Where the Heart Is

Written by Jo Knowles

Rachel’s world is changing. With her thirteenth birthday in the recent past, she finds that nothing else remains the same either. The look and feel of her beloved home, Bittersweet Farm, are changing because a couple has purchased the land across the road and built a new house. Of course, this completely disrupts their sledding hill. Rachel’s parents are going through incredibly tough financial times, meaning that the very existence of Rachel’s childhood home is in jeopardy. And Rachel is becoming more aware of her body and place in the world. She’s confused about her relationships and how her relative poverty affects those relationships. Rachel’s best friend, Micah, would like to be more than friends, but Rachel is not even sure she likes boys. She ends up helping the new neighbors take care of their farm animals, learning about responsibility and also a little about the circle of life.

The author has a definite talent for treating all the issues in Rachel’s life with deference and delicacy. Rather than advocate for any position, she poses myriad questions and lets Rachel make her own decisions. The reader sees that it’s okay to be unsure of yourself and of the future. And it’s okay to think of your own needs once in a while, as long you do think of others too.

Heartwarming and valuable story. Great in the hands of the right reader.

  • Where the Heart IsTitle: Where the Heart Is
  • Author: Jo Knowles
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 305 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 to 9
  • Genre: Chapter book, Coming of Age
  • ISBN: 978-1-5362-0003-4

Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon

Written by Suzanne Slade
Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez

Were it not for the extensive research and creative presentations, the reader might almost think of this book as a coffee table book. However, there is a tremendous amount of information to be gleaned, both from the text and from the illustrations. The author includes a short biography of each astronaut, as well as a lot of information on each mission.

The 2979 days referred to in the title is the time period between President Kennedy’s pronouncement of the goal to reach the Moon by decade’s end and the actual landing by Apollo 11 astronauts. Chapter-by-chapter, each of the 10 missions preceding that landing are highlighted, with the goal of each mission carefully outlined. Credit is given to all men and women involved in the process.

This book does a great job of giving the feel of living through that period in history and of watching with heightened anticipation with each success and failure. Anyone interested in space exploration should give this book a look.

  • CountdownTitle: Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon
  • Author: Suzanne Slade
  • Illustrator: Thomas Gonzalez
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2018
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 144 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 to 8
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Space Exploration
  • ISBN: 978-1-68263-013-6
  • Extras: Table of Contents, More on Team Apollo, Bringing Apollo 11 Home, Author’s Note, Illustrator’s Note, Bibliography, Credits

A World of Information

Written and Illustrated by James Brown & Richard Platt

Wow! Just wow. The encyclopedic information in this great little book provides readers with interesting facts, but also should spark further investigation of all the subjects it touches. And it touches a lot.

The first two-page spread explores the world of knots. Where else will you learn how to tie a knot without letting go of either end of a rope? From the skeleton to impossible shapes to nails and screws to the layout of an orchestra, it’s all fascinating. I’m a little disappointed my favorite impossible shape, the Klein bottle, didn’t make an appearance, though.

The amazingly detailed illustrations show everything the reader could want to know at the outset. I’ve never seen so much detail about the components of typefaces.

This is a entertaining and educational addition to the world of information.

  • World of InformationTitle: A World of Information
  • Author: James Brown & Richard Platt
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 12
  • Genre: Nonfiction, General Reference
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-9348-0

My Brigadista Year

Written by Katherine Paterson

It never hurts to walk in someone else’s shoes. While that’s the main theme for Lora, the heroine of this delightful story, it’s also the theme for the reader. Lora is one of the literacy teachers mandated by Fidel Castro toward the end of the Cuban revolution. Paterson is in no way suggesting that Castro’s regime was wonderful and successful in all aspects. She is suggesting, however, that wonderful people are to be found everywhere and that wonderful things can happen when you work hard.

Thirteen-year-old Lora is a middle class girl from Havana who attends a good school through a gift from her grandmother. She is real and relatable. The reader can’t help but cheer her on. One of the first programs started by Castro was a concerted effort to combat illiteracy. Thousands of children – age seven and up – received brief training in 1961 and deployed into the mountains. In one year, the reported literacy rate in Cuba rose from sixty to ninety-six percent.

Lora lives with a young couple, working their farm alongside them. She learns that hard work comes in many forms. The father just wants to be able to write his name. A neighbor wants to correspond with Fidel. Insurgents want the program to fail, making life dangerous.

