Category Archives: realistic fiction

Caleb and Kit

If you are a fan of middle-grade fiction, you have most likely heard of the book Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. Wonder deals with a child who has a cleft palate and his experiences when he goes to a real school for the first time rather than being home-schooled. He can’t hide his condition but he also won’t allow it to define him. There is a reason this book has received a great amount of praise. For similar reasons, the new book Caleb and Kit by Beth Vrabel (Running Press Books, Sept. 2017) is going to be a hit for the middle school crowd.

caleb and kitCaleb and Kit tells the story of 12 year old Caleb, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, a diagnosis meaning lungs that fill with mucus and a shortened lifespan. He feels completely overprotected by his mother and his “perfect” big brother. Even his closest friend, Derek, makes sure that he is included when the other kids play sports, but also makes sure that he doesn’t over-do it. Caleb is aware of his condition and knows how to take care of himself, but no one ever seems to let him. When summer break comes and he has to spend each day in a camp with mostly 8 and 9 year olds, he just can’t take it. To add insult to injury, his father has started a new life with a woman who seems oblivious to his condition.

Caleb’s life changes when he gets lost in the woods behind his house one day and meets Kit. Kit is like no one he has ever met. She is home schooled and seems to be free as a bird. Kit believes that she can talk to animals and fairies and doesn’t worry about what anyone thinks. Her mantra is “I do what I want,” a concept that especially appeals to Caleb who feels so trapped by those looking out for him. Kit’s fantasy world and the freedom Caleb feels when he is with her lure him to make some very unwise decisions, including some that risk his health. Early on the reader knows that there is more to Kit than meets the eye. She isn’t just a girl with a lot of freedom, she is a girl who isn’t being cared for and who is struggling simply to survive. It just takes Caleb a lot longer to figure this out.

I couldn’t put this book down. It was wonderfully written, honest, and had true to life middle grade voices. Caleb had moments of exceptionally bad behavior, but a) he’s 12 and b) he is fighting for his own voice and his life. Caleb had never really been given the ability to make his own decisions and figure out who he was. He also had quite a chip on his shoulder and found it difficult to comprehend what others might be thinking or feeling. Common enough for any tween, let alone one with CF. Caleb and Kit is a must read and one that I couldn’t stop thinking about.

***Note – I received a digital review copy from NetGalley in return for my honest review.

Blog Tour & Giveaway – One Good Thing About America

Welcome to Day #6 of the One Good Thing About America Blog Tour!

To celebrate the release of One Good Thing About America by Ruth Freeman (3/14/17), blogs across the web are featuring exclusive content from Ruth and 10 chances to win a copy of One Good Thing About America, as well as a chance to win a Skype visit with Ruth in the Grand Prize Giveaway!

One Good Thing About America for Ruth
by Ruth Freeman

I happen to believe it’s really important to discover what makes us happy. I’ve learned to pay attention and look for those things that make me smile on the inside. More on them in a minute, but first: Anaïs.

In my book, One Good Thing About America, Anaïs is upset and homesick when her grandmother Oma (back home in Congo) asks her to find one good thing about her new home in America every day. “This is a very hard job,” writes Anaïs, “or maybe impossible!”

But, slowly, Anaïs does start to discover things in America that make her happy. Like her new black backpack, her beautiful cursive writing and her new friend Jenna. As she moves through her first year in America she finds more and more good things (snow! ice cream! the library!) until, at the end, her teachers and friends tell her SHE is One Good Thing About America!

I will admit that many of Anaïs’ One-Good-Things are things I love, too. I’m a sucker for ice cream, potato chips and jelly doughnuts because I don’t eat them very often.  Like her, I also love stars, libraries and the first snowflakes of the winter. I even love snowstorms because there is nothing better than a snow day!

Of course, there are my wonderful students who make me smile and laugh every single day.  And I can’t forget my two sons. And how about dogs? I grew up with a basset hound we named Miranda. What a face!

A few more things I thought of: the first time in the fall when I put flannel sheets on my bed is, mmm, pure delight. The sound of waves and the smell of the ocean. And I love trees, I don’t know why exactly, but especially in the winter when their branches are black and tangled against the sky. And there’s something beautiful about the sound of a car going by on a rainy night.

I’m sure I could think of more things, but this is a start. You may love some of these things, too, or you may absolutely hate them and think I’m crazy. But I hope you’ll think of your One-Good-Things. I’ve really enjoyed making this list. It makes me happy just to sit here and read it over. And there are plenty more wonderful things out there….like BOOKS!

