Monday, October 30, 2017

The Playbook

This is a quick read with rules for success on the court and in real life interspersed with a handful of stories about athletes who have overcome challenges.

The advice is all good, and kids will love the graphic layouts, but this isn't really anything new.  Sports as a metaphor for success?  Heard it about a million times, but kids will pick it up because they enjoyed Kwame Alexander's other books and because of the sports angle.

This could be a good one for discussion, especially since there isn't much elaboration in the book, but if it makes a few kids stop and think, I won't complain!

Plus, Kwame is so stinking cute.  I just want to be friends with him in real life.


Overturned

Nikki Tate's father has been on death row for the last five years after being convicted of the murder of one of his best friends.  New evidence has come to light which exonerates him, and now he's coming home.

Nikki and her mom should be happy, and they are, but a lot has changed in five years.  Her mom has never been good at business, so Nikki has been shouldering much of the burden for running the family's failing casino/hotel, Andromeda's Palace.

But she has a plan to get out of Vegas, she's been using the poker skills her dad taught her to run and win illegal games in the basement of the casino.  She's saving for college tuition in Virginia, as far away from Vegas as she can get.

But her father can't seem to settle into life as a free man and is gone from the hotel most nights.  Then his body is found in the alley behind the hotel, killed the same way as the victim in the case that landed him in prison.  Nikki is devastated and becomes obsessed with solving the case.

She won't stop no matter what even when she is warned away.  To make matters worse, she's been dating a boy whose father owns another hotel/casino, and she's beginning to wonder if the rumors about mafia connections are true.  Does Davis's father have something to do with her father's murder?

Lamar Giles's murder mystery set in the Las Vegas underbelly is grittier than I expected.  It's a good mystery but a little unbelievable that Nikki could go into so many dangerous situations and always emerge unscathed.  It reminded me a little of Veronica Mars, but Veronica always knew not to go up against a motorcycle gang without backup.


How to Avoid Extinction

Leo's number one job these days is finding his grandmother.  She likes to wander off which isn't too big of a problem because she generally ends up in one of a few places, including the donut shop where his cousin Abbey works. 

Before his grandfather died, he and Gram planned a road trip to Utah to see the dinosaurs, and now Gram has decided it's time to go.  Abbey readily agrees, but Leo is a harder sell.  The three of them, along with Kermit, Abbey's old but loyal dog, set off in Gram's ancient yellow Buick.  By the way, they neglected to mention this trip to Leo's mom. 

Along the way, they will find dinosaurs, the breathtaking beauty of America, and new friends, but things don't all go according to plan, and Abbey and Leo are left wondering if this trip was a huge mistake. 

Gram just wants to prove she is still in charge of her own life, and Leo clings a little too tightly to the rules.  If they survive this trip, maybe it will be just what everyone needs.

Paul Acampora's newest book is a touching and hilarious road trip across America with quick dialogue and wonderful characters.  Highly recommended!

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X.

Hatter Madigan has been living at the Millinery Academy since his parents died, but he's finally old enough to be a cadet himself.  After years of sneaking around in hidden corridors, he's hoping he will be a Spade, the spies of the kingdom, and finally get out of his older brother's shadow.

Things seem to be going well at first when Hatter, because of his parents' former positions, is welcomed into a group of the social elite.  When he ends up in permanent detention for something that wasn't even his fault, he begins to question his new friends.  In detention, he spends more time with the social outcasts of the Academy and discovers he actually likes them better.

But the ghostly image of a boy covered in tattoos keeps haunting him, and he isn't sure if the boy is real or if he's going crazy.

When the new class of cadets begins acting strangely robot, Hatter and his friends begin to investigate.  What does the ghost boy have to do with all of this, and how can a group of outcasts save the Kingdom of Hearts?

Frank Beddor's new prequel to his Looking Glass Wars series ends with a bang, but it takes a lot of slogging to get there.  I really struggled to get through this one.  Fans of The Looking Glass Wars and Alice in Wonderland will likely enjoy this, but it read a bit like a slower paced Harry Potter where Harry chose Malfoy instead of Hermione and Ron.


Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Girl in Between

She lives with her ma in an old abandoned mill.  She has to be invisible, so the authorities can't get her.  They used to live with her grandmother, and she was much happier then.  She always had food to eat and a safe place to sleep, but now it's just her and ma.  Ma promised to always come back, and the girl promised to never leave. 

Ma promised she wouldn't drink anymore, but sometimes she slips up.

The girl calls the mill a castle because it's so much better than any other place they've lived.  They've been there for a year and eight months, but the nearby construction is creeping closer and closer.

The girl would be happy to stay in the castle forever, but it doesn't seem like that will be possible. 

Sarah Carroll's new book is a heartbreaking look at homelessness and the devastating consequences of mental illness and addiction especially for the children of those who suffer.  The author is successful at portraying events in a way that keeps the story appropriate for middle school readers while more mature readers will grasp the nuances of the situation.  Recommended.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Goldfish Boy

Matthew has OCD.  He stopped going to school weeks ago, and he washes his hands until they are cracked and bleeding.  It's the germs.  They're everywhere carrying the potential for disease and death.

Because he never leaves the house, Matthew watches his neighbors from his window.  He knows their comings and goings better than anyone which makes him the perfect person to solve the crime when a kidnapping happens next door.

Mr. Charles's grandchildren are staying with him while their mother is out of town.  One minute, the little boy, Teddy, is playing outside, and the next he's gone.

Who could've done it?  Could it have been Mr. Charles who isn't too happy to have little kids messing up his life?  What about Old Nina, the recluse who's been acting strange lately?  What about Jake, Matthew's former friend, and current neighborhood bully?  Of course, there is also Teddy's older sister who isn't exactly a sweetheart.  Somebody took Teddy and Matthew is going to figure out who.

Lisa Thompson's debut novel is a solid middle school retelling of Rear Window, one of my favorite movies.  Fans of the movie will see plenty of nods to little plot elements, but a knowledge of the movie isn't necessary to enjoy the story.  This is also a great book to let readers into the mind and world of someone who suffers from OCD.  Highly recommended!


Monday, October 23, 2017

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

Arturo Zamora is third generation Cuban American and third generation La Cocina de la Isla.  His grandmother started the restaurant 19 years ago, and it has become a staple of the community.  Abuela is the heart of the family and the restaurant, but everyone is worried about her failing health.

Arturo's mother's closest friend has recently died, and her widow and daughter have come to stay with the Zamoras for the summer.  Arturo hasn't seen Carmen in a couple of years, and now he feels awkward and nervous around her.  But she's practically related, right?  You can't like someone you're related to!

When rich developer Wilfrido Pipo sweeps in to try to change the neighborhood with an exclusive high rise some people are excited about the new opportunities Pipo Place will bring, but others are worried these changes will make the neighborhood into a place they don't recognize.

