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.
Review: Ban This Book
Thank you to the Kid Lit Exchange for the review copy of this book! All opinions are my own!
How do you explain to someone else why a thing matters to you if it doesn’t matter to them? How can you put into words how a book slips inside of you and becomes a part of you so much that your life feels empty without it?
I have very strong feelings about banned books. As in, I don’t understand why anyone would want to ban books. Are there certain books that kids should wait to read until they’re a certain age? Of course! But should those books be banned from libraries just because they may contain some less than pleasant content? Um, NO. Ban This Book by Alan Gratz (author of Refugee) takes on the subject of banned books from a fourth-grader’s perspective, and shows just how much of a difference one student can make. This is a middle grade book, but I would recommend it to anyone who has a vested interest in keeping books on shelves and wants to be inspired by a fictional fourth grader.
Amy Anne Ollinger loves to read. Her favorite book is the classic From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and she checks it out from the library as often as she can. When she discovers that the book has been removed from her school library because a parent petitioned to have it banned (for teaching children to lie, steal, and run away from home . . .), Amy knows she can’t just sit back and let more books be taken away. With the help of some good friends, and one unexpected accomplice, she devises a plan to get all the books that are being banned into the hands of students, no matter what it might cost her in the end.
This book is absolutely fantastic! It really illustrates why it’s important for us and our kids to fight against books being banned. Amy is in fourth grade, and while she isn’t old enough to make adult decisions, she is old enough to decide what books to read. (The story does include a part where the parents make it clear that there are some books parents need to decide when to let their kids read, which is completely different from banning them. The Hunger Games is used as an example.) I think it is easy for adults to forget how much kids can accomplish on their own, and how smart they really are. This book very realistically shows what a group of kids can do when a challenge is thrown at them and they want to do the right thing, even if a few parents think it’s wrong.
Ban This Book is inspiring, important, and entertaining. I would honestly recommend it to anyone who’s interested in what banning books in schools actually looks like. If you’re an adult reading it, it won’t take you more than a couple of sittings to finish it, and I think it’s worth it. If you have kids from about 10 and up, and definitely highly recommend this too. It’ll also open up a lot of discussions about why specific books have been banned over the years, and why it’s important for them to stay on the shelves. Be right back, adding all of Alan Gratz’s books to my to be read list!!
I think this book would be entertaining for middle schoolers and advanced elementary school readers. The only reason I suggest age 10 and up is that there is a book about sex mentioned, and if you haven’t discussed that with your kiddo yet, you might want to hold off if you’re not ready for those questions! The book mentioned is It’s Perfectly Normal Nothing detailed is discussed, but some of what the book about is discussed. Of course, this might also be a gentle way to see if your kids do have any questions about this subject![Top]
Middle Grade Review: Erasable
Thank you so much to the author, Linda Yiannakis, for sending me a free copy of this book! All opinions are my own!
Then she sat down and began to make a list of everything that needed erasing from her life.
I enjoy reading middle grade books, and when the author of Erasable reached out to me about reading her book, I was more than a little intrigued by the premise. Have you ever wished you could just erase something from your life? Permanently? Spiders? Snakes? Scrunchies? What about a person? I’m certain most kids think about this daily, and anyone who’s ever felt ignored, treated unfairly, or just plain angry will love this book.
Ellie is 9-years-old, stuck in summer school, and constantly trying to avoid both the school bully and her annoying little brother. One afternoon, while escaping to the attic to get away from her brother’s noisiness, she comes across a carved chest, a mysterious notebook, and an old eraser that never seems to run out. When she discovers that anything she writes in the notebook and then erases with the special eraser disappears, for good, Ellie decides she’s going to make some permanent changes in her life. What she doesn’t know is how those changes will affect everything else around her.
I love the concept here, and I think kids will enjoy it too. Seeing Yiannakis’s version of what would happen if the things we thought we hated most disappeared for good is fun. It’s also a lesson-every time something disappears, Ellie’s life changes, but so do the lives of other people around her, and not in the best way. Be careful what you wish for takes on a whole new meaning here, and it’s a great story for seeing that play out.
