Book Birthday, Middle Grade Literature, Novels in Verse

Happy Book Birthday to The Magical Imperfect by Chris Baron!

It’s the fall of 1989. 12 year old Etan loves rooting for the San Francisco Giants with his dad, drawing, and walking Buddy, his neighbor’s dog. Ever since his mom checked into a hospital to treat her mental illness, Etan has stopped speaking because she was the one person he could talk to about everything. He and her best friend Jordan have drifted apart and with his dad working a lot, Etan spends a lot of time at his grandfather’s jewelry shop who shares stories of immigrating from Prague to the United States to flee the Nazis.

One day, a neighbor and fellow shop owner, Mrs. Li, asks Etan to make a delivery to the home of Malia, a young Filipina girl living with severe eczema. Bullied because of her skin, Malia is now homeschooled. After Etan shares a drawing of her dragon mailbox with Malia, the two connect quickly. Etan feels comfortable talking with her and as they explore the redwoods near her house, Malia opens up about her health condition. After Etan is cut during an earthquake tremor, his grandfather applies a clay from the old world on his arm and sings something in Hebrew making the cut disappear. He wonders if this earthly material could cure Malia. What Etan has yet to realize though is “true friendship is the oldest and strongest form of medicine.”

Gorgeously written in verse from the point of view of Etan, The Magical Imperfect is a touching and hopeful story of family, friendship, and finding out who you are. The setting perfectly fits the plot, for throughout the story, small earthquakes occured emphasizing the uncertainty in both Etan’s and Malia’s lives. Would Etan’s mom come home? Would Malia skin heal? When the historic earthquake occurred right before the third game of the 1989 World Series between the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants, my heart was racing and I couldn’t stop reading. And like Rajani LaRocca’s novel in verse, Red, White, and Whole, I loved being transported back to the 1980’s and cannot deny I visited YouTube to watch Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time video. Thanks to the author and MacMillan Children Publishing for sharing an eARC with me.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?, Middle Grade Literature, Novels in Verse, Picture Books

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 6/7/21

Bella and I are excited to share our latest reads in It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR is a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading. Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers and Jen Vincent of Teach Mentor Texts decided to give it a #kidlit focus and encourage everyone who participates to visit at least 3 of the other #kidlit book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.

Summer is upon us! 12 more days of school until my year officially ends. It’s definitely been an historical school year beginning 100% virtual in September and transitioning to hybrid in March. As challenging as it has been at times, I have grown professionally and personally. I am so grateful for time to relax, reflect & rejuvenate and as always, read! Books remain a source of comfort and I am grateful for all the stories read that always they remind me to always be hopeful.

The 17 year cicadas are in their glory right now.  Apparently most dogs include my sweet Bella consider them a tasty treat.  I have to closely monitor Bella to ensure she does not over indulge.

The cicada sounds are very soothing.  Take a listen. 


Our Recent Reads:

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The Magical Imperfect by Chris Baron 

It’s the fall of 1989. 12 year old Etan loves rooting for the San Francisco Giants with his dad, drawing, and walking Buddy, his neighbor’s dog. Ever since his mom checked into a hospital to treat her mental illness, Etan has stopped speaking because she was the one person he could talk to about everything. He and her best friend Jordan have drifted apart and with his dad working a lot, Etan spends a lot of time at his grandfather’s jewelry shop who shares stories of immigrating from Prague to the United States to flee the Nazis.

One day, a neighbor and fellow shop owner, Mrs. Li, asks Etan to make a delivery to the home of Malia, a young Filipina girl living with severe eczema. Bullied because of her skin, Malia is now homeschooled. After Etan shares a drawing of her dragon mailbox with Malia, the two connect quickly. Etan feels comfortable talking with her and as they explore the redwoods near her house, Malia opens up about her health condition. After Etan is cut during an earthquake tremor, his grandfather applies a clay from the old world on his arm and sings something in Hebrew making the cut disappear. He wonders if this earthly material could cure Malia. What Etan has yet to realize though is “true friendship is the oldest and strongest form of medicine.”

Gorgeously written in verse from the point of view of Etan, The Magical Imperfect is a touching and hopeful story of family, friendship, and finding out who you are. The setting perfectly fits the plot, for throughout the story, small earthquakes occured emphasizing the uncertainty in both Etan’s and Malia’s lives. Would Etan’s mom come home? Would Malia skin heal? When the historic earthquake occurred right before the third game of the 1989 World Series between the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants, my heart was racing and I couldn’t stop reading. And like Rajani LaRocca’s novel in verse, Red, White, and Whole, I loved being transported back to the 1980’s and cannot deny I visited YouTube to watch Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time video. Thanks to the author and MacMillan Children Publishing for sharing an eARC with me. The Magical Imperfect celebrates its book birthday next week on June 15, 2021.

