Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas


Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas
(Roaring Brook ~ October 10, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Compelling middle grade that presents an honest view of westward expansion and the true nature of the Little House series.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this title.

Oh, and remember my review of the recent title Caroline: Little House Revisited including an interview I hosted with the author about Caroline Ingall’s racism??? Check that post out for a lot more on my feelings about the Little House series!

Book Description

A life on the prairie is not all it’s cracked up to be in this middle-grade novel where one girl’s mom takes her love of the Little House series just a bit too far.

Charlotte’s mom has just moved the family across the country to live in Walnut Grove, “childhood home of pioneer author Laura Ingalls Wilder.” Mom’s idea is that the spirit of Laura Ingalls will help her write a bestselling book. But Charlotte knows better: Walnut Grove is just another town where Mom can avoid responsibility. And this place is worse than everywhere else the family has lived—it’s freezing in the winter, it’s small with nothing to do, and the people talk about Laura Ingalls all the time.

Charlotte’s convinced her family will not be able to make a life on the prairie—until the spirit of Laura Ingalls starts getting to her, too.

Review

As a school librarian who has a thought a LOT about the appropriate treatment of the Little House series in today’s world, this book made me incredibly happy. At first I was worried that Tougas would give a romanticized view of Laura’s world, but she blew me away with her historically accurate and honest inclusion of the real impacts of westward expansion on American Indians and the environment. I felt that this information was included in a non-preachy and middle grade-friendly way.

Charlotte and her siblings are written in an age-appropriate way and really convey just how damaged they are by their constant moving and their mom’s relative instability. I appreciate that this was done in a way that doesn’t overshadow the book with darkness.

In all honesty, despite the love the world has for Laura’s books, I would rather have my students and own children read this book rather than the Little House series due to the historical accuracy presented here. However, I still have the Little House series in my library and teachers are still gushing over the series (which I did love as a child) which means kids will still be wanting to read the books. After they do, I will hand them this book in an attempt to set right a lot of the wrongs portrayed in the series, and give them background on actual events. For kids not interested in reading the series, I hope Tougas’ book will be a fun and sneakily-educational read.

This title is a required purchase for any library or classroom with the Little House series, as it presents a counterpoint to the romanticization of westward expansion and extremely racist views of those titles.

Highly recommended in other settings for grades 4-6.

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The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie

 

Photo Credit: Lindsay Currie (with permission)

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie
(Aladdin ~ October 10, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spooky and filled with an incredibly dark and creepy sense of foreboding, Currie has perfectly filled the middle grade desire for a healthy dose of fear.

Thanks to the author, Net Galley and Kid Lit Exchange for the digital review copy of this book ~ all opinions are my own.

Book Description

A girl unravels a centuries-old mystery after moving into a haunted house in this deliciously suspenseful mystery.

Tessa Woodward isn’t exactly thrilled to move to rainy, cold Chicago from her home in sunny Florida. But homesickness turns to icy fear when unexplainable things start happening in her new house. Things like flickering lights, mysterious drawings appearing out of nowhere, and a crackling noise she can feel in her bones.

When her little brother’s doll starts crying real tears, Tessa realizes that someone—or something—is trying to communicate with her. A secret that’s been shrouded in mystery for more than one hundred years.

With the help of three new friends, Tessa begins unraveling the mystery of what happened in the house on Shady Street—and more importantly, what it has to do with her!

Review

Let me start by saying that I do NOT read ghost stories or creepy stories or scary stories of ANY kind in the adult genre. However, as a middle grade kid, all I read was Christopher Pike and RL Stine, so I definitely have a base with which to compare PECULIAR. Currie completely blows that level of creepy out of the water with her debut novel, and today’s middle grade readers are much better off for skill. I can honestly say that I will never look at a ventriloquist dummy the same again after reading this book!

