Middle Grade Monday: Nest (2014) by Esther Ehrlich

Happy Christmas Week! Things have been a bit slow on the blog due to travel by yours truly, but I’m settled in for the holidays now, so glad to be back! You may have noticed: my blog announcement hasn’t been made yet. That will change soon, so stay tuned.

Welcome to another Middle Grade Monday!

Nest by Esther Ehrlich (2014)

Suggested age range: 12 and up (Wendy Lamb Books, 336 pages)

Rating: 3.5/5 stars [I will definitely recommend it to readers who would be drawn to this type of story; The book was pretty good but not sure it’s for everyone and there may be a few things about the book that didn’t work for me.]

Source: e-ARC from Netgalley

Genre: Historical Fiction

I received an e-ARC via NetGalley from Wendy Lamb Books. This in no way influenced my review! Thank you, Wendy Lamb Books!

nestThe Book: Set in 1972, on Cape Cod, this middle grade realistic story charts the ups and downs in the life of a young girl whose mother becomes ill with multiple sclerosis. Along with her sister and father, eleven year-old Chirp wants to see her mother get better, and attempts to cheer her up in the midst of a very difficult season of life. Even though Chirp’s friend, Joey, has his own challenges at home, the antics of the two friends keep the story filled with humor. At times heart-wrenching, the story reflects the work of an author who doesn’t shy away from engaging with serious topics in this heartfelt and beautifully written story.

Spirituality in Nest: How does the heart heal after tragedy? Is the love between family members strong enough in the face of losing a loved one? Both of these questions are raised in the story, suggesting a deep and moving aspect of the book. This one definitely raises some thought-provoking moments, though it took me awhile to get into the story.  Chirp’s aesthetic appreciation for the natural world and her awareness and observation of that world is yet another aspect of spirit in the narrative. Her keen observation of birds and wildlife reminded me a little of the way Anne Shirley is in tune with the natural world.

Who Should Read This Book: Though booksellers might consider this book for readers younger than twelve, because of the subject matter and the way it’s represented, I’m going to suggest the book for readers twelve and up. Of course, parents may decide for themselves whether this book would work for a young reader or not. That’s just my two cents. There are some very serious and intense topics and moments in the story, but realistically, some young people have to face situations such as the ones the story brings up. In that case, the book would be extremely relevant.

The Final Word: It took me awhile to get into this story as I felt the pace was a bit slow, but once I reached a certain point—about halfway through—it seemed to pick up. I enjoyed the patterns and echoes Ehrlich employed in the story, and the motifs she used, such as the nest and the birds. I especially appreciated learning more about Cape Cod and the different types of birds living in that environment. The story reflects multiple moments of beauty and celebrates an aesthetic appreciation of the nature world. The story, though tragic at times, ends on a note of hope.

Have you read this new Middle Grade release? What did you think?

Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust (2014) by Loic Dauvillier, Marc Lizano, & Greg Salsedo

Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillier, illustr., Marc Lizano, Color by Greg Salsedo, Trans., Alexi Siegel (2014, English translation)

Suggested age range: 10 and up (First Second, 80 pages)

Rating: 4/5 stars

Source: Library

Genre: Middle Grade, Graphic Novel

hidden

“It was hard…but we were together.”

The Book:  When her granddaughter finds Dounia crying late one night, Dounia takes Elsa on her lap and begins to share her story. Hidden tells the story of Dounia, who was forced to hide from the Germans in France in 1942.What ensues is a touching, and at times saddening tale of one child’s experience during the Holocaust. Her parents do all they can to keep Dounia safe, even at the expense of their own lives. Originally translated from the French, Hidden underscores the bravery and courage of those who helped Jews during the Holocaugreek hiddenst, but also highlights the resilience of the very young during a terrible time in world history.

Spirituality in Hidden: Needless to say, there are several ways this story revealed a spiritual landscape. First, in the area of relational connectedness: I love the stronger connection that develops between Dounia and her granddaughter as she shares her past—including its joys and tragedies. Because Dounia is opening up about her history, she also develops a deeper bond with her son, and this is revealed visually at the very end of the story. That alone is a strong spiritual aspect of the story and could be a meaningful point for readers. Another spiritual aspect to highlight with any group discussion of the book is the bravery and sacrifice of those who risked their lives and gave of their resources to help hide children during the Holocaust.

A question for you to think about: What’s so spiritual about people helping others they don’t even know? And risking their lives for them? Both the textual and visual geography of this graphic novel further reinforce the potential spirituality of children’s literature.

