Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour, illustrated by Daniel Egneus

Published by Dial Books

Image result for lubna and pebble amazon

Image result for lubna and pebble

Summary:  When Lubna arrives by boat with her father on a strange beach, she finds a pebble.  The next morning, she and her father have arrived at a city of tents. They stay there for awhile, and Lubna’s best friend becomes Pebble.  She draws a face on it, and tells it about her home, her brothers, and the war. When Amir arrives, he and Lubna become friends. One day, Lubna’s father tells her he’s found them a new home.  It’s time for Lubna to leave, and after much consideration, she gives Pebble to Amir. The final pages show Lubna leaving on a boat, whispering goodbye to Pebble while Amir whispers hello. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  While this describes the experience of refugees, any child will be able to connect to the story’s ideas of friendship, having an imaginary friend, and missing home.  The illustrations are beautiful and capture the desolate surroundings from a child’s imaginative viewpoint.

Cons:  I can’t decide if an author’s note about refugees would have been a useful addition, or if it’s better to let this story be more universal.

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Because by Mo Willems, illustrated by Amber Ren

Published by Hyperion Books for Children

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Image result for because mo willems

Summary:  “Because a man named Ludwig wrote beautiful music–a man named Franz was inspired to create his own.”  And that music inspired people to form an orchestra. And individuals worked hard to get into the orchestra.  When a man with a ticket to hear the orchestra got sick, his wife invited their niece to go to the concert instead.  That performance got her so excited about music that she grew up to be a conductor, and eventually, a composer. She named her first symphony “The Cold”, and the last page shows the music wrapping around another child…”And that night, someone else was changed.  That is how it happens.” 40 pages; ages 4-10.

Pros:  A cute story with an interesting message about cause and effect and how we all make a difference in the lives of others.  I loved debut illustrator Amber Ren’s pictures, and hope she will be illustrating more picture books in the near future.

Cons:  Willems’ legion of fans may be disappointed in this story, which is quite different from his usual wildly goofy fare.

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Right As Rain by Lindsey Stoddard

Published by HarperCollins

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Summary:  Rain and her parents have just moved from Vermont to New York City, partly because of her mother’s new job and partly to escape the memories of her older brother’s death almost a year before.  Rain has heard that three out of four couples divorce following the death of a child, and it seems like her parents may be on their way to becoming part of this statistic. She escapes from her difficult home life through running.  Her middle school track team gives her some new friends, as does Ms. Dacie’s house, a place where kids drop in after school to bake cookies and get help with their homework. As the story unfolds, readers get glimpses of the night Guthrie died and Rain’s role in helping him sneak out that night.  She learns to express her feelings through poetry, and a poetry slam in her English class allows her to open up to her new friends about what is going on with her. Rain and her parents survive the one-year anniversary of Guthrie’s death, and, although there are still plenty of uncertainties in her life, she knows she has a team of people supporting her as she moves forward.  304 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Lindsey Stoddard’s second novel is every bit as moving as last year’s Just Like Jackie, and Rain is another strong character who has to learn that she can’t always go it alone.  Keep the Kleenexes close at hand when you get to the poetry slam chapter.

Cons:  I think reading this right after finishing Eventown was too much; I had to force myself to keep going through the first several chapters as the family is dealing with their grief over Guthrie’s death.

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Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel by Rey Terciero, illustrated by Bre Indigo

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Image result for meg jo beth amy graphic novel

Summary:  If the names Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are familiar to you, you will recognize this as a modern-day retelling of the just-turned-150 book Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  In this version, the Marches are a blended family, with a black father of Meg, a white mother of Jo, and biracial daughters Beth and Amy who share both parents.  In the opening scenes, the four girls are trying to survive a Christmas without presents while their military father is overseas. Mom (you may know her as Marmee) helps them get some perspective by serving meals in a soup kitchen; on the way home, they meet their wealthy neighbor and his grandson Laurie. There are some plot modifications from the original (a few spoiler alerts): Jo comes out as gay; Beth gets leukemia and almost dies (whew!); Meg breaks up with Brooks and decides to pursue a career as a lawyer.  The theme of family love is still strong, though, and sustains all four girls as they make their way through a tumultuous year.  256 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  As a big fan of the original novel, I enjoyed seeing how Terciero stayed true to the essence of the story while realistically updating just about everything.  Even those who haven’t read Alcott’s work will enjoy the story and the touching relationship among all the family members.

Cons:  Meg and Jo’s letters to their father at the beginning of the story, designed to get the reader up to speed on the family’s history, came across as awkward and sounding like their father had lost his memory or something.

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Ten Rules of the Birthday Wish by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

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Image result for ten rules of the birthday wish lichtenheld

Summary:  Turns out, there are ten rules for making a wish on your birthday.  First of all, it has to be your birthday.  Or at least close to your birthday.  (Unless you’re an animal with a lifespan of a month or less, and then you should celebrate immediately).  There should be a party, food, lights, and a song. (Exceptions are made on all these rules for certain kinds of animals). You should take a deep breath, make a wish, and blow out the candles.  But keep your wish a secret…you can dream about it that night after the party is over and you’re in your bed. 48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  From the team that brought you Stick and Stone comes this fun and funny book that celebrates the joy of being the birthday boy or girl.  This would be good to pair with last year’s When’s My Birthday?

Cons:  I missed rule #11: eat a large slice of birthday cake.

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Eventown by Corey Ann Haydu

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

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Summary:  Elodee’s family is moving from Juniper to Eventown, and not a moment too soon.  Elodee is tired of the searching, pitying looks people give her and her twin sister Naomi.  Naomi tends to get quieter and try to fit in, while Elodee gets angry and sometimes lashes out.  In Eventown, though, everything is simple and easy. The sun is always shining, everything Elodee cooks turns out perfectly, and, best of all, Mom and Dad seem happy and relaxed again.  As part of their orientation, the girls have a session at the Welcoming Center, where they have to tell six stories about their happiest and saddest memories. After the memories have been shared, they go away forever.  Elodee’s storytelling gets interrupted, though, and the memories she hangs onto seem to change the whole town. The townspeople aren’t happy with those changes, and soon Elodee’s family is the target of whispers and stares once again.  Elodee and her new friend Veena become determined to find out what is going on in Eventown, and what it is doing to them and their families. 336 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A beautifully written, moving story about the nature of grief, memory, and storytelling.  Everyone in Eventown is burying their sadnesses and living a simple, happy life, but at what cost?  Did a Kleenex or two come into play for me as I read the final chapters of this book? Maybe….

Cons:  The pace is a bit slow, and at times Eventown felt a little too much like one big extended metaphor, which may not grab the average middle grade reader.

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The Good Egg by Jory John and Pete Oswald

Published by HarperCollins

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Image result for good egg pete oswald

Summary:  The Good Egg likes to help others and follow the rules.  The other eggs in his carton…not so much. As they stay up late, eat sugary cereal, and throw tantrums, the Good Egg tries to keep the peace and get everyone to behave.  Finally, the stress is too much, and he begins to crack. His doctor tells him the cracks are from all the pressure he is putting on himself. The Good Egg decides to take a little me time, and leaves the carton for an extended vacation.  Some R & R fixes those cracks, and he returns to the carton with new tools for taking care of himself and not worrying so much. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A little bibliotherapy from the team who brought you The Bad Seed.  Kids will enjoy the antics of the “bad” eggs, and hopefully learn a few lessons about the dangers of perfectionism.

Cons:  It seemed a bit preachier and not quite as much fun as The Bad Seed.  Guess it’s more fun to root for the bad guy than the good guy.

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