06. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Madeline

Schooled by Gordon Korman, 224 pages, read by Madeline, on 12/15/2014

Homeschooled by his hippie grandmother, Capricorn (Cap) Anderson has never watched television, tasted a pizza, or even heard of a wedgie. But when his grandmother lands in the hospital, Cap is forced to move in with a school counselor and attend the local middle school. While Cap knows a lot about tie-dyeing and Zen Buddhism, no education could prepare him for the politics of public school.

Description from Goodreads.com

06. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Sports

Fantasy League by Mike Lupica, 304 pages, read by Angie, on 01/05/2015

Charlie Gaines is a HUGE football fan. He loves everything about the game even if he doesn’t think he plays that well. He is best friends with Anna who is the granddaughter of Joe Warren, the owner of their beloved L.A. Bulldogs. Even though the Bulldogs aren’t doing very well, Charlie and Anna still cheer for them every game day. Charlie is also a fantasy football master. His picks for his fantasy teams always win. Anna convinces him to start a podcast where he can share all his football knowledge. She also convinces him to tell Joe what he thinks about the Bulldogs. This leads to the Bulldogs signing two of the players Charlie suggests. Suddenly Charlie is thrust into the spotlight and made out to be a football boy wonder.

Usually I don’t enjoy sports books very much, but this one really captured my attention. Sure I had no idea what was going on when Lupica was describing football plays, but I really didn’t care. It was the human part of this story that was so enjoyable. Charlie is a truly likeable character with his strengths and his weaknesses. Charlie doesn’t have a father so his growing friendship with Joe was really touching. I also liked Anna a lot. She was a strong female in a male dominated sport. She knew just as much as Charlie about football and wasn’t afraid to let him know it. This is a very strong story about following your heart, sticking with your gut and being a good friend. I think sports fans and non-sports fans alike can find something to like here.

06. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fairy Tales and Folklore, Fiction

Fairy Tale Christmas by Michael McLean, Scott McLean, 176 pages, read by Angie, on 01/05/2015

The fairy tale villains want to change the endings of their stories. They are tired of good always winning. So they concoct a plan to kidnap Santa and force the heroes to give up their endings. They have Rumpelstiltskin as their inside man posing as an elf and an evil queen, a witch and a giant to do the kidnapping. Of course things don’t turn out like they planned at all. This is a fun little Christmas tale. I enjoy fractured fairy tales and this was pretty inventive. It is short and very readable so kids could read it very quickly or it could be read aloud at Christmas time.

05. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fairy Tales and Folklore, Fantasy, Fiction, Kira

Emma and the Blue Genie. by Cornelia Funke, 90 pages, read by Kira, on 01/01/2015

0385375409 emma-and-the-blue-genie-illustration2-kerstin-meyer-001 emma-und-der-blaue-dschinnI’ve really enjoyed Cornelia Funke’s works, and was delighted to see another of her works translated into English.  This is a short story of a girl having an adventure in elsewhere with some genies.

05. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction

Evil Fairies Love Hair by Mary G. Thompson, 320 pages, read by Angie, on 01/04/2015

Ali is determined to raise her flock of fairies and get her wish. She wants to be smarter so she won’t be compared unfavorably to her sister anymore. Raising fairies isn’t easy however. There are lots of rules that have to be followed and you have to feed them constantly. What do fairies eat? Hair of course. That is why you must wear your hair up in a bun and spray it with hairspray so the fairies don’t get your hair. Ali doesn’t know it but the fairies have a plan of their own. They don’t want to be tied to children and hair anymore and just need a few more flocks to complete their plan. Ali learns that all is not as it seems. Breaking fairy rules have consequences like being turned into a fairy slave. Ali must convince her friends to stop the fairies and free the slaves. This was definitely not my favorite book. I thought the concept was kind of clever but the execution was a bit tedious. I really didn’t want to finish the book and ended up skimming the last third of it to see how it all turned out. I think the story could have been streamlined a bit to make it more readable.

05. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Science Fiction

Zorgoochi Intergalactic Pizza: Delivery of Doom by Dan Yaccarino, 336 pages, read by Angie, on 01/03/2015

Luno comes from a long line of Zorgoochi. They have been in the pizza business for generations, delivering pizza across the galaxy. Luno finally gets to start delivering and his first deliveries are doozies. He doesn’t make it back with many tips, but he does seem to improve his skills. Zorgoochi deliveries are dogged each step of the way by Quantum Pizza who wants to take over all the pizza business in the universe. Luno must find the golden anchovy and save his family before the evil Quantum completes its takeover. This was a silly book, but fun. I can see where fans of Captain Underpants will be comfortable moving on to this book. It was a bit too far off the believable spectrum for me to truly enjoy, but it had its moments.

05. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Mystery

Greenglass House by Kate Milford, 384 pages, read by Angie, on 12/27/2014

I really wish I had been snowed in while reading this book. I would have been the perfect book to be reading while cozy on the couch with a quilt and hot chocolate as the world turned white outside. As it wasn’t snowing, I still enjoyed my couch and quilt while reading this book. Greenglass House is a hard book to categorize as it seems to shift about or meander every which way depending on its mood. I had a hard time pinning down if it was set in the real world or an alternative and whether it is in the past or the present. But in the end it did not matter. I enjoyed Milo’s story thoroughly and would definitely recommend it.

Milo lives with his adoptive parents in Greenglass House, an inn that caters to smugglers and is difficult to get to. He is looking forward to a quiet Christmas with just mom and dad. Then the guests start arriving, one after another. Milo’s quiet Christmas disappears as a strange group takes up residence in the inn. The cook is recalled along with her daughter and granddaughter, Meddy. Milo and Meddy are the only kids in the house and on their own for a lot of the time. Meddy introduces Milo to a role playing game and they don their new identities of Negret and Sirin. These new identities come in handy when items start disappearing from the guests and someone starts sabotaging the inn. They must figure out who the guests really are, what they are looking for at the inn, and who is behind the thefts.

I think the thing I enjoyed the most was Milo’s transformation throughout the book. He goes from being a quiet, unassuming boy to a confident detective. He gains confidence in himself and his place in the world through the investigation and Meddy’s influence. I also liked that his parents are present and an active part of his life. He is adopted and that fact weighs on him but never makes him doubt his place in the family. This is a longer book and because it doesn’t fit with conventional genres may lose some readers, but those who stick with it are in for a treat.

05. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction

Cool Beans: The Further Adventures of Beanboy by Lisa Harkrader, 272 pages, read by Angie, on 12/23/2014

Tucker thought life would be so much better after he created comic hero h2o’s new sidekick in a contest. But things at school are the same as ever. He is still bullied by super-jock Wesley and his minions. The art club is losing members and its one and only bulletin board. Tucker has to somehow make the Art Club popular so it won’t get cancelled. He convinces the principal to let them have a pep rally. The pep rally is awesome until the sports teams highjack it. Next, Tucker starts distributing comic panels of his Beanboy superhero fighting for the arts. To his surprise, the students start really responding to Beanboy, but that doesn’t help the Art Club. Then Tucker gets the bright idea to enter the school dodge ball contest. He just has to convince his fellow art clubbers to do it and get them good enough to win against the jocks. He gets help from surprising places and learns more about himself and his friends.

I have not read the first Beanboy book, but that didn’t stop me from really enjoying this one. I will admit that I didn’t really have high expectations for this one. I thought it would be along the lines of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Middle School books, but it was much better than that. Tucker’s story was inspiring and highly enjoyable. I found myself cheering for the art club kids and hoping that would triumph in the end. This is definitely a story about the little guy coming out on top, triumphing over the popular bully. I enjoyed it and I hope kids will as well.

05. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Tracy

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis, 240 pages, read by Tracy, on 12/12/2014

The Pevensie siblings travel back to Narnia to help a prince denied his rightful throne as he gathers an army in a desperate attempt to rid his land of a false king. But in the end, it is a battle of honor between two men alone that will decide the fate of an entire world. (description from Goodreads.com)

05. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Tracy

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis, 224 pages, read by Tracy, on 12/09/2014

On a desperate journey, two runaways meet and join forces. Though they are only looking to escape their harsh and narrow lives, they soon find themselves at the center of a terrible battle. It is a battle that will decide their fate and the fate of Narnia itself. (description from Goodreads.com)

05. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Tracy

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, 206 pages, read by Tracy, on 12/05/2014

They open a door and enter a world

NARNIA…the land beyond the wardrobe, the secret country known only to Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy…the place where the adventure begins.

Lucy is the first to find the secret of the wardrobe in the professor’s mysterious old house. At first, no one believes her when she tells of her adventures in the land of Narnia. But soon Edmund and then Peter and Susan discover the Magic and meet Aslan, the Great Lion, for themselves. In the blink of an eye, their lives are changed forever. (description from Goodreads.com)

05. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Tracy

The Magicians Nephew by C.S. Lewis, 221 pages, read by Tracy, on 12/02/2014

When Digory and Polly are tricked by Digory’s peculiar Uncle Andrew into becoming part of an experiment, they set off on the adventure of a lifetime. What happens to the children when they touch Uncle Andrew’s magic rings is far beyond anything even the old magician could have imagined.

