Yesterday I featured the CYBILS Middle Grade Fiction winner, The Parker Inheritance. Today and tomorrow I’m reviewing the other finalists beginning with these two selections…


Doughnut Fix.jpgTristan (Tris) is a boy with a problem many MG kids can relate to: His parents suddenly decide to move to a new town. After living in New York City, Tris is used to big city life. His best pal is there and everything he loves from the sports to the restaurants is right under his nose. It all makes the switch to small town Petersville the worst thing that has ever happened in his 12 years.

Tris narrates the story in past tense and is the kind of kid you know will do well in life. He’s considerate of others and deals with his problems in a charming way. Instead of sulking like his younger gifted and talented sister, Tris makes a new friend and gets to know the main street—the only street in Petersville. And it doesn’t have a single restaurant! There he meets Winnie, a shop owner, who stopped making her famous chocolate cream donuts many years ago. Thanks to his Mom, Tris has become quite the cook and his favorite is dessert. With a copy of Starting your Own Business for Dummies, Tris sets out to open up his own doughnut stand.

This is a rare MG tale with no divorce, bullies, or fantasy worlds.  It’s Tris dealing with his often hilarious four-year-old sister and seeing another side of his other sister as they each deal with their new setting in different ways. He also gets a new vision of friendship. His plan for opening a business is recapped after the story’s completion for those wanting to start their own business. Even better—a sequel is in the works.

Now, about that cover… yes there is a raccoon toward the latter half of the book loose in their house, but it is far from the focus of the story. The animal may become more prominent in book 2, but it makes no sense to feature it in this first effort.

THE DOUGHNUT FIX is a fun story that moves along at fast pace. You’ll be pleased to have spent time with this family and the icing on the doughnut are the included recipes.


Tristan isn’t Gifted or Talented like his sister Jeanine, and he’s always been okay with that because he can make a perfect chocolate chip cookie and he lives in the greatest city in the world. But his life takes a turn for the worse when his parents decide to move to middle-of-nowhere Petersville―a town with one street and no restaurants. It’s like suddenly they’re supposed to be this other family, one that can survive without bagels and movie theaters.

His suspicions about his new town are confirmed when he’s tricked into believing the local general store has life-changing chocolate cream doughnuts, when in fact the owner hasn’t made them in years. And so begins the only thing that could make life in Petersville worth living: getting the recipe, making the doughnuts, and bringing them back to the town through his very own doughnut stand. But Tristan will soon discover that when starting a business, it helps to be both Gifted and Talented, and It’s possible he’s bitten off more than he can chew…

ABOUT JESSIE JANOWITZ (From her website)

In high school, I fell in love with the French language (and French pastry!), and when I went to Princeton for college, I majored comparative literature because it allowed me to study French plus everything else I was interested in, including Creative Writing.

After college, I taught in a French public school high school for cooking and restaurant service. Then I sold translation rights for a publishing house. This led me to law school, which I loved. One of the many cool things about the U.S. legal system: it’s built on stories!

Eventually, thanks to my family, I found myself back reading and writing stories, ones for kids because those are the ones I’ve always loved best.


Every child has worries no matter their race or socioeconomic status. The half dozen fifth and sixth graders in Ms Laverne’s class are fortunate to have her as their teacher. She is soft-spoken and full of understanding. But how can she teach when deportation, race, parent incarceration, and poverty are in the forefront?

The solution is to give this group one hour per week in a room by themselves to talk. No  teachers present. The result is an awakening for all as they support one another in their individual struggles.

Haley narrates the story from her perspective. She is the mixed race red-headed girl with a father in jail. The story begins at the end of this special year and then goes back to recount what happened. A hand held recorder with the voices of her classmates is all she has to remember. It also gave her the voice to share her own troubles

The writing is purposely poetic and flows in smooth waves. It’s a story full of contemporary topics facing too many kids today. The concept of freedom alone would bring a lively discussion and deeper thought for all. It is fiction but the set-up of putting six kids alone in a room would never fly in my school district.  Nevertheless, Harbor Me is a story that will force you to rethink and relate more to these tough issues facing our youth.


It all starts when six kids have to meet for a weekly chat–by themselves, with no adults to listen in. There, in the room they soon dub the ARTT Room (short for “A Room to Talk”), they discover it’s safe to talk about what’s bothering them–everything from Esteban’s father’s deportation and Haley’s father’s incarceration to Amari’s fears of racial profiling and Ashton’s adjustment to his changing family fortunes. When the six are together, they can express the feelings and fears they have to hide from the rest of the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.


Where it takes place:

In the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn

Where I wrote it:

In Brooklyn and while I was traveling around the country.

Why I wrote it:

I have so many questions. Sometimes, writing is the only way I can answer them.

(For more about Ms. Woodson and her books check out her website)


About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
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3 Responses to CYBILS FINALISTS Part One

  1. More books for my TBR list. Thanks for the reviews, Greg. They both sound great.

  2. Pingback: CYBILS FINALISTS Part Two | Always in the Middle…

  3. I haven’t read THE DOUGHNUT FIX, but it sounds like a fun read. I did read and review HARBOR ME and loved how the kids worked through issues in their lives and were supportive of each other. Enjoyed the comments from Woodson at the end. Now, I know what drivers her as a writer.

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