Carmen and Arturo discover that Pipo wants to knock down La Cocina to make room for his highrise, and they set out to galvanize the Zamora family and the community to fight back.  It's time for Arturo to learn when something is important, you have to risk epic failure.

This lovely story by Pablo Cartaya reminded me at times of Neal Shusterman's Antsy Bonano.  It has the same combination of humor and tenderness.  Cartaya's story is rich in details and community if the villain is completely one dimensional.  Highly recommended.


Friday, October 20, 2017

York: The Shadow Cipher

Tess and Theo Biederman have always appreciated the work of 19th century New York architects, the Morningstars.  They live in a Morningstar building, and their grandfather was president of the society devoted to solving the Morningstar cipher. 

Even after 200 years, the cipher remains unsolved, and Theo, Tess, and their friend and neighbor Jaime are about to lose their homes thanks to a rich investor who wants to tear down their building. 

When a new clue unexpectedly falls into their hands, they begin to wonder if maybe everyone has been working on the wrong cipher all these years.  What if this new clue can help them solve the real mystery, find the treasure, and save their homes?

It won't be easy, and things start to get dangerous as they solve the clues, but they are determined to find the answers.

Laura Ruby's series opener is a fun puzzle mystery with a touch of science fiction sprinkled in.  Ruby's New York has much in common with ours, but there are plenty of details for readers who are paying attention to show that it is most definitely different--female superheroes get as much box office attention as males, the US didn't break its treaties with Native Americans, hybrid pets are everywhere, and everyone uses solar energy.  It is a large book, and readers will have to pay attention to work out the clues, but fans of Blue Balliet's books, The Westing Game, and Harry Potter will enjoy this.  This was really a fun read.  Highly recommended!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Wishtree

Red is a 200 year old oak who has been providing shade and shelter to the neighborhood for most of her life.  But she has a special role, too.  She is a wishtree.  Every year in the days leading up to May 1, people write their wishes on scraps of paper or fabric and attach them to Red's branches.

This year a new family has moved into the neighborhood, and the little girl has a special wish.  She wants a friend, but some people are uncomfortable with Samar's family because they are Muslims.

One day a boy carves the word "Leave" into Red's trunk, and it causes a flurry of activity.  News crews are filming the neighborhood and asking questions, and the lady who owns the property has decided maybe it's time to cut down the old oak.

Since this could be her last wishing day, Red wants to take an active part and try to grant Samar's wish.

This is another beautiful story about friendship from Katherine Applegate.  The best part for me was how many of the children were able to see past the adults' prejudices to welcome a new friend to the neighborhood.  The characters are a little young, but my middle schoolers love Applegate's books, so this will be an easy sell.


Beyond the Bright Sea

Crow has lived her entire twelve years on a tiny island off the coast of New England with Osh, the man who pulled found her floating in a skiff when she was a newborn baby.  She also has Miss Maggie, who lives on the next island.  Together, they form a kind of family, but Crow has always been curious her birth parents. 

Her curiosity comes to a head when she sees a fire one night on a nearby island that's been uninhabited for years.  It used to be home to a leper colony.  Once Crow begins to investigate that fire, she is involved in a chain reaction that will lead to answers and to danger.  She will take risks, make discoveries about herself, and join the many people who have searched the Elizabeth Islands for buried pirate treasure. 

There are so many things to love about Lauren Wolk's new book.  Crow's family and the ramshackle house built from the detritus of shipwrecks is one charming and metaphorical touch.  The factual information about leprosy and pirate treasure are woven beautifully into the story, as well.  My only complaint is that I wanted a little more explanation about Osh's mysterious past!  Recommended!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Explorers: The Door in the Alley

Sebastian lives an orderly life.  He is all about rules until the day meets a pig in a teeny hat running down an alley.  The woman chasing the pig inlists Sebastian's help in getting the pig back inside the strangest place he's ever seen, The Explorer's Society. 

As punishment for entering the society without being a member, even though they invited him in, Sebastian begins to work there after school doing whatever needs to be done.  From tree house offices to jaw-dropping library to the most fun slide ever, the society headquarters is like no other place on earth.

Evie has been living in a state home since her parents died two years ago.  She is still sad most of the time, and weekly dinners with the boring Andersons is the only thing that breaks the monotony.  One dinner turns out to be anything but boring when Evie and the Andersons are held hostage by a man with a wired jaw and one with a melted face. 

Little does Evie know this is the beginning of a great adventure to save her grandfather.  Little does Sebastian know that meeting Evie outside the society will completely mess with the rules and order of his life. 

This series opener by Adrienne Kress is fun adventure-mystery in the vein of The Mysterious Benedict Society.  Kids will love the story and the amusing narrator!

Flame in the Mist

Mariko is unhappily on her way to marry a man she's never met.  Her father has traded her for political power, and all the intelligence and cleverness in the world doesn't change the fact that a woman's will is just not important.  When her caravan is attacked and burned, Mariko is the only survivor, and she vows to get revenge on her attackers the only way she knows how.  She disguises herself as a boy and tries to infiltrate the ranks of the most dangerous gang of thieves in the empire.

It takes her a while to get her footing, but the members of the Black Clan accept her as a boy which means they also accept her intelligence and inventiveness.  Despite herself, Mariko begins to feel a sense of belonging with these outlaws who are dangerous, no doubt, but whose motives may not be exactly what she first thought. 

Okami, the wolf, is the most dangerous of all with his supernaturally quick and efficient fighting ability.  Mariko is drawn to him and fearful of his wildness.  Through all of their arguments and threats, something else could be developing between the two. 

Mariko thought she understood her world and her place in it, but her time with the Black Clan is teaching her otherwise, and she is beginning to realize she has only ever seen a carefully crafted version of reality.

Renee Andieh's new book is as dark and dangerous as it is lush and romantic.  It is steeped in the world of feudal Japan and samurai culture.  I really enjoyed reading this one.  I just wish the fantasy elements had been more integrated.  There's a scene near the end that had some foreshadowing but still seems pretty out of place.  I'm hoping the author will anchor the fantasy elements more firmly in the seque.  Recommended for 8th grade and up for PG-13 sexual content. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Hideout

Since the fight, Sam has been feeling off.  Two vicious bullies beat Sam and his friend, Grover, so badly they had to be hospitalized, and now Sam can't stop trying to figure out why they picked him. 

His dad got him a fishing boat, and Sam's been taking it out every day--but not to fish.  Police think there is a body somewhere in the swamp.  They found an abandoned boat, and Sam thinks if he can navigate the maze of Mississippi swamps to find the body, he'll be a hero, and he won't feel bad about himself anymore. 

Instead, he finds Davey, a kid about his own age living in an old fishing camp.  No one is supposed to be out there anymore since the swamp is under government protection, but Davey says he's waiting for his dad and his brother to show up.  Sam decides to keep Davey's secret and to help him by bringing food and supplies. 

