Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Click'd

Allie just spent an amazing summer at Code Girls camp making friends and coding apps.  Click'd is the result of her efforts.  It's a game that helps you find new friends.  Her demo at the end of Code Girls went so well that her teacher and mentor, Ms. Slade, has invited her to be part of Games 4 Good, an elite competition for young coders. 

As school starts, Allie is excited to reconnect with her friends and to share Click'd.  At first, she just shares the game with a small group of friends, but they love it so much, their enthusiasm makes her want to share Click'd with everyone.  Within a day, Click'd is a sensation at Mercer Middle School.  Things are going great, and people are Clicking all over school. 

But then a glitch in the game reveals private information about one of her friends, and it could happen to others.  Allie knows she should shut it down if she can't find a solution, but she just can't stand to do it.

Can Allie fix Click'd in time to compete and save her friendships?  Read the book to find out!  I really enjoyed Tamara Ireland Stone's middle grade book about friendship and coding.  Kids who are interested in coding will love it, but it's also a great story about friendship and hard work.  It's great to have a story about a girl working hard to accomplish her goals and not worrying about romance.  Romance is fine, but we don't always need a romance subplot.  Recommended.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Magician and the Spirits

Deborah Noyes's biography of Harry Houdini focuses on the famous magician's thirty-year investigation of spiritualism and psychic phenomena.  Noyes rounds out the biography with brief information about Houdini's childhood and early career, but the real story here is the rise of spiritualism, the various methods employed by spirit mediums, and Houdini's dedication to debunking the movement. 

This was a fascinating read (perhaps more so because I was coincidentally reading a fiction book set during the same time period with a spiritualist subplot) with brief biographies of important players in the spiritualist movement, how they pulled off their seances and a deft explanation of why people took spiritualism to heart.

Noyes also threads in the story of Houdini's friendship/rivalry with Arthur Conan Doyle, a staunch believer in spiritualism.  Ultimately, their friendship fell apart because though they both wanted to believe in communication with the dead, Doyle refused to the see the truth, and Houdini could only see the tricks.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable read.  Highly recommended!


Friday, January 26, 2018

Out of Wonder

Each poem in this beautifully illustrated collection is an homage to another celebrated poet, either stylistically or in subject matter.  This is a wonderful collection of poetry on its own merit, but it also has the potential to get kids interested in the poets who are celebrated.  Also includes a brief biography for each poet referenced.  Highly recommended!

Top Books of 2017

So...I'm a little tardy in posting my yearly roundup, but I had to indulge in a much-needed break from middle school books for a few weeks over the school break.  Of course, I recommend everything on the Lone Star List, and there will be some overlap on my personal best list.  Did I mention I'm on the committee?  My first year was a wonderful if challenging experience!  This is pretty much how I spent 2017:


via GIPHY

So, let's get down to the analysis.  Once again, I want to mention how much I love using Goodreads as a personal catalog.  Plus, their tools make this end of the year post much easier than it would be otherwise.

I had an all-time reading high for 2017 with 149 books total with a pretty big boost in October as I struggled to finish the last 20 Lone Star nominees by the end of the month.  I even postponed watching season 2 of Stranger Things.  Now that's dedication!

Here's the breakdown of ratings.

5 stars:  32 books

4 stars:  66 books

3 stars:  42 books

2 stars:  6 books

I rarely have one-star books anymore because I just don't make it to the end.  There are two books this year I didn't give a star rating because I didn't finish them.

Here's the genre breakdown.  This is always fun and a little revealing but not very surprising.  There are always a few crickets in the sports section.  Also, I always have overlap in my genre tagging even if I can't really do it when shelving in the library, so don't expect the numbers to add up!

Adventure:  11 books

Classics:  0 books (Yikes! That's what happens when you are focusing on new books for a reading committee.)

Fantasy:  30 books

Historical Fiction:  18 books

Horror:  6 books

Humor:  8 books

Mystery:  22 books

Realistic Fiction:  33 books (That is a surprise.  Usually fantasy is a little higher than realistic.)

