Newbery Contender: “Red, White, and Whole” by Rajani LaRocca

Book review: Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca (tween fiction)

Our next Newbery contender is Red, White, and Whole, a novel in verse that is a coming-of-age story set in the 1980s. Reha is in eighth grade at a private school in her midwestern American town, where she is one of the few people of Indian descent. As an only child, she is expected to be a stellar student and make something of her life. After all, her parents moved from India to the United States before she was born, to give their family a better life, and Reha feels the weight of their choices. But can she really become a doctor when she can’t handle the sight of a little blood on a skinned knee? Will her parents understand if that is not the path she wants to take?

Not everyone in the town treats her with respect either, simply due to her culture, but she learns to tolerate their ignorance with grace. She is strong but quiet, and works hard to juggle her Indian heritage with the American lifestyle that she wants to be a part of: Reha is learning to balance the expectations of her parents, who she is very close to, with her own need to be a regular American teenager, listening to popular music, going to the school dance, and wearing dresses from the mall. She hopes so desperately to live a whole life, instead of two seemingly very separate halves.

Then, all of a sudden, her mother becomes gravely ill, and life changes completely. Reha tries to be the very best daughter she can be, in hopes of being able to somehow save her ailing mother’s life. In her grief, Reha learns the value of family and of friends who become family.

In Red, White, and Whole, the author introduces a variety of characters, all of whom help to shape Reha’s life. Her parents are loving though strict, and she truly wants to make them proud. She loves school, especially science, and has a small but sincere group of friends. Her family members in India help keep traditions alive. And ultimately, everyone comes to her aid when Reha and her father need it the most.

This book is written in verse, but reads much more like a novel than a poem. It is full and descriptive, well-written and evocative in its themes of family, friendship, and home. Despite some sadness, it is ultimately an uplifting story. A few of its appeals include its effortless storytelling, relatable characters, and universal messages of hope, love, and acceptance. I appreciated how powerful the story is, without needing to include overdone teenage angst or rebellion, or unnecessary language or references, making this a wonderful choice for tweens of all ages. The characters and storyline are very real, and Reha is inherently likable and relatable. I really enjoyed how Reha grew to realize that she really does have a whole life that includes both her Indian side and her American side.

The author herself was born in India and moved to Kentucky as a baby. She drew on some of her own experiences and cultural awareness to give an authentic voice to this beautiful story.

I am pleased to present Red, White, and Whole as my choice for the upcoming Newbery Award. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Happy Reading!

~ Ms. Nicole

Newbery Bingo Challenge:

Help us celebrate 100 years of Newbery Medal winners by competing in our bingo challenge! Download and print off your bingo board and try to read as many of these Newbery Award winning books as you can before January 24, 2022. You can download a copy of our Newbery Bingo Board here:

Newbery Contender: “Kaleidoscope” by Brian Selznick

Book review: Kaleidoscope by Brian Selznick (tween fiction)

Brian Selznick has won numerous awards for his previous books, including the Caldecott Medal and National Book Award Finalist for The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Best Book of the Year by six national literary groups for Wonderstruck.

His newest work, Kaleidoscope, is a set of short stories written during the pandemic while time seemingly stood still or ceased to make sense altogether. Each short story acts as one shard of glass in the kaleidoscope that is this book. Each incorporates themes of friendship, loss, memories, dreams, love, sadness, apples, ships, keys, stars, growth, and nature. Focused around an unnamed narrator and a boy named James, the stories twist and turn, a work of art on their own and as part of the whole.

In common Selznick style, the beginning of this book leaves readers wondering what is going on. Much interpretation is left to the reader, which allows individuals to glean the meaning important to them from each tale and potentially different meanings each time the book is read. My advice to readers is to sit back and enjoy the ride. Try not to overthink, just feel. By the end of the book, the stories will all have woven together, spanning time and space and circling back around again and again.

Take a peek through this Kaleidoscope and let us know what you think. Did it help you? Did it confuse you? Did you enjoy the beauty of the images portrayed? I can say yes to all three. I hope that you will give it a chance and see where each turn takes you.

Happy Reading!