*****

Stop by Chat with Vera tomorrow for the next stop on the tour!

Blog Tour Schedule:

April 10th – Geo Librarian
April 11thLate Bloomer’s Book Blog
April 12th Mrs. Mommy BookNerd
April 13thKristi’s Book Nook
April 14thLife Naturally

April 17th – Books My Kids Read
April 18th – Chat with Vera
April 19th Word Spelunking
April 20th – Middle Grade Mafioso
April 21st – The Hiding Spot

Follow Ruth: Website | FacebookPublisher: Holiday House

ONE GOOD THING ABOUT AMERICA is a sweet, often funny middle-grade novel that explores differences and common ground across cultures.

It’s hard to start at a new school . . . especially if you’re in a new country. Back home, Anaïs was the best English student in her class. Here in Crazy America she feels like she doesn’t know English at all. Nothing makes sense (chicken FINGERS?), and the kids at school have some very strange ideas about Africa. Anaïs misses her family . . . so she writes lots of letters to Oma, her grandmother. She tells her she misses her and hopes the war is over soon. She tells her about Halloween, snow, mac ‘n’ cheese dinners, and princess sleepovers. She tells her about the weird things Crazy Americans do, and how she just might be turning into a Crazy American herself.


About the Author: Ruth Freeman grew up in rural Pennsylvania but now lives in Maine where she teaches students who are English language learners, including many newly arrived immigrants. She is the author of several acclaimed nonfiction picture books. One Good Thing About America is her first novel..



GRAND PRIZE GIVEAWAY
  • One (1) winner across the whole blog tour will receive a signed copy of One Good Thing About America for their personal collection, as well as a 30 minute Skype visit with Ruth Freeman to the school of their choice and a signed copy for the school’s library.
  • Enter via the rafflecopter link below
  • US Only
  • Ends 4/23 at midnight ET

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GRAND PRIZE Rafflecopter giveaway

ADDITIONAL BOOK GIVEAWAY

I am also able to offer one reader of my blog a copy of the book.

  • Get an entry by commenting on my blog post.
  • Get another entry by tweeting about the giveaway and put a link to your tweet in the comments.
  • Get another entry by following me on Facebook and comment that you did that.
  • US Only
  • Ends 4/23 at midnight ET

Save Me a Seat

When the first Scholastic flyers came home from my kids’ school this fall, I gladly spent a chunk of money on books to support their classrooms. While going through their selections, I came across the book “Save Me a Seat” by Sarah Weeks and Gata Varadarajan and bought it on a whim. That whim proved to be a great move because this book was outstanding.

save-me-a-seat-coverSave Me a Seat follows the lives of Joe and Ravi, two fifth graders in a Hamilton, NJ school. Joey and Ravi don’t think that they have anything in common, but soon they realize that they both have a  common enemy, the class bully, and a common mission to take control of their lives. The book switches back and forth between their perspectives as they navigate one week at school.

Ravi has just moved to New Jersey from India and struggles with how different things are in America. In India he had been the most popular kid, star student, and master cricket player. In America everyone mispronounces his name and struggles with his accent and no one cares how smart he is. He wants to be a part of the popular crowd, but he can’t seem to break in.

Joe is exceptionally tall for his age, struggles with Auditory Processing Disorder and is constantly bullied by the other kids in the class. His two closest friends have just moved away and he is also afraid that his new teacher won’t understand that he isn’t stupid. The only subject that he likes is lunch, although now that his mother is working as the lunch-room monitor, even that has lost its appeal. People thing that Joe is slow and that he doesn’t hear what is being said, but in reality, he hears and notices everything, he just sometimes struggles with what to focus on.

The antagonist of the story is Dillon Samreen. Dillion is an American-born Indian, a kleptomaniac, and the class bully. Ravi believes that they will be fast friends since they share the common Indian background. Little does he realize that Dillion is constantly making fun of him, stealing his things, and even trips him in class one day. Joe knows that Dillion is nothing but a bully and simply tries to stay out of his way.

As the week progresses, they go through typical experiences in school. You can feel Ravi’s frustration when he tries to show that he is intelligent and capable yet fails simply because things are done differently in America than they are in India. You come to appreciate how observant Joe is and how well he understands people.