Romance:  15 books

Science Fiction:  15 books

Sports:  3 books

Nonfiction:  6 (Holy Hannah!  That's embarrassing.)

Now, we've got that out of the way, here are my favorite books of 2017.  These are my true love (middle school) books in no particular order out of the total 149.  The book covers link back to my original reviews with links to author web pages, videos, and extended comments.  Also, I'm not going to narrow it down to 10 because I don't want to!

A note on my grade level recommendations:  When I say 6th and up, you could probably go lower.  7th and up means there was nothing objectionable, but the book might be more sophisticated or thematically suited to older readers.  8th and up means PG13 in my library.



via GIPHY

Frogkisser! by Garth Nix is a delightful fairy tale romp.  Any fantasy fan will enjoy this one, but fairy tale aficionados will thrill in picking up all the twisted allusions to the original stories.  (Snow White is one my favorites!)  I love the cover!  I love the exclamation mark!  I love this book! (grades 6 and up)








Neal Shusterman is just a great writer.  I didn't think it could get better than the Unwind series, but Scythe is amazing!  It's a tale of power, corruption, and the value of human life.  It's a true mark of the author's prowess that a necessarily bloody tale is about more than violence.  Seriously, you should just read it!  (grades 8 and up)







Well, That Was Awkward is a humorous and touching version of Cyrano de Bergerac for the middle school set. One day out of the blue, Gracie suddenly has a terrible crush on her friend, A.J, but A.J. has feelings for Gracie's best friend, Sienna.  What's a girl to do?  Especially if her best friend likes A.J. but is too nervous to talk to him.  What could it hurt to help Sienna out with her texts a little?  This book is perfectly middle school! (Grades 7 and up)






When Wren's drinking and drug use become more than her parents can take, they send her to a wilderness camp in the Utah desert.  Wren is so angry with her parents for this betrayal that it takes time for her to calm down and really start to understand what led her to this point.  Van Draanen does an excellent job of writing an honest book about drug and alcohol abuse without all the gory details of other books on this topic.  (Grades 7 and up)






When Arianwyn fails her final witch's assessment, she is sent in disgrace to the sleepy town of Lull to wait and practice until she can try again, but it doesn't take long before she realizes something dark is creeping into Lull and she will have to protect the people of her new home with her limited skills.  The book is a perfect fit for magic and fantasy fans.  I've been recommending it to my Harry Potter kids since I read it in the summer.  (Grades 6 and up)






This is a thrilling sci-fi adventure with thrills, plot twists, aliens, sabotage, and a ticking clock on total annihilation!   I loved this one! (Grades 6 and up)





I loved this book!  Spider-man action with a villain who is institutionalized racism personified?  I would expect nothing less from the incomparable Jason Reynolds! Plus, it's Marvel, so it's squeaky clean. (Grades 6 and up)









Ok, I know I said I wasn't going to play favorites, but I lied because this is my absolute favorite of the year.  I devoured this book!  It's Firefly meets Doctor Who, and it's pretty much like Ryan Graudin wrote this book just for me!  Start reading now, sci-fi people! (Grades 7 and up)








Everyone thinks Jade needs to get out of her poor neighborhood to succeed, and she's trying.  She has a scholarship to a fancy private school and takes advantage of every opportunity she can, but sometimes she thinks people don't see all the good in her community.  When her school counselor gets her involved in a mentoring program, it's a catalyst for Jade and the people around her.  This is such a great book about self-respect and self-confidence. (grades 7 and up)





This is an unusual little gem of a book.  Crow has lived her entire life on a tiny island off the coast of New England with her adoptive father who pulled her from the sea when she washed up in a boat as a baby.  She loves her life, but she can't help but wonder where she came from.  I loved this surprising and sweet story of love, heartbreak, and family. (Grades 6 and up)







I'm a sucker for a good fairy tale retelling, but I've read so many you really have to bring something new to the game to get my attention.  This dark and brooding version of Beauty and the Beast where Beauty is a deadly hunter is perfect.  All the classic tropes of the story are there, but this beauty has intelligence and strength.  She's no cowering girl.  (Grades 7 and up)







