Sy Montgomery is a master of nonfiction and research for her books has taken her all over the world from the Australian outback to the cloud forests of Papua New Guinea. Along the way she has learned transformative lessons from the animals she has encountered. Some close to home, like her beloved dogs and pig, and some far away like tree kangaroos and tarantulas. Through these animals, Montgomery tells us the story of her life and how all lives are connected. She shares these poignant stories with the reader so that they can become better creatures and take care of each other and all animals on this planet we share. Highly readable and strongly recommended for animal lovers, but keep the tissues handy.
How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery
When Lydia's mother dies after a long battle with cancer, she moves in with her aunt Brat. Brat and her wife have an odd life, living on an old farm with a retired farmer. They seem to have their hands full with people and animals to take care of, so Lydia is surprised when they decide to adopt a second dog. Lydia is not a dog person and this one acts bizarrely and pees all over the house. But he has a strange charm and soon worms his way into all of their hearts. But just as Lydia starts to feel settled in to her new life, her world threatens to be turned upside down once again.
This is the kind of heart-warming, emotionally intelligent story that I've come to expect from Leslie Connor. The characters are warm and well-drawn and welcome the reader in with a friendly embrace. Even when bad things happen, good people step up to make them right. Excellent for anyone looking for a tear jerker with a happy ending, especially dog lovers.
A Home for Goddesses and Dogs by Leslie Connor
Erica's Picks 4th - 6th tags: animals, character driven, contemporary fiction, family life, SEL, tear-jerker
Valora Luck worked as a servant for the crotchety Mrs. Sloane. Mrs. Sloane purchased tickets for them both on the maiden voyage of the Titanic, but died before it could leave port. When Valora attempts to take their first class room alone, she is turned away for being Chinese. But Valora needs to get on that ship. Her last living relative, her twin brother, is a passenger in third class on his way to a job in Cuba. Valora knows that if she can get on board and find him, they can convince the circus magnate on board to hire them as acrobats and start a new life in America together. But fate has other plans, and there's more danger aboard the Titanic than Valora could have ever dreamed.
I should perhaps confess that I never saw the famous movie, but even if I had I'm sure this would still be my favorite fictionalized account of the Titanic. With a large cast of characters, constant schemes, layers of deception, and stunning fashions this is a story I can get behind. Inspired by the eight Chinese passengers of the Titanic who really existed and about whom so little is known due to the racism of the era. A not-to-be-missed historical drama.
Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee
Erica's Picks 6th - 8th tags: family life, fast-paced, historical fiction, People of Color, survival, tear-jerker
Will loves turtles, but he hates being called turtle boy. The specimens he collects from the nature preserve behind his school are silent but supportive friends he can study and understand. The kids at school, on the other hand, only call him "turtle boy" because of his small chin. It turns out to be more than just a cosmetic concern, and the doctor says he'll need corrective surgery soon. But Will has been terrified of hospitals ever since his father unexpectedly died during a routine operation. Then his rabbi assigns Will to cheer up a RJ, a teen dying from an incurable illness, as his community service project for his Bar Mitzvah. Both boys seem to hate it at first, but Will's life changes in ways he never would have believed once he discovers RJ's bucket list and becomes determined to help him finish it.
This is such moving story that I didn't even mind the buckets of tears it made me cry. All of the characters are well drawn and learning about their interests from herpetology to drumming was fascinating as well. Highly recommended, but have the tissues ready.
Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein
Erica's Picks 4th - 7th tags: character driven, contemporary fiction, family life, friendship, SEL, tear jerker
After living a life terrified of being turned in by a neighbor for not being patriotic enough, Twelve year old Sora and her family make the dangerous decision to try and escape to South Korea as the front line of the war moves closer to their village. Fleeing into a war zone with limited resources is dangerous enough without having to worry about being caught by their own country men and punished for trying to defect. In the chaos of a bombing Sora is separated from her parents and left with her eight year old brother to protect. As they struggle through the hunger, cold, and war happening around them they wonder if they will ever see their family again, or if they are even alive.
This harrowing journey is incredibly moving. The resilience of Sora to push on and care for her brother despite everything is astonishing. While appropriate for a middle grade audience, the realities of life at the time are not sugarcoated and you should be prepared for a tear-jerker. The ultimate message though is one of hope and empathy.
Brother's Keeper by Julie Lee Erica's Picks 4th - 7th tags: family life, fast-paced, global perspectives, historical fiction, people of color, survival, tear-jerker
When Sunflower is orphaned, the poorest family in the village adopts her. They may not have much, but they shower sunflower with love and work hard to give her the best they can. No one is more excited to have her join the family than her new brother, Bronze. He has been mute ever since a horrible fire, but communicates with sign language. The two of them are inseparable, but when the crops are devastated by locusts they are forced to make hard sacrifices to survive.
It's easy to tell why this story is so beloved in China and I'm glad it was finally translated into English. Even though Sunflower and her family go through serious hardships, their love shines through so strongly and the simple joys of childhood are depicted so clearly that the ultimate effect is a sweet, heart-warming story. The language is simple but vivid and displays great wisdom through accessible stories and languages as the very best children's books do. Highly recommended.
Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan Erica's Picks 4th - 6th grade tags:
When a plane crashes on its way from New York to the Dominican Republic, the lives of two girls are changed forever. They live in the same time zone but worlds apart. Yahaira is a chess champion who lives in an urban apartment with her mother and is dating the girl next door. Camino lives in a rural house with her aunt who is a healer and dreams of going to America to study medicine one day. When tragedy strikes, they are forced to question everything they thought they knew as they cope with loss and unexpected gains.
This novel in verse is a quick, impactful read. The alternating chapters explore each girl's point of view and paint two very different but equally compelling pictures.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo Erica's Picks 8th grade tags: character driven, contemporary fiction, family life, global perspectives, issues fiction, LGBTQ, novels in verse, People of Color, SEL, summer vacation, tear-jerker
Muiriel was left at the John Muir Medical Center as a baby. She has taken her namesake as a role model and has spent her life bouncing from one foster home to another, only feeling truly at home when she can go for a walk outside. She is prepared to age out of the foster system without any attachments, until she moves to a small island in Washington for her Senior year. There she meets people who seem to truly understand her and she starts to break her rules and open her heart to them. But her eighteenth birthday is fast approaching and she knows that soon she'll be on her own. What will happen when she has to leave the island, and everyone on it, behind?
This book was inspired by the author's daughter who lived in three different foster homes before being adopted. It works hard to portray a balanced picture even as it points out the inequities inherit in the system. Seeing how foster care as affected Muir is heartbreaking but watching her slowly come out of her shell and bloom warms your heart back up and puts it together again.
What I Carry by Jennifer Longo 7th & 8th grades tags: character driven, contemporary fiction, friendship, issues fiction, romance, school stories, SEL, social justice, tear jerker
Asha and Yesofu were both born in Uganda, but their lives have always been different. Asha lives with other families with Indian heritage in a big, beautiful house with all the modern conveniences. Yesofu's mother works as a servant for Asha's parents and his family lives in a two room shack with no running water. Despite their differences, they have always been best friends. Until the day that Uganda's president announces all Indian people have 90 days to leave the country. The controversial move spikes tensions and ignites violence across the country as neighbors who lived together peacefully now find themselves at odds. Will Asha and Yesofu's friendship be able to survive? Will Asha's family make it to safety before the deadline? With every day that passes the deadline gets closer, and life for those left behind becomes more dangerous.
This story switches between Yesofu and Asha's perspectives and does an excellent job presenting multiple viewpoints. I was moved to read Asha and Yesofu's story and glad to learn about a period of history I knew next to nothing about. The book follows the 90 day timeline and it's shocking how fast the situation in the country changes.
Orange for the Sunsets by Tina Athaide Erica's Picks 4th - 7th grade Tags: character driven, friendship, fast-paced, global perspectives, historical fiction, people of color, SEL, tear-jerker
Lucy's mother swam with sharks, but that's not what killed her. She was on a research expedition when a brain aneurysm struck. Five years later, a local fisherman catches a great white shark. Lucy knows her mother would have wanted to examine it, and with the help of her brainiac best friend she starts to research shark biology herself. Then tragedy strikes again. How can Lucy keep her head above the rising tide of grief? Who can she turn to now and how can she honor the legacy of those she's lost?
This is a tender, moving exploration of grief and its aftermath. I loved the well-drawn characters and the depictions of intergenerational friendship. My favorite part of the story was probably Lucy's exploration of her mother's research and the way she uses her study of sharks to help her keep going when she's tempted to give up.
Erica's Picks 4th - 7th Tags: animals, character driven, contemporary fiction, family life, SEL, tear-jerker