Teen Tales of Adventure and Romance

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan begins with the romance of an unlikely couple and turns into a harrowing survival tale.   Readers will find this suspenseful book hard to put down.  Sometimes Sloan’s plots stretch credibility. But I don’t care.  I love her books anyway!

Emily Bell is your all American girl.  Her parents are loving people who want to make a positive mark on their world. Emily plays second string soccer and excels in school. She is curious about people and notices things that others fail to see.

Sam Border has been raised in the worst possible environment.  His dad, Clarence, is a conman and a criminal. They move often to stay away from the Law. Sam takes care of his younger brother, Riddle. He hasn’t been to school since second grade. He and Riddle have learned to be invisible especially during the day. In the afternoons, they emerge from their low rent house and go dumpster diving.

Clarence Border has no redeeming qualities. He knows how to steal and pawn goods. He finds the boys useful;  people are sympathetic to a single dad with two young boys. He has never paid much attention to them but as the boys grow older, he becomes more resentful of his sons. Both guys refuse to steal or engage in any criminal activity making them useless in his eyes.

A series of random meetings bring Emily and Sam together. Emily is fascinated by Sam. He’s not like any guy she’s ever known. He totally misses pop culture references. He’s quiet and humble, a welcome change from the arrogant Bobby Ellis who has had his eyes on Emily for months.

The Bell family begin to realize that Emily is love so they insist that Sam come over for dinner.  Mr. Bell discovers that Sam is a musical prodigy.  It’s not long before Sam and Riddle become a fixture in the Bell household.

It’s scary for Sam who is beginning to realize how strange his life really is. Riddle, Sam’s brother, stands out even more. He’s five years younger and small for his age. He rarely talks and spends most of his free time creating intricate drawings in old phone books.

Mrs. Bell takes an interest in Riddle and manages to get him some asthma medicine. Riddle, who had felt like there was an elephant sitting on him,  begins feeling better and  talking more. He loves helping Mrs. Bell fix supper every night.

The book takes a sinister turn when Clarence Border finds Emily Bell’s cellphone in his son’s pocket. He knew they had been doing laundry a lot. They were also later and later getting back to the house at night. Clarence is very angry about his sons’ secret lives. He vows to seek revenge.

Meanwhile the Bells are clueless about Sam and Riddle.  They don’t know that they live in a moldy house scheduled for demolition on the worst side of town or that their meals often come from trash cans.  When Mr. Bell’s car is vandalized, Sam realizes that he and Riddle are in trouble.

When Sam and Riddle arrive home, Clarence is throwing everything into the trunk and angrily orders them inside.   They are headed again for an unknown destination.

The Border sons are now caught in a life or death spiral.  Clarence has decided that he will make his sons pay.  From this point,  it’s a wild ride for the brothers who must not only deal with Clarence’s wrath but also navigate a remote wilderness without supplies or assistance.

Just Call My Name, also based on a song by The Jackson Five, is the sequel. The characters are mostly the same.  The plot has a similar structure. This time it is Emily and her friend, Destiny who are kidnapped and must fight for their survival.

I highly recommend these books for middle school and above.   These titles are light reading at its best.










We are All Made of Molecules-YA


Stewart has a high I.Q. At 13, he has always been the youngest in his class and socially clueless. He really misses his mom who died of cancer a year and three months ago; but is happy that his Dad has found someone new and he has always wanted a sister.

Ashley is 14, extremely good looking by her own estimation, has a great sense of style, and is the Queen Bee of her crowd. For 12 ½ years her family was “perfect;” then a year ago, her father announced that he was gay and that his marriage to her mother was over. For financial reasons, he shares an apartment located just behind the house.

Ashley is totally disgusted with her dad for ruining her life. She is not pleased when she learns that her mother’s boyfriend will be moving in “with his egghead, freakazoid of a son.” She finds this totally unacceptable and starts planning for her unconsipation from her family on her sixteenth birthday. (She means emancipation.) Ashely is not known for her intelligence.

This hilarious and satisfying story is told in alternate chapters by Stewart and Ashely. It’s a quick fun read about an all too contemporary family situation. Both unwittingly reveal more about their character than they intend. Ashely is especially heinous. Her top priority is her position on the social ladder. No one can know that her Dad is gay. She lacks loyalty to her friends exposing secrets and putting them down when it seems advantageous to do so.

Stewart is well aware that he is a nerd.   Life is tough initially but he soon joins the Mathletes and becomes Borden High’s new basketball mascot. Since making friends with Phoebe and Violet, he no longer eats lunch under the stairway. He narrowly escapes certain torture by telling Jared, the school bully, that Ashley is his “sister.”

Ashely is a slower learner than Stewart in studies and life. She falls hard for the mysterious Jared with his good looks and charming personality… When Ashley learns that he was recently kicked out of his Catholic school, it only adds to his appeal. It is obvious to the reader that Jared is bad news leading Ashley and others into danger.

