The Fourteenth Goldfish

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm was a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Things were so much simpler for Ellie in elementary school. She didn’t have to worry about where to sit in the cafeteria, losing her best friend, or all the other changes middle school brings. Well, soon Ellie will have one more change…and this one will rock her entire world.

One day, Ellie’s mom brings home a strange yet oddly familiar boy. He bears a striking resemblance to her grandfather, but Ellie doesn’t know of any long-lost relatives who would just show up all of a sudden. So who is this odd, crotchety, young boy?

Well, as it turns out, this boy actually is Ellie’s grandfather, Melvin. Through his research with jellyfish, he seems to have found the “cure” for aging, and this seventy-six year old man now looks like a teenager. (He still acts like an old man, though.) Melvin shares his discovery with Ellie and enlists her help in retrieving the research that he’s sure will win him a Nobel Prize.

Ellie is intrigued by her grandfather’s work, but, the more she learns about science and what happens after important discoveries–like Oppenheimer’s work on the atomic bomb–the more she wonders if Melvin’s breakthrough is a good thing. Does the world really need a cure for aging? What would be the consequences if such a thing were available?

As Ellie explores the scientific possibilities with her grandfather, she’s also coming to grips the changes in her own life. Maybe it’s okay that she’s letting go of old friends and making new ones. Moving on is a part of life, right? Now, all she needs to do is convince her grandfather of that…

Advertisements

A Million Ways Home

A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget is a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

After Poppy Parker’s grandmother suffers a stroke, the girl is sent to live in the North Shore Children’s Center. Poppy hates it here (with good reason), and she’s willing to do just about anything to reunite with her grandmother…even run away.

Poppy tries to make her way to the hospital to see Grandma Beth, but things quickly turn south. After a brief stop at a convenience store, Poppy becomes the sole witness to a horrible crime, an armed robbery and murder. The suspect knows her face and her name, so Poppy is placed under police protection, specifically in the home of Detective Trey Brannigan and his mother, Marti.

It doesn’t take long for Poppy to feel safe in this temporary home. She likes her caregivers, and she enjoys helping Marti at the animal shelter. She even manages to make a couple of friends–one human and one canine. Lizzie, the human, is a girl with troubles of her own. Gunner, the canine, is a beautiful German Shepherd who isn’t all that different from Lizzie. Both of them need someone to love them and be patient with them, and that person is Poppy.

Even with all these positives, though, Poppy longs for things to go back to the way they used to be. She wants her grandmother to get better. She wants to go back to their apartment and not have all these worries weighing on her. Surely, life can one day be normal again for Poppy and and her grandmother.

Unfortunately, things aren’t so simple. There’s still the matter of a dangerous criminal on the loose and looking for Poppy. Also, Grandma Beth isn’t recovering like Poppy hoped she would. Things are looking bleak, and Poppy doesn’t know what to do.

Will Poppy ever be able to return home? Will her grandmother get better? Will the police ever catch the guy putting Poppy in danger? And what will happen with Lizzie and Gunner?

Learn how Poppy navigates through the waters of uncertainty, friendship, grief, and love to find her way home when you read A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget.

Gaby, Lost and Found

Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes was a nominee for the 2015-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

The past few months have not been easy for Gaby Ramirez Howard. Her mother has been deported to Honduras, her distant father has moved into the house and often forgets to pay bills or go grocery shopping, and mean girls at school ridicule her because of her mom’s situation. Gaby just wants her mom to return and for things to go back to normal. She’s tired of going hungry and worrying about the future. Gaby waits for the day her mom will come back and they can be happy again, but the wait is getting to her.

Gaby’s life is not all bad, though. She has loyal friends, and she’s excited about her sixth grade class’ new service project–volunteering at the Furry Friends Animal Shelter.

Gaby loves her work at the animal shelter. She dotes on the sweet kittens, plays with the dogs, and writes profiles of the animals to convince people to adopt these lovable pets. Her profiles, paired with pictures of the animals, are posted around the community, and Gaby is thrilled that people are reading them and coming into the shelter to give the animals forever homes.

There’s one cat at the shelter who Gaby would love to have for her own. The cat, Feather, was abandoned by her previous owners, and Gaby feels a certain kinship with the little cat. She knows what it’s like to be left alone and wondering if she’ll ever feel truly safe and loved again. If only Gaby could adopt Feather and give her the home that she deserves…

As the days pass, worries about Feather’s future and her mom’s return plague Gaby. Her worries are affecting her friendships, her work at the shelter, and Gaby is doing things that she knows she shouldn’t. And when she receives news that derails all of her thoughts of a happy family, Gaby doesn’t know what to do. She feels so lost…

But maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for Gaby. Maybe she and Feather can somehow find forever homes of their very own…

The Matchbox Diary

The Matchbox Diary, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, is a nominee for the 2015-16 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

The Matchbox Diary takes readers on a journey through one man’s life. This man tells his great-granddaughter to choose one item in the room, and he’ll tell her a story about it. The girl chooses an old cigar box full of matchboxes. But there are no matches in these boxes. Each box carries a memory of her great-grandfather’s life, from his earliest days in Italy, through his family’s journey across the sea to Ellis Island, to their lives as Italian immigrants in an often unfriendly new world. Though he couldn’t read or write (at first), these matchboxes allowed this man to keep his memories alive to share with future generations.

