“Echo” by Pam Muñoz Ryan

“…here, everyone was focused on becoming one voice. They all spoke the same language and had found their way to this night with their own stories of determination and practice and their love for music.”

“Echo” has been buzzing around my Twitter feed for quite some time now. When I saw a copy in the Scholastic Reading Club last month, buying the book was an easy decision to make! I really hadn’t heard much about the book itself, other than it was a fantastic read. When I opened the box and pulled out the book, I have to admit that I was a little intimidated. You see, “Echo” is 580 pages thick. But worth every one.

Not only can Pam Muñoz Ryan write one amazing story, but FOUR. And they’re all inside one book. I thoroughly enjoyed each tale and, because I was so eager to see how all the stories intertwined, I had to remind myself to slow down! Each story could easily stand alone, but together, they make something truly magical.

image

Summary

“Echo” shares the stories of Friedrich, brothers Mike and Frankie, and Ivy. These are sandwiched by the tale of a boy named Otto, who encounters three mystical sisters in the forest during a game of hide-and-seek. Otto’s life is forever changed by these sisters and the mysterious harmonica they bestow upon him.

This powerful harmonica travels the world, further impacting the lives of each person it reaches. First, the harmonica falls into the hands of Friedrich during the perilous era of Nazi Germany. Friedrich works at a harmonica factory and has dreams of becoming an orchestra conductor. When the Nazis discover his unsightly facial birthmark, they threaten to take him into custody. Friedrich, his father, and his uncle make plans to escape, but those plans are wrecked when Friedrich’s father is arrested and sent to a work prison in Dachau. Not to be discouraged, the boy decides to make the long train ride to rescue his father. But before the train even leaves the station, Friedrich is seized by two guards who recognize his birthmark.

Next, we find the harmonica in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mike has a knack for playing the harmonica, and he and his brother, Frankie, often play duets on the piano in the orphanage where they live. When the boys are finally adopted, they’re rescued from poor treatment and even poorer living conditions. But when they get to their new home, they learn that they’re not wanted by the lady of the house. They try using music as a way to win her heart, but it seems to be frozen solid. After Mike stumbles across documents releasing Eunice from her adoption contract, he tells Frankie that they need to make a break for it. Late at night, they climb down the tree outside their bedroom window. Everything seems to be going smoothly until Mike falls from the tree. Laying helpless on the ground, Mike realizes he can neither breathe nor move.

Finally, Ivy comes into possession of the harmonica. Her brother has gone off to war and she has just moved to a new home in California. Here, people with differences are not tolerated, and Ivy has to go to a school separate from caucasian students. Though her parents try to fight this silly rule, they refuse to let her attend the “regular” school. Music becomes her way of getting around the regulation, and she joins the orchestra at the caucasian school. One day, as she’s playing outdoors with a friend, Ivy sees a bike messenger pass by. Ivy panics when she learns that this is the same bike messenger that delivers news about soldiers who have passed away overseas. She chases after the boy to find out whether or not her brother is still safe.

In the conclusion of the book, we discover how each of these three stories connects. Somehow, the harmonica has brought them all together and has fulfilled its purpose. The endings of each individual story is explained, then masterfully woven together into one satisfying grand finale. “Echo” is a book not to be missed.

Final Thoughts

Music is such an important theme in “Echo”. Like stories, music is timeless, and crosses boundaries between faiths and ethnicities. I thought it was very appropriate how Pam Muñoz Ryan took three separate stories, each their own melody, and blended them together to make one beautiful song.

Though young readers may at first be intimidated by the thickness of the book, if they’re willing to give it a chance, they will be hooked right away. I think readers will especially enjoy the mystery of how the three different storylines come together in the end.


