The Unquenchable Faith that Saved Thousands of Children: Irena’s Children

The Unquenchable Faith that Saved Thousands of Children: Irena’s ChildrenIrena's Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto by Tilar J. Mazzeo
on September 26, 2017
Genres: Adult, Nonfiction
Pages: 317
Goodreads

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Widow Clicquot comes an extraordinary and gripping account of Irena Sendler—the “female Oskar Schindler”—who took staggering risks to save 2,500 children from death and deportation in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II. In 1942, one young social worker, Irena Sendler, was granted access to the Warsaw ghetto as a public health specialist. While there, she reached out to the trapped Jewish families, going from door to door and asking the parents to trust her with their young children. She started smuggling them out of the walled district, convincing her friends and neighbors to hide them. Driven to extreme measures and with the help of a network of local tradesmen, ghetto residents, and her star-crossed lover in the Jewish resistance, Irena ultimately smuggled thousands of children past the Nazis. She made dangerous trips through the city’s sewers, hid children in coffins, snuck them under overcoats at checkpoints, and slipped them through secret passages in abandoned buildings. But Irena did something even more astonishing at immense personal risk: she kept secret lists buried in bottles under an old apple tree in a friend’s back garden. On them were the names and true identities of those Jewish children, recorded with the hope that their relatives could find them after the war. She could not have known that more than ninety percent of their families would perish. In Irena’s Children, Tilar Mazzeo tells the incredible story of this courageous and brave woman who risked her life to save innocent children from the Holocaust—a truly heroic tale of survival, resilience, and redemption.

“Heroes,” she said, “do extraordinary things. What I did was not an extraordinary thing. It was normal.” (262-263)

I arrived in Orlando at ALA Annual last year, with a nonfiction book on my list to pick up, Irena’s Children. I secured an ARC, and recently finished the book during a flight from Boston to Atlanta for ALA Midwinter. I can tell you that this book is fantastic!

The story of Irena and her group of courageous individuals working to save the lives of children during an incredibly dark time in world history was intense, inspiring, beautiful, heartrending, and miraculous!

I don’t often post reviews of nonfiction titles, but this is one book I would recommend that EVERYONE read. Sometimes the truth is as wondrous and as strange as fiction. In the case of Tilar J. Mazzeo’s text, that notion is incredibly true.

The book is set up in chronological order, and charts Irena’s journey as a young woman first becoming concerned with the plight of Jewish children in Nazi-occupied Poland, and eventually moving to become a major player in the Polish resistance. Many different characters are introduced as they relate to the vast and courageous network of individuals who worked with Irena to smuggle children out of the Warsaw ghetto. This collaboration had Irena at its head, but around twenty to twenty-five other individuals played important roles. Mazzeo points out as well, that the actual number of people who took part to help save these children are actually “dozens upon dozens.”

The pacing of the story is perfect–including details and scenes of what took place as Irena and her network worked through truly terrifying and high pressure situations in order to thwart the Nazis and rescue Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. Mazzeo provides plenty of relevant and interesting information about Irena, born in 1910, and continues to strengthen the narrative by also describing the people with whom Irena connected earlier in her life, that would later play a role in her work to save children.

Can you imagine facing the pressure of separating hundreds of children from their parents, and somehow keeping a secret record of where those children were hidden and their real names so that they could be later connected with their parents after the war?!? I can only begin to imagine what a monumental and perhaps stressful task this must have been. Sadly, the vast majority of parents ended up perishing by the end of the war. The book does refer to the emotional pain that Irena experienced at forcing, out of necessity, a child to leave his/her mother and father. How could you explain to a two year old that he/she has no choice but to leave a beloved parent? It’s almost unthinkable.

Irena is basically considered the female “Oskar Schindler” but, as this book attests, her identity as a resilient and brave woman who achieved the extraordinary can stand on its own. Irena isn’t the only “hero” in this book, however. Mazzeo portrays many other figures who assisted Irena in her courageous attempt to save children from a terrible fate.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This book was both gripping and difficult to read. It depicted a timeline of events I sometimes didn’t want to think about, and yet, it was a timeline of events I had an obligation to read about. And to encourage others to read about. What Irena and her network accomplished should be honored and remembered. The children who perished during the Holocaust should be remembered. The children who endured the most difficult of circumstances during this period in history should be remembered. For all these reasons and more, read Irena’s Children.

For here is an important book. A necessary book. A book you must read, even if it is the only book you read all year.

What Katie Read

Picturebook Trio: A Night Gardener, a Gryphon, and a Whisper

Genres: Picturebooks

There are picturebooks…and then there are Picturebooks. I bring Three special titles to you today.

THE NIGHT GARDENER

This picturebook might be my favorite picturebook of 2016. THE NIGHT GARDENER is absolutely gorgeous in its design, word/image interaction, and limited but rich textual narrative. It is a gift waiting for the reader to open, and I would not be surprised to hear that others have had profound experiences with this story.