I absolutely love the way the setting almost takes on a life of its own in this novel, with the dark and stormy skies invading my brain space the entire time I was reading about Tess and her quest to solve the mystery of her new house. But aside from the major middle-grade-appropriate-spooky factor, I adored how perfectly Currie captured the heart of a 6th grade girl and her anxiety over moving to a new school and meeting new friends. Tess’ family is delightfully quirky and I fell in love with her parents and their free-range parenting and lack of technology. This little theme was thrown in with just the right amount of humor to keep it from being preachy, but will probably still stick with kids.

Highly recommended purchase for middle grade classrooms and libraries. I would say the sweet spot for this story will be grades 4-6, but it will definitely appeal to some 7th and 8th graders as well. May be a little scary for some 3rd graders.

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Outskirts of Hope by Jo Ivester

The Outskirts of Hope: A Memoir by Jo Ivester
(She Writes Press ~ April 7, 2015)

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

A heartbreaking memoir that is scarily close to today’s reality in much of our country today.

Thanks to Book Sparks for the review copy of this book.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

In 1967, when Jo Ivester was ten years old, her father transplanted his young family from a suburb of Boston to a small town in the heart of the Mississippi cotton fields, where he became the medical director of a clinic that served the poor population for miles around. But ultimately it was not Ivester s father but her mother a stay-at-home mother of three who became a high school English teacher when the family moved to the South who made the most enduring mark on the town. In The Outskirts of Hope, Ivester uses journals left by her mother, as well as writings of her own, to paint a vivid, moving, and inspiring portrait of her family s experiences living and working in an all-black town during the heights of the civil rights movement.”

Review

First of all, let me be clear that I read stories of racism written by whites VERY carefully to determine whether it is being written from a “white savior” viewpoint. And YES, this is written from that viewpoint, however, it’s a memoir. It’s based on real events, and real feelings and real people. And Ivester did her research and fact-checked her mother’s journals with the citizens of Mound Bayou, so how can anyone say she can’t tell this story? Aura Kruger, by all accounts, appears to be a remarkable woman and reading her story was absolutely fascinating.

Reading about Mound Bayou itself, as well as the Jim Crow environment and the KKK, was difficult, especially given the parallels to today’s society, and I think Ivester did an admirable job of being careful to not give this story a fluffy and feel-good air. It’s a raw story, especially given Jo’s experiences, but she doesn’t sugarcoat that. I also didn’t get the impression that the Kruger family “saved” anyone – Ivester makes sure to let readers know just how much like outsiders they felt during their time in Mound Bayou, and how complex racial tensions were. The author’s own traumatic experiences during her time in Mississippi are dealt with in an understated but rightfully shocking way, giving readers an understanding of her reluctance to face this story until much later in life. Of course, reading a narrative by a black citizen of Mound Bayou about that same time period would be an amazing parallel read, and I will definitely be looking into more memoirs such as this but written from the opposite perspective.

I highly recommend this story to readers of nonfiction who are trying to make sense of racial issues in the US today ~ OUTSKIRTS OF HOPE provides some background in the format of a story that most of us haven’t been aware of.

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual assault of a child

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Come With Me by Holly McGhee

come with me

Come with Me by Holly M. McGhee
(Putnam ~ September 5, 2017)

As a district-wide librarian in a school system, I very, very rarely write emails to our entire staff about one particular book. But the horrific act of violence in Las Vegas combined with so so so many other acts of sadness and senseless hate in past weeks/months led me to writing this email this morning ~ this book is a required purchase for all libraries, guidance counselors and classrooms. And it breaks my heart that we need it, but we do.

Oh, and yes – I got an amazing response from my staff and will be purchasing more copies.

Staff – 

As the news gets more and more troubling, I want to share with you a picture book that is new to our library this year (came out on 9/5/17). It is titled COME WITH ME and is really a story that can be shared with all ages if you are discussing (whether at home or school) events that kids have heard on the news. 
Here is the cover and synopsis ~ please let me know if you would like to check this out 🙂 It is part of the general picture book collection at the elementary. 

