Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Best Man

Twelve-year-old Archer's story is bookended by two weddings.  He was six for the first one, and an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction keeps that day at the top of his list of most embarrassing moments, but it was also the day he met, Lynette.  She may or may not be his best friend, but she is definitely his bossiest friend.

When a new student teacher shows up at the end of fifth grade fresh from National Guard duty and in uniform, Archer's class, the town, and most of the midwest loses their collective minds.  Mr. McLeod is movie-star handsome, and he knows all kinds of amazing things.  He quickly becomes the star of the school and one of Archer's heroes.

Archer may be a little slower to pick up on details than other kids in his class, but the following summer he makes two discoveries; his Uncle Paul is gay, and he's dating Mr. McLeod!

Richard Peck's new book is hilarious.  I can't remember the last time I laughed out loud so much while reading a book.  But it's also a story about male role models from Archer's grandfather, the once great architect whose been hindered by a stroke to his goofy and loving father to his Uncle Paul who is smooth and sophisticated with an awesome job and now Mr. McLeod.  Peck presents all this without getting too mushy and emotional.  This one is already a hit with my students!

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Secret Keepers

Reuben's mom has been working two jobs to make ends meet in their run-down neighborhood.  It's summer, so Reuben spends his days exploring the often abandoned buildings in the neighborhood and avoiding The Directions.

The Directions are gangs of enforcers who roam the city collecting money and enforcing the will of their employer, The Smoke.  No one has ever seen him, but he rules New Umbra with an iron fist.

One day while Reuben is exploring, he climbs to a precarious location and makes a discovery that will change his life.  He finds an ancient watch with mysterious origins, and he hopes to sell it to help out his mom.

He soon discovers that the watch isn't just old, it also has the power to turn it's user invisible, and The Smoke wants the watch for himself.

With the help of an elderly watchmaker and some new friends, Reuben uncovers the truth about the watch's origins and sets out to keep it's incredible power of the hands The Smoke and his henchmen.

Trenton Lee Stewart's new book is an adventure much in the vein of The Mysterious Benedict Society series.  Fans will not be disappointed!

Love, Ish

Twelve year old Ish Love is obsessed with Mars.  She wants to be one of the first people to colonize.  It's going to happen. There's too much pollution on earth for us to live here forever.

Ish doesn't have many friends, mainly because she is so serious.  She really only has time to think about the environment, being healthy, and Mars.  She used to have a best friend, her next door neighbor Tig, until his family moved to Oregon.

Her world is shaken when she has a seizure during lunch on the first day of school.  She wakes up in the hospital with the news she has a brain tumor.  As Ish undergoes treatment, she dreams of her older self living on Mars.

Now that she is sick, all the lists of things she would miss about earth seem more important.

Karen Rivers's new book was just ok for me.  Ish was just too negative to really want to spend so much time with her, and I understand that negative kids get sick, too.  There just didn't seem to be any real reason for her to be such a downer.

Loving vs. Virginia

Mildred Jeter, known to her family as String Bean, is the descendant of slaves and Native Americans.  She attends segregated schools by lives in a racially mixed community in rural Virginia.

The boys all race and work on cars together regardless of skin color, and everyone shows up for an impromptu picnic and square dance.

Richard Loving, a young man with fair skin and red hair, has always thought of Millie as a skinny little kid, but it is at one of these backyard parties that he notices how much she has grown up.

This is the beginning of what starts out as a teenage romance with some definite bumps along the way and becomes the marriage that led to the historic court case.

What is most impressive about the story, at least in this version, is how committed Millie and Richard are to each other and their family.  Many people in similar circumstances would have (and probably did) give up on the idea of being together as a family, but these two are dedicated to the idea they should be allowed to marry and live peacefully as a family.

Patricia Hruby Powell's novel is a personal look into the famous story with lovely illustrations by Shadra Strickland.  My only disappointment was the "documentary" part of the novel.  I was expecting a lot more, especially in the beginning.  The book would have benefited from either more documentary evidence or none at all.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Deborah Hopkinson's newest book is about submarines and the men who called them home during WWII.  I was not expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did, but Hopkinson does a great job of taking this vast subject that is part of an even more vast story and making it personal.

The book starts with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and quickly moves ahead to the beginning of submarine warfare.  She makes the story engaging by focusing on specific submarines and men, like Mush Morton who took command of the Wahoo after a skipper who had been trained the WWI reconnaissance style of submarining.  The new captain led his crew with gusto and bravado while sinking numerous Japanese ships.

Hopkinson also includes humanizing stories, like the stowaway dog and the importance of the ice cream machine.  She does such a great job that the reader feels the loss when some of the profiled men are lost in battle.