He has a feeling Davey isn't being completely honest about his situation, but Sam is enjoying spending time with his new friend at the secret camp.  The fun quickly turns to danger when Davey's older brother shows up and it's clear he is involved in criminal activity.  Will Sam be able to save himself and his new friend, or will their bodies be lost in the swamp forever?

Watt Key's new book will appeal to kids who love action adventure stories, and this one is a page-turner.  I enjoyed this one even if Sam did come across a little whiney to me.  The issues of dealing with friendships and being the target of bullying will appeal to kids, and when Sam finally gets over himself, his loyalty to his friends is admirable.  Recommended for grades 7 and up for some mild profanity and violence.

Four-Four-Two

Yuki Nakahara is an American, but when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, many people don't see it that way.  His family is sent from their farm in California to an internment camp in the Utah desert.  The people are treated like prisoners even though they have done nothing wrong. 

Yuki is eighteen, and he believes the only way to prove he is a true American is to join the army.  His parents don't support his decision, but Yuki and his best friend, Shig, enlist anyway.  They become part of an all Japanese unit, the 442.

No amount of training and preparation could prepare them for the realities of war.  Yuki thought he would be a brave soldier and return with a chest full of medals to honor his family, but the reality of war is a terrifying bloodbath.  Several of the people they trained with die in their first battle, and now Yuki just hopes to survive the war so he can make it home.

As the war continues, and Yuki the soldier does things that would horrify Yuki the kid, he begins to wonder who he will be if he does make it home.

Dean Hughes's newest book shines a light on one of the darkest chapters of American history, the unwarranted imprisonment of innocent citizens.  Hughes's books are not just accessible to the middle school audience, they are very popular with kids who like war books.  The author writes about the realities of war in an honest way that still manages to appropriate for middle school.  In a time of growing international tensions, the message about the horrors of war is timely.  Recommended.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Lost Property Office

Jack Buckles is not like other kids.  He senses are overwhelmed by information everywhere he goes which is why he tries to distract himself with games on his phone most of the time.  He has traveled to London with his mother and younger sister because his father has gone missing.

When his sister wanders after a man who looks like their father, Jack gets swept up in a great adventure.  The kids somehow find themselves in The Lost Property Office, a strange combination of old and new, this is just the place he needs to be.  Here he meets Gwen who takes him off an adventure to find out the truth about his father and what he was doing when he disappeared.

Jack's father wasn't a salesman after all.  He was a tracker.  The twelfth in a long line of trackers who use their heightened senses to find things lost to history.  Jack realizes that his heightened senses are a gift instead of a curse if he uses them instead of trying to repress them.  Together with Gwen, Jack discovers his father's disappearance is connected to the Great Fire of London and a long-hidden secret about the fire's origin.

James Hannibal series opener is a thrilling fantasy adventure with its rooted planted firmly in the past.  Give this to kids who like a good story they can sink their teeth into!


Spirit Hunters

Harper's family has just moved to a new town in a new to them but really old house.  Harper immediately notices a strange feeling and cool temperatures in her little brother's room, but she shrugs it off amid all the unpacking.

Strange things have happened to Harper in the past.  She has recently recovered from injuries she got in a mental health facility, but she can't remember how she got those injuries.

Her little brother's imaginary friend is taking up more of his time and energy, and Harper misses the Michael who used to be full of life and laughter.

There are rumors the house is haunted, but Harper doesn't want to believe it despite all the evidence in front of her.  Once she realizes the true danger she and her brother are in, she knows she will have to do something.

The more she investigates, the more she remembers about her past trauma.  Will Harper be able to save her little brother and herself, or will they fall victim to the evil spirits in her house?

Ellen Oh's new book is a fairly typical horror story with the twist that Harper's family has Korean ancestry.  Kids will love it for the chills, and the diversity factor definitely bumps it up in my estimation.


The Boy at the Top of the Mountain

Pierrot is the son of a French mother and a German father who is still struggling with the effects of the first world war.  His childhood is spent in France playing with his neighbor and best friend, Anshel, who is Jewish.  But when Pierrot's parents die, his life truly begins to change.

He ends up in a mansion called the Berghof on top of a mountain living with his aunt.  She is the housekeeper and head of a staff with mixed feelings about their master.  When his arrival is imminent, the house is cleaned from top to bottom, and Pierrot's aunt warns him to stay out of the way.  The master doesn't care for children.  She also changes his name to Pieter, a strong German name.

When the master arrives, it is none other than Adolf Hitler, the Fuhrer himself.  Almost despite himself, Hitler feels an affection for Pieter and spends a good deal of time with him.  This is how Pierrot, the loving child whose best friend was a Jew becomes indoctrinated in the philosophies of hate until he becomes a monstrous teenager hungry for power.

This book by John Boyne is something of a companion to The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas as it has the same fable-like quality.  This is truly a disturbing book which illustrates how malleable young children are.  I don't think this one is quite as successful as Pyjamas only because Pieter's awakening is too quick.  After spending an entire book watching him become corrupted, I needed more development on the back end of the story.  Even though Pieter is quite young at the beginning of the story, I would recommend this book for older readers, at least 7th grade, because it deals with mature themes and because a working knowledge of the events of the Holocaust and WWII would be helpful in understanding the true stakes of the story.


Balcony on the Moon

This memoir follows Ibtisam Barakat from childhood through her teenage years and high school graduation in Palestine.  This is a story we don't often hear about a displaced people living in a war zone. 

Barakat chronicles the struggles of moving because of harassment from the Israeli army to the financial and emotional struggles of her father who loved driving but also suffered from narcolepsy. 

Her greatest struggle though is trying to be herself in a world that doesn't always value girls like it does boys.  Her mother seems to walk the edge of changing times wanting her daughter to be traditional but also allowing her freedom.  These mixed messages often cause conflict like when Ibtisam wants to get a summer job like her brothers. 

Barakat's greatest love is education and writing.  She practices by writing to pen pals all over the world and gets an unexpected boost from a famous literary figure in the Arab world.  But the greatest surprise for Ibtisam is the day her mother announces she wants to go back to school and get her high school diploma.

This is a fascinating read, and I hope the author will continue her story!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Lucky Broken Girl

Ruthie and her family have recently immigrated to New York from Cuba.  Her father loves America and the freedoms of New York, but her mother is homesick for Cuba, her beloved home before it was ruined by Castro.

As for Ruthie, she knows she's smart, but she is in the "dumb" class at school because she is learning English.  She is working hard to learn English, and she is so excited when the time finally comes to move up to the "smart" class.

Then disaster strikes, Ruthie's family is in a terrible accident that destroys their brand new car and leaves her with a broken leg.  When she wakes up in the hospital, she is in a full body cast that goes all the way up to her chest!  The doctor says it is so one leg won't grow longer than the other, but all Ruthie knows is she will be stuck in bed for months.

Over the months of recovery, Ruthie struggles with loneliness, anger, and depression, but she also finds new friends in unexpected places and new talents in herself.

