Freak, Fiona and River live in Cheshire. Cheshire is just your normal small town except for the fact that there is a giant wasteland eating up the middle of it. Years ago the Rodmore Chemical plant ignited the coal under the ground and it has been burning ever since. It has created the Hellsboro area and the kids are the only people living on one side of town because all the houses were destroyed. One day while waiting for the bus they find a sofa sitting at the bus stop. The sofa leads them to the Underhill House across the road where they discover Alf. Turns out Alf is an alien from Indorsia, their is a AI computer named Guernica, Alf’s dead sister Miranda’s consciousness lives in the computer and the sofa can tesser. Alf’s father is trying to take over Earth through mind control and flash mobs and they must stop him with the help of a rare zucchini crayon.
If you think this sounds ridiculous you would be right, but it is also a lot of fun. There are tons of fun details in this book and they are what makes it so special. I loved the references to books like Lord of the Rings and A Wrinkle in Time. I loved strange things like the zucchini crayon and Jackson Pollock’s coloring book. I especially loved the intelligent sofa and the ax-weilding crazy ghost. There is a ton of things going on in this book and you really have to pay attention to appreciate them all.
Paige Turner is tired of her name. She now wants to be known as Oklahoma. She wants to be as spunky and independent as her cousin and she doesn’t want to be picked on anymore at school. The name change is easier said than done. Her brother and parents can’t seem to remember and she gets teased more than ever. Her friends support her, but soon her bid for independence causes a riff with her best friend Gavi. There is nothing really wrong with this little book, but I did think the whole name change to Oklahoma was a little ridiculous. Mean girl Viveca’s actions were also never really explained or resolved. I wish there was a little more meat to this one.
Hayley finds an old ukulele at a garage sale. She learns how to play and starts a uke band at school. The school board wants to cut costs so they are going to cut the music program at school. Hayley and her friends organize a protest at the school board meeting to get the music program reinstated. Learning the ukulele really brings Hayley out of her shell and helps her make friends and make a difference in her school. There is a good lesson in here about standing up for yourself and for what is right. Nice beginning chapter book.
Kate remembers the last time she saw her parents and remembers her mother telling her to protect her younger siblings. Michael and Emma, the younger two, have no recollection of their parents; the only life they know is fending for themselves in orphanage after orphanage. Kate is positive that her parents are coming back, but even she has to admit is seems less and less likely. When an adoption opportunity goes sour, the kids are sent to the most remote orphanage they’ve ever been to. When they arrive, they realize it’s the strangest one they’ve ever been to as well. In fact, they’re the only kids in the orphanage. Not only is the orphanage strange, the town is too. The inhabitants are grim and there aren’t any children.
One day, the children stumble upon a book in the basement of the old orphanage and shortly thereafter discover that the book has magical properties. The book is, in essence, a portal through time. Thus begins and epic and decidedly non-linear adventure to save the world of magic.
This was an especially charming, if slightly confusing middle-grade adventure story. The three children, Kate, Michael, and Emma, all have very distinct personalities. Kate is the headstrong leader. Michael is the bookish one (who is also obsessed with dwarves) and Emma is one of the most adorably sassy young ladies I’ve ever come across. My main criticism for this book is that there are a lot of moments when characters get separated and, upon regrouping, demand to have events recounted. Not only does it get repetitive, it feels like a crutch for the author. Still, high adventure and lots of fun. My middle-school kids loved it.
Found opens on an unusual note: a plane appears at an airport. It’s not on any manifest and there are no pilots on board. Stewardess Angela DuPre is the only who saw it appear and is the only one brave enough to set foot on the mysterious plane. What she finds is quite surprising: 36 babies on board with no parents or other adults in the vicinity. Once the infants are taken off the plane, it disappears.
13 years later, we meet a boy named Jonah who has recently begun getting mysterious messages in the mail that appear to be related to the fact that he is adopted. Things get stranger when his friend, Chip, reveals that he has also been receiving messages in spite of the fact that he’s not adopted. Or doesn’t think he is until he questions his parents. In shock over discovering that he has been adopted, Chip joins up with Jonah and his sister Katherine to figure out who is sending these messages and why. An unexpected interrogation by the FBI nets Jonah and Katherine a chance to find out a bit more. Chip and Jonah are among 36 kids who have all been adopted and are all located in the same geographic region. They realize this has something to do with the mysterious plane incident and subsequently begin to seek out other kids and witnesses who might know more.