Hurtled into the Wood between the Worlds, the children soon find that they can enter many worlds through the mysterious pools there. In one world they encounter the evil Queen Jadis, who wreaks havoc in the streets of London when she is accidentally brought back with them. When they finally manage to pull her out of London, unintentionally taking along Uncle Andrew and a coachman with his horse, they find themselves in what will come to be known as the land of Narnia. (description from Goodreads.com)

31. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Kristy

El Deafo by Cece Bell, 233 pages, read by Kristy, on 12/23/2014

20701984Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.

Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school–in the hallway…in the teacher’s lounge…in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different… and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?

This funny perceptive graphic novel memoir about growing up hearing impaired is also an unforgettable book about growing up, and all the super and super embarrassing moments along the way.

(goodreads.com)

23. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Poetry

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 12/22/2014

It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while you read a book and it just blows you away. I really enjoy novels in verse even though I don’t enjoy poetry like I probably should. I love how authors who write novels in verse can get across so much information with so few words. Sometimes novels in verse read like short prose paragraphs, but the truly great ones highlight different styles of poetry and draw the reader in completely. Kwame Alexander’s Crossover has been getting a lot of buzz lately and all of it is well deserved. The Crossover is a potent novel that draws readers in and doesn’t let them go.

Josh and JB are twin brother and the stars of their middle school basketball team. Their mom is the assistant principal at their school and their dad is a former basketball star and olympian. The Crossover is told through Josh’s voice as he practices his mad rap skills on and off the basketball court. He is your typical 13-year-old boy with a lot of the same concerns and issues most boys his age deal with. He is cocky about his basketball skills, he is jealous when JB gets a girlfriend and starts spending more time with her, he is concerned about his dad’s health. Things come to a head with JB when Josh takes his frustration and anger out on the basketball court. Concerns about his dad get more real when he realizes just how sick his dad potentially is. When dad has a heart attack and is in the hospital Josh and JB have different reactions regarding basketball. Their team is playing the championship game and they have to decide if they are going to play or spend time with dad. It is heartbreaking to watch Josh win the championship at the same time he loses his dad. A truly heartbreaking story.

Dead, dying or sick parents seems to be a trend in middle grade literature right now. The subject makes for really powerful stories as kids have to deal with situations they shouldn’t have to deal with for years. You really don’t expect to lose a parent until you are an adult yourself. So losing one at a young age is horrible and heartbreaking and makes great literature. While The Crossover isn’t really about the aftermath of losing a parent it is an essential part of this story. The dad was the heart of the family and Josh and JB and the mom have to learn to readjust their life with the heart gone.

One of the things I really appreciated about this book was the fact that the poem styles were all over the place. There are lots of different styles here that make this book so much more interesting than if everything was written in the same style. I really liked the poems where Josh described the action on the basketball court. Even though I am not a sports fan, this style really brought the game alive in a way that regular prose would not have been able to. Hopefully the fact that this story is told through poems will not turn young readers off. It is a wonderful story about family and brothers and basketball and loss and growing up. I highly recommend it.

22. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Where I Belong by Mary Downing Hahn, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 12/21/2014

Brandon is a foster kid who is bullied by his teacher, his classmates, his foster mother and the town thugs. He is a dreamer who could care less about school or any of the people around him. He escapes to the woods where he has built a tree house and daydreams about the Green Man. One day he finds an old man asleep at the base of his tree. He believes he has finally found the Green Man and the man goes along with it. Because he has flunked 6th grade, Brandon has to attend summer school where he meets Shae. She is different from all the other kids he knows and he finds himself a little interested in knowing more about her. Together, Brandon, Shae and the Green Man form a family of sorts in the woods where they are safe and loved. But Brandon is beat up terribly by the town thugs who then go after the Green Man. Brandon must find his courage and step up for what is right.

Some people are just lost. They become disconnected from the world and live in their own minds. Brandon is beginning down that path. He can’t seem to find anything worthy in the real world. He wants to live in his idea of a perfect world where nature matters and the Green Man is there to protect the forest and its inhabitants. It is easy to see why he wants to disconnect from the world. He doesn’t know who his parents are; his mom abandoned him as an infant. He has been shuttled around foster homes his whole life. His current foster mom Mrs. Clancy seems to care more about watching tv shows and doing crossword puzzles than paying attention to Brandon. His teacher is a nightmare who bullies him and allows the other students to bully him. The forest is really his only refuge. Shae isn’t quite as broken down as Brandon, but she too has her issues as does Ed Calhoun/Green Man, a Vietnam vet who became a homeless bun, drinking in the park and living in the woods. Together they start to heal each other. The story doesn’t have a happy ending, but it does have a hopeful ending. Hopeful that things will start to get better.

22. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Mystery, Paranormal

Greetings from the Graveyard by Kate Klise, M. Sarah Klise (Illustrations), 160 pages, read by Angie, on 12/21/2014

The residents of Spence Mansion are going into the greeting card business. Ghost Olive C. Spence writes the cards and young Seymour Hope illustrates them. The new business came about because author Ignatius B. Grumply started getting letters from an old love who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Nadia S. Richenov is determined to get Ignatius back now that he is a successful author and she is having money troubles. Then there are the two escaped criminals who look a lot like the new couple in town offering home security systems. There is a rash of burglaries but no one will listen when Seymour tries to tell them the truth. Olive brings back her old butler, also a ghost, to act as security at the mansion, but he just drives Ignatius crazy. The book is told through letters, greeting cards, newspaper articles, text messages and notes. I’m not a huge fan of this format as I think it doesn’t do a great job of telling the complete story. However, the book was a fun, quick read with a nice light mystery.

22. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction · Tags:

Chasing the Milky Way by Erin E. Moulton, 288 pages, read by Angie, on 12/21/2014

Lucy and Cam want nothing more than to get out of the Sunnyside Trailer Park. Their plan is to compete in the annual BotBlock competition, win $5000 and 15% college tuition. They have a plan to complete their mission that includes raising the admission fee, building and programming their robot and getting to the beachside competition. Lucy wants to escape a mom with manic-depressive disorder who seems to be off her meds and Cam wants to get away from a house filled with children and his mom’s abusive boyfriend. In addition to their problems at home, they are also hassled by a bully at school. Their road to victory is hit with several roadblocks when Lucy’s mama takes them on a runaway roadtrip to escape the authorities.

Mental illness is a hard topic to cover in middle grade fiction. It isn’t often written about and when it is sometimes it is overblown or completely unrealistic. Chasing the Milky Way does not suffer from either of those problems. It is a very realistic look at what it is like to live with a mentally ill parent. Lucy deals with so much more than most kids will ever deal with, but I am sure kids with mentally ill parents will recognize a lot of her story. It is a book that was a bit hard to read because it seemed so realistic. I just knew disaster was around the corner and I kept not wanting it to arrive. I wanted Lucy and Cam to succeed but knew there was very little chance it was going to happen. It was almost like watching a horror movie where you knew the bad guy was going to attack at any moment. You cover your eyes or hide behind the chair and peak out at intervals. That is kind of like how I felt reading this book. Mama is not the bad guy of course, her illness is, but it still felt like it could jump out at you at any moment, which I am sure is how mental illness sometimes feels. This book is going to be a hard sell to a lot of readers, but the ones that tackle it are going to have their eyes open to a world I hope they never experience.

22. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Graphic Novel · Tags:

The Complete Adventures of Johnny Mutton by James Proimos, 160 pages, read by Angie, on 12/19/2014

Johnny is a sheep who is left on the doorstep of Mrs. Mutton. She takes him in and raises him like any child. He goes to school and even though he is different he is basically treated like a weird child. This is a collection of three adventures, but really includes several short chapters that can all be read on their own. Graphic novels are extremely popular in the library and I am sure this one is going to find its fans. It is more geared towards beginning chapter book readers than some of the other graphic books I have read. Johnny is in kindergarten and dealing with first year of school type issues: friends, bullies, teachers, parents, etc. It was a light, entertaining read.

22. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction, Paranormal

Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson, 208 pages, read by Angie, on 12/19/2014

Boys of Blur is one of those books you are going to be thinking about long after you finish the last page. You will be wondering what just happened and how did all that fit into one short book. You will look at the book with squinted eyes as its cover and description has bamboozled you into thinking this was just your typical boys coming of age book. You will think all of that and then wonder if you should read the book again to see if there were things you missed. This was a very ambitious book that worked on a lot of levels. Sure it had a few issues, but it kept my attention. In fact, at a certain point in the book it grabbed my attention with both hands and wouldn’t let go until I completed the book. I’m still not 100% sure what exactly happened, but I know this is not a book I will soon be forgetting.

