Category: Middle Grade

Review: Wishtree


Wishtree

Texas Girl Reads received a copy of this book from the Kid Lit Exchange Network in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

“Making others feel safe is a fine way to spend your days.”

As a child, I was one of those people who believed that their stuffed animals had real feelings. I just knew they hurt when I hurt, they were happy when I was happy, and they were definitely chatting with each other when I wasn’t around. In Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree, a similar concept is visited, but instead it is nature that thinks, feels, and talks, namely a giant red oak named, what else, Red. I loved this book, for more than the novelty of a talking tree. Wishtree addresses a larger issue at hand, one that unfortunately seems to be more common these days, and that is of the equality of human beings. Wishtree is a great book on its own, but it is a wonderful way to gently introduce the one of the hard topics we NEED to be talking about with our kids.

Red is a giant red oak tree who has lived in the neighborhood for a very long time. He is hundreds of rings old, and has watched families come and go, some welcome and some not. Red and Red’s best friend, a crow named Bongo, help other animals take shelter in Red’s branches and watch over the neighborhood. Animals who would normally eat each other in nature live in peace under the old oak. Red is also the neighborhood “wishtree”-each year, children and adults write a wish on a piece of paper or material and tie it to Red’s branches, hoping their wishes will come true. When Samar and her family move in, she wishes to make a new friend. Her family is Muslim, and not everyone is happy to see them. Red breaks all the rules to help her wish come true, but will it come at the cost of her long and distinguished life?

I love the concept of this old tree having seen so much over the years, and showing how different animals in nature get along, even though people can’t always figure that out. Kids will love reading about Red and Bongo and all the silly squabbles the other animal groups have, but they will learn a much more important lesson after reading Wishtree. While I do wish that Applegate had written Samar as a more rounded character, Samar does experience a real situation of people not wanting her family around because they’re different. This is incredibly important to talk to kids about, instead of pretending those problems don’t exist. It is a simply-written story that handles some heavy subject matter in a gentle way.

Wishtree is an excellent book to introduce the tough subjects of racial inequality and tolerance to younger kids, and will open up different questions at every age level. This is categorized as middle grade, but I really think it’s more for elementary grades. I would suggest ages 6-10. This would be a wonderful book to read aloud, to allow questions to come as the story goes on, as well as to add anything you as a parent or educator want to include. Wishtree is a beautiful book and couldn’t come at a more important time in our country, when we all need to come together under our own wishing trees and work together with our children to inspire real change.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Wishtree will be published on September 26, 2017.

Review: The Emperor’s Ostrich

The Emperor’s Ostrich

Texas Girl Reads received a copy of this book from the Kid Lit Exchange Network in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Know this, my girl: the things you’re doing now, at this marvelous age in your life, aren’t going to waste. All your reliable, responsible choices are building a brain, a heart, and a pair of hands ready to tackle anything life sends your way.

I love fantasy books, and I’m always on the lookout for good middle grade books in that category. (Why aren’t there more?) When I heard about Julie Berry’s The Emperor’s Ostrich, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, as it looked like a funny, adventurous fantasy for the younger crowd. While I do think middle graders will enjoy this, I was hoping for a bit more.

So much space around him, and so much luxury, . . . and yet he’s all alone.

In the empire of Camellion, a 21-year-old emperor reigns supreme. He is spoiled and bratty, and even has an official person who brings him warm milk every night. One night, he is kidnapped from his bed, flung onto an ostrich, and disappears. In the same empire, a young dairymaid named Begonia sets out to find her missing cow, Alfalfa. Along the way, Begonia crosses paths with the emperor (although she does not know he is the emperor), and a light dose of magic helps both along their paths, one finding a cow, the other finding himself.

There are definitely a lot of positive things about The Emperor’s Ostrich. Begonia is a wonderfully strong and independent female character, something I am always a fan of, and of which there still aren’t enough. She questions why major responsibilities always seem to fall to her, but she doesn’t complain. Begonia gets the job done, and the story really stresses that it’s ok, and a desired character trait, to be hardworking and responsible, and that not all girls have to want hair bows and dolls. She is certainly a character to look up to. The book also has some truly funny moments in it, mostly through the character Key, a boy who becomes friends with Begonia. Berry also does a nice job of showing how money doesn’t equal happiness. The emperor has everything except friends, and that turns out to be his weakness.

The problems I had with the story were that the plot was a bit convoluted at times and I wanted a bit more, well, magic, in this magical tale. There were a few spots in the story that jumped around a bit, and I would have liked smoother transitions. And much of the magic was only hinted at. One of the major magical elements in the book, two spirits guiding the story, weren’t a big enough part of the story at the beginning, in my opinion. I would have liked a little more about them.

That being said, I do think younger middle graders who enjoy a more gentle story, with a hint of magic thrown in, will really enjoy this. Fans of The Girl Who Drank the Moon will surely love this one too, and it’s a bit more accessible for younger readers.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

EXTRA NOTE!

Julie Berry has a blog, and in THIS post, she talks about how the idea for this novel came about. It happened as she was teaching a writing class for kids, so you might find it interesting. I did!

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Review: The List


The List

“Language is what makes man ungovernable.”

Thanks to Netgalley and Sourcebooks Jabberwocky for providing me with a digital galley of this book – all opinions are my own.