First, I noticed that the way the book opened was unique. Whereas in other stories there might be a buildup to a grand event, this narrative stepped into its beginning rather quickly—in fact, on the second page. At the same time, the build up begins with the extra-textual materials of the book, which I loved. The copyright page itself features an important double page spread.

In other words, the book designers don’t waste any space in advancing and illuminating the meaning of the narrative.

And there are multiple meanings one might take away from this gem of a book by the Fan Brothers.

For example, the Night Gardener is bringing a kind of reformation and revival of beauty to the small town in the book. But two characters are affected in the story—our protagonist, William, and then the town as a whole. First, William is awed by the work of the Night Gardener and eventually pursues and finds him, deciding to help him in his work. Then, William plays a role in continuing the important work of the Night Gardener within the town. The magic and beauty and wonder that the Night Gardener brings through his “transformations” and “works of art” begin to change everyone—in a lasting way. There is a lot more to say about this simple and yet profound story, but I’ll stop there.

IF I HAD A GRYPHON

This book is actually written by a friend of mine, Vikki Vansickle, whom I met in Toronto when she was a bookseller! What we both shared in common is that we had both completed an MA in Children’s Literature and we always had wonderful bookish chats when we met. I’m absolutely thrilled to say that If I Had a Gryphon is lovely, charming, and whimsically wonderful!

The rhyme and rhythm of the narrative pairs perfectly with the pictures, and there is much to see in these illustrations! Whimsical, bright, and vivid—these illustrations pop off the page and pull you into the dreamlife of our protagonist. The fact that the story is told in verse adds another enjoyable aspect to the book.

Read the words out loud and you’ll be captivated by their rhythm, humor, and ability to bring these mythical creatures to life on the page. Poetry for young people can sometimes be daunting and hard to understand, but the rhymes of this book remove any stress related to poetry and provide a fantastic experience with verse. Sometimes a poetry book might have stellar illustrations but mediocre text, or wonderful text, but pictures that are not as strong as they might be. If I Had a Gryphon receives gold stars on both fronts!

THE WHISPER

The Whisper is a new addition to my school library and it is gorgeous! Whimsical, imaginative, and full of wonder, this gem of a picturebook tells a story that invites endless interpretations and curiosity. Its cover boasts a girl in a red hood, holding an open book with a crown on its cover, a crown floating above the girl’s head and also a fox at her side. A bunch of grapes hover over the fox’s head, slipping in an intertextual reference to Aesop’s fables (a preview of something that will happen later in the story).

Everything about the book promises a luxurious experience—pictures filled with detail that will keep you reading for a long while, and if you are looking for an opportunity to create your own stories, you will look no further. The endpapers alone kick off the story and provide a puzzle for the reader to unlock. My favorite part in the story is the double page spread at the beginning when the girl is rushing home with the special book on loan to her from her teacher. The fox balances on a wheel as he “scoops” up the words of the story in his net.

Each picture in the book invites its own narrative…or all the stories connected? No matter—your imagination is the key to unlock it all, and it becomes a marvelous experience the more you read.

Why is it called The Whisper? Well, you’ll just have to find out.

Have you read any of these picturebooks from 2016? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please tell me what you thought of these beautiful titles!

What Katie Read

STAR SO SWEET Blog Tour & Giveaway: A Delicious Finale!

STAR SO SWEET Blog Tour & Giveaway: A Delicious Finale!Stars So Sweet (All Four Stars, #3) by Tara Dairman
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on July 19th 2016
Genres: Middle Grade, Realistic
Pages: 288
Goodreads
five-stars


Joan Bauer meets Ruth Reichl in this charming middle grade foodie series.

As the summer winds down and Gladys Gatsby prepares to start middle school, she is nervous about juggling schoolwork and looming deadlines from her secret job as the New York Standard’s youngest restaurant critic. When her editor pushes for a face-to-face meeting to discuss more opportunities with the paper, Gladys knows she must finally come clean to her parents. But her perfectly planned reveal is put on hold when her parents arrive home with a surprise:  her Aunt Lydia, one of the only adults who knows her secret, fresh off the plane from Paris. Gladys and Aunt Lydia try one last ruse to fool her editor at the Standard, but even with her aunt’s help, Gladys just can’t manage the drama of middle school and a secret life. It’s time for Gladys to be true to herself and honest with her friends and family, regardless of what those around her think.

Gladys Gatsby is back! And this time it’s in the final installment of the ALL FOUR STARS foodie Middle Grade trilogy by Tara Dairman. You know I (and many others) adored the first two books, ALL FOUR STARS and A SUMMER OF STARS. July 19th, 2016 will see the publication of STARS SO SWEET, and let me tell you, you will not disappointed! You can expect more hilarious antics from Gladys and her friends, as well as challenges and adventures that inevitably come her way. Gladys is starting Middle School, and she is also being offered an amazing new opportunity at her top secret job for The New York Standard as a restaurant reviewer. The surprise arrival of a family member also has Gladys working on yet another project, and then you might remember the famous Hamilton from A SUMMER OF STARS. I won’t give too much away, but it’s possible the child literary star also makes an appearance. To sum up, you can expect more mouthwatering treats from Gladys as well as her creative and interesting attempts to navigate various foodie scrapes and challenges.