I would recommend this book for war buffs in particular but also to anyone who likes a good high stakes adventure!

The Warden's Daughter

Twelve-year-old Cammie O'Reilly lives in an apartment adjacent to the prison in Two Mills, Pennsylvania.  Her father is the warden, and she is known affectionately to the female inmates as Little Warden.

Cammie's mother died saving her daughter when Cammie was just a baby.  She doesn't remember her mother at all, but everyone in town knows who she is.  Cammie carries a well of anger over her lost mother that she doesn't quite understand.

It's the summer of 1959, and Cammie is determined to find someone to fill the mother void in her life, and she has settled on Eloda Pupko, the prison trustee granted the job of housekeeper and Cammie-sitter. Eloda is all business, but that doesn't deter Cammie.

Though Cammie is a tomboy, her best friend Reggie looks much older than she really is and has a longing for fame.  She has another friend in Boo Boo, a black inmate who adopts the sad little girl.

The summer will bring friendship, fights, fame, and a murderer, but will Cammie find a mother? Jerry Spinelli's new book was good but not great for me.  I'm trying to put my finger on the problem, and I think it's the plot device of Cammie telling the story as an adult.  I think it would have benefitted from a sense of immediacy.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Cloud and Wallfish

One day Noah's parents pick him up from school with a packed car and tell him they are going to East Germany on a trip.  Also, while they are gone, his name will be Jonah and his birthday will actually be six months earlier.  Noah is stumped by all of this.  It doesn't seem real until his dad burns his new Batman backpack in a trash can at a rest stop.

Before he knows it, Noah is living in an apartment in East Berlin in 1989.  His mother is there to study childhood speech disorders, like Noah's astounding stutter.  He is bored out of his mind because the East Germans are dragging their feet about whether or not he can go to school, and Noah always thought school was required!

Then he meets a girl named Claudia, his downstairs neighbor.  They become fast friends and invent a magical land over the border from East Berlin.  When word arrives that Claudia's parents are dead, she is devastated, but she can't quite bring herself to believe it.  Is it possible that her parents could be alive on the other side of the wall?

I have some mixed feelings about this book.  After an intriguing opening, it got bogged down, but I kept giving it one more day until the last half of the book, which is phenomenal.  I'm glad I read it, and I know I could market it to kids, but I think it would take a stalwart reader to make it through the first half of the book.

Give Anne Nesbet's book to kids who are interested in the Berlin Wall.  They study it in 6th grade here in Texas, and my kids love anything on the topic.


Twelve-year-old Alice Queensmeadow was born without color in a land where color is everything.  It's not just that the people of Ferenwood have lovely skin and bright hair.  Magic in Ferenwood comes from color, and Alice feels like an outsider.  Her father was the only person she truly felt connected to, but he disappeared five years ago.

When her former enemy, Oliver, shows up one day asking for her help, Alice would rather punch him, but Oliver has been tasked with finding her father, and he needs her help.  She reluctantly agrees, and they set off on an adventure in Furthermore, a land with strange rules and even stranger eating habits.

While Furthermore may look delightful, it is the most dangerous place Alice has ever been.  She and Oliver will have to overcome their past and truly learn to trust each other or the quest will end in disaster.

Tahereh Mafi's newest book is filled with characters and adventures in an all new wonderland for her Alice.  There are sunshowers, living origami foxes, and cannibals.  All this sounds great, but the story really got bogged down in the details and an overabundance of whimsy.  Still, I think there are plenty of kids who would enjoy it, especially fans of the original Alice's adventures.

Friday, March 3, 2017


It's Evie Messenger's fifteenth birthday, and like all the Messengers, she's about to get her gift.  It's something different for everyone.  Her Aunt Odie has the gift of cooking, and she presides over a small empire of baking mixes with Evie as her assistant.

Evie and her mother have recently moved in her with her stepfather, JimDaddy.  The move put them in a nicer neighborhood and a better house, but it's on the other side of her Florida hometown which means she has to switch to a new high school without her best friend.  It's not all bad, though, she loves JimDaddy and her new baby sister.  Aunt Odie immediately bought a house in the neighborhood to be close by, and then there's Buddy.  Evie isn't sure if he's boyfriend material or just a lot of trouble, but he sure is good to look at.

When it turns out that her gift might be no gift at all (maybe it skips a generation?), Evie isn't sure how to feel.  The gift is part of being a Messenger, but it comes with responsibility.  You have to use your gift to make other people's lives better, and sometimes it's hard to find the boundary between the gift and your own personal life--especially when your new stepfather and almost boyfriend are still mired in grief over a tragic accident.

Carol Lynch Williams's newest book is a gentle story about family and grief with paranormal and romance elements to spice things up.