That Flag by Tameka Fryer Brown

5 stars Children’s Picture Book

A very powerful book.   It’s all about thinking you know something but you really don’t.  The power of conforming to something but you’re unaware of what message you’re actually sending out.  How a person’s actions speak louder than their words. 

They’re inseparable at school, Keira and Bianca are like each other’s shadow.  From wearing their hair, the same way, to reading the same book, Keira and Bianca are like twins.  The girls even live on the same street.   Yet, these girls have never been to each other’s houses.  Keira and Bianca haven’t attended any party, any sleepover, they haven’t been able to run around their street together screaming and chasing each other because of something Bianca has.  A flag. 

Bianca’s parents fly the confederate flag on a flagpole near their house.  “It’s a celebration of courage and pride,” they tell her but Keira’s parents feel the flag is a symbol of violence and oppression.  The girls listen to their parent’s advice. 

One a school class field trip to the Southern Legacy Museum, the girls plan to be partners but the teacher breaks them up into two different groups.  Since Keira’s father came along, the father-daughter team discovers an exhibit about the historical South.  Keira is excited seeing the displays featuring historical technology and fashion but as they drift to other displays in that area, their demeanor changes. These exhibitions feature power, segregation, and slavery.  They also hanging from the ceiling, the flag. The same flag design that Bianca has flying in her front yard.

I was hoping that dad and Keira read some information that was included in the displays as they walked through the museum instead of just looking at the items.  The next page in the story, is a total mood changer.  Bianca runs up to Keira and tries to hug her, claiming that she has been trying to find her.  Keira, deflated because of the exhibit, just points to something that has upset her and walks off.  Total relationship changer as the girls have witnessed the flag being used in history. 

So, what is the real story now?     This story has a great ending and I really enjoyed the About the Confederate Flag, Author’s Note and Illustrator’s Notes at the back of the book. 5 stars!!

The Windeby Puzzle by Lois Lowry

5 + stars Middle School/YA

Wowza! I read this book on a car trip and well, my husband heard it secondhand as I couldn’t stop talking about it.  Lois Lowry is one of my all-time favorite authors and she really had me along for the ride on this one.  I was thinking more of a young children’s novel when I originally picked this one up but it turned into quite a tale for all ages.  Based on a true account, this story was such an enjoyable story.

I was first whisked away to Germany in the middle of 1952 when I opened this book for a group of workers were working in a bog, digging up some peat.  What?  Lois went into a discussion about these words which seemed foreign to me: peat and bog.   Back in the day, this area sounded like a spooky area with some hidden dangers which could have been fun depending on the individual.   While the workers were digging, they discovered some bones.  Animal bones?  No, human.  This was not something for the police but it was a human body that had been buried in the bog.  Come to find out, over the years, there have been hundreds of bodies that have been found buried in bogs.   This was crazy! 

The one that they discovered that day was a young child that they believed to be a female.  They found some interesting traits on her body which I’ll let you can read about but yep, I totally intrigued about bog bodies and how this this body in Germany was going to be related to the story I had in my hand.  Scientists had some theories as to why this young girl died in the bog, at the age of thirteen which I found very interesting. Actually, I found all this information about the bog very interesting and now, I was interested in these bog bodies.  Giving this girl a name, which they do to all bog bodies, Windeby Girl was born.  

Lois was also intrigued with Windeby Girl and she decided to create a story about her.  With her research in hand, Lois constructed a story about a girl named Estrild who became just as real to Lois as the bog girl was that the workers discovered.  Lois wanted to recreate what she thought her life was like before she ended up in the bog. Using research and her creativity, Lois weaves a story about Estrild, a girl whose death still remains a mystery. 

Lois breaks down the book into chapters, five to be exact.  There is History (where this story comes from), Estrild’s Story, History (Lois takes her story and relates that to the history of the Windeby Girl), Varick’s Story (Estrild’s best friend in the book), and History (Lois thoughts and more history about this discovery).  Each chapter begins with some black-n-white illustrations, a central theme running through them. 

Estrild wants to be a warrior. She doesn’t want to follow in the footsteps of the women before her, she wants more.  The males were the individuals who were celebrated and rewarded in their community for who they were.  The females on the other hand, Estrild noticed, grew tired and worn.  Women worked until their bodies could take no more and for what reason?  Estrild wanted to change all that, she wanted to give women an option. 

