it seemed she had no one, except the rock.

Caleb’s best friend is now into sports, leaving all the things they used to do together behind. Caleb feels like he lives in the shadow of his perfect, older brother Patrick.  To escape his brother, Caleb heads off into the woods by their house.  Spying some crawfish, Caleb stops to try to catch them.  He thought she was an angel the way the sun surrounded her face, but it was only Kit, the new girl who was now telling Caleb how to fish.

This was where she hung out at.  This area inside the woods. She invited him to return the next day and he definitely would!  Finally, he had someone to hang out with and a special place that no one knew about. 

I liked reading about the friendship these two started and how things progressed. They both had issues that they were trying to hide/avoid.  Kit was doing a great job of hiding hers and then, there was Caleb, who couldn’t get away from his.  Caleb had a father who was unpredictable, a mother who was over-protective, and a brother who thought he could do no wrong.

Caleb starts to question Kit about her carefree life and her responses were short and matter-of-fact. I felt there was some kind of jealousy at times, as Caleb watched Kit.  I wanted and needed to know about Kit, as there’s something going on there.  Yet, Kit remains silent, not questioning Caleb about his life.  Caleb wonders if she notices that he’s different than other kids.

It’s a great book that covers a lot of different topics. Caleb has cystic fibrosis and Kit is being abused and neglected but these issues don’t take center stage.  It’s quite an adventure.

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Fowler

3 stars Fiction

This was one of those books where it was over before I knew it.  I listened to this audio in the car and then, time flew!  The drama built slowly, the romance had snuck itself in, and then I found myself disappointed that the whole book was over.  I could have sworn, I just put the second CD in.

Valerie and her son Xavier live in Oak Knoll, a peaceful, quiet neighborhood.  Xavier is a talented musician and Valerie loves nature and her surroundings.  When a local celebrity buys a nearby plot of land, new construction disturbs the quiet community as they begin building an upscale mansion and the family moves in.

Valerie had watched, as they destroyed the area to accommodate this new family, the destruction of natural resources was devastating to her.  Now, as the new family moves in, Xavier gets mistaken for hired help.  It’s an awkward beginning for these two families. 

As I listened to Brad, he started to get under my skin.  His superior thinking made me cringe but I liked the way this book was setting things up.  Valerie was up for the challenge but in the background, I was watching out for Xavier and Juniper. 

This is an entertaining book and one that I enjoyed.  

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

4 stars Middle School

Everything her mother ever said about Zoe’s father was negative when she asked. Zoe knew where her father was but she didn’t know what he did, to end up in prison.  Now, on her 12th birthday as Zoe grabs the mail from their mailbox, she finds an envelope addressed to her with a return address from the Massachusetts State Penitentiary.  That envelope could only contain one thing, something from her father. 

This book had an excellent flow to it and the story was fun to read. I thought the author did a great job showing us the different emotions that Zoe experiences throughout the book and I liked how grandma tried to do the balancing act with the different characters.  I understood exactly why/how grandmother felt the way she did, as she maneuvered around the individuals in her life. Zoe’s friend Trevor, was good for her.  I was surprised how quickly he forgave her and how willing he went along with her suggestions.  I don’t think Zoe gave enough credit to Trevor. 

There were a few instances in the book that didn’t make sense to me.  These were based on the characters and our current time period.  I don’t want to spoil the book by mentioning them but Zoe is only twelve-years old and some of the things that she was doing just didn’t seem feasible for a person of that age.  But, if you let your imagination take you away, anything is possible.

In the book, Zoe begins to secretly write her father in prison, asking him a variety of questions.  Her father claims that he’ll be honest with her in his return letters but Zoe is torn between believing what her mother has said and the man, who she has never known.

Her grandmother accidently discovers Zoe’s secret and grandmother strikes up a deal with Zoe and now, who knows where this will all end.  I understand grandmother position in this mess but I also feel that there’s going to be fireworks, if and when Zoe’s mother finds out (and she will eventually find out, she has to, you just know she will).

If that’s not enough, Zoe told her parents that she would do a summer internship at her aunt’s bakery.  She needs to prove to them that she’s ready to enter a kid’s cooking competition on the Food Network. Did someone say cooking competition?  Zoe believed that this would be a great opportunity for her, yet when she arrives, it’s not what she expected.

It’s an eventful summer for Zoe with her internship and secretly corresponding with her father in prison.  It jumps into high speed when she learns some interesting information about her father and decides to explore it further it.  A conflict with her best friend Trevor, will need to be resolved quickly as she can’t do this alone.

Crossover: graphic novel by Kwame Alexander

5 stars Graphic Novel

This was fantastic!  You could really feel the energy and the emotions in this graphic novel which is an adaptation of the original novel with the same name.  I think kids will love this book.

This is not your typical graphic novel with text boxes, this graphic novel’s illustrations and text fill up the entire page.  Whether the page includes one illustration or four, it is the exact amount that is needed to get the point across.  With varying sizes of text, you will find yourself catching the rhythm of the book, as the story unravels. Using only shades of orange, black, and white, throughout the book, it’s amazing how captive you will become to Josh’s story.

You see, they were twins, Josh and Jordan.  Great basketball players who did a lot together.  Their father was a legend, on the court, many years ago.  Lately though, Jordan’s eyes have not been on the ball so much.  His eyes are on a girl and Josh feels ignored/left out/abandoned. Josh wants his father to intervene but his father won’t. Dad has some health issues that mom has been riding him on but dad says he’s fine.  I love the word play this couple speaks to one another. 

You can feel the energy soaring through the pages, the pain that’s growing inside of Josh, and witness the relationship that’s building between Jordan and his new friend.  The words were carefully chosen, they fit, they fit like a glove to make this graphic novel pulse.  

Then, he does it.  Josh unleashes his frustration and I hope that he feels better because everyone else doesn’t.  He’s done more harm then good and the repercussions of his anger, he’s paid a price for it. 

Excellent graphic novel!  Very powerful and is one that is definitely worth reading.   

The Year We Fell From Space by A.S. King

5 stars Middle School

This is an important novel that addresses divorce and depression for children, that speaks their language. Addressing the promises, the hopes, the disappointments, the stresses, the anger, the blame, and just about every emotion that a child feels as their parents separate and divorce, this book confronts them directly.  A.S. King delivers another great book.

The arguing the occurs between Liberty’s parents has reached its limit and now, her dad was moving out.  He was making promises to Liberty and her sister, Jilly to smooth out the situation but nothing he could say would ever make this move easy. Liberty and her dad were close.  They spent a lot of time together, they loved to unravel the night sky together.

Liberty’s world begins to fall apart when her father moves out of the house yet she keeps everything inside her.  She continues to try to find comfort in the night sky but like everything else in her world, it just isn’t there anymore.  Wishing upon stars, asking for guidance, Liberty calls upon the night to help restore her balance. Liberty is spiraling.

I liked the difference between the two sisters.  Liberty was the older sister and she tried to keep her emotions inside and in-control. Her younger sister, Jilly made me smile and laugh numerous times, as she’s young, carefree and she’d let’s go with what’s on her mind, when given the chance.  Liberty couldn’t talk openly so what she really needed was to talk privately with some individuals throughout the book but she just couldn’t. 

I enjoyed how the book dealt with all the different emotions that occur during a divorce. Children are a major part of a divorce yet some parents feel that they’re not, forget to include them, or just don’t want to get them involved.  Children need to be able to talk about their feelings, ask questions and get a truthful (as truthful as they can handle) response to their questions.  Children need to feel valued and respected during this time. I think this book addressed these topics very well. 

I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it.  Another fantastic book by A.S. King!