Now onto some of the highlights of this Middle Grade treat.

What I Loved

-Gladys’s passion for cooking and all things foodie is front and center in the narrative, as it has been in the last two books.

-Her diverse group of friends and their differing personalities and quirks are part of the action as welll—you’ll find appearances by Parm, Charissa, and Sandy. I assure you—you’ll definitely be laughing throughout the book, just as you probably were with the first two.

-The story features different cuisines and ingredients some readers may have never heard of before! Whether Gladys is browsing Mr. Eng’s specialty food shop or creating Salvadoran pancakes, she is sure to introduce readers to something new in the culinary world. At one point Gladys, Aunt Lydia, and Charissa attend a foodie trade show and sample foods such as biltong (South African beef jerky), antelope meats, yak meat, and even horse-meat bites!

-The rich themes of friendship and becoming comfortable in your own identity (something that can be quite challenging in Middle School) are appreciated and embedded in the narrative without being preachy. I love the way Tara illuminates important and relevant aspects of friendship in her storyline.

-The resolution of all the loose ends, especially regarding Gladys’s top secret job of restaurant reviewer for The New York Standard. The conclusion of STARS SO SWEET is stunning, and everything I had hoped for in the ending to this fantastic trilogy. I know this series will continue to be a popular one in my school library. I already have many students who have been waiting avidly for the last installment in the series. It’s true: Young readers love these foodie books!

-I always love the fact that each chapter features its own title. I especially enjoy that Chapter 21 is called “Irrational Doughnuts.”

Some Foodie Connections

-Gladys receives an assignment from her job: Distinguish between Salvadoran, Peruvian, and Cuban food by visiting restaurants with these cuisines. I decided to bring a few links for you to check out, so that you can do your own investigation of these three different cuisines.

10 FOODS FROM EL SALVADOR YOU NEED TO TRY RIGHT NOW: http://www.theflama.com/10-foods-from-el-salvador-you-need-to-try-right-now-1592974846.html

ESSENTIAL PERU: 10 MUST-EAT DISHES TO SEEK OUT: http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/06/essential-peruvian-cuisine.html

9 DISHES TO MAKE YOU FALL FOR CUBAN CUISINE: http://www.saveur.com/article/-/Cuban-Recipes

FINALLY

I can imagine that yet another reason you would want to purchase the book once it’s out in the world on July 19th is that the cover is as gorgeous as its predecessors and that the trilogy presented together on the bookshelf will be absolutely stunning.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 8.52.46 PM

I’m in denial that this is the last installment of Gladys’s adventures, and I’m hoping that one day maybe we’ll get another book….or a novella, even. I just don’t want to say goodbye…

GIVEAWAY TIME!

Would you like to win a complete set of the ALL FOUR STARS books? I’m running a giveaway, courtesy of Penguin, and one winner (USA only) will receive a complete set of the trilogy. To enter, all you have to do is leave a thoughtful comment about why you are excited to read STARS SO SWEET (or any of the other All Four Stars books)!

If you missed my first interview with Tara, you can explore it here. Also, if you aren’t familiar with All Four Stars, you can read about that here. My thoughts on the second book, The Stars of Summer, can be found here.

REVIEWS OF TARA’S BOOKS

ALL FOUR STARS (Putnam/Penguin, 2014)

*An Amazon Best Book of the Month*

 

THE STARS OF SUMMER (Putnam/Penguin, 2015)

“Hilarious.” – School Library Journal

 

STARS SO SWEET (Putnam/Penguin, coming 7.19.16)

“A tasty dish that series fans should eat up.” -Kirkus

Tara Dairman’s Bio

Tara Dairman is the author of the middle-grade foodie novel ALL FOUR STARS (Putnam/Penguin) which was named an Amazon Best Book of the Month and won a 2015 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. THE STARS OF SUMMER followed in 2015, and STARS SO SWEET (6/19/16) completes the series. Tara grew up in New York and holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College. After surviving the world’s longest honeymoon (two years, seventy-four countries!), she now lives in Colorado with her family.

Tara Dairman headshot

Links to Find Tara

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Are you excited about STARS SO SWEET? What are some of your favorite memories of Gladys from the first two books?

five-stars
What Katie Read

A Middle Grade Marvel: ALL RISE FOR THE HONORABLE PERRY T. COOK

A Middle Grade Marvel: ALL RISE FOR THE HONORABLE PERRY T. COOKAll Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on March 1st 2016
Genres: Middle Grade, Realistic
Pages: 400
Goodreads
five-stars

From Leslie Connor, award-winning author of Waiting for Normal and Crunch, comes a soaring and heartfelt story about love, forgiveness, and how innocence makes us all rise up. All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook is a powerful story, perfect for fans of Wonder and When You Reach Me.
Eleven-year-old Perry was born and raised by his mom at the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility in tiny Surprise, Nebraska. His mom is a resident on Cell Block C, and so far Warden Daugherty has made it possible for them to be together. That is, until a new district attorney discovers the truth—and Perry is removed from the facility and forced into a foster home.
When Perry moves to the “outside” world, he feels trapped. Desperate to be reunited with his mom, Perry goes on a quest for answers about her past crime. As he gets closer to the truth, he will discover that love makes people resilient no matter where they come from . . . but can he find a way to tell everyone what home truly means?

