Child of Spring

Child of Spring by Farhana Zia

leaves and ring book cover

BIBLIO: YEAR,PUBLISHER, Ages 9 to 13.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 9781561459049

Set in rural India this story is about Basanta. She is a wonderful, spirited, young girl who has a lot of growing up to do, while already having more responsibilities than the average American child. Basanta and her mother must work at Messaab’s wealthy estate. They take care of Messaab and little Bibi and the family’s housework. In the evening they return to their Bunti, a collection of huts they call their community. Basanta has many friends including Lali, Bala, and her animal friends Kalu the dear dog and Dinoo Kaka the crow. There are other kids in the community that Basanta interacts with regularly, like the mischievous brothers Raju and Paki, snake-like Rukmani, and the kind boys Ganga and Ramu. Basanta is rich in life but working in a world of wealth she quite frequently envies her mistress little Bibi and her luxurious presents. Throughout this story Basanta learns many lessons such as kindness, people’s ability to change, friendship, wit, and honesty. Many surprises come up in the little community both good and bad and the story ends with the festive celebration of Divali.

I would recommend this book to young girls and boys who want a taste of another culture. I think this book gives a great snapshot of what a normal girl’s life may look like all the while presenting universal themes and morals. There are many positive connections to be made with this book. The story doesn’t follow the traditional book structure so much as it accounts Basanta’s life. This sweet, easily read book is worth looking into.

Honestly Ben

Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg

love triangle book cover

BIBLIO: 2017, Arthur A. Levine Books an Imprint of Scholastic Inc., Ages 13 and up.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult
ISBN: 9780545858267

Honestly Ben is a very realistic and thought provoking read. The main character Ben Carver is a typical all-american overachiever. He attends Nattick Boarding school for boys and he loves history and baseball and is set up to accept the Peter Pappas award. The award basically being a stamp of approval in all aspects of life- sports, studies, extracurriculars, and being well liked by the student body.

It would seem that Ben is invincible, but there is one major snafu in his life, and that is his romantic entanglements.Ben is struggling with his sexual orientation and throughout the book he loves both the earnest,lovely Hannah and his lively,sensitive best friend Rafe. Ben must decide who matters more to him and all the consequences that go with his decisions.

Ben has more conflicting feelings than that in his life as he struggles to figure out who he is sexually, as a teammate, as a student, and as part of the Carver family. Many tough situations arise and Ben grows as a person by learning many life lessons about family, vulnerability, courage, and most of all honesty, because what is there to life if your reality isn’t the truth?

This book is relatable, the conversations and interactions feel they’ve happened in real life already. I would suggest this book for teens in high school. There are some allusions to sex and some bad language. With the complicated themes of the novel I wouldn’t advise giving it to anyone younger than thirteen.

I personally am pretty neutral on this book. It was very well written and it is one of very few fiction pieces that have changed my way of thinking. It hurt my brain to read this book, but in a good way because it was expanding my mind. It is also the first book I’ve encountered that has a bisexual character. I read this book independently, not realizing it was part of a series. If I had more backstory I think I would have liked it infinitely more. Definitely worth the read.

Read this book first!
checklist emoji book cover

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home
for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs

 girl portrait black and white book cover

BIBLIO: 2011, Quirk Books, Ages 14 to 18.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-1594746031

This exceptional fantasy story starts in Florida. Typical sixteen year old Jacob works at his family business, Smart Aid, killing his time and trying to get fired. In general an antisocial person Jacob is closest with his Grandpa Abe Portman. In his childhood Grandpa would tell him stories about peculiar children with unique talents that lived in an idyllic home overseen by the Bird. He would show pictures to Jacob and also describe these terrible monsters that were dangerous and sought out himself and the peculiar children. Jacob eager to believe in childhood dismissed all of this as fairytales in adolescence and the monsters as symbolic of his grandfather’s troubled past, being of Jewish heritage during WWII. His world is turned upside down when his grandfather calls frantically at his work, leaving to check up on him Jacob is startled to find the elderly man in the wood all sliced up and the disgusting creatures from his childhood only a few feet away. His grandfather’s last words continue to haunt Jacob and all of his family thought he is insane. Seeing many doctors without much use Jacob discovers a clue in a book that his aunt found at Grandpa’s house. Embarking on a journey to Cairnholm with his father Jacob begins to quickly discover his secretive grandfather’s past. Everything he was told is true! After searching the abandoned house he finds a trail of clues that lead him to a portal to an alternate universe. This universe is a time loop and contains the home his grandfather told about with many of the exact same children. Immediately they take a liking to each other. Not long after though they are all in terrible danger from the monsters. Together they battle them off and save the home and their headmistress.
This book is highly recommended for girls from grades 9-12. It is a little slow to start but the witty wording makes it bearable. There are stunning, old fashioned photographs to accompany the story making it easy to picture the characters and adds another level of intrigue. All of the recommendations I had received before reading this book were proven to be accurate, this book is entertaining and sure to remain popular in the fantasy genre for many more years.