“Together, the words and pictures work seamlessly to deliver a powerful message: What we do matters.”—R. J. Palacio, The New York Times 

When the news reports are flooded with tales of hatred and fear, a girl asks her papa what she can do to make the world a better place. “Come with me,” he says. Hand-in-hand, they walk to the subway, tipping their hats to those they meet. The next day, the girl asks her mama what she can do—her mama says, “Come with me,” and together they set out for the grocery, because one person doesn’t represent an entire race or the people of a land. After dinner that night, the little girl asks if she can do something of her own—walk the dog . . . and her parents let her go. “Come with me,” the girl tells the boy across the hall. Walking together, one step at a time, the girl and the boy begin to see that as small and insignificant as their part may seem, it matters to the world.

In this lyrical and timely story, author Holly M. McGhee and illustrator Pascal Lemaître champion the power of kindness, bravery, and friendship in the face of uncertainty.

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

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Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
(First Second ~ October 3, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A charming and unique graphic novel that both highlights the importance of finding your roots, but also demonstrates the universal nature of being a teen.

Thanks to Net Galley for the digital review copy of this title – all opinions are my own.

Book Description

Priyanka Das has so many unanswered questions: Why did her mother abandon her home in India years ago? What was it like there? And most importantly, who is her father, and why did her mom leave him behind? But Pri’s mom avoids these questions―the topic of India is permanently closed.

For Pri, her mother’s homeland can only exist in her imagination. That is, until she find a mysterious pashmina tucked away in a forgotten suitcase. When she wraps herself in it, she is transported to a place more vivid and colorful than any guidebook or Bollywood film. But is this the real India? And what is that shadow lurking in the background? To learn the truth, Pri must travel farther than she’s ever dared and find the family she never knew.

In this heartwarming graphic novel debut, Nidhi Chanani weaves a tale about the hardship and self-discovery that is born from juggling two cultures and two worlds.

Review

I absolutely fell in love with Priyanka and her oh-so-familiar struggles with driving, friends and family. What makes this book so special, though, is the magical pashmina that helps Priya begin to ask questions about her Indian heritage, as well as her experiences reconciling her life in the US and her mother’s history in India. The depiction of her trip to India will be a great for expanding world view for many US readers, and will be so relatable for readers who have experienced this themselves. In addition, Pashmina is an incredibly fast read, which will make the story accessible to all middle school readers.

I highly recommend this title for all middle school classrooms and libraries. I pre-ordered a copy for my middle school library.

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Winter Solstice by Elin Hilderbrand

Winter Solstice by Elin Hilderbrand
Book #4 in the Winter series

(Little Brown ~ October 3, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I am so sad to see this series end, WINTER SOLSTICE wrapped up the story of the Quinn Family and the Winter Street Inn perfectly.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this book – all opinions are my own.

The Winter series has been giving me warm and fuzzies since the publication of WINTER STREET in 2014, and I have eagerly awaited each subsequent title – next up was WINTER STROLL, then WINTER STORMS, and now finally WINTER SOLSTICE. Please please PLEASE do not start the series with this book! To get the full cozy satisfaction, you must go back to the beginning for all the backstory on the Quinn family and their world on Nantucket. I guarantee that you will be happy you did! Hilderbrand’s Nantucket stories are a sure thing when it comes to sense of place – the island itself takes the top billing in the list of characters and makes readers ache to live there.

Recommended for fans of Hilderbrand’s other work, and contemporary women’s fiction. This is a lighter, feel-good series with enough complexity to satisfy even readers of typically heavier works.

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Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar

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Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar
(Tu Books ~ October 2, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A stunning tale of social justice set in 1940s India, AHIMSA gives readers a glimpse into what the true meaning of non-violent resistance is. A required purchase for school libraries.