The narrative of this book is presented entirely through dialog, which might make it a poor choice for read-alouds, especially with younger readers who have very little background knowledge of immigration. That being said, I think this would be an excellent addition in older grades’ studies of immigration, how families were often split up for a while, the long journey to America, and what immigrants encountered once they arrived.

The true strength of The Matchbox Diary, in my opinion, is in the illustrations. While the narrative seems a bit choppy at times, the gorgeous, detailed illustrations make the grandfather’s stories come alive. I expect no less from Bagram Ibatoulline, and he definitely delivers in this book.

All the Answers

Ava Anderson knows what it means to be anxious. She worries about everything. She panics before every test, and this morning is no different. She’s got a big math test today, and Ava knows she’s going to flub her way through it. She knows the material, but when tests roll around, Ava’s anxiety always gets the best of her. This morning, however, is going to be a little different…

It looks like an ordinary pencil, the kind someone would pick up at a conference or something, but this one turns out to be very different. When Ava grabs it out of her parents’ junk drawer, she has no way of knowing that this pencil is going to change her life.

Ava uses the pencil during her dreaded math test, and, wonder of wonders, when she presents questions to this strange pencil, it gives her the answers! For the first time in forever, Ava feels great about how she performed on a test. But does this magical pencil only work on math questions? Well, Ava and her best friend Sophie are about to find out…

Ava and Sophie soon realize that the special pencil will only answer factual questions, and it won’t answer anything with free will involved. The girls decide to use their new “power” to get some important information. For instance, which boys at school have a crush on Sophie? (This information leads to some rather sticky situations, as you can imagine.) They also use the pencil to figure out what would make Ava’s grandfather and his friends at the nursing home truly happy.

One day, though, Ava asks the pencil a question, and the answer rocks the girl’s entire world. This information has the power to change Ava’s entire family, and Ava can’t stop herself from worrying about what it could mean. Is Ava strong enough to handle what is coming, or will panic take over?

As Ava deals with everything revealed by this mysterious pencil, she begins to wonder if having all the answers is really so important. Does knowing so much make things better, or does it give people even more to obsess over? Can Ava put her worries–and her pencil–aside and finally trust in her own strength? And will that strength get her through the tough times ahead?

For the answers to these questions and many more, read All the Answers by Kate Messner.

The Quilt Walk

The year is 1864, and Emmy Blue Hatchett has just learned that her family is leaving their safe home in Illinois to strike out for a new life in Golden, Colorado. While Emmy Blue is excited about the possibility of adventure, she doesn’t want to leave everything she’s ever known behind…and she knows her mother feels the same way. But they accept their new circumstances, and Emmy Blue, her parents, and her aunt and uncle set off for Colorado.

The family has to leave many things behind–and think of creative ways to take along what they need–but just before they leave, Emmy Blue is given some fabric pieces by her grandmother. Emmy Blue is not exactly happy with this gift. Unlike the other women in her family, Emmy Blue has no interest in quilting. She doesn’t understand the appeal of making perfect stitches and putting scraps of fabric together, but her mother convinces her to take her grandmother’s gift and put it together on their long trek to Colorado.

As Emmy Blue begins piecing her quilt together, often walking while she stitches, she takes in her surroundings and gets to know the people around her. She has long conversations with her father and mother, she makes a new friend when they join up with a wagon train, and she questions some of the cruelty she sees around her. She encounters dangers she never expected, she learns to set up camp and lead a team of oxen, and she even finds herself enjoying her quilt walk just a bit. On this long, perilous journey, Emmy Blue Hatchett is growing up and discovering just how strong both she and those around her really are.

Eventually, Emmy Blue and her family arrive at their destination…though not without some changes. Emmy Blue is a different person than the girl who left Illinois. Her quilt walk may be done, but her journey through life is just beginning.

The Quilt Walk by Sandra Dallas is a nominee for the 2014-15 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

After All, You’re Callie Boone

After All, You’re Callie Boone by Winnie Mack was a quick read–ideal for summer–that really resonated with me.  I identified with the character of Callie, and I think that a lot of other young girls–and even some older readers–will as well.

Callie Boone’s summer is not off to a good start. Her best friend since the first grade has, all of a sudden, decided that she’s too cool to hang out with Callie. Her uncle has moved twelve ferrets into the family garage. At the community pool–one of Callie’s favorite places in the world–she embarrasses herself in such a public and humiliating way that she can never go back there again. Her family is crazy, she has no friends, and she’s the laughing stock of her neighborhood. Will things ever get better?

Well, yes. She’s still got her diving practices with her dad, and Callie is nurturing a dream of becoming a champion diver–maybe even competing in the Olympics someday. Despite her public humiliation at the pool, Callie is determined to be the best diver she can be–even though she’s not even twelve.

Something else is going okay in Callie’s life. A new kid has moved in next door. He’s a little odd–his name is Hoot–but he may turn out to be the best friend Callie has ever had…if she can convince everyone that he is most definitely not her boyfriend.

As her summer progresses, Callie learns a bit about what it means to be a good daughter, a good friend, and a good person. Everything doesn’t always go well, but Callie discovers who she can truly lean on when things don’t go the way she plans. She starts paying more attention to those around her instead of focusing on herself all the time. But what will happen when tragedy strikes and Callie is forced to really trust in those around her, especially her crazy family and her friend Hoot? Will she revert back to her old ways, or will she step up and be the girl everyone thinks she can be? Find out if Callie can make it through when you read After All, You’re Callie Boone by Winnie Mack!