It is 1952, the height of the polio epidemic, Franny is 11-years-old and suffering from polio. She is confined to a wheelchair and all her friends have abandoned her. She is bored and lonely and frustrated until she starts receiving notes from Fleabrain. Fleabrain is the only surviving flea on Alf the dog. He is super intellectual and a voracious reader. Fleabrain becomes Franny’s only source of entertainment during her recovery. Fleabrain also has magical powers and is able to shrink Franny or take her around the world during the night.
This was probably one of the worst books I have read in a long time. I pretty much disliked the story from the beginning. I kept waiting for the Fleabrain storyline to be part of a dream or Franny’s imagination or something. The fact that it was treated as real just made the story so very unbelievable. I think a book about a young girl suffering from polio and everything she had to deal with would have been really interesting on its own and something we haven’t really seen in middle grade fiction. However, the entire flea storyline just ruined the entire book.
Imagine the most extraordinary library filled with wonderous things including holographic images and a dewey decimal ceiling. Now imagine that you live in Alexandriaville which has been without a public library for twelve years. Luigi Lemoncello, a famous inventor of games and puzzles, grew up in Alexandriaville and loved the public library so much he has turned the old bank into the most amazing library ever. To celebrate its opening he holds a contest where twelve lucky12-year-olds will get to attend an overnight lock-in at the library. The lock-in turns into so much more when Lemoncello announces a new competition. They have to solve their way out of the library using only the things in the library and not leaving the way they came in. Kyle is one of the twelve lucky kids selected to participate in the lock-in and is a huge fan of Mr. Lemoncello’s games. He is joined by other kids from school, some friends some not. The kids eventually pair up into two teams to work together and solve the puzzles. The kids must learn to cooperate with each other and use the library if they want to have a chance of winning.
This book is a librarian’s dream full of puzzles that require library knowledge to solve. The kids learn about the Dewey Decimal System and how the library is set up. The games are tricky using books, rebuses and library cards. The library itself is more wondrous than any library could ever be. I especially loved how the characters are constantly referencing book titles; you could create a pretty good reading list from the titles listed in these pages. There are obvious comparisons to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl and fans of books like the Potato Chip Puzzles and Gollywhopper Games will definitely enjoy this book. My only complaint was that the characters; other than Kyle, are all pretty stereotypical with little depth or growth; the villain Charles is especially one-dimensional. However, book and game lovers will surely enjoy this one as they try to solve the puzzles and find all the book references.
El Deafo is a semi-autobiographical account of the author, CeCe Bell’s childhood. Cece was born a normal kid, but at age four she got meningitis and lost her hearing. This fabulous graphic novel details Cece’s struggles through childhood as she learns to deal with being hearing impaired. Besides her struggle with hearing aids, Cece also has to deal with all the same things other kids her age do: friends, boys, school and growing up. Cece was able to hear and speak before she became ill so she still retained some ability after losing her hearing. She was able to manage day-to-day life by learning to read lips and wearing a couple different hearing aids. The book does a wonderful job of describing Cece’s difficulties in making or keeping friends and how she was treated differently because of her disability. Some of the kids thought she was weird because she was deaf, some over-compensated and treated her differently, but a few were actual friends. In order to overcome her difficulties, Cece created a superhero alter-ego named El Deafo, which the author also did in real life. El Deafo could do all the things Cece couldn’t do and was able to overcome the difficult situations that sometimes defeated Cece. Fans of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and Drama will appreciate this book. Bell does an excellent job of recreating her childhood and making it accessible to young readers. Like Telgemeier’s Smile, I think this one is going to be really popular and very seldom on the shelf.
