White Bird by R.J. Palacio: Book Review

January 13th, 2020 by

white-birdIf you’ve read Wonder by R.J. Palacio, then you know the saying, “If you have a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.” In this new graphic novel by the same author, we see many characters who make the choice to be kind — and at the same time, there’s no question it is also the right choice, the moral choice, the just choice. And a dangerous choice.

White Bird is the story of Julian’s grandmother’s experience during the Holocaust, when she was a young girl in France. Julian plays a big role in Wonder and gets his own story in the follow-up, “The Julian Chapter,” but you don’t need to be familiar with those stories to read White Bird. The book opens and closes with a conversation between Julian and his grandma, but the majority of the action is a flashback to the grandmother’s youth.

Young Sara’s early life is good, growing up with her loving parents and enjoying time with her friends. But her carefree days start to change as the Nazis take control of France. At first, the changes aren’t too bad — Sara can’t go into certain stores or other businesses because she’s Jewish, but she gets used to just waiting outside for her friends.

Then her world turns upside down when the Nazis come to round up all the Jewish people in town and take them to concentration camps. Fortunately, Sara escapes — but then begins a lonely and scary period of hiding and waiting. Thanks to the kindness of a classmate’s family, Sara has shelter, food, and a little bit of company each day. But she lives with the fear of being caught.

Because she’s telling the story, we know that Sara survives the Holocaust, but we also know from history that millions of other people were not so lucky. So it’s appropriate that Sara’s story includes a lot of harrowing moments and sadly, also includes multiple deaths at the hands of the Nazis and their supporters. But the violence is not gory — and obviously, it’s an important and necessary part of the book. But so is the bravery and kindness of some of Sara’s neighbors.

So overall, this is clearly a sad story — but it’s not an unbearably depressing book. And the graphic novel format makes it easier to take everything in and helps keep the pace moving (the story takes place over years, but it doesn’t ever feel overwhelming). Check out a few pages from the book, shared on the publisher’s website:

white-bird-excerpt-1

white-bird-excerpt-2

white-bird-excerpt-3

Regardless of whether or not you’ve studied the Holocaust at school, this book will be a good addition to your knowledge and understanding of that period in history. But it doesn’t feel like a textbook; it’s a gripping story with characters you will come to care deeply about. Perhaps most importantly, the book reminds us that it’s our job to be an upstander (rather than a bystander) and to speak out against hateful attacks, actions, and laws and make sure that something like the Holocaust never happens again.

— Karen

Right after finishing this book, Karen turned to her friend and started talking about it. You may also want to discuss the book with other people, so Karen would suggest reading it alongside friends, parents, or other family members so you can experience it together and then talk about it after. Also, keep some tissues handy.

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A Squall of Snowy Stories

December 19th, 2019 by

snowman in snowglobeWhat’s a “snow squall”? It’s a relatively short but intense period of heavy snow and strong winds. And yesterday, many New York City residents (myself included) learned the term as a Snow Squall Warning was issued for NYC for the first time in history!

Fortunately, I was inside the whole day and didn’t have to deal with the storm — and I expect I’ll be spending more and more time indoors as we get into the heart of chilly winter weather. But what a perfect time to curl up with a mug of hot cocoa, a fluffy blanket, and a good book, right?

And if you’re looking for the perfect story for the season, then look no further than these two booklists published on Kidsmomo in winters past:

Cool Books for Cold-Weather Reading

A Wintry Mix of Books

And if you’ve got a favorite wintry or holiday-themed book that we haven’t mentioned here, please share in the comments!

— Karen

Besides the titles mentioned in our booklists, Karen would also recommend the Greenglass House books by Kate Milford — which are perfect for this time of year. A snowy lodge? Check. Cheerful Christmas traditions with family? Check. A surprising mystery and possibly dangerous criminals infiltrating the main character’s home? Perhaps not a usual part of everyone’s holidays, but check and check!

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Strange Birds by Celia C. Pérez: Book Review

December 9th, 2019 by

strange-birdsAs an adult, I just have to say this up front: If you’re in a public bathroom and find an anonymous invitation to a mysterious gathering, DO NOT decide to attend without telling anyone else what you’re doing. I mean, come on, you don’t even have to be an anxious old person like me to know that’s a bad idea.