This semi-autobiographical book by Ruth Behar is based on her real experiences as a bedridden child.  By the end, I really enjoyed this book.  The tone is just a little younger than I expected, so it took me a while to readjust.  Additionally, I would not recommend the audiobook.  It is read by the author, and she reads everything a strange sing-song voice that is difficult to listen to.  So, read the book for a story about the immigrant experience and overcoming challenges, but skip the audio!


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Secrets of Solace

Lina Winterbock is an apprentice archivist in the mountain strongholds of Solace.  The archivists collect items from the debris storms and bring them back to the strongholds to study.  These items somehow fall through from other worlds into Solace and are collected in scrap towns.

Lina's parents died when she was young, so she only has her teacher and mentor for supervision.  That leaves her with a lot of free time to explore and eavesdrop on conversations she probably shouldn't hear.  It's also how she discovered her "workshop" and the ship buried there.  Only someone as small as Lina could make it through the tunnels, and Lina spends much of her free time trying to dig out the ship in her secret workshop.

Outside the mountains, the Iron War rages as the Merrow Kingdom and the Dragonfly Territories battle for control of resources and power.  The archivists are neutral in the war, but they are taking in refugees from both sides. 

One night Lina meets one of these refugees and discovers he has a powerful secret that could put everyone at risk.  Despite this, Lina and Ozben quickly become friends.  They are bound by secrets, and their own feelings of unimportance, but they will both be vital players in events that could change the outcome of the war.

Jaleigh Johnson's new book set in the world of Solace is a companion to The Mark of Dragonfly.  Read that one to find out more about the scrap towns.  The first book was very popular in my library, and I'm sure this one will be, too.  This is a solid fantasy adventure for middle school readers.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Horizon

Molly, Anna, Oliver, and Javi are headed to Japan for the Soccer Robots championship.  They are all excited, if a little nervous, for their first international flight.  Halfway through the flight, something goes wrong, and they crash on a jungle island in the middle of nowhere.

Yoshi was on his way home to Japan to meet an angry father and serious punishment.  The twins, who only speak Japanese and French, were on their way home from boarding school.  No one is too sure about Caleb except for the fact that he seems to think he should be in charge.

They aren't just the only survivors.  They are the only ones left on the plane when it lands.  Some kind of strange lightning seemed to examine and everyone and throw most of the passengers out of the plane.

It seems impossible because there is only the Arctic in between them and Japan.  Plus, there are strange creatures they've never seen before.  Where are they, and how did they get here?  Will they be able to survive until rescue arrives?  That's assuming someone can find them in this impossible place.

I have to admit it enjoyed this book more than I thought I would.  It reads like Lost for middle school.  The first entry is by Scott Westerfeld, but this will be one of those massive multi-author series with an online gaming platform that Scholastic loves to do these days.  I enjoyed it, but I'm just not willing to commit to all that.  The good news is plenty of kids will.  Series books are super popular in middle school, and I'm sure this one will be promoted through book fair, which will keep it prominent.



Armstrong and Charlie

Charlie isn't looking forward to 6th grade.  If he starts 6th grade, he'll probably finish it, and that means he'll be older than his brother ever got to be. 

Armstrong isn't looking forward to 6th grade either.  His parents have decided he needs to take advantage of opportunity busing.  That means he'll have the opportunity to get up at 5:30 and ride a bus across town to some white school where he doesn't know anyone.

The two boys end up sitting next to each other in class and become almost instant rivals in the classroom and on the playground.  Armstrong is a bit of a rebel.  If he can get away with it, he doesn't see a problem.  Charlie is the rules boy, and Armstrong's never-ending need to get away with something rubs him the wrong way. 

Despite this, Charlie eventually does begin to see things from Armstrong's perspective, and when they are forced to spend time together outside of school, they develop a real friendship that will expand both their wolds. 

I really enjoyed this funny and heartwarming story about integration by Steven B. Frank.  My only issue is the ages seem off.  The language and kissing advice seem more appropriate for 8th grade, but these kids are in 6th.  It could make it a tough sell, but it will be worth it to meet these two great characters. 

You May Already Be a Winner

Olivia makes entering contests her full-time job.  Every day she enters multiple contests to win anything from a million dollars to a lifetime supply of frozen pizzas. (Where would they put those in their tiny trailer?!)  She loves the tagline many of the contest use, "You may already be a winner!"

Wouldn't that be great?  Olivia doesn't feel like much of a winner in her real life.  Her father is gone...for now, but she emails him every day.  He's out in Bryce Canyon "growing up."  She's sure he'll come back any day now or at least answer one of her emails.  It's been weeks since she went to school.  They can't afford daycare, and her mom is too proud to put her little sister Berk in a free program.

Olivia keeps calm by getting lost in her active imagination.

Olivia does the best she can to establish a routine for Berk and herself that involves school, entering contests, jumping on the tramp behind the abandoned trailer next door, and keeping house for her small family.

But things just keep getting harder, and mom seems more stressed out every day.  Why won't her dad reply to any of her emails?  Olivia is doing the best she can to keep things together, but she's only twelve.  How much longer can this go on?

This new book by Ann Dee Ellis is a sweet and heartbreaking story perfect for kids who like books with emotional family drama. Bonus points for all the Provo/Utah details.  I went to BYU, so I did get a little thrill when I recognized places and references.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Dreidels on the Brain

Joel is the only Jewish kid at his California school, it's Hannukah 1971, and he's looking for a miracle.  Snow in California?  A deal with God over a spinning dreidel?  Maybe just a miracle for his father who has a debilitating form of arthritis that has bent his spine and limited his ability to walk would be enough.

Joel dreams of being a superhero, Normalman.  Fat chance for a weird look kid with braces, hideous glasses, and a father whose joints make clicking noises when he walks.  Plus, his family is always broke.  His father was laid off from his engineering job, and his ingenious inventions never seem to make it off the ground. 

He's a pretty good magician and quick with the jokes, but life and maybe God seems determined to get him down.  As bad as things are, this Hannukah will bring even more problems.  One of his favorite stories is the tale of the Schlemiel.  The Schlemiel is the guy always spills his soup.  The Schlamazel is the guy the Schlemeil spills his soup on.  Joel doesn't want to be either, but at least things work out in the end for the Schlemeil.

This new book by Joel ben Izzy is a touching and funny exploration of family, faith, and being a twelve-year-old boy.  Highly recommended.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Piecing Me Together

Everyone thinks Jade has to get out of her poor neighborhood to succeed.  She has a scholarship to a fancy private school, and she does OK, but she can't help thinking sometimes that her community isn't all bad.

When her school counselor offers her a place in a mentoring program, Jade is hesitant, but when she learns there's a scholarship involved, she's all in.  Jade isn't quite sure what to think of Maxine who misses their first meeting.  Is she serious about this?  Is Jade just some kind of project to her?