Don’t let this book escape your grasp!

http://bestanimations.com/Books/Books.html
http://bestanimations.com/Books/Books.html

What I Loved

I loved PERRY T. COOK! What a wonderful, kind, compassionate, and creative eleven year old. I had no idea just how much I would adore this book and Perry’s journey. When the book opens, Perry has spent the first eleven years of his life in the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility where his mother is serving a sentence (for something that Perry knows a little bit about, but not all the details have been revealed to him). At both the correctional facility and out in the wider world where he attends school, Perry brightens the lives of those around him. Perry approaches people by believing there is good within him, primarily because of the kindness with which he has been raised in the prison. Over those eleven years, Perry has become close friends with many of the inmates, and learned a lot about their stories. He recognizes that there are good choices and bad ones to be made, but it seems that Perry is able to distinguish between the idea that people can do bad things and that people are always one way or another. Perry is a strong character, and he gracefully navigates difficulty throughout the story.

Illuminations of Spirituality

There is a definite social justice aspect to this book in that the protagonist (and those close to him) want to see justice for those who have been treated unjustly (particularly within the prison system). Though there may not be concrete actions that Perry can take for all those within Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility, telling their stories is one way he gives a voice to their lives.

The way that Perry sees other people, especially those whom he knows within the prison, brings up another aspect of the spiritual life. When we look at people, do we only see their actions? Do we only see their bad choices? Or can we take the time to look beyond, to the authentic person inside, to the person he/she is becoming? This is an aspect of spirituality that the narrative brought up to me, because, like Perry, we, the reader, also get to know the inmates of Blue River. And I think I can safely say that we also come to care about them.

Who Should Read This Book

Readers in 3rd grade and up would appreciate this fun and thought-provoking title, and anyone who loves Middle Grade with a social justice aspect would do well to pick it up. After reading Perry’s story, I’m planning to look up other books by Leslie Connor, and my hopes are high for future books.

You readers know: When you read a good novel that makes you look at people differently and perhaps with a little more empathy, you can safely say that such a story is doing something wonderful. This is an important story in that it just may change your thinking about people in correctional facilities.

These people have stories worth telling. May Perry T. Cook teach us all a little something!

**Thank you, Katherine Tegen Books, for allowing me to read and review an ARC of this title.**

five-stars
What Katie Read

Kate DiCamillo Returns: RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE

Kate DiCamillo Returns: RAYMIE NIGHTINGALERaymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
Published by Candlewick Press on April 12th 2016
Genres: Middle Grade, Realistic
Pages: 272
Goodreads
five-stars

Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie's picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.

It’s high time I shared my thoughts with you about the new Kate DiCamillo book. Let me say this—when I heard a new book by Kate was coming out, my level of excitement spiked! You know that I adore her books, including THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE, THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT, and THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX, among others.

And now we have RAYMIE. RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE.

group excited

It’s true. Kate DiCamillo has created another endearing and delightful character that will remain in the hearts of readers for many days to come after they have turned the page of the newest book from Kate, published this past April.

I was lucky enough to borrow an ARC from Porter Square Books, and had to stop myself from devouring the book in one sitting. I wanted it to last so tried to take my time (I probably read it in three days!).

I can safely say, it’s wonderful! The story was everything I hoped it to be…and even more. Kate’s storytelling is masterful, and I would venture to say this is a strong contender for the Newbery…

The story is inspired by Kate’s own life, and though this is certainly a “made up” narrative as Kate says in the beginning of the book, it is “the absolutely true story of my heart.” In other words, this book gives us a glimpse even further into the author’s mind and heart, and I would say that the book carries a spiritual aspect for that very reason. In reading this book, I felt like I was connecting with Kate in a new way, and that can be a profound thing!

Quotes that Made Me Think

(Beverly) “I tell you what: Fear is a big waste of time. I’m not afraid of anything.”

“Just then, the sun managed to come around the corner of Isabelle’s window and throw itself into a small square of light on the floor. It was very bright. It shimmered. It looked like the window to another universe.”

“She could feel her soul. It was a tiny little spark somewhere deep inside of her. It was glowing.”

“For just a minute, she understood everything in the whole world.”

The story highlights the friendship among three girls—Raymie, Louisiana, and Beverly. Let me tell you: I love this trio! Beverly is snarky and interesting, Louisiana is surprising and persistent, and Raymie is seeking to fill up her soul. You can imagine that there are mishaps galore, but at the heart of it is a girl who wishes she could win a pageant so that her father will take note and return home. Along with this, though, and even more, is the desire of Raymie’s to fill up her soul. The language that Kate uses in the story to reflect what Raymie is thinking about and wondering reflects a spirituality that I found thought-provoking and authentic. I love the way Kate’s books get to the heart of the big questions in life, all through the window of these endearing child characters.

