When Jack meets his new foster brother, he already knows three things about him:

        Joseph almost killed a teacher.

        He was incarcerated at a place called Stone Mountain.

        He has a daughter.  Her name is Jupiter.  And he has never seen her.

What Jack doesn’t know, at first, is how desperate Joseph is to find his baby girl.

Or how urgently he, Jack, will want to help.

But the past can’t be shaken off. Even as new bonds form, old wounds reopen.  The search for Jupiter demands more from Jack than he can imagine.

This is my first “sticky book” review.  “Sticky books” (stolen from Dan Buri because nothing explains it better) are books that seem to stick with you long after you’ve read them.  The characters are so poignant and the writing so beautiful, they live in your heart forever. I have to admit at the outset, I am a huge fan of anything that Gary Schmidt writes.  His books and characters linger long after reading the last page and Orbiting Jupiter is no exception.

The story, told from Jack’s point of view, begins with Joseph’s arrival to the Hurd home.  Initially, Jack isn’t sure what to think of the young man that has come to live with his family.  Distant doesn’t begin to describe Joseph. Jack studies Joseph, who’s only connection seems to be to Rosie the cow.  Jack observes how others treat Joseph and quickly concludes that Joseph needs someone in his corner and despite the trouble that comes his way, decides he is going to be that person.  Schmidt writes a beautifully empathetic character in Jack. His quiet observations and his determination to help another are truly touching.

We are witness to the change that comes over Joseph as he begins to grow and blossom under the kindness and care of the Hurd’s and the encouraging teachers at his school giving us hope for Joseph’s future.  Circumstances intervene, however, and the results are devastating for both Jack and Joseph.

Set in the small town of Lewiston, Schmidt shines a light on how bias and stereotypes are both accepted and rejected.  Joseph is looked down on for his past, while at the same time supported for his potential. The reader sees the dramatic effects of both.

The plot contains everything you look for when reading a Gary Schmidt novel.  Recurring inside jokes, and scenes that take place in the unlikeliest places (a barn), caring teachers and strong, endearing characters that you immediately connect to.

This is a short, easy read in terms of style and complexity, however, it does contain events and themes that are more appropriate to an older reader.  Orbiting Jupiter showcases Schmidt’s amazing ability to write sparingly while still packing an emotional punch.  If you haven’t read any of his books, I highly recommend you do! Click here to get your copy!

 


Today, I’m going to start a new feature on my blog where I review books of fellow authors, who are just starting out like me.  I’m not going to limit them to middle grade reads, but I will include any books that I think my readers might be interested in.

Review

It’s my pleasure to review Maya Mysun and the World that does not Exist by P. M. Perry.  My love of fantasy goes back to reading “The Hobbit” in Grade 8 with Mr. Music.  Perry’s book takes me back to that love a fantastical creatures and lovable heroes.  Thanks to Mr. Perry, who was also kind enough to answer a couple of questions about his book.  I’m always intrigued by how author’s come up with their inspiration for writing.

The first book in this fantasy adventure series introduces us to Maya and her brother Jack.  They may be twins, but their interests are worlds apart. Maya believes in magic and Jack believes in science.  On the eve of their thirteenth birthday, Maya has a dream where she witnesses a conversation between the wizard Torackdan and Ebbelle.  They talk of news of the Lost Prince and Wraiths. Afraid of what her family might think, Maya only shares the details of her dream with her turtle, Tommy. Things get stranger when a mysterious letter is delivered to the house.  In celebration of the twin’s birthday, the family sets off to visit the museum. With the sudden disappearance of their parents at the museum. The twins are on an adventure to bring them back.

Maya Mysun has all the elements we love in a fantasy adventure: magical beings, evil villains with dark magic and characters who must use their wits to get out of dangerous situations.  Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings fans will enjoy this story.

Interview

Tell us about yourself and how you came to the decision to fantasy books for young people?

The story of Maya began when my daughter was very young. I challenged myself to pen a magical fantasy adventure with a heroine. A heroine like no other, one whose personal journey and development will be motivation to children and young adults.

As for myself, penning the adventure was my first attempt at writing since studying. Writing the novel proved to be challenging whilst working full time. The passion consumed many of my evenings; my routine was to conjure the ideas during my daily commute to work and pen them down in the evenings.