Thanks to the publisher and Edelweiss for the digital review copy of this title

Book Description (from Goodreads)

In 1942, when Mahatma Gandhi asks Indians to give one family member to the freedom movement, ten-year-old Anjali is devastated to think of her father risking his life for the freedom struggle.

But it turns out he isn’t the one joining. Anjali’s mother is. And with this change comes many more adjustments designed to improve their country and use “ahimsa”—non-violent resistance—to stand up to the British government. First the family must trade in their fine foreign-made clothes for homespun cotton, so Anjali has to give up her prettiest belongings. Then her mother decides to reach out to the Dalit community, the “untouchables” of society. Anjali is forced to get over her past prejudices as her family becomes increasingly involved in the movement.

When Anjali’s mother is jailed, Anjali must step out of her comfort zone to take over her mother’s work, ensuring that her little part of the independence movement is completed.

Inspired by her great-grandmother’s experience working with Gandhi, New Visions Award winner Supriya Kelkar shines a light on the Indian freedom movement in this poignant debut.

Review

This story has now become my absolute number one title to recommend about social justice and equality in any era, country, religion or race. Kelkar has done such a superb job of with this story that although it is set in 1940s India and deals with the caste system, English colonialism, and religious strife between Muslim and Hindu groups, the messages she conveys can be applied to virtually any other country and time period and still be applicable.

This story is a timeless choice for classroom use, as the events and messages can be compared to so many other situations and will make for rich discussion and analysis. Included in the book is a very thorough afterword by the author about the genesis of the novel as well as a general overview of the history of India and a glossary.

Highly recommended for grades 4-8, but also a rich enough title to use for cultural discussion in high school. Required purchase for school libraries, and highly recommended as a whole class read aloud.

Also, please check out this excellent post by the author on the Nerdy Book Club blog from Sunday, October 1st.

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The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City by Jodi Kendall



The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City
by Jodi Kendall
(Harper ~ October 3, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Adorable and appropriate for a wide-ranging middle grade audience, this book will be sure to delight readers, especially animal lovers. An excellent companion to the book I labeled as so huggable last week! 

Thanks to the author for sharing a copy of this book with Kid Lit Exchange for review purposes.

Book Description

In this modern-day homage to Charlotte’s Web, a little pig in a big city leads to lots of trouble. Can eleven-year-old Josie Shilling save the day?

Josie Shilling’s family is too big, their cramped city house is too small, and she feels like no one’s ever on her side. Then, on Thanksgiving Day, her older brother, Tom, brings home a pink, squirmy bundle wrapped in an old football jersey—a piglet he rescued from a nearby farm. Her name is Hamlet.

The minute Josie holds Hamlet, she feels an instant connection. But there’s no room for Hamlet in the crowded Shilling household. And whoever heard of keeping a pig in the city? So it’s up to Josie to find her a forever home.

Review

This is another one that falls into the “huggable” category for me. The family, the PIG, Josie herself – they are all delightful and make this a hands-down feel-good middle grade read. The city setting is NOT NYC, which is a nice change for those of us and our students who live in middle America – I sometimes worry that my students will think the only city worth writing about is NYC! Josie’s family is realistic and lovable and their money troubles will be so relatable for readers (and the adults in their lives!). Also relatable will be Josie’s anxiety about gymnastics and her ever-increasing height. She goes through a very common “finding herself” journey as she strives to fit her new interests into her life and meld them with her old ones. Pet lovers will rejoice in Josie’s absolute devotion to Hamlet and keeping him safe.

As a school librarian, I recommend this for grades 3 -7 as a read aloud and grades 4/5 and up for independent reading. It’s 100% appropriate for even younger students, but the reading level might be too difficult. There is a Christmas timeline and theme, but Kendall includes mention of Hanukkah as well in reference to one of Josie’s friends, which is a welcome reminder that Christianity is not the only religion and Christmas is not universal.

