Born Behind Bars

Kabir’s only home has been the jail where he was born.  He lives there with his mom, who is serving time for a crime she did not commit.  The warden changes and this warden follows the rules more strictly.  According to the rules, when Kabir turns nine he will no longer be able to live at the jail. 

As the story opens he only has a few days left there.  On the. day of his birthday he’ll be sent away from the only family he knows:  his mom and their cellmates.  Each of them have taught him important lessons:   how to be safe, the importance of honesty and a belief that he deserves his place in the world. Kabir’s teacher at the prison school also tries to teach him what he will need to know once he is free and living in Chennai, India – how to ride a bus, how to pay for things and how to show respect.  

On the day he turns nine, Kabir is handed over to his “long lost uncle.”  It seems okay at first, but odd too.  Kabir stays alert.  He remembers the lessons of his prison family.  When he realizes his “uncle” is a fraud and going to sell him into labor, Kabir does the only thing he can – runs!

Alone on the streets Kabir wonders how he will survive.  Where will he live?  How will he eat?  Will he ever see his mother again.  Fortunately he meets Rani, another street kid, who is willing to help him answer his questions.  She helps him figure out what to do next in a world that cares very little for homeless orphans who are from the low caste.  It is hard.  It is dangerous. But, with the support of a few people who are willing to see the good in him, Kabir makes his way.   He shows the free world he deserves a place in it … right beside his mom.

Be sure to read the Author’s Note.  Kabir’s story was inspired by an actual event in 2013, and unfortunately, this is not the only one.  Stories like this one, help me understand how important my voice is. Perhaps by becoming more aware and paying closer attention to injustices around us, we can make a difference.  Every kindness matters.  Thank you for all you do.

Happy Reading!📚

If you’re intrigued and want to understand more about kids born and living in prisons, read A Wish in the Dark (review here) or All Rise for the Honorable Perry T Cook.  If you have titles to add this list please leave them in  a comment.   Thank you.



Wow!  I’ll start there.  12-year old Maddie lives with her mom, step-dad, twin 9-year old brothers and new baby, Trevor.  Every other weekend she also lives with her dad and step-mom.  Everything is fine, but there are a lot of annoyances in her life – sharing a room with Trevor, checking in all the time, being there so “date nights” can happen…

Maddie crafts the perfect plan for one perfect weekend with her friends.  She tells each of her parents she’ll be with the other, but actually she and two friends will be spending the weekend at her grandparents empty summer apartment.  Maddie arrives without a problem.  She has the movies and snacks ready.  A sick friend canceled the arrival of her friends, and that’s how Maddie finds herself totally alone when the entire town is evacuated.  She knew something weird was going on, but she couldn’t risk getting in trouble so she stayed silent.

Abandoned, Maddie befriends George, one of the many pets also left behind, while she awaits her parents return.  They don’t come back and Maddie must survive on her own.  She keeps her wits about her.  She is determined to make it.  Even after she loses power, and then water, Maddie and George become adept at using the resources left for them – the library, store shelves, even neighbor’s homes.  Maddie learns from every experience.  She makes careful choices.  she survives a natural disaster, looters and a pack of “gone wild” dogs.  The one thing she cannot alleviate is the crushing loneliness.

In an ironic twist, one of the last conversations Maddie had with her brother, Elliot, was about The Island of the Blue Dolphins.  He was supposed to identify the main theme.  He had three ideas and he wanted to know what Maddie thought.  She agreed with him.  Karana’s biggest challenge would be finding food and shelter.  Still Elliot had wondered.  Now, as the protagonist of her own survival story, Maddie knew for sure what the greatest challenge was.  Elliot had been right.

Written in verse, the sparse text mirrors the striped down activities of Maddie’s life now that she is focused on life.

Happy Reading! 📚


Moonpenny Island

Flor loves Moonpenny Island ~ especially when the summer people leave and all that are left are the true islanders.  Flor and her best friend, Sylvie, are the only 11-year olds on the island and that’s just fine with Flor.  They are perfect together.

As the summer between fifth and sixth grade comes to an end, changes begin happening … one after the other after the other.  Flor’s parents have been arguing more.  When Flor’s grandmother gets sick on the mainland, her mother leaves to care for her but  doesn’t come back.  Next, Sylvie’s parents decide to send her to school on the mainland and she’ll be staying with her aunt and uncle.  Now Flor is alone.  Worse, Sylvie really likes her new school and all the new opportunities she didn’t have on the island.  Finally Flor’s perfect student sister is acting less perfect.  Something’s up and Flor has a feeling it’s not anything good – there’s a secret and it might be a dangerous one.

