Readers of I Kick and I Fly by Ruchira Gupta will be inspired by the strong female characters as well as horrified by the novel’s sex trafficking theme. Set in northern India in a town called Forbesganj located in the state of Bihar, Gupta’s book reveals the story of fourteen-year-old Heera who intimately knows both hunger and homelessness. A member of the nomadic Nat tribe, Heera and her family are members of an oppressed caste. Her people used to be wrestlers and performers, but “overnight [they] were told [they] couldn’t do those things anymore, that [their] entire way of life was illegal” (283). Seeking toRead More →

Jasbinder Bilan’s debut novel for middle grade readers, Asha and the Spirit Bird, is one rich with cultural detail and adventure. Set in a village in India called Moormandali, Bilan includes many Hindi and Punjabi words to add authenticity to the telling of this coming of age, epic journey. The story features eleven-year-old Asha Kumar and her twelve-year-old best friend, Jeevan Singh Gill.  The two children sneak away from home to travel from their village in the foothills of the Himalayas to find Asha’s papa in Zandapur. The journey calls on the children’s perseverance, courage, hope, and conviction that they will be successful.  Along theRead More →

Like a tower built from Jenga blocks, eleven-year-old Piper Trudeau’s former life in Cypress Point, Texas, all comes crashing down after a series of unfortunate events: her parents’ job hours cut, lost jobs, unexpected medical bills, car trouble, bills piling up, and eventually an eviction.  Now, she and her family are homeless and living in a shelter in Idaho—experiencing new places and new people and learning that a rough patch can seem like a “football field full of briars” (39). But this is only one plot thread in Stay by Bobbie Pyron, a novel targeted for middle grade readers that alternates between the story ofRead More →

In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell published his New York Times bestseller, Outliers.  Based largely on the research of Anders Ericsson, Gladwell frequently refers to the 10,000-hour rule, citing it as the magic number that contributes to developing greatness.  Since the writing of that book, Gladwell has fallen under criticism for failing to adequately distinguish between the quantity of hours spent practicing, and the quality of that practice. The takeaway here is that practice may be important, but it’s not the whole story.  In authoring a personal story of success, a person needs to employ very specific, deliberate methods of practice. All of these details flooded back to me when I pickedRead More →

Combining humor, heartbreak, and hope, Canadian writer Susin Nielsen writes No Fixed Address.  In this story about people who suffer from a childhood trauma and subsequent depression, Nielsen also exposes some of the long-term consequences. Felix Knutsson, who is twelve and three quarters years old, calls his mom Astrid because she considers the title Mom to be too hierarchical.  The reader will discover several other peculiarities about Astrid, who spent some time as a child in the foster care system after she and her brother were abused by their father.  But, if nothing else, Astrid is a survivor and a prevaricator. Unlike his mother, FelixRead More →