Thursday, September 19, 2019

Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee


In the age of #MeToo, as more and more girls and women are speaking out about their personal sexual harassment experiences, author Barbara Dee takes on this issue and shows how easily it can happen and how girls and women are pushed into keeping silent.

For seventh-grader Mila Brennan, all starts with a green fuzzy sweater and the lingering hand of Callum Burley during a birthday hug for her friend Omi, much to the delight of his friends Dante, Tobias, and Leo, a/k/a the basketball boys, and much to Mila's discomfort. When it happens again later that day in band practice where Mila and Callum, both trumpeters, sit next to each other, her discomfort increases and begins to become suspicion.       
The next day, there are smirks from the basketball boys as Leo convinces Mila, who is wearing her fuzzy green sweater again, that it's his birthday and harasses her into giving him a hug. Soon, it's comments, smirks, and more unwanted touching, even when Mila switches to wearing a painted spattered plaid flannel shirt of her mother's instead of the green sweater. But when she tries to tell her friend what's happening, outgoing, flirty Zara, who has a crush on Leo, tells her she's overreacting, so Mila decides to keep things to herself. She doesn't want to bother her mom, either, Mrs. Brennan is divorced, and struggling to make ends meet, plus she works for a boss who keeps her in a constant stressful state, despite working long hours. Then, stress in the house increases when her mother finally quits her job, so Mila really doesn't want to add to that by telling her mother about the harassment at school.

And as luck would have it, Mila's guidance counselor is out on maternity leave. Her friend Max thinks Milas is being bullied by the basketball boys and that she should speak to Mr. McCabe, the vice-principal. He reminds her that when he was bullied the year before, Mila had encouraged him to speak with Mr. McCabe and the bullying stopped.

As Mila's anxiety, discomfort, and isolation grows, she begins to act out, but her actions only get her in trouble and the real problem continues to go noticed by any of the adults at school. But when her mother says that they have two weeks of free classes at the newly opens E Motions, a local gym, Mila determines that if friends don't understand what happening to her, she will "need to take care of myself. By myself." (pg 139) and signs on for karate classes. There, she begins to feel confident and empowered in the karate class, even making a new friend from band who understands what's happening at school. But it all comes tumbling down when Callum makes a cruel comment just before they go on stage for the school's Fall Concert. Desperate, Mila makes one last cry for help - on stage with her trumpet.

Maybe He Just Likes You is a well-written but difficult book to read, filled with exactly the kind of real confusion and honest emotions you would expect of a seventh grader who isn't sure she's the victim of sexual harassment or the subject of a cruel prank. Either way, it's tricky terrain for Mila.

In this well-crafted novel, Dee has captured all the ways in which harassment not only starts, but is allowed to continue. She deftly shows how it begins with Mila's own self-doubt about the boys' motives, reinforced by her friends doubt about it. Maybe Callum just likes you, they tell her, causing Mila to retreat into silence. But while her voice was silenced, her actions weren't.

Why, I asked myself, didn't her mother question Mila's sudden decision to wear her baggy old flannel shirt with paint splotches it, even after a big deal was made about it? An why didn't Ms. Fender, the music teacher, not pull Mila aside and try to talk to her the first time she acted out instead of punishing her? Dee show that there are so many missed opportunities to stop what is happening. But they just didn't notice it and that's what happens, isn't it?

My heart really went out to Mila and I wonder how many middle grade girls are in the same situation. Hopefully, Maybe He Just Likes You will give give them courage to speak out. It can be very empowering, as Mila discovers.

Maybe He Just Likes You will be available October 1, 2019

 This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from Media Masters Publicity

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo


It's 1979 and it's been four years since Raymie Nightingale, Louisiana Elefante, and Beverly Tapinski found each other and became the Three Rancheros, promising to rescue each other whenever they are needed. In 1975, it had been necessary rescue 10-year-old Raymie (Raymie Nightingale) in order for her to find to true home. And, in 1977, it was 12-year-old Louisiana's turn (Louisiana's Way Home) who needed to rely on her friends to find her true home. Now, it's 14-year-old, Beverly who needs rescuing.

Beverly has always been known for running away from home, and being returned to a alcoholic mother who just wasn't very interested in her. Now, she's done with running away, and after burying her beloved dog Buddy, Beverly figures there's nothing to keep her at home anymore and so she decides to simply leave. Hitching a ride with Joe Travis, a cousin she doesn't much care for (and the feeling is mutual), Beverly makes it as far as Tamaray Beach, Florida.