Both boys also deal with issues in their family life. Ravi’s family is unsure of American ways of doing things and are also vegetarian. In addition to his parents, Ravi’s grandparents have also moved with them and so generational differences play in. Joe’s mother recently lost her job and wound up taking a job as the lunch room monitor at Joe’s school. Joe’s father is often on the road working as a truck driver. Both boys struggle to have their families understand how difficult school can be and the social difficulties that they both face.

Each day of the week is separated into its own section and titled by whatever food is being served in the cafeteria. This emphasizes the importance of food in all cultures and highlights how different Ravi’s family is from those around him. Food has always been an important way to understand different cultures, but in American schools, it has also been a way to ridicule those who bring items that are seen as “different.” Ravi avoids eating hot lunch and brings foods that are foreign to those around him.

But even with all of the differences, by the end of the book both boy learns to stand on his own two feet and each manage to show the other that they are not alone. They each manage to stand up to Dillion Samreen in their own way and we are left to feel that a new friendship is blossoming.

I thought that this was a marvelous way to show that we never really know what is going on in someone’s head and that the person you least suspect to be your friend might just be your best ally. Ravi even realizes that he is getting a taste of his own medicine when the popular boys won’t include him as that is how he treated others when he was in India. Joe’s character is incredibly endearing once he manages to get past his fears. When both boys manage to believe in themselves, they truly shine.

I purchased this book on my own, but Scholastic is a Platinum Sponsor of this year’s Multicultural Children’s Book Day and this book deserves some love.

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Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is in its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team is on a mission to change all of that.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawDelores Connors, Maria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

MCBD Links to remember:

MCBD site: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teachers-classroom-kindness-kit/

Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents: http://bit.ly/1sZ5s8i

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use their official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

A Learning Lesson in A Long Walk to Water

Every year schools across the state of North Carolina compete in the Battle of the Books. There is an elementary level and a middle school level. The elementary Battle of the Books is only open to kids in the 4th and 5th grade. J has been waiting to be able to be a part of the team since 2nd grade. She hopes to make the team this year, although there are more kids wanting to be on her school’s team than will be allowed.

What I have always loved about the BOB is that they produce a list of books that each child is supposed to read and then answer questions on. I know that some of my friends have had some issues with the questions themselves, but that’s not what this post is about. What is great about the list is that the books cover a wide array of topics, genres and levels and are often books that children wouldn’t generally just pick up on their own. The latest in J’s string of great books read is A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park.

alongwalktowaterA Long Walk to Water is a book that is based on the true story of Salva Dut, a young boy who is forced to flee his village and his family in 1985 at the age of 11 during the Second Sudanese Civil War. It is told in alternating perspectives from Salva and Nya, a young girl in Sudan in 2008 who has to walk to a pond that is 2 hours away from her home every day in order to get her family water, but the main story is Salva’s.

Sudan in the 1980s was ravaged by a civil war. The war had many issues, but it was at it’s heart a war between the Northern Muslims and the Southern Christians and native spiritualists. When Salva is forced to flee his village and wander, not only do younger readers have a hard time understanding what he is going through, but they are additionally confused when many adults don’t want to help the young boy. It is talking points like this that make these BOB selections so fabulous.

Salva becomes one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, a large group of boys who have been separated from their families and wind up in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. He learns a great deal about himself and his strengths as he walks the long journey with thousands of other refugees. He is one of the fortunate ones and is relocated to the United States in 1996.

The other story that is being told is more current and even more important for our children to understand. Young Nya’s story is told in brief snippets of only a page or two at a time. Nya is a young girl in Sudan in 2008. She can’t go to school because every day she must trek to the pond and back two times in order to bring her family the water that they need to survive. The water is filthy and it is a two hour walk, but it is their only option. During the dry months, the family must uproot itself so they can be closer to a different pond, or they would be completely without water. Children get sick from the dirty water that they drink, especially as they are not always able to wait to allow the water to boil and sometimes they don’t even have enough to let it boil. As the story proceeds, people come to her village to dig a well and enable them to not only have clean water readily available, but then to allow the children to also go to school.

A Long Walk to Water is a very powerful and well written book. J and I both learned a great deal while reading it and it gives kids an important insight into the fact that there are many people in our world whose lives are not nearly as easy as our own.  Reading this also came at the same time as a friend of ours is working on her mitzvah project trying to help bring clean water to Africa, so I used both as talking points with J. This is the great way that books open up conversations to help truly educate our children to the broader world around us.