Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers and Jen Vincent of Teach Mentor Texts decided to give Kathryn’s (at Book Date) “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” meme a kidlit focus, reviewing books in children’s literature (picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, or anything in the world of kidlit). If you enjoy this type of reading, join us every Monday!
Over the weekend, Rachel Held Evans passed very unexpectedly at the age of 37 after contracting the flu and having some additional complications. I feel such sadness — especially for her husband, Dan, and their two very young children. Every time I took the time to read a social media buzz about Evan’s ongoing work, or listened to her interactions, or was reminded of her scripture-based challenges to 21st century Christian churches, it perked my interest and encouraged me to think/study more deeply than I had before. I just felt like I needed to take a moment to recognize this loss and commit myself to reading two of her books (I already own) over the next year.
So… what am I reading? This week I’m sharing six books I’ve recently read, including a review of Just South of Home by Karen Strong, which will be released tomorrow. I hope you find something of interest to add to your list!
Just South of Home
May 7, 2019
Simon & Schuster
Just South of Home is a very suspenseful middle grade novel that explores the racist history of the South. Astronomy-loving Sarah Greene, her brother Ellis, and Ellis’ best friend Jasper all live in Werrenville, Georgia. When they suddenly receive news that their difficult cousin, Janie, will be coming down from Chicago to stay with them (while her mother auditions for a film in Hollywood), they aren’t excited in the least. Janie hates their town and wants nothing to do with her cousins. Meanwhile, their emotionally-distant grandmother, Mrs. Greene, is unhappy that twelve-year-old Sarah has been placed in charge of watching Ellis and Janie for the summer, so she is badgering their parents at every turn — even threatening to punish the kids with a switch. But when the kids are confronted by a gang of haints at the cemetery next to Creek Church (which was burned down by KKK about 70 years ago), they discover they need their grandmother now more than ever. Will they be able to work together to save their ancestors before they are beyond redemption?
This book is a great combination of history, mystery, creepiness, family, and friendship, where the focus continually returns to healing — healing of ancestors, healing of dissolved friendships, healing between neighbors, and healing of current family. I enjoyed seeing attitudes slowly change between various relationships. For example, Sarah learns important details about a friend who dismissed her in recent months, Janie begins to understand and open up to let her cousins in, and Mrs. Greene softens as she discovers her crucial responsibility to the town — everyone is learning how to put their past to rest and move forward.
The spookier portions of this book reminded me a little of Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward while the mystery portions reminded me of the vivid action involved in The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson. Also included are a stream of astronomy tidbits tossed into the story line for the many science-lovers out there! This one will be an exciting addition to any middle grade library. There are already at least THREE starred reviews (including Kirkus and Booklist) on this title!! TRIGGER WARNING for mentions of violent historical racism including church burning and lynchings. There’s also mention of punishment by switch.
My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for offering me an e-ARC so I could provide my honest review. This title hits shelves TOMORROW. I heartily recommend!
September 4, 2018
Sadie has been on my radar for a while, so when it became available at my library last week, I knew I had to grab it. This book was so incredibly powerful. It was an experience and I know these characters will stick with me for a very long time.
Sadie and Mattie are step-sisters. Since their mother was a severe drug addict when they were born, Sadie basically raised Mattie on her own while watching her mother’s come-and-go boyfriends over the years. When her little sister is murdered (almost immediately in the story), Sadie sets out on a journey of revenge. Her intelligence and personality are revealed while she interacts with a number of people on her path. Intermittent memories pop up, unveiling more information about the abuse she endured over the years (and exactly who is to blame).
I had heard the audiobook was really good, but that’s an understatement. The audio version is outstanding! Four different narrators bring this story to life, complete with engaging sound effects. It flips back and forth between Serial podcasts (including interviews with the various characters) and Sadie’s own past voice:
“Mattie once asked me, she’d just come home flush from a crush on Jonah Sweeton, and asked me ‘how do you know if you like someone’ and if I liked any boys like she did. And I didn’t know what to tell her. That I tried not to think about that kind of stuff because it was painful. Because I thought I could never have it. But when I did end up liking someone, it always made me ache right down to my core. I realized pretty early on that the who didn’t really matter so much. That anybody who listens to me, I end up loving them just a little.”
I did not anticipate that ending. There’s lots to unload here and I only wish I’d been part of a book group so that I could talk it out without revealing spoilers. But there’s no surprise over all the awards and attention this book has gained. TRIGGER WARNING for sexual abuse, pedophilia, and neglect.
