Odder by Katherine Applegate

4 stars Middle School/Children’s Chapter

He was warned yet the temptation was too great.  He heard his mother’s words, for she had said it to him many times yet he thought he’d be safe. He wanted to go to the open sea and now, Odder finds himself at a rescue, facing the consequences for not listening to his mother’s warning.  This new world that Odder finds himself in, is so different from the bay, will he ever make it back home? 

Written in prose, I think this writing style helps convey the author’s message while making the book more approachable to more readers.  Readers don’t give so overwhelmed with words and they can read the prose in sections.   I feel that prose can create more emotion and response from its readers and I was glad to see that the author chooses this method to write this book.   

This was an entertaining story about one otter yet I learned a great deal about his species in the process.  Learning about rescue operations with these marine mammals was educational and enlightening also. I liked how this book was based on true events and how the events in the book came full circle. The last chapter of this book was my favorite.  This would make a great read aloud, bedtime story or just a book to read on your own.  

Snack, Snooze, Skedaddle: How Animals Get Ready For Winter by Paula Salas

5 stars Nonfiction Children’s

This is a very informative book and I liked that it covered more than just hibernate.    Normally when we think of animals in winter, we think of hibernate but this book talks about what other animals do beside hibernate and this is greatly appreciated.  I also liked that it covered some nontraditional animals which is always good to learn about.   The illustrations are bright and colorful and the pages weren’t too busy and disturbing.   Told in verse, this is a fun informative book.  5 stars

The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin by Kip Wilson

5 stars YA

It still amazes me how an author, under such tight constraints, can paint the picture so accurately.  With a limited use of language and the power of space, Kip Wilson carried me back to the 1930’s where being yourself, whoever you were, was still acceptable, even in the city of Berlin.  Although, not a city void of criticism, for there would always be wolves ready to attack, this brief time period gave individuals the opportunity to find their crowd and be embraced.  Written in verse, it was an incredible journey where the sights and sounds of Berlin, were at my fingertips. 

Through the use of language and space, Hilde’s story was composed on 397-pages, words arranged so strategically that it reads like a work of fiction.  Hilde’s gates were finally open as she leaves her controlled world and enters a world where she can find her own niche.  She must find employment to begin her new life but with the economy in shambles, Hilde’s options are limited.  When Hilde finds Rosa, I think she was able to fully breathe and embrace who she was.  This was an emotional read for me as Hilde finally gets to see the world behind her own eyes.   5 stars

Ain’t Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds

5 stars YA

Three.  That’s all it took.  Whereas some books use series, some use chapters, and some use pages of text, Reyolds began this book using three powerful, long sentences to get his point across.  Using his artistic talent, Jason Griffin grabbed those words and he chopped and stretched them.  Inserting his special touch, Jason manipulated those words, until he was left with a book that is equally part art and poetry.  To fully appreciate it, I read through it a few times.

It’s the combination of art and verse that grabbed me.  The erratic use of language spread across this book, I thought for sure, it had to be more than three sentences for its message was worthy of a novel. I couldn’t help but feel the emotions this young man was experiencing and identify with his frame of mind.  Where is everyone?  Where was his own family?  His mother was physically glued to the TV, his father boxed in another room coughing, his brother lost inside his video games and the telephone was connected to his sister’s ear.  But, really where were they?  He’s looking for a sign in these individuals as his world spins relentlessly.  There’s too much going on and not enough solid answers, as the state of the world, the pandemic and his own world changes.  Why won’t his parents change the channel?  Why doesn’t anyone change the channel? An excellent hard-hitting question.

The contrasting use of color, the edgy images that spread across the page with the limited use of language allow this book to tap into your soul.  I felt energized yet also saddened as the truth this book conveyed hit me. This is not a book you should rush through but slow-down, appreciate those three sentences and the art that surrounds them.  Make sure you read Reynolds and Griffin section in the back of the book titled, “Is Anyone Still Here?”  I highly recommend this book.    


Moth by Amber McBride

5 stars YA

“That day there was only enough prayer & blood for one of us to walk out.”

Moth was the lone survivor that day and the causalities included her brother and both of her parents.  Since that traumatic day, Moth has lived with her Aunt Jack, pondering whether she should change her name, since there’s no one left who cares.  Why was she left behind?  I hated to hear that Moth gave up her love of dancing since the accident.  Struggling to achieve her success, she was now just throwing it all away.  Moth had no friends at school either.  Attending a mostly white school, Moth found that the few black students that do attend, don’t include her in their conversations; they’re just like her previous school.  It’s not like she’s trying either.  She’s just existing, living on the memories that she can recall.

Sani took the seat beside her on the school bus, this seat that no one has ever sat in.  Who would have thought it all began on a school bus? Sani is having family issues and he’s popping these mysterious pills, that he’s reluctant to discuss.  Being of Navajo descent, Moth feels a connection to Sani through her Hoodoo.  With their relaxed conversations, they come to realize that they’re both just surviving.  They’re both just there.  Sani offers a solution, a way out.  A place where they can breathe.  Sani asks Moth to run away with him.   

I felt at first, when Sani asked Moth to run away with him, that he wasn’t serious.  I thought he was just throwing something out there for them to dream about as they were both frustrated but when she responded, he jumped on it.   This was an opportunity!  This was going to happen!  He obviously had been thinking about this.

What a trip this turns out to be for both of them.  I enjoyed their journey and the places that they went.  I liked that the trip was about connecting and discovery and not a love connection between the two of them.  I loved the way the story was written in verse as the words weren’t forced nor did they feel cheesy.  I enjoyed how the characters and story came together and the ending was impressive as I didn’t see that one coming.  I can’t wait to see what else this author writes.

The sky & the rain baptize our bodies- sinless & free.”

“Sani (looking sad): Do the ancestors ever answer?

Me (Moth): They sent me you.”

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.     

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


it’s hard to entertain one

without inviting the other in

as well”

All He Knew by Helen Frost

4.5 stars Historical Fiction

I started to get all frustrated and concerned as I began reading this book.  I felt so helpless as I read about Henry.  He had begun his life alone and misunderstood.  The label they slapped on him, became a wall.  I felt some relief that Molly had never forgotten her brother, although he wasn’t living with her.  She loved him whether he was physically present or not.  The author’s creative way of expressing this factual event makes this a very powerful story. 

Henry was four when he becomes deaf after falling ill. They had hoped that Henry could get his education at the State School for the Deaf.  Needing to pass a test, Henry arrives for the test but he is unable to understand the tests’ directions.  Failing the test, he can’t attend the state school and they label Henry, “unteachable.”  With WWII on the horizon, they soon decide to place him in Riverview, a school for mentally disabled individuals.  Talk about sad! Little time and effort are spent on the patients and Henry sinks further down.  If I could just reach into this book and grab him out, I and I think plenty other readers would have.

As I read Henry’s thoughts, his hopes and his sadness, it’s beyond sad.  I’m wondering how the other patients feel about life in Riverview.  Molly is the only bright spot until I hear Victor’s footsteps mark the halls of Riverview.  Is Victor a real person or is he an angel? Where did he come from?  It’s sad to think that, finally one professional, seems to care.   

With short chapters, this true event story is a story that will definitely make your think.  Told through verse, it’s a fast read about this time period in history.  

Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice by Mahogany Browne

5 stars Children’s poetry

Beautiful, amazing pieces of poetry! Each work of poetry is unique and brilliant as it enlists each of us to look at the world around us and embrace it. After reading this book, the message is strong and empowering: 5 stars

We are all unique in our own ways but
we are all united. We all have the power.

We all should feel secure in our environment,
being able to be ourselves without ridicule,
lifting up our voice, without fear of harassment, just for being who we are.

Throughout history, individuals have tried: some success and some not.
Those that have fought, have not fought in vain.

What can I do? I cannot move bridges. I cannot lead a march.
I can be awake. I can support you. I can encourage you.
All voices don’t need to be loud to be felt.
They just need to be woke.

How Sweet the Sound: The Story of Amazing Grace by Carole Boston Weatherford

3 stars Chilren’s Biography

This wasn’t what I thought this book would be like, but it’s a start.  This song was a favorite of my grandmothers and it’s also one of my mother’s favorite songs, when I saw the cover, I knew I had to read it.   I wondered what the song’s words came from and what they meant as it’s sang a lot at funerals and religious services. 

The song began with John Newton aboard a slave ship.  He’s a passenger as the ships being tossed about, during a stormy night.   John hears the crew complaining as he worries about the ship going down with the storm.  As the storm whips around him, John reflects back on his life. 

John’s father was a sea captain and his mother stayed home and took care of him. She took him to church and John was a good Christian boy.  When she died, John put on his sea legs and went with his father to the sea, where he got into trouble and he became a wild fellow.  This was the time that he also met his wife, Mary.

The storm grabs John’s attention as the boat is being torn apart.  Everyone fears the worse and hopes the best.  The illustrations capture the fear that these individuals felt. Fortunately, they do eventually find land and John later retires.  Once an individual who transported slaves, John now preaches to end slavery.  I had a few questions about things that were happening here as it seemed rather choppy.  John now writes the first lines to this famous song.  Those lines travel across sea and land where other individuals sing them and add their own words to them until ……..we have a song.   What?  Yep!  There are Author Notes at the back (which I highly recommend you read), Additional Reading and Info, and Amazing Grace (the song).

I feel that the illustrations captured the energy of this book.  They were bold, colorful, and the individuals presented were nicely done. I was surprised at how much of the book was devoted to the life of John and how much of the book was devoted to the song, itself.  Then, to find out that he only wrote the first lines to the song.  That was a huge surprise to me!   The Author’s Notes at the back of the book need to be read as I found them very informative.  They helped answer some of my questions and put the book together for me.  I also liked having all the verses of the song together in the back, with the nice illustration in the background, that was a nice touch.  I was disappointed that not more was written about the rest of the song though.