Out of My Heart

Ten years ago I was teaching 3rd grade, and reading as many the middle grade books I could fit in.  I was trying to stick to the “book-a-day” challenge that I had accepted and  I wanted to put as many great books as I could find into the hands of my students.  Out of My Mind was highly recommended and when I read it, I thought it was  an amazing gift.  What a book!

Out of My Mind shares the story of Melody Brooks, born with Cerebral Palsy, navigating her way through the ups and downs of public school.  She can’t walk, talk, or feed herself.  She cannot always control her body and how it moves, but she has a photographic memory and she is SMART.  In addition, music adds color and aroma so her life and this only adds to what she knows and understands.  Communication is a challenge and that’s all the other kids see – the teachers too.

Her parents know there is more to Melody than others understand.  Mrs. V. – their neighbor and sometimes Melody caretaker – knows Melody has much to share.  She encourages her to read and learn about everything she can.  When she takes a qualifying test for the school’s Whiz Kids team she gets a perfect score.  She joins the team and helps them win the state competition that will send them to the Nationals in Washington D.C.   The Whiz Kids ditch her though and Melody is left wondering if she will ever find a way to fit in or discover her own place in the world.

There is so much more to this story – I could go on and on, but I’ll stop and suggest you read it to find out for yourself.  I hope, just like it did with me, that it will stay with you for a very long time.

The beauty of reading Out of My Mind now, is that you can follow that reading closely with Out of My Heart.  In this book summer vacation has just begun.  Melody is interested in discovering if she might fit in better with others from the disabled community.  She wonders how would it be to be surrounded by other kids who struggle to communicate, move and meet the many challenges and expectations most of us don’t even consider as we go about our day to day living.  With the help of Mr. Francisco, the librarian, Melody discovers there are some overnight camps designed just for kids like her.  She studies the brochures and websites closely before asking her parents if she can go.  After much soul-searching, they decide to apply.  It takes a long time to complete the application.  After all there are a LOT of safety considerations, but it seems as if Camp Green Glade has them all covered while offering swimming, boating, zip-lining, horseback riding and a whole host of other activities. Once the application is submitted they wait – sadly the camp is full and Melody won’t be able to attend unless there is a cancelation.

Read Out of My Heart to find out what happens.  It is an emotional ride – heartbreaking, heartwarming, terrifying and funny.  Melody is an amazing human being.  I have been changed by her and her story.  I think you will be too.

Happy Reading! 📚

A Game of Fox & Squirrels

Have you ever tried playing a game, but the people you are playing with keep changing the rules.  It’s not really fair.  And it’s not really fun, but whenever you try to stand up for yourself you get ridiculed, teased and pestered.  You can ask for help, or you can just let it go.  Maybe the next time will be different.  It’s hard to choose what to do.

Samantha Littlefield’s home life is a bit like that.  After the incident that broke her sister’s arm, the girls find themselves in a car with Aunt Vicky on their way to her home in rural Oregon.  It’s really different from Los Angeles.  The house is way off the road.  They have fresh air, quiet, chickens and Aunt Vicky has a wife, Hannah.  Everything is different.  At first all Sam can think about is how, and when she will get back home.

It’s clear that Aunt Vicki and Hannah are trying.  They’ve been thinking about what the girls will need to feel happy, safe and at home.  There’s even a birthday present waiting on Samatha’s bed when she arrives.

“Is this for me?” Sam picked it up, pulled the long pink ribbon through her fingers.

“Happy birthday,” Aunt Vicky said.  “It was yesterday, wasn’t it?  I thought you might like a present.  We can bake a cake later too.  With frosting.  I’m not sure we have enough sugar, but we definitely have the eggs.”  She chuckled, but Sam didn’t know why.

Oh, the chickens.  Eggs and chickens.  Eggs and cakes.  Chicken and cakes.  Was this the sort of thing people in Oregon found funny? …

Sam ripped off the paper and gasped.  It wasn’t a book, as she’d been expecting.  A Game of Fox & Squirrels was written in faded type across a battered box.  The ampersand was swirly and inviting, and Sam couldn’t help but run her fingertip along its wild, swooping curves.

Something moved outside the window.  A flash of red, fast as a heartbeat.  But when Sam looked, she saw only the same old green grass and trees and blue sky.

“Its’s a card game,” Aunt Vicky said.  “Works better with a few people.  We can play later, if you want.”