Title: “Echo

Author: Pam Muñoz Ryan (Connect with her on Twitter:@PamMunozRyan)

Pages: 592

Publisher: Scholastic

Publish Date: February 24, 2015

You might also enjoy: “When You Reach Me” by Rebecca Stead

My recommended age range: 5th-7th

My ratingScreen Shot 2015-02-02 at 8.46.52 AM

“Waiting for Unicorns” by Beth Hautala

Have you ever been browsing the shelves at the bookstore and come across a cover that’s so beautiful you have to buy the book? That’s what happened to me with “Waiting for Unicorns”. Even if I ended up not liking the book, at least I’d have a pretty cover to look at! Well, rest assured that wasn’t the case. For a first novel, I thought Beth Hautala did a great job developing not only the characters, but the setting as well. Manitoba isn’t a typical setting for a book, but the author was more than capable of helping paint a detailed picture of what Talia was seeing and experiencing throughout the story. This was really important because the events of the story are so dependent on the setting.

My favorite part of the writing is how the author was able to incorporate factual information into the story. I thought all the facts and about whales and birds of the Arctic were really interesting! For example, did you know that the Arctic tern will make the equivalent of three round-trips to the moon in its lifetime? Me neither! It was also interesting to think about how families survive in such a remote part of the world. I think young readers would really appreciate the attention to detail in the writing about Manitoba and the people who live there.

“Waiting for Unicorns” is a shining example of “heart fiction”. There are such real emotions shown in the story through thought and actions. Talia is still grieving over the loss of her mom as she prepares to say goodbye to her father for most of the summer. While he’s away, Talia becomes a teenager, kisses a boy, and discovers that people show their love in different ways. It would seem that being away from her friends and her home would prevent Talia from dealing with her emotions, but really the isolation forces her to face her feelings and develop deeper relationships with the few people in the town.Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 5.14.18 PM

Summary

The Arctic isn’t your typical summer getaway location, but that’s exactly where twelve-year-old Talia is heading. Her father’s a whale researcher who stays out on the water for weeks at a time collecting data on whales. This leaves Talia with too much time to worry and think. She worries that her dad won’t come back. She thinks about losing her mom less than a year ago. And that she wasn’t able to say goodbye.

There might not be much to do in Manitoba, but there sure are some interesting people. For example, Simon the Guitar Boy and his grandfather, Birdman. Simon loves playing the guitar, and Birdman is named because, well, he loves watching birds. Though she’s at first taken aback by these two unique individuals, she quickly comes to love their quirky nature and thinks of them as part of her family.

While her dad is out on the sea, Talia is able to talk with him on a weekly basis using a handheld radio. After missing two of their regularly scheduled chat dates, she becomes very worried that something terrible has happened. So much can go wrong on a fishing vessel, especially in the icy waters of the Arctic. Sura and her friends try to help her be positive, but after already losing one parent, Talia is especially fearful of losing another.

One thing that helps keep Talia from losing all hope is her wish jar. Since the time when her mom was diagnosed with cancer, she’s been making wishes on paper and adding them to the jar. The one wish she hopes will come true is that she’ll somehow be able to say a final goodbye to her mom. She knows it’s unrealistic, but the rule to the wish jar is that a wish can’t be removed until it comes true.

When her father finally returns, he brings good news. Narwhals have been spotted and Talia is going with her father to see them! Because unicorns have the power to make wishes come true, Talia hopes these unicorns of the sea will be able to do the same. Out on the boat, Talia and her father use the radio equipment to try and locate the narwhals. After more than a week, they have no luck and must return home. But the trip wasn’t for nothing. Talia and her father finally talk about the passing of her mom, and the emptiness left by her mom’s passing seems to get a little smaller.

In the end, Talia starts to reconsider the idea of wishes. She’s gone through some pretty major changes over the course of just a summer. She’s finally started to accept the loss of her mom, and even more importantly, the fact that she’ll never get to say the goodbye she’s been wishing for. Talia leaves Manitoba a year older, and more than a year wiser.


