Savvy

Image result for savvyA Newbery Honor Winner for 2009, Savvy by Ingrid Law is the tale of a family who have amazing abilities and have to learn to control them.

Upon turning 13, every Beaumont gets a savvy, a special ability.  Mibs is sure her savvy can wake things (including people up).  Just in time because her father was just involved in a car accident, leaving him unconscious in the hospital.  Convinced she can wake him up, Mibs hitches a ride on a bus along with her brothers and two friends, Will and Bobbi.

Upon being discovered, they convince the driver, Lester, to take them to Salina to the hospital–AFTER he finishes his deliveries of bibles.  This leads to one chaotic adventure after another as all the Beaumonts struggle to control (and figure out) their savvy’s.  It turns out Mib’s savvy is not waking things up but hearing ink (tattoos and such) reveal others’ thoughts.  Overwhelmed at times, Mibs causes a ruckus that leads to punches between Will and her brother, Fish, who can control the weather and a scene in a diner where they pick up another hitch-hiker named Lill.

Finally arriving in Salina with a police escort, Mibs is convinced she can still wake up her dad–and she does.  By telling him he never gives up and he has to wake up.  Her dad is not the same–severe head injury has left him with memory problems–but Mibs learns about family, love, being a teenager, and being happy with the life she has.  “When life takes a turn and you can’t step back…all you can do is keep moving forward and remember what you’ve learned” because “the outcome of a choice is almost as hard to predict or to control as a new savvy.”

“You never can tell when a bad thing might make a good thing happen.”

Great coming-of-age tale with tons of action and adventure from the heart.  Life lessons for kids who have great hearts, but still have a lot to learn.  Fantastic tale about your lot in life, accepting it, and finding contentment in it.  Highly recommended!

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Turtle in Paradise

Image result for turtle in paradiseIf you’re looking for a quick, witty read look no further than Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm.  A 2011 Newbery Honor Book, Turtle in Paradise follows the story of an eleven-year-old girl named Turtle who is sent to live with her Aunt in Key West, FL, because her mother has taken a position as a housekeeper and the employer hates kids.

We travel back to Depression-era Florida where Key West was struggling to survive as most everyone else was.  It turns out Turtle is related to almost everyone on the islands.  She adjusts fairly rapidly, hanging out with the Diaper Gang (her cousins who take care of babies for mothers during the day in exchange for candy) and helping take care of her grandmother by taking her lunch.

It’s on one of these lunch excursions that Turtle finds an old map hidden in her grandmother’s broken down piano.  She recruits the Gang and they all “borrow” a boat to go and hunt it up.  They find a bag of coins; however, the kids forgot to anchor the boat which drifts off.  Marooned on an island, the kids become discouraged and have to rely on one another.  A hurricane blows by one night and all they have is a small, dilapidated shack for shelter.

After the storm, they are rescued and brought back.  Turtle’s mother returns with her new husband who immediately steals their money and flees to Cuba.  However, Turtle realizes her real treasure is her family and friends.  “Maybe the real treasure has been right here on Curry Lane the whole time–people who love Mama and me.  A home.”

A delightful, quick read full of wonderful, colorful characters who spring to life and are authentic.  Highly recommended.

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg

Image result for mostly true adventures of homer p. figgThe Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick is a delightful tale of a twelve-year old boy who is determined to find his brother who was illegally sold into the army during the American Civil War.  Orphans, Homer and his brother are being raised by their mean uncle, Squinton Leach.  Squint sells Harold and Homer sets out to find him.

“A person has only two options in life, to do something or to do nothing,” Homer is told.  For Homer, “Nothing is not an option.”

He runs into some slave catchers who try to use Homer in their schemes to collect runaway slaves and return them to their owners.  In this process he meets a nice, rich man named Jebediah Brewster, a Quaker, who puts Homer under the guardianship of a preacher and gives him money to find his brother.  On the train ride, the guardian, Mr. Willow, is duped by con artists and the money is stolen.  Homer finds himself thrown into a pig pen.

