Child abuse, mental illness, bullying, communism and McCarthy, it is all covered in this book. The Paper Cowboy is the story of Tommy who lives with his parents and sisters in Downers Grove, Illinois. Tommy is a well liked kid who never seems to get in trouble except at home. His home life is a mess. Tommy’s mom is extremely abusive and suffers from mental illness. Of course in the 1950s they didn’t talk about these things and really didn’t know a lot about mental illness. Tommy’s mom has lightning flash mood changes and the smallest little thing can set her off to where she beats Tommy with a belt. She has a lot on her plate: her mom died, she just had a baby and Tommy’s older sister was just burned in a horrible accident. The family has to deal with mounting medical bills which they can not pay. Tommy doesn’t talk to anyone about what is going on at home. He just tries to stay out of his mom’s way and take care of his two younger sisters because dad is no help at all.
In the world outside his house, Tommy is kind of popular but really a bully. He particularly picks on Sam McKenzie who’s dad runs the local grocery store. Sam is a bigger kid with a burn scar on his face. Tommy and his friends are terrible to him even though Tommy kind of likes Sam. One day Tommy steals from Mr. McKenzie and gets caught. In retaliation he plants a communist newspaper in the store with devastating consequences. Soon all the neighbors believe Mr. McKenzie is a communist and stop shopping at his store. Tommy wants to help out so he tries to find the real communist. He has taken over his sister’s paper route while she is in the hospital and suspects one of his neighbors. Unfortunately, as he gets to know the people around him he gets more and more confused on what to do with the information he has collected. The real owner of the communist paper surprises him and turns his world upside down. Things also come to a head at home with his mom.
I actually really liked this book. I thought it was a story that doesn’t often get told. I liked the fact that it was set in the 1950s when a lot of things like child abuse and mental illness were a family’s dirty little secrets. Today there would be counselors and social workers and police involved. Tommy was a likable character even though he was horrible at times. I found his growth throughout the story really believable. He starts out very selfish and ignorant and grows up into someone who helps others and forms relationships with those around him. I am also really grateful that Levine didn’t take the easy way out and make the mom’s mental illness and abuse just miraculously disappear. I think it is fairly realistic the way it was handled and I appreciate that. I haven’t read very many middle grade books set in the era of McCarthyism and the communist scares. I’m not sure how concerned your average person was about communists next store, but it does add a certain element to the story.
The Greenwood family spends every summer at their lake house in New Hampshire. Ivy and Holly are cousins and good friends. The summer of 1965 when they are 13 doesn’t seem like other summers. For one thing, Ivy’s parents are fighting all the time and she is afraid they are going to get divorced. Her dad is also constantly fighting with her older brother Randy. Holly’s parents are teaching in California for the summer and weren’t able to join the family. Ivy and Holly are also not getting along as well as they have in the past. They seem to be growing apart and gravitating towards different things. Holly and Ivy start uncovering clues in the mystery of Uncle Jesse and a young Japanese student named Kiyoshi Mori. No one in the family wants to talk about how Jesse died during the war or even about him at all. The girls uncover clues through letters and diaries they find in the lake house.
I enjoyed this story, but found the act of reading the book a bit challenging. Maybe I am just so used to reading middle grade novels with 12 point text (generally), but the fact that this book is printed in 9 point font surprised me. I actually felt like I was reading something that might have been printed in the 1960s. I think that feature is going to turn some kids off who are used to bigger text even when the book is bigger. The story itself was interesting and I really wanted to find out the mystery of Uncle Jesse (I kept getting Full House flashes every time I read that!) and Kiyo. I liked how the girls discovered more and more about Jesse as the story progressed. There is such a big cast of auxiliary characters that I did have trouble keeping them straight. It didn’t help that all the Greenwood siblings had J names (John, Jim, Jake, Jesse and Jenny). I really appreciated the family tree in the front of the book to keep everyone straight. Reading this book actually made me want to find out more about the Japanese Internment Camps and the plight of the Japanese-Americans during WWII.
Rupert Campbell lives in one of the only towns with witches and he is fascinated by them. Unfortunately, his mom doesn’t want him to have anything to do with witches. Rupert has the most horrible, sadistic teacher in the world Mrs. Frabbleknacker who gleefully tortures her students on a daily basis. The first time we meet Rupert he is knee deep in the town dump looking for a paperclip Mrs. Frabbleknacker hid. Rupert answers an add in the paper for a witch’s apprentice and meets Witchling Two. Witchling Two needs help passing her magic exams. She has a lot of trouble with her spells. Seems like every spell she says comes out as the rhyme of what she meant. Witchling Two is absolutely hilarious. She has very bizarre ideas about humans. She thinks they cry when they are happy and is always mixing up sayings. She also loves lollipops and is terrified of bunnies. She and Rupert set up her lair in his basement because she is not supposed to associate with humans and will get in trouble if the witch council finds out.