I recommend this book for high school students and above due to mature themes like gay parents and alcohol abuse. It is clear that Ashely is deeply hurt by her father’s choices. She wants to think she is not homophobic, but it is different when it comes to her own father and her own reputation.

The real hero of this story is Stewart. He knows that other people think he is weird yet he remains true to himself. He is the one who cares about others and ultimately rescues Ashley from herself. Ashley’s story is a cautionary tale. After escaping near disaster at the hands of Jared, she begins to show some maturity and starts questioning her selfish values and choice of friends.















Where Do Babies Come From?

The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall, Penguin Kids

Today’s post features  another book by Caldecott winner, Sophie Blackall.

When a young boy’s parents tell him that a new baby  is coming, he wants to know, “Where are they going to get this baby?”

Suddenly mom and dad are very busy.  He questions his babysitter, his teacher, his grandpa and the mailman. Their answers leave him more confused.  Does the baby come from a seed? an egg? the hospital? or does the stork bring them like Grandpa said.



Finally, Mom and Dad explain the bare facts in one page accompanied by the illustrations.  There is enough information satisfy the curiosity of most preschoolers and kindergartners.  Sex is never mentioned. This book should be fine for any child who is able to read the book independently.

There is a page of advice for parents. It’s not very detailed either.  Parents needing more information will need to look elsewhere.

Blackall is a wonderful illustrator.  Each time  I look through this book, I find something new.  She makes extensive use of patterns especially circles in bedspreads and clothing.  A playful black cat is present in the family scenes.  The boy’s father is holding a copy of Locomotive, the 2014 Caldecott Award book.

This  book is written for children between three and eight. Older children and adults will find it amusing.





Winnie the Pooh and the Caldecott Too


I am in love with the newest Caldecott Winner Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall.

This book is best shared with older children in a classroom or individual setting, where an adult can share background information about the first world war and A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh.

Finding Winnie is a story about a man leaving Canada to fight in a war in Europe and adopting a bear cub along the way. Winnie, short for Winnipeg, becomes the mascot and morale booster of the regiment.

It’s also the story of young Christopher Robin Milne visiting the London Zoo and making friends with a bear.  He then names his stuffed bear, Winnie.  His father, A. A. Milne, wrote poems and stories about Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh,  creating one of the most lovable duos of all time.

The illustrations in Finding Winnie are extraordinary!   The front cover shows a bear cub curled up on a soldier’s boot. The back cover shows the bottom portion of a pajama clad child holding a teddy bear.

Inside the book is a visual feast. Blackall captures the war era with uniforms, period clothing, trains and scenery. At the train station, there is an emotional scene where loved ones are saying goodbye to soldiers. Another moving illustration has the soldiers marching head down in the pouring rain.

(Courtsey Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)


Pictures of Winnie lighten the mood of the war story. The men are crazy about the cub. One light hearted picture shows Henry driving a jeep with Winnie enjoying the view from the front seat as the wind blows her hair back. Stonehenge and a primitive plane are in the background.

The last few pages are an album of World War One pictures. This section adds credibility to some of the less believable aspects, proving once again that truth can be stranger than fiction. For example, there is a picture of Winnie and Christopher Robin alone inside the enclosure at the London Zoo in 1925.

I was intrigued enough by this book to visit Sophie Blackall’s website.  http://www.sophieblackall.blogspot.com/ It was well worth the visit. She took great pains to make the pictures historically accurate, using archival pictures to create her own original illustrations.   She shows the sources of  most of her work.

Lyndsay Mattick, the author of this book, is the great granddaughter of Henry Coleburn, the soldier who adopted Winnie. In the book, she is sharing his story with her son, Cole. Personally, I didn’t think this was the strongest part of the story. Cole appears to be about three, much too young to comprehend the historic details, the length of the text and the highly detailed drawings.

//ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=librlou-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=0547417462&asins=0547417462&linkId=3JSJTBTHQSAX3BDA&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true//ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=librlou-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=0547417462&asins=0547417462&linkId=3JSJTBTHQSAX3BDA&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=trueAfter reading Finding Winnie,  I became nostalgic for some A.A. Milne poetry. I hadn’t thought about this gem in years…



Little Boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.
God bless Mummy. I know that’s right.
Wasn’t it fun in the bath to-night?
The cold’s so cold, and the hot’s so hot.
Oh! God bless Daddy – I quite forgot.If I open my fingers a little bit more,
I can see Nanny’s dressing-gown on the door.
It’s a beautiful blue, but it hasn’t a hood.
Oh! God bless Nanny and make her good.Mine has a hood, and I lie in bed,
And pull the hood right over my head,
And I shut my eyes, and I curl up small,
And nobody knows that I’m there at all.Oh! Thank you, God, for a lovely day.
And what was the other I had to say?
I said “Bless Daddy,” so what can it be?
Oh! Now I remember it. God bless Me.Little Boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers

A.A. Milne






Make Reading Aloud Fun!