Plus, a lot of the meetings seem to be about eating healthy and dating.  Jade wants some mentoring she can really use--like how to make a budget or start a business.

Jade has self-respect and confidence in her art, but it seems like the world tries to tear her apart every day, and she has to put the pieces back together each night.  Despite her belief that her community is good and that she has things to offer, no one else seems to think so.  That's the mentoring lesson she needs most of all--how to not give up on people and fold in on yourself when relationships get difficult.

This is a great book by Renee Watson in the vein of The Hate U Give but with gentler language that makes it good for middle school readers.  Seeing subtle acts of racism through Jade's eyes will help readers become more self-aware.  I also love that Jade's neighborhood is poor, but it's not all bad.  She has real friends and a sense of community there, and the local public school may not have as many electives as Jade's private school, but when an incidence of police brutality strikes close to home, the public school handles the situation by giving students a voice.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Last Man Out

Tommy loves playing defense, and he's great at thanks to his dad.  Dad has taught Tommy to know the field, know where the ball is, and to protect his team.  Thanks to all that training, he's one of the best on the team.

When Tommy's fireman dad dies saving a little girl from a fire, his world is shattered.  He wants to keep playing, but the anger and sadness he's trying to push down keep coming out on the field.  When his new friend, Mike, introduces him to skateboarding, it feels like a great outlet to get his adrenaline going.

Tommy's mom is doing the best she can to deal with her own sadness, but she's more worried about her kids.  Tommy's little sister, Em, quit her soccer team and is spending all her time in her bedroom.  Tommy wants to be the man of the house, but he's just a kid himself, and he doesn't know how to help Em.

Mike Lupica's newest book has all the sports action, his readers have come to expect with a more serious plot about dealing with grief.  I don't think this will have wide appeal beyond sports readers, but it is a great pick for those devoted to the genre.


Lucky in Love

Maddie family has been struggling to make ends meet since her dad lost his job.  Her mom is working all the time, but there still isn't enough to go around.  Her dad is depressed, and her parents are fighting all the time.  Her brother dropped out of college because he ran out of money, but he just seems to be spending all day sleeping and all late watching tv.

Maddie is going to college.  She is in line to be the salutatorian (behind her best friend Blaire), and she's determined to get a scholarship.  If she gets into UCLA, she can live at home to save money.  Plus, she's worried about going too far when her family is in such a state.

Maddie isn't much of a social butterfly, but she has her two best friends, Blaire the genius and the bubbly Elise.  She also sort of has Seth.  They work together at the zoo, and Maddie isn't ready to admit just yet she has a crush on him.

After a particularly terrible eighteenth birthday, Maddie buys a lottery ticket on a whim...and wins!  Now all her problems are solved, right?  Maddie is about to learn that money doesn't solve everything, but it will certainly help you figure out who you can trust even if you have to get your heart broken a few times to figure it out.

And what about Seth?  He was grounded from electronics when the winner was announced, and Maddie just can't bring herself to tell him just yet.  Their friendship is the only one that hasn't been touched by her money...yet.

This is a cute and sweet romance from Kasie West.  It's not particularly deep or realistic, but it will do just fine for a quick dose of escapism.


Friday, September 22, 2017

Saving Red

Molly is still wracked with guilt over what happened to her brother last year, but she's not ready to talk about yet.  Maybe never.  She's lost all her friends and her sense of who she is.  Her best friend is Pixel, the therapy dog.  He didn't start out as Molly's dog, but her therapist thought it could help.  Now, Pixel and Molly go everywhere together.

Her parents have their own way of dealing with their grief.  Her mother smokes marijuana and buys junk from the home shopping channel.  Her dad just buries himself in work so much he's rarely home.

One day a chance meeting with a homeless girl changes everything for Molly.  The girl has wild red hair and loves to dance.  It doesn't take long for Molly to realize Red isn't quite right.  One minute she seems normal enough, and the next she's dashing off into the street or talking to herself.

Molly decides to reunite Red with her family for Christmas.  That gives her two weeks.  It won't be easy, but the fact that her parents barely know she's alive makes it easier to go out at all hours.  Molly thought she was going to be Red's savior, but the more time they spend together, the more Red feels like a real friend.  This isn't just about helping some girl she feels sorry for.  It's about helping a friend in a vulnerable situation.

This new book by Sonya Sones is a fast-paced story that cuts right to the heart of mental illness and the challenges of living with mental illness for those who suffer and their families.  The ending ties up a bit too quickly, and I could have done without the love subplot, but this is definitely a book kids will love!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Invisible Emmie

Emmie is so shy she would rather blend into the background.  She doesn't want people to notice her.  Her brother and sister are both in college, and her parents work a lot which means she spends most of her time alone.  This suits her just fine because she can devote her free time to drawing.  School is a stress zone for Emmie because there are too many people and too much noise.  Plus, she only has homeroom and lunch with her best friend.

Katie is popular and outgoing.  She has tons of friends and everything always seems to work out her way.  Her parents are perfect, and she even gets the boy she wants.  But Katie's not so wrapped up in herself that she can't see another girl in trouble.

One day Emmie writes a pretend love letter to her crush.  She never meant for him to see it, but it fell out of her notebook, and now everyone knows about it.  This feels like the worst thing that could possibly happen!

People always tell Emmie should speak up for herself.  It's not that hard.  But for Emmie it is hard.  Can Emmie break out of her invisible shell now that the worst has happened?

This is a cute graphic novel using alternating styles for the two girls.  Terri Libenson takes her readers into the world of those quiet kids who mind their own business but who are maybe longing to break free.  There is a fun twist at the end.


Miles Morales

What?!  A Spider-Man book by Jason Reynolds!  I was excited to see what one of my favorite YA authors would do with this source material, and I was not disappointed!

Miles is just a kid from the poor side of town trying to make his parents proud.  Of course, he also has superpowers because he was bitten by a genetically engineered radioactive spider so that sometimes puts a damper on things.  The only people who know his secret are his father and his best friend and roommate, Ganke.

Miles and Ganke attend a private school called Brooklyn Vision Academy.  Miles is a sko-low (scholarship) kid; Ganke isn't, but that doesn't keep them from being practically brothers. Miles does his best to keep his grades up, but his history teacher, Mr. Chamberlain, doesn't make it easy.  He's always talking about how slavery was good for America and the true vision of the south.

Miles also has a serious crush on Alicia who is beautiful, seriously into poetry, and is basically old Harlem royalty, but he doesn't have the courage to do much about it.

Miles has been trying to ignore his spidey-sense lately since it seems to be way off and has gotten him in serious trouble.  It always goes crazy in Chamberlain's class where nothing other than crazy old guy seems to be wrong.  He's also having bad dreams, and when Mr. Chamberlain shows up in those dreams, he begins to wonder if maybe his spidey-sense isn't so crazy after all.