As one might expect from Haddix, this is a fast-paced adventure story and the beginning of a series. This installment merely sets up what will undoubtedly become the main arc of the story, as the matter of how these kids got where they are currently is clearly not nearly as important as where they came from in the first place. There’s a lot of running around trying to piece together clues, only to have them explained in detail near the end. The first part of the book is intriguing and fun; the second becomes quite a stretch in terms of premise and execution. Unfortunately, the questionable premise is what will be driving the series and I’m not certain I can get over it enough to read the rest. Still, an entertaining diversion and a fun take on the time-travel genre.
Mousemobile is the follow up to Prudence Breitrose’s Mousenet. In this installment, Megan and Joey and Jake and Fred are still the only humans who know about the evolution of the mouse nation. They are working diligently with their mouse partners to create thumbtops and save the planet. Unexpectedly, they are called to a meeting with the Big Cheese in mouse headquarters. It seems the Mouse Nation is under attack and drastic measures have to be taken. What measures? Why a giant, gas-guzzling RV of course! Megan and Uncle Fred rescue the mice at mouse HQ and start a cross-country journey with an RV with 2445 mice in an RV. They are pursued by a stranger in a green truck and worried about a spy in their midst. There are car chases, near misses, espionage and strange anti-climate change cults in the woods. Of course everything is going to work out fine. Perpetrators will be caught, minds will be changed and mouse will move.
I actually liked this book a bit more than the first one. While the premise is still pretty silly, I do appreciate a road trip book. Just picturing this giant RV with mice all over it made me smile. Even with the silliness, there is still the message about climate change that comes through loud and clear. I think there are more adventures to come in this story as Mouse HQ is now located at the thumbtop factory and everyone is in one place.
I received an advanced copy of this book from Netgalley.com.
Amanda and Leo have a history with birthdays. Now their friend’s little sister, Grace, has fallen into a strange frozen state on her birthday, and Amanda and Leo must travel in time in order to fix whatever’s wrong. As they journey back to each of Grace’s birthdays, they start seeing all sorts of patterns . . . which raise all sorts of questions.
Amanda and Leo are going to have to unravel the threads of the past and present – and travel much further than they ever imagined – if they’re going to save Grace. Luckily, a little birthday magic always helps in the charming and funny Willow Falls series by Wendy Mass, where everything is possible and there are no coincidences.
When Tara, a self-proclaimed shrinking violet, steals the school mascot, a goat, in order to make some friends with the popular crowd and gets caught, she gets herself in a heap of trouble. In addition, her parents decide that instead of taking her on their summer trip to Madagascar to study the courtship rituals of the Bamboo Lemur, she must go stay with her aunt, uncle, and bratty cousin Emily St. Claire in Willow Falls. Tara thinks it’s a good time to start over; she’ll be turning 13 after all, so she might as well make the best of it and perhaps even attempt to break out of her shell (in a non-criminal manner). What Tara doesn’t know is that this charmed town has something big in store for her on her 13th birthday. It’s not a typical birthday. But then again, nothing is Willow Falls is exactly typical!
Darling lives with her family in England. It is the height of WWI and dogs are in demand on the front. Her family sends her to be a soldier. She learns how to be a mercy, or red cross, dog. She finds wounded soldiers on the battlefield and brings her handler back with help. Darling is sent to the front lines in Belgium and sees several battles. She rescues lots of soldiers. During the a big battle she is wounded, but still manages to save several soldiers including her handler Private Kent. She becomes a hero of the war and is sent back home.
This was a cute little book perfect for beginning chapter book readers. It was interesting reading this from a dog’s perspective. I like the fact that it is pretty historically accurate. The author includes information on war dogs and WWI. I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.
Isaac is obsessed with pitching the perfect game. He comes close but never quite succeeds. His father pressures him with practice and perfection. His coach takes a different route and invites him to help with a Special Olympics basketball team. Through working with the team, Isaac realizes that he doesn’t have to be perfect.
This read like an after school special. Pressured Isaac only realizes perfection is not all there is after getting to know less “perfect” people. There is a lot of baseball, which I can see boys responding to, but the “messagey” quality of the book might turn other readers away.
Zombies rule! Especially cow head zombies. Rabi, Miguel and Joe are friends who play on the same baseball team. They live in a small Ohio town with a big meat packing plant. Milrow Meat Solutions is pumping their cows full of all kinds of things, which have the effect of creating zombies. The boys have to battle the zombies and evil plant executives to survive the summer.
This book was full of humor and fun and zombies! It also had some serious messages about immigration and domestic abuse and corporations. At its heart it is a story about friendship and what you will do for your friends. All set against the backdrop of the zombie apocalypse. I loved it!