Title: “Waiting for Unicorns”

Author: Beth Hautala (Connect with her on Twitter: @BethHautala)

Publisher: Philomel Books

Publish Date: January 22, 2015

Pages: 256

You might also enjoy: “One for the Murphys” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

My recommended age range: 4th-6th grade

My rating:Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 7.22.10 PM

“Roller Girl” by Victoria Jamieson

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this gem. I had to call down to our local book shop and ask them to set aside a copy for me, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it in before closing. And, of course, as soon as I got my hands on it, I gobbled it right up! What a delight! This book might be cute and pretty, but the message packs a punch!

What makes this book even cooler is that it’s inspired by the author’s love of roller derby! When she moved to Portland, Oregon, one of the first things she did was to try out for the derby there-The Rose City Rollers! You should definitely check out the free e-book which talks in detail about the making of “Roller Girl”!IMAG0828

Summary

Astrid has suffered through one too many Evenings of Cultural Enlightenment with her mom. Poetry, opera, and art, oh my! But at least she gets to bring her friend, Nicole. Tonight’s ECE is a refreshing change of pace. Astrid’s mom has planned a night at the roller derby! Astrid watches in amazement as the cleverly named derby girls push and shove their way around the track. The highlight of the evening is when she gets winked at by Rainbow Bite, the star of the show!

Astrid is completely taken by the thrill of the derby, and begs her mom to let her go to derby summer camp. She can’t wait to become a roller girl, but Nicole isn’t so sure. She’s more interested in going to ballet camp for the summer. When Nicole becomes friends with Rachel, Astrid’s enemy, they have a falling out and Astrid has to go to derby camp solo. It’s hard to try new things alone, but Astrid wants so badly to be a roller girl that she won’t let anything stop her.

Though she hopes to be a jammer in the end of summer bout, Astrid stinks at everything. At first, she can’t even keep vertical on her skates. Not only does she skate home from practice, she also stays after regular practice to work on her skating skills. All summer, she works on cross overs, blocking, and plow stops.Her new friend, Zoey, encourages her and even sticks around to work with Astrid after practice. Zoey moves in to fill the best-friend position formerly held by Nicole.

Being a teenager is hard, and Astrid is trying to figure out who she is and what’s important. She’s trying to be a good friend to Zoey while hiding the hurt from being ditched by Nicole. She’s been regularly lying to her mom, who isn’t impressed by Astrid’s new blue hair. But everything will be alright if she can just be the jammer in the end of summer bout.

Finally, Astrid gets to find out if her hard work has paid off. The girls are gathered together and the bout positions are announced. Astrid is shocked to find out that the team’s jammer is…Zoey! As much as she wants to, Astrid has a hard time being excited for her friend. She’s consumed with feelings of her own disappointment. This attitude only creates a rift between her and Zoey, who seem to no longer be friends.

Not only does Astrid fail at getting the jammer position, but she’s also left with no friends. What’s a girl to do? With a little help from her idol, Rainbow Bite, Astrid comes up with a plan. But will it be good enough to win back both friends and ease the tensions between her and her mom? Will she make it through the bout without humiliating herself and her team?

Final Thoughts

One of the many things I love about this graphic novel is that Astrid feels like a real twelve year old. She doesn’t take to skating right away, and in fact, she’s pretty awful right up until the end! But Astrid takes it all in stride, and she never gives up. I also love that Astrid pursued her ambitions even though her best friend wanted to do something else. So often we see girls in packs, giving up their own dreams to stay within the safety of the group.

This will be a title that, like “El Deafo”, circulates quickly through the classroom. I can picture kids packed tightly in a circle, with “Roller Girl” in the middle. And, yes, even boys will be anxious to get their hands on a copy!


Title: “Roller Girl

Author: Victoria Jamieson (Connect with her on Twitter: @JamiesonV)

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers

Publish Date: March 10, 2015

Pages: 240

You might also enjoy: “Sisters” by Raina Telgemeier

My recommended age range: 4th-6th

My ratingScreen Shot 2015-01-28 at 10.33.04 AM

“Mosquitoland” by David Arnold

***Disclaimer***
Anything I write about this book will not sufficiently convey how awesome it truly is. But I will do my best.