This book gives young readers a super-hero for today.  Miles is fighting bad guys and the momentum of his family's past.  His father turned his life around, but his uncle didn't, and Miles wonders if he is destined for prison.  There is plenty of regular fighting action, like when Miles goes after a street thug who is stealing kids' sneakers, but the real story here is about the dangers of institutionalized racism.  This book is successful in taking down a social issue personified as its villain, but also because it is clear that you always have a choice in how you react to life's challenged no matter how undeserved they are.  Reynolds takes Spider-Man beyond the realm of comic book action and into the present where he also must fight against prejudice and racism.  In this story real heroes don't just fight bad guys on the ground; they speak up against injustice.

Also, I love that Reynolds has created strong male characters who are comfortable with their emotions.  The friendship between Ganke and Miles is beautiful and real.  They aren't afraid to be real with each other even if that means sharing heartbreak.


Genius: The Game

Rex is the son of illegal immigrants living in the US where he is secretly a coding genius.  He has a wide following online, but no one in his real life knows the extent of his abilities.  He's also been focusing a lot of his time and energy writing a program to find his brother who disappeared telling Rex not to come looking for him.

Tunde and Rex are best friends even though they've never met in real life.  Tunde is the resident junk engineer and child genius in a small Nigerian village.  He can fix anything or build anything with scavenged tech.

Painted Wolf is the third member of their group.  She's an activist and blogger whose identity must remain secret since she spends her time uncovering corruption in Chinese business and government.

These three teens are invited to participate in a game by a global tech visionary.  The winners will get money and prestige, but there is more at stake for our heroes.  Tunde's family is being held hostage by a corrupt general who demands that Tunde win the game and build him a machine that will give him incredible power.  Rex needs a quantum computer to run the program that will find his brother, and there just happens to be one at the site of the competition.

But this is more than just a game, and our teenage heroes will have to find a way to win the game and uncover a terrorist plot.

Leopoldo Gout's series opener seems like the kind of book I would love--an international cast, plenty of intrigue, high tech, and high stakes.  But this just didn't grab me like I thought it would.  It reads more like a script than a novel, so that makes it difficult to immerse myself in the world.  Plus, it just didn't make a whole lot of sense.  All of these kid geniuses from all over the world are invited to a competition that seems to be mostly about coding and engineering.  I'm not sure what the art, biology, chemistry, etc. kids were supposed to get out of it or how they could possibly win.  It's a good idea.  It just wasn't developed enough.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Under Locker and Key

Jeremy Wilderson has a bit of a reputation at his school.  It's one he's cultivated to secure his legacy.  He's not a thief.  He's a retrieval specialist.  If someone steals something that belongs to you, Jeremy will get it back.

This makes him a bit of an underground hero to the kids at Scottsville Middle School, but not to Becca Mills, favorite of the school staff and future FBI agent.  Becca's always watching trying to catch Jeremy in the act of thieving.

When an older student tricks Jeremy into retrieving something that doesn't really belong to him, Jeremy knows he has to make it right.  What did he take?  The master key to all the lockers in the school.  But how can he retrieve something when the mark knows he's a target?

Becca is already on the case of the missing key, and Jeremy convinces her to team up with him for what could be his last job ever.

Allison K. Hymas's debut book is a cute middle school caper with lots of wordplay.  Recommended for fans of The Fourth Stall and The Great Green Heist.

Refugee

Josef is a Jewish boy living in Germany in the 1930's.  On Kristallnacht, his father is one of several men rounded up and taken to a concentration camp.  Josef's family isn't sure what will happen to their home, but they know it is time to escape.  They board a ship headed to the other side of the world, seeking refuge in a new country with a new language.

Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994.  There are riots in the street protesting Fidel Castro, and the police are watching her father.  When Castro announces that anyone wishes to leave should do so, Isabel sees her family's chance for escape.  She and her family board a homemade boat with her best friend's family headed for Miami.  They will face many dangers on the ocean as they seek a new home where they will not be persecuted and where they can find food and opportunities.

Mahmoud loves his home in Syria, but by 2015 the country is torn apart by violence.  When his family's apartment building is bombed, they know it is time to escape.  Germany is their best hope, but they will have to travel far through dangerous territory with criminals and thieves on every side.  Why can't people understand Mahmoud just wants his family to be safe?

Alan Gratz's newest book is his best yet.  He has a massive following among middle schoolers, and they will devour this title, as well.  As I read this book, I thought of one of my favorite quotes by Madeline L'Engle, "You have to write the book that wants to be written, and if the book will be too difficult for grown ups, then you write it for children."  Refugee should be required reading for every child, teen, and adult.  Gratz excels at humanizing the refugees in his story and gently reminds his readers that no one wants to be a refugee.  Highly recommended!


Friday, September 8, 2017

Wild Bird

Wren is awakened from an alcohol and drug induced stupor and forced from her California home to the Utah desert.  Her parents can't take her wild behavior anymore, and they are sending her to a wilderness program to get clean.

Wren is enraged.  She feels like her family just wants to get rid of her so they don't have to deal with her anymore.  When she does the math and realizes she will be stuck in the desert for most of the rest of the school year and her birthday, she is furious.  It seems like her parents are trying to get revenge.

As she sits isolated in her tent for the first few days, she can only think about how miserable and abused she is.  Wren is stubborn and slow to make any progress.  She can't help wondering what her friends are doing back home while she is dirty and dehydrated in the desert.  Meadow has been her best and only friend since the 7th grade.  They used to cut class and hide in the bathroom to smoke weed.  Nico is the cute older boy who provides alcohol and weed in exchange for Wren making deliveries.  They would think this whole camp is a joke.

It's not until Wren has a personal wrestle with her own mortality that her heart starts to change.  Her willfulness has always been a negative to other people, but out in the desert, that stubbornness can be put to good use.  It may be the only thing that can help her survive the wilderness and her own addictions.

This is another great book from Wendelin Van Draanen.  The author deftly illustrates how easily a normal kid can get caught up in drug and alcohol abuse and how addiction changes a person.  She also hints that cell phone addiction and our culture of convenience and waste feed into those behaviors.  Perhaps one of Wren's greatest realizations is when she finally admits to herself that Meadow was never really her friend.

I love that this book is not about shocking the reader with horrifying scenes.  It's about Wren's personal journey to accepting responsibility for her actions and to understanding herself.  Highly recommended!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Goldfish

Lou's life is swimming, and as she starts her race in the Olympic Time Trials, so feels amazing.  This is her day.  She and her best friend, Hannah, will qualify, and they will both get to transfer to a High Performance Training Camp where it will be all swimming, all the time...with brief moments of school in between.

But...Lou doesn't just lose; she comes in last.  She is not training for the Olympics, she's off the swim team, and she has no friends. Hannah is her only friend, and Hannah qualified.  Lou wants to be supportive, but her heart is broken.