Meanwhile a geologist and his peculiar daughter come to Moonpenny in search of trilobites  – one of the first creatures known to develop sight.  Flor realizes seeing and understanding can be more challenging than she had thought.  What it going on?   What is true?  What matters?  Flor’s search for answers helps her see more clearly and leads her toward a new understanding of what’s important.

I really like how Tricia Springstubb develops her characters.  Each one is polished and unique, while at the same time just like someone you know.  If you haven’t read her other books, give them a try.

Happy Reading!  📚


Ben has always been a kid without a mom, but he wants a family like everyone else.  He has a mom, but she left eight years ago.  Ben has a plan.  If he can show her he’s a good kid, then he’ll be able to bring her home where she belongs.

Ben puts his plan in motion.  His mom and dad agree that Ben will spend a week with his mom on the island she inherited from her grandfather.  While waiting for her to arrive, Ben absently strokes the red golden hair of Sunshine, the dog that is always by his side whenever he needs her.

When his mom finally comes into view, nothing is as he expects.  The boat is a canoe – no motor.  He won’t need his tablet – no electricity.  He won’t have daily check-ins with his dad – no phone.  Still, it is his mom and he still has his plan, so Ben decides to give it a go.

Ben finds the isolation frightening, but Sunshine seems okay with it.  Ben thinks the primitive cabin is dark and spooky, but Sunshine seems okay with it.  Ben feels afraid of the wild animals right outside the door, but Sunshine seems okay with it.  Ben is determined to see his plan through no matter what.  But when fire threatens his mom’s island, Ben is forced to face all he’s been trying to forget and find some answers:  What makes a family?  What causes worry?  What happens when you try to understand?

Sunshine is an important and poignant exploration of family, guilt and forgiveness.

Happy Reading! 📚

Amal Unbound ~ Omar Rising

Amal tells her story ~ the story of a 12-year old Pakistani girl with dreams.  She dreams of becoming a teacher, sharing her love for learning and language with all the children of her village   One day she accidentally insults a member of her village’s ruling family and her dream is shattered.

As punishment for her behavior, Amal is forced into servitude.  She must leave her family and friends to go to work for the Kahns at their family estate.  Distraught by this turn of events, Amal gathers her courage and determines to make the best of things.  It is a terrible situation, but she is willing to give her all for her family’s safety and future.

Once at the estate there are many rules Amal must learn – those that govern her life as a servant and those that define her place in the hierarchy of staff.  It is difficult, but Amal is determined to succeed.  Over time, the things Amal observes and learns makes her feels more and more uncomfortable.  She begins to understand how ruthless the Kahn family is willing to be in order to maintain their power and position.  Amal decides, if she’s ever going to see her family again or have any opportunity in her future, she must take action.  If is frightening, but… she finds a way!

Omar, Amal’s best friend, tells his story too.  He has recently  a scholarship to Ghalib Academy Boarding School – a game changer for his life.  He is the son of a servant and this opportunity, he believes will open the door to a whole host of opportunities.  He can’t wait to play soccer, join the science club and discover all the new ideas and information available to him.

He soon learns, however, that there are no sports or clubs for scholarship students.  In fact, there may not be a second year for scholarship students – no matter how hard he tries.  He’s. been set up to fail.  Regardless of what Omar has been told, he decides to do all he can.  He studies endlessly.  He works hard  at his in the kitchen.  He is helpful and kind.  Everyone deserves a chance and he find a way to learn from everyone as he works to build his future.

This combination of kindness, determination, and the relationship building leads Omar forward.  It’s not easy, but he finds a way to change what at first seems to be an impossibly rigged system established to keep “scholarship” kids down.

There is so much to learn from these characters and the struggles they endure – for things we take for granted each day.  I am grateful for what we have and am reminded of the importance of checking in with others – do you have what you need?  Can I be your voice?  Can I find a way to add in?  Can I help?   What can I do to ease the struggles of others?

Happy Reading!📚

What Happened on Fox Street

Fox Street has everything Maureen Jewel Wren, usually called Mo, could want.  Her family lives in the heart of the dead end street – Mo considers this end one of its best traits.   Her family’s home is surrounded by all the things they need – a person who cuts hair perfectly, a fix-it man who makes things work, a piano player who adds beauty, her best friend’s grandmother who insures summers together, some wild boys who add spice and a creepy lady who adds to the intrigue   of the street.  Everything is there,  but most importantly for Mo are the memories Fox Street holds.  Fox Street holds all her memories of her mom.  It’s where they lived as a family before the accident that took her away.