But a bad idea in real life can certainly make for a good story in a book, can’t it? And Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers by Celia C. Pérez would definitely be a very different book if the four main characters didn’t all come together for their meetings. So I guess I can forgive the dangerous decision in this fictional instance — it sure leads to some exciting adventures!

That’s because Lane, Aster, Cat, and Ofelia are all very strong-willed and passionate people. In fact, they’re not even sure they like each other! But even so, they form a loyalty to one another and to a shared cause, which involves Cat’s love for birds. (Hence the punny title!)

I don’t want to reveal too many details about the girls’ shenanigans, but here’s a taste of what you can expect:

  • Stealthy political protest
  • Multiple chases (involving a security guard and a dog)
  • Rival families
  • Nighttime antics
  • New friends

I really enjoyed spending time with this group and each character separately. Ofelia is an aspiring journalist, Aster is an exceptional baker, Cat is a bird expert, and Lane is an artistic soul. But they are all more than their interests, as they’re each dealing with their own family drama and figuring out how to be the best and truest versions of themselves.

It was fun seeing these different characters come together, get to know each other, and create a partnership to fight for something they really believe in. It’s always inspiring to see people take action for justice and truth — especially when you get to see all the debate and exploration that goes into it. Power and props to these warriors!

If you’re a fan of Celia C. Pérez’s other book, The First Rule of Punk, then you should definitely check out Strange Birds. I’d also suggest this book if you like stories about kids and communities fighting for what’s right — even if that means making enemies of the people in power. So check out Strange Birds if you enjoyed Ghetto Cowboy by G. NeriThe Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya, or the Adam Canfield books by Michael Winerip.

Or just check out the book if you’re looking for some inspiration to get more involved and create change in your own school or neighborhood! After all, as Celia C. Pérez says in the Author’s Note for Strange Birds, “activism is for everyone. … Each of us has the ability to speak up for what we believe in, challenge what we disagree with, and support what we care about.”

— Karen

Karen spends a lot of time at her local library (as a volunteer), but to be honest, she tries to avoid the public bathroom. Maybe next time, she’ll check to see if there are any unusual messages there — but again, she should not and WILL NOT go by herself to meet any strangers. Sheesh.

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Rebound by Kwame Alexander: Book Review

November 24th, 2019 by

rebound-kwame-alexanderI am decidedly not a sports fan. The only sport I really like watching is Quidditch. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a good sports book — especially one that’s as much about the characters and their lives as about their athletics on the court. Rebound by Kwame Alexander falls into that group.

If you’ve read Kwame Alexander’s other books The Crossover or Booked, then you kind of know what to expect: The story is told in verse, from the perspective of the main character. And like those other books, Rebound goes back and forth between play-by-play sports sequences and moving family moments.

Rebound tells the story of Charlie, who is sent off to live with his grandparents the summer after his father dies. At first, Charlie would rather stay in his room reading comics. But before long, he’s forced to spend his days at the local Boys and Girls Club with his cousin, Roxie, working on his basketball skills.

Over the course of the summer, it’s not just Charlie’s game that improves — he finds himself learning a lot from his grandfather and maybe just maybe finally starting to deal with his heartbreak over losing his dad. But can he go the whole summer without getting into trouble? Let’s just say that despite his best intentions, Charlie finds it hard to stay out of hot water…

Unlike Kwame Alexander’s other books, Rebound also incorporates something new: comic panels that show some of Charlie’s fantasies of basketball glory. Pretty fitting for a character who loves comic books. I only wish there were even more comic parts to the book!

I’d recommend this book first and foremost to fans of The Crossover — not just because of the similar feel, but also because Charlie is actually the father of the main characters from The Crossover. So in a way, this is kind of a prequel to their story — or in comic book terms, it’s an origin story for Charlie Bell.

I’d also suggest this book if you’re a fan of other stories that tie together personal challenges and sports, like the Track series by Jason Reynolds or Heat by Mike Lupica.

What’s YOUR favorite sport? Leave a comment below! And if you’re like me and a Quidditch fan, you can also tell me your favorite magical team! (Mine’s the Holyhead Harpies, the only all-witch team in Britain!)

— Karen

Even though Karen doesn’t watch a lot of sports, she obviously still enjoys books involving sports. But she’d love to see a book that intersperses Quidditch matches and personal stories. Or wait, is that just Harry Potter?