As she returns to school feeling completely out of place.  Her efforts to make new friends are falling flat.  When she sneaks into the pool one afternoon for a comfort swim, she meets three older, cooler guys who are amazed by her underwater skills.  Gabe, Roman, and Pete want to get famous on Britain's Hidden Talent, but they need a novel talent.

That's how a six-foot gangly girl who is clumsy out of the water and who has no friends ends up as...acquaintances?...with three cool guys.  As they work on creating underwater dancing, Hannah is getting more and more stressed out at Training Camp, and Lou isn't sure how to help her.

Nat Luurtsema's novel is a hilarious journey through new beginnings and new friends. My only concern is the quick resolution of Hannah's anxiety and eating disorder.  It's not the main point of the plot, and there is a lot her to enjoy dispite this flaw.  Recommended for grades 8 and up.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

It Ain't So Awful, Falafel

Zomorod is the new girl once again for the fourth time.  It's not easy when you are starting middle school, and you're Persian, and your name is Zomorod.  That's why she's taking inspiration from The Brady Bunch; she will begin life in Newport Beach, California, as Cindy.

She's determined to real living friends and not just books, but she gets off to a rough start.  After a couple of missteps, she meets Carolyn who is interested in learning about Iran, a loyal friend, and a fellow bookworm.

Things are looking up until political unrest in Iran eventually leads to the Iranian militants taking a group of Americans hostage.  Suddenly it seems like all of America is against Cindy and her family.

Despite the anti-Iranian sentiment in America, California feels like home, but Cindy also really misses her family in Iran.  With the new regime in power, many freedoms have been stripped from women in particular.  This is not the Iran she loves.  Lucky for her, Cindy finally has some real friends who will stand by her.

Firoozeh Dumas's newest book is a semi-autobiographical look at life in the late 1970's.  This book is honest, heartfelt, and full of humor.  It's great to read a story with such loyal friends and then to discover they are real people.  Highly recommended!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Van Gogh Deception

One cold December afternoon a boy sits alonce in the National Gallery.  He can't remember who he is or how he got there.  The name written in his jacket is Arthur, so that's what his foster mother and her daughter, Camille, decide to call him.

The following day, they decide to go back to the National Gallery to see if anything jogs his memory.  He doesn't remember anything personal, but he does discover he is some kind of art expert with knowledge far beyond your average twelve-year-old.

While they are investigating his identity at the museum, Art and Camille soon realize they have become targets of kidnappers. They still aren't sure why, but they know they need to escape.  Are the police in on the plot?  Who is behind the kidnapping?  Does it have anything to do with Art's amnesia?

Now they are in a race across Washington, D.C. to uncover the truth before their enemies stop them for good.

Meanwhile, the National Gallery is in the process of purchasing a long lost Van Gogh painting.  Could this have anything to do with the people who are after Art and Camille?

This new mystery by Deron Hicks is a fast paced adventure with QR codes to link the reader to images to the works of art discussed in the story.  This book is sure to please mystery and art fans alike!


Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

Clayton's hero is his grandfather, Cool Papa.  He taught Clayton how to play the blues harp, and often takes him to the park to play with his blues band.  At night, while Clayton's mother is at work, Cool Papa reading to Clayton from his favorite books.  Clayton wants nothing more than to be like Cool Papa and to play a solo with the band.

One night after a concert in the park, Cool Papa falls asleep and never wakes up.  Clayton is devastated.  His main father figure and best friend is gone.

His mother has resented her father for most of her life.  If he wasn't gone serving in the military, he was on the road playing the blues.  She barely tolerated him while he was alive, and now that he's gone, she wants to get rid of all traces he ever lived with them.

Clayton is so overwhelmed with anger and frustration he decides to run away.  Over the course of a day, he journeys through the city alone facing dangers and coming to terms with his feelings.

Rita Williams-Garcia's new novel is an honest exploration of grief and family relationships.  Recommended.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Outrun the Moon

Mercy Wong wants more for herself than the life prescribed by society as a Chinese American in 1906.  She graduated from the school in Chinatown, but it only goes to 8th grade.  Mercy knows if she is ever to be a successful business woman she needs more education.  Her dreams aren't just for herself; her younger brother has weak lungs, and Mercy knows he won't survive long if he has to work in her father's laundry.

Through trickery and business acumen, Mercy manages to secure a trial spot at St. Clair's, the most prestigious girls' school in San Francisco.  She is totally out of her element amidst her wealthy white peers, but she is determined to be successful.

Then, a devastating earthquake strikes on April 18 leveling most of the city in a single blow.  Mercy and her classmates end up living in a tent encampment in the park with other survivors.  Everyone has lost something, and some people have had lost the people they loved most.

Author Stacey Lee shares the story of the San Francisco earthquake from a different perspective giving the reader window into the terrible disaster with a dose of realism when it comes to the racism and division that was common at that time.  Mercy is a strong character with a powerful spirit.  Highly recommended!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Thornhill

In the present, Ella has just moved into a new home following her mother's death.  Her father is always at work, so Ella is left alone to explore her surroundings including a large dilapidated house nearby.  The house is boarded up, but Ella sees a light and a figure in the attic window.

In 1982, Mary is one of a handful of girls in foster care living in Thornhill.  The other girls seem to get along fairly well probably because they follow the whims of the resident bully.  Mary is the outcast.  Her shy and quiet ways coupled with her puppet making hobby make her the main target for physical and psychological bullying.

The two girls are connected by loneliness, living more than 30 years apart.

Amy Smy's book is told in two different time periods and formats.  Ella's story is told almost exclusively in illustrations-the only text coming from documents in the illustrations, and Mary's story is told through journal entries.  This book is an interesting mix of moods and emotions.  Mary's experiences in Thornhill are profoundly sad and, unfortunately, may mirror those of other children who fall through the cracks.  But this book is also a creepy ghost story that will leave readers with just the right amount of uneasiness.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Count All Her Bones

Me when a new April Henry book comes out:


via GIPHY

Me when I found out this was a sequel to Girl Stolen:


via GIPHY

If you haven't read Girl Stolen yet, just stop reading and do that first.  It won't take you long.  If you have read Girl Stolen, you are probably just as excited as I am!

Cheyenne survived a harrowing ordeal when she was kidnapped, and now her father and stepmother are more protective than ever.  She has her own live-in bodyguard and self-defense instructor, Jaydra, who goes pretty much everywhere with Cheyenne and takes every opportunity to test her self-defense skills.

Griffin is testifying against his father in the trial which doesn't sit too well with Roy and his half-brother Dwayne.  Griffin has been living with his mother's sister since the kidnapping, but it hasn't exactly been a perfect life.  He is still struggling in school because of his dyslexia, and his anxiety over the upcoming trial doesn't help.  He wants to talk to Cheyenne.  He misses her so much, but he wants to honor her wishes.

When Cheyenne told Griffin they couldn't be in contact, she thought it was for the best, but now she regrets that decision.  When he contacts her on Facebook, she is thrilled.

