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 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.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Haunt Me

Following a particularly bad year, Erin's family moves to a new town by the ocean for a fresh start.  It doesn't take long before Erin realizes she isn't the only occupant of her new bedroom.  Joe, the boy who lived there before he died is still there.  Rather than being scared, Erin feels a strong affinity for Joe.  They both struggle with social anxiety and making friends, and they both use poetry to deal with their feelings.

The more time they spent together, the more real Joe is to Erin.  It isn't long before they can touch as well as talk, and soon they are falling in love.

Things get even more complicated when Erin meets Joe's older brother at school.  She can't tell him the truth about Joe which is problem enough, but she enjoys spending time with him more and more.

As things build to a head at school and romantically, Erin walks a thin line between life and death.

This British import from Liz Kessler is an emo romance/after school special.  I really struggled to make it through this one--not for me.


Hazel is the youngest member of the Faeregine Dynasty which has ruled Impyrium for over 3,000.  As the third triplet and an albino, she has always been a bit of a specter to the rest of the court.  She has no desire to rule and would rather continue studying magic with her guardian and teacher who hales from a race of humanoid wolves.  She may not want to rule, but her destiny is intricately woven with the fate of the nation.

Hob grew up poor in the frozen countryside, but he is quickly recruited by a covert group that wants to undermine the Faeregines and give more political power to the people.  They tell him his father was a member of the group and that his death was in service to the cause.

His assignment is to go undercover as a servant in the palace and spy on the strange young Hazel, but nothing goes as planned.  Hob expects to feel nothing but contempt for the pampered princess, but instead, he finds himself sympathetic to her.  And Hazel, who has never had many friends her own age, quickly befriends her servant.

But there are plots and machinations going on behind the scenes that neither of them knows about yet, and they will play a larger role in the drama than they could ever imagine.

Henry Neff has written an engrossing fantasy for those who like to well-plotted and complex stories.  Readers will love immersing themselves in Impyrium.  Kids will already be primed for this companion series to the Tapestry series.  Highly recommended!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Addie Bell's Shortcut for Growing Up

Addie just wants to grow up and be taken seriously.  It's her twelfth birthday, but she's still under five feet and has a pink princess bedroom.  She and Grace have been best friends forever, but lately, it seems like Addie is ready to grow up, but Grace still wants to do childish things.

When the two girls have a big fight, Addie decides to use a gift from her crazy neighbor.  Mrs. Toodles says it's a magic box that grants wishes.  Addie doesn't really believe it, but what can it hurt to make the wish?  Her older sister Rory seems to have a perfect life:  makeup, clothes, a car, friends, a series of cute boyfriends.  So, Addie makes her wish; she wants to be sixteen.

When she wakes up the next morning, her wish has come true!  But the only problem is she doesn't have the experiences of the past four years.  She's a twelve-year-old in her sixteen-year-old life.

It seems perfect on the surface:  a beautiful new bedroom, a cell phone, a car, a glamorous new best friend, and popularity at school.  But she quickly begins to realize her new life isn't so perfect.  First of all, she and Grace are no longer friends at all.  How can this be possible?!  Graddie forever, right?  Plus, being popular is a lot of hard work, and her new "best" friend doesn't seem so friendly after all.

Jessica Brody's new novel is 13 Going on 30 for the middle school crowd--full of humor, awkwardness, and 12-year-old dreams.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Empress of a Thousand Skies

Rhee is the only surviving heir to the Kalusian dynasty.  Her parents and older sister died in an assassination when she was a little kid.  As the only heir, she has been protected and groomed to take her place as ruler of an empire that stretches across planets.

On the cusp of her sixteenth birthday, she is preparing to assume the throne when an attempt on her life goes wrong.  Now she is on the run with an unknown boy from an enemy alien world.

Rhee thinks she knows who is behind the plot, but all of her assumptions will be turned upside down, and spending time out in the real worlds without her sheltering protectors, Rhee begins to see the truth about past wars and present circumstances.  How is it that she never saw the racism and hatred running like a poison through the empire?

Aly is a former refugee and current military grunt and reality TV star.  His dark skin and refugee status have made it difficult for him to get ahead, but he has the companionship of his best friend and shipmate, Vin.  When news that Princess Rhiannon has been murdered hits the airwaves, Aly is stunned.  The hope of her ascension has been keeping an uneasy peace won by her father's treaty at the end of the war.  But that's not all.  Aly is accused of her murder.

People are quick to believe Aly is a killer.  He's a Raitan refugee, and violence fits right in with the interplanetary stereotype.  Now Aly is on the run with the robot he programmed.  He is desperate to prove his innocence, and he knows if he can just upload his memories from his cube, a personal computer in your brain that stores all your memories and accesses information, everyone will know the truth.

Rhoda Belleza's debut novel may not be perfect, but it is a great ride with a multicultural cast and timely issues.  There are refugees, racism, clashes over religion, and all of the young people in the story are dealing with the consequences of interplanetary war that happened before they were born. The novel also explores the dangers of relying too heavily on technology. Top it off with a reality TV/entertainment news reporter who wants to take control of the government, and Belleza has written a sci-fi novel that provides what all the best sci-fi novels do--a great story with a reflection of current issues and problems.  Recommended for grades 7 and up.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Well, That Was Awkward

Gracie is happy with how things are with her group of friends.  She and Sienna have been best friends forever, and Emmott and AJ round out their inner circle.  Emmott has lived downstairs for years, and even though he's a guy, Gracie considers him one of her closest friends.

