Tiny House, Big Family

A determined young girl stars in my latest scout, The House that Lou Built, a debut novel by Mae Respieto. Respieto’s Filipino culture and childhood spent near San Francisco play strongly in her story of Lou, a thirteen-year-old girl living, along with her mother, in her grandmother’s house in San Francisco. Numerous members of Lou’s Filipino family life nearby.  Lou, at times, loves having close cousins and aunts, but at other times, she wonders what it would be like to have more autonomy and be able to have the privacy she sees her friends enjoy. Still, Lou is kept busy planning her dream home, a tiny house she longs to build on her piece of Heaven: some lush, secluded property her grandfather left to her. Lou is laser-focused on her dream. She acquires the skills needed to build, works at a scrap yard and collects items she can use in building and saves money to accomplish her tiny house goal.

Lou’s world is turned upside down when her mother gets offered a job in Seattle and intends to accept. Doubling down on her dream, Lou accelerates her pace of building, hoping the tiny house will change mom’s mind. Complications arise and Lou makes choices that result in deceptions to mom and other family. As the stakes get higher, Lou learns that mom can’t pay the taxes on the property and they will likely lose it. Lou refuses to relent, but it will take the assistance of family to finally perservere.

In a satisfying ending, Lou realizes her dream with the help of family and mom discovers that her dreams are better realized with family in her corner, as well.

FYI: I like to be transparent about content, so there are no surprises and adults have the chance to discuss subject matter.  First, Lou develops a crush and get her first brief kiss.Second, her teacher, mentor and helper is a gay character, although there is little detail other than he lives with his partner.

What I like about this book:

Lou is a great role model. She is comfortable being a young teen who loves tiny houses, building with wood, and embracing her culture by being in a Filipino dance troup. She is independent, strong-willed and dedicated to her goals.

There is a great deal of Filipino culture woven into the tale, from beliefs to cooking to dance, which lends the story more authenticity and gives depth to the characters and their relationships.

Written by Mae Respieto

Copyright 2018

Accelerated Reader Level: No test yet written. Approximate reading level is 5.0

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Loss, Lemonade and (Big Foot)Lore

Lemonade Liberty Witt has a mother who is a free spirit full of love. Lemonade has lots of friends and likes living in the city. But death erases the life she knows. Her mother dies of cancer.  Lemonade is sent to live with Charlie, a grandpa she doesn’t know who lives  in a rural town, Willow Creek, the dorky so-called “Big Foot Capital of the World”. What’s worse, her grandpa runs the Big Foot Souvenirs and More store downtown. All Lemonade wants to do is return to her former existence and stop feeling the overwhelming pain of grief. Then she meets Tobin, an oddball kid who has his own Big Foot Detective Agency.  Like Lemonade, Tobin has struggles. His strict adherence to rules and dedication to finding the elusive Sasquatch make him a glowing target for bullies. He has not seen his father since his dad was freed from imprisonment in Vietnam.  Expected to board a plane to return home, his father, instead, disappears. Tobin is convinced his father will return and soon. Lemonade becomes Tobin’s Big Foot-hunting assistant and, many Sasquatch expeditions and intense disagreements later, they become buddies. Eventually, Lemonade develops more friendships with locals both young and old. Ultimately, she realizes that these caring townsfolk and, most importantly her grandfather, love her and she has forged a new family in this new place.

Melissa Savage, the story’s author, expertly weaves common threads through the tale: we all suffer loss, it gets better over time if we let others in, life’s not fair, but we are strong and love (and friendship) conquer all. The topic of death seems heavy, but the humorous banter between Lemonade and Tobin, along with the adventure of Sasquatch hunting, balances the story. FYI: There is some dialogue about the need to pee in the woods and a brief mention of the difference between male and female Sasquatch (one has stuff up top). Because a main topic is grief, the book is best read by 5th or 6th grade students or shared aloud and discussed with younger readers.

Written by Melissa Savage

Copyright 2018

Accelerated Reader Level 4.1

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She’s No Plain Donut!