Nerdycorn by Andrew Root Illustrated by Erin Kraam

While her fellow unicorns are leaping over rainbows and splashing in waterfalls, Fern is building robots, coding, experimenting, and reading.  She also has a big heart always willing to help others but after being called Nerdycorn and not being invited to Sparkle Dance parties, Fern decides that her kindness has run out and refuses fixing Flutter Phones and Shimmer Bikes. On the night of the Sparkle Dance, all the machines that are on the fritz.  The unicorns apologize for their behavior, but Fern is still annoyed.  Will Fern accept her apology or hold on to her grudge?

Nerdycorn is a sweet story about not only having the confidence to be yourself but also sthe courage to stick up for yourself.  I love that Fern is proud of who she is, but my heart did hurt for her when the other unicorns teased her.  Fern’s decision to take a hiatus from lending a hand taught the unicorns the valuable lesson, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”  The bold and lively illustrations show the range of both Fern’s and the other unicorns’ feelings throughout the story.  Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of Nerdycorn.  It recently published on May 18, 2021.

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Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places by Katie Frawley Illustrated by Laurie Stansfield

Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places is an entertaining and engaging story with a sweet message to appreciate what we have. Frawley’s choice to use text messages to tell the story is clever and unique.  As an adult reading the story aloud, I enjoyed the puns and alliterative closings (feeling fierce, primal and pouncing).  I also appreciated the post scripts included in some of the messages which added useful information. Stansfield’s colorful and expressive illustrations practically leap off the page and since there are a number of wordless page spreads, her vivid artwork moves the plot along,  And pay close attention to the endpapers, for the front explains why both Tabitha and Fritz are craving a change in habitat and the back shows how Tabitha and Fritz both surprised each other on their return home.  To read my full review and giveaway entry details to win your own copy, click here


 Bella’s Dog Pick of the Week

Wanting to spread the dog love, Beagles and Books has a weekly feature of highlighting a literary selection with a canine main character.

Hugo and the Impossible Thing by Renée Felice Smith and Chris Gabriel Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

At the edge of the forest, there is the Impossible Thing. a mess of boulders, thorns, rivers and cliffs. Hugo, a curious French bull terrier wonders why it is called impossible, for no animal has ever attempted to get through it and see what is on the other side. Apparently, Mr. Bear, Little Fox, Miss Otter, and Old Mr. Goat have deemed it impossible. While Hugo may not be as strong and clever as Mr. Bear and Little Fox and have the swimming and climbing skills as Miss Otter and Old Mr. Goat, Hugo decides he has to try. The next morning, when Hugo reaches the edge of the forest, he realizes that he does not have to tackle the Impossible Thing alone. All his forest friends are there ready to lend a hand to make the impossible possible.

Inspired by Smith’s and Gabriel’s dog, Hugo, who overcame a life threatening illness, Hugo and the Impossible Thing is a feel good story about courage, friendship, and teamwork. I love Hugo’s positive attitude. He doesn’t question each animal’s response when he/she says the Impossible Thing has always been impossible. In fact, he agrees that is what he has heard, but despite it, Hugo thinks he is going to try. Hugo’s determination propels the animals to change their fixed mindset to a growth mindset. The soft illustrations show Hugo’s positivity from beginning to end and the other animals’ transformation from skeptic to believer.

Bella and I thank you for visiting Beagles and Books!

#Bookexcursion, Debut Author, Middle Grade Literature, Novels in Verse, Picture Books

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 5/10/21

Bella and I are excited to share our latest reads in It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR is a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading.  Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers and Jen Vincent of Teach Mentor Texts decided to give it a #kidlit focus and encourage everyone who participates to visit at least 3 of the other #kidlit book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.


Our Recent Reads:

Unsettled by Reem Faruqi 

13 year old Nurah has lived in Pakistan her whole life, but everything changes when her father announces he has accepted a job in the United States.  Leaving her grandparents and her best friend, Nurah and moves to Peachtree City, Georgia with her older brother Owais, and her parents.  Getting acclimated is not easy, for although Nurah speaks English well, she encounters a language barrier learning to pronounce words more American and understanding vocabulary such as shopping cart instead of trolley.  At her old school, Nurah’s voice was loud, but in her new school, it is quiet.  Fortunately, swimming at the rec center brings Nurah and her brother comfort, for the water is like a cool hug reminding them of home.  When Nurah and Owais try out and make the swim team, she meets Stahr, her first friend in Georgia; now, Nurah has someone to talk and sit with at lunch.  Nurah loves swimming but is always in the wake of her brother who seems to win medals without even trying.  With practice, Nurah gains confidence not only in her swimming, but also in using her voice to speak up for herself and others.

