Sunday, April 7, 2019

Where the Watermelons Grow, Cindy Baldwin. Della Kelly is 12 years old and lives with her dad, little sister and schizophrenic mother, who seems to be having a good patch. Della finds her one morning picking and tossing the seeds out of watermelons onto the table and floor, but her mother is fastidious and seeing her carelessly toss the seeds concerns her. Dad is busy with the farm, especially with a drought upon them. Della feels she can make her mother better, either by doing all the cleaning and caring for her baby sister, encouraging her mom to rest and reaching out to the bee lady for a honey cure. Della learns that her mom's first schizophrenic episode happened when she was pregnant with her, giving her some guilt feelings. She was hospitalized again when Della was younger. Her mom is talking to herself, obsessively scrubbing the floor, and not acting herself. With nothing helping, Della runs away to the fort she and her best friend, Arden, built thinking that would help. With the comforting support of family, neighbors, and friends, Della learns she can't change her mom, but she can rethink the relationship she has with her.

Mental illness is real and we need to help readers acknowledge that it is not an ugly word. Too often, families work through it alone and it doesn't have to be so. This is an important book for readers to grasp the trials and tribulations of living with someone owning a mental illness. Although, we may not understand the mind of someone living with schizophrenia, we can empathize with the one living with it, as well as those caring for those living with it.

This is Cindy Baldwin's debut novel, and I look forward to reading more of her books in the future.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Absolutely Almost, Lisa Graff. Albie is a fifth grader in a new school because his parents felt he needed a fresh start, but he is no longer at the same school as his best friend, Erlan, who lives down the hall in their apartment building. In his first day of school, he sits next to Betsy who likes bugs; however, she is bullied because of her stutter. Albie is an ordinary, average boy who never quite measures up to be who the adults around him want him to be, or at least, in his mind. His parents insist on him having a "babysitter" to watch out for him until they get home from work. But Calista, a young twenty-something girl, wins over his heart. She loves to sketch and they spend time sketching, reviewing spelling words, visiting museums, and  to the donut shop. One day when they meet up with Darren, the "cool" kid in school and his father playing basketball, Darren warms up to Albie. Yet, Calista warns him to be careful and rightfully so. Darren hopes to cozy up to Erlan, who is one of triplets, along with his triplet sisters, and their reality tv show. Darren initiates Albie into the "cool" club and the first thing he has to do is ditch Betsy, the stutterer. Along with losing the red gummy bears that she always gave him, he loses her as a friend, even when he realizes he was duped by Darren.

One day, everything is just plain going wrong. His mother sends in two dozen beautiful mini cupcakes for his birthday, forgetting that there is an egg allergy in the classroom, making cupcakes not allowed. Darren is asked to take them to the kitchen and when Albie goes to pick them up at the end of the day, there is a thumbprint in each and every cupcake. He doesn't understand why he is no longer "cool" and Betsy ignores him. When he finally shares his thoughts with Calista, she decides he needs a sad day and they spend it at the zoo where they see a python completely inhale a pig. When his mom finds out about Calista's stunt, she is let go, despite Albie's protests.

Lisa Graff is the author of A Tangle of Knots (look for a review within this blog) and she firmly grasps the hardships of young minds needing reassurance. Albie is an innocent boy, one with a kind heart who means well. He makes mistakes, learns lessons, and moves on. With short, easy to bite chapters, this will be a sure win with readers, young and old.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Mrs. Bixby's Last Day, John David Anderson. Mrs. Bixby, "one of the good ones" with the pink stripe in her hair and a Bixbyism quote for everything in her fifth grade class has cancer. Her last day party before leaving for treatments doesn't happen so Topher, Steve, (best friends) and Brand, (the new boy in town) set out to give her the party anyway at the hospital, but they have one day before she is transferred to a bigger hospital farther away. They combine their money, call the school pretending to be their parents excusing them from class that day, hop the city bus, and agonizingly make their way to see her.

With each new chapter, told from the three viewpoints, we laugh at the hilarity of purchasing, preserving, and protecting a white-chocolate raspberry supreme cheesecake, seethe at the angst of losing their money to George Nelson, who was to help them buy a bottle of wine, and tear up at their unfolding childhood stories. We learn the reasons why each boy, especially Brand, must see Mrs. Bixby again, "one of the good ones." You will find yourself rooting for them, experiencing every set back with them, and anxiously worrying about them. Topher, Steve, and Brand are unforgettable characters with the mischievousness of fifth grade boys, but the hearts of three golden puppies. They do finally make it to the hospital with their cheesecake, a bottle of whiskey, cold McDonald's French fries and a nearly dead cell phone. It doesn't turn out to be a good-bye party, but rather an Au revoir, or 'till we see each other again party.

