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! 📚

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!📚

The Royal Ranger ~ The Missing Prince and The Escape From Falaise

If you’re already a Ranger’s Apprentice fan, you’re sure to enjoy The Royal Ranger collection too.  I just finished reading The Escape from Falaise, the second part of Will and Maddie’s daring rescue.  They’ve traveled to Gallica to free a kidnapped prince.  This is not a typical mission for Rangers, but they have taken it on to make things safer for King Duncan, ascending Princess Cassandra and all of Araluen.

The story is full of the trademark Ranger wit, skill and daring.  “Facing dangerous threats, battles with knights, and a new and risky plot to save the prince – the odds are stacked against them.  But the Rangers will use all the tools of their trade to save themselves and save the day.”

I appreciate how “right” in all its forms – kindness, humility, perseverance, patience and acceptance – triumphs each time.

If you’re new to The Rangers, the elite Corp of Araluen, this is a series better read in order.  Begin with The Ruins of Gorlan, then move on to The Burning Bridge both reviewed my Matt in 2012, and then just keep reading.  You’ve got some great adventures ahead of you!

Happy Reading! 📚

PS – The Brotherband Chronicles are great too!

The Troubled Girls of Dragonmir Academy

Marya Lupa is a girl from a remote village in Illyria.  Unlike her brother, Luka, she had NO potential to bring her parents status and honor. Only the boys of Illyria can possess potential magical abilities.  Only boys can become sorcerers and obtain the awesome job of protecting the country from the destructive, terrifying power of the DREAD.  This is the destiny Marya’s parents plan for her brother to claim.

As long as Marya does her chores, her parents pay her little attention (though they criticize her from exploring her world and questioning everything.). When her younger brother succumbed to a fever, Maria has even more time on her hands.  At home she is belittled and chastised so Marya often finds her way to her neighbor’s where she helps care for the two young boys or helps Madame Bandu, a tapestry weaver and keeper of Illyrian history, with her work.

In return for her help, Madame Bandu teaches Marya to read and encourages her to read everything and learn as much as she can.  Marya learns history and folksongs.  She learns science and mathematics.  She learns the ways of people and the stories they share.  Madame Bandu helps her wonder about what the tellers choose to share AND what they choose to omit.  She encourages Marya to wonder about truth and to question who benefits by how a story is told.

On the day of Luka’s evaluation, it seems as though Marya may also have a bright future.  Luka will be a scorcher and she could become Madame Banda’s apprentice.  Possibility surrounds the Lupa family.  Anything might be possible until everything explodes into a chaos of uncertainty.  Luke is deemed to have no magical ability and Marya is compelled by order of the Emperor to attend The Dragonmir Academy for Troubled Girls.  Why?  What is the truth?  Who benefits from the story – what is shared?  What is omitted?  Read this spellbinding tale to find out!

Happy Reading! 📚

Sisters of the Neversea ~ a contemporary Peter Pan story

Sisters of the Neversea has me thinking – as all good books do.  Its reviews caught my attention because I like the Peter Pan story.  I know the Disney version – the play version – the versions shared by countless movie remakes, and the version shared in Peter and the Starcatchers series with their deliciously vile villains.  In writing this review I have to confess, I’ve not read the 1904 original by J.M. Barrie.  My grandparent’s copy sits on my bookshelf and I wonder, I should give it a try… maybe – original tale…maybe not – outdated language and world views…I’ll see.  Here’s why I might wait.  Cynthia Leitich Smith has combined iconic bits from the popular story in ways that made me question and think about how stories and books grow and encourage understanding and empathy.

Sister of the Neversea begins as the blended Roberts-Darling family celebrate a family milestone.  Mom, John and Lily are Muscogee Creek from Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Dad and Wendy have joined them from London, England, and the family has been further blended when younger brother, Michael, was born.  Lily and Wendy are step-sisters AND best friends.  They adore their younger brother – but unsettling changes have come to their family.

John is celebrating his graduation from high school. He has college plans for the upcoming school year.  A new job has dad and Wendy moving to New York City.  This leaves Wendy and Lily only one day to worry about the fate of their sisterhood and their family.  Before they have a chance to talk about what is happening and how they actually feel, a flying boy in search of a storyteller, a fairy – tasked with keeping Peter Pan content and Neverland safe, and a rouge shadow, uncomfortable with its origins behavior enter their bedroom.

Cynthia Leitich Smith has created a complex, contemporary Peter Pan tale.  What does being an Indigenous member of our society?  How can we, as non-Indigenous members of society show respect and care for all people?  Readers  can explore ideas about family, stereotypes, identity, environment, social justice and personal responsibility.  You can ponder these ideas and/or  you can enjoy another great Peter Pan inspired adventure.  How do the choices you make effect the world?

Happy Reading! 📚


Gone to the Woods

Sometimes when I finish a book that connects perfectly, I sit hugging it to my heart, thinking, “Oh… wow… wonderful.” I reflect on where the book has taken me and what stands out.  There was so much here – one detail, triggered the next,  and on and on.  I wrote them down.  I recalled singing in bars, the train ride, the car-truck ride, the geese, fishing, picking mushrooms, perfect food, the love of Sig, the practicality of Edy, the voyage, the gunfire, the bodies, the rats, the loneliness, the library, the notebook, and enlisting.

Reading Gone to the Woods – Surviving a Lost Childhood is a gift.  What an amazing book.  What an incredible story.  What an inspiring life. Gary Paulsen throws out a lifeline to readers through this book.  The honesty of his words, and the precise clarity of the moments he chose to share, creates an indelible record for readers to find, study and grow from.

This story shows hope exists in the bleakest times.  It shows change and possibility waiting to be found.  And it reminds us that all stories matter and need to be told.

