Book Review: When You Reach Me

Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 10.28.13 AMI’ve had Rebecca Stead‘s When You Reach Me on my TBR list for a long time. It won the Newbery Medal in 2010. It comes highly recommended by several friends. It involves time travel, which I love…

I don’t know why I waited. It’s a quick read and a very cool book.

It’s set in New York City in the late 1970s. Miranda, a sixth grader, lives with her mother. One day she finds a mysterious note stuck in her library book. It asks her to write a letter and to mention the location of her hidden house key: It says: “I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own… The trip is a difficult one. I will not be myself when I reach you.”

If you’ve just reread A Wrinkle in Time before seeing the new movie adaptation, you should add this book to your TBR pile too.

 

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Book Review: Wings of Fire

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Hopefully the birthday boy will take time out from reading Wings of Fire to eat some cake!

In honor of Larrabee’s 9th birthday, I decided to read and review the first book in the Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland: The Dragonet Prophesy.

Larrabee is a big fan of this epic dragon saga. He devoured the first eight books in the past few months, and he’s eagerly waiting for the next two. He talks all the time about the characteristics of the different types of dragons: MudWings, SeaWings, SandWings, SkyWings, IceWings, RainWings, and NightWings.

I figured I’d borrow The Dragonet Prophesy so I could see what all the fuss was about… Well, now I’m hooked. I’m still a little behind Larrabee, having only read the first five books, but I can see what he likes about them.

Clay, Tsunami, Glory, Starflight, and Sunny are the Dragonets of Destiny. These young dragons from five different tribes have been raised in a secret cave by the Talons of Peace in the hope that they will grow up to fulfill the prophesy and end the war raging in Pyrrhia. The trouble is that no one can tell them how they are meant to do it.

Three things I like about these books:

  • The dragon characters. Each book is told from the point of view of a different dragon, each of whom has a distinct personality. Larrabee often laughed out loud at the humorous banter among the dragonets.
  • The prophesy. I’ve written before about how much I like an intriguing prophesy that comes true in unexpected ways.
  • The action. These stories are action-packed as the dragonets try stay one step ahead of all the dragons who want to capture and control them. I’ll warn you, though, that these stories are not for the faint of heart. The dragons fight to the death. But kids who’ve enjoyed the Warriors or Shark Wars series will like these books too.

 

Book Review: Tumble & Blue

Screen Shot 2018-01-17 at 3.19.43 PMTumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley is a terrific story about friendship and fate.

According to legend, when a red sickle moon rises over the Okefenokee Swamp, a golden alligator will grant a great fate to one brave person. Two hundred years ago, though, two people reached the center of the swamp at the same time and split the fate. Ever since, half of their descendants have had great fates, and the other half have had terrible fates. And now it’s time for the next red moon.

Twelve-year-old Blue Montgomery has one of the terrible fates. He always loses–at everything from tiddlywinks to foot races. And now his father (a race car driver who always wins) has dumped him at his Granny Eve’s house in Murky Branch, Georgia with all of the other cursed Montgomerys hoping for a new fate.

Eleven-year-old Tumble Wilson wants to be a hero like Maximal Star–or like her older brother Jason. But her attempts at heroing don’t always work out so well, and she often ends up being the damsel in distress. After a lifetime of traveling the country in an RV, her parents have brought her to Murky Branch, Georgia for a fresh start.

Some of the things I like best about this book:

  • The friendship between Tumble and Blue. They’re not exactly “friends at first sight” and they don’t always agree, but the two of them are everything a genuine friend should be.
  • The extended Montgomery family. From the manipulative Ma Myrtle to the wise Granny Eve to all of the cousins with their crazy gifts and curses, there’s never a dull day in the Montgomery house.
  • The Georgia setting. One of my favorite details is the local restaurant that serves “Universally Adored Swamp Cakes” a.k.a. green pancakes.
  • What it has to say about talent vs. the rewards of hard work. Everyone thought Granny Eve had a talent for gardening until it became clear that she was cursed to lose her husbands. But, as she says, “Back when I thought it was all a result of magic… well, back then I didn’t enjoy gardening half as much as I do now.”

I read this book aloud to Larrabee. It’s a long, satisfying read, and we both recommend it.

Book Review: One Shadow on the Wall

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It’s rare to find a work of contemporary, realistic middle grade fiction that gives my kids a glimpse into a whole different world. Leah Henderson‘s One Shadow on the Wall is such a book.

Set in Senegal, it’s the story of Mor, an eleven-year-old orphan. He’s determined to keep the promise he made to his dying father: to take care of his two younger sisters. It won’t be easy, though. His aunt wants to take the siblings to the city and split them up. His father’s former employer doesn’t have a job for him. And a gang of older boys threatens him at every turn. Luckily, he has his sisters, his neighbors in the village, and the spirits of his parents on his side.

This book is one that rewards your patience. I read it aloud to Larrabee, and it took us several chapters to get hooked by the story. But overall, we found it to be both engaging and eventful.

Henderson paints a vivid picture of Mor’s village–the colors, the foods, the sounds. And she immerses us in Mor’s daily life, which is so different from Larrabee’s. Mor lives with his sisters and a goat in a one-room hut. He works all summer to feed his family and to save money for his sister’s school tuition. He hardly ever has time to play soccer with his friends–and when he does, they play with a ball made out of plastic bags. His nine-year sister owns just one book and has to fetch water from the well and cook the family’s meals.

While we were reading, Larrabee and I thought often of our friend Rachael who served in the Peace Corps in Senegal. We plan to lend her our copy and ask her how to pronounce all the Wolof words. And then we’ll say, “Jërëjëf (thank you)!”