Call Hunt is probably the only kid who ever tried to fail at getting into the Magisterium. Call’s father is a mage so Call knows about magic, but his father hasn’t done any magic since Call was a baby. Call’s mom was killed in the last mage war, leaving only a note that said to kill the child. Despite all his efforts Call does get into mage school and is whisked off to be an apprentice for the most prestigious mage Master Rufus. Along with Tamara and Aaron, Call studies magic and learns to fit in at school. There are the typical school situations, Jasper the Bully, Celia the Crush, Drew the Bullied and of course the unspeakable evil who wants to destroy everything. Call is also given more information about how his mother died, what his father actually thinks of him and the truth behind his background. The last is a pretty big shocker that is definitely going to play out in future books.
I admit that I thought this book was a bit of a chore to get through. The comparisons to Harry Potter are plentiful and this book just doesn’t compare in terms of story and quality. Call is definitely no Harry. In fact, he is an obnoxious brat a lot of the time and not the easiest character to root for. A lot of the other characters just seemed one dimensional and under-developed. The world building is decent, but I thought the magic and the previous wars could have been fleshed out a bit. It is set in the modern real world, but it doesn’t really explain how magic interacts with the world. It seems that normal people don’t know about magic yet there are all these chaos animals out there and there have been a lot of mage wars. Not sure how they keep all that from the general public. This is the beginning of a five-part series; not sure I’ll read the rest but I do hope it improves.
This is the third Explorer book from Kazu Kibuishi. In this book the theme is hidden doors and each of the stories explores different aspects of this theme. You have stories about doorways to a mind, a doorway to the giant’s kitchen, a door that makes you cool, a door a boy and girl must enter together, a haunted door, a door into a tomb, and a door that is not a door. The stories explore friendship, bullying, survival, self-confidence and much more. I enjoyed this collection and love that all the stories while by different authors and artists really fit together as a whole.
Dash is one of the first kids to live on the moon. He and his parents are part of the science team on Moon Base Alpha. Life on the moon isn’t everything they were promised; the food is bad, the accommodations are cramped and the bathrooms are all the way across the base! There also isn’t a lot to do since you can’t go outside the base which makes even school work seem exciting. One night in the bathroom, Dash overhears a conversation Dr. Holtz was having with someone about a big discovery. Dr. Holtz told whoever he was talking to that he was going to reveal his discovery the next day. The next day Dr. Holtz is dead on the surface of the moon. Everyone thinks he went crazy or just had an accident, but Dash thinks he was murdered. Dash is determined to investigate even though the base commander forbids it and everyone else is satisfied by the official explanation. Dash is assisted in his investigation by new arrivals Kira and Zan Perfonic. The investigation gets Dash into all kinds of trouble, but also reveals startling information about life beyond Moon Base Alpha.
Fans of Stuart Gibbs’ books will enjoy this new mystery as will space aficionados. Space mysteries are always fun and the setting of this one on a moon base adds a claustrophobic element to the story. I think kids will particularly enjoy all the cool space facts about life is really like in space. They will be grossed out by the food and how they use the bathroom.The mystery is one that will intrigue readers with its many twists and turns before the surprising reveal of who really killed Dr. Holtz and why. I think my big challenge with the story was the actual ending and the revelation of Dr. Holtz’s discovery. It took the story out of the realm of reality which I didn’t think it needed.
March McQuin is the son of notorious thief Alfie McQuin. He is used to a life on the road going from one heist to the next. Then one night in Amsterdam, a heist goes horribly wrong and Alfie falls from a roof. March is caught and sent back to the states to a group home along with the twin sister he didn’t know he had, Jules. Jules is also used to a life on the road and neither of them adjust well to the group home. The escape along with their two new friends Izzy and Darius. The four of them are out to find the mysterious moonstones. The moonstones were stolen by Alfie, his wife (and March and Jules mom) and Owen several years ago. It was a heist that went wrong when Owen was captured and the mom was killed. The moonstones are cursed and gave a prophecy the night they were stolen. If they don’t find them before their thirteenth birthday March and Jules may die. They are pursued by Owen, Carlotta who used to own the moonstones, and Mike Shannon a disgraced cop turned reality tv star. The four must follow the clues left by Alfie and pull off some major heists to get all seven moonstones back together.
