Hazel lives with her parents in the small Vermont town of Maple Hill. Her parents are the caretakers of the local cemetery and Hazel has free reign over the cemetery. It is 1953 and the height of the Joseph McCarthy Red Menace where communists seem to be everywhere. Hazel believes what she hears. She is building a bomb shelter in one of the mausoleums and investigating the new gravedigger Mr. Jones. She believes that since the FBI is investigating the local factory there must be other commies in town. Hazel thinks Mr. Jones is suspicious and wants to catch him in the act. She enlists the help of her new friend Samuel who is new in town and has a mysterious past. Together they have to figure out the mystery of Mr. Jones and the communist threat.
I liked this book. Hazel is spunky and smart and a bit full of herself. She loves the mysteries of Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon and wants to solve mysteries herself. Since she lives in a small town there aren’t really a lot of mysteries, which doesn’t stop Hazel. She sees things as she wants them to be in a lot of ways. She doesn’t have a whole lot of parental supervision, but this is the 1950s so maybe parents were a bit more lax back then. I like the fact that this book is set in a time period that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention with middle grade novels. There is also McCarthyism which is not something a lot of kids know about it. It is a fascinating time in our history when there was a lot of fear-mongering going on. While the Mr. Jones mystery wasn’t really that interesting, Samuel’s story was as was how Hazel resolved it.
Holly is looking forward to going back to school and seeing her best friend Julia. Her first day does not go as planned however. First her brother spills orange juice all over her first-day outfit and new backpack so she has to use an old batman one. Then Julia has made a new friend at band camp and Natasha is not someone Holly wants to be friends with. Natasha and Julia have all kinds of inside stories about band camp that makes Holly feel left out and jealous. Natasha also plays french horn in band just like Holly does and she is better! Seventh grade is hard enough without having to deal with all of this extra drama.
I actually dreaded reading this book because of the title. I think I Heart Band is going to turn off kids who would actually enjoy this one. It is a completely realistic look at what happens when a new friend is introduced into the mix, when you start thinking about boys as more than friends, when you move up in school and the classes are so much harder. I remember a lot of these emotions and situations Holly experiences from my own experiences in middle school. You cringe a bit but can also laugh because you survived. However, as much as I would have enjoyed this story as a kid I would probably have never picked it up because of the title. I wasn’t in band and would have been completely turned off by the fact that it is mentioned in the title. I would have thought it was all about band instead of a decent story about surviving middle school.
Gladys Gatsby is an eleven year old foodie. She has been forced into learning to cook and learning to love good food by her fast-food eating, microwave cooking parents who have no concept of what good food actually is. She has been making her own gourmet meals since she was seven when her aunt Lydia introduced her to the wonders of excellent cooking. Her life as she knows it comes to an end one day when she accidently set the kitchen curtains on fire while trying to make creme brulee with a regular blowtorch. Her parents ground her from cooking, reading cookbooks and watching cooking shows on TV. Instead they say she has to go out into the world and make friends and do regular kid stuff. This also means she is forced to eat the awful things her parents eat.
Then her new teacher has a fabulous assignment. The students are to write a report on their future selves. These reports will be submitted to the essay contest at the New York Standard newspaper. Gladys loves the dining section of the Standard and all the restaurant reviews. So she writes her report as if she was submitting a cover letter to be a food critic at the paper. Her letter gets misdirected to the editor of the dining section who just happens to need a new food critic. Gladys is hired but now must figure out how to get to New York to the restaurant without her parents finding out or the paper finding out she is only eleven.
This book was simply charming! I was afraid it was going to be filled with implausible coincidences and a child prodigy cook, but it was nothing like that. While Gladys is a fantastic cook, she is also completely realistic. I liked her fascination with food and could belief that it developed because of her parents’ horrible tastes. She gets up to all kinds of schemes to try and get to New York and complete her assignment and I thought they were clever and smart. Doesn’t matter that most of them didn’t work out. I thought the ending was a perfect end to this journey we took with Gladys. My one complaint about this book is that it made me really hungry for fabulous food and delicious desserts.
So aliens have invaded the earth. First they set off an emp that took out everything electrical, then there were the tsunamis that took out the coasts, then came the red death that killed billions, and then there were the silencers (aliens who look like humans). Now the survivors are just trying to survive and prepare for whatever comes next. Cassie has survived with most of her family. Cassie, her dad and her brother are at a refugee camp when military vehicles arrive and take the children away (adults are supposedly leaving later). Of course the military lies and kills everyone else at the camp except Cassie. She is determined to keep her promise to her little brother Sammy though and find him. But in a world where anyone can be the enemy who can you trust? Ben has recovered from the red death and has been recruited into the new military at Camp Haven. All the recruits are kids, some as young as five, and are all being trained to kill. Ben takes young Sammy under his wing and promises to protect him. Meanwhile Cassie has been shot by a silencer but rescued by hotty Evan Walker. She isn’t sure she can trust him but he sure is dreamy with his beautiful eyes and soft hands. She is still determined to rescue Sammy and decides she might need Evan’s help.
There were times when I really wanted to quit reading this book. I think it started about the time Evan appeared and Cassie lost all sense. It is the end of the world and she has seen so much death and destruction. I liked her when she was the crazy person in the woods, but once she started thinking about how dreamy Evan was I was pretty much done. He is basically a stalker and a killer who had no real redeeming qualities other than the fact that he saved her life. I hate when a romance element is forced into a story and this one was more egregious then most. It just really didn’t make any sense in the plot of the book. The plot itself, while not original, was at least a bit entertaining. I am not sure why teen books always have to use the child soldiers theme but whatever. The aliens are out to get us all and make us do all the work ok sure. The end of the book where everything comes together and Cassie and Ben meet up in their quests to save Sammy made the book at least a bit worth the read.
Hunter and his twin brother Zack are out to find the treasure left by the town founder Lester Dinwitty. They team up with Sarah Yulefski and look for clues. They are followed and assisted by little brother Steadman. Bradley the Bully and their sister Linny are also looking for the treasure. They keep getting mysterious clues and help from someone. Their search leads them from the cemetery to the school basement and drum lessons to the train station and certain doom. Even though the characters in this book are older, it is clearly written for the beginning chapter book reader. The story is in some ways simple and in others completely uncomprehending. The whole treasure hunt scenario doesn’t make the most sense. And there are certain other things that really had me scratching my head in puzzlement. It takes a bit to find the story believable or possible. I think it is a good series for younger readers but can