Mo’s never seen a fox on Fox Street, but she always looks.  In fact, she and her best friend, Mercedes, have a secret place beyond the guardrail, down in the scrubby ditch at the end of the street.  They call it the Fox’s Den – they’ve always gone there to share their secrets, to solve their problems and to have a little away time from Mo’s little sister,  “Wild Child” Dottie.  That is until this summer when everything is changing.

This is the story of that unforgettable summer where everything changes ~ and yet somehow Mo finds a way to stay connected to the important things ~ family, friends, home and memories.

Read What Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb to find out Mo manages all this and  perhaps sees, saves…? the first fox on Fox Street.

I really loved these characters.  I hope you do too.  Each one of them is developed as a unique sparkling gem.  I can’t wait to read the sequel.

Happy Reading!📚

The Genius Under the Table ~ About Eugene Yelchin

When Breaking Stalin’s Nose was released in 2012 Matt and I both read it.  I was uncertain how I felt about the story.  I wasn’t sure how I would help readers understand what was happening.  I wondered how I would build context.  I wasn’t sure I could.  Matt said he thought it was important for kids to read so they’d know how different growing up could be depending on when and where you lived.

Fast forward ten years to 2021 when Eugene Yelchin’s memoir for children was released, The Genius Under the Table.  As I read about Yevgeny’s life in the USSR, I couldn’t help but reflect again on how important understanding different growing up stories can be.  Eugene Yelchin has created a video sharing his ideas and questions about what it means to be an artist, an author and a teller of stories.  I think his words and images are important to hear and see.  The link is found here:  About Eugene Yelchin. Please take the time to view it.

In between the reading of these two books, I also read, and was moved by Arcady’s Goal.  It is a fictional story that shares the character’s dream of using a special talent as a way to open up the world of possibility and reduce the strain caused by anxiety and want.

Just as Matt said so many years ago, these books are important.  In writing this post I learned about several other Yelchin books I have yet to read.  I am looking forward to reading and learning through them. I’m also wondering how looking to the past can help us understand our current world.

Happy Reading!📚


A Year of Miss Agnes

The Year of Miss Agnes begins:

“What will happen now?” I asked Mamma and we watched the plane take the teacher away.

“Maybe no more school.” Mamma twitched her shoulder a little to show she didn’t care.Mamma never went to school much, just a few months here and there when her family wasn’t trapping or out at the spring muskrat camp.She said she hated school when she was little.”

10-year old Frederika (Fred for short) has had six different teachers already.  Some of them stay the whole school year, but most do not. 

“Sometimes we could see the look on their faces the first week they were here, cleaning out their little cabin, putting up pictures on the walls.  The ones who looked mean from the very first lasted the longest.   It was the ones who smiled all the time and pretended to like everything who didn’t last.”

Coming to teach in a remote Alaskan village is a different kind of challenge.  It’s definitely not for every teacher.   First off, school is an extra – kids attend when they can.   It’s not that schooling isn’t important,  it’s just that survival is more important.  Secondly, there are very few supplies, and what there is are cast-offs from other places.  And finally, if you don’t try to understand the culture and traditions of the children you’re trying to teach, it’s impossible to help anyone learn.

Most of children don’t care much for school.  They go when they can, but they don’t mind missing a week or two.   Fred is different.  She lives with her grandparents, her mom and her deaf sister, Bokko.  Now that her grandparents are older, they don’t do as much fishing, hunting and trapping so Fred is in town.  She likes how school changes things up.  She helps out where she can in the store.  She want to learn to read as fast as Mr. Anderson and she want to write better too, so when Sam,  the bush pilot drops off the new teacher, Fred rushes to check her out.

She is older.  She’s wearing pants.   She’s English and she offers tea and cookies to Fred for the help she has given.  She appreciates Fred for who she is and what she has to offer.  That’s different and exciting.  From that first moment, school is different.  Miss Agnes makes the schoolhouse a place all the kids want to come to.  She cleans the window and fills it with  their art.  She shows them how important they are in the world and their place in history.  Miss. Agnes knows how to make each one of the children feel special.  She highlights their strengths and helps them help each other learn even more.  She even finds a way to include Bokko in school for the first time.

The schoolhouse becomes an exciting place of laughter and learning.  The whole community recognizes the importance of school and learning because. of Miss. Agnes.  A year isn’t very long when it is exciting and full – but a good year can stay with you for a lifetime as you “remember when…” Is a year enough to change everything?  Read A Year of Miss Agnes to find out.

If you’d like to read more about living and growing up on Alaska in the early 1900’s check out these other books terrific by Kirkpatrick Hill:

I loved them!

Happy Reading!📚

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! 📚