I don’t want to give away a lot from the story, because it’s just too much of a gem, so this review will be a bit short.

The fact is: you really need to buy a copy and read it. So…Tell me what you think when you do!

side eye dalmations

This one is worthy of all the STARS!

five-stars
What Katie Read

Portals of History: ONCE WAS A TIME (2016) by Leila Sales

Portals of History: ONCE WAS A TIME (2016) by Leila SalesOnce Was a Time by Leila Sales
Published by Chronicle Books on April 5th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade
Pages: 272
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads
three-half-stars

In the war-ravaged England of 1940, Charlotte Bromley is sure of only one thing: Kitty McLaughlin is her best friend in the whole world. But when Charlotte's scientist father makes an astonishing discovery that the Germans will covet for themselves, Charlotte is faced with an impossible choice between danger and safety. Should she remain with her friend or journey to another time and place? Her split-second decision has huge consequences, and when she finds herself alone in the world, unsure of Kitty's fate, she knows that somehow, some way, she must find her way back to her friend. Written in the spirit of classic time-travel tales, this book is an imaginative and heartfelt tribute to the unbreakable ties of friendship.

Time travel! England during WWII! Tea! A British protagonist! Two bosom friends…all these elements and more are what drew me to read Leila Sales’ new Middle Grade book, ONCE WAS A TIME.

The Book:

Charlotte and Kitty are the two friends we focus on in the opening pages of the narrative, and it’s Charlotte’s father who is actually researching time travel. Charlotte is aware of the importance of her father’s work and is curious about what the ability to time travel might mean, but she is not prepared for the dangerous situation into which she, Kitty, and her father are thrust. Lives are at stake, and Charlotte has to make a split decision about whether to stay with Kitty or to leave. In other words, the opportunity for time travel presents itself, and Charlotte has to decide whether to make the leap…or not.

What I Loved:

Awhile back, I read one of Leila’s Young Adult books, and when I heard that she wrote a time travel middle grade, I was intrigued, especially since it featured a British protagonist and opened in the great country of England during WWII. If you keep up with me on Goodreads or even this blog, you’ll know that I am especially fond of children’s and young adult literature set during the WWII period—historical fiction is one of my favorite genres—in the world of children’s, young adult, and adult books. So it’s no surprise that I snatched this one up on Netgalley as soon as it was available!

Readers with a passion for children’s literature in general might appreciate the many references to different children’s books and even the large role that a library plays in the story. Spoiler: Charlotte does travel through time, but it’s forwards, and not backwards.

Charlotte’s friendship with a librarian is a highlight of the story, and the notion of libraries closing due to lack of funding is brought up, bringing in a real life (and sad!) connection. If you were an avid reader as a young person (or if you are now), you will be delighted at the many books referenced in the story due to Charlotte’s great appetite for reading as many volumes in the library as possible.

The celebration of friendship and its capacity to be enduring and weather trials is strong in this story, and readers certainly have room to discuss the nature of authentic relationship and connection. I loved the connection between Charlotte and Kitty–especially in the last part of the book, but I wanted to read even more with them on center stage!

Finally, I love that cover! Well-done Chronicle books for a unique and intriguing design!

What I Didn’t Expect:

If you glanced at my Goodreads review, you would have seen that I made a comment about this story was not quite what I expected. While I assumed certain characters would take center stage in the narrative, that was not actually the case.

Also, I was surprised at the direction of travel that the transporting took place! I won’t give anything away here, but there was an interesting twist with who traveled where, and for how long they stayed in that time period. There might be some readers who are a little incredulous at the way the story is resolved, but I didn’t have too many issues with the ending, due to the readership and the scope and length of the book.

Are you planning to read ONCE WAS A TIME when it is released in April? What are your thoughts on time travel in Middle Grade titles? Other favorites to share?

three-half-stars
What Katie Read

ARC Review: THE KEY TO EXTRAORDINARY by Natalie Lloyd

ARC Review: THE KEY TO EXTRAORDINARY by Natalie LloydThe Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd
Published by Scholastic Press on February 23rd 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 240
Goodreads
five-stars

Everyone in Emma's family is special. Her ancestors include Revolutionary War spies, brilliant scientists, and famous musicians--every single one of which learned of their extraordinary destiny through a dream.
For Emma, her own dream can't come soon enough. Right before her mother died, Emma promised that she'd do whatever it took to fulfill her destiny, and she doesn't want to let her mother down.
But when Emma's dream finally arrives, it points her toward an impossible task--finding a legendary treasure hidden in her town's cemetery. If Emma fails, she'll let down generations of extraordinary ancestors . . . including her own mother. But how can she find something that's been missing for centuries and might be protected by a mysterious singing ghost?
With her signature blend of lyrical writing, quirky humor, and unforgettable characters, Natalie Lloyd's The Key to Extraordinary cements her status as one of the most original voices writing for children today.