Who doesn't love a good space opera?  I know I do.  This is a great sci-fi adventure with a vast empire, an assassination attempt, and the future of reality tv, but it's also a meditation on the ignorant assumptions and inherent racism that runs through many facets of life here in reality. (Grades 7 and up)








Emika Chen is young and poor.  She makes a meager living as a bounty hunter, but she's about to be evicted when she gets swept up into the high profile world of Warcross, the most popular game in the world.  But she isn't sure who to trust especially when she starts to lose her heart.  This is a fun and fast-paced read with a gorgeous cover! (Grades 8 and up)







This book is just the most fun reading experience I had all year.  Doreen Green is like any other fourteen-year-old girl, except for the big bushy tail and her squirrel powers of course!  When a new danger threatens and the squirrels and then the humans, Doreen will use her optimism and determination to save the day!  Squirrel Girl's optimism is the thing I love most about her.  This is a fun read for all ages!






And now for some nonfiction!


via GIPHY

I was just as surprised as you probably are at how much I enjoyed this book.  Hopkinson weaves a narrative thread by connected men and ships so there is a sense of continuity, but you could also just open to any page, read a chapter, and enjoy it.  Anyone who enjoys a war story will dive right into this one!








I'm not sure how many kids would enjoy this book.  You have to be interested in the development of Bonhoeffer's faith because this takes up a large part of the beginning of the book, but you need that background to truly understand his moral dilemma.  I'm still thinking about this one months later.









And now for a few graphic novels! (I couldn't find a good GIF for this one, so just enjoy this enthusiastic kid.)



via GIPHY

Many of you know how much I love the Lunar Chronicles, but I was skeptical about a graphic novel continuation of the story.  I am pleased to say I was wrong.  I absolutely loved the beginning of this sequel series.  With Iko as hero, the author can explore the relationships from a different perspective and explore themes of humanity and prejudice.







This graphic memoir chronicles Shannon Hale's struggles to find real and meaningful friendships in her elementary and middle school years.  She is honest about the pain of rejection as well as her own actions that hurt other people.  Recommended for everyone!









With so many new books to read, I really have to be excited about a story to continue reading the sequels.  I have two favorite series to recommend this year, and if you've been following my blog for long, you've probably seen them before.



via GIPHY

Lockwood and Co. is one of my absolute favorite series.  These are ghost stories with a Dickensian flair plus an ongoing storyline that's been building to this last book.  What is the underlying cause of the problem?  Will Lockwood and Lucy every be honest with each about their feelings?  Never fear, reader, all your questions will be answered in classic style with plenty of malevolent spirits along the way.  I also love that the characters are more settled in themselves and their relationships.  Thanks for the memories, Johnathan Stroud.





This is the fourth volume in Stuart Gibbs's FunJungle series, and it hasn't lost any of its charm.  Teddy and company are still delightfully precocious.  The jokes are on point, the mystery of the missing panda is solid, the animals are wonderful, and the potty humor strikes just the right note for a middle school series.  These books are just perfect for middle school and delightful for anyone with a good sense of humor!







And...there you have it.  These are some of my favorite books from 2017.  I'm sure 2018 will hold just as many literary delights!  Also, these are just my middle school favorite.  Click on the Goodreads widget on the right to connect with me there and see all the books.

My goal is to get as many great books into the hands and minds of kids as possible, so I hope you will find something here for the children in your own life to enjoy.  Happy reading!



via GIPHY

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Disappeared

It's been four months since Sara's best friend disappeared.  Juarez, Mexico, may be getting better, but it's still not safe for young women to walk alone in the evenings.  The Desaparecidos may be found dead or never found at all.  Sara can't give up on Linda, and she uses her position as a newspaper reporter to investigate what's happing with the missing girls.  When she gets an important piece of evidence and a death threat, she begins to fear one of her trusted colleagues is really an enemy.