A unique and strong-willed girl named Donut is the star of my newest scout, A Stitch in Time, set in the 1930’s and written by Daphne Kalmar. Donut’s name is as unusual as her life. Her mom passes when  Donut is just a baby, she spends her time hanging out with Sam, a taxidermist, learning to stuff birds and mice that she finds in the woods of Vermont and Tiny, her sweet, “not-so-tiny” friend. Her father is a dreamer and that suits Donut just fine. But when he suddenly dies, Donut’s Aunt Agatha arrives from Boston to care for her. Not only does she serve oatmeal for breakfast and turnips at supper, both of which are on Donut’s “don’t-care-for-list”, but she plans to uproot Donut and take her back to the big city to live with her and Aunt Jo. Donut, still grieving for her dad, wants no part of that arrangement, so devises schemes of her own. When those fail, she concocts an ill-thought-out plan to run away and stay in a friend’s cabin. Donut must cross a lake, keep warm, and deal with the woods at night.  Nonetheless, fueled by her anger at everyone, from Sam for not successfully helping her stay, to her aunt, to Tiny, who can’t keep a secret, to, ultimately, her father for leaving her, she stays for days aware of the worry and fear she is causing everyone.  A blazing fire brings the story high drama and propels Donut to make decisions and realizations about her life, future and the people in it.

Kalmar brings Donut’s experiences in the woods to life with depth of  description that will draw in readers. I recommend this book for the older end of intermediate chapter book readers, grades 4 or 5 through 6. Some of the language of the time may need explaining, although it is entertaining, “the cabin was as dull as ditchwater.” But more so, there are references to smoking a pipe, drinking and a sprinkling of words such as damn and, at one point, Donut talks about how swearing makes her feel better. Emphasizing that it’s a work of FICTION, may be in order for impressionable partakers.

Written by Daphne Kalmar

No Accelerated Reader quiz yet exists

Copyright 2018

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Home IS Where the Heart is!

Kate Messner has been conjuring up high-interest stories for years.  I recently scouted out her freshest fare, The Exact Location of Home.  It features Zig, actually Kirby, who goes by a shortened version of his surname, Zigonski. He lives with his mother, a starving nursing student divorced from his mostly-absent-real-estate- developer dad. With a knack for electronics, Zig finds and uses an older model GPS tracker and starts geocaching. Techie readers will be fans of the importance of the gadget to the story. Zig convinces himself, from web clues, trinkets uncovered at sites and a found journal,  that Senior Searcher, a fellow geo-junkie, has so much in common with Zig’s dad that he must, in fact,  BE him. So starts Zig’s quest, with the help of Gianna, his friend and burgeoning crush, to locate his father. Events complicate when money gets seriously tight and mom and Zig lose their apartment. Ending up in a homeless shelter, the story intensifies. Reader’s interest will pique as Messner expertly relays the experience of life in a shelter.  Also engrossing are the secrets kept.  Mom disguises the truth about why dad seems unreachable and Zig hides his homeless status from friends, especially Gianna. Messner weaves not only layers of secrets in this tale, but also embeds sophisticated messages about the environment, disappointment, self-acceptance and love. The unexpected ending will leave readers comforted and accepting that home really is where the heart is!

By Kate Messner

Hard back copyright 2017, paperback copyright 2018.

Accelerated Reader Level 4.1

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Another Gianna? Want to read a book set in autumn about a girl who tries to juggle a science assignment, maintain her position on the track team and deal with family all at once? Don’t miss this story of priorities and passions, procrastination and proving oneself. I enjoyed this story featuring strong-willed Gianna and the life lessons she learns.

Accelerated Reader 4.2

Originally published in 2007 and rereleasd in 2017.

Historical fiction so alive, you can almost feel its heartbeat!

This book, published in 2015, is incredibly well-written historical fiction that many of my students who read at a 4th or 5th grade level considered one of their favorite stories ever!  Set in WWII London, Ava, an eleven-year-old girl born with a club foot and her younger brother, Jaime, are in crisis. Their mother, a broken woman with a cruel streak, intends to save Jaime from the dangers of war by sending him north, leaving Ava, to whom she is physically and emotionally abusive, and herself behind. But Ava is determined, despite her disability, to accompany him. Once up north, the children are provided for by Susan, a woman who is standoffish, due to her own struggles.  Ada, who feels undeserving of love, finds comfort in a kinship with Butter, a horse. This story of strife and triumph is filled with depth through its well-crafted characters and highly dramatic events. It is a not-to-be-missed slice of historical fiction!

Written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, AR level 4.1, Newbery Honor Award.

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Not often is the sequel to a book equal to it’s predecessor, but this one is pretty close. In it, Ava’s foot surgery transforms her physically, but emotionally she still struggles to define her place in her surrogate family and reconcile her identity. With the war still raging, Susan, Jaime and Ava are forced to move to a small guest house with Lady Thorton, Maggie, her daughter, and Ruth, a bright Jewish girl from Germany.  In these tight quarters, tempers flare, fears are voiced and a tragedy affects them all. By book’s end, relationships are transformed, family is redefined and Ava finally wins her war within.

This book does contain a death from war. The AR level is 3.7, but the material is mature. Don’t let the lower level dissuade 5th or 6th grade readers from picking up this novel!

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