Walking down the A1A, she comes upon Mr. C's fish restaurant. There, she meets Freddie, the waitress with big, big unrealistic dreams, and owner Mr. Denby, disorganized and depressed now that his wife and three daughters have left him. Open only for lunch, Beverly gets an under-the-table job the busing tables.

Beverly also finds a place to stay with lonely widow Iola Jenkins, who gives her a place to sleep and a flowered nightgown, feeds her a steady diet of tuna melts, and in return Beverly drives Iola's Pontiac to the VFW so she can play bingo.

Beverly also meets cook Doris and dishwasher Charles at work, and Elmer, a bullied, sensitive Dartmouth-bound teen who loves art and is working in the local convenience store for the summer. As Beverly gets to know each of these people, as she begins to be a part of their lives, and they hers, she starts to realize some things about herself as well. They are an eccentric cast of characters as only Kate DiCamillo can put together, but the focus is always on Beverly. Raymie and Louisiana are present throughout the book, mostly in Beverly's thoughts, although only Raymie makes the briefest of appearances at the end of the book. Their presence. however, proves how strong their bond of friendship is and how important they are to Beverly. In fact, friendship is one of the dominant themes, along with loss, trust, hope, home and how we define it, and the importance of just being there for people who rely on Beverly and on whom Beverly rely.   

Beverly, Right Here unfolds as languidly as a hot summer day, as Beverly searches and finds her emotional truth. DiCamillo's sentences are simple enough, yet so powerful and there's not a single gratuitous word in any of them. Beverly's story is a wonderful coming of age tale, and like life, it doesn't come to a neat conclusion, but leaves lots of questions about Beverly's future.

It does make me sad to think that this is probably the last time we will hear about the Three Rancheros, yet I know that one day, I will revisit each their narratives and I suspect it will yield a greater truth then do their individual stories.

You can download a useful Discussion Guide for Beverly, Right Here courtesy of the publisher, Candlewick Press.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle. 

Friday, September 13, 2019

🌝Poetry Friday: Harvest Moon by Neal Levin🍂


The Harvest Moon is one of my favorite moons, yet somehow September 13th seems way too early for it. I'm just not finished with summer. But the lunar calendar being what it is, the Harvest Moon is always the first full moon that falls closest to the autumnal equinox (this year, that is on Monday,  September 23, 2019). This year is the first time since 2000 the Harvest Moon falls on Friday the 13th, and it won't happen again until 2049.

I always like to share a poem with my young readers for holidays and other specials days and this year, we will be reading Harvest Moon by Neal Levin. I hope you enjoy it, too.


It's Poetry Friday and this week's poetry roundup is hosted by Laura Purdie Salas at 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

All of Me by Chris Baron


Seventh-grader Ari Rosensweig is the new kid in school and not very happy about it. His family has just moved from New York to San Francisco, where his parents are in the business of promoting his mother's artwork. Now, he has to face new kids who will just see him as a fat boy and not who he really is - a kid who likes to ride his bike, play video games, make up role-playing games and has an interest in cryptozoology.

Over the course of seventh grade, Ari is brought to a rabbi for bar mitzvah preparation a year late, bullied by some of the boys in school because of his weight, makes a first friend named John, nicknamed Pick, a gamer who is also into robots, and a second friend named Lisa, the troubled rebel girl who sometimes misses school, and takes art lesson with Ari's mom. By the end of seventh grade, he is also dealing with an increasingly absent father he discovers is cheating on his mother.

At Stinson Beach for the summer, Ari becomes more and more aware of his weight and the anger Pick feels because of an earlier violent encounter on a bike path between Ari and his bullies that he witnessed. One sleepless night, after a fight with Pick about the encounter, Ari's pain comes to a head resulting in a self-inflicted wound that propels him into finally dealing with his weight.

Meantime, Lisa comes to stay with them at Stinson Beach while her mother is away dealing with her own problems. Over the course of the summer, Ari begins to sense an awakening in himself as his feelings for Lisa start to surface, discovers why Pick is so angry about the incident on the bike path, and begins to deal with the demise of his parent's marriage. Before the diet, Ari had always been defined only by his weight, but as he loses it, as his body physically changes, he realizes more and more that losing weight isn't a cure-all, that there is so much more to who he is than just body image, but that his weight will always be a work in progress.

If All of Me rings true to readers, perhaps it is because it is based on the author's own experiences as a overweight child. Perhaps that is why Ari's pain is so palpable, but so are his good moments. And he is strong character even if he does begin his story asking "Who am I?" Who he is is already there, it remains for him to discover it and redefine himself to himself. Most admirable, is that he knows he does not want to physically fight his bullies, as his father and Pick would have him do. He has enough self-awareness to think "There has to be a different way/to stand up for myself,/to take responsibility,/to be a man."