I absolutely adored Witchling Two and her fumbling ways. Her ability to mix up the simplest things was truly remarkable. I liked that Rupert was the sensible one of the group always trying to get Witchling to study and practice for her exams. I also really loved Mrs. Frabbleknacker and how truly evil she was. She is one of the best villains I have read in a long while. Her classes were ingenious and torturous and hilarious. I think this is a book kids are going to really enjoy. It is equal parts mystery, fantasy and humor which is a wonderful mix.
Edgar and Allen Poe are back in their second adventure. This time they are in a movie about Edgar Allen Poe in New Orleans. They meet another set of twins Em and Milly Dickinson who are descendants of Emily Dickinson and also starring in the movie. Together the twins meet a couple of ghosts who can’t pass on because they have unfinished business. The kids help them with their quest to expose their murderer. Edgar and Allen don’t know it but they are also under surveillance by Professor Perry’s daughter who wants to stop her father’s plans, but not by helping Edgar and Allen. This second adventure is a bit better than the first actually. It isn’t quite as implausible or ridiculous. It is an interesting mystery series. Not sure how much it will appeal to kids, but it does have a certain kind of charm.
When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in . . .
For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.
Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.
Set in a city stalked by spectres, The Screaming Staircase is the first in a chilling new series full of suspense, humour and truly terrifying ghosts. Your nights will never be the same again .
Dylan steals a car and ruins a farmer’s field because he is mad at his mother. He is also mad that his father went to Darfur and was killed. His mom packs him off with his uncle Todd for the summer. Todd is an ex-marine and doesn’t take any of Dylan’s crap. He is taking Dylan on a trip to Papua New Guinea (PNG) for the summer. They are going to be looking for a WWII bomber that was shot down in the jungle. Todd’s father and Dylan’s grandfather was the only survivor. Dylan bucks authority at every turn even when it is in his best interests like taking malaria pills or learning how to survive in the jungle. Once they get to PNG, Dylan still keeps blaming others and being stupid. He compounds his stupidity by getting separated from the group and getting lost in the jungle. He does everything wrong and almost ends up losing a leg. Yet he still doesn’t take responsibility for his actions. It is not until he is on his way home that he grows up a little bit.
I thought this book was interesting. I really enjoyed the WWII story and the search for the plane. Unfortunately that is interrupted by Dylan’s trip into stupidity. He is one of the least likable characters I have read in a long time. Even at the end I didn’t really believe his transformation because he was just so unlikable throughout the book. I was actually wishing he lost his leg at one point. I think some kids will enjoy this story of survival and growing up, but I fear some may be completely turned off by how horrible Dylan is.
Suzy’s little brother becomes a hero when he calls 911 for a neighbor. Suddenly Suzy is second fiddle in the family and Parker is getting all the attention. Suzy’s and her best friend Alison are taking part in Tween Time at the library during the summer and learning about the 1800s. Suzy is also friends with Gilbert, a young man who does odd jobs around the neighborhood. Gilbert is accused of stealing from one of the neighbors, but Suzy is sure he didn’t do it. When Suzy learns about Emily Dickinson at the library she decides that maybe it is time to give up being Suzy and start being Emily. She wears white dresses and becomes a recluse. However, being a recluse is hard work and Emily misses some of the things she did as Suzy.
I enjoy novels in verse and this one was fairly well done. I liked the family dynamic of Suzy’s family, but I felt like most parents would not have put up with the recluse nonsense. I did think it was pretty realistic how Parker got more attention than Suzy and she got jealous. That is something a lot of kids have to work through. I am not sure how familiar kids today would be with Emily Dickinson and her poetry.
Sarah Jane is the middle child of seven red-haired sisters. She has become friends with Aunt Lillian who lives in the mountains above her family’s farm. Aunt Lillian tells Sarah Jane stories about the Apple Tree Man and the King of the Cats and the fairies. Sarah Jane is drawn to Aunt Lillian’s simpler way of life. One day when she is collecting ‘sang (ginseng) she discovers a sangman badly injured. Not wanting to get involved in a fairy conflict but not wanting to let the little man die. She brings the man back to Lillian’s but doesn’t realize the chain of events she has started. She has interfered in a war between the bee fairies and the sang fairies. Soon all six of her sisters has been pulled in and Sarah Jane must figure out how to return the injured sangman and save her sisters.
