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No Vacancy–struggle with religious identity

No Vacancy

by Tziporah Cohen

Life is not always easy as Miriam, an eleven year old, discovers. As her family faces financial distress, she is uprooted and transplanted to a motel in upstate New York. She leaves behind her close friends and spends her summer days helping her family revive the failing motel. Success for the motel would also mean better times for the Whitleys, a generous and kindly couple next door whose granddaughter Kate becomes Miriam’s best friend. When Miriam’s Uncle Mordy suggests it might take a miracle to keep the businesses afloat, Kate and Miriam decide to provide one!

As she is dealing with challenges at the motel, Miriam is trying to understand what it means to be Jewish and why she is different from others in her new community. She also wrestles with a fear of swimming.

Tziporah Cohen’s No Vacancy is a gentle, but thoughtful look at religion, ethics, and community. This work of fiction is aimed at middle schoolers, but I enjoyed reading it. I like Miriam and find that her interactions with other characters as she struggles with being open about being a Jew and about her aquaphobia gives the book more depth. Uncle Mordy shares differences that exist among Jews in practicing their faith. The Catholic priest acts as a counselor without being intrusive or preachy. The interactions between Miriam and Kate demonstrate that differences in faith don’t preclude a happy and healthy friendship.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Groundwood Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Middle Grades

Notes:  As an adult, I enjoyed this book, so just use this information as the publisher’s intended audience: 

  Grades: 4-7

  Ages: 9-12

Publication:   August 4, 2020—Groundwood Books

Memorable Lines:

Miriam starts to ask herself some prickly questions. Is a lie always a bad thing, even if what comes out of it is good? Does our faith make us so different from one another? And when bad things happen, do we really all have a shared responsibility for the hate in the world?

“It’s not that we can’t get along. We just believe in different things. And while I can be friends with someone who believes in different things than I do, it’s a lot harder to be married to, and raise a family with, someone who is different in these big ways. Not everyone feels that way, and that’s okay. but I do.”

“When someone is different from us,” he says, “sometimes we jump to conclusions instead of taking the time to understand.”

The Wind in the Willows–endearing children’s classic for all ages

The Wind in the Willows

by Kenneth Grahame

My book club decided to read The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, a children’s classic written in the early 1900’s by a British author. As a retired educator, I felt like this is one of those books I should have read. I downloaded a free copy from Project Gutenberg. It has some illustrations, but I found I would have liked more. The other readers in my group had various ways of reading this classic tale. One had a particularly beautifully illustrated version that I adore. Another friend listened to an audio version recorded on YouTube. At least one group member expressed disappointment that her version was an adaptation. Regardless of the version, however, we all enjoyed reading it.

The Wind in the Willows is a charming tale of a water rat, mole, badger, otter, and toad. With its exquisite language and intricate descriptions, this book is perfect for reading as a family. It was a staple in A.A. Milne’s family which I consider high praise indeed. The pace moves back and forth between quiet reflection and raucous adventure. The tale has themes of home, friendship and satisfaction. The characters move through life together with commonalities and differences that serve to make the story even more interesting.

Toad is a favorite character with moods ranging from manic to subdued and intentions to reform that often seem genuine, but sometimes are quite insincere. He has a passion for the latest and greatest “toys” and is always on the lookout for a new adventure. Fortunately, he has supportive friends who will do anything for him. He is a source of humor for the reader.

If you have never read The Wind in the Willows, I strongly recommend it, especially if you enjoy beautiful word pictures. I like researching unfamiliar words, but those who don’t will have no problems as the general meaning of words of a botanic nature, Britishisms, and words no longer in common usage are certainly easily understood from context. The Wind in the Willows is a great read, and I am so glad to have added it as part my literary heritage.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes: Ages 7-14

Publication: 1908 & 1913—Charles Scribner’s Sons

Memorable Lines:

Toad talked big about all he was going to do in the days to come, while stars grew fuller and larger all around them, and a yellow moon, appearing suddenly and silently from nowhere in particular, came to keep them company and listen to their talk.

He increased his pace, and as the car devoured the street and leapt forth on the high road through the open country, he was only conscious that he was Toad once more, Toad at his best and highest, Toad the terror, the traffic-queller, the Lord of the lone trail, before whom all must give way or be smitten into nothingness and everlasting night.