Matt reviewed Hatchet in 2012.  He finished his review saying he thought readers would agree that Hatchet was a “timeless classic.” It is.  I hope readers find their way to Gary Paulsen over and over again.  His story is inspiring.  His writing is inspiring as well.  We can all do important things – even if it is just to resist.

Happy Reading! 📚

I’ve connected the trailer to the book here so you can hear Gary Paulsen’s voice.

What do you wish? Granted… should it be that simple?

Reading Granted by John David Anderson is an absolute joy. I started wondering about magic in our world.  What is magic?  What is my responsibility for keeping it alive?  Is it real?  Should I worry about it, or just let it go?  To begin answering my questions I looked up the definition.  Magic is:  1) a power that allows people to do impossible things by saying special words or performing special actions;  2) a special power, influence or skill; 3) a wonderful, exciting or attractive quality.

When I stop to think about it, I’ve been the beneficiary of all three types of magic described by the definition.   An unexpected, totally sincere compliment, is magic.  Sharing a smile or a spontaneous hug, offering help where and when it is needed, is magic.  Noticing a cardinal in a bare tree save a few golden apples against a clear blue sky, is magic.  It seems that magic is all around us if we only slow down enough to notice and see.

At the start of Granted, before the story begins, readers are reminded that every wish made on stars or candles blown or coins tossed (as long as it remains unspoken) is heard.  The book is the story of what happens to grant one wish.  The story is that of Ophelia Delphinium Fidget, ~ a Granter.  She is one of a few select fairies whose job it is to venture out into the world to grant the wish of unsuspecting humans.  The fairies who are Granters do this every day.  It is the work of the Granters, that generate the magic allowing  the fairies to do what they do and to stay undetected in the human world.  As Ophelia’s mission begins, magic levels across the world are at an all-time low.  Care must be taken.

Ophelia Delphinium Fidget is excited when she receives the mission -her first.  She is aware that navigating the human world will be full of danger, but she has prepared carefully.  She is ready! 

But NOTHING goes as planned.  There are jets, aggressive geese, a broom, a hawk, windshield wipers, a truck and more…  In addition, there is a difficult choice.  Because of the waning magic available to the fairies, only some wishes can be granted.  Years ago the fairies decided that an impartial lottery would be most fair.  But is it?  Are all wishes equal?  Is a boy’s longing for his father’s return from deployment in Iraq more important than a girl’s wish for a purple bike to replace her stolen one?

Read Granted to find out how Ophelia Delphinium Fidget decides and who is there to support her in her decision.

The common expression, “Be careful what you wish for” takes on a whole new meaning.  

If you’re new to the writing of John David Anderson, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and Posted  are among my 4th/5ht/6th grade favorite reads.  Check them out too.

Happy Reading!📚

Celebrate “Difference”

Reading about Unbound in early spring, I knew it was a story I needed to read.  I wanted to see how this gut-wrenching, true-life story would be shown.  What a book!  Written by Joyce Scott, Brie Spangler and Melissa Sweet and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, it tells the story of Joyce and her twin sister, Judith.  They are two peas in a pod.  They do everything together until kindergarten.  Joyce goes to school.  Judy stays home.  Judy, readers discover, has what will later be called Down Syndrome and the school that Joyce goes to cannot meet her needs.

Around the time of the twin’s seventh birthday, Joyce wakes up to find Judy missing.  Their dad had taken her to the state school to live and learn.  On that day, Joyce reports, the colors leave leave her world.

After thirty-five years, Joyce is able to become Judy’s legal guardian.  Judy is able to leave the institution behind and live with Joyce’s family.   Joyce takes her to the Creative Growth Center and enrolls her in classes.  This center is devoted to serving artist with disabilities of all kinds.  It takes time, but eventually Judy finds her medium.  She becomes a world renowned fiber artist.  For thirty years she creates and shares her joy and resilience with the world.

In the author’s note Joyce writes:  ” Wherever we live, we find many people who are a bit “different” in one way of another.  These individuals, because of their differences, are often thought of as being less than those of us who consider ourselves “normal.”  They are often kept at a distance, not included in the everydayness of our lives – sharing laughter, and meals, bus rides and work, cozy couch time and a welcome night’s sleep.  Because they are not valued, their unseen strengths and gifts often go unrecognized, unexplored and undiscovered.”

These words are true for Myron Uhiberg’s story too.  Reading The Sound of Silence ~ Growing Up Hearing with Deaf Parents by Myron Uhlberg filled me with respect and wonder for him, and guilt and disappointment for me and the society I am a part of.  There is such incredible strength shared within these pages of this book.  Myron’s story of growing up in the 30’s and 40’s is sometimes funny and other times heartbreaking.  His first language was American Sign Language.  It was how he spoke at home.  No one outside the deaf community communicated with his parents, so Myron found himself in the middle, between the deaf world and the hearing world.  He was the translator during Teacher/Parent conferences.  He was the one who got help when his brother has a seizure.  He was also the one who heard how cruelly and disrespectfully his father is treated at his job. It is a burden to carry and yet he does it. 

These two books – true stories – shine a light on the changes that have been made for the disabled community in our country.  I don’t feel satisfied and I can’t help but wonder what more I can and should be doing so that even more voices can sing and all of our lives can be enriched by hearing those songs.

Here are some other books you might enjoy that connect to the theme of celebrating “difference.”





Research has shown that reading literary fiction helps develop empathy.  Readers walk beside the characters of tightly written stories growing our capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling.  Reading helps you dream of possible futures.  These books can help us  grow our understanding so that, as Maya Angelou reminds us, we can “do the best we can until we know better.  Then when we know better, we can do better.” 

Let’s all be better.  If you have another title to add to this collection, please leave your suggestion in a comment,  Thanks.

Happy Reading! 📚