Written in verse from the perspective of Nurah,  Faruqi’s gorgeous, lyrical text draws you in and allows you to truly get to know Nurah- her worries and dreams. When I read the verse title, Blue Cocoon, I was able to not only visualize but also understand what that rec pool in Georgia meant to Nurah.   When she and Stahr talk and talk at Baskin Robbins, Nurah compares her move to the melting cookies in her ice cream, for perhaps, over time, all the hard bits go away.  While Nurah initially seems quiet, readers learn that when she gets mad, she is like a tea kettle-calm but then explodes.  I love witnessing Nurah’s journey from uncertainty to realizing that her opinion is the only one that matters.  With this new awareness, she begins wearing her hijab proudly even including it in her self portrait which shows her courage to stand out rather than blend in.

In the author’s note, I appreciate that Faruqi shares that the story is based on her own experiences. Thanks to the author for sharing an ARC with my #bookexcursion group.  Unsettled celebrates its book birthday tomorrow on May 11, 2021.

Glitter Gets Everywhere by Yvette Clark 

As the story begins, 10 year old Kitty is grieving the loss of her beloved mum.   She has the support of family-her father, older sister Imogen, and Gran as well as her godmother, her mum’s best friend who all are mourning along with her.  When her father announces an opportunity to temporarily move to New York City for his work, Kitty is resistant.  London is where all her memories of her mum are as well as her best friend Jess.

Living and going to school in New York City is both challenging and exciting for Kitty.  At home, everyone knew about Kitty’s story but at her new school, she doesn’t know how to answer questions about her mum.  A surprising friendship with Henry, a classmate and the son of a famous actor who is battling his own issues with his parents’ public divorce is good therapy as they both see the bravery in each other.

Clark’s debut is both heartfelt and hopeful.  My heart hurt for Kitty, but I also knew how much she was loved by her family and friends.  One of my favorite parts of the novel was Kitty’s birthdays, for her mum had written her letters to read and gifted her a charm to add to her bracelet.  Get tissues ready because these letters will make cry, but they also make Kitty realize that while her mum is no longer on earth, she would always be with her no matter where she is and while change isn’t easy, Kitty must embrace it and never be afraid to try new things.  For children experiencing a loss or transition, Glitter Gets Everywhere is a story of promise, for with grief, there is always love.  Thanks to the author for sharing an ARC with my #bookexcursion group. Glitter Gets Everywhere published last week on May 4, 2021.

Ways to Grow Love (Ryan Hart #2) by Renee Watson

Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting Ryan Hart and her family in Ways to Make Sunshine.  In the second book of the series, it’s summer and while Ryan has becoming a big sister and attending her church’s overnight camp to look forward to, she also realizes that the baby is changing everything.  Because of her mom’s morning sickness, she has to go to the library with her grandma to pick out books for summer reading and it’s just not the same.  Ryan has been impatiently waiting to go to summer camp but between her older brother Ray’s ghost stories and finding out her friend Amanda invited Red to join them, she is nervous.  Red was mean to Ryan at Amanda’s birthday party and feels Red is competing with her to become Amanda’s best friend.

Ryan’s name means king and her parents remind her to live up to her name and be a leader.  At summer camp, Ryan offers to be cabin captain and the direction of their skit.  But when Ray and his friends continue to scare Ryan and her friends, Ryan goes along with something she knows is wrong.  What I love about Ryan is she truly strives to do the right thing but readers get to see her struggles as well especially as she navigates changes in friendship and family.

Written in under 200 pages with short chapters, dynamic characters, an engaging plot, and Mata’s charming black and white illustrations, Watson’s series is so accessible to readers transitioning into middle grade novels.  Thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sharing an ARC with my #bookexcursion group.  Ways to Grow Love released on April 27. 2021.


 Bella’s Pick of the Week

Wanting to spread the dog love, Beagles and Books has a weekly feature of highlighting a book with a canine main character.

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Hudson and Tallulah Take Sides by Anna Kang Illustrated by Christopher Weyant

Hudson and Tallulah Take Sides is a story of how even opposites can find some happy medium and become friends.  While Tallulah is prim and proper and Hudson is free spirited and messy, they both can’t refrain from enjoying the puddle.  This revelation is groundbreaking, for perhaps, they are not as different as they once believed.  Kang’s peppy dialogue is concise and on point which allows Weyant’s lively and humorous illustrations to not only move the plot along but also show the progression of Hudson’s and Tallulah’s relationship.

When I read this story to kindergarten students for #classroombookaday, I asked them to tell me what did the author and illustrator want us to learn.  Here are some of their thoughts.

  • “The dog and the cat both like to jump in puddles so that’s why they became friends.”
  • “You don’t have to like the same things to be friends.”
  • “It’s better to be friends than enemies.”
  • Dogs and cats are different but can still be friends.”

Pretty smart kids.  Thankful for picture books like Hudson and Tallulah Take Sides which support teaching theme with our youngest learners.

To read my full review and enter a giveaway, click here. Thanks to Two Lions/Amazon Publishing and Barbara Fisch of Blue Slip Media for sharing a copy with me. Hudson and Tallulah Take Sides recently published on May 1, 2021.

Bella and I thank you for visiting Beagles and Books!

#Bookexcursion, Author Interview, Debut Author, Middle Grade Literature, Novels in Verse

Happy Book Birthday ALONE: Interview with author Megan Freeman and Review

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I am so thrilled to have had the opportunity to talk with author Megan Freeman about ALONE, her debut middle grade novel in verse which celebrates its book birthday today!  I was blessed to read an ARC of ALONE and am so excited that Maddie’s story is published and available for all to read.  


The Interview:

BB: Hi Megan!  Welcome to Beagles and Books!  Congratulations on ALONE!  How did you get the idea to write this compelling novel? 

MF: The genesis for the story came from a mother-daughter book club gathering when my daughter and her friends were in fifth grade. We read Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell and the girls were fascinated by how Karana could survive alone on an island. I pointed out that the island was her home, and she was already comfortable there. The greater challenge was being alone for eighteen years. I asked them to imagine what it would be like for them to come home after school to find everyone in the entire town gone. What if they couldn’t reach anyone for help? What if no one came back? What would they do? How would they survive? I couldn’t get the idea out of my head and it became the seed of the story.

BB: Did you plan to write ALONE in verse or did that evolve as you were in the writing process? 

MF: The writing of the book went through many iterations and took many years. I first wrote the book in prose, third person voice, and past tense. After many rounds of revisions, submissions, and feedback from multiple sources, I began again, this time tapping into my experience and skill as a poet. I rewrote the story in verse, using first person voice and present tense. This allowed me to get inside Maddie’s head and explore the solitary and sensory nature of her experience. The prose had served the plot, but the poetry freed the story.

BB: In ALONE, Maddie’s town is evacuated but it is never explained why. Is there a reason you kept the evacuation a mystery? 

MF: The entire story is told through Maddie’s point of view, and so the reader can only ever know what Maddie knows. As a seventh grader in the beginning of the book, she’s not paying much attention to events happening beyond her friendships and her life in school. When she’s left alone, she becomes concerned about possible threats to her safety, but she doesn’t have much information so she can only imagine what might be safe or dangerous. By the time she’s finally reunited with her parents (spoiler alert!), she’s been alone for so long and she’s so relieved, that the cause of the evacuation is secondary to being with the people she loves and has been craving for three and a half years. The final poem in the book gives the reader some information about the nature of what happened, but it isn’t Maddie’s primary focus, so it can’t be the reader’s either.

BB: I was in awe of how resourceful and resilient Maddie was surviving on her own. Did her skills come from your personal knowledge or did you do research? 

The ideas for Maddie’s skills came from a variety of sources. I spent a lot of time looking around my house and my town and speculating on what would be helpful if I were trying to survive alone. I also asked myself what I might do and how I might think if I were in Maddie’s situation at her age. And of course I asked my friends and my daughter’s friends what they might do in different scenarios. I did have to research certain things, like what happens when the electrical grid shuts down and what the impacts would be on other utilities like water and gas.

BB: The poem, “The Summer Day,” by Mary Oliver really struck a chord with me especially the question “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Can you share what the poem means to you and why you included in ALONE? 