This was an action-packed thrill ride. The story goes from one heist or chase to the next with very little down time in between. The kids are fabulous characters with March and Jules being experts in living on the run and conning people. Darius and Izzy offer their own skill sets to the group. It is amazing what they pull off. I liked how everything seemed so fantastical, but yet could be possible. The only really iffy part was the prophecy and the magic of the moonstones. I almost wish the story would have stayed in the realm of reality. I think kids are really going to enjoy this book.
Eleanor is best friends with Pearl and gets to spend several afternoons with her each week. That all changes when Pearl is assigned to be the buddy of new girl Ainsley. Now Pearl and Ainsley are spending all their time together and Eleanor is feeling left out. She has also been given the lead in the school play where she has to sing and she has to hug Nicholas, a boy she may or may not like. Eleanor his having a hard time dealing with all of this and makes a big mistake. She tells a secret she isn’t supposed to know and may have just ruined her friendship with Pearl forever. She has to work really hard to make up for what she has done.
This is a novel in verse that doesn’t read like one. It reads more like a regular book with very short paragraphs. I really like novels in verse so this style made the book a bit awkward for me, but I think will make it easier for kids to grasp. Eleanor is one of those characters that seems to be pretty common right now. She is a regular girl dealing with regular problems like school and friends and boys. It is a an awkward time for girls and she is a character that I think girls that age can relate to.
This is a nice biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It is a simple read that offers a lot of details on the Ingalls family and Laura’s life after she married Wilder. I didn’t realize just how often the Ingalls family moved during Laura’s childhood; it seemed like they were packing up and moving on every couple of years. There aren’t a lot of details in this story as it is geared towards younger readers, but it is a nice introduction to Laura Ingalls Wilder and gives some supplemental information not in the Little House series.
This is the follow up to Moxie and Art of Rule Breaking. Ollie’s family is swamped by all the media attention and decides to send him away to camp until things die down. Ollie becomes a probationary member of a scout troop and heads to Wilderness Camp on one of the Harbor Islands outside Boston. He doesn’t know any of the guys in his new troop but quickly becomes friends with Chris, a talkative but likeable guy. He also makes an enemy of troop leader Derek. On the island they meet Ranger Johnson who is obsessed with the possibility of pirate treasure on the island. He enlists Ollie’s help in finding it, but Ollie is not sure he can trust Ranger Johnson. Johnson’s daughter Gray is also looking for the treasure and Ollie isn’t sure he can trust her either.
Ollie was the side-kick in Moxie’s story, but the star of this one. I like that he got to branch out on his own and come into his strength. He is smart and pretty creative. I thought the scout troup was pretty realistic. They play together and work together but there are also rivalries involved. I thought Ranger Johnson was a pretty creepy villain of the story. You knew all along there was something shady about him, but just weren’t sure what it was. I kind of wish there had been more development in the Ranger Johnson and Gray characters. It would have made it a little easier to care about them and their situation. This was a fun mystery that was again based on real historical events and places.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a graphic novel about WWI, but this one was fantastic. I think I learned more about the war than I have from any other source. The information is presented in a wonderfully reader friendly way that kids will gravitate towards. The story of the war is presented by a Revolutionary War era traitor named Nathan Hale who is telling the story to his hangman and the British officer responsible for hanging him. The countries of Europe are represented by various animals so you can easily tell them apart (although I will admit I had to look back to figure out which animal was which country several times). The causes of the war are clearly laid out as are the major battles and the results of those battles. My only big complaint was the size of the graphic frames. The book is on the smaller size which made the graphic frames smaller. I think it would have benefitted from a larger print size so you could see more of the details.
