With her recent autobiographical account in Out of Hiding: A Holocaust’s Survivor’s Journey to America, Ruth Gruener (aka Luncia Gamzer) tells her story of survival. Her memoir joins those stories told by other survivors of this unimaginable time in history. This was a time when anxiety turned to cold, raw fear as the Nazis burned synagogues and committed murder without regard for the sanctity of human life—a time when choice was taken, freedom was scarce, and normal took on an entirely different definition. Gruener tells of her feeling like a nonperson, “a body that took up space” (27). She describes hunger, loneliness, hiding, and aRead More →

With Cinders & Sparrows, Stefan Bachmann has written a gothic novel for middle grade readers. Given the genre, his book incorporates ghosts, spirits, hauntings, misty woods, gloomy environs, enchanted chambers and staircases, talking trees and a marble bust who claims to be a prince. The novel’s plot revolves around twelve-year-old Zita Brydgeborn and her discovery that she is not an orphan after all but a member of the Brydgeborn family of witches and the heiress to Blackbird Castle. With Mrs. Cantanker as her teacher, Zita receives all sorts of training—some of it oddly questionable. Still, according to Mrs. Cantanker, “A true Blackbird is graced withRead More →

Although Cynthia Voigt’s newest book, Little Bird, has a target audience of middle-grade readers, with its anthropomorphism, it joins beast fables like Monkey Wars by Richard Kurti and Watership Down by Richard Adams, adding its own brand of commentary on human societies and behaviors. The title character, Little Bird belongs to a small flock of crows who forage, guard against danger, and live out their short lives near Old Davis Farm. However, Little Bird doesn’t have the sharp-beaked, sharp-clawed, and sharp-spoken way of other crows. She discovers additional differences between herself and other crows, when the flock loses a good luck charm called Our Luck,Read More →

A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi is a story that captures the ideas of belonging and imagination and poverty and richness, with a focus on economic disparity  With her novel, Faruqi also pays homage to Karachi, a city of her own childhood, as she attempts to help readers better understand Pakistan. To fulfill this objective, Faruqi creates eleven-year-old Mimi, whose father, Tom Scotts, is a journalist who travels a lot for his job. Her mother, Samia, is an art teacher and painter.  Because the couple has grown apart and decide to separate, Mimi, who is about to enter sixth grade in Houston, feels abandoned andRead More →

Believing that humor is often more honest than being serious and that laughter contributes to resilience, author John Cusick writes books laden with laughter and bordering on the absurd. When Lola Ray and Phineas Fogg find themselves in a precarious situation where the fate of the universe is at stake, Phin must keep Lola from falling into the hands of the evil Goro Bolus and the Temporal Transit Authority who will turn her over to the Phan. The young duo must both get out of New Jersey, off the planet, and as far away from Earth’s solar system as they can. In their attempt atRead More →

Through her newest middle grade novel, One Time, Sharon Creech reminds us all how our lives can be forever impacted by a highly effective teacher. She also reminds readers of the power of writing, while inspiring the imagination with two explicitly asked questions: 1) Who are you? and 2) Who could you become? Miss Lightstone poses these questions to her class. Because they are ingrained by “doing school” a certain way, the class initially resists. However, with intentional lessons, well-executed pedagogical moves, careful chosen words, and key dispositions on Miss Lightstone’s part, soon they are experimenting, engaging, and performing without grades in what feels likeRead More →

Set in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon is a horror story. Along with the Fantastic Four, readers will drown in a sea of scary. If you don’t believe monsters are real, wait until you experience the creepy encounters of Hermon’s characters! Since his mother died, Justin Vaughn believes that everybody leaves, nothing stays the same, and nothing fits anymore. One of his best friends, Zee Murphy is back after a long absence, but he has been changed by the trauma of his experience while lost. Now, along with two other friends—Lyric Rivers, who is loyal and believes that friends help and don’tRead More →

Three Keys

Try as I might, I was unable to limit my review of Three Keys by Kelly Yang to three keys to its greatness.  I started with It’s about a goat named Scape and the issue of immigration and how it’s easy to blame those in a weak spot; It proves that although most people don’t change, some people do; and It shares how small interactions have the power to change minds and to make a big impact for those vulnerable to exploitation, abuses, misinformation, and hopelessness. But I realized I couldn’t stop with that short list.  Yang’s book goes beyond any simple storyline to capture someRead More →

Wrecked by her parents’ divorce and then her brother’s disappearance three years ago, Andrea Murphy’s life has grown awful. The empty seat at the table, her unrelenting guilt that her brother’s disappearance is somehow her fault, and his ghost in the boxes stacked in the garage all haunt her. “I’m fine” is the lie she tells to hide the cracks and holes in her heart. As a reminder of his memory, she carries a missing piece of her brother in her pocket. When the pain grows too intense to bear, she rides her bike far and fast, letting the breeze whip through her hair whileRead More →