Georgia has always been a good student even though her brother Rafe could possibly be the worst student ever! She starts middle school and is immediately in the shadow Rafe left. All the teachers assume she is just like Rafe and treat her horribly. The Princess Patrol makes fun of her and she doesn’t really make friends. Rhonda, a girl who screeches everything she says, starts following Georgia. She is also in a band that doesn’t really know how to play and is horrible. Rafe even signs the band up to play in the Battle of the Bands at the school dance. It seems like nothing is going her way.
I haven’t read any of the other books in this series, but I know they are hugely popular with the kids. The book contains lots of drawings and illustrations that will really appeal to kids who like books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries. Even with all the humor, the book does introduce some serious situations. There is bullying from the Princess Patrol, who I can’t believe actually get away with the things they say. There is also the grandma’s dementia. Finally, it turns out Georgia is adopted and she has to deal with this. Unfortunately, these things are just touched on and not really dealt with. Despite that I think the kids will embrace this book like they do all the others in the series.
Benny’s parents are getting divorced, his mom left and his father has become a hoarder, to make matters worse his hometown has been entered into a contest, and now the pressure is on to get the house cleaned up.
I liked the story, thought it was good way to show how hoarding can impact a young person’s life, but not as realistic as it could have been. The story takes place right before computers and the Internet take off in popularity, so I found it a little hard to believe that at that time a town could have actually won a contest to be hooked up to it. Hoarding was also not called hoarding yet, so it is a look into how the disease might start for someone. The tornado does make it interesting and could be the draw for lots of readers.
Willow Chance is a special girl; she is interested in plants and medical diagnosis; she is an undiscovered genius. Willow has just started middle school when she aces a standardized test and is accused of cheating. This sends her to Dell Duke, incompetent counselor, and allows her to meet her only friend Mai, whose brother Quang-ha sees Dell as well. These are the people around her when her world is destroyed. Her adoptive parents are killed in a car crash. Suddenly Willow is alone in the world with no family and no place to go. Mai takes charge and convinces her mother to allow Willow to stay with them, pretending she is a family friend even though they have never met. Mai’s mother Pattie is from Vietnam and operates a nail salon. The family lives in a one room garage behind the salon, which would definitely not pass a social services inspection. So Pattie convinces Dell to let them pretend to live in his apartment. She takes charge and transforms it into a home. Before you know it Willow, Mai, Pattie, Quang-ha and Dell are like a real family. Willow slowly comes out of her grief as the family comes together, but will she be able to stay with her new family or will the state take her away and destroy all she has known again?
This is one of those books that will break your heart. Willow’s grief on losing her parents is real and visceral. You can feel and understand her pain as she shuts completely down. Willow is also very strange; her interests are strange; she doesn’t interact with people in what is considered a normal way; she doesn’t fit in. But she fits with this new group of people and she brings them together as a family. There are a couple things that kept this book from being perfect for me. The first is the fact that Willow is not forced to go to school for months. Her case worker, the school district, Pattie, Dell, none of them make her go to school. She tells them she isn’t ready and they drop it just like that. She is supposed to be homeschooling during this time, but no one checks on that either. The second thing is the ending…it is way too perfect. The entire time I was reading it I assumed Pattie would somehow get custody of Willow. There was no way the book was going to end with her losing her family again. However, at the end Pattie somehow ends up being rich, rich enough to buy an apartment building in California. Seems she was forcing her family to live in the garage so she could save up some cash. Really!!???! She always came across as a working mom trying to build up her business and keep her family going. Plus she makes Dell pay for everything! Pattie’s romance also seems to come out of left field. I think it would have been a stronger ending without the wealthy, two-parent Disney ending.
I received a copy of this book at ALA 2013 and from Netgalley.com.
Matt Thorsen is a descendant of the Norse god Thor. Ragnarok is coming and he has been chosen to fight the Midgard Serpent and save the world. No pressure! First he must gather his champions, other descendants of the gods, and find his talismans, then he will be ready for Ragnarok. His first challenge is convincing the descendant of Loki to join him. In the stories, Loki leads the monsters at Ragnarok and in real life Matt and Fen are not really friends. But soon Matt, Fen and Laurie, another descendant of Loki and Fen’s cousin, have joined forces. They set out with a little aid from the Norns and the Valkyries to fight trolls and find the other gods.
This is how I like my fantasy, full of legends and mythology and characters coming into their potential. I think Norse mythology is an untapped segment of the mythology fiction. We get to read a lot about Greeks, but the Norse are often overlooked. I really like learning about these gods and their stories. I think this is a fun set up to a series. Since it is the setup, there is a lot of character and story introductions, but by the end we know who the main players are (on the good side at least) and they are ready to set off on their adventures. Are there plot holes? Sure there are. Why do kids have to fight the serpent, why not adults? Why do the descendants of the Norse gods all live in South Dakota? However, it is still an awesome story and I can’t wait to read more.