Charlie Laird has been having nightmares ever since his family moved into the purple mansion. Charlie’s mom died several years ago and his dad just married Charlotte. Charlie thinks Charlotte is a witch and haunting his dreams. Every night he battles the witch in the netherworld (the land of nightmares). Because he is not sleeping well he has become crabby and mean during the day. He is driving everyone away including his dad and his little brother Jack. One night Charlie goes through a portal into the netherworld. He realizes he may never get back home unless he faces his fears. He has help from a couple of nightmares, Meduso and Dabney, and from his friends who were also having nightmares. Together they must defeat the evil president of the world and his goblin army as well as face their own nightmares so they can go home.
So whenever I see a book written by a celebrity I am usually pretty skeptical. Did the celebrity really write the thing? Was it only published because the person was famous? Is it going to be as terrible as I think it will be? So I had pretty low expectations when I started reading Nightmares! and boy was I surprised when it turned out to be an entertaining read. It think this is a book that is going to appeal to a lot of readers. It has just the right amount of scariness: not so scary it will give kids real nightmares, but scary enough to keep it interesting. I think a lot of kids will also be able to relate to Charlie as well. This is a story about dealing with your fears and facing what scares you. Everyone is scared of something.
The young women at St. Etheldreda’s School for Young Ladies might not really like the headmistress Mrs. Plackett, but it is better than their homes. When Mrs. Plackett and her brother are poisoned one night at dinner the girls decide to conceal their deaths so they won’t be sent home. Everything would have worked perfectly except people just keep showing up at the house. Smooth Kitty takes charge and makes sure everyone keeps the story straight. Stout Alice starts impersonating Mrs. Plackett to keep the neighbors and Mrs. Plackett’s suitor at bay. Pocked Louisa is investigating the deaths and believes they were poisoned with cyanide, but who killed them?
I had mixed feelings about this book. I really like the mystery aspect of it. I like the seven independent girls trying to live on their own and figure out what is going on. I laughed several times at the comedy of errors and the constant troupe of visitors to the house. The thing that annoyed me the most however was the girls themselves. Each of them have an adjective attached to their name and that is used repeatedly throughout the book. It got to be pretty annoying and I felt it was used instead of character development. The girls were hard to distinguish between except for their adjective. I also thought it was hard to place their ages. They seemed much older than I am guessing they were. A couple of times it was mentioned someone was 12 (can’t remember which one), but they all were terribly interested in suitors and seemed so much more mature. Maybe it was the Victorian setting, but it just seemed a bit odd. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy the book and stay up way too late reading it to find out who the murderer was and why they were killed.
Nuts to You begins with an author sitting on a park bench. A grey squirrel sits on the bench with her. The author shares her peanut butter with the squirrel and in return the squirrel shares his story. It is the story of Jed, TsTs and Chai, three amazing squirrels who embark on a harrowing journey and a quest to save their group. The story starts with Jed’s capture by a hawk. As the hawk flies away Jed realizes he is not injured and sets about getting the hawk to let him go. Unfortunately, the hawk drops Jed far away from where he picked him up and a long way up in the sky. Jed lands far from home surrounded by different trees and red squirrels who talk funny. TsTs and Chai witnessed Jed’s abduction and subsequent fall and decide to go after him. They follow the buzzroads to the the third giant spiderweb (power lines to the tower). There they find Jed, but they also discover humans cutting down the trees along the buzzroads. They have to warn their own grove about the danger approaching. They know their families and friends won’t believe them so they make up a game to get everyone to move before the humans arrive.
This was a really cute story. I really enjoyed how the author inserted herself into the story; it made you think it could have been true. I thought the squirrels were fabulous characters and all had very different personalities. I really got a kick out of the red squirrels even though I didn’t understand half of what they were saying. It was just like going to a different place where the people have strong accents and are hard to understand; of course they think the same of you. I am sure animals communicate with each other in some way which made this story more on the believable side. I liked that it was more realistic than fantasy. Other than Jed talking to the author there wasn’t anything about the story that made it seem impossible or implausible. Nuts to you all!