All of Me chronicles Ari's journey in a series of free verse poems. They are poignant, honest, raw, and realistic. Importantly, Baron allows Ari moments when he caves to desire while on his diet, but he never gives up and he doesn't beat himself up for slip-ups. I think that sticking to his weight-loss plan instead of just chucking it and comforting himself with food shows a real strength in Ari. I think that is an important message to kids who are struggling with issues around self-acceptance.

Ari's is an important multi-layered story, one that is needed, and one that you won't want to miss.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Friday, September 6, 2019

Blog Tour: Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers by Celia C. PĂ©rez


For Ofelia Castillo, summer in Sabal Palms, Florida means writing and submitting a winning story to the Qwerty Sholes Journalism Contest. Winners get to spend a week in NYC at journalism camp. All she has to do is find a great story and convince her overly-protective parents to sign the application form.

For Lane DiSanti, summer in Sabal Palms, Florida means living on her grandmother's estate while her parents get divorced, avoiding their phone calls, and not doing any of the things that her grandmother suggests, including joining The Floras, a local scout-type troop for girls under the leadership of Mrs. McAllister. But after reading her grandmother's old copy of The Floras: A Handbook for Sabal Palms Girls, Lane knows exactly how she wants to spend the summer.

For Aster Douglas, summer in Sabal Palms, Florida means helping her grandfather, Sabal Palms University's first Black professor, with research for his family history book about the earliest Bahamian Douglas settlers in Sabal Palms, and cooking new recipes and old favorites for him, while her mother is deployed in Japan.

For Catarina 'Cat' Garcia, summer in Sabal Palms, Florida means Floras meeting, working on the Floras' summer volunteer project, participating in the Floras Centennial and competing be to named Miss Floras, something Cat couldn't care less about but she knows her mother desperately wants it. But Cat would rather spend her summer birdwatching an listening to their song.

But summer suddenly changes when Ofelia, Aster, and Cat receive mysterious invitations to meet at the tree house on the DiSanti estate. After reading The Floras handbook, Lane has decided to begin her own (secret) troop with three girls she doesn't know and who don't know each other, and call it The Ostentation of Others and Outsiders. At first, the girls don't get along very well, and yet, the group does begin to jell once they have a mission. And that mission is to get the Floras to stop using its official hat, adorned with the decorative feathers from endangered birds, and worn by the girl who wins the Miss Floras competition at summer's end. Needless to say, adventures ensue.

PĂ©rez has brought together four diverse girls, each with her own particular talent that lends to the story perfectly, given them a goal and set them free from the lonely, boring summer they thought they would be having. As the girls get to know each other, readers see how their friendship and camaraderie evolves; at first, despite their different personalities, and then, because of them, as they learn to work together to accomplish their mission.

Themes that are explored in Strange Birds are collective power, kids making a difference, animal rights, statue quo and systemic racism, and dealing with casual acceptance past wrongs and how "ruffling feathers" can bring attention and possible solutions to them.

PĂ©rez has created such believable characters that I felt like I really knew them. The story, though well-written, does get off to a somewhat slow start, but once the girls come together that really changes and the book becomes a real page turner.

Fun back matter consists of The Ostentation of Others and Outsiders, A Handbook that consists of Cat's Tips for Beginning Birders, Lane's Crystals for Everyday Use, Aster's Chips + Chips Cookies (which sound delicious), and Ofelia's Guide to Writing What You See, and instructions for DYI Badges (after all, if you're going to have a troop, secret or otherwise, you need badges).

Strange Birds is a book that is sure to become a favorite, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Kokila, an imprint of Penguin Random House

Meet the Author:

Celia C. PĂ©rez is the author of The First Rule of Punk, a 2018 Pura BelprĂ© Author Honor Book, a 2018 TomĂĄs Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award Winner, and a 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Fiction and Poetry Honor Book. She lives in Chicago with her family where, in addition to writing books about lovable weirdos and outsiders, she works as a librarian. She is originally from Miami, Florida, where roosters and peacocks really do wander the streets. Visit her at celiacperez.com.

Week One
August 27 – The Novel Hermit
August 28 – Books 4 Your Kids 
August 29 – The Young Folks 
August 30 – A Bronx Latina Reads 

Week Two
September 3 – The Geeky Yogi 
September 4 – Lost in Storyland
September 5 – Book Fidelity 
September 6 – Randomly Reading


Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle. 

 
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