Later, when Sam looks closely at the cards, she loves the characters.  The squirrels are resourceful and strong.  The trickster fox is enchanting.  The next day Sam finds the characters have come- Squirrels: Birch, Cedar and Maple and Fox:  Ashander – into her room.  They talk to her and offer her a chance for adventure.  The fox suggests a quest.  He says if Sam is able to find and retrieve the Golden Acorn he, Ashander, will grant her everything she wishes for.

It seems like an easy choice  and so the quest begins.  Almost immediately the rules change and Sam finds herself lying, stealing and putting those she cares for and depends on, in danger.  How will she win the game?  Is winning a game important?  What is important when you need help?  Should anyone go on an important quest alone?  What matters most?

In the Author’s Note of A Game of Fox & Squirrels, Jenn Reese says this is a book she had to write.  It is a book she wished she’d had as a child when she was living with a “fox” – someone who kept changing the rules so she could never please them no matter how carefully she tried to follow the rules.  Parents and teachers, make sure you read book… it may be just the story someone needs to hear.

Happy Reading! 📚

A Place to Hang the Moon

When A Place to Hang the Moon begins it is 1940 and Anna (9), Edmund (11) and William (12) find themselves orphaned and alone in London.  After the death of their grandmother, the children discover she has left no provision for their guardianship in her will.  What will happen to them now?  Could the mass wartime evacuation of children from London be the answer?  Maybe.  Their solicitor develops a “preposterous plan.”  He suggests the children go to the countryside.  Perhaps there, they will find a forever family for themselves.  The solicitor helps the children join the local schoolchildren who are being evacuated to countryside for the duration of the war.  The hope – for the solicitor AND the children –  is to be placed in a temporary home that will last forever if all three of the childre agree on the choice.

The children are determined to stay together, but this proves challenging.  Not many homes are willing to billet three new children.  First the siblings have to deal with the cruel tricks and bullying from their foster brothers.  Next they have to survive the cold realities of poverty, outdoor toilets and gnawing constant hunger.  Always they have to satisfy the head teacher, who did not want them in the first place, and who finds Edmund to be a real trial.

The only comfort in their terrible ordeal is the small lending library and the librarian, Nora Müller.  Every time they arrive at the library there is a warm fire, a kind smile, an extra cookie and just the right set of books.  Anna thinks Mrs. Müller would be an excellent choice for their “forever home”, but her husband is German.  No one knows where he is currently, and some in the village stay away from her and believe she is most unsuitable as a home for children. The boys think she is a good choice, but time will tell.

Time does tell.  Eventually it becomes clear that something must be done if they are to survive … and it is.

A Place to Hang the Moon is an unforgettable book.  It is impossible to make it last just as Anna found with her one book –  one page leads to the next, and the next and the next, until, before you know it, you’ve reached the very satisfying end. 

In the Author’s Note, Kate Albus tells us that her Edmund is named for the first Edmund she met when she read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  She says that is where the idea for this book began.  The similarities shine.  What a wonderful story.  What a wonderful book.  

Happy Reading!📚

If you find yourself interested in reading more about the children involved in the evacuation please look for The War That Saved My Life.


I waited a while to read Pony by R. J. Palacio.  I’m not sure why.  If you haven’t read it yet, don’t wait.   It’s different and special ~ a hero’s journey and Wild West tale rolled into one.

Silas is different.  He has a special relationship with his dad – a boot maker for a living, an engraver and photographer too.  Both Silas and his dad read widely and deeply.  They know many things that others do not.  Silas realizes he may not know things that most most everyone knows.  He just hasn’t needed to know them yet.  He will as the need arises.  Silas love to read and discover right along with Pa.  He helps with the chores around the house.  Hunting is a challenge.  He does not like the woods.  They speak to him in a way that makes him very afraid.  He passed out the first time he tried to go in with his father.  He’s not gone back since.

Silas is special.  He can see ghosts.  One, Mittenwool, has been with him since birth.  They are best friends.   It’s Mittenwool who woke him up on the night the gang came and took Pa.    That was how Silas heard all that was said and saw the three men and the horses.  It’s Mittenwool who agreed to go with him to see if they can find Pa and bring him home. That is how Silas found the courage to overcome his panic and push on.

At the edge of the wood, one of the gang’s horses, the pony finds them.  Silas takes this as a sign.  He must go into the fearsome wood, find his father, and bring him home.  And so their journey begins – Silas, Mittenwool and Pony.

It’s not an easy journey.  Terrible things have happened in those woods – and while you and I might feel the ominous energy, Silas can see the horrific ghostly proof.  There are others traveling through the wood – and while you and I might be skeptical and suspicious, Silas hasn’t had much experience with others in the world and trusts them.

I would have turned back many times, but Silas continues.  He is pushed forward by his love of family, the kindness of friends and his courage to do the right thing.  It is an amazing story that will stay with me long after the cover has been closed.

The book is illustrated with old daguerrotypes, tintypes and other photographs Pa may have taken.  And is further enriched by quotes and passages from books, likely to have been in Pa and Silas’ library

What a story!

Happy Reading! 📚

Samira Surfs

Samira new home is in a one-room bamboo hut with a leaky blue tarp for a roof.  Everything her family owns is there: a cricket bat, a silver pot, a notebook, and a blanket.  They have chickens, bought with the money Mama got from selling her precious gold necklace. And while her father is shrimping, and her mother tends the house and her brother cleans tables and dishes at the cafe, Samira takes her bucket of hard boiled eggs to the beach.  Samira is the best egg seller there.

“A bucket of eggs

turns into bundles of taka

turns into pinches of salt

turns into mouthfuls of joy.”

Life here in Bangladesh was supposed to be easier, better, safer, than their life in Burma, but it doesn’t seem to be ~ yet.  Samira Surfs by Rukhsanna Guidroz tells Samira’s story: a girl, a Muslim, an undocumented refugee, a Rohingya.  It is an important story to notice, note and understand. 

Written in tightly woven verse, readers learn about different aspects of Samira’s new life – why she fears the water, how her family decided leaving Burma was the best choice, why “only boys can change a family’s fate” and how full of fear living a refugee is.

11-year old Samira is determined to show her worth to her family.  With the help of her brother, she learns to read and write English.  At the beach she begins to make friends with other Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi girls her age. Through her brother’s support and her new friendships, Samira learns about surfing and Cox’s Bazar surfing competition.  The contest specifically invites girls and comes with a 10,000 taka prize.  Samira knows this money would be of great help to her family.

“Why not?

I could learn to surf

Before the contest in six months.

My mind races with the daring

and dreaming

of what could be.”

Samira is a kind, determined, dedicated daughter and friend.  She finds her way in  this new place and she finds her way into readers hearts and minds as she shows girls can also change a family’s fate.

The authors note shared further information about the Rohingya, the refugee camp in Bangladesh and the Boys and Girls Surf Club at Cox’s Beach. 🏄‍♂️🏄🏻‍♀️

I really liked this book.   It tells a story I know very little about through characters that I came to really care about.  This book gave me a lot to think about.

Happy Reading! 📚

The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters







The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters trilogy – The Jolly Regina, The Uncanny Express, The Flight of the Bluebird – is funny. Jaundice and Kale Bland live in Dullsville.  You can tell the twins apart if you look closely.  Jaundice favors gray.  Her hair is parted in the middle.  She is left handed and sports a multi-pocketed smock she stitched herself from old curtains and couch upholstery.  Kale prefers brown.  Her hair is parted on the side.  She is right. Handed and is rarely without her backpack where she carries her handy reference book. – Dr. Snoote’s Illustrated Dictionary for Children, Tillie’s Tips or Taking Off with Trip Winger.

Aside from those differences, the Bland sisters are just about the same as you can see from this passage on page 3 from The Jolly Regina. 

“Jaundice and Kale pride. Themselves on their exacting routine.After breakfast (plain oatmeal with skim milk and a cup of weak, tepid tea on the side) they tend to their. Business of darning other people’s socks, with tased the better part of the day.Each allows herself one ten-minute break, during which she eats a cheese. Sandwich on day-old bread and drinks a glass of flat soda while gazing out the window, watching the grass grow.…It should be mentioned the Jaundice and Kale have parents.Several years ago, they left quite suddenly to run an errand of an unspecified nature, The Bland Sisters don’t tend to dwell on it. Too much, as they are sure their parents will return any day now.”

While Jaundice and Kale avoid excitement and surprise in every way possible, it seems that adventure and intrigue seek them out.  First, they are kidnapped by an all-female band of pirates  from the Jolly Regina ~ but when they finally arrive at Gilly Gunns Island, their once marooned parents are no longer there.  Second, rather than meeting their Aunt Shallot at the train station and bringing her home as planned, they are whisked away to become assistants of Magique and later to Detective Hugo Fromage as they attempt to solve the magician mysterious disappearance from the express train to Uncanny Valley.  And finally, they are spirited away almost immediately by Beatrix Airedale, pilot of the Bluebird, who has been sent by the Bland’s parents in the hope that Kale and Jaundice will finally rescue them from their pursuer and bring them home.