Varick is Estrild’s best friend.  From a young age, Estrild noticed how special he was and their friendship grew over the years.  Varick has been on his own since he was very young and because of his health, he will not be able to carry a weapon like Estrild hopes to do.  What will happen to Varick, I don’t know but I worry about him as the days pass.  Estrild knows that Varick knows how to become a warrior and she asks for his help.  Early morning sessions has Varick assisting Estrild in the ways of the warrior.  I enjoyed these secret meeting.  She’s determined to learn and be successful and he’s aiding her although, he knows how wrong it is.  The Councilor’s will call forward each new warrior at the spring ceremony and this is the day that Estrild is looking forward to.

It’s the spring ceremony and Estrild is standing amongst the young boys waiting for her name to be called.  The anticipation is building and I’m just waiting for something dramatic to occur.  Estrild wasn’t prepared for what happens next and neither was I but Estrild must act quickly to try and get control of the situation.  Estrild, oh girl……I don’t know if you’re this strong?!?  I was enjoying Estrild’s and Varick’s relationship and I wasn’t looking forward to the day Estrild would try to make a name for herself.   There is no going back and now, everything has changed.  There are more twists to the story and what a fantastic ending to this book, amazing!!   5+ stars!!!

The Last House on the Street by Diane Chamberlain

5 stars HIsorical Fiction

I read this novel and then, I listened to this novel on audio.  I really enjoyed the story.  I liked the character of Ellie as she was a strong, caring individual.  She could have walked away from the situation and started over yet she didn’t.  Ellie held strong and thought about her family and what was best.  I liked how the story moved from the present time period into the past and how the two connected.  Presented with some questions at the beginning of the story, allowing the reader to time travel, gave us the ability to see we could get the answers we needed yet, also gave us more questions that we were able to get answers to later in the book.

Presently: Ellie is planning on moving into a newly built home with her daughter, Raine.  This new home comes with a lot of memories although the house hasn’t had any family inside its walls.  Ellie and her late husband, Jackson were both architects and have spent the past seven years designing this house.  An accident claimed the life of her husband inside the studded walls of this dream home.  Now, inside this newly developed estate, Ellie plans on beginning their new life with Raine in the house that her and her late husband designed.   With her father close by, Ellie relies on him to help with the house and with four-year-old Raine but the emotional toll of this recent death still hits hard.  With other houses being built around them, there is one older house that anchors the development and Ellie finds that she already has one neighbor, so she will be all alone.  I felt this part of the book was more mysterious and adventurous.  I found that I read these sections more slowly as it felt more discreet and secretive. 

Time travel to 1965:  Ellie wants to do something; she has a fire within her.  Every summer she works at her father’s pharmacy but this year, she has heard about SCOPE and she wants to sign up.  She approaches her parents about SCOPE: “place nearly five hundred predominantly white college students in nearly one hundred predominantly black rural and urban areas in Southern states.”  This was part of the Civil Rights Act but her parents don’t care and refuse Ellie participation.   Ellie is determined to go, so she forges her parent’s signature on the form and she prepares herself to go.  What a ride this part of the book was.  I looked forwarded to this time period as the excitement never ended.  I was excited for Ellie yet I was scared as she went through some of the events. 

What a great story, I enjoyed how everything came together.  I think the audio of the book was nicely done too.  I’m definitely going to be looking for more of her books in the near future. I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley, Diane Chamberlain and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for my honest review.  5 stars.,other%20leaders%20recruited%20students%20nationwide.

White Bird by R.J. Palacio

3 stars Middle School Graphic Novel

I liked the story behind this book but I thought that the book was slow at times.  It took about 4 days to finish this book as I just had a hard time getting back into it once I put it down.  I had a hard time liking Sara as I thought she acted selfish yet I liked the friendship she had with Tourteau.  I thought he brought out her good qualities which she needed in my opinion.  My heart was in it for Tourteau as I thought he really was just a good person and he tried to keep his emotions out it.    The text was easy to follow and the illustrations were okay. White Bird by R.J. Palacio

I Survived The Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 (I Survived Graphic Novel series) #1

5 stars Middle School Graphic Novel

I’m enjoying this series.  There’s nothing like getting some education while reading a graphic novel and if we can get our young readers to pick up this series and read them, they’ll acquire some historical information along with a great story.  With text boxes that are easy to follow, colorful illustrations, and a story that grabs your attention and moves quickly, the I Survived the Sinking of The Titanic, 1912 graphic novel, is a book that you’ll finish once you pick it up. 