More titles in the Series:
Girl with hole book cover Boy with wings book cover

13 Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

teen on swing book cover

BIBLIO: 2007, Razorbill an Imprint of Penguin Books, Ages 14 and up.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-1595141880

Good books show you emotion. Great books make you feel that emotion. Th1rteen R3asons Why is a realistic fiction novel that delves into one of society’s biggest shames- suicide. Hannah Baker is an outcast in her new home, falsely labeled promiscuous and constantly ignored and ridiculed, bullied. Sick of all the negative attention she ends her life with a handful of pills, leaving town forever, but not without a bang. Hannah records thirteen stories for her suicide note, each tape talks about one person that ruins her life and how they connect to her decision. The tapes have two rules, 1. You have to listen to all of it and 2. You have to pass it on. If you refuse a second set of tapes will be released for the whole town to listen to; and most of the tapes contain deadly secrets. The book follows the main character, high school junior, Clay Jensen as he sinks into the suspenseful set of tapes that eventually give him closure. This book is stylistically genius never giving anything away prematurely and leaving the reader on the edge of their seat. The reader experiences personally this tragic occurrence through Clay’s first person internal narrative commenting on Hannah’s tapes and his intense emotions as he struggles to admit he is too late. I recommend this to any student that is struggling with similar situations either directly or with someone else. Based on the content and the high emotional value I would suggest that it be shared with 8th grade and up. It is only slightly biased towards girls and I think any student would enjoy this 2008 YALSA’s Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers selection. This book is a great discussion starter for bullying, rape, and fitting in in high school, and needs to be promoted everywhere.

One Green Apple

One Green Apple by Eve Bunting

Girl in apple orchard book cover

BIBLIO: 2006, Clarion Books, ages 4 to 11, $16.00.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Picture Book.
ISBN: 978-0-618-43477-0

Farah is a Muslim immigrant going on her first field trip on her second day of school. The plot is driven by her differences from her classmates. Namely, her cultural differences such as the dupatta and the girl-boy intermingling and her inability to speak English. The children are elementary school aged, possibly around the age of nine. They are going to the apple orchard to pick apples and symbolism is used when Farah picks a single green apple instead of a red one like her classmates’ apples.
Farah interacts with a few people in the story. She is befriended by Anna and Jim, who were not afraid to talk to her because she was not just the new student but also different from them. Unlike her classmates however, the teacher shows an alternate reaction, frustrating Farah with her oversimplified explanations because Farah knows she is intelligent but has no way to communicate this yet.
This book is great for young readers, especially in a classroom setting because it allows for deep conversations about morals. Children will appreciate this book for its colorful and detailed illustrations and the relatable characters. The artwork done by Ted Lewin accentuates the touching realities of this story.

Interview with Eve Bunting

Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender in a spacesuit book cover

BIBLIO: 1977 Tor/ Tom Doherty Associates LLC, ages 13 and up, $5.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 978-0-7653-5070-2

Ender’s Game is a book set in the future on a very different Earth. The International Fleet trains children in the hopes to fend off the Buggers, an alien race that tried to invade twice before. The story follows the young genius Ender Wiggin as he goes through battle school and command school in space. There is a subplot that follows Valentine and Peter Wiggin as they influence politics on Earth. The plot cuts between the mind of Ender, conversations Colonel Graff and other adults, and the subplot of the other Wiggin children.
Ender struggles as an outsider, still managing to make friends along the way such as Alai, Bean, Petra, Dink, and others. He has to fight in battles and in simulations, winning every one along the way. The twist is that when he plays the simulator game Ender does not realize that he is actually controlling a real fleet. The reason being that Ender is empathetic but competitive and if he knew that is was really he would be crushed.
This book written well and great for students who want a challenge. It would also be great as a way to examining topics such as population, children soldiers, empathy, competitiveness, etc.

More titles in the Series:
spaceship book covertower book coverspace station book coverspaceship cover satellite book cover
The parallel series:
 two boys playing video game book cover boy and earth book cover white and red book cover two people and stars book coverrocks book cover

Shadows Alive (no cover available)

Double Dutch

Double Dutch by Sharon Draper

jump rope book cover

​BIBLIO: 2004 Aladdin Paperbacks/Simon& Schuster , ages 12 and up, $5.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 978-689-84231-3

In a Cincinnati junior high Delia tries to live a normal life. She goes to her classes every day with her friends Yolanda, Charlene, Randy and Jesse, and the scary Tolliver twins Titan and Tabu. On the outside everything seems fine but two of them are hiding troublesome secrets.
Delia has somehow managed to keep it a secret throughout her school career that she is illiterate, due to a severe undiagnosed reading disability, unknown to everyone except Yolanda- the pathological liar with a good heart .She is smart and manages to fool her teachers by volunteering to do oral reports, watching the movie adaptations of books, and memorizing classroom discussions.Unfortunately it’s getting harder and harder to hide, especially as the state exams including reading and writing quickly approach.
Randy has been living on his own for almost two months after his truck driver dad disappears. Afraid to call the cops for help because he is worried about being put into foster care or having his dad charged with neglect forces Randy to act like the adult he isn’t quite yet; trying to pay bills and feed himself and his cat is a challenge that he bears alone.
Both of these kids find solace in the double dutch team where Delia, Yolanda, Charlene, and Misty compete while Randy helps Bomani, the coach, to prepare the girls as they train for the city competition, then states, then nationals.
The Tolliver twins cause a lot of tension in the school after appearing on a TV reality show where they act threatening and everybody fears they might harm the school. Though they never actively did anything wrong. No one expected that twisters would the the cause of destruction in the school and the turning point of the Tollivers’ reputation as they emerge as heroes after saving Yolanda after a long day of being trapped, undiscovered in the rubble.
Double Dutch is tense with excitement until the very end when the eighth grade team win the doubles section at the nationals and Randy discovers a paper in Delia’s bag. Since she couldn’t read she didn’t know that it was valuable positive information about his father.
In the end both have to confess their secrets, and both get help from those who care about them. This goes to show that hiding things never amounts to anything good and suffering through a disability alone, is never the only option.