Learning to read can be tedious.  When some children are learning to decode words, they need a lot of practice. Listening can be a chore for mom or dad, especially if the text isn’t very interesting.  This is a sample of an early reading book  by Margaret Hillert.

Here is a little cowboy.

And here is a big cowboy.

Here is something for the little cowboy.

It can go.   It can run.  (snore)

Mary Ann Hoberman’s You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You Series can help take the drudgery out of reading practice.  These books are designed for children and adults to read together.  There’s lots of rhymes and funny dialogue.  Here is a short section from Very Tall Tales tountitled (2) Read Together:

Reader  1:  Annie Oakley, what a shot!

She could hit most any spot!

In a contest with a gun,

Bet your  britches, Annie  won!

 Reader 2:  When she was a little kid,

She learned shooting, Annie did.

Shot to keep her family fed,

“Had to do it.” Annie said.

Here are some other books in the same series:

These books are fun to read.  They share a lot of the silly poetry that children love.  They are likely to forget that this is reading practice.   Rhyming and repetition make for great phonics practice for beginning readers.

These books can be a challenge to locate at the library.  They have unusual call numbers. Some can be found in poetry (J 811.54) and some in folk tales. (J 398)  It’s better to request them online.

See more about Mary Ann Hoberman’s Series







2016 Newbery Honors Books

So yesterday, the ALA Book awards were announced.  For me, this is a more exciting event than the Oscars, The Golden Globes or the Super Bowl.  I was pleased that two of my favorites were chosen as Newbery Honor untitled (3)Books. (more about the Newbery Award later)

       The War That Saved My Live. by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, is a powerful novel that takes a unique focus on the second world war.  Many children were being evacuated out of London and sent to live with families in safer areas of England.  It’s a good novel for 4th-7th grade.

Ada narrates her story. She has a club foot and knows that she is different from other children.  She can’t remember ever leaving her small London flat where she spends her days gazing out the window at the other children and families on their way to school and work.  She knows that her mother is ashamed of her.  Most people assume that Ada is slow minded.  Ada has been gradually teaching herself to walk but it is a painful process.

When Ada learns that her brother Jamie’s class is being sent away from London to escape the bombs, she sees this as a grand opportunity.  Ada and Jamie have lived in squalor for years.  They catch the train with only the clothes on their backs.  When they arrive at their location, all the children are lined up.  People from the community arrive to take the other children into their homes but nobody choses Ada  or Jamie.

The woman in charge takes them to the home of Susan Smith.   Ms. Smith has been a recluse for years. She lets everyone know that she doesn’t like children or anyone else for that matter.   She reluctantly agrees to take the children out of a sense of duty.

There are big changes for Ada and Jamie.  They have to get used to things like baths, changes of clothing, underwear and pajamas.  Susan takes them to the doctor where they are diagnosed with malnutrition and impetigo.   Ada is granted greater mobility when she is given a pair of crutches. Since they are eating three meals a day,  Jamie and Ada decide that Susan must be very rich.

Ada is a gutsy little girl. She and Jamie thrive under the care of Susan who immediately recognizes that Ada is intelligent even though she is not allowed to attend school.  Susan teaches her to read. “That foot is a long way from your brain,” Susan tells her.

Ada becomes a valuable volunteer and makes new friends. She falls in love with a pony   and learns to ride him using an old fashioned side saddle. She even helps capture a spy.

After years of neglect, Ada and Jamie have many struggles with their new life and there is always the threat of their mother who might come to claim them. This is a wonderful story of three people becoming a family even as the war wreaks havoc all around them.untitled (4)



Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson is a well-written graphic novel about the Roller Derby.  Roller Girl is a good book for upper elementary and middle school.

When Astrid goes to the Roller Derby, she is instantly hooked.  She is so excited about attending Roller Derby  Camp.  She is disappointed that her friend doesn’t want to join her.  The camp is harder than she ever imagined, but Astrid pushes on in spite of  falls and bruises.

Astrid also learns about friendship when she and her closest friend seem to be moving in different directions. Astrid learns to appreciate old and new friendships.


        Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan was also named a Newbery Honor Book.  I have read two excellent books by this author, Becoming Naomi Leone (upper elementary) and Esperanza Rising (middle and high school).  I am going to reserve this one today.


        The Newbery Award is given to the  book selected as the most outstanding contribution for  children’s literature.  This year’s  winner is Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena.   This story about a boy and his grandmother has lots of critical acclaim. Many predicted that it would win the Caldecott Award or The Coretta Scott King Award.  Traditionally  Newbery awards go to juvenile fiction and occasionally Young Adult Books.  So I imagine this choice was a surprise to almost everyone.  I will talk about it more when I get more time to look at the book.

The War That Saved My Life won the Odyssey Award for the best audio book production and Echo won the Odyssey Honor Awards. I highly recommend audio books.  They can be great on long car trips.  They are usually narrated by actors.