The series is made more fun by the ironic details and puns inserted throughout.  I snickered at the pirate named Captain Ann Tennille.  It took me until the 3rd book to catch onto the connection of getting lost and Gilly Gunns Island – Good Lord! 😁. Other names like Port Innastorm, Countess Ima Goudenoff (maiden name Nutt), Vera Dreary and the villain team, Victor and Uggo made me smile right away.  There are references to classic books, movies, and historical figures throughout to increase the fun, but I wondered if student readers would notice them.  Maybe- maybe not.  To increase the odds, these books would be great choices for a parent/child book or multi-age book club with a challenge to collect funny details from each reading.  

This trilogy is great fun!   It’s okay to be bland, but finding time of new things and a bit of adventure is okay too.

Happy Reading! 📚 These books are best enjoyed with with day old cheese sandwiches or stale hardtack washed down with tepid tea or flat ginger ale. 

PS – Here are some other books by Kara LaReau you might enjoy –

Cold-Blooded Myrtle

Myrtle Hardcastle— twelve-year-old amateur detective—is back in her third book.  This time she is solving a string of murders in her hometown of Swinburne.

On the morning of the annual Christmas reveal, with the whole town gathered outside the window, the proprietor of Leighton’s Mercantile is found dead.  Perhaps the poor man has had a stroke, but Myrtle suspects more.  The tableau has some alarming references, and seems connected to the long ago disappearance of a student named Olive Blackwell. 

But who would want to kill the local dry-goods merchant? Perhaps someone who remembers the mysterious scandal that destroyed his career as a professor and archaeologist. Myrtle, along with her tutor, Miss Judson begin their investigation.  The more Myrtle looks, the more she discovers about her mother (who passed away from cancer when Myrtle was younger), a secret society, and a past wrongdoing.

Her investigation lead Myrtle through Swinburne.  She talks to Leah, the new carillonist, who shows her around the the tower and explains how the bells are played.   Leah will be holding the first concert of the bells since Olive’s mysterious disappearance. She invites Myrtle to come. Myrtle attends the opening of Leighton Museum and talks to the curator about the artifacts and scenes donated by Professor Leighton before his death.  She also talks to newspaper reporters who seems quite interested in the twists and turns of this particular mystery.  Myrtle observes and notices.  She wonders and questions.

When the killer strikes again, the figures in the Leighton tableau are rearranged foretelling the crime. Myrtle finds herself racing to uncover the long-buried facts of a cold case and the motivations of a modern murderer.

You’ll have a great time solving the case with Myrtle.  Sherlock Holmes has nothing on her.

Happy Reading!📚

PS – If you want to learn more about pneumatic subway systems, check this book out.

Root Magic

The reviews for Root Magic, Eden Royce’s debut novel, caught my eye.  I’ve also noticed this title on a couple of Mock Newbery 2022 list so I made sure it rose to the top of my TBR pile.  This story had me intrigued from the graveside opening through to the the final words, “‘That’s okay.” I smiled, full of hope and promise.  “I know how to keep a secret.'”

Jezebel Turner and her family live on a South Carolina island.  They are of the Gullah Geechee people.  Her family chooses to keep the old ways alive.  Jez and her twin brother, Jay, have each other.  They  gather what they need from the salt marsh – shellfish and grasses to be woven into mats and baskets.  They work with their grandmother making healing potions, lotions and teas.  They help their mother tend the garden and harvest the produce, bringing what’s extra for Mama to sell at market.  They enjoy each other and play wherever they can find the time.  Summers are full of work and joy, quiet and fun.

But summers end. Gran, the calming anchor of their lives, dies.  She has been Jez’s dearest – maybe her only friend.  Her final gift to Jez is a treasured rag doll carefully sown from the scraps of their shared life and carrying one of Gran’s final breaths.  With almost no time to process her loss, Deputy Collins in on their doorstep threatening to take action for… Jez doesn’t know and she knows she can’t ask either.  It is 1963 and white law enforcement are able to act freely in communities of color. In less than a week after the burial and “the visit”, school will begin.  This year school will be different too.  Jez’ll be skipping to 6th grade, while Jay will travel with their classmates into fifth.

Feeling alone at home…and at school… the twin’s 11th birthday bring some striking revelations.  Dinah, the doll walks and that’s not all the magic that is put into motion.  Jez and Jay begin to learn about their heritage Uncle Doc. Through his teaching they come to understand the importance of ROOTS,  and also the importance of following your heart and believing  in the power of ancestral stories

Bravery, kindness, family love and historic truths anchor this incredible story.  Wow!

Happy Reading!📚