The Cherry Street Children’s Home is a pretty nice place to live for both kids and mice. The kids have a safe place to stay, nice meals, schooling and a few chores. The mice have an abundant supply of crumbs to fill their larders, entertainment through the stories they hear told to the children and a wonderful supply of art. The Cherry Street mice are obsessed with art and the accumulation of it. They have specially trained thieves who go out into the orphanage to collect art. Mary Mouse has become one the the thieves after her husband is killed. Unfortunately, one of Mary’s missions goes awry and she is seen by the humans. Caro, a young orphan saves her life, but the exterminators are to be called. The rest of the mice are forced to move, but they leave Mary in exile as punishment. Caro is a perfect example of a model orphan. She is helpful and kind and willing to believe everything the director Mrs. George says.
This book has a lot of references to Stuart Little by E.B. White which really makes me want to read it again. The mice of Cherry Street see Stuart as a hero and someone to emulate. I don’t usually enjoy animal stories, but I like how the mice and the orphans come together in this one. There is a lot going on here: baby snatchings, work house threats, blackmail, despotic rulers, murder. I appreciate that it is all written on a level kids can understand and appreciate. I also really appreciate that Caro didn’t suddenly discover the ability to talk to Mary. It made the story more realistic with the communication barrier.
Mo and Dale, the Desperado Detectives, are back with all the quirky characters of Tupelo Landing. They have to learn about the history of their town for a school assignment. Instead of interviewing one of the elders of the town like all their classmates are doing, Mo convinces Dale to pick the ghost of the inn as their subject. The ramshackle inn was recently purchased by Miss Lana and Grandmother Miss Lacy to keep it out of the hands of the horrible Rat Face woman. The inn has been closed since the 1930s when a horrible accident left the family grieving and a ghost in residence. Mo and Dale are determined to find out who the ghost is and what happened to her even as they are stonewalled by the people who were there and know the story. Their investigation uncovers secrets of some of the town residents and explains the connection new kid Harm has to the area.
I really enjoy this series of books. I like that you don’t necessarily have to read Three Times Lucky to enjoy The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing though it does help. I think Mo is a fabulous character full of grit and determination. I really like the family she has created in Tupelo Landing and how they all fit together. I thought the mystery was good; filled with bootlegging, car races and terrible tragedy. I like how the truth unfolded throughout the story. I think Sheila Turnage does a fabulous job of recreating the quirky nature of small town Southern people with her wonderful cast of characters. I can’t wait to see what happens next for Mo and Dale.
Tomi is a second generation Japanese-American living in California with her family on their strawberry farm. Her parents are proud of their adopted country and have taught Tomi and her brothers to be patriotic supporters of America. Then the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and suddenly their neighbors and friends are looking at them like they are traitors and spies. Tomi’s dad is taken away by the FBI and the family is sent to a relocation camp soon after. Her mom has to step up and become the head of the family since dad is not with them; she is not the meek Japanese wife she was in California. Tomi and her brothers try to make the best of the horrible situation at the camp; they make friends, go to school and settle into life in the camp. They even become friends with some of the local kids. Then the dad is released from the prison camp and sent back to live with the family. Dad is no longer the proud, patriotic man he was; he is now bitter and angry at America for how he was treated. His attitude makes Tomi question what it means to be an American and how she feels about her country.
I like historical fiction books that deal with eras not frequently covered. WWII is a very popular era, but not a lot of books tackle the story of America’s treatment of the Japanese during the war. They were held in these camps without trials or even suspicion of any wrong doing for the duration of the war. They had to leave their homes, jobs, businesses and most of what they owned behind. I enjoyed this glimpse into what it was like to live in one of the relocation camps, but I especially appreciated Tomi’s story once her dad came home. He had every reason to be bitter and his attitude forced Tomi to look inside herself and figure out how she really felt. She couldn’t just conform to what her dad wanted her to think and believe; she had to find out for herself. That is a wonderful lesson and Sandra Dallas handled it really well.
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.