September 11, 2021 will mark the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, and Alan Gratz’s book Ground Zero is here to bring that history to middle grade readers. Told in alternating perspectives between Brandon Chavez, a nine-year-old living in New York City in 2001, and Reshmina, an eleven-year-old girl living in Afghanistan in 2019, the two tales run parallel to one another but ultimately intersect in a surprising twist. As the novel opens, Brandon has been suspended for punching a bully in the nose, and because his mother has died and no one is available to watch him at home, he has to accompany his father toRead More →

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 →

Destined to be a classic survival story like Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, Be Not Far from Me by Mindy McGinnis proves that the world is not tame.  Ashley Hawkins lives near the Appalachian Trail in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, “a place where geography cannot only kill [her] but also dictate [her] friends” (5). With her mama’s DNA that drove her to do everything alone and with her daddy’s inability to say he is wrong about something, Ashley has independence and stubbornness in her genes.  As a result of these traits and coupled with her explosive temper, Ashley acquires the nickname ass-kicker at summer camp.  FromRead More →

A story’s first line is often a good indicator of its merit, and Kieran Scott joins the ranks of other great story tellers with her opening line in What Waits in the Woods: “Callie Valasquez wasn’t ready to die” (3). When smart, creative, loyal Callie latches onto a life raft the second week at her new school, she has no idea that the decision may lead to her death, but her choice to befriend coarse, snarky, athletic Lissa and dainty, meek, sweet Penelope leads to a camping trip in the woods and the horror-filled adventure that follows. More secure navigating the concrete and pavement ofRead More →