A Million Ways Home

Last night, I finished one more of the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget. Those who know me can take one look at the book’s cover and figure out why I was a little hesitant to read this one.

That’s right. There’s a dog on the cover.

Well, I read the book anyway, and I have to admit that I’m glad I did. Though the dog plays a part in things, he’s not the major focus of the book. That honor goes to Poppy, a girl dealing with much more than any kid should be expected to handle.


After Poppy Parker’s grandmother suffers a stroke, the girl is sent to live in the North Shore Children’s Center. Poppy hates it here (with good reason), and she’s willing to do just about anything to reunite with her grandmother…even run away.

Poppy tries to make her way to the hospital to see Grandma Beth, but things quickly turn south. After a brief stop at a convenience store, Poppy becomes the sole witness to a horrible crime, an armed robbery and murder. The suspect knows her face and her name, so Poppy is placed under police protection, specifically in the home of Detective Trey Brannigan and his mother, Marti.

It doesn’t take long for Poppy to feel safe in this temporary home. She likes her caregivers, and she enjoys helping Marti at the animal shelter. She even manages to make a couple of friends–one human and one canine. Lizzie, the human, is a girl with troubles of her own. Gunner, the canine, is a beautiful German Shepherd who isn’t all that different from Lizzie. Both of them need someone to love them and be patient with them, and that person is Poppy.

Even with all these positives, though, Poppy longs for things to go back to the way they used to be. She wants her grandmother to get better. She wants to go back to their apartment and not have all these worries weighing on her. Surely, life can one day be normal again for Poppy and and her grandmother.

Unfortunately, things aren’t so simple. There’s still the matter of a dangerous criminal on the loose and looking for Poppy. Also, Grandma Beth isn’t recovering like Poppy hoped she would. Things are looking bleak, and Poppy doesn’t know what to do.

Will Poppy ever be able to return home? Will her grandmother get better? Will the police ever catch the guy putting Poppy in danger? And what will happen with Lizzie and Gunner?

Learn how Poppy navigates through the waters of uncertainty, friendship, grief, and love to find her way home when you read A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget.


A Million Ways Home is a quick, moving, and entertaining read that is sure to appeal to upper elementary and middle grade readers. Readers will empathize with Poppy and wonder what they would do if placed in similar situations.

If I had one complaint about the book, it would be that it is too “busy.” There’s already a lot going on in this book–Poppy’s reluctance to go back to the children’s center, her encounter with a criminal, Grandma Beth’s illness, Gunner’s fate, Lizzie’s problems, etc. Adding revelations about Poppy’s parents, Trey’s regrets, and even Lizzie’s issues with her dad, in my opinion, muddy the waters a bit and make the narrative confusing at times. I understand why the author included these details, but I didn’t feel like they contributed a great deal to the story as a whole. Just my two cents.

My issues aside, I do think my students will enjoy A Million Ways Home, and I’m happy it’s on next year’s SCCBA list. Now, I get to figure out how to sum up this book in a minute-long book trailer to help me with promoting it! (Check my library’s YouTube channel later to see what I come up with.)

For more information on A Million Ways Home and other books by Dianna Dorisi Winget, visit the author’s website.

Happy reading!

The Name of the Star

It’s so great when I come across a book that grabs me from the first page.  My latest read, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, is one of these books.  I loved the voice of the main character, Rory, and I was entranced by the London setting.  This book has also provided me with one of my new favorite quotes that adequately sums up what it’s like to converse with a Southerner.

“I come from people who know how to draw things out.  Annoy a Southerner, and we will drain away the moments of your life with our slow, detailed replies until you are nothing but a husk of your former self and that much closer to death.”

It’s almost like the author had a camera or microphone planted in every gathering I’ve ever been to in my small, Southern town.  I laughed out loud when I read this–all the while picturing several of my family members (who I’ll be seeing in just a few days) who have that special Southern ability to drain the life out of anyone they happen to rope into conversation.  (This may explain why I always bring a book to family gatherings.  It may be rude and antisocial, but even pretending to be engrossed in a book provides me with a much-needed escape.)  (See what I just did there?  I provided you with way too much information and drew things out and probably drove some of you away with this unnecessarily detailed paragraph about holiday gatherings with my family.  Welcome to the South.)

Anyhoo, The Name of the Star is a thoroughly entertaining–and kind of creepy–read that plays upon fear.  It seems that someone is recreating the crimes of Jack the Ripper, and our heroine Rory might be the only one capable of stopping the mysterious murderer…

While her parents are spending a sabbatical year at a university in England, Rory Deveaux, a teenage girl from Louisiana, has decided to spend her senior year of high school at a boarding school in London. She’s never been to boarding school–much less London–and it’s a bit of an adjustment for her. Things are a lot more intense than in America, and they’re about to get even worse. See, her school is in the East End of London, and someone in the area is recreating the murders perpetrated by Jack the Ripper in 1888. The entire area is in a panic, especially because there are no clues as to who might be committing these heinous acts. The cops have no evidence. Security cameras captured the murders, but not the murderer. Everyone is at a loss…until Rory sees someone on the night of one of the murders. Someone no one else saw.

Could the weird guy she saw outside of her dorm be the new Ripper?  Why didn’t her roommate Jazza see him?  Could this have any connection to the security cameras not being able to see the Ripper?  As Rory tries to uncover a mystery without losing her mind, she encounters some disturbing truths along with a strange new ability.  Why can she see people no one else can see?  Does anyone around her share this ability?  And can she use it to find out who the Ripper is and stop him before she’s his next victim?  Enter the shady world of London to reveal the truth in The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson.

If you want a funny yet creepy read that will leave you wanting more–but still kind of scared to turn the next page–then The Name of the Star is the book for you.  I read it during two extremely gloomy days here in South Carolina.  The weather outside matched the setting and tone of this book perfectly, and I refused to answer unexpected knocks at the door while I was reading.  I will admit that I was terrified that someone was at the door to kill me.  (I tend to get a little involved in books I read, and I am aware that a potential murderer would probably not knock.  I found out a little while ago that it was my grandmother who was at my door.  Oops.)

If you’re interested in The Name of the Star or any other books by Maureen Johnson, you should visit her website at http://www.maureenjohnsonbooks.com/index1.html.  I’ll go ahead and let you know that The Name of the Star is the first book in The Shades of London series.  The second book, The Madness Underneath, is expected to be released in October 2012.  Based on how the first book ended, we can look forward to even more mysteries to solve in the second.