What was your inspiration for Maya Mysun? My daughter was the inspiration for Maya. I wanted to write an adventure with a girl who was the main character but with a difference. Even whilst writing I was advised many times that Maya needed to be more adventurous and bolder. Despite the advice you’ll find Maya to be brave, compassionate, and different than the normal heroines. You’ll have to read the adventure to really understand how Maya stands out from other heroines.

Are any characters in your book based on people you know in real life? All the characters are fictitious, but their traits are based on real people I’ve seen or observed.

What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome in completing your book? My biggest hurdle quickly became my motivation. During the early years I sought a paid service from an established author on my writing. The author’s report advised me to stop writing. Naturally this was a great blow, though devastated, I challenged myself to complete the adventure which soon became an item on my bucket list.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers looking to publish their first novel? Believe in your abilities and in the characters of your stories. I say this because despite the advice to stop writing I’ve completed Maya’s adventure. Secondly, I allowed Maya to be different, I was confident she will be liked and not be like the stereotypical heroine. Now I have proof from readers who have reflected how much they’ve enjoyed reading about Maya.

What is your favorite book to recommend to others?

I’ve enjoyed reading many authors and it is difficult to pick any one book. I’d recommend novels which subtly show young adults how one must aspire to be, and Maya’s adventure is one such story.

You can find Maya Mysun on Amazon, just click here.

 

 

 


One of the most difficult conversations parents can have with their children is about bullying.  The word “bullying” triggers some very strong emotions in people. Anger, fear, shame and guilt can all come to the surface, whether we are adults or children. Many of these emotions stem from being bullied, which makes talking to your child about this topic that much more difficult.  From my experience, as a bullied child who told no one, it’s not an easy topic for your child to talk about either. These strong emotions can hijack a conversation or prevent it from happening at all. If you suspect your child is being bullied, or you want to have a proactive conversation about with your child, here are four easy ways to use to books to open that conversation.

Before you dive into a discussion about bullying, you want your child to feel comfortable to share or talk about their experiences.  To do that, I suggest developing a reading routine. Take 15 minutes before bed and find a comfortable spot (include a favourite blanket or stuffed animal) that is free from distractions like the television or other family members, so you can give your child your undivided attention. Give your child some control in choice of books.  I use the “You choose, I choose” method for determining what you to read each night. This gives you the opportunity to introduce books to your child that will open the discussion.

Second, connect over the books you read.  I know this can make it seem like it takes forever to read the book, but this simple step not only provides the opportunity for your child to think about another’s point of view, it’s a great way to develop future reading skills.  The O.W.L. acronym is a great strategy to start the conversation. The O is what you observe or notice in the pictures or the story. W represents what you wonder or what questions do you have, and the L is for link it to your life or how it connects to your life.  If you remember this simple acronym, you can open the door to difficult topics while reading. Some other options are to talk about the pictures, how the characters feel and what you predict will happen next in the story. Ask your child what would they do in this situation? This is also a great time to offer some of your own solutions that your child may not have thought about.  Also, look at it from both perspectives, the bully and bullied. It may help your child to know the bully may have issues going on in their lives you don’t know about. This helps your child to see that the bullying not about them, but about the bully.

Third, if someone bullied you, share that with your child.  Many of us still carry the childhood wounds of bullying, but sharing your experience lets your child see they aren’t alone and keeps the lines of communication open.

Finally, find books that talk about the bullying experience.  If you don’t know where to start, here are picture books I’ve used in my classroom year after year when discussing bullying.  Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes is the story of a girl teased about her name.  She doesn’t tell her parents what is going on, but as her enthusiasm for school disappears, they become concerned.  A great book to discuss why she doesn’t tell her parents that ends with a happy twist. Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola is the story of a boy who wants be a dancer and despite the disapproval of his father and the teasing of the kids at school, he sticks to what he loves.  Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill is the story of how one girl dethrones the playground bully. A great story about discovering your power. Kids will love the language and pictures.  Enemy Pie by Derek Munson is a lovely story about taking your dad’s advice on how to deal with your “enemies” and how your actions may have unexpected results.

For older boys, I suggest Restart by Gordon Korman.  In this story, the school bully loses his memory due to an accident and tries to become a better person.  Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan is the story of two boys who team up to take down the class bully.  For girls, Jerry Spinelli’s, Stargirl, explores how denying your true self to fit in is dangerous. My chapter book, See Me, tackles the difficulties of navigating school when you feel you don’t fit in.  

If you need to have a conversation with your child about bullying, but don’t know where to start, pick up a book and let the story open the door.