Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee

Published by Aladdin

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Summary:  Seventh grader Mila is disturbed when a group of boys starts giving her unwanted attention in the form of hugs and touches.  She eventually learn they’re playing a game where they score points for different kinds of touching or responses from her. Her friends react differently: a couple are supportive, but one thinks she’s overreacting and is jealous that her crush is paying attention to Mila.  Another friend is upset when Mila won’t take his advice to tell the vice principal, but Mila is embarrassed. Her single mom is dealing with work-related stress, so Mila is hesitant to bother her. Everything comes to a head at the middle school band concert, and Mila’s disruption causes the truth to finally come out and get things resolved.  Mila moves on from the incident feeling stronger and more self-confident, with a greater knowledge of who her true friends really are. 304 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Barbara Dee addresses the issue of sexual harassment in a way that is believable and understandable for middle school students.  Readers will recognize many of the kids, adults, and situations in Mila’s life; teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators would find this a helpful read as well.

Cons:  The ending felt a little too easy to me: the boys all expressed remorse and none of their parents rushed to their sons’ defense.

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Give and Take by Elly Swartz

Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

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Summary:  Maggie is dealing with a lot of sadness and anxiety after losing her grandmother to dementia not long ago.  When her parents provide temporary foster care to an infant, Maggie gets very attached and is distressed to let the baby go to her adoptive family.  To deal with her feelings, she starts saving momentos of many events in her life–threads from the baby’s blanket, sticks from a hike, empty milk cartons from a fun school lunch with her friend.  When her mom discovers the overflowing boxes (and ants) under Maggie’s bed, she sees that Maggie needs help. With the assistance of a therapist, Maggie learns the root causes of her behavior and some new ways to deal with them.  320 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Maggie’s issues are addressed with sensitively, and in a way that might help other kids who are dealing with similar ones.  There are interesting subplots, including Maggie’s success on her trap shooting team, a lost-and-found tale about her pet turtle, and a new boy on the team who is dealing with some difficult family issues of his own.

Cons:  Maggie’s relationships with her brothers seemed a little too rosy to be true.

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Amazon Affiliate

I was talking to a blog user recently who wasn’t aware of the Amazon Affiliate program I participate in, so I thought I’d post a reminder for others who enjoy this blog.

At the bottom of each of my reviews I post a link: “If you’d like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.”  If you click on that and buy the book–or anything else on Amazon–I get a (very small) percentage of that sale.

This blog is a labor of love, and I would never try to make money from it any other way.  You’ll never see ads here.  But I do spend many hours working on it, so it’s nice to get that little kickback from Amazon if you’re going there anyway.  Seems like it’s a win-win.  Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about this.

Just In Case You Want to Fly by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Published by Neal Porter Books

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Image result for just in case you want to fly

Summary:  “Just in case you want to fly/here’s some wind/and here’s the sky/here’s a feather/here’s up high/and here’s a wing from a butterfly.”  This book invites readers who may be on the cusp of new experiences to spread their wings and fly. It may not always be easy (“and just in case you want to cry/here is a tissue and here’s a sigh”), but there is also plenty to celebrate.  And plenty of support, as the book concludes, “and here is a map with an x on the spot to find your way home to me.” 40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  Julie Fogliano and Christian Robinson prove once again (as they did with When’s My Birthday? that they make an excellent team, with Fogliano’s pitch-perfect rhymes and Robinson’s colorful and endearing collage illustrations.  This would make an excellent gift for a graduate or anyone else embarking on a new endeavor.

Cons:  I’m not a huge fan of these inspirational picture books…give me a good story any day.

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The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper, illustrated by Carson Ellis

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  Susan Cooper’s poem, originally created in 1974 for Christmas Revels, celebrates the winter solstice.  “So the shortest day came,/and the year died,/And everywhere down the centuries/of the snow-white world/Came people singing, dancing,/To drive the dark away.”  People are shown celebrating, bundled up against the cold, with torches and fire to light the long, dark night. As the sun finally rises, they celebrate and give thanks.  Illustrations include a Christmas tree, wreath, holly, and a menorah. An author’s note gives the history of her poem, with the full text printed on the last page. 32 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  A beautiful book to share in December; it’s a celebration without connections to any particular religious holiday (unless you count the solstice).  The poem is lovely, and the gorgeous illustrations perfectly capture the darkness, light, and spirit of celebration.

Cons:  This may be a little over the heads of younger kids, who will undoubtedly still choose The Polar Express as their preferred holiday fare.

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Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of the “The Children’s Ship” by Deborah Heiligman

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

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Summary:  On September, 1940, the ship SS City of Benares left England, bound for Canada.  On board were 90 children traveling as part of the Children’s Overseas Reception Board (CORB) program, which evacuated British children to safer countries.  A few days into their journey, the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine, and sank in about half an hour. Of the 90 children, only 17 survived. Most were picked up the next day, but due to a miscalculation, Lifeboat 12 was missed by the rescuers and was adrift for eight days before finally being spotted by a plane (a story told in verse by Susan Hood in 2018’s Lifeboat 12).  The survivors returned to England, and CORB suspended operations after this tragedy.  Includes a list of all those who died, as well as a lengthy bibliography and index. 304 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  I started reading this with trepidation, as I’m not crazy about reading about disasters at sea (no more Titanic books, please).  I kept flipping between the narrative and the list of those who died, and I could tell the outlook for most was not good.  Once the torpedoes hit, though, I couldn’t put the book down. The storytelling is masterful, following the narratives of so many different children and the adults who traveled with them.  I saw this on a Newbery prediction list.  I’d be surprised if it got a Newbery, but I could definitely see a Sibert award.

Cons:  As mentioned above, reading about the drowning deaths of 73 children isn’t really my favorite pastime.

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It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad

Published by HarperCollins

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Summary:  From an early age, Gyo Fujikawa loved drawing and painting.  She pursued her passion in college, an unusual move for a girl in those days, particularly an Asian-American one.  Traveling to her parents’ homeland of Japan, she learned traditional art techniques that she incorporated into her own work.  Gyo had experienced prejudice as a child, and this became worse in her adult years with the advent of World War II. Living on the East Coast, she was able to stay in her home, but the rest of her family in California, was not so fortunate.  They were sent to prison camps, losing their home and most of their possessions. After the war, Fujikawa continued to paint, and also to observe the continuing struggles for civil rights. Noticing the homogenous portrayals in children’s books, she created a book about babies with all different skin colors.  After many rejections, her book was finally published in 1963, where it became a big seller, and allowing Gyo to illustrate many more books over the next two decades. Includes a timeline of Gyo’s life, a note from the author and illustrator, and a list of sources. 48 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  There’s a lot to learn and discuss in Gyo Fujikawa’s life.  The illustrations, inspired by Gyo’s own work, are beautiful, with lots of adorable babies.  Readers may be interested ins seeking out the original picture books, many of which are still in print.

Cons:  This may not be a book kids are likely to pick up on their own, and the length and subject matter may make it a better choice for older elementary students.

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