This is the first Charles de Lint book I have read, but I have heard a lot of good things about his books. I enjoyed Sarah Jane’s story a lot and thought she was very well thought out. However, I kept getting her sisters confused and was never as sure about them as I was about Sarah Jane. I also wished there was more to the fairy story. I know this is a companion to The Cats of Tanglewood Forest which tells Lillian’s story and I kind of wish I had read that one first. I think it would have filled in some of the details I was missing in this one.
It is Halloween and Charlie is determined to have an epic holiday. He doesn’t want to take his younger sister trick-or-treating like he does every year. He wants to go to his friend Alex’s house in a wealthy neighborhood. he thinks big houses equals big candy. He also wants to have an epic costume but his mom is really busy. Charlie enlists the help of his art teacher to make his bat costume. Now the only thing he has to worry about is the fact that Alex plans to show scary movies at his house. Charlie doesn’t like scary movies at all. His brother Matt helps him out by de-scarifying him and telling him scary stories. This is another hit for the Charlie Bumpers series. I think Bill Harley does a great job of writing about things that all kids worry about and making the stories relatable.
Zarf is just your average troll. He is trying to survive middle school and everything that goes along with it. Zarf lives in a fairy tale world where Goldilocks is his favorite lunch lady, ogres are near the top of the social ladder and the biggest bully of all is Prince Roquefort. Zarf’s friends are Kevin Littlepig and Chester the Jester. Kevin is afraid of everything and Chester’s jokes all fall flat. Zarf has trouble controlling his troll blood anger and it really gets him in trouble one day when he is tormented by Roquefort. When good King Cheznott goes missing while hunting the terrible snuffweasels things go from bad to worse. Cheznott is a benevolent king who supported troll rights, but his son is entirely different. Roquefort is a bully and his first act is to imprison Zarf and deny rights to trolls. Zarf breaks out of the dungeon with the help of his friends and Goldilocks and frees John Knoble the Knight as well. Together they head off to rescue the king and restore order to the kingdom of Cotswin.
This was a fun take on the world of fairy tales. I love how everything you love about fairy tales was incorporated along with a lot of humor and zaniness. Zarf is a great character that will surely appeal to a lot of readers. The book has a lot of illustrations and popout texts that make it a dynamic read. This is a good book for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and those types of books.
Pretty Boy is a stray cat who is found by a group of dogs and adopted by a Dee who runs a salon. Pretty Boy and the dogs have lots of adventures in New York City and he learns what family is. This is a nice story that is not really fantasy even though the animals talk to each other. It is more like a sneak peak into what animals might be thinking and communicating to others. I loved that Pretty Boy developed a love of music and helped the little boy do the same. A great animal story that I am sure kids will enjoy.
Charlie is back in his second adventure. This time his class is putting on a play. Charlie really wants to be the evil sorcerer, but Mrs. Burke assigns him the part of the nice gnome. The nice gnome actually has a lot of lines, but he is nice and that is not what Charlie wants. He tries a lot of different things to get out of the part from trading parts, changing the lines to be more funny and doing a horrible job during rehearsals. Nothing works and Mrs. Burke just becomes disappointed in Charlie. Charlie has to resign himself to being the nice gnome. At home he is rebelling against walking his dog even though that is his assigned job. He doesn’t think it is fair that he is the only one who has to walk the dog. Charlie is dealing with things a lot of kids have to deal with: school issues, chores, wanting to be cool. I think this is a really good series for younger readers. There is a lot about Charlie to like and identify with. He is not a bad kid he just doesn’t always make the best decisions.
Arianne and her family live on a horse farm in the 1960s. Arianne’s rock star father abandoned them after her little brother Robbie was born. Robbie is a thalidomide baby with physical disabilities. One night the family goes out to the field to watch the Pleiades and Arianne witnesses a white light jumping in among the horses. Then their old pony Agora becomes pregnant and gives birth to a centaur. The little pony boy, who they name Kai after Chiron, becomes the focus of the family, the stable manager Martha and the vet Dr. Herks. They all pull together to keep Kai safe and away from prying eyes even if it means they lose some of their riders and boarders. Kai is a typical centaur with a horse body and a boy torso and head. He becomes one of the family as he grows at an astonishing rate. Of course no secret this big can stay a secret forever. It is up to the family to figure out how to keep control of the story and to keep Kai safe.
This was an interesting mix of historical fiction and fantasy. I thought it was really smart to set the story in the past because there is no way they would have been been able to keep the secret in the world of today’s technology. I thought it was a great story about a family and the unconditional love they felt for each other. I don’t think I have ever read a children’s book with a thalidomide baby character so this was also a nice piece of history that kids are probably not familiar with. However, I will admit that I was a bit bored by the story. There was nothing wrong with it, but it just seemed very slow story with a lot of repetition.
