Review: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Based on Lai’s experiences as a 10-year-old girl growing up at the end of the Vietnam War, Hà and her family are forced to leave behind their beloved country full of markets and papaya trees. Heading out on a dangerous sea journey with an uncertain fate, the family is rescued by an American ship. They decide to start over in the United States and are adopted by a generous sponsor in Alabama. Many of the residents of Alabama are less than welcoming, and in diary-like entries written in broken English and verse, Hà chronicles the trials and tribulations of adjusting to America. A slightly heartbreaking story of loss, bullying, family, and adapting, Lai successfully captures and brings to life her own story in this award-winning, historical fiction piece. A Newbery Honor Book and National Book Award Winner for eight to twelve year olds, Inside Out and Back Again is touching and…

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Book Review: Moo- A Novel by Sharon Creech

Reena and her brother, Luke, move from the loud, bustling streets of New York City to rural Maine after their parents are both laid off from a failing newspaper. Once in Maine, Reena is surprised by how quickly she adapts to country life after her parents volunteer her to help Mrs. Falala, an older Italian woman, with her farm. Mrs. Falala is cranky and a bit eccentric with her cow, pig, parrot, snake, and seagulls. After finding a middle ground to work together, Luke teaches Mrs. Falala to draw, and Reena learns how to show Mrs. Falala’s prize and extremely ornery cow, Zora. Reena and Luke learn to love Maine (and they learn where their meat comes from). Moo is appropriate for third to sixth grade readers. Although I question how Luke’s apparent disability is left unaddressed, I closed this book really loving the characters and plot. I wanted to…

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Review: The Best Man by Richard Peck

Kirkus and Booklist named Best Man one of the best books of 2016. Archer Magill begins this story with a wedding that forces him to hide under the porch with his best friend, Lynette. The novel ends with Archer landing the role of best man in another wedding. In between, the story follows Archer and Lynette through elementary school along with Archer’s three wholesome role models: grandpa, his dad, and Uncle Paul. When a new student teacher comes to town, Mr. McLeod, Archer’s world is thrown for a loop—but one that he embraces. Archer is charmingly oblivious for the entire novel, but his innocence makes his growing up all the more powerful. Although this coming of age story follows Archer from first to sixth grade, the content is best for fourth to sixth graders. Reading this book is like eating a bowl of warm, homemade soup with the fireplace blazing…

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Review: A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Gerta wakes up one morning to find that a heavily defended wall divides her country. Her father and brother are caught on one side of the Berlin Wall while she, her mother, and other brother, Fritz, remain at home in a land where even bananas are a freedom not to be had. Desiring a better life on the western side of the wall, Gerta and Fritz risk their lives to build a tunnel to freedom and their family. Along the way, they must reconcile white lies, true friends, and false enemies. The ending seems unrealistic even for historical fiction, but maybe I just need to read more about the Berlin Wall. I kept hoping for a slightly stronger historical background and faster-paced novel—there is a lot of digging—but overall, A Night Divided introduces young readers to a piece of history and feelings that they may not be familiar with. Kate…

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Review: Lemons by Melissa Savage

Lemonade’s mother dies, and she finds herself in Willow Creek, a small Bigfoot-obsessed town, with her grandfather, Charlie. Her new friend, Tobin, owns a Bigfoot detective agency and “hires” Lem to help him sort through and document Bigfoot sightings. Like Lem, Tobin has also lost a parent; his dad went MIA during the war and although brought back alive, has mysteriously disappeared in transit. The two friends struggle together through their losses and grief as they begin to uncover a few surprises. Lem must also reconcile the meaning of home as she decides whether or not to stay with her grandfather or return to her old home via a well-intentioned adoption. A book that questions the boundaries of family, friendship, and heartbreak, Lemons is a beautiful middle grade read for third to seventh graders. Well-written, Savage does not begin the plot heavy with backstory. Instead, she jumps headfirst into Lem…

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Review: The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

Suzy and Franny are growing apart as Franny starts hanging out with the popular crowd and caring more about cute boys. Suzy, the more bookish of the two, decides to retaliate against Franny’s cruel actions. Unfortunately, Suzy is never able to explain her disgusting actions and finds herself not only grief stricken but also feeling sickeningly guilty because Franny drowns while on vacation. Suzy refuses to talk to anyone: her parents, brother, therapist, and lab partner. Written with science report-like overtones, Suzy becomes obsessed with finding out the cause of Franny’s death and ultimately decides that a deadly Australian jellyfish has stung and killed her friend. Determined to prove this theory to herself as well as everyone else, Suzy seeks out the advice of experts, one in particular named Jamie. The Thing About Jellyfish is a National Book Award finalist. With themes of grief, growing up, and mental illness, fourth…

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