First of all, this amazing book is out today and if you haven’t preordered a copy, you better run down to the bookstore ASAP and purchase one! I also have a Twitter giveaway going on for an ARC of the book as well!

“IT IS A KNOWN FACT THAT THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY MOMENTS IN A PERSON’S LIFE COME DISGUISED AS ORDINARY DAYS.”

What I Loved:

It was no surprise to me that I adored THE KEY TO EXTRAORDINARY just as much as I loved A SNICKER OF MAGIC.

This book is everything!

HOT CHOCOLATE, TREASURES, PEACH LAVENDER MUFFINS, FAMILY, FRIENDS, BLACKBIRD HOLLOW CEMETERY, LOVE, NURTURING THE HUMAN HEART: This book has it all! And Natalie Lloyd is the perfect author to pull it all together with her whimsical prose and her stunning style.

Just like A SNICKER OF MAGIC, this book made me laugh and it made me cry. The way Emma did everything she could to save her family’s bakery made me root for her throughout the entire story. The way she longed for her “Destiny Dream” to happen filled me with hope, and the way she reached out to Earl with friendship moved me with compassion as I thought about how there are many people I encounter like Earl all the time, that perhaps, I just pass right by. And the fact that Emma lost her mother years earlier made me imagine how unbelievably painful it must be for a child to lose a parent.

Do you remember in A SNICKER OF MAGIC how certain ice cream flavors made you feel a certain emotion? Well, that very cool and almost magical concept is kind of in KEY TO EXTRAORDINARY with the hot chocolate, known as BONEYARD BREW. AND I LOVE IT! What I would give to pop into the Boneyard Café, and sit down with Emma and Cody Belle and Earl…

“AS NEAR AS I CAN DESCRIBE IT, BONEYARD BREW IS LIKE HOT CHOCOLATE WITH A HEAVENLY TWIST.”

That’s an aspect of this book I loved—the depiction of the friendships (and family relationships) among the characters. Emma and Cody Belle are best friends, and while Emma is waiting to have her Destiny Dream, Cody Belle does nothing but encourage her. This duo is super, and I’d love to read more stories with them on stage. Then there’s Earl. He’s got some issues, and he doesn’t talk, but that doesn’t mean Emma and Cody Belle won’t be there for him and reach out to him in friendship. And his friendship ends up meaning a lot to Emma, especially as she grapples with getting to the bottom of her Destiny Dream. All the women in her family have had a “Destiny Dream”—and this dream has always meant something significant for each of those women. But what does Emma’s mean, and how will it help her to keep the family bakery in the family?

Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out!

Who Should Read This Book:

If you love delightful Middle Grade fiction with colorful and humorous characters facing real life problems and challenges, and perhaps even a dash of magic, then you will most likely love THE KEY TO EXTRAORDINARY. Like hot chocolate and freshly baked muffins? Treasure? New friendships?

GO AHEAD THEN!

“SOMETIMES EVEN DOING THE RIGHT THING WILL LEAVE YOU WITH SCARS. BUT BEAUTY COMES FROM ASHES, TOO. AND I KNOW THAT TO BE TRUE.”

The Final Illumination:

I was incredibly lucky to finally meet Natalie at an event hosted by New Leaf Literary at this past January’s ALA Midwinter Meeting. When my friend Helen and I stepped into this lovely room at a Boston hotel for a dessert reception, you can imagine my delight when I spied the one and only Natalie! I just had to wait for my turn to approach her and let her know she is one of my favorite Middle Grade Authors and I think her writing is just spindiddly splendid!

It was no surprise to me that Natalie turned out to be just as lovely and delightful in person as I suspected and I hope our paths cross again. I also hope to meet her dog Biscuit one day. It’s possible Biscuit might even write a book—I wouldn’t be surprised at that either!

Melanie Conklin, Author of Counting Thyme, Natalie Lloyd, Me, & Helen Swinyard (School Librarian from London!)

Yes, I remember the delicious crepe filled with white chocolate, milk chocolate, and strawberries I devoured that night as well as the divine glass of red wine I drank, but I shall never forget meeting the author of A SNICKER OF MAGIC as well and THE KEY TO EXTRAORDINARY in person…

I hope you have the pleasure of meeting Natalie one day as well! And I intend for my kids at the school library to meet her, even virtually!

Thank you New Leaf and also Scholastic for making it possible for Natalie’s books to become a part of our world! I’m forever grateful and would like to lift a virtual cup of BONEYARD BREW to you as well as offer you a PEACH LAVENDER MUFFIN from the BONEYARD CAFE.