Meanwhile, Roy knows that if Griffin testifies, he will lose.  He and Dwayne devise a plot to get Griffin and Cheyenne out of the picture, maybe permanently.

Cheyenne is an even stronger character in this book with her newly acquired martial arts skills and some cool tech designed to aid the blind, and April Henry fans will race through this sequel to discover her fate.  Recommended!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Flawed

Celestine tries to be the perfect girl in the perfect life.  She, like most other people in their society, looks down on the flawed.  These are people who have not committed a crime but who have transgressed social mores.  The punishment for these ethical transgressions is a brand to the temple, the tongue, the hand...the location that best represents the flaw.

The flawed are untouchable; it's against the rules to help a flawed person.  But one day Celestine is on the bus with her friends when she sees a situation she can't ignore.  There are two unflawed women sitting in the flawed seats ignoring a flawed man who is obviously in distress.

Celestine knows she shouldn't get involved, but something compels her to step forward.  That decision changes the course of her life.  Will she be imprisoned, flawed, branded?

Now Celestine is re-examining her perfect life and the perfect society in which she lives.

Cecelia Ahern's series starter begins like a generic dystopia, and Celestine's change of heart is a little abrupt.  I wasn't sure this one was going to do anything for me in the beginning, but once I got past the setup chapters, I really got engaged in the story and questions of morality and integrity.  Recommended for 8th grade and up for some language and scenes of violence.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Wires and Nerve

Months have passed since the events in Winter that ended Queen Levana's rule on Luna.  Cinder is now the Lunar queen, Thorn and Cress are distributing the Letamosis cure all over earth, Scarlet and Wolf are revitalizing the family farm in France, Winter is the Lunar ambassador to earth, and Iko has found a new purpose.

Queen Levana's genetically modified wolf soldiers have gone rogue without her controlling influence, and someone has to bring them in.  Enter Iko, unsung hero of the revolution and loyal friend.

Iko's success rate is high, but there are always a few soldiers who escape.  They are unified under a charismatic leader, and they have a common enemy, Iko's best friend.

I am a huge fan of Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, but I was concerned about the graphic novel continuation of the story wouldn't live up to the originals.  I am pleased to say I was wrong.  I absolutely loved volume one of this planned series.  Iko is a classy and sassy hero, and the android protagonist allows the author to explore new ideas about humanity and equality.  Highly recommended!


Monday, July 31, 2017

The Metropolitans

Japan has just bombed Pearl Harbor, and four kids in New York City find themselves drawn to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  All four of them feel alone and guilty for different reasons.

Madge is living with her aunt since her mother's sudden death.  His wife's death was too much for her father who abandoned the family.  Her brothers are living in a group home, and Madge just tries to stay out of her aunt's way when the woman shows up anyway.  On December 7th, she is wandering aimlessly when she remembers that the museum is free.  Maybe the museum can help her while away some lonely hours.

Joe is a Mohawk Indian boy who ran away from a boarding school that tried to force him to forget his language and traditions.  He sees Madge leave her book behind in the park and follows her into the museum to try and return it.

Walt's parents sent him out of Germany to live with relatives at the beginning of the war.  They knew their Jewish family would not be safe in Hitler's Germany, but they thought they would be safe in Paris until they could rejoin Walt in New York.  Now, Germany has conquered France, and Walt hasn't heard from them in months.  He likes to spend time in the museum drawing to distract himself.

Kiku is a Japanese American who suddenly finds herself an enemy of her country after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  Her father works in the museum as curator of the Japanese exhibits.  Her mother is in Japan caring for her ailing mother, but now Kiku fears she will never see her again.

The children meet Dr. Bean and Ms. Lake who are caring for a rare manuscript that contains a little known King Arthur story.  When a strange man named Mr. January shows up and kidnaps Kiku's father and steals the manuscript, the kids realize they are the only ones who can solve a series of clues and save the city.  But the more they read, the more they start to think they may be part of an ancient story tracing all the way back to King Arthur and Camelot.

Carol Goodman's new middle-grade novel is a serviceable fantasy, but it could do with some paring down.  About two-thirds of the way through, I was ready for it to be over.  There's a lot of promise here, but it just wasn't my favorite.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Real Friends

Shannon is shy and awkward in elementary school until the day she meets Adrienne.  The two girls are inseparable until Adrienne moves away. This leaves a friendship void until her best friend returns, but things are different now.  There's a new girl named Jenn, and a group of popular girls forms around her.  Shannon really wants to be accepted by the group, but it doesn't seem destined to be.

Jenn's best friend is a girl named Jenny.  Jenny, in particular, seems determined to keep Shannon out of the group.  She goes beyond just being covertly mean to lying about Shannon to turn the other girls against her.

She isn't happy at home either, her older sister seems like a moody bear who is ready to rip Shannon to shreds at the slightest provocation.

Will Shannon be able to join the group or find happiness elsewhere?

I've been excited about this new graphic memoir from Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham since I picked up some promotional posters at TLA for all of my 6th grade ELAR teachers.  The poster is a flow chart of questions to help you determine if your friends are actually friends.  I absolutely loved this book.  Many readers will see themselves in Shannon's shoes, feeling like the outcast, and for those who may be bullies, perhaps this story will help them empathize with their victims.

This is a memoir, and I love that Hale doesn't shy away from her own flaws, and the times she may have unintentionally hurt another girl.  I also really like that she is able to push away from the bully no matter how awkward the situation may be.  This can be challenging, especially for girls who like to keep things polite and nice.  Read the author's note at the end, please.  Recommended for everyone!


See You in the Cosmos

Alex Petroski loves space and rockets.  He's built his own rocket with the hope of launching it into space at a major rocket festival.  His hero, Carl Sagan, launched a gold record with recordings and information from earth into space, and Alex wants to do the same.  He has a golden iPod he's using to record his experiences on the way to SHARF where he hopes to send it into space with his rocket.

There are a couple of issues.  His older brother who lives in LA seems to be financing the family, but Rockdale, CO, and LA are far apart.  Alex lives with his mother, but she has her quiet days which are happening more often. Alex is on his own a lot, and when he sets off on his own to the New Mexico desert, he cooks food for his mom to eat while he's gone.

Things don't go exactly as planned for Alex and his dog, Carl Sagan, but they always seem to work out.  He meets a variety of kind adults who help him along the way and who make the journey possible.

Alex's dad died when he was little, but an alert from his Ancestry.com account shows another man with the same age and exact birthday living in Las Vegas.  It could be a coincidence, but it would be a pretty big coincidence.

Will Alex launch his golden iPod into space, discover the truth about his father, and figure out how to put his family back together?  Read the book to find out!

Jack Cheng has created an endearing narrator in Alex.  He is brilliant, clueless, and seems to have several guardian angels waiting to care for him.  Alex is searching for alien life in the universe, but he will discover that life here on earth complicated, messy, and pretty great.  This one is perfect for upper elementary and middle school readers, especially those who are enamored by space.