Twitter has been a goldmine of great book suggestions. I’m following some seriously amazing book nerds, and it’s been to my benefit. There’s been quite a buzz about “Mosquitoland” (no pun intended), and I’ve even convinced my book club to read it this month. I tore through this book in just two days. An easy feat when the writing is so gripping.

I was a little intimidated by Mim at first. But after just a few pages, I started to peel away the outer layers of the onion that is Mim Malone. Her deeper layers reveal a narrator who is somewhat unreliable, suffering from a mental illness that she treats with Abilitol. Though Mim is crazy, dark, and prone to focus on despair, she’s also funny, witty, and one of the most sarcastic teenagers you’ll ever meet.

For this review, I’m going to forgo my usual summary and give a little snippet. Then I’m going to include some quotes and passages that represent the truly glorious Mim Malone.

IMAG0820

Mim has a coffee can full of money and a bus ticket to Ohio. Her mission is simple. She needs to make it there by Labor Day to see her mom, who she’s recently learned is sick. Without telling her dad or stepmom, Mim hops a bus and sets her sights far from Mosquitoland, the place where her life started to fall apart.

Once on the bus, just about everything bad that could ever happen to a person, happens to Mim. Her bus crashes, people die, she’s nearly assaulted by a pervert in the bathroom, and she crosses paths with folks even crazier than she is. Through it all, Mim defends herself with her sarcasm, one-liners, and cynicism.

Since I can’t capture the beauty and genius of “Mosquitoland”, I’m going to let it speak for itself.

“I have no moral objections to makeup, you understand, it’s just…I know me. And makeup isn’t me. This, in addition to my edgy, hard-nosed, take-no-prisoner attitude, and I think I could have made a pretty decent lesbian. Not to pigeonhole the demographic. I’m sure there are plenty of lesbian softies out there, gobbling up tubs of ice cream and sobbing at the end of early-nineties romcoms.”

“‘One ring to rule them all,’ I whisper, immediately regretting it. Sometimes, things are more embarrassing when you’re alone. I guess when no one’s around to hear your stupidity, you’re forced to bear the brunt of it.”

“Until now, I’d assumed a honky-tonk was a quiet bar full of strange people I would never want to talk to. In reality, they’re obnoxiously loud bars full of strange people I would never want to talk to. I pass one with a band blaring something about a bedonkey-donk, which I can only assume is the Official Honky-Tonk National Anthem. I’m already jealous of myself five minutes ago. Because you can’t un-know a honky-tonk.”

“I am a child. I know nothing about anything. And even less about everything.”

“Mosquitoland” isn’t just another book about a character with mental illness. It’s beyond clever. It’s as unpredictable and crazy as Mim herself. Books like this don’t come around very often, my friends. By the time the heart-wrenching conclusion comes along, you’ll be wishing you could spend more time with Mim and her unusual companions. So grab a copy and enjoy the ride that is “Mosquitoland”.


Title: “Mosquitoland

Author: David Arnold (Connect with him on Twitter: @roofbeam)

Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers

Publish date: March 3, 2015

Pages: 342

You might also enjoy: “All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven

My recommended age range: 10th-12th grade (and up!)

My ratingScreen Shot 2015-02-02 at 8.46.52 AM

“Stella by Starlight” by Sharon M. Draper

Our Mock Newbery 2016 Goodreads book club chose “Stella by Starlight” as its March read. This book has been in my TBR pile for quite a while. (Or at least since January 6th when it came out. But, hey, in the reading world that seems like a while!) So I was glad that it got picked for this month’s book.

“Stella by Starlight” received starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly. Now that says something! It currently has a 4 1/2 star rating on Amazon and a 4.06 rating on Goodreads. Not too shabby! Let me give you a brief summary before I divulge my personal opinion on the book.

image

In 1932, eleven year old Stella Mills is all too aware of the dangers of the Ku Klux Klan. Ever since she saw them burning a cross in the middle of the night, she can’t shake the image, or the unsettling chill it gave her. As if that wasn’t enough to worry about, Stella is struggling in school. She has difficulty reading and writing, often coming up blank when it’s time to put her thoughts onto paper. At home, her daddy barely makes enough money for her family to scrape by. Even buying necessities like medicine is a tough decision.