YOU ARE LIVING AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE….

five-stars
What Katie Read

The Heart of a Fox: Pax by Sara Pennypacker (2016)

The Heart of a Fox: Pax by Sara Pennypacker (2016)Pax by Sara Pennypacker, Jon Klassen
Published by Balzer + Bray on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Animals, Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 304
Goodreads
five-stars

Pax was only a kit when his family was killed, and “his boy” Peter rescued him from abandonment and certain death. Now the war front approaches, and when Peter’s father enlists, Peter has to move in with his grandpa. Far worse than being forced to leave home is the fact that Pax can’t go. Peter listens to his stern father—as he usually does—and throws Pax’s favorite toy soldier into the woods. When the fox runs to retrieve it, Peter and his dad get back in the car and leave him there—alone. But before Peter makes it through even one night under his grandfather’s roof, regret and duty spur him to action; he packs for a trek to get his best friend back and sneaks into the night. This is the story of Peter, Pax, and their independent struggles to return to one another against all odds. Told from the alternating viewpoints of Peter and Pax.

Remember all those Middle Grade ARCs I acquired at ALA Midwinter? Well, PAX was one of them, and I am happy to say that it was one of my first 5 Star reads of 2016 in the world of Middle Grade!

Thank you, HarperCollins, for providing me with the opportunity to give my honest review of the book.

What I Loved:

This was a beautiful and heart-wrenching book, sensitive in its depiction of the animal world and the relationship between a young person and his beloved pet. There were many things I loved about this book I’d like to share with you:

-The way the book switches between the perspectives of Pax (the fox) and Peter (Pax’s owner). When Pax and Peter are separated, they (and the reader) want to be reunited, but will Peter be able to find Pax in the woods where he was force to leave him? This is the question…

“You going back for your home or for your pet?”

“They’re the same thing.”

-The sensitive way Pennpacker depicted Pax’s first encounter with the great outdoors.

-The relationship between Peter and Vola, and the multi-dimensional nature of Vola’s character. There was so much to her, and these layers were revealed as the story unfolded.

“I was so lost, I needed to find out all the true things about myself. The little things to the biggest of all: what did I believe in at my core?”

-The depiction of the other foxes Pax encountered and the development of their relationships. Trust me, this aspect of the book was marvelous! I absolutely adored Gray, Bristle, and Runt. I think you will too.

What Was Heartwrenching:

-Peter’s struggle to let Pax go in the beginning of the story–obviously his father was forcing him to do this, and that made it all the more painful to read about.

-Pax’s feelings of confusion that Peter left him in the woods.

-Peter’s journey to finding Pax with its delays and challenges.

-Pax’s interaction with the other foxes in the woods.

BUT NO SPOILERS WILL BE ILLUMINATED HERE…

You can definitely read Pax in one sitting, but it’s also a book you can read over the course of a few days, which I did. Either way, I think you will appreciate the pace and the journey of both Peter and Pax. You may not expect the conclusion, or you might…regardless, this is the kind of story that may stick in your head for quite awhile after you’ve read it.

Some Ponderings:

As I reflected on the story before I was even finished, I’ve considered how reading a book from the perspective of a fox has made me more aware of how the growth of our world (of humans) has affected the animal and natural world.

One area I’m really interested in is how children’s literature can nurture a passion in young readers to care for the natural and animal world. How can books speak to us in a meaningful way so that we take action for the good of our world, in terms of our natural spaces and animal life?

These are some of the questions and ponderings I had as I was reading Pax and I’m looking forward to hearing what other readers are thinking and how this book might be a springboard for discussion and action around these issues for both young and old readers. Have you read Pax? What did you think?

five-stars
What Katie Read

Mini Review: PASSENGER (2016) by Alexandra Bracken

Mini Review: PASSENGER (2016) by Alexandra BrackenPassenger (Passenger, #1) by Alexandra Bracken
Published by Disney-Hyperion on January 5th 2016
Pages: 496
Goodreads
five-stars

In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.
Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them— whether she wants to or not.
Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are play­ing, treacherous forces threaten to sep­arate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home . . . forever

Happy Monday! The New York Times published a book review of PASSENGER in their Sunday Review of Books, and it echoes what I have to say by the end of my Book Talk: READ IT! Simply put, PASSENGER is a thrilling start to what promises to be an intriguing, romantic, and exciting series.

This is my first book of Alexandra Bracken’s and I am anxious to read every other novel of hers. If the romance in those books is anything like what we find in PASSENGER, I suspect I will enjoy them.

What I Loved

I loved the way the narrative jumped from place to place and time to time. The transitions weren’t confusing at all, and the story just tripped along at a thrilling pace. I was gripped by PASSENGER as I flew across the country to California for Christmas. The time on the plane just flew by as I turned the pages, racing to find out if Etta would be able to rescue her mother and find the coveted astrolabe.

Another fantastic aspect of the story: The relationship between Etta and Nicholas.

Let me just say: WOW! This couple may become one of my favorites for 2016—the development of their connection is stunning. When Etta finds herself transported back in time and on the deck of a captured ship in 1776, she encounters a man who saves her after she falls overboard. It’s clear that Nicholas finds her intriguing. It takes some time, but the two eventually realize they may have some shared goals. I won’t give anything away, but Bracken’s depiction of the growing closeness between Etta and Nicholas is perfect.

“ ‘We watch each other’s backs,’ she said. ‘You call me Etta. And we don’t keep secrets.’”