~ Ms. Marcia

Newbery Bingo Challenge:

Help us celebrate 100 years of Newbery Medal winners by competing in our bingo challenge! Download and print off your bingo board and try to read as many of these Newbery Award winning books as you can before January 24, 2022. You can download a copy of our Newbery Bingo Board here:

Newbery Contender: “Just Like That” by Gary D. Schmidt

Book review: Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt (tween fiction)

Gary D. Schmidt received the Newbery Honor and Printz Honor award for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy in 2005. He received another Newbery Honor in 2008 for the The Wednesday Wars. In his most recent book, Just Like That, Schmidt ties in challenging topics of loss and grief that show why he is an excellent choice for 2021 Newbery award.

After her best friend passes in a tragic accident, Meryl Lee Kowalski’s parents feel it is best for her to move schools in order to help her grieve easier. Meryl Lee is ready to face St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls, but she is not ready for the challenge of new social groups and the other classist challenges that she will encounter.

Meanwhile, Matt Coffin is on the run from a gang leader after “finding” his bag full of money. When the headmaster of St. Elene’s takes him in, Matt finds that his past connections will stop at nothing to get back what belongs to them. Matt and Meryl Lee’s paths end up crossing, and the two of them try to break down the social structure of St. Elene.

Just Like That begins in Hicksville, Long Island, the town where The Wednesday Wars takes place, but then readers follow the Kowalski family to St. Elene in Maine. Taking place in 1968, readers are able to see the effects the Vietnam War has on the characters. This book provides many storylines, and the way that Schmidt is able to weave them together is something to praise.

Readers who enjoy historical fiction, The Wednesday Wars, and even realistic fiction will enjoy Schmidt’s attention to detail and the connection of these stories. Schmidt takes the difficult subjects in Just Like That and is able to sprinkle in some comedic relief, making this book an excellent choice for the Newbery Award!

~ Ms. Leeah

Newbery Bingo Challenge:

Help us celebrate 100 years of Newbery Medal winners by competing in our bingo challenge! Download and print off your bingo board and try to read as many of these Newbery Award winning books as you can before January 24, 2022. You can download a copy of our Newbery Bingo Board here:

Newbery Contender: “The Lion of Mars” by Jennifer Holm

Book review: The Lion of Mars by Jennifer Holm (tween fiction)

Jennifer Holm has already received Newbery honors for three previous novels – Our Only May Amelia, Penny from Heaven, and Turtle in Paradise. In addition to her novels, she collaborates with her brother Matthew on several graphic novel series: Babymouse, Sunny, and Squish. She is sure to be a Newbery Award contender for her latest novel, published in January 2021, The Lion of Mars.

This sci-fi adventure is about the life of Bell, an eleven-year-old cat lover who lives on Mars. His days are taken up with assigned chores such as collecting the extremely fine Mars dust from all the vents in the underground compound, school lessons, helping the community’s gardener with the algae and vegetable farm, and taking care of Leo, the only cat.

The Americans on Mars are not alone – there are also French, Chinese, Norwegian, and Russian communities, but because of wars and disagreements on Earth, they have been told not to communicate with the others. The children of the U.S. colony have only heard that the others are dangerous and not to be trusted. When all the American adults come down with a mysterious illness, Bell becomes an unlikely hero and manages to reach the French colony and enlist their help. He and the other children are very surprised to learn that … well, I won’t spoil the story here.

Holm has once again woven a unique and compelling tale for the adventurous middle grade reader. There is just enough intrigue to keep the pages turning, and more than enough sentiment for us to welcome Bell and his comrades into our hearts. Its speculation about what life on Mars would be like for earthlings is funny, informed, inventive – all the elements of a great book for kids.

Check out The Lion of Mars and let us know what you think – what was most interesting about life on Mars? Is it what you imagined? Were you as surprised as I was when you read the truth?

Happy Reading!

~ Ms. Laura

Newbery Bingo Challenge:

Help us celebrate 100 years of Newbery Medal winners by competing in our bingo challenge! Download and print off your bingo board and try to read as many of these Newbery Award winning books as you can before January 24, 2022. You can download a copy of our Newbery Bingo Board here: