Davis, Meredith and Rebeka Uwitonze. Her Own Two Feet. Scholastic, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781338356373. 199 pages. Ages 8-12. P7 Q8
Can you imagine being 9 years old and leaving your family, your country and all that is familiar to come to America alone to have a surgery that may give you a chance to walk? Rebeka, who lived in a village in Rwanda, was born with curled feet. This inspiring narrative tells Rebeka’s story through her eyes, with the help of one of her hosts, Meredith. The book is broken up into three parts: Rwanda, America, and back to Rwanda. Meredith’s husband, Clay, was in Rwanda and hopped in a van with a woman who was Medeatrece’s (Rebeka’s sister) sponsor. While there, Clay noticed Rebeka. He wanted to sponsor her, but she already had a family who sponsored her. Clay found out that Rebeka’s sponsor was a doctor! Through many conversations, it was decided that Rebeka would come to America and live with Meredith, who became her host family. Rebeka expected to be better after her first surgery. She didn’t realize that she would have to work hard and go through a lot of pain. Rebeka visited the hospital 58 times and wore 31 different casts on her journey to be able to walk. To get information for the book, Meredith interviewed her parents, teachers, headmasters, friends, and mama in her boarding school to find information about her life before she came to America and after she went home again. Black and white photographs show the reader Rebaka’s journey. The end of the book contains “A note from Rebeka,” “a note from Meredith,” “glossary of Rwanda words with pronunciation guide,” and “sponsoring kids through Africa New Life Ministries.”
Verdict: I found this book inspiring and encouraging. I have heard a lot about children who have been sponsored by people in America, but I have not heard of many who have actually went to the visit the children they are sponsoring. My daughter sponsors a child from Tanzania and this gives me hope that her money actually makes a difference for the child. Readers will be inspired by Rebeka’s journey to healing.
February 2020 review by Tami Harris.
Calabrese, Keith. A Drop of Hope. Scholastic Press, 2019. $16.99. ISBN 9781338233209. 305 pgs. Ages 8-12. P8 Q8
Ernest, Ryan and Lizzy are middle school students in a small, struggling town in Ohio. When they learn about local folklore describing a “wishing well,” they find it and things begin to change! Calabrese does a great job of capturing the ambiance of a small American town, its school, and its diverse inhabitants. The story’s theme is how small actions can make change in ways we don’t even think of. The kids realize that people they know need help in various ways; they don’t know exactly how to approach the problems, but their good intentions and small actions do help greatly in the end. I liked that it isn’t clear if there is some magic going on or not (at least at first), that there is an old mystery that gets solved, and that odd combinations of characters end up developing positive relationships.
VERDICT: This is a wonderful book for readers who need to read something hopeful, kind and uplifting. I think we could all use more of this these days.
January 2020 review by Carol Schramm.
Evans, Claire. The Three Little Superpigs: Once Upon a Time. Scholastic Press, 2017. $14.99. ISBN 9781338245486. Unpaged. Ages 2-6 P7 Q7
A new twist on an old tale! The three pigs are back, dreaming of becoming superheroes. After collecting all sorts of superhero swag, Mother Pig suggests it is time to find homes of their own. They set forth, decked out in superhero attire, to their new destination: Fairyland. It is here the pigs find a challenge worthy of their superhero aspirations. Fairyland is being terrorized by the Big Bad Wolf. Readers get to see Little Red Riding Hood, Mary and Her Little Lamb, Gingerbread Man and other traditional fairy tale characters. Before they can rescue the town, the pigs must build their homes. The rest of the story follows the original tale.
Verdict: A cute story for a young audience. This would make a fun read aloud at story time. I can also see this being used to teach about the power of working together.
November 2019 review by Denyse Marsh.
Nielsen, Jennifer A. Words on Fire. Scholastic Press, 2019. 322 pgs. $17.99. ISBN: 978-1-338-27547-6. Gr. 6+. P7 Q8
Living in Lithuanian under the occupation of Russia and the Russian Cossack soliders is difficult. Audra is 12-years-old the year she learns what her mother’s and father’s secret missions entail. The Cossack soldiers break into Audra’s farm house and arrest her parents. She escapes with the secret package in a back pack. The package holds a book written the in Lithuanian language, a language banned by the Russian government. The Russians feel that banning these books the will erase the Lithuanian culture and language, making it easier for the Russians to assimulate them into their country. People like Audra’s parents have defied the Russians by smuggling books, in their language, to the people of Lithuania. They will do anything to get the books, even if it means your home will be burned and you imprisoned. This hurls Audra into a secret group who smuggle and hide books for the people of Lithuania.