Who Should Read This Book: Recommended for age 10 and up. This would be an excellent book for the classroom, and I think it’s a graphic novel that would be equally as meaningful shared between parent(s) and child reader. Just as the story opens with Elsa on her grandmother’s lap, hearing about her grandmother’s past and heritage, children and parents could talk about their own family background after the reading of this story. There’s a plethora of other types of discussions that groups of readers could dive into with this story, and I’m sure educators would see a lot of potential for curriculum development with this book related to both language arts and social studies curriculum.

The Final Word: The teamwork revealed through this book among author, illustrators, and translator is brilliant. I especially would look closely at the relationship between the words and the pictures. There are rich gaps within the story—pictures that extend the text, and text that fills in gaps in the pictures. This isn’t a simplistic graphic novel, but a rich and rewarding experience. This is another one that might require the tissue box, but it’s worth it.

Strongly recommended! I waited too long to read this one, and I read it all in one sitting. A fantastic addition to the already rich field of middle grade graphic novels for 2014.

Have you read it? What did you think? Are there other graphic novels set in this time period that you would recommend?

Check out the French cover below:

french hidden

The Rich Beauty of The Crystal Mirror by Tim Malnick & Katie Green

The Crystal Mirror by Tim Malnick & Katie Green (2013)

Suggested age range: 6 and up (Vala Publishing, 96 pages)

Rating: 4/5 stars

Source: I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Genre: Fantasy, Illustrated, Story Collection

crystal

The Book: This is a delightful and thought provoking collection of beautifully illustrated stories that will keep readers thinking long after the last word is read. Just the kind of book we at Spirit of Children’s Literature appreciate! Not only are the textual parables enchanting and rich, but the visual stories provide a true feast of saturated colors, gorgeous backgrounds and borders, and fantastic details.

Here are just a few of my notes about several of the stories.

The collection opens with “The Cuddliest Monster in the World,” which might seem silly at first, but illuminates rich themes about getting lost on our way, compassion, and the strength of loving others. I adored the ending of this one! “The Master Painter” lauds the power of creativity and the endless beauty of the world around us. What happens when that is hidden from us? “Polly, the Girl Who Was Always Changing” reminds readers of just how tricky it can be to navigate the intricacies our own developing identity, and this quest to “finding oneself.” There are intriguing ideas in these tales.

Spirituality in The Crystal Mirror: Rich, spiritual themes abound in this collection! This isn’t a religious set of stories, however; these tales cross cultural and religious boundaries, reflecting the beauty of ideas that are relevant across people groups and countries. Malnick and Green showcase themes that young and old readers alike can understand such as searching for one’s identity, longing for the unknown and unexplored, or approaching the world with the freshness and vision of a child.

Who Should Read This Book: Both young and older readers alike would appreciate and find delight and wisdom in the pages of these stories. I think this book would especially be fabulous as a shared book or as a read aloud with a class. The stories beg to be discussed, and I could even see extension and arts-based response activities revolving around the text.

The Final Word: The Crystal Mirror is a book I’ll be returning to again. There were some stories that I though, “Wait! I want more!”, but at the same time, the gaps left open could generate interesting discussion. I see myself sharing it with young readers of all ages, and it would work well as a read aloud. Its visual aspect opens up the potential for all kinds of arts-based activities, and let me tell you—these illustrations are amazing! Tim Malnick and Katie Green have put together a gorgeous book with stories that don’t always get tied up neatly, but still work. I’d have to say my favorite story is “The Story of Oswald Bat.” Go check it out. Thank you, Vala Publishing, for sharing this book with me!

You can check out the website, www.thecrystalmirror.co.uk

Sacred Stories & Melted Ice Cream: A Snicker of Magic (2014) by Natalie Lloyd

A Snicker of Magic (2014) by Natalie Lloyd

Suggested age range: 8 and up (Scholastic, 320 pages)

Rating: 5/5 stars

Source: Copy Won from Emily at Oh Magic Hour

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

 

snicker

“Home isn’t just a house or a city or a place; home is what happens when you’re brave enough to love people.” (p. 302)

The Book: Felicity Pickle wants a home—but her family, which includes her mother, sister, and dog, Biscuit, has been prone to wander from town to town, until her mother gets the itch to pack up and move again. Settling in Felicity’s mom’s hometown for a bit, Midnight Gulch, means several things: Felicity finally has a best friend, she gets to live with her aunt Cleo, and her mom works in an ice cream factory that makes the town smell like waffle cones come evening time. Felicity has a magical way of seeing words and spinning them into poetry, but she fears public speaking; when her new best friend, Jonah, encourages her to enter the “Duel,” the town talent show, Felicity has to make a choice about whether she is going to face her fears or duck out. Will the town ever get rid of its curse? Will Felicity and her family finally settle down? A snicker of magic might be left in Midnight Gulch, and Felicity pursues that hope with everything she’s got in this delightful middle grade fantasy.

