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

and

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.   

Rain Before Rainbows by Smriti Prasadam-Halls

4 stars Children’s Picture Books

I guess I don’t follow the excitement about this book.  The illustrations are wonderful but I thought they were the best aspect about the book.  With a fantasy theme to them, the girl moves through the different scenes, trying to escape her dark past.  Some scenes she has forest animals with her and in one she has dragons but throughout her adventures, she is with her companion, the fox. 

Trying to put her dark and gloomy life behind her, she’s trying to move onto a brighter future.  As she flees with the fox, she realizes that they could run into problems in their journey but she knows the action they can take to beat it. 

It’s a beautiful book but I think the text might be a bit deep for some readers. It’s a book about hope, letting readers know that, although they may feel overwhelmed or defeated, victory and success awaits them.  I think for a picture book, there are many children who will not be able to comprehend the true meaning of what the author is trying to convey without someone explaining it to them first.  Once you get over that small hump with young readers, it’s a great book and for older readers, they should be able to grasp it. 

I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott

4 stars Children’s Picture Books

The author wrote this book based on his own personal experience with stuttering.  I liked the honesty and the emotions that the author shared in this book.  As I read the author’s note at the back of the book, he explains in-depth, his own personal experience which made this book more enjoyable.  

It’s not like he doesn’t know what to say, he has the words, they’re just stuck inside his head.  Sitting inside his classroom, he’d rather participate quietly but when his teacher calls on him, every head in the room turns and looks at him, just waiting to see what he’ll say.  He’s been in this spotlight before and no one understands.  This isn’t the place he wants to be.  A phone call later, his dad picks him up and the situation has been diverted for now.

Wow, this is so sad.  This really frustrated me on many levels.  I was glad that his father was there for him and that he cared a great deal for him. I’m glad that he was able to gather strength from the words from his father and from the river.

I think many children will enjoy this book as they relate to this story and/or gain strength/knowledge from his example.   4 stars

Goodnight, My Angel by Billy Joel

5 stars Picture Book

What a sweet lullaby and the illustrations that accompany this book couldn’t be any sweeter. Written for his daughter, Billy Joel wrote the song after his daughter aquestioned him about death.

Even though you may not be with the one that you love, they will always be a part of you, is just one of the messages that I took away from this picture book. Memories and dreams, they are in your heart and become a part of you. This would be a great bedtime book. It comes with a CD or you can watch the video of Billy Joel singing the song on YouTube.

Listen to Billy Joel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcnd55tLCv8

When You Know What I Know by Sonja Solter

4.5 stars Middle School

How do you not let someone see something that has affected your entire life? If you’re trying to achieve this misrepresentation, you have to remember that your emotions and personality have also been affected, in fact, your whole being has been altered.    In poetic form, this powerful story addresses the issue of abuse. Reporting abuse has been talked about for years but what if that didn’t work and now, you’re left questioning the act itself.  Where do you go then?

It was frustrating to read the reaction from Tori’s mom after Tori spoke out about what happened between herself and her uncle.  When her mom didn’t believe her, Tori began to doubt herself which then, caused an avalanche of issues.  Doubt herself?   You were there, right Tori?  If you were there and remember it, it happened and it’s real.  I couldn’t believe that her mother even said though things without thinking it through.   

Tori’s head is now swimming with lots of scenarios, tons of “what if….?” are crossing her mind, as if everything that transpired was her fault.   She’s slowing withdrawing herself, closing herself off from everyone.  Her grandmother is no help either.  I was now having my doubts about the adults in Tori’s life when her teacher noticed that she is not acting like herself.  Please let this person be a positive influence in her life?  

I liked the way the story flowed with its poetic form.  I think it made the story more dramatic, it helped move the story along and it centered the story more.  Although Tori dealt with a lot of ups and downs, I feel that unfortunately, what she had to deal with is what many individuals go through today.  I thought this was a good book that addresses this issue for younger children.  4.5 stars

The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling

5 stars Middle School

I love the power of verse.  No longer do my eyes slide across or skim while I decipher each word on the page. My eyes seem to stop at each word, recognizing its value and its strength on the line before moving on. For each word, has power and is essential.

A tragic event took the life of Nora’s mother and now, Nora and her father are trying to find a new normal. Enjoying the great outdoors, Nora’s birthday was supposed to be a day of celebration, as the pair hiked and explored an area canyon. The celebrating quickly came to an end, as they stopped for a break, when the father-daughter pair is separated. Unexpected challenges and fears must be confronted if they ever plan on being united again. 

Written with short chapters, this book is beautifully written and is emotionally charged.  You can’t help but be drawn into the character of Nora as she conveys her feelings about her situation.  A fantastic read.