As a lover of both YA and dystopian novels, I was very excited to read The List. I’m always interested to see how different authors portray their view of the world after a major disaster. I think we as a society have an obsession with end of the world scenarios, and I am particularly interested in the aftermath of those events, rather than what leads up to them. In The List, Patricia Forde explores a society trying to rebuild in the aftermath of a colossal natural disaster. This book is a great addition to the growing narrative of dystopian YA/middle grade novels.

Letta lives in Ark, a city that has been re-built after a natural disaster wiped out much of society many years ago. Some of the older citizens remember the way the world used to be, but many of them have been born and raised in Ark. To ensure the survival of humans, Ark citizens are only allowed to speak List, a language consisting of 500 approved words. Except for the Wordsmith, Benjamin, who is entrusted with the task of documenting and saving words beyond the list, and Letta, who is his apprentice. When Benjamin disappears and Letta becomes the Wordsmith, she starts to discover things about Ark and its leader that make her wonder if this society is actually the utopia it is meant to be. She must decide which is more dangerous: language or the lack of it.

I loved this book! The description immediately brought to mind The Giver, and I’ve since seen it compared to that book several times. The premise is the same: a homogenous culture with a select person who knows the truth. As in any dystopian novel, the government wields extreme power to control and establish a new world. The List uses words and language as that power. It very much reminded me of parenting. We teach our children certain words and try to keep them from others. It is a form of ultimate control. Along the way, outside influences introduce those words whether we like it or not. There are always rebels out there. I will say that the device used at the end of the novel to exert total control is a little convenient, but it didn’t detract from the overall story.

“The here and now is only the smallest part of who we are. Each of us is all that we have been, all our stories, all that we could be.”

Words are so basic that it is easy for us to take them for granted. We teach our kids to describe feelings, emotions, surroundings. We give names to the most subtle of emotions. What would it be like if we were forbidden from using those words? Would it dull the senses, or sharpen frustration? Forde shows us what might happen if language became a contaminant, rather than something to be celebrated. This novel is so relevant today, and I think it’s a great way to introduce some important ideas to kids, in an incredibly entertaining way!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Extra Note!

This is classified as a middle grade novel, but I think it fits pretty neatly into the YA category. It’s certainly meant for at least ages 10 and up, and while it’s not as complex as some other dystopian YA novels such as The Hunger Games, I do think kids all the way through high school would really enjoy this. The storyline of purposefully eliminating language is also a great way to introduce some thoughtful discussions with older kids.

 

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Review: Echo


Echo

“Music does not have a race or a disposition! Every instrument has a voice that contributes. Music is a universal language. A universal religion of sorts. Certainly it’s my religion. Music surpasses all distinctions between people.”

 

Every once in awhile a book comes along and surprises me by just how much it makes me feel. All books make me feel something, good or bad, but sometimes one is so special that it presses on my heart. Do you know what I mean? That almost physical pressure that is a combination of excitement and emotion and wanting to shout your love for the book from the rooftops. (I didn’t have a heart attack, I promise.) Echo is the kind of book that I want to force everyone I know to read, but that I’m afraid to recommend in case someone doesn’t love it. In which case I guess I’d be down a friend. (Just kidding. Sort of.) This book absolutely moved me and I cannot recommend it enough.

Echo braids together the stories of three children living during the World War II era. Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California. Through different circumstances, each child comes into possession of an enchanted harmonica. Stay with me here. That is the lone element of magical realism in the story, and Pam Munoz Ryan weaves it in perfectly. This is a WWII novel, but different from others that I’ve read. Instead of focusing on the war itself, the story is centered around people who have personal struggles in addition to the war (rescuing a father, finding a family, waiting for a brother to return), and these particular kids are trying to find a way to keep music in their lives at a time when music and instruments were seen as unimportant. In Germany, only Hitler-approved composers were allowed. In America, all available money was thrown at the war effort, and music was a more of a hobby for wealthy families or the lucky ones who had instruments pre-war. Music plays a huge role in Echo, and the characters’ lives are entwined using music as well.

Echo is a beautiful, heartbreaking, and uplifting book all at once. I was in tears by the end, and was not ready to let any of the characters go. While this is stellar middle grade fiction, I don’t see how adults wouldn’t love it too, even if you don’t usually read in this category. I do think it would be better for around age 10 and up. A cursory knowledge of WWII is necessary to understand parts of the book. I listened to this on audio, and I wasn’t comfortable listening to it around my 6- and 8-year-olds because there were some difficult topics (namely Hitler) that would have been upsetting to them, and they aren’t really able to comprehend an explanation for that yet.

Echo is truly a masterpiece, and Pam Munoz Ryan is a brilliant writer. This book is one of my favorites this year, and I’ll be thinking about it for a long time to come. Please let me know if you’ve read it so we can talk about it!
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

*I listened to this as an audiobook, and let me just say that the narration is the best I’ve ever heard. I mean, the BEST. Audiobooks are a recent addition to my reading life, and I loved the audio for Echo so much that I bought it (Somehow it’s only $3.95 on Audible!) and I do intend to listen to it again. There are several narrators, and the production is amazing. The audio version incorporates beautiful musical elements and performances that add another layer that only reading the book cannot. I truly think, in this case, listening to the book and then reading it would add so much to the experience of the story. Just click on the Audiobook version in Amazon and download it directly to your Audible app, or get it through your library on Overdrive!
Echo on Audible

 

 

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