Spirituality in A Snicker of Magic: Where do I begin? This story reflects multiple spiritual dimensions, and certainly engaged my own spirituality as I was reading. Humans are built for relationship and authentic community with others, and this idea is woven throughout the narrative. Even Felicity’s longing for a home and community reflects an aspect of her spirituality—Jonah’s offering of friendship early in the story is almost impossible for Felicity to believe, but there’s a kind of “magic” still alive in Midnight Gulch. The mystery and role of “The Beedle,” for example, is another spiritual dimension of the book, which could certainly be discussed with readers more after the last page is turned. What about believing in people when they have given up on themselves? This is another valuable spiritual aspect of the story and could connect to readers in countless ways.

Exploring this Book with Readers: This book holds great potential for the upper elementary classroom and even beyond the classroom. It’s a pity I’m not teaching at the moment, for I know my 6th graders would have loved this story. The emphasis on playing with words and creating poetry in the narrative means that responses to this book could include the creation of poetry and other word inventing activities. For example, Felicity sees words over people—students could generate words for each other, and with those words, create poems or stories or artwork. The possibilities really are endless with the rich themes the book illuminates—I certainly intend to create some specific language arts curriculum with this book.

The Final Word: If you enjoy books like When You Reach Me, Hope is a Ferris Wheel, and When Audrey Met Alice, you will most likely enjoy A Snicker of Magic. This is a new favorite of mine! I first saw a review of the book on The Midnight Garden, and could tell this was a book for me. When I won a giveaway from my blogging friend, Emily, this was one of the books I picked. What a delightful surprise at such an enchanting and moving story! I had a kind of profound reaction to this book, that showed me even more strongly why spirituality and children’s literature is so fascinating to me. There is still so much I don’t know, but so many beautiful paths of exploration yet to discover.

Will You Remember You Once Were a Child?-Review: Once Upon a Memory (2013)

“Does a book remember it once was a word?”

Once-Upon-a-Memory-cover

Once Upon a Memory (2013) by Nina Laden, illustrated by

Renata Liwska

Suggested age range: 4 and up

(Little, Brown, & Company, 40 pages)

Rating: 5/5 stars

Genre: Picturebook, Fantasy

Source: Library

The Book: A feather floating through a window sets in motion a boy’s curiosity about the world. He wonders whether a cakes, book, garden, and island remember their beginnings. One page opens with a question, such as “Does a statue remember it once was… and the opposite page reads the answer: “stone?”  Laden’s verses leave gaps for the pictures to fill, and a sense of childlike wonder is reflected in both the text and images of Once Upon a Memory.

Liwska’s beautiful hand sketchings were inspired by her observation of animals in the natural world, and their antics throughout the story are enchanting and delightful. A textured feather graces one of the endpapers, and Liwska’s bears are expressive and perfect for the story. Here is a story that reminds us to step into childlike wonder and awe, and to reflect on love’s beginnings and the beauty of the natural world.

Spirituality in Once Upon a Memory: Maintaining a sense of wonder and awe at the world is a characteristic of spirituality, and the picturebook celebrates this attribute. Sometimes, marveling at the beauty of the natural world, or even pondering our origins can connect us to the Creator, and this story leaves open such possibility. It doesn’t matter that a young boy and bears are telling us this story visually; the book invites readers to consider a spiritual aspect of life—the importance of maintaining and nurturing a sense of wonder and awe at the world around us, as well as ourselves and our loved ones.

Exploring this Book with Readers: The book ends with a list of favorite things the author and illustrator remember. Items from the list include “eating grandma’s chocolate chip cookies,” “learning to speak French,” “sitting by the bonfire and listening to stories” and “getting letters and postcards from the mailbox.” The list ends with a question for the reader: “What are some of your favorite things to remember?” In addition to talking about these favorite things, readers might also draw some of their favorite memories. They could sing, dramatize, or dance their memories. In this way, readers have the opportunity to explore different literacies for expressing what is important to them. Even the part of the book asking, “Does an ocean remember it once was…rain?” represents an entire dance or drama that readers could create. A whole discussion could center on this notion of origins of the natural world. The book certainly reflects potential for a diversity of activities and curriculum to help readers enjoy and draw meaning from it.

The Final Word: I appreciated the rhyming verse in this story as well as the humorous and fantasy-filled pictures with their expressive bears, birds, and ducks. The cover of the book with the boy perched, reading in the tree with the owl and squirrel drew me to the story, as well as its title, reminiscent of fairy-tale beginnings. There are dinosaurs and even a raccoon. This is a delightful, warm, and reflective fantasy picturebook, perfect for a read-aloud, and perfect as a discussion starter for sharing memories and creating new ones. I love the double-page spread at the conclusion of the book, and think Liwska’s style is a fantastic match for Laden’s text.