This is a lovely, lovely story.
Product Details 
The Wednesday Wars, Gary D. Schmidt. The year is 1967 and the Viet Nam war is full on. Holling Hoodhood, a seventh grader in Long Island must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, because half his class attends temple and the other half attends Catechism and being Presbyterian, Holling attends neither. He is convinced Mrs. Baker does not like him because she forces him to read Shakespeare plays. One Wednesday afternoon, hoping to clean the erasers like he normally does, Mrs. Baker asks him to clean Sycorex and Caliban's cages (the two white rats that her husband gave her, who is now stationed in Viet Nam) instead. Things don't go smoothly and the two rodents end up loose and make their way into the ceiling. As Holling reads the works of Shakespeare, he finds himself enjoying his words, yet isn't too excited to be performing in the holiday Shakespeare extravaganza that Mr. Goldman, the baker, bribes him into. He must wear bright yellow tights with white tail feathers, causing him to be the "butt" of many jokes and pranks. As luck would have it, the same night as his performance, Yankee player, Mickey Mantle is scheduled to sign autographs at the Baker Sporting Emporium. At the end of his performance, Holling gets locked out of his dressing room and his dad fails to show up as planned to rush him to the Emporium for an autograph. He grabs a bus, makes it in time, only to have Mantle not sign for him because of his outlandish yellow tights. Days later, Mrs. Baker has a sweet surprise for him that he won't soon forget. 
The story progresses through the months of the 1967-68 school year when Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated, as is Bobby Kennedy, his older sister's idol. We worry about Mrs. Baker's husband, MIA in Viet Nam, and others that have lost loved ones in the war. We delight in the budding romance of Holling with Meryl Lee, whose father is also an architect, like Holling's father. Tension brews when Meryl's father, in a bidding competition with Holling's father for designing the new middle school, presents the identical floor plans to the school board as Holling's father was going to present. This Newbery Honor book is a delightful read that will not disappoint. Be sure to catch up with some of the same characters in Okay For Now by the same author.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal, Margarita Engle. Told in verse, this important story will shed light on the many Caribbean islanders that built the ever important Panama Canal in the early 1900s. Told in alternating voices between Mateo from Cuba, Henry from Jamaica, the young, beautiful, Native Anita, and the rain forest itself, we learn the perils of how this canal came to be. Immigrants earned silver coins for their backbreaking work, while the locals were paid in gold. The harsh working conditions, unfair treatment and blistering hours wake us up to the realities of how the two Americas were joined together.

This is a beautifully written book and important to understand an untold part of our history.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Raymie Nightingale, Kate DeCamillo. Raymie plans to enter the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, win, and get her picture in the newspaper so her father will leave the dental hygienist he ran away with and come home. She decides to learn baton twirling from Ida Nee, along with Louisiana Elefante, who also plans to win the contest and Beverly Tapinski, who plans to sabotage the contest. Along with baton twirling, Raymie needs to do some good deeds, so she decides to go to the Golden Glen nursing home and read to the patients. She chooses to read A Bright and Shining Path: The Life of Florence NIghtingale, a favorite book given to her by one of her teachers. When Alice, the screamer, frightens Raymie, she accidentally leaves the book under the bed. She convinces Beverly, not afraid of anything, to go back with her to retrieve it.e three girls arrive for baton twirling lessons, only to find Ida Nee not there. Beverly, the quick lock picker, steals them into her house, where they find her snoring away to country music, hugging her baton. Beverly sneakily swipes it from her hands and they continue on to The Very Friendly Animal Shelter to get Archie, Louisiana's lost cat, only to be told they don't have him. On their way back home, they see police outside Ida's house, who reported the theft of her beloved baton.

The girls become the Three Rancheroos and Raymie soon finds out how very much she is like Florence Nightingale, the heroic savior of sad souls, including her own.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Wake Up Missing, Kate Messner. Cat had a concussion, leaving her with headaches and dizziness. When her parents come across a scientific experiment that she can be a part of, they jump at it. She is flown to a remote region to begin the trial with two doctors: Dr. Ames and Dr. Gunther. Once there, she meets up with other kids there for the same reason. Phase one gives her instant relief, which includes oxygenation, walking on a treadmill to re-calibrate her system and new medicines. Early in her stay, she ventures out of her room only to overhear a conversation between the two doctors that leaves her suspicious and uncomfortable. One of the other girls, Sarah, already has her suspicions because the boy she liked, Trent, is changing and not for the better. Cat begins to agree with her. Her fears are confirmed by Molly, the woman that transported the kids by boat to the island, so they plan to meet up with her that night and escape back to the mainland. When she doesn't show up, Dr. Ames finds them and gets suspicious and stays outside Cat's room all night. The next morning, the kids are told the trial is over and that all parents have been called to come and pick them up.

The truth is that the doctors aren't planning on sending them home but somewhere else to further their experiment. Their plan it to take DNA from famous dead scientists, like Albert Einstein, Marie Curry and Robert Oppenheimer, to recreate their genius. The kids finally find a way to escape but not before Cat insists on sneaking into Dr. Ames' office to grab his computer. While traveling through the swamps, they must hide from Ames and his henchmen. They soon learn why Molly didn't meet them that night.

Readers will be on the edge of their seat as they traverse swampy terrain where alligators roam, escaping men with guns and a mad doctor on the loose.