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 to share what you’ve been reading!
Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire
(Arlo Finch #1)
February 6, 2018
Roaring Brook Press
This is book #1 of a middle-grade fiction fantasy series and I honestly didn’t realize who the author of this series was until I was starting book #2. If you’re not already aware — John August is an American screenwriter well-known for some of his popular children/family movies, such as: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Frankenweenie, and the recent Aladdin. So while this is his debut middle grade book, August isn’t new to writing stories centered around highly unusual (and supernatural) situations. Briefly: In Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire, 12-year-old Arlo Finch has moved to Pine Mountain, Colorado after his mom allegedly had a nervous breakdown. His mom grew up in Pine Mountain and she has inherited the old family home where her taxidermist brother, “Uncle Wade,” already lives. Meanwhile, Arlo’s father has fled the country because the United States government is accusing him of treason. How’s THAT for a story set-up? And things haven’t even gotten that weird, yet! Shortly after arriving in Pine Mountain, Arlo discovers the wonders of the Long Woods when he joins the Rangers, a mixed-gender scouting troop. He learns that ghosts are real, there are other supernatural beings, there are some who can cross into the Realm, and that there are certain abilities he can learn to command after much practice. Additionally, Arlo has one brown eye and one green eye, which may have something to do with the unique visions he begins seeing.
The story had some unusual variety and was fairly action-packed. Some spots in this story made me giggle out loud. (Hint for those who’ve read it: “What would a squirrel do?“). I also appreciated the development of Arlo’s friendships with a few characters, especially Henry Wu and Indra. I knew I would be going straight into book #2. And I’ll be adding this series to my “spooky books list” for October/Fall reads.
Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon
(Arlo Finch #2)
February 5, 2019
Roaring Brook Press
I won’t share too much as I don’t want to give any spoilers for those who haven’t yet read book #1. But obviously, Arlo survives book #1… 😉 The group of Rangers learn more about ancient forest spirits, mysterious messages, and there’s an interesting time loop that allows a peek into Uncle Wade’s past. Since the first book had a lot of world building and story set-up, this one was able to dive a little more deeply into the mystery and adventure. The third volume is planned for publication in February 2020 and I definitely plan to read it!
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
June 4, 2019
As I’ve read a number of refugee stories over the last couple years, I’m amazed at just how different each one is (and just how much more I learn about each unique situation that so many face as they attempt to escape terrifying lives in their countries of origin). In this story, 14-year-old Shif is a bright student who has just recently discovered the truth of his father’s disappearance many years ago. Now he faces a potentially cruel introduction to the armed services, being called a traitor to his country. His mother immediately arranges travel for his quick escape with his best friend, but their packed backs are discovered before they can even leave. This story is based on real life experiences and is certain to keep readers on the edge of their seat–possibly finishing in just one sitting. We need more of these stories in our schools and children’s/teen libraries, everywhere!
A Tale of Two Cities
This is another title that was listed on my #MustReadin2019 challenge and will also qualify for my #BigBookSummer challenge. And my what a wonderfully satisfying audiobook this was! I’ll admit I struggled to get into the story in the first few chapters — primarily because the modern books I’m more accustomed to reading have a different approach to keep readers invested in the early chapters, and secondly, because I had to get familiar with the language/vocabulary. But A Tale of Two Cities is that slow simmer that builds to the gratifying boil only when the story is ready. It’s a beautiful historical fiction tale of honor, worth, love, and ultimately sacrifice. It’s also gruesome and vindictive, to be sure. Throughout each situation, there’s a constant examination of society and the value of people, despite their finances, social status, or ancestors. Where revenge is sought, love ultimately wins. As I read this one with my ears, I would now like to read with my eyes.
Being Small (Isn’t So Bad After All)
Vanessa Alexandre, illustrator
April 16, 2019
My sincere thanks to Laura Mossa of Beagles and Books for sending her copy of this book to me so that I could enjoy it with my youngest daughter (who is constantly worried about being so small and sounding so small). Right after it arrived, I sat down and read it with my youngest two children (my 5 y/o and my 8 y/o), who both enjoyed it! Written in rhyming text, we meet a young girl who doesn’t want to to go school because she’s so small. She complains about all the ways her life is miserable due to her height (can’t go on “big kid” rides, is the last picked in sports, etc.) while her mother counters her complaints with all the wonderful things about being small (great at limbo, get to be in the front of all group photos, can squeeze into tight spaces, etc.). In the end, she’s happy to go to school now that she has a new perspective and can enjoy the benefits of her height. This is a great story of overcoming the-grass-is-greener syndrome and the message will ring true for so many young readers in the younger grades!
AWARDS: Mom’s Choice Award Winner
I love the brightly-colored illustrations showcasing sweet faces of childhood wonderings. And the font is cute and inviting for young eyes — something I often look for in children’s books. I’ll provide one page-spread as an example of the text and artwork:
To Be Read:
We’re supposed to hear back from one of our contacts about a potential new home we’ve been looking at for a while, so I’m guessing for the time being we’re stuck with plenty more house work and packing. But this week I’m planning to finish an ARC of The Friendship Lie by Rebecca Donnelly, which will be published August 1st. I’m also going to re-read my ARC of The House at the End of the Road before I share it on my blog, next week. It will be published on September 17th!