The story begins with the sinking of the Titanic and we’re witnesses individuals falling into the Atlantic Ocean.  We hear a few comments from the passengers as they begin to realize what lies ahead for them.  We now flashback to the previous day, nineteen hours earlier, when a young girl and her brother awake inside their cabin.  Their aunt has taken them on this voyage.   Sister is easily entertained but brother likes to have some excitement in his life, hence his ability for trouble to follow him.  Their idea to check out the ship wouldn’t seem like such a bad idea but it’s what happens along the way and the timing of their inquiry that turns their little excursion into something big. I enjoyed the use of the different sized text boxes in this graphic novel and the illustrations.   The illustrator was able to add more details and provide more emphasis by varying the sizes of the text boxes.  The illustration’s attention to detail and the use of color added to the story and helped to create a mood within the story.   The author states that this is more of a historical fiction book with the characters of the book being fictional but the facts about the Titanic being factual.  I thought the story was entertaining and there wasn’t a lot of characters to keep track of.  At the back of the book, the author writes to her readers a personal note pertaining to the book and she also includes various information about the Titanic on a few pages

We Are Wolves by Katrina Nannestad

5 stars Middle School

Such a wonderful, heartfelt story.  When father is called up to serve, 2 months later he is MIA.  When I read this, I kept thinking that he fled and was coming back to be with his family.  As I read, I kept searching and waiting for his return.  

They leave their home and flee with their loaded down wagon and their horse Mozart traveling West away from the Red Army.  Joining into the line of traffic of young and old travelers, they fit right in.  There are walkers, riders, and a combination of both- everyone just wants to get away.   Finding refuge in a farmhouse, they discover that it hasn’t been ransacked by the Russian soldiers and it’s well-stocked. 

I liked how they were taught by their Papa to recite their relatives’ names.  The desperation of foraging while on their journey, their encounter with the Russians and how the family stayed together were key highlights of this book which I enjoyed.  The ending was not what I expected and wanted.  Another great historical middle school read.  5 stars

Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation by Ari Folman

4 stars Graphic Novel

I remember reading the original version of this story many years ago in school so I’m somewhat familiar with the storyline.  It’s a daunting, sad story but one that I feel is important for its historical value and the impression that it leaves behind. When I saw this graphic novel adaptation, I was excited to see exactly what they had done with it.

Graphic novels…….graphic novel adaptations…… this world is just exploding! As a former substitute teacher, I’m all for graphic novels. Whatever you can do to get someone reading, I’m all for it! In one of my classes for my education degree, we had to read a variety of children’s books and discuss them. I remember one hot discussion was about graphic novels and whether they were actually “reading.”  I definitely think they are “reading” now but at the time, the selection in graphic novels was fairly limited, so some individuals thought “reading” comic books wasn’t reading.  So, I wonder what they’d think now, with all the different titles available.  Perhaps they’d see that graphic novels are reading; they have a lot of different subject matter now.  I think of the example: Margie wants to read the graphic novel of a book that was assigned.  She reads the graphic novel, understands it and whether or not, she likes the book, she read it and was able to follow it.  Had you only offered Margie the fiction or nonfiction version of that book, Margie would’ve struggled to read it or she wouldn’t have read it at all, she would have failed. She wouldn’t have gained anything.  Actually, she would’ve lost a bit of herself for she now knows that she doesn’t like that book and she can’t read it.  It’s funny actually but this argument is still an issue today. 

There are some good points and some difficult issues with this adaptation.  Again, this is a sad, depressing story but I liked the flow of this story.  The author did a great job showing the conflicts the characters face and how Anne’s emotions come into play.  As an author, you can’t have too much doom and gloom yet most individuals know that this is part of this important story.  This story also covers a lot of time and there was quite a bit of narrative in the picture boxes but I figured there would be to keep the timeline moving. There were times in which the author devoted a whole page to narrative language but it was creative and wasn’t overwhelming.  I thought the illustrations were wonderfully done, with precise details and colors and they complimented the text wonderfully.

The story begins with a page devoted to a Cast of Characters, which is helpful.  The characters are grouped and I liked that under their illustration, they had their name and who they were in the story.  The story begins on June 12, 1942 when Anne is celebrating her 13th birthday and she receives the important diary, Dear Kitty.  In Dear Kitty, Anne writes down everything important to her: her thoughts and feelings and the events that occurring in her life.  When Anne and her family are forced into hiding, they never imagined they would be hidden for years.

I think after reading this, I need to read the original story again as I feel that I don’t remember everything about this book.  I remember the ending being abrupt in the original and again, the ending left me hanging.  I do remember Anne growing as a character but I was surprised how forthright Anne becomes in this book. She’s almost too blunt and too brass for me.   As Anne becomes a woman, her sexuality becomes important and she’s definitely frank and direct in this area also. I think the wake-up call for me was when Anne sat Peter down at a desk and she got out her pointer stick.  Using her stick, Anne begins to explain to Peter the illustration on the wall. I don’t remember that from the original story and I even asked a few friends if they did. You’d think that as a teen, I’d remember something graphic like that.   So, now I think I need to reread the original to see if my memory is correct or if I actually forgot part of this classic.

With other incidents pertaining to sexual content, I don’t feel this graphic novel is appropriate for younger readers.  Overall, I thought the author did a great job and the illustrations were fantastic. This is one that you’ll definitely need to check into, if you get the chance.  4 stars   

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel

4 stars Fiction

What the heck!?  You can’t be serious? I cringed a few times as I read this book, for the main characters were walking blindly.  They lived in fear, they were risking their own lives and the lives of their own children as they dodged not being caught and deported.  Sometimes I wondered if they even knew what complications lied ahead or if the thought of moving backwards was not option so they didn’t consider it.  I was hoping for the best and I feared the worse was headed their way. When would it ever end?

It was sweet when they fell in love and had their first child but when they decided to flee Columbia, the choices that had to be made and their actions totally changed the tone of the book.  They were headed to America, where a better life awaited them, didn’t it?  Entering America, they were beginning their new lives as illegal immigrants, earning money under the table, and “just surviving.”  When the couple started having more children, I was getting nervous.  More mouths, more responsibilities and additional individuals to hide.  The status of their children was now mixed and I wondered, how would that play out when it was time to go back to Columbia.

With the return date on their Visa’s coming up, the thought of returning home doesn’t sound like something they’re ready for.  Do they really have a choice? This was an eye-opening book, as the family makes some difficult decisions which places additional burdens on them.  This book covers a lot of hard topics including racism, alcohol, some sexual assault and animal abuse (small section).  It was definitely a book that got me thinking, a book that I’m glad that I read.   I received a copy of this book over a year ago from NetGalley and Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review.  

4 stars Fiction

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

4 stars Historical Fiction

Lakshmi wooed them but did they really know her?  There was so much to enjoy about this book from the language of the text, to keeping all the characters separate and unique, to transporting me to a different place and time yet, I felt that I was the only one who really knew Lakshmi.  I liked that Lakshmi was a strong-minded and independent individual but I felt that she was a meddler, when she need not be.

I understand that Lakshmi was proud of who she had become and she needed to be “out there” to keep her name on the lips of individuals needing her services but there were other instances in the book where I thought she just needed to step back and not insert herself.  She can get enough popularity, what she needs to be getting the attention for, with her talents, she doesn’t have to be involved in everything.  I liked the end of the book the best, as that gives me hope that she can discover who Lakshmi really is.  I see that there is a sequel and I’ll have to look into that and see what transpires.  I read this book for book club.    

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton

5 stars Historical Fiction

That Opal was a hoot!  I couldn’t believe the transformation of this lady from the beginning to the end of the book.  I was grinning from ear to ear as I heard her, her spunk, determination, and compassion just fell out of the book.  Being a black woman, she knew exactly where her place was but that wasn’t a place were Opal wanted to be. If you think about the time period that Opal and Nev were an item (1970’s), equality was a hot issue.  Liberation, racism, and equal rights were being sought after and it seemed that everyone was on edge. 

On stage, I could only image what their performance was like and I would have loved to just see them up close.  I doubt any performance was ever the same as their personalities, feelings, and the chemistry of the stage all came into play when they took the stage. Opal seemed to be the one who pushed their performances, who shined, while Nev filled in where he was needed and he worked on other matters. 

Set up like an interview, this book is an oral history of the lives of Opal Jewel and Nev Charles, a singing duo from 1970’s.  I loved the book, Daisy Jones and the Six so I knew I would enjoy this book also.  The two books are alike yet they’re different.  I liked how this book was an interview which consists of flashbacks that told the story of Opal and Nev.  We hear from their friends and family, they speak about their ups and their downs, and we forget that this book is a work of fiction. As I read the book, I imagined hearing Opal’s voice as she talked about her relationship with Nev and then, I had to get the audio of this book to actually hear her words being spoken.  Her voice brought strength to the words that I had previously read, for it solidified what I had previously thought about her.  I really enjoyed the audio version of this book and the books was fantastic also, I got the best of both worlds!   

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest opinion.