Highly recommended for school libraries and classrooms, as as a home purchase for any kids who can’t get enough of Charlotte’s Web, pets, and/or gymnastics. Also a great one for kids in a large family.

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Greetings from Witness Protection by Jake Burt

 Greetings from Witness Protection! by Jake Burt
(Feiwel & Friends ~ October 3, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A completely unique and heartwarming middle school adventure story, GREETINGS FROM WITNESS PROTECTION will keep readers on the edge of their seats as they laugh and (almost) cry with Nicki…I mean, Charlotte.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this title – all opinions are my own.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

Nicki Demere is an orphan and a pickpocket. She also happens to be the U.S. Marshals’ best bet to keep a family alive. . . .

The marshals are looking for the perfect girl to join a mother, father, and son on the run from the nation’s most notorious criminals. After all, the bad guys are searching for a family with one kid, not two, and adding a streetwise girl who knows a little something about hiding things may be just what the marshals need.

Nicki swears she can keep the Trevor family safe, but to do so she’ll have to dodge hitmen, cyberbullies, and the specter of standardized testing, all while maintaining her marshal-mandated B-minus average. As she barely balances the responsibilities of her new identity, Nicki learns that the biggest threats to her family’s security might not lurk on the road from New York to North Carolina, but rather in her own past.

Review

Jake Burt has taken the witness protection storyline that we have seen pretty regularly in adult fiction and television/movies and added a perfect twist for the early teen market. Take a child in the foster care system, add in organized crime, a new family, a new school, new friends, a taser gun, a superstar gamer best friend and a case of kleptomania and you have a story that is truly impossible not to fall in love with. Nicki…I mean, Charlotte, has a hardened view of the world due to her upbringing but presents herself as the 13-year-old we all wish we could have been. Above the ridiculous nature of middle school drama and able to see a bigger picture, she struggles with much deeper demons, but still can give her heart to her new family.

I read this story in less than a day as I raced to find out whether the Trevor family would be able to evade the criminals trying to find them, and was left with a deep sense of satisfaction but also a desire for a sequel so we can continue following the family’s journey.

Highly recommended for middle school libraries and classrooms, especially grades 7-9. It is appropriate for lower grades, but perhaps not as relatable. I pre-ordered a copy for my middle school library and am eager to share it with students.

I am passing this copy on to the Kid Lit Exchange network for further reviews.

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The Perfect Score by Rob Buyea


The Perfect Score
by Rob Buyea
(Delacorte Press ~ October 3, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Middle grade students in grades 4-6 will love this book, but teachers will ADORE it.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy – all opinions are my own.

Buyea’s Mr. Terupt series is incredibly popular with my students in grades 4 – 6, and I guarantee that this title will be as well. The differing narrators provide a wide range of perspectives and enable virtually every kid to be able to relate to someone in the story due to the diversity of characters. I almost have to review this in 2 ways, though ~ once from the perspective of a middle grade reader and once as a teacher. As I already stated, middle grade readers will love the readability of the text and the nature of the story. My almost-12-year-old read this in one evening and LOVED it – she claims it’s even better than the Terupt series. That seals the kid review – no more from me on that.

As for teachers, this is one we cheer for. Standardized testing can be completely overwhelming in some districts (thankfully not mine!) and THE PERFECT SCORE exposes the inanity of the obsession on scores and performance on an arbitrary measure. The teachers are who we aspire to be in the classroom, and the students’ descriptions of Mrs. Woods make this school librarian almost weep with happiness. Teachers will rally behind this book, and I hope that it becomes an instant read aloud hit.

Highly recommended for purchase for classrooms and libraries grades 4-6. Students in grades 7 and 8 may definitely appreciate the storyline but may also shy away from reading characters definitively younger than they are. I pre-ordered 2 copies of this title – 1 for each of my libraries, middle and elementary.

I am passing my ARC of this title on to the Kid Lit Exchange network for further reviews.

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