Verdict: This book deals with many different topics, death of parents, the Cossacks, occupation by another country and the determination of a country to retain their language and culture. Nielsen melds these topics into a fast paced adventure that a portrays Audra as a courageous, heroic girl determined to fight the Cossacks at all costs.
October 2019 review by Carol Bernardi.
Gratz, Alan. Allies. Scholastic Press, 2019. 322 pgs. $17.99. ISBN: 978-1-338-24572-1. Gr. 6+. P8 Q8
The Allied invasion of Normandy, France, the first step to set Europe free, comes to life in several stories told through the lives of his characters, beginning with two young American soliders in a landing craft heading for the beaches of Normandy. One of them is an American Jew, the other is a German American, but both keep these secrets to themselves. The fear that these two feel on the landing craft and their rush out to the beach, with bullets flying around them and men dying, was horrendous. Gratz’s other characters include a Canadian paratrooper, an African American medic, and a French resistance fighter. The story is told through these different voices which are brought together in the final charpter of the book. Gratz weaves this story which gives a true rendition of D-Day without foul language or sex.
Verdict: Buy it! I love the way the author is able to combine all of these different chracters to give a very clear dramatic senseof what this day was like.
October 2019 review by Carol Bernardi.
Benton, Jim. The Handbook. Scholastic Press, 2017. ISBN 978-0-545-94240-9. $12.99. 213 pp. Ages 10-13. P7Q7
This book is a funny take on the platitudes parents spew at their children: you’ll poke your eye out, eat your vegetables, etc. The premise of the story is all of these platitudes, that all parents seem to know, are from a handbook given only to parents. The handbook must remain a secret! Unknown horrors (parents being manipulated by children, for instance) will happen if children find out parents are given the exact same information to deliver a prescribed instances. The main character, Jack, finds a copy of the handbook and he shares the information with his two closest friends Mike and Maggie. Now they have turned the table on their parents and are in control! Their actions have been noted by two factions who are vying for control over the knowledge in the book. A group of parents (who want to continue controlling) and a group of kids (who no longer want to be controlled). Both want the book from Jack and his friends and both will do almost anything to get it.
The book delivers a funny, thrilling story based on all the comments your parents say that make you do the eye-roll. With that said, I wasn’t fond of the manipulation of children portrayed in the story, or the fact that some parents will spout comments just to make their children behave. The author does redeem himself with a positive message at the end basically saying children do not need to be manipulated to be good people.
Verdict: I think kids will be able to relate to and like this funny story (unless they have awesome parents who threw out the Handbook!)
June 2019 review by Terri Lippert.
DasGupta, Sayantani. Game of Stars. (Kiranmala and the Kingdom of Beyond, book 2). Illustrations by Vivienne To. “Uncorrected proof.” Scholastic Press, release date February 26, 2019.  pages. $17.99. ISBN 9781338330861. P7Q8
Returning to her New Jersey suburban life after learning that, in another dimension, she is the daughter of the Serpent King, is a bit of a letdown for 11-year-old Bengali American Kiranmala. But when the Demon Queen turns up in her bedroom along with a direct challenge—and the news that her friend Neel is in trouble, Kiran heads back into a new set of adventures, though (alas) this time into an other –dimensional reality TV contest, sans flying horses.
Verdict: Eleven-year-old Kiranmala is a wonderful protagonist—witty, confident, strong, and able to deal with wacky situations couched in Bengali folklore and culture. Readers will delight in the swash and buckle, puns and wordplay, with a dash of quantum physics folded into the mix. In a Kirkus article, Dasgupta explains that she created the stories to address her son’s need to find books with POC characters reflecting him and his heritage instead of all-white heroes of he found in series such as Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter (see https://www.kirkusreviews.com/features/sayantani-dasgupta/). Highly recommended middle grade fantasy series, with both books able to stand alone, but better as a series.
April 2019 review by Jane Cothron.