When the two meet, there is certainly chemistry depicted between them, but it is only as they spend more time together, discover they have a similar enemy, and become honest that their friendship blossoms into something more.

“ ‘Your era is one small sliver of time compared to all eternity—there is only one small place you and I can be safe together…’”

The story featured the perfect balance of adventure, mystery, and romance. Sometimes I’ve noticed that it can be difficult to find that perfect balance in a Young Adult novel, but Bracken pulls it off with this one. That’s why I will definitely be recommending PASSENGER to YA and Adult readers. There are a lot of Time Travels books out there right now, but this one stands apart from the others in its brilliant plot, nuanced characters, and fascinating setting changes.

I won’t lie—the book ends on a cliffhanger and you might be biting your nails while reading those closing pages. But we can rest assured that the next installment will surely be worth the wait. Now to find an astrolabe to jump to the publication month of the second book! (Just steer clear of Ironwood!)

five-stars
What Katie Read

Goodbye, Lunar: WINTER (2015) by Marissa Meyer

Goodbye, Lunar: WINTER (2015) by Marissa MeyerWinter (The Lunar Chronicles, #4) by Marissa Meyer
Published by Feiwel and Friends on November 10th 2015
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 824
Goodreads
five-stars

Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.
Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.
Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

It’s time. Time for me to share with you my thoughts on one of my favorite books of 2015, and my most anticipated release for 2015.

The final installment in the Lunar Chronicles: WINTER!

What I Loved

Like many of you I had a bit of trepidation about reading Winter—only because I didn’t want the series to end. At the same time, I spent all those months leading up to its publication extremely excited about its publication. Winter was probably my most anticipated release of 2015, and in the School Library where I work, I threw a party to celebrate the release of Winter for the 5th and 6th grade readers who were excited about the book.

IMG_8435 IMG_8432

What’s cool is that more 5th and 6th graders are now reading the series since I started talking about the books!

Don’t you love when you spread your excitement about a series with other readers and they get excited too!?! That’s only one of the many wonderful benefits of working as a librarian!

But, back to Winter! What did I love about this book? First of all, I appreciated the many references to the Snow White source tale that made their way into Winter. Whether it’s a reference to the huntsman, the fear that Winter is more beautiful than Levana, or the threat of a poisoned apple, Marissa included just the perfect number of references to the original fairy tale to make Winter an even more compelling novel.

I also loved the way this last installment in the series featured the reunion of all the star players, and continually shifted between their different perspectives. We get close to Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress all over again throughout the story. 

When CRESS ended, I was really interested in how things would pan out between Cress and Thorne, so of course I was really excited every time Winter switched to a scene about Cress and Thorne’s relationship! What are Thorne’s feelings towards Cress? Would the two ever have that heart to heart we all wanted them to have? I read Winter waiting to see if my questions would be answered…

Speaking of relationships though, I can’t forget to mention Cinder and Prince Kai—loved, loved, loved all their interactions in this book. I especially appreciated the way Prince Kai supported and encouraged Cinder in her journey for justice for Lunar as well as Earth. She wanted to make things right, and Prince Kai showed himself as someone whose heart wanted the same.

And of course, I was on the edge of my seat, wondering what would happen to Scarlet and Wolf. Would Scarlet escape the clutches of the evil Levana? Speaking of Levana, was she redeemable? Well, I won’t give away anything here, but I will say I was completely satisfied with the way everything resolved in the story.

I just wish there was more!

Illuminations of Spirituality

I can’t share my thoughts on Winter, and not mention a few aspects of the story that I think highlight some potential areas of spirituality. I won’t go into great detail in this post about these aspects, but these are dimensions I think could bring up discussion about some of the deeper issues in the story.

-Cinder’s desire to see social justice established throughout the realm of Luna and also on Earth.

-The notion that deep down the members of the “Wolf Army” were still the authentic individuals they had been before they had been “turned.”

-The sacrifice of Ryu for Winter.

-The way Winter was in tune with the animal world, and her connection with the animals she interacted with.

-The deep friendship between Iko and Cinder—two beings that are completely different, and yet their connection was life changing.

Who Should Read This Book

Anyone who started the Lunar Chronicles with Cinder absolutely must finish the series by reading WINTER. This series is epic, and each novel builds on the previous one. Winter is fabulous in the way it weaves together the stories of Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Winter, and Levana, culminating in a tense, exciting, and rich conclusion.

The Final Illumination

This book was just about flawless in the way that Marissa wrapped up all the loose ends from the previous installments.

I am in love with these characters; they seem like dear friends that I now have to say goodbye to. And yet I don’t—as I can read the series over and over again. I sincerely wouldn’t mind if Marissa informed us she was just going to keep writing about this universe and these characters. I would read every book she wrote! Fairy tales are near and dear to my heart, but just as dear are reworked, expanded, and even subversive fairy tales. I appreciated the way that Marissa infused life into these fairy tales but also adapted them and colored them so that they fit within the science fiction setting she created. It really was wonderful!

five-stars
What Katie Read