This heartwarming tale gives a new perspective for those dedicated to rebuilding Cuba. It should remind the reader to look for the good and for the reasons people act.

  • My Brigadista YearTitle: My Brigadista Year
  • Author: Katherine Paterson
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska                                                     
  • Format: Hardcover, 160 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 to 9
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • ISBN: 978-0763695088

The Wonderling

Written and Illustrated by Mira Bartók

Reminiscent of many other orphan stories, this debut book nonetheless creates its own niche in the realm of allegorical novels. The downtrodden are not unlike the subjugated in any setting. And the needs they are missing are universal items we can all identify with – food, shelter, clothing, cleanliness.

In Miss Carbunkle’s Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures lives a young foxling known only as number 13. The creatures in the home, called groundlings, are orphans that are not quite animal, not quite human. Mean Miss Carbunkle rules with an iron fist. Rule number one is no singing. She ignores the home’s bullies, creating an unbearable environment for 13. When 13 makes a friend in a small, flightless bird creature, Trinket, he learns the address of his birthplace. Trinket dubs 13 with the name Arthur. They escape together and set out to find family. For a while, things are looking up, but then matters go from bad to worse for Arthur. He’s young, trusting, and unaware of the world at large. Eventually, he makes more friends and adopts a quest of his own.

The author’s fascinating ink drawings help create the world of the groundling and the feel of a Dickens-like story. The characters are incredibly well-developed so that the reader will find they are cheering for Arthur, Trinket, and all the groundlings and their friends.

  • WonderlingTitle: The Wonderling
  • Author/Illustrator: Mira Bartók
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 464 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 to 9
  • Genre: Fiction, Fantasy
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-9121


Written by Pete Hautman

David is a champion eater. His mother can’t figure out where he puts it. When he accidentally charges his mother’s credit card $2,000 (!) for a half-eaten hot dog, he decides it’s time to enter actually eating contests for the money to pay her back. With the help of two friends, Cyn and HeyMan, he starts training for the big pizza eating contest at the Iowa State Fair. Of course, he has to intercept Mom’s Visa bill and hope he can win the contest in time. He may be good, but is he good enough?

Meanwhile, David’s dealing with the pressures of middle child syndrome. His older sister is an over-achieving college student. His younger brother is a non-verbal autistic ten-year-old. David is often enlisted to watch his brother, Mal. What David fails to realize is that he is the only one with a realistic view of Mal’s world and that helping Mal reveals David’s best talents. With David’s help, Mal learns new words, learns to eat new foods, and is more relaxed out in the world.

Boys, especially, will enjoy the body humor created by David’s efforts, but everyone will love the heartwarming and hilarious ending of this great story.

  • SliderTitle: Slider
  • Author: Pete Hautman
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 to 9
  • Genre: Fiction, Coming of age, Competitive eating
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-9070-0

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Arthur (birth name Arturo) Schomburg’s personal story may seem like a small chapter in the history of African descendants. He had a great ability to shine a light on other stories that may have passed into obscurity or become footnotes.

Born in Puerto Rico, Schomburg was obsessed early on with learning about the story that wasn’t being told. He moved to New York when he was 17. With no records of his formal education, he could not enter law school or medical school, but that did not stop him from indexing and memorizing thousands of pages of testimony in his job as law clerk. Then the book collecting bug bit. He collected obscure volumes, many written by African descendants, thus of little interest to white people and therefore relatively cheap. He was struck by the tremendous talents among people like Phillis Wheatley, who was not well-known, and Frederick Douglass, who was known only in certain circles. He also learned that people who he did know about, like John James Audubon and Ludwig von Beethoven, had more African background than most people knew. Schomburg’s book collection quickly outgrew his home, so the Carnegie Corporation bought it for the New York Public Library. The Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints was born. He worked one year at Fisk University in Nashville on their Negro Collection. He always had definite ideas on what was important and how to arrange the collection.

More than window dressing, the realistic illustrations provide important information about Mr. Schomburg, his life and times, and about the history he was learning. The illustrator depicts the looks and activities of those Schomburg was learning about.

So much information is contained in this book, but the reader has so much more to learn. A great starting place.