MF: I grew up hearing Mary Oliver’s poems read often, and “The Summer Day” packs a wallop of a punch, especially with that last question you quoted. At first, the intimacy of feeding a grasshopper in the palm of one’s hand and then reflecting on one’s mortality may seem incongruous, but it’s at the heart of what it means to be fully present and awake in one’s life. The speaker in the poem is entirely concentrated on the specificity of the grasshopper eating, and it’s the speaker’s ability to be so present that connects her directly to the miracle of her own life and her place in the natural world. It’s impossible to grasp the miracle of one’s life without being keenly aware of the inevitability of one’s death. To be truly present means coming to terms with the fact that every life is finite, including our own. When we stop taking our lives for granted, we realize there is no greater gift than to be present and alive to the beauty of each moment. The question at the end of the poem, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?” is an invitation from the speaker to the reader to become fully present in the world and to manifest a life worthy of the miracle it is before death takes it back.

In ALONE, Mary Oliver’s poem becomes the catalyst that helps Maddie think differently about her situation. Her close reading of each line leads her to become fully present to the truth of her life and to stop living in the future of hope or the past of regret. It allows her to let go of the longing that causes her so much suffering, and only then she is able to come to terms with her present reality. Once she does, she finds a measure of peace she hadn’t previously known, and she is able to move through her days with a lighter heart, despite her grief. ALONE is a book about physical survival, but it’s also about psychological and spiritual resilience. The existential angst that Maddie endures is no less a challenge than the life-threatening situations she finds herself in. To triumph in the story, she needs to overcome existential hurdles as well as physical ones, and this poem helps her do that.

BB: Are you working on any new projects you can share? 

I have a few things in the pipeline that I hope to share more about soon, and I’m currently working on a new middle grade novel that I’m really enjoying. It’s completely different from ALONE, but I love the characters and the world they live in. It’s a pleasure to greet them at my desk every day.

BB: Thank you so much Megan!  I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions providing a window into your process of writing ALONE.  


My Review: 

Maddie and her two best friends secretly plan a sleepover at her grandparents’ empty apartment. At the last minute, both friends cancel. Since Maddie has already lied to her divorced parents, she decides to stay there alone binging on old black and white movies and junk food.  When she wake up the next morning, she had no idea how truly alone she would be.  Her whole town, including her family, have been evacuated overnight. Because of her lie, her mom and dad each think Maddie is safe with the other leaving text messages that they will reconnect at the embarkation point.  With no cell phone connection, Maddie returns home but it isn’t long before she realizes not only is she on her own but also she will have to survive without electricity and running water. On her search for supplies in her neighborhood, Maddie rescues George, her neighbor’s rottweiler who becomes her most precious and loyal companion. 

Narrated by 12 year old Maddie, Alone is a riveting novel in verse by debut author Megan Freeman.   I was completely in awe of Maddie’s resourcefulness and resilience.   She takes turns living at both parent’s houses depending on weather, recalls her dad’s advice of staying put and how to flush  a toilet that won’t refill, scours the neighborhood for food and solar lights, gets lake water to wash clothes, and drives her mom’s minivan with her bike helmet (better safe than sorry). She survives looters, a tornado, and a wildfire. My heart also hurt for Maddie because her loneliness is acute.  As I read, I was so grateful she had George for company as well as books.  I love the verses when Maddie went to the Millersville Public Library to get books to teach her things as well as provide an escape. And when she discovers poetry, something awakens in Maddie’s soul.  Realizing that while her situation seems bleak, Maddie realizes she has to do something with her one wild and precious life which is to live as completely and fully as she can.   

Alone teaches us great lessons about the power not only to survive but also to believe in the power of new beginnings.  Thanks to the author for sharing an ARC of Alone with my #bookexcursion group.  Alone publishes on January 21, 2021. 

This review was originally published on November 23, 2020.


Meet the Author:

Megan E. Freeman-HiRes-photo credit Laur
Photo credit: Laura Carson Photography

Megan E. Freeman attended an elementary school where poets visited her classroom every week to teach poetry and she has been a writer ever since. She writes middle grade and young adult fiction, and her debut middle grade novel-in-verse ALONE will be published in January 2021 from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin. Megan is also a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet, and her poetry collection, Lessons on Sleeping Alone, was published by Liquid Light Press. An award-winning teacher with decades of classroom experience, Megan is nationally recognized for her work leading workshops and speaking to audiences across the country. Megan used to live in northeast Los Angeles, central Ohio, northern Norway, and on Caribbean cruise ships. Now she lives in northern Colorado. 

 

#Bookexcursion, Early Chapter Books, Early Readers, It's Monday! What Are You Reading?, Middle Grade Literature, Novels in Verse, Picture Books

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 1/11/21

Bella and I are excited to share our latest reads in It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR is a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading.  Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers and Jen Vincent of Teach Mentor Texts decided to give it a #kidlit focus and encourage everyone who participates to visit at least 3 of the other #kidlit book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.

Continue reading “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 1/11/21”