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The Strangers (Greystone Secrets #1) by Margaret Peterson Haddix: Book Review

November 1st, 2019 by

the-strangers-greystrone-secrets-margaret-peterson-haddixI have a confession to make: Despite the approximately gazillion reviews that Kidsmomo readers have submitted for Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix, I’ve never read that book. Obviously, many of you love it, but I never picked it up because I wanted to avoid getting sucked into the whole seven-book series.

Well, the joke’s on me! Now I realize it wouldn’t have been too bad to get into that series, since all the books are already out. Instead, here I am waiting impatiently for the next installment in Margaret Peterson Haddix’s new series, The Greystone Secrets. Why oh why did I read the first book, The Strangers, a full half-year before the second book comes out? Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy??????!!!!!!

I was pulled into The Strangers immediately, as the main characters encounter a strange mystery. Three siblings (Chess, Emma, and Finn Greystone) learn about the kidnapping of three other siblings who have their same names and birthdates. Sure, those other kids live in a totally different state, but how can that be a coincidence? And why is their mom acting so weird, even though she claims there’s no connection with their family? Where is she really going when she leaves town abruptly after hearing about the kidnapping? She says it’s a business trip, but is she telling the truth?

I don’t want to ruin any of the suspense, so I won’t go into detail about what happens next. But as you’d expect, the three Greystone kids find themselves drawn into an adventure that none of them asked for — but which they must pursue to be sure that their family is safe. Let’s just say it involves secret codes, surprising identities, several twists, and a lot of danger.

If you like stories with mystery and suspense, I highly recommend The Strangers. I literally could not put the book down — even when I was hanging out with friends on vacation! On the first night of our trip, while everyone else chatted in the living room, I sat in the corner to finish reading this book. I just had to find out what would happen next! Now if only I didn’t have to wait six months to see what happens in Book #2: The Deceivers, coming out in April 2020… Why why why????????

Do YOU have another suspenseful mystery/adventure that you’d suggest I read in the meantime? Leave a comment below with your recommendation!

— Karen

After finishing The Strangers, did Karen jump into the conversation with her friends? No. Karen immediately proceeded to look up interviews with the author to learn more about the inspiration for this book. So the lesson here is that Karen is not a fun friend to travel with. Or if you’re going on vacation with her, give her a less interesting book to read.

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Spooky Books – Recommended by You!

October 19th, 2019 by

As Halloween approaches, there are some things you can always count on: Neighbors put decorations on their houses, friends start working on their costumes, and we here at Kidsmomo attempt to practice self-restraint and not eat all the candy that we buy for trick-or-treaters. (Sorry, brb, gotta get a chocolate bar…)

As you get ready for the ghoulish festivities on October 31st, now’s the perfect time to check out some spoooooooooky books for the season. Here are a few recommendations from Kidsmomo readers like you:

tookTook by Mary Downing Hahn

Reviewed by Ike, Age 10 from New York

“Read this book and follow the story of Daniel and Erica… The house they move into is a house in the middle of nowhere that is not in good condition. … In their town they live in strange disappearances have happened…”

Read Ike’s full review and check out another review from Abygail-rose (also age 10)

the-collector-kr-alexanderThe Collector by K.R. Alexander

Reviewed by Taylor, Age 10 from Missouri

“I think that you should read it because it’s about a little girl name Josie and her sister named Anna, they just moved in with their grandma, and they meet a girl named Vanessa… Annas grandma has strange rules, the first one is never leave your windows open after dark, the next one is no dolls in the house and last is never ever go by the house in the woods…”

Read Taylor’s full review and check out another review from Meara (also age 10)

Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell

Reviewed by Cassie, Age 11 from New York

“This book is about a girl who’s freind dyes the night they played the ojie board Sopie goes to Skype to warn her family that see let out Rebeca her cousin who died at the age of 7. And then Sopie finds out that Rebecas sister had killed her…”

Read Cassie’s full review

If you have a favorite spooky book that you want to share, leave a comment below!

Happy haunting!

Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj: Book Review

October 2nd, 2019 by

Abby-Spencer-Goes-to-BollywoodSometimes when I see all the cool stuff that celebrities do, I wish that I were famous. I want to attend award shows and be invited to fancy restaurant openings and get free stuff! But at the same time, I wouldn’t want to give up my privacy or have people judge every little thing I do. Can you imagine just walking down the street or going to the grocery store and having paparazzi take pictures of your every move?

Well, in Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj, that’s exactly the life Abby experiences. But it’s not because she’s famous herself, it’s because her dad is a celebrity. And not just any celebrity — he’s the most popular Bollywood actor in all of India!

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. When the book starts, Abby doesn’t even know who her dad is. She’s been living with her mom in Texas all her life, and it’s just been the two of them. Fortunately, her maternal grandparents live nearby, and her grandpa has stepped in for her dad at various school events over the years. But Abby still wishes she knew more about her dad and had him in her life.

Then she gets her wish — and more — when she finds out her dad is Indian super star Naveen Kumar, lead actor in dozens of big movies and a major heartthrob. Most people in America haven’t heard of him, but he’s pretty much Bollywood royalty — and before she knows it, Abby is drawn into that world when she goes to visit him.

As if it weren’t hard enough meeting her dad for the first time, Abby has to do it while constantly surrounded by mobs of fans, the press, and her dad’s staff. Adding to the challenges: To protect her father’s reputation, Abby and her family have decided to keep their relationship a secret until after his next big movie premiere. At least Abby has the company of a cute boy to keep her distracted!

I would definitely recommend this book if you enjoy any of the following:

Do YOU ever wish you were a celebrity? What would you want to be famous for? Leave a comment about your talents!

— Karen

Just like everyone else, Karen’s favorite part of Bollywood movies are the over-the-top dance numbers. Karen tried to volunteer for a Southeast Asian dance routine in her friend’s show in college, but alas, the group only needed more guys. Maybe Karen would be a famous dancer today if only she hadn’t been turned away… But probably not!

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Books to Big Screen: The Secret Garden & Little Women

September 23rd, 2019 by

Over the last couple months, the world was treated to trailers for two forthcoming movies based on beloved children’s classics: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Funnily enough, both books already have multiple movie and TV adaptations — but the most recent theatrical releases were about 25 years ago, so perhaps it’s not surprising that Hollywood decided it was time for more remakes.

Check out the new trailers, and compare them to the older adaptations:
 
The Secret Garden: Coming in Spring 2020

 
 
The Secret Garden: 1993 version

 
 
Little Women: Coming in December 2019

 
 
Little Women: 1994 version


 
 
I’m pretty excited about the new Little Women movie, but to be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about the new version of The Secret Garden. It looks gorgeous, but it seems like the filmmakers may be straying quite a bit from the original story. Then again, this is just the teaser trailer. Hopefully we’ll be able to get a better sense of the film whenever they release a full trailer.

What do YOU think? Are you excited for the new adaptations? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

— Karen

Karen must admit, she still has a magazine ad for the 1993 adaptation of The Secret Garden hanging on the wall in her old bedroom at her parents’ house. To be honest, she doesn’t really remember the movie, but she must have liked it! Maybe it’s time for a rewatch before the new one comes out…

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Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard: Book Review

September 9th, 2019 by

just-like-jackie-book-coverFor a while, I’ve been intrigued by the cover of Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard. First of all, I love the winter. So immediately, I’m like, “Yes, take me to that place with the fluffy snow and all the trees.” Secondly, I’m like, “Clearly that guy is Jackie, and this girl wants to be just like him. So this is definitely going to be a feel-good book about these two smiling people. Sign me up.”

But guess what — this book is NOT about super happy times frolicking in the winter woods. I bet you figured that out already. Well, it took me a little longer. But it didn’t take me that long because on the very first page, the main character punches someone in the face and calls him a weenie. Seeing that, I was like, “Okay, maybe I misjudged this book.” But I was also like, “Oh, yes, I am even more intrigued now!” Then I ripped through the rest of the book, and I would highly recommend you read it too.

Turns out, there is no one in this book named Jackie. Here are the characters you’ll actually meet:
 

  • The protagonist’s name is Robinson (Robbie for short), and she is named after Jackie Robinson. She’s constantly angry, but she tries to be calm and strong (just like Jackie Robinson) instead of giving in to her rage. But it’s hard when she’s always reminded that she has no family except her grandfather. And how is she supposed to control her temper when she sees the school bully giving everyone a hard time?
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  • Robbie’s best friend is named Derek, and he’s a frequent target of the bullying. It’s because he’s not athletic or particularly confident — but that doesn’t matter to Robbie because he’s kind, and he knows her inside and out. Still, it makes him an easy mark for bullying.
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  • Speaking of which, the bully is named Alex. And he’s pretty terrible. But when he and Robbie are forced to meet during group time, Robbie realizes there may be more to him than she realized.
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  • Robbie’s grandfather is named Charlie, and there is definitely more going on with him than meets the eye. Although he still does a great job fixing cars at the garage that he owns, he’s getting more forgetful and confused. He says the wrong words, puts things in the wrong place in the house, and sometimes loses track of what he’s doing even if he’s done it a million times before, like when he’s cooking mac and cheese. Robbie’s worried about him — and about what will happen to her if people find out, since he’s her guardian.
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  • Fortunately, Robbie and her grandpa have the support of the guy who works at the garage with them, who is named Harold. If only Robbie can stay out of trouble at school and avoid getting sent home so much…

 
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, from start to finish. Robbie is a realistic character with lots of complicated and deep emotions. Same for all the other people in her world. I was rooting for all of them, and I think you will too!

You’ll especially like this book if you enjoy reading family stories involving grandparents (like Merci Suárez Changes Gears and Ten Rules for Living with My Sister). This is also a good pick if you like books where characters create their own families in their communities (like Because of Winn-Dixie and Counting by 7s).

Have you already read Just Like Jackie? Submit a review with your thoughts! Or leave a comment below answering this question: If you could be named after anyone famous (athlete or otherwise), who would it be?

— Karen

It’s hard to decide, but Karen would probably choose to be named Jo — after both JK Rowling (whose real name is Joanne, or “Jo” for short) and Josephine “Jo” March in Little Women. She likes the idea of being named after two fierce female writers!

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Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older: Book Review

August 17th, 2019 by

dactyl-hill-squadWhat if humans and dinosaurs coexisted? We’ve all seen a few takes on the idea of early humans and dinosaurs living alongside each other back in the day — like the movie The Good Dinosaur, for example.

But what about dinos in New York City during the Civil War? Now that’s an idea that never would have occurred to me. Thank goodness author Daniel José Older has a more imaginative mind than I do!

In his Dactyl Hill Squad series, humans use dinosaurs for everyday transportation: People ride wagons pulled by “trikes” (triceratops) instead of horses. The fire department rides on brontosauruses. Instead of ferries, people ride sauropods that wade through the water. And above the rooftops of NYC, a group of orphan spies ride on pterodactyls.

Orphan spies? Yes, you read that right. Magdalys and her friends live at the Colored Orphan Asylum — that is, until the night rioters burn it down and kidnap the residents. The only ones left are Magdalys and a few other kids who happened to be at a field trip that night, and now it’s up to them to save their friends.

On the way, they team up with the Vigilance Committee, a group of black and brown New Yorkers who have have set up their own community and who protect free blacks in the North from being captured and sold into slavery in the South. These brave, strong men and women have the experience and connections to help Magdalys and her friends. But even so, can a small group of homespun warriors and untrained kids triumph over an established contingent of savage criminals?

I’d definitely recommend that you read the book to find out! It’s full of action, humor, and heart — and don’t forget the dinos! But be warned: The battle sequences are a large part of the book, and they include lots of detail. If you don’t like any violence at all, then this probably isn’t the book for you. It’s not gory, but still, there are quite a few passages focused on the fighting.

Also, you might want to know that a black character in the book is lynched. The actual act of the hanging is not described, but I wanted to mention it because obviously, it’s still horrible. At the same time, it’s important that the book doesn’t skip over such hard realities. Yes, there are dinosaurs, but this is still historical fiction in a way, and the truth is that humans did terrible things to other humans — and somehow justified their actions by saying that white people are naturally and rightfully superior to black people. Even today, we’re still dealing with this attitude and the way that it has played out in our country. So I’m glad that the book forces the reader to face these truths.

But don’t worry — this book isn’t all doom and gloom. Like I said, it’s more of a rip-roaring action adventure. And for good measure, there are also plenty of funny bits as Magdalys and her friends interact with each other.

Fortunately, Dactyl Hill Squad is a series, and the second book is already out. So be sure to add both Book 1 (Dactyl Hill Squad) and Book 2 (Freedom Fire) to your to-read list!

And after you update your list, leave a comment below. I want to know: If you could replace vehicles and other modes of transportation with any animal or any kind of technology (or magic!), what would you choose?

— Karen

Karen hates wasting time in transit and she loves Harry Potter, so naturally she would vote for apparition as her ideal mode of travel.

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