Sara's brother, Emiliano, may still be a high school kid, but he has big plans.  Ever since his dad left for the United States, Emiliano has been working to supplement their income and nursing his anger against his father.  He got into some pretty serious trouble a few years ago, but Brother Patricio and the Jiparis (like the Boy Scouts) helped him get his life together.  Now he is a leader in the Jiparis, a star soccer player, and a good student with a business selling handicrafts on the side.  But this isn't enough to win him Perla Rubi, the girl he loves.  To win her father's favor, he will have to prove he is willing to do what it takes to give her a good life.  Can he sacrifice his principles to get ahead and win the girl?

But when the danger gets too intense, they will have to flee through the desert in hopes of finding asylum in the United States.  Now they are at risk from their enemies in Mexico, Border Patrol agents, and the desert itself.

Francisco X. Stork's newest book is a story of making the difficult decisions and sacrificing yourself for not just the good of a loved one but society in general.  A point in this book's favor is definitely the portrayal of people who are entering the United States illegally because they don't have a choice.  It's a different narrative from the one we are hearing on the news right now.  I'm only giving this book three stars, though, because it just kind of peters out.  I'm fine with an open ending, but this one just seemed to run out of gas.  Also, I think the Scholastic book trailer is a little misleading.  I know they are trying to sell the book, but the trailer makes the book seem like a more traditional thriller.  So...watch at your own risk!


Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding

Prosperity Redding (please, just call him Prosper!) is the unexceptional child in an exceptional family.  His twin sister Prue was sick with a heart defect for years, but a miraculous surgery cured her, and now she's off being wonderful, too, and realizing just what a loser her brother is.  Their parents may be loving and kind, but their grandmother is something else.

When Prosper and Prue return home one day to find a family reunion of sorts, they are instantly on alert.  Their cold and imposing grandmother leads them into the basement (dungeon?) and tries to kill Prosper!  Well, after some weird stuff happens with a book bursting into flames.

Prosper is carried away by a stranger.  When he wakes up in a strange house in Salem, Massachusetts, he discovers the stranger is his Uncle Barnabus, he has a new cousin he's never met (who hates the entire Redding family), and he's possessed by a demon.

Yeah, a demon!  It seems that Prosper's colonial ancestor made a deal with a demon a few hundred years ago, and now Prosper is paying the price.  The only way to kill the demon (Alastor or just Al as Prosper calls him) is to trap it in a living host and kill the host.  Hence the creepy dungeon scene.  Barnabus and Nell claim they want to help Prosper find another way of banishing the Malefactor, but Prosper's thirteenth birthday is only days away, and after that, it will be too late.

Will Prosper and his friends find a way to free him from the demon before it is too late, or will he succumb to the persuasive voice of Alastor to make a contract and save himself?  Read this humorous and spooky tale from Alexandra Bracken to find out!  Recommended!


Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Book of Lies

Quinn is at her mother's funeral, but no one knows her.  She's covered her distinctive red hair so she won't stand out.  She's not even sure why she's there.  It's not as if Isobel was ever much of a mother to her.  Quinn has spent her life in the country with a strict grandmother and occasional visits from a disapproving mother.  But then from the back of the room, she sees her--another girl with the same fiery red hair.  Does Quinn have a sister?

Piper is at the center of love and support from her family and friends at her mother's funeral.  She and her father will have to support each other now, and, of course, she has Zak, her beautiful and adoring boyfriend, but Piper wants more.  Then she sees her--the girl in the red coat at the back of the room.  Her hair is covered by a scarf, and Piper only glimpses her face, but that's all it takes.  Piper would know that face anywhere.  It's identical to her own.  Her twin has made an appearance at the funeral.

Twins.  Separated at birth because of some vision from their grandmother that one would destroy the other...something about being half dark.  Now they are together, and the truth is going to come out.

I was excited to read this book first because the cover is awesome and next because I saw it was written by Teri Terry, author of Slated.  It started out great and then started to lag.  It was never enough that stopped reading, but it did take me a couple of weeks to get through this one.  I think part of the problem is the alternating narrative.  Piper and Quinn have different parts of the backstory to contribute, but otherwise their voices are very similar.  I think Terry was afraid of giving away too much too soon, but she ended up with two characters without much personality.