As the presidential election nears, Stella’s daddy and two other men from town work up the courage to register to vote. Stella goes along with the men, as her father says he wants her to see what bravery looks like in action. Once they arrive at the registration office, they’re poorly treated by the official. He taunts them and shares his surprise at the fact that the men can even read. Before they can register, the men have to fill out a test on the Constitution. As they’re working, two white men come in to register to vote. Unlike the black men, these men aren’t interrogated, nor do they have to take a test or pay the steep two dollar fee. Begrudgingly, the official tells the men they’ve passed the test, but that they should be on the lookout for trouble.

It doesn’t take long for trouble to make its way to the town. Mr. Spencer, one of the men who registered to vote, and his family are burned out of their home, undoubtedly by the KKK. Though they thought everyone was out and to safety, Mrs. Spencer discovers that her youngest daughter isn’t with the family. Stella proves the hero when she finds little Hazel hiding in her safe spot in the roots of a tree. The town comes together to provide for the Spencer family, including a place for them to live.

Stella and her neighbors are confronted by hatred from white people at every turn. When her mom is bitten by a snake, Stella has to beg the white doctor from town to come and treat her mom with antivenin. Though he has the supplies, he flat out refuses to help. Stella begs, imploring him to think about what he would do if it was his wife or daughter. But as he slams the door in her face, Stella notices the sign on the door: “White Patients Only”.

Though prejudice and the KKK are a constant threat to their way of life, the folks of Bumblebee, North Carolina don’t let fear keep them down. Courage and determination become instigators of change in a town that has followed “white rules” for far too long.

When I read, I try to imagine the young reader whose hands I would put the book into. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of a particular student as I was reading. I think it would take just the right reader to pick up this book and see it to completion. Most young readers, I imagine, would get bogged down and quickly replace the book back on the shelf. Which is a shame because “Stella by Starlight” is a good book with an important message.

For me, the book was a little slow to start. In the very opening of the story, Stella encounters the KKK, but after that, we don’t see much of them for quite a while. In fact, they become more of an ominous presence lurking in the background. But maybe they were intentionally written that way, as this is a book written for children. There is some story telling that happens in the middle, which I understand is an important part of the culture, but I wonder if it might detract from the main plot when being read by a child. At 320 pages, I think this would be a cumbersome story if the reader wasn’t completely engaged from beginning to end.

I thought Stella had some very admirable character traits, and would make a good role model for readers. However, I found that she and the other characters were somewhat one-dimensional. For example, the African-American characters seemed to all be “good guys”, while all the white characters, with maybe a small exception, were portrayed as the “bad guys”. I would have liked a character who skirted the edges a little, maybe struggling with their morals on the issue of race.

All that being said, I do think that “Stella by Starlight” is worth your time to read. The story is beautifully written, and I think it would be a great addition or supplement to a unit on civil rights or segregation. Teachers may even find this to be a treasured read aloud, providing students background knowledge and opportunities for discussion on a topic that they surely need exposure to. I especially love the author’s connection to this story, and how it took her so many years to write the book that was inspired by her grandmother’s diary. Check out this fantastic video for more information.


Title: “Stella by Starlight

Author: Sharon M. Draper (Connect with her on Twitter: @SharonMDraper)

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Publish Date: January 6, 2015

Pages: 320

You might also enjoy: “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson

My recommended age range: 5th-6th grade

My ratingScreen Shot 2015-01-25 at 7.22.10 PM

“The Honest Truth” by Dan Gemeinhart

“The Honest Truth” isn’t your typical realistic fiction novel. It’s not the usual survival story. What you get when you read “The Honest Truth” is just that: the truth. Dan Gemeinhart has written a story that is brutally open and honest about what is usually a very sensitive subject: childhood cancer.