While Ellie is 9 in the book, she seems older, (The story is still great for 9-year-olds, she just seems to be doing more complicated math than most third graders.) and I did wonder why the entire school was in summer school, including first graders. I believe the author wanted to play up the fact that Ellie had to take extra classes, rather than enjoy her summer, but it seemed more like the events were just taking place during the regular school year.
Erasable is a fun book that carries an important message-appreciate the people around you, even if they don’t deserve it all the time, because one day they might not be there, and it might not be at all what you expect. Despite the book needing some editing, the message in the story is wonderful, and it’s an extremely creative idea that kids will love. I’d recommend it for ages 8 or 9 and up. (And it might make a fun buddy read with your kids, as there are a lot of interesting topics to discuss in it.)[Top]
Review: Snow & Rose
Thank you so much to Random House Children’s Books and Allison Judd for the free copy of this book! All opinions are my own!
Snow and Rose didn’t know they were living in a fairy tale. People never do . . .
The last few years have been great for fractured fairy tales and fairy tale retellings. I am a huge fan of all of those, and actual fairy tales. Emily Winfield Martin’s Snow & Rose is a retelling of the Grimm fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red, a fairy tale I did read as a child but that most people haven’t heard of. Winfield Martin twists the old fairy tale into a wonderful new one, with beautiful illustrations to boot.
In the original tale, Snow White and Rose Red (not the Snow White of dwarf and evil queen fame) are sisters who live with their widowed mother in the woods. One winter night they find a bear at their door. They take care of it all winter, and when it disappears in the summer, the sisters run away to look for it. There is an encounter with an evil dwarf, and the bear ends up killing up. In doing so, the spell put on him is broken and he is revealed to a prince. Snow White marries the prince and Rose Red marries his brother.
This retelling is a bit different.
The sisters are still there, and they live with their mother deep in the woods, but they are not at all convinced that their father has died. When the bear they have been taking care of disappears, the two sisters go after him to try and keep the woodsman from killing him. With a healthy dose of magic, enchantment, and help from a friend, Snow White and Rose Red discover who the bear really is, and their lives are changed forever.
I loved this book, and it would make a beautiful gift for someone who loves fairy tales or magical stories. Aside from the story itself being wonderful, the book is absolutely beautiful. Winfield Martin’s illustrations are gorgeous and the cover would look amazing on any bookshelf. While this is a children’s book (probably age 9 or 10 and up), I enjoyed it very much. It’s a beautiful fairy tale to disappear into for a few hours. I love how the author re-imagined this story and made it more modern, with strength and family as a prize, not a princely husband.
Snow & Rose is a lovely, entertaining book with a strong message about family, loyalty, and what it means to never give up on someone.
Review: Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker
Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker
Thank you to the Kid Lit Exchange for the review copy of this book! All opinions are my own!
It’s tough being a kid sometimes, and it’s even harder to be a bit different from the crowd as a kid. Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker addresses this predicament in a sweet, creative way. If I had read this book as a kid, I know I would have loved it and found a kindred spirit in Beatrice.
Beatrice Zinker does her best thinking upside down. Her family is perfectly normal, but she doesn’t let that change who she is. When she and her best friend, Lenny, decide to dress as ninjas for the first day of school, she knows third grade is going to be the best year. But when third grade starts and Lenny shows up in a trendy outfit with a new friend, Beatrice has to figure out how to get her friend back and make both of their personalities work together.
In a world of in-crowds and cliques, it’s so refreshing to see an upside down thinker like Beatrice. She isn’t afraid to think outside the box, and while she’s willing to compromise, she’s not willing to change who she is for anyone. In order to fix her friendship with Lenny, she has to give a little too (even though she wishes Lenny would dress like a ninja and go back to the old ways of their friendship), and it shows that even in friendship compromise is important. Friendships grow and change, but differences don’t mean they have to end.
Another reason I loved Beatrice so much is that she reminds me of my beloved Ramona books. She’s precocious, and tends to get into trouble without really meaning to, but she has a heart of gold.
This is great for ages 7 and up, and perfect for readers looking for easy chapter books. The subject matter is entertaining enough for more advanced readers who want a quick book to read, and Beatrice has something to teach us all about remaining true to ourselves, and the importance of upside down thinking. I am SO glad there are more Beatrice books coming in the next couple of years!