The pig pen leads to Homer being cast into a traveling medicine show who performs for troops.  They follow the army until the leader, Fenton Fleabottom, is caught as a Confederate spy.  Homer escapes by climbing into an air balloon, which lands in a nasty pond on the side of the Confederates.  Taken as prisoner, Homer is soon freed due to the Battle of Gettysburg.

Homer flees on a horse, through the raging battle, and finally meets up with his brother who has been labeled a deserter.  However, every man is needed in the battle so Harold gets his chance to fight.  Homer, so afraid Harold will die, tries to stop him.  He shoots a bullet at him to scare him but it rickochets into his leg.  Homer ends up being the flag bearer and then the Confederates surrender.  Both are adopted by Jebediah Brewster back in Maine and end up leading a happy life.

Newbery Honor Book for 2010, this book is full of fun and unbelievable twists and turns.  Homer likes to fudge the truth, which lands him in all of these precarious situations but also gets him out of them.  Great historical read that depicts the 1860’s turmoil perfectly.  Highly recommended for all ages!

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Image result for evolution of calpurnia tateThe Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jaqueline Kelly, a 2010 Newbery Honor Award winner, is the story of an eleven-year old girl at the turn of the twentieth century.  She is the only girl in a family of seven kids and is expected to act like one when all she wants to do is play outside with her brothers.  Her chores are around the house.  She must take piano lessons, knit, and cook.  Her expected life is one of a wife and mother.

Enter her grandfather, Captain Tate, who’s a war hero from the Civil War.  He started a cotton gin company, which Calpurnia’s father now runs so Captain Tate spends his days trying to distill liquor from pecans and exploring the scientific world around him.

Calpurnia’s brother, Harry, had given her a notebook to write down her scientific observations.  Confused on the color of grasshoppers, Calpurnia went to her grandfather for help.  Here blossomed over the summer of 1899 a relationship of mutual hobbies.  Calpurnia spent every possible moment with her grandfather, learning, observing, and assisting him in his endeavors all the while learning everything possible she could.  He gave her a copy of The Origin of Species and she plugged through that as well.  The most exciting event is when Calpurnia and her grandfather discover a new species of plant and send off to Washington DC to have it confirmed.

Calpurnia’s mother dislikes all the time she is spending with grandfather and begins to make her take more and more time to learn to sew and cook.  Calpurnia hates every minute of it but slowly begins to understand what her expected role in this world will be.  However, she dreams of going to university and becoming a scientist.

At Christmas that year, Calpurnia is given a book.  She is so excited until she reads the title:  The Science of Housewifery.  She is devastated and defeated.  She begins to wonder if her dream will always be a dream.

Finally, word comes of the plant:  it is confirmed!  It’s a new species and named after them!  Calpurnia realizes then how grandfather had been “the greatest gift of all” and she can do whatever she desires.  “There are so many things to learn, and so little time is given us.”

Instead of resolutions, Calpurnia makes a bucket list of things she wants to see before she dies, one of which is snow.  And guess what?  The next day it snows for the first time in decades in Texas.  “Anything was possible.”

Great read about defining who you are, believing in yourself, and following your dreams.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

In Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin we meet a girl named Minli who is determined to change her family’s fortune.  Both her parents work all day in the fields for just enough food to put on the table.  Her father passes the night by story telling while her mother “sighs” over their misery constantly.

One day a man selling goldfish arrives in their town known as Fruitless Mountain since food here is hard to grow.  Minli spends her precious coin on a goldfish, upsetting her mother.  Hence, Minli decides to release the goldfish into the river.  When she does, the goldfish speaks to her and tells her he knows how to find the Old Man of the Moon who knows how to change their fortune.  With that, she is off on her adventures!

Along the way, Minli meets a dragon who can’t fly.  She tells him about the Old Man of the Moon, and he decides to accompany her on her journey.  She meets villagers who help her and encounters an evil tiger who wants to eat her!  When Minli does finally find the Old Man of the Moon, she is told she can only ask one question.  She is torn:  she can either ask how to change her fortune or ask how the Dragon can fly.

She asked for the Dragon, saying, “I didn’t ask the question because I don’t need to know the answer.”  Minli had discovered the key to her fortune:  family and gratitude.

Minli returns home atop the Dragon who can now fly.  The Dragon decides to stay and he changes Fruitless Mountain from brown to green.  She gives the Dragon’s pearl that had been preventing him from flying to a king who had helped her along the way.  The king gives the village utensils to sow the ground and much more.  All prosper because Minli asked the question for the Dragon.

Great story about putting others first and acting selflessly, which leads to everyone prospering.  Very, very quick read.  The writing style is simple and moves the story along.  2010 Newbery Honor Book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin is a must-read for all!

The Underneath

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, a 2009 Newbery Honor Book, is a powerful book not to be missed.

Ranger, a neglected dog, lives under the deck of a tilting house in the middle of a Louisiana swamp.  His owner known as Gar Face is an outcast in society.  He banished Ranger for coming between him and a kill and Ranger has been chained ever since.

One day a mother cat (herself abandoned) wanders in the swamp and finds Ranger.  They become quick friends and companions.  She soon has two kittens, a boy and a girl named Puck and Sabine.

They work together to raise the kittens.  She hunts and shares with Ranger.  Ranger guards the kitties.

One day Gar Face sees the cats.  He captures Puck and the mother cat and throws them into the swamp where only Puck survives.  Alone and frightened, Puck does his best to survive.

Meanwhile, we learn about an ancient creature known as Grandmother Moccasin who herself is a water moccasin.  She has been entombed in a clay jar buried under an ancient tree for a thousand years.  Her story is interwoven with the three animal’s.  We learn she was banished because she was selfish and wanted her daughter for herself whom had chosen to leave Grandmother and cleave to her husband.  Another ancient creature, the Alligator King, himself as old as she toys with Gar Face as Gar Face becomes obsessed with killing him.

Through hardships and more misfortunes the three-some end up together at the end.  Grandmother Moccasin chooses love over all else.  And love binds the three friends together.

This is a heartfelt book that had me close to tears many times.  It’s the classic story of how love conquers all but applied to animals in a very realistic manner.  Promises are broken and the consequences are deadly.  Gar Face is filled with hate.  Happiness is as mystical and fragile as a glass ornament.  Heartfelt and moving, this book is a page-turner not to be missed.

Warning for those with young children: it may not be appropriate as it deals with heavy themes.  The mother kitten dies.  The dog is abused.  Grandmother’s daughter pines away and dies when she is separated from her husband.  And Gar Face is eaten by the Alligator King.  Love definitely endures, but it is not sugar-coated as in real life.

The War I Finally Won

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The sequel to the 2016 Newbery Honor Book The War that Saved My Life continues the story of Ada whose mother hated her because she was born with a clubfoot and locked her away.

This book begins with Ada in the hospital finally getting surgery to repair her clubfoot.  Susan, her adopted mother, is by her side as is her brother, Jaime.  The surgery is successful and after a few months Ada gets to go home.  Only their home got bombed so now they are living in a cottage owned by Lady and Lord Thorton whose daughter, Maggie, is Ada’s best friend.

Ada can now walk almost normally. She can ride her horse, Butter.  She can lead a normal life.  Only the times are not normal.  This is World War II and the war is raging all around them in England.  Food is rationed.  Gas is rationed.  All unnecessary travel is discouraged.  Bomb raids are a constant threat.

Still, Susan, Jaime, and Ada manage to lead a decent life.  However, the government takes over Lady Thorton’s home for war purposes, leaving her to move in with them in the cottage.  Lord Thorton is doing top secret work for the British government.  When he learns that Susan has a degree in Maths from Oxford, he gives her a Jewish German girl named Ruth to tutor.

Everyone does not trust Ruth who had to flee Nazi Germany because she is Jewish.  Eventually, she manages to fit in and becomes almost a sister to Ada.

This book features close family members dying in the war, Susan very sick with pneumonia, and the girls left to discover themselves in this war chaos.

Excellent historical read, dealing with profound war topics such as the Holocaust and death and the whys of war.  Yet, generosity and heroism shows through in the simplest human daily acts that will warm your heart.  Highly recommended but read The War that Saved My Life first for context and so this book will make sense.