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Sofia is an 9-year-old brilliant reader who aspires to be a book reviewer. On select Saturdays, Sofia shares her favorite books with kids! She is one of the most well-read elementary schoolers that we know, so she is highly qualified for this role!

Dear readers,

This book is something I have never seen before in my life, a different type of book. This book, The Van Gogh Deception by Deron Hicks, has QR codes! These QR codes, more about them later, show famous paintings that are being described on the page that the QR code is on. Most of the paintings are by Van Gogh but some are by other artists like Hans Holbein the Younger and Leonardo Da Vinci. This book is recommended for ages 10-12!

The book is about a boy. The boy had lost his memory, meaning he didn’t know who he was, where he lived or who his parents were. He was found in the National Gallery of Art, Gallery number 83 and was sitting on a bench there for most of the day. When the security guard comes to check on him because he finds his behavior suspicious, he finds out that he has lost his memory. The boy gets sent to the police station and then they realize he has amnesia which is when you lose your memory because of a blow or a traumatic event. They ask him questions about who he is and where he lives but he doesn’t know the answers to any of these questions. They send him to foster care and he ends up with a woman named Mary Sullivan and her ten-year-old daughter, Camille. The police also put an ad in the newspaper about the boy.

Meanwhile a man, who the book leaves in the dark at first, breaks into a person’s house and takes their phone and looks through their computer. The man has a whole team of grown-ups who are the best in their field in the whole world. This person, I will say no more about because everything needs to stay a surprise.

I love this book because of its amazing feature that I have never ever come across before, QR codes! It’s something extraordinary! I love how the QR codes bring you to different sites that show those paintings and let you experiment a bit with them, meaning you can sometimes watch a video about the painting or zoom it in and out and rotate the painting or, of course, the virtual painting. On one of the sites, while zooming in, I could even find a bristle of the paintbrush that Van Gogh himself used! If you do not know what a QR code is, then I can tell you. A QR code is a code which you have to scan using your mobile phone or tablet. You would enter the camera app and then hold the mobile device closeish to the QR code as if you were about to take a picture of it. Then after holding it there a while you would see a website pop up on the top of your screen. You would have to click on that link to the website on the top and then voilá! You’ve done it! If it doesn’t work maybe your phone or tablet is too old and does not have the technology in it to recognize the QR code. If you want to find out more about them, then do what I told you to do and scan this QR code! This one goes to Wikipedia’s page about QR codes!

Another reason that I love this book is the author’s style of writing. I love when they do different perspectives but I love even more when one of the perspectives is, figuratively speaking, “left in the dark”! Get your paint brushes out and get ready to read to them!

**Thanks so much to Sofia for this review! We love those books that are so, so difficult to put down!**

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Brave in the Woods
Author: Tracy Holczer
Published January 5th, 2021 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Summary: Critically acclaimed Tracy Holczer returns with a heartrending tale about a girl descended from the Grimm brothers who sets out to break what she thinks is a family curse.

Twelve-year-old Juni is convinced her family is cursed. Long ago, her ancestors, the Grimm Brothers, offended a witch who cursed them and their descendants to suffer through their beloved fairy tales over and over again—to be at the mercy of extreme luck, both good and bad. Juni fears any good luck allotted to her family she used up just by being born, so when she wakes up in the middle of the night with the horrible feeling like antlers are growing from her head, she knows something is wrong. The next day she learns her older brother Connor has gone missing during his tour in Afghanistan.

Her family begins grieving his loss in their own ways but Juni can’t help but believe that his disappearance means the family curse has struck again. Juni is convinced the only way to bring her brother home is to break the family curse and so she sets out on a quest to do just that.

From Charlotte Huck honoree Tracy Holczer comes a stunning new novel about the power of stories, the enormity of grief, and the brilliancy of hope.

About the Author: Tracy Holczer lives in Southern California with her husband, three daughters, and two rather fluffy dogs named Buster and Molly. She has a deep love for the mountains where she grew up, the lakes and rivers that crisscrossed her childhood, so she writes them into her stories. The Secret Hum of a Daisy was written in praise of both nature and family, and all that can be found there if you’re willing to hunt for treasure. Following her debut, Everything Else in the Universe was published, and  Brave in the Woods is her third novel.

Praise: 

★ “This is a beautiful tale of love and grief, friendship and family, and of hope. . . Give this to readers who loved Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish and Kate Allen’s The Line Tender. . . Holczer’s use of humor, thoughtful imagery, and magical realism elements makes this a wholly unique blend of modern fairy tale, hero’s quest, and coming-of-age story. A suggested purchase for all middle grade collections.” —School Library Journalstarred review

“Holczer’s clear, gentle prose allows the emotional and descriptive elements of the text to shine in this multilayered road-trip story . . . A thoughtful exploration of grief, family lore, and human connection.” —Kirkus Reviews

“By turns heartbreaking and humorous, this is a story that hints at the possibility of magic while remaining rooted in real-world problems and relationships. There is love and hope amid the grief and confusion, just as the Grimm tales contain both wonders and horrors in their own right. A heartfelt lesson on the power of love and the tales we tell ourselves.” —Booklist

Review: Brave in the Woods is the story of grief, hope, true friendship, love, and truth. With Holczer’s brilliance of story telling, just about every emotion is felt while reading this novel as Juni goes through all of the emotions alongside us. And with just a dash of magical realism, the story has a magical feeling weaved throughout it from beginning to end.

Add to these emotions a road trip, fun and unique characters, a dog (and a ornery cat), and a quirky family history, and you have a must read middle grade novel for so many readers who need this story.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Juni’s family legend says that they are related to the Grimm Brothers, so there are allusions to the Grimm fairy tales throughout the book. Use these to introduce and discuss allusions.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do you think the author chose a stag throughout the novel?
  • Why was it so important to Juni to get Elsie?
  • Which of the characters who helped Juni along the way do you like the best? Why?
  • How are Juni and Anya alike?
  • How are each of the characters grieving differently?
  • How does the author compare bees and asthma?
  • How does the author use the setting like a character to drive the plot?

Flagged Passages: “Chapter 1: Velvet Bones

Juniper felt it when her brother disappeared.

She was certain of this.

Oddly, her lungs didn’t go all wonky the way they sometimes did when bad things happened. Like a hive of bees inside her chest, using up every bit of her breath with their buzzing and swarming.

That feeling would come later.”

Read This If You Love: The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart, Ikenga by Nnedi Okorafor, Clean Getaway by Nic Stone, Other Tracy Holczer novels

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