Toad sat up slowly and dried his eyes. Secrets had an immense attraction for him, because he never could keep one, and he enjoyed the sort of unhallowed thrill he experienced when he went and told another animal, after having faithfully promised not to.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever–a Christmas favorite

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

by Barbara Robinson

Most people enjoy a good Christmas story. For example, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is emblematic for many of the Christmas spirit of generosity that we would like to see year round. Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is another story that has captured the imagination of readers of all ages. A humorous children’s chapter book, the story tells of the year the Herdmans, “absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world,” decide they want to be a part of a church’s annual Christmas pageant.

The narrator’s mother directs the pageant for the first time, and we experience her determination, kindness, and patience as she explains the story of Jesus to the unchurched Herdmans. We are also treated to a new, unsanitized view of the nativity story. One of the Herdman clan indignantly wants to know why Joseph didn’t tell the innkeeper who Jesus is. Another finds it strange that they tie the baby up in wadded up clothes and put him in a food trough. The Herdmans plot revenge on the wicked Herod; the Angel of the Lord, as played by Gladys, the youngest Herdman, comes down from above like a superhero from a comic book.

Appealing to children and adults alike, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever might well become a Christmas tradition in your family. Parts of it are laugh out loud funny, and other parts will give you pause. It has been made into a movie and a play, but I can’t imagine anything better than cozying up with the family and sharing the book together.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes: Interest Level—all ages

Intended Reading Level—Grades 3-7; Ages 8-12 years

Publication:  1972—Scholastic Inc. (Harper Collins)

Memorable Lines:

Most of us spent all week in school being pounded and poked and pushed around by Herdmans, and we looked forward to Sunday as a real day of rest.

Mother said…“Why, it’s going to be the best Christmas pageant we’ve ever had!” Of all the lies she’d told so far, that was the biggest, but you had to admire her. It was like General Custer saying, “Bring on the Indians!”

“I don’t know what’s going to happen. It may be the first Christmas pageant in history where Joseph and the Wise Men get in a fight, and Mary runs away with the baby.”

A Long Walk to Water–impactful

A Long Walk to Water

by Linda Sue Park

You have probably heard of the Lost Boys of Sudan. In A Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue Park tells the story of one of those lost boys, Salva Dut, who even as a refugee himself, took on a leadership role for 1500 boys in their very long, dangerous, and seemingly hopeless journey for survival. Salva, as a young adult, was chosen out of a refugee camp to emigrate to the United States. This book tells how he transformed his desperate situation into a life giving project for the people of Sudan based on hope, faith, and most especially perseverance.

Told in two timelines with apparently disparate plots, this book moves back and forth with both stories progressing forward in each chapter. It begins slowly, but soon picks up the pace and the reader’s interest. The book starts with the tale of Nya, an eleven year old girl in southern Sudan in 2008 who spends her day traveling from her village to a pond to collect dirty water in a jug which she then carries home on her head. She does this twice a day in extreme heat, traversing with bare feet a thorny path to bring home enough water for her family to survive.

Salva’s story also begins in southern Sudan, but much earlier, in 1985, when his village and school are attacked by armed men during an ongoing confrontation between the Muslim government in the north and the rebels of the south. Thus begins Salva’s separation from his family and his struggle for survival.

Although this book is aimed at a younger audience, as an adult I am so glad I read this story which is based on the lives of real people, Salva and Nya and their families. It reads quickly and lays out the need for clean, accessible water for South Sudan, pointing out the many rippling effects of pure water on a community. It also shows how diverse tribes can work together for a common good. The website noted at the end of the book provides more information and gives a practical way for those of us blessed with plenty to help those without the basic necessities.

Rating:  5/5

Category: Children’s Historical Fiction

Notes: 1. The suggested ages and grade levels vary according to printed reports, but in general: Grades 5-9 and Ages 10-14. The book does a good job of recording hardships and violence without graphic details. Because of the subject matter, I would not recommend it for younger children.

2. The reader will find links to lots of videos about Salva and his project at www.waterforsouthsudan.org

Publication:  October 4, 2011—HMH Books for Young Readers

Memorable Lines:

No one in the group had eaten anything for two days. Their water was nearly gone. Only the vision of leaving the desert kept them moving through the heat and the dust.

It did not seem as if the camp could possibly hold any more, but still they kept coming: long lines of people, some emaciated, some hurt or sick, all exhausted.

He felt as though he were standing on the edge of a giant hole—a hole filled with the black despair of nothingness. I am alone now.

It was hard to keep hope alive when there was so little to feed it.

Top Ten Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Blogging friend, retired teacher/librarian, and book reviewer Carla has chosen out some of her favorite quotes from children’s books to share. I love them all. There is such wisdom in children’s literature. I challenge all education administrators to apply the quote from The Phantom Tollbooth in all of their dealings teachers and students. We do, in fact, learn from our mistakes!

Carla Loves To Read

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Each week a new theme is suggested for bloggers to participate in. This week’s prompt is Top Ten Opening Lines. I do not have any idea or memory of opening lines except for Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Instead, after reading Carol’s list at The Reading Ladies, I went with Favourite Book Quotes, specifically Favourite Children’s Book Quotes. I had a real hard time limiting this to ten, but here is what I ended up with.

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McDuff Moves In–you’ll love McDuff

McDuff Moves In

by Rosemary Wells

illustrated by Susan Jeffers

McDuff Moves InI had a delightful trip back in time as I read Rosemary Wells’ McDuff Moves In. It is being republished with original illustrations for a new generation of readers. Set in the 1930’s, its main character is McDuff, a  West Highland White terrier (Westie). As Wells says in her forward, “Lucy and Fred’s loving rescue of homeless McDuff adds to their lives and shows the beautiful change that kindness and care can make for any homeless dog.”

This is a short picture book with colorful, appealing illustrations and a sweet story. You’ll love learning how McDuff got his name! There is added  information about rescuing and fostering homeless animals and references to other books with a similar theme. McDuff Moves In is a fun book that children will ask for again and again.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Gryphon Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes: Rosemary Wells is a prolific children’s book author as well as an artist. Her books include the Max and Ruby books, the Sophie books, and many others that feature lovable animals. She also has several more McDuff titles.

Publication:   October 25, 2019—Gryphon Press

The Snow Bear–the old ways are disappearing

The Snow Bear

by Holly Webb

Illustrated by Artful Doodlers

The Snow BearDo you want to share information about the Arctic with the children in your life in an engaging way? The Snow Bear by Holly Webb is a great way to do it. Sara goes to visit her grandfather who lives on a cliffside in Canada. As it snows, he talks with Sara about going to the Arctic when he was a boy with his father to record the life and customs of the Inuits living in the Arctic as Sara’s great-grandfather could already see the old ways disappearing.

When Sara goes to bed that night, she dreams herself into the stories Grandpa told her and has her own experiences which bring the Arctic to life for her. She rescues a cub, falls into a crevasse, and shares a warming Inuit soup.

The Snow Bear is a chapter book. I think children would benefit from reading this with an adult as they look at a map of the Arctic and discuss the terms used. An Internet search of corresponding images for items such as “Arctic tern” and “quilliq” would be helpful too. Although the story is fictional, there is much information included.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Myrick Books/Tiger Tales for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating:  5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes:  1. The illustrations did not show up well in my Advanced Reader Copy, but the sample line drawings shown on Amazon were perfect for this story.

  2. This is the first book I have read by Holly Webb, but I discovered she is a prolific children’s author with books suitable for all the various ages. 

  3. I also learned that Artful Doodlers is responsible for many of the illustrations that children’s book lovers cherish.

  4. This book is part of a Wintry Tales Series.

Publication:   October 1, 2019— Myrick Books/Tiger Tales

Memorable Lines:

“That’s why we went. We wanted to record it all, before it changed forever.”

…the nearest dog, who was curled up in the snow, with his tail wrapped tightly around his nose and his paws. Sara had never seen a dog curl up so small—he looked almost like a cat. “They can sleep through a blizzard like that. And they have to stay out—they’re our guard dogs, too. They let us know if there’s a polar bear around.”

“We always share what we have,” Alignak said, sounding almost surprised. “Food belongs to everyone who needs it.”

No Room for a Pup–Mia doesn’t agree!

No Room for a Pup

by Elizabeth Suneby and Laurel Melk

illustrated by Laurel Melk

no room for a pupWant to read a book guaranteed to put a smile on your face? Read No Room for a Pup by Elizabeth Suneby and Laurel Melk. 

Mia lives in a small apartment in a big city and desperately wants a dog. Her mother is certain their apartment is too small for a pet. Mia has a clever idea and teams up with her grandmother and various friends to show her mother that their home is not too small to share with a puppy.

Children will enjoy predicting the direction this scheme will take and may even guess the ending as depicted showing the puppy grown up. Short, with likable characters and appealing illustrations, No Room for a Pup will be a reread request!

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kids Can Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes: Age: 4-7

Grade: Preschool-2

Publication:   October 1, 2019—Kids Can Press

The Dog Who Lost His Bark–pet therapy works both ways

The Dog Who Lost His Bark

by Eoin Colder

illustrated by P.J. Lynch

The Dog Who Lost His BarkOz is a sweet puppy traumatized by a bad experience with a mean family. He ends up in a dog shelter where Patrick discovers and adopts him. Patrick comes from a musical family, and music emerges as the key to socializing Oz who has remarkable pitch when he whines. He starts with “Ode to Joy,” but expands his repertoire quickly. After Patrick’s breakthrough with Oz, he decides he needs to teach him to bark.

In the background of the puppy drama, we can tell, as can Patrick, that something is wrong with his father who is supposedly in Australia playing with his band. Patrick decides that if he gets rid of Oz, his father, who is allergic to dogs, will return to be a part of the family again. Oz goes back to the pound, but Patrick is no happier and Oz is very sad. Patrick learns that his mother and father are separating, but that his dog loves him and will always be his best friend.

The Dog Who Lost His Bark is a sweet story, especially for dog lovers. It could be helpful for children whose family structure is in transition, providing opportunities for discussions of the feelings the various characters have. I would encourage parents to read this book to their child or for a child to read it independently. Sharing with a group is probably not the best choice. The issues could be a trigger for sensitive children and problematic depending on the family situations of the children in a group.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Candlewick Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes:  This chapter book is intended for children:

  Ages: 7-10

  Grades: 2-5

Publication:   September 10, 2019—Candlewick Press

Memorable Lines:

This boy seemed kind right now, but that was people’s CLEVER TRICK, to be happy until it was time to be ANGRY. Dog was not going to fall for that one again.

“…teach your dog to bark. Because when a dog barks at something, that dog isn’t so afraid of that thing anymore.”

“You have a friend, Patrick. You have the best friend a boy could ever have. And he loves you even when it looks like you don’t love him anymore.”

Eats MORE, Shoots & Leaves: Why, ALL Punctuation Marks Matter!

Eats MORE, Shoots & Leaves: Why, ALL Punctuation Marks Matter!

by Lynne Truss

illustrated by Bonnie Timmons

Eats MORE, Shoots & LeavesHaving enjoyed the adult book Eats, Shoots and Leaves years ago, I knew I would love Lynne Truss’ book Eats MORE, Shoots & Leaves: Why, ALL Punctuation Marks Matter! It is written and illustrated appropriately for children but could also be helpful for teenagers and adults who just don’t understand that a few tiny punctuation marks can change the whole meaning of a sentence. Bonnie Timmons’ drawings are hysterically funny and illustrate so well the concepts.

The pages are set up so the differences in meaning are clear. On one page, for example, the words are “Eat here, and get gas.” The illustration shows cars getting gas at a place that also sells food. On the facing page, the reader is admonished: “Eat here and get gas.” with the illustration depicting a restaurant where a patron flies through the air with a tremendous burp. (Now what grade school boy is not going to laugh at that?) Under each picture, upside down, is an adult explanation of the effect of punctuation or lack of it. The inserted punctuation is always clearly indicated in red. This book is a winner. It achieves its purpose of explaining why punctuation is so important. Who knew grammar could be so funny?

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to G.P. Putnam for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Nonfiction

Notes: Ages 6-9

Grades 1-4

Publication:  October 22, 2019—G.P. Putnam

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