If you read the description and look at the cover of the book, you will think this is a book about sugarcane and boys running through the burning fields. It is about a boy named Charlie who comes back to the town of his birth, Taper, for the funeral of the legendary town football coach. He is accompanied by his stepfather Mack, mom Natalie and baby sister Molly. In Taper, Charlie meets his distant cousin Cotton who helps him begin his epic quest. He also learns his abusive father is in town somewhere and that Mack is thinking about taking over the football program at least through the end of the season. But this is mostly the story of sugarcane and muck and zombies. That’s right, zombies! Cotton takes Charlie into the sugarcane to show him these strange white stones on mounds of earth and the dead offerings that are left there. They meet Lio, with his helmet and sword, and Lio’s two panthers. Then comes the stank, the Gren, who are the dead risen again to be the army for the Mother. She wants to take back the world and bring it to ruin. Charlie and Cotton become embroiled in the struggle against the Gren. It is up to Charlie to find a way to stop the Mother and save Taper and ultimately the world.

When I started this book I really did think it was going to be about Charlie coming to terms with his abusive father and about Mack taking over the football program. I figured there would be a lot of running through the burning sugarcane chasing rabbits and football games and Charlie not fitting in with the other kids. Sure all of that stuff was there, but it was such a minor point of the book. I was not prepared for the story to take a turn for the supernatural. I wasn’t prepared for zombies or beings who control the dead. I wasn’t prepared for dead boys coming back to life. Maybe not being prepared made the book that much more intense. I wanted to keep reading to find out what the heck was going on. Sure sometimes I didn’t think the Gren story always worked, but it kept my attention as did the human story.

Charlie struggles to come to terms with his past. Mack and his father were football rivals who both went on to success. Unfortunately, his father’s demons got the better of him whereas Mack kept shining. That rivalry is still alive and well in the small town of Taper where football, even twenty year old football, still counts for a lot. So Charlie has to deal with other people talking about his dad like he is a hero when all Charlie knows is the abuse. I liked the fact that the adults were still valuable characters in this book. So often in middle grade novels the adults/parents are absent idiots who play no part in the story. Mack and Natalie are good parents and the story is even told from their point of view at times. Charlie’s dad also has his moments to shine even though his past doesn’t make him a hero.

I didn’t realize this was a homage to Beowulf until after I finished the book. It has been many years since I read Beowulf and I am not as familiar with it as I once was. It is mentioned briefly in the story, but it was not until I refamiliarized myself with the story that I realized how much Boys of Blur takes from Beowulf. It is not an exact reproduction of course but more of a homage to the epic poem. The Gren monsters attack the town and people of Taper, Charlie comes to do battle with the Gren then must battle the Mother. I don’t think you need to familiar with Beowulf to enjoy this story, but it is a great introduction and could lead young readers to seek out the original.

22. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 12/19/2014

Violet Diamond is growing up different. She is a mixed race child in a predominantly white family and town. Her Black father died before she was born and she has never met his family. Her white mother and sister and grandparents love her and treat her like normal, but Violet often feels anything but normal. She gets frustrated when people look at her funny when she is out with her blond haired mother or sister. She gets frustrated when people think she is adopted instead of her mother’s natural child. Her family tries to tell her that race doesn’t matter, but to her it does since she is the one who is different. One day she overhears her mom and grandma talking about her other grandmother. She convinces her mom to let her meet the grandmother who has rejected her her entire life. At first Bibi is standoffish and distant as she blames Violet’s mother for her father’s death, but she does warm up to Violet and invite her to visit. Violet gets to meet her African American family and get to know her grandmother.

Even though I am white as can be, I did feel like I understood Violet just a bit. I grew up in a small town that had exactly two Black families. There was only one Black kid in my high school when I was there. I always wondered how they felt when they looked around the classroom or the cafeteria and saw no one like them. At least the one Jewish kid could hide in plain sight, but they were not able to blend in. Thankfully my small town as become more diverse in the past twenty years, but I am sure there are other towns out there just like it. Living in a city with a more diverse population you don’t think about race nearly as often. I see people of many colors, religions, and economic circumstances everyday. That isn’t to say there aren’t still problems, but it feels more like there shouldn’t be.

I thought this book did a wonderful job of portraying Violet’s frustration with her situation. There is never any doubt that she loves her family or that they love her. It is the people outside her immediate circle that bother her. Mixed race families can make people curious and sometimes rude; they will wonder if the children are biological, fostered or adopted. There are so many blended families today that I do wonder if this will become less and less of an issue. I thought this book was a good introduction to race for young readers. It doesn’t delve too much into negative aspects of black vs. white, but does show how it can impact a child’s life.