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 8.34.23 PM

Told through alternating points of view, “The Honest Truth” is the story of Mark and how he has chosen to deal with his cancer that was previously in remission. Though he’s just a young boy, Mark has made a very grown up decision. He’s decided that instead of letting cancer determine his expiration date, he’s going to die in the way he chooses. Done completely in secret, Mark makes a detailed plan of a journey that will conclude at the top of Mt. Rainier. His only traveling companion is his dog, Beau.

Before he can climb his mountain, Mark has to survive many smaller obstacles. First, he gets beaten and mugged by a gang of young thugs. Beau is able to scare the attackers away, but not before they steal all but $20 of the money Mark needed for food and transportation. Mark has already survived cancer, so he’s not going to let a bloody lip or a black eye stop him from getting to Mt. Rainier.

Once he gets back under way, he needs to figure out how to stretch his remaining money across the hundreds of miles between him and his mountain. It would seem that it’s not just people out to get Mark, because shortly after he gets back on the road, a severe storm starts to approach. Now, he is being beaten by rain instead of fists. Weak, tired, and waiting by the roadside, Mark is picked up by a kind stranger. As they drive, the man becomes certain that he’s just taken in the missing boy he’s seen on the news. The man explains that his son died in Iraq while serving in the military. He tells Mark that his son’s unfortunate passing was made more difficult by the fact that he wasn’t able to be there for his son.

Even when he knows he’s helping the boy who’s run away from home, the stranger decides to see Mark to his destination. As they part, the man tells Mark that he’ll give him a headstart, but he can’t promise he won’t call the police to come and find him. At the base of the mountain, Mark prepares himself and Beau for their ascent to the top of Mt. Rainier.

wpid-wp-1424367628161.jpeg

Mark and Beau start their climb despite the storm raging in their faces. Although Beau tries to stop him, Mark continues to trek up the dangerous path to the peak. He urges the pup onward, despite the warning barks. Eventually, Mark comes to a deep crevasse that he and Beau will need to leap across in order to continue their climb. Mark jumps first and clears the gap. Because he won’t leave Mark’s side, Beau attempts to follow. But ice causes Beau to lose his footing, and he vanishes from sight. Miraculously, Mark is able to rescue his friend from certain death, and still they climb higher.

When Mark realizes that he physically can’t continue, he finds a hollow where he’s able to take shelter. Here, he reflects on his adventure and its purpose. Mark curls up, Beau at his side, ready to go to sleep once and for all.

This is the end that Mark was looking for, but this isn’t the end of his story.

Between chapters told from Mark’s perspective, we get to see what his family and friends are going through. Mark’s friend, Jess, figures out where he’s gone, and has to make her own tough decision: “Should she bring him back, and save him? Or save him, and let him go?”

As a reader, it’s difficult to say whether the actions of the characters are right or wrong. Was the stranger doing the right thing when he aided Mark in getting to the mountain? Should he have gotten him to safety or reported his location sooner? Maybe, because of his son, he was better able to make that decision than anyone else. Should Jess have shared her discovery about Mark’s destination as soon as she discovered it? Or did she do the right thing in keeping her friend’s secret? And what about Mark? Was he just in taking matters into his own hands, or did he cause his parents unnecessary grief when he ran off without their knowing? It’s easy for us to say what we would do, because we (or at least I) haven’t been in any of these positions. Sometimes we think we know what is right, but it’s easier to make that determination when we’re removed from the situation.

It might sound insensitive, but the hardest part of reading this book for me was Mark’s treatment of Beau. I kept thinking that even if Mark was justified in his decision to end his life on his own terms, he shouldn’t have involved Beau. Mark knew that his loyal friend Beau would never abandon him, even when his own life was at risk.