Things change when one day Gracie looks at AJ and her heart flips.  What is going on?  It's just AJ, her friend.  Why has she suddenly turned into a studdering idiot?  Then Riley, the resident mean girl, asks Gracie for a favor.  She wants Gracie to ask Emmott to ask AJ who he likes.  The answer stirs up life for everyone.  AJ doesn't like Riley, he likes Sienna, Gracie's best friend!

Gracie vows to put her crush aside and help her two most beautiful friends get together.  The only problem?  Sienna is too nervous to talk to AJ by herself, so Gracie ends up first telling Sienna what to text and finally texting him herself.  AJ is so different in texts.  He's never as funny in person.

Rachel Vail's hilarious middle school update of Cyrano de Bergerac will keep kids reading and laughing.  Bonus!  It's a totally sweet and appropriate middle school love story.  A side plot about Gracie's older sister who died adds depth to the story and keeps her parents and Gracie's relationship with them from being one-dimensional.  Highly recommended.

Amina's Voice

Amina has a beautiful singing voice and perfect pitch, but she is painfully shy and too scared to ever sing a solo.  She'd rather blend in with the rest of the choir.

Amina feels like she lives two lives, one at home with her Pakistani culture and one at school.  Her best friend, Soojin, is Korean-American, and it's always just been the two of them.  Now that they are in middle school, things are changing.  Emily, who's always been in the mean girl crowd, is suddenly trying to hang out with Amina and Soojin, and Amina is worried Soojin will drop her for a new best friend.

On the weekends, Amina's family spends time at the Muslim community center where she spends time with her Muslim friends and learns Arabic.  When tragedy strikes at the center, the entire community feels the blow.

Hena Khan's novel is a sweet middle school story about friendship and fitting in with the added bonus of cultural exploration.  This book is a great pick for middle school because it can serve as a much-needed mirror for Muslim youth and a window for those who don't know much about the culture.


Teddy Fitzroy is back with another FunJungle adventure.  FunJungle, Texas, and all of America is excited for the arrival Li Ping.  The exact arrival date was supposed to be a surprise, but word got out, and a whole herd of pandamaniacs is gathered outside the gates in full panda regalia.

But when the truck carrying Li Ping arrives empty, FunJungle is in an uproar.  This is no ordinary animal mystery.  A missing panda is a potential international disaster, so the FBI shows up to run the case led by Molly O'Malley, older sister of Marge.  While Marge is loud and incompetent, Molly is a beautiful, intelligent bully.

The FBI has ordered Teddy to stay out of the way, and he tries to oblige, but a blackmail plot and his reputation conspire to put him in the middle of things once again.

Will the FBI (or Teddy) be able to find Li Ping before it's too late?

Stuart Gibbs's latest FunJungle mystery is another delightful romp.  As always, readers get a good mystery, plenty of animal facts, and big helping of humor.  A side plot involving a dolphin who steals swimsuits is particularly entertaining.  Highly recommended!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Apprentice Witch

Arianwyn's greatest fear is failing her witch's assessment, so when that happens in front of all her classmates and an auditorium full of people, she is mortified.  Because her grandmother is an important witch, she is allowed to continue as an apprentice witch and given a post in the remote village of Lull.  It may be close to the great forest, but the tiny village should be a quiet place for Arianwyn to hone her abilities before she is reassessed.

But she hasn't even made it into the town yet when her bus is attacked by a dangerous creature of dark magic.  It seems that Lull is not as peaceful as its name would suggest!

Arianwyn makes mistakes, but she comes to like the village and its residents, and she does a satisfactory job of keeping them safe.  Her confidence is shaken though when the mayor's daughter comes to town for an extended visit and turns out to be none other than Gimma, Arianwyn's main tormenter from her school days.

Arianwyn wants to trust Gimma, but she's not sure she should.  Meanwhile, a dark magic is growing in the forest and seeping into the village, and Arianwyn doesn't feel powerful enough to protect them.  To make matters worse, a powerful magical symbol that has haunted Arianwyn her entire life comes into her mind to distract her at the worst possible moments.  Could this glyph be connected to the growing darkness?  Will she have the courage to do what needs to be done?

James Nicol's debut novel is a wonderful foray into a magical world that feels both new and familiar.  This is one of the best magic books I've read in a while!  While Nicol wraps this story up by the end, there are plenty of questions left for sequels.  Highly recommended for magic and fantasy fans!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Ethan I Was Before

Before the incident, Ethan and Kacey were best friends.  They were born just days apart and grew up in the same neighborhood.  It seemed like Ethan was always happy because Kacey always made everything an adventure.

Now, Ethan and his family have moved to Palm Knot, Georgia, his mother's hometown, and no one is particularly happy about it.  His older brother Roddie had to leave his girlfriend, his baseball team, and his chances at a scholarship behind in Boston.  Their parents are always fighting, and moving in with his grandfather feels strange since they never really knew him before.  Ethan's mother and her father have never been close, and living together again is uncomfortable, to say the least.

Ethan knows this is all his fault.  His parents say Grandpa Ike needed the help, but Ethan knows the move was because of the incident and the times he tried to run away.

Meanwhile, Ethan is in a fog, barely speaking to anyone.  Mustering the energy to interact with people is just too much until the day Coralee shows up at school.  Ethan can tell from how the other kids react, that Coralee is not exactly popular, but there is something about her that draws Ethan out.  It doesn't hurt that she never pressures him to share secrets he isn't ready to discuss.  But Coralee has secrets, too, and certain events make Ethan question his trust in her.

As a disaster approaches, Ethan will have to confront his feelings about Kacey and make a decision about whether he wants Coralee as a friend.

Ali Standish's debut novel is a beautiful story about friendship, family, and confronting the guilt of the past.  Secondary characters are well developed, and there is a nicely interwoven subplot about endangered red wolves.  Highly recommended.