  • SchomburgTitle: Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library
  • Author: Carole Boston Weatherford
  • Illustrator: Eric Velasquez
  • Published: Dawn Publications, September 12, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, History
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8046-6
  • Extras: Timeline, Source Notes, Bibliography

Exploring Space: From Galileo to the Mars Rover and Beyond

Written by Martin Jenkins
Illustrated by Stephen Biesty

Don’t let the small number of pages fool you, this great new book is loaded with information.  Comprehensive text is accompanied by no less than eight huge and detailed pencil drawings of telescopes, space suits, and other equipment plus smaller depictions of rockets, planets, and more.

Human fascination with the stars goes back as far as humans do. Each time a little progress toward understanding is achieved, the focus and goals change. Originally, people struggled with what was the center of the universe and what made the stars move at night. After that, it was a matter or getting off the ground. Then traveling into space  and returning safely after brief periods. Now, there’s a quest to discover life outside the earth’s atmosphere, to understand the origins of the universe, to use satellites wisely, and to safely travel and colonize at great distances.

This book provides a great jumping off place for anyone already captivated by space exploration. It is also a must have for any classroom studying space, Galileo, technology, or the planets.

And of course the more we find out about other worlds, the more we might come to appreciate how unique and precious our planet that we call home really is.

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  • Exploring SpaceTitle: Exploring Space: From Galileo to the Mars Rover and Beyond
  • Author: Martin Jenkins
  • Illustrator: Stephen Biesty
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Space exploration
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8931-5
  • Extras: Table of Contents, Index, Timeline, Glossary, Selected Sources

Double Cross: Deception Techniques in War

Written by Paul B. Janeczko

Warfare has always relied heavily on two things: the confidence of the fighters and the people at home and fooling the enemy. This book is about fooling the enemy and many of the ways that’s been accomplished.

Beginning with ancient times and the story of Gideon in the Bible. Using torches and the element of surprise, they convinced the enemy they had much larger numbers. That helped them win the battle. The author shows how deception during the Trojan War helped armed forces gain the upper hand. After a long siege, the forces were evenly matched, so the Trojan Horse provided the means to end the siege. During the Battle of Hastings, the Normans used a faked retreat to overwhelm the English. The author discusses deception during the French and Indian War and World War I, then he goes into great detail about the many techniques used during World War II. The final chapter is about modern times, including Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq.

 Well-researched and loaded with information, the text is nevertheless very exciting and wonderfully readable for a history book. Boys, in particular, will love it, but girls with an interest in puzzles will also want to keep reading. Great resource for the classroom.

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  • Title:  Double Cross: Deception Techniques in War
  • Author:  Paul B. Janeczko
  • Publisher:  Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format:  Hardcover, 256 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-7636-6042-0
  • Genre: Upper Middle Grade Nonfiction
  • Grade level: 5 to 9
  • Extras: Table of Contents, Source Notes, Bibliography, Image Credits, Index, Numerous maps and photos

Beyond the Bright Sea

Written by Lauren Wolk

A brand-new baby, alone in a skiff, washed up on your island. What would you do?

Osh, or maybe his name is Daniel, took the baby in, called her, Crow, because that’s what her squawking sounded like, and raised her.  Their only real neighbor, Miss Maggie, lives on the next island. They must wade through part of the ocean to even get between her place and theirs. Theirs, being only a shack.

What brought Osh, or Miss Maggie to the Elizabeth’s Islands is never discovered, but the mystery of baby Crow is unraveled by the twelve-year-old girl herself. She just wants to know where she came from and why she was put to sea in a tiny boat, all alone. Osh is afraid the truth will change her, them, and their lives.

Filled with metaphors drawn from the island life of tending sheep and mucking out chicken coops, meaning as well as humor leaps from the pages turned rapidly by grade five and well above readers, anxious to see what could possibly happen next.

Long buried treasure, threats, storms, leprosy, sinking ships, and finally finding out she was right where she belonged all kept Crow grounded in what is important in life.

Each character is so well developed and real, the reader is left missing them just after closing the cover of the book. Many things worth thinking about are gently presented, like how we treat our neighbors. But no preaching is done, well, sometimes a little scolding by Miss Maggie, but then, everyone will recognize her commonsense way of living and loving.

Teachers and librarians will remember, Wolf Hollow, and will order this work from Lauren Wolk immediately in order to read it before book club time. This will be gobbled up by the students.

This book is sure to be an award winner for years to come.

Buy on Amazon

  • Beyond the Bright SeaTitle:  Beyond the Bright Sea
  • Author:  Lauren Wolk
  • Publisher:  Dutton Children’s Books, 2017
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 299 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-101-99485-6
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade level: 5 Up
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