“The Honest Truth” isn’t a book you can read and keep to yourself. You’ll probably find yourself pushing it onto others so you’ll have someone to discuss it with! I can easily see readers having heated debates over the actions of the characters in the book, defending or condemning each one. At only 240 pages, you’ll likely tear through this book in one sitting! As you learn more about Mark, you may find that you learn something about yourself as well.

http---www.pixteller.com-pdata-t-l-63421


Title: “The Honest Truth

Author: Dan Gemeinhart (connect with him on Twitter: @DanGemeinhart)

Publisher: Scholastic

Publish Date: January 27, 2015

Pages: 240

You might also enjoy: “Lost on a Mountain in Maine” by Donn Fendler

My recommended age range: 4th-8th

My ratingScreen Shot 2015-01-27 at 12.34.30 PM

“The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky” by Holly Schindler

Goodreads suggested I read “The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky”, so I did! I was also swayed after connecting with Holly Schindler on Twitter. She was so kind and talked back and forth with me without it feeling like she was trying to sell me something. She even offered to Skype with my class!

The story inside the pages of “The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky” is as fun and adorable as the cover on the outside. I think students would want to read the book based on the cover alone. It only has 240 pages, which will make it appealing even to reluctant readers. Once inside the story, readers will immediately connect with Auggie, regardless of whether or not they’ve been in her shoes.

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 6.51.08 PM

Auggie Jones lives with her grandfather in a beautifully named part of town: Serendipity Place. In fact, the whole town is filled with lovely street names. Auggie herself lives at the intersection of Sunshine and Lucky. But, to some, the appearance of Serendipity Place isn’t as beautiful as the name would have you believe.

The town’s House Beautification Committee is leading the charge in “motivating” residents to make the outside of their homes more aesthetically pleasing. To do this, the committee has decided to fine townspeople who are not making proper repairs and updates. For the poverty-stricken folks of Serendipity Place, that’s just not realistic. But they won’t be defeated easily. They find affordable ways to make their homes more attractive. They patch their roofs and their screens, put up pretty new curtains, and add a new coat of paint where needed. Auggie and Gus have a unique way of sprucing up the place: they take old people’s unwanted junk and turn it into creative sculptures that decorate their lawn.

Sure that this will please the Committee, Auggie and the other residents of Serendipity Place hold an open house to show off their new renovations. Days later, they find letters explaining that their efforts and improvements are subpar. The fines continue to skyrocket, and the townspeople are worried that they might end up losing their homes.

Using the same creativity that sparked the idea for the sculptures, Auggie comes up with a way to save her neighbors and their houses. During school, Auggie and her friends are berated for being poor. Even her former best friend doesn’t help defend her. But after school, Auggie and her grandfather continue working furiously to invent new and more imaginative sculptures.

IMAG0814_1

This time, Auggie plans on doing more than just showing them off. Instead of an open house, Auggie holds an art show. Folks from across town come to see the display of motorized and stationary sculptures. Their work is breathtaking, and even draws the attention of some art dealers. The art dealers start buying Auggie’s creations right off her front lawn, and the money she makes is enough to pay off the fines of everyone in Serendipity Place, and then some.

Auggie shows readers that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Everyone has their own standards of beauty, and one person or a team of people should not force their standards on an entire population. Auggie’s actions help demonstrate that wealth does not determine how much a person is worth.

“The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky” is a great novel to help open discussions about discrimination, beauty, friendship, and determination. Auggie is a character worth looking up to. She is dedicated to her friends and family, and stands up for what she believes in, even when she’s in the minority.

I think Auggie will lend a voice to children who are too afraid or intimidated to speak up about what it’s like to be considered poor. Alternatively, I think it also provides a means for students who haven’t experienced a life without financial hardship to take a look at the character building that comes from that kind of upbringing.


Title: “The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky

Author: Holly Schindler (connect with her on Twitter: @Holly_Scindler)

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers

Publish Date: February 6, 2014

Pages: 240

You might also enjoy: “Fish in a Tree” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (another great book for empathy)

My recommended age range: 3rd-6th grade

My ratingScreen Shot 2015-03-02 at 6.47.03 PM