One day Ellie’s mom brings a teenager home. She claims this young Melvin is actually grandpa Melvin. He has found the fountain of youth, which turns out to be a jellyfish. Of course he experimented on himself and reversed the aging process. Only problem is that his lab has been bought out and they are pushing Melvin out; of course there is also the fact that he looks 15 instead of 75 like he is supposed to. So Melvin moves in with Ellie and her mom and starts going to school with her. Melvin and the mom do not get along. Melvin doesn’t respect the fact that Ellie’s mom has chosen a career in drama instead of following in his footsteps with science. Melvin also doesn’t fit in at school since he still acts, dresses and talks like a 75 year old man with no respect for anyone else. Ellie however kind of likes having her grandpa around. She has found that middle school is a whole new world compared to elementary school. Her best friend has moved on to the world of volleyball and Ellie doesn’t find it easy to make friends. Soon Melvin has pulled Raj (scary goth kid who is actually pretty nice) into their circle and concocted plans to break into his lab and steal his jellyfish. Ellie is also finding that she fits in with the science world of Melvin a lot more than she does with the drama/theater world of her parents.
I thought Ellie was fantastic as a character. She is trying to find her way in the world and trying to figure out who she is just like everyone else. She doesn’t feel like she fits in with her family or her friends anymore and has to find where she does fit. I liked the fact that the complete misfit Melvin actually teaches her more about being herself. Melvin doesn’t care if he fits in; he just does what he wants when he wants to. Ellie develops an appreciation for science and a better relationship with her grandpa through this process. I really like well done coming of age stories and this one is excellent.
“In the exquisite imagery of this fairy tale, the poet-writer shares with children something of the mystic’s vision and wisdom of life”.–New York Public Library.
A beautiful tale of friendship, love and loneliness. Sad but heartwarming.
Tales of the Great Beasts explores the war of the Devourer and his Conquerors. It starts with the rise of the Devourer and how he became the Reptile King. We then get chapters on each of the Fallen of the Great Beasts: Jhi the Panda, Briggan the Wolf, Uraza the Leopard and Essix the Falcon. We learn how each of these joined the fight, how the Greencloaks first started and how the war ended with the four dying and the two evil Great Beasts being imprisoned. It is a wonderful back story for the Spirit Animals series. I received this book from Netgalley.com.
Einstein the class hamster has been quizzing the kids at school with Answer That Question. Now the kids are heading off to a real game show and Einstein gets to go along. He and his sidekick Marlon the turtle are smuggled into the game show studio. Principal Decker also brings his pet snake Twinkles who causes all kinds of havoc. But the havoc gives Einstein the opportunity to be a real game show host. This was a decent chapter book for early readers. It has nice big text and lots of illustrations. The story was not to my tastes but I can see where it will find fans. There are all kinds of crazy antics and a teacher who falls asleep all the time. I think my favorite parts of the book Einstein’s Tasty Tidbits were he shared facts and information on all kinds of subjects.
Gabe and Seth used to play make-believe games in the woods behind Seth’s family farm. It was the perfect creepy landscape for imagining they were up against beasts and monsters and villains.
Just as Gabe’s decided he’s outgrown their childish games, though, it appears that their most monstrous creation could be real.
Gabe and his family move in with his grandmother after their house burns in a fire. Eager to escape the labels he endured at his old school, Gabe makes friends over the summer with Seth, who lives nearby. After school begins, Gabe is accepted into the somewhat popular crowd but learns that his friendship with Seth may cause those labels to begin again. Gabe and Seth had spent the summer playing a game in the woods, that Seth used to play with his brother, until he disappeared. Gabe and Seth find themselves caught up in something that pulls Seth’s new friends into it’s evil. Can the boys figure out the mystery and bring it to an end? This is going to be very popular with both boys and girls, despite the main characters being boys. Very suspenseful and it keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Kiara has Asperger’s syndrome, and it’s hard for her to make friends. So whenever her world doesn’t make sense—which is often—she relies on Mr. Internet for answers. But there are some questions he can’t answer, like why she always gets into trouble, and how do kids with Asperger’s syndrome make friends? In Rogue, author Lyn Miller-Lachmann celebrates everyone’s ability to discover and use whatever it is that makes them different.
Kiara is home-schooled after hitting another student with a lunch tray. When Chad and his family move in across the street, she sees another chance to finally make a friend. When things go from bad to worse, Kiara proves herself to be the kind of friend that everyone should have. I think this is a book that all kids in school should read. It tells the story from the viewpoint of the character with Aspberger’s and it may make some students understand the workings of the disorder a little better. A good recommend book.