Awards: Odyssey Award (2019), Audie Award for Young Adult (2019), Edgar Award for Best Young Adult (2019), Lincoln Award Nominee (2020), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Young Adult Fiction (2018)
The Journey of Little Charlie
Christopher Paul Curtis
January 30, 2018
I placed this historical fiction title on my #MustReadin2019 list and when I saw it available this week, I started it on a whim. I don’t know what I expected, but I could hardly make myself stop once I started.
Little Charlie Bobo isn’t so little. In fact, few people even realize that Charlie is 12-years-old until they get close and look him right in the face. Due to an unfortunate turn of events, Charlie is indebted to one of the scariest men in Possum Moan: Cap’n Buck. All Charlie has to do to repay his debt is go with Cap’n Buck to regain what was stolen from him. Sounds easy enough, right? Only, much to Charlie’s surprise, what was stolen were “darkies” — former slaves who have lived entirely free for 9 whole years in the north. Charlie is in a real predicament knowing he risks his own death — either dying by Cap’n Buck’s hand if he doesn’t do exactly as he is instructed or possibly dying by the hands of the northerners for capturing the former slaves and returning them to the south.
This was SO good! A MUST-READ!! Incredibly TENSE and BEAUTIFULLY-WRITTEN and IMPORTANT! If you struggle with the dialect, then get the audiobook!!!!!!!! The story teetered between middle grade and young adult maturity, showcasing difficult topics that will turn your stomach. I found myself crying unexpectedly as the writing is just that moving. Seriously, I just cannot say enough. The Journey of Little Charlie is a must own title for any middle grade or young adult library. TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of horrible abuse including whippings and cat hauling.
Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World
Ashley Herring Blake
March 6, 2018
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Twelve-year-old Ivy Aberdeen and her family have just lost their home to a tornado. During their time of displacement, Ivy’s very personal drawing journal has gone missing and whoever found it is leaving pages from the journal along with notes in her locker. The missing journal is devastating for Ivy because she expresses her feelings and romantic questions in her drawings while trying to figure out if she’s attracted to boys or girls. Being twelve is already confusing enough, but what if she IS attracted to girls and no one accepts her?
While her family is in a hotel, Ivy develops a new friendship with another local girl who has survived her own set of difficult experiences. Ivy also spends some time in the care of a woman named Robin who is lesbian (and currently planning a wedding). This gives Ivy an opportunity to ask some crucial questions: How did you know you were gay? How does a lesbian engagement/marriage work? Did you lose friends over your decision? Robin is a calming, experienced voice who lets Ivy know that she doesn’t have to have it all figured out right now. Along the way, Ivy learns that an old friend has deceived her and this has left her more confused. Also upsetting for Ivy is that her parents are distracted, exhausted, and overly busy after having her twin brothers in their 40s. She has a lot going on, but is ultimately your average 12-year-old kid just trying to figure out who she is. This is a necessary book that will be both a window and mirror for young adolescents, everywhere.
AWARDS: A Stonewall Children’s & Young Adult Honor Book
Fox & Chick: The Quiet Boat Ride and Other Stories
March 5, 2019
I love this feel-good series with Fox and Chick. Just as before, the book is divided into short individual stories: The Quiet Boat Ride, Chocolate Cake, and The Sunrise. Chick is highly imaginative on the boat ride, anxious about the chocolate cake, and completely overthinks preparation for the sunrise. Fox is the kind, patient, and mature friend who guides Chick through each episode helping to find solutions and comfort. Every Fox and Chick book makes me smile/giggle through the stories. Too sweet!
The soothing illustrations in this book were rendered in pen, ink, and watercolor. Here’s one page-spread example, below:
This is a humorous final trilogy episode on friendship, fears, and assumptions. Circle has created a rule that Triangle decides to break. Mean words are said, apologies are made, and Triangle learns a lesson about darkness. But what if there was goodness in the dark, but they just couldn’t see it? If I didn’t already know this was a trilogy, the ending would have me believing there’s another shape that will be introduced. Really cute for initiating discussion with younger children!
The artwork in this book was created digitally and with watercolor and graphite. Here’s one example, below:
To Be Read:
I’m officially heading into summer time with my family (even though we’re expecting snow again this week) and I am not sure what I will finish reading from week to week for the next couple months. I know I’d like to finish Caterpillar Summer this week, but after that I am not sure what’s next. I still have a pile of library books, a handful of ARCs, and a looooong #MustReadin2019 list to slowly work through as I’m able. I’d also like to join Sue’s Big Book Summer Challenge again this summer and hit a couple longer books I’ve been putting off for a while.
I hope your summer is off to a good start!
Reading Challenge Updates: