If I can only recommend one life-changing, necessary book this year, let it be Refugee by Alan Gratz. This is a middle-grade novel that I would recommend for sixth grade (or a well-read fifth grader who’s ready for a strong book like this) and up, including adults. It’s a powerful story that I buddy-read with my 10-year-old, and it’s on both of our top ten favorite books lists of this year.
Refugee tells the story of 3 children: Josef, a Jewish boy living in 1930s Germany; Isbael, a girl living in Cuba in 1994; and Mahmoud, a Syrian boy in 2015. All three are attempting to escape impossible situations with their families. It would be unbelievable if it hadn’t all actually happened in some form to real children throughout history, and still today. All three kids go through nerve-wracking ordeals to find some semblance of freedom, and their stories tie together in both heartbreaking and heartwarming ways in the end.
I don’t want to tell you a lot about the plot because I think it’s better going in just knowing that these kids are in obviously difficult situations. Gratz’s research is impeccable, and the humanity he brings to these characters is almost unparalleled. Refugee is, without a doubt, going in my top 10 books of 2019. It is heartbreaking, but a necessary book that I think should be required reading for sixth graders. It is historical fiction for middle graders (and adults, to be honest) that is the best I’ve ever read outside of Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. (My review of Echo is HERE, and if you haven’t read that, why not??)
Refugee is truly an amazing, page-turner of a book that will teach you and your kids about what it feels like to be on the run as a child and not understand why people won’t or can’t help. It’s impossible not to gain insight into the refugee crisis after reading this, and to become a bit more compassionate to our fellow humans.
If your child is younger (around 10) I would recommend buddy-reading this. There are some difficult scenes that would be good to discuss. There aren’t any graphically violent scenes, but people do die in sudden and sad ways, and my son had one nightmare and did cry at the end of the book. He still loved it and wanted to buy it so he would always have a copy, so we did!
Don’t skip the long author’s note at the end! Gratz gives some great details about the true stories that inspired this book.
Oh, how I wish I’d listened to everyone and read this book a lot sooner than I did. I loved Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (review HERE) and One True Loves (review HERE), but Daisy Jones & the Six is different. It’s really something special, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Daisy Jones is written in a style I don’t usually read and don’t usually enjoy: interview. The book is almost 100% pure interviews with a fictional band, The Six, and their eventual lead singer, Daisy Jones. They are being interviewed years after their success and break-up, and the reader is treated to the story of how they came together and how they fell apart.
Reid is a great writer, but this book just might be her best. I had to stop myself from Googling the band, because I kept thinking it was real and I wanted to know even more. The interview style works so well here, and even though there are multiple characters involved, after a few pages it’s not a problem remembering who they are. I felt as though I was right alongside them on their journey, through the ups and downs, and my heart was happy for them and broke for them along the way.
Daisy Jones and the Six might be “popular fiction,” but I’m going to go ahead and say that I think this is a masterpiece of a book. It is exactly what fiction should be: fun, entertaining, heartbreaking, moving, and made me really wish I’d written it.
I hope wherever Daisy is, she’s happy. And if you haven’t read this book yet, please do it soon!
I haven’t listened to it yet, but I did buy the audio version of Daisy Jones on Audible. I’ve heard it’s absolutely amazing and adds even more to the story. Can you wrong with Jennifer Beals??[Top]
In case y’all haven’t noticed, I very happily partner with Blue Slip Media quite often for their children’s books. That’s because they consistently select the most amazing books to promote. Spiky, by Ilaria Guarducci and translated by Laura Watkinson, is another fantastic addition. Guarducci is an Italian author and illustrator, and this is the most charming, wonderful book that teaches a sweet lesson about friendship and inclusion.
Description from publisher:
Spiky lives in the dark of the forest, where he spends his days being very, very bad, bullying the other forest creatures and sharpening the spikes on his body. Those spikes are handy for keeping everybody at a distance, and that’s just how Spiky likes it! But then one day the unthinkable happens: Spiky starts losing his spikes! Soon he is left looking as soft and as pink as a soft, pink marshmallow. What will Spiky do, now that he can no longer scare away the other forest creatures? Will he have to (gulp!) make friends? It’s a good thing Bernardo the bunny comes along to show him how it’s done.
First published in Italy, this charming story of friendship will have children giggling until the very end.
I love, love, love Spiky, and I know a few kids who I’m planning to buy it for. It’s sweet and funny, and teaches a lesson without being preachy. It does have a few scenes that might upset younger children (Spiky pulls the wings off a butterfly), but I think 5 and up will be fine with it, and it just emphasizes just how much Spiky changes, and that you don’t have to be mean just because people expect you to be! I hope Guarducci uses her talents to write more books like this![Top]
Happy Cat World Domination Day!
No, really, it’s a thing, and it’s why I’m posting my review of Max Attacks today!
Kathi Appelt is a prolific children’s author, and her new picture book, Max Attacks, published on June 11, 2019, fits right in with her library of meaningful books. This is such a cute book with simple, colorful illustrations by Penelope Dullaghan. Max is a naughty cat who likes to attack anything in his path. Socks, goldfish, shoelaces, nothing is safe from his pounce. He even keeps score, to make sure everyone knows how good of an attacker he is.
This is a fantastic book for younger kids. The rhyming is fun and silly, and Max is the perfect naughty but cute cat. I think any kid, especially kids who love animals, will love Max Attacks![Top]
I finished Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism at the end of January, and was waiting to let it digest a bit before posting about it. I really wanted some impressive words to come to mind to describe White Fragility for you, but I can’t. Robin DiAngelo has all the impressive words in her book, and I IMPLORE you to read this if you haven’t already. She will give you all the true, hard words about racism today and our responsibility for it as part of the system. I don’t think you can read this book and not learn something. My entire view has been changed, and I’m so glad for it.
I apologize for the incredibly short review, but I honestly don’t think there’s a good or right way to review this book, other than me telling you to please read it. If you’re worried about it making you feel bad or that you’re going to get upset . . . well, I have to tell you that those things will most likely happen. I did. But this book has made me a more critical thinker and forced me to reevaluate the way I see the world, think about the world, say things, and behave. And I am glad for it.