Andi and her sister Bethany have to move in with their aunt Amelia after their parents die in a plane crash. The grieving sisters are forced to leave their home and friends and everything they know. Aunt Amelia lives in the home she grew up in in rural Ohio. Andi and Bethany are forced to share a room until Andi starts cleaning out the attic. She discovers a mysterious trunk with things that belonged to another Andora Boggs. Andi and her friend Colin start investigating Andora to discover why her things were hidden away and why no one will talk about her. They are not they only ones looking into the Andora story. There is a history professor from the local college who is also interested.
What could be better than the mystery of a depression era baby who goes missing? I liked how the book was structured as Andi and Colin built their case. They were true investigators and I can see this book becoming a series. I really liked how Andi and Bethany were shown grieving differently. I do think Bethany’s grief was a little more obvious than Andi’s. She quickly became immersed in the Andora mystery and didn’t seem to think about her parents as much. I wish Amelia’s character was a little more fleshed out as she seemed barely there. But overall, I really liked this book and its mystery.
I received an advanced copy of this book from both Netgalley and ALA 2013.
Billy Bertram wants to be like his father John, who is a renowned botanist. Billy gets the opportunity to go with his father on an expedition into the wilds of Ohio. They and the other scientists are looking for the Kingdom of Madoc. War between the French and British is coming to the colonies and the British would like to have Madoc as their ally. They believe that the Kingdom of Madoc was founded hundreds of years ago by Welsh explorers and still exists somewhere. They take their flying ship and all their scientific equipment and head out of Philadelphia pursued by the French. Along the way, they meet Major George Washington and different Indians. It is also on the journey that Billy’s opinion of his father changes. He is exposed to his father’s prejudicial hatred of the Indians; hatred that blinds him to all else. The journey is filled with dangers and revelations. Billy has to start thinking for himself and stand up to his father.
On one hand I really liked this book as a fantastical, historical adventure book. On the other hand, I found some parts really hard to believe. I liked the accuracy of the characters (many are based on real people) and there really is a legend of the Kingdom of Madoc. Billy’s personal journey is also really good. He becomes a man on this trip instead of the boy he was. I thought it was crazy that the French were able to follow the expedition from Philadelphia to Ohio so easily (even with the spy). I also thought the whole bear-wolf thing was just a little bit silly. I’m not sure what a bear-wolf is and I really don’t think it would follow a flying ship for hundreds of miles. Despite the silliness, it was a good story and a great adventure.
I received an advanced copy of this book from both Netgalley and ALA 2013.
Lola Zuckerman is always last. Having a Z last name means she never gets to go first in anything. She really wants to win the Going Green challenge at school and become Green Captain. But since she is last all her ideas get taken. Then she comes up with composting. Her rival Amanda comes up with trash-free lunch. The 2nd grade class votes on which one they want to do and Lola wins. She rubs into into Amanda’s face and is a bit mean about it. But Lola quickly learns her lesson and she and Amanda become friends. This is definitely a beginner chapter book. Lola is a bit obnoxious and not really that nice. She does redeem herself at the end, but she is still not one of my favorite characters.
Charlie is dreading 4th grade. He has learned that he will have Mrs. Burke and she hates him. He threw a shoe last year that accidentally hit her in the head. Once school starts it does seem like he is right. Charlie is always getting into trouble for some reason and Mrs. Burke is always on his case. But things are not always what they seem.
I thought Charlie was funny and I actually really liked Mrs. Burke. This book is geared towards younger/first chapter book readers even with the 4th grade characters. I think it will definitely find its place, especially with boys.
Genie has become the class blogger. Her blog has to be about wishes, hopes and dreams. Genie finds that she is a pretty decent blogger and really enjoys it. School isn’t nearly as fun as blogging though. Her best friend Sarah seems to have changed over the summer. She met Blair at summer camp and now Blair is going to school with them. All they seem to care about is make-up and boys and each other. Genie is feeling left out and left behind. But she starts making friends with some of the other 5th grade girls and realizes she has more in common with them then Sarah and Blair.
I like this story and I think girls are going to like it as well. I do think it is maybe geared towards younger girls even with the 5th grade characters. I wish there was more resolution between Sarah and Genie at the end of the book, but the lack of it does make it seem more realistic. Sometimes friends just grow apart. We have different friends for different parts of our lives. It isn’t always easy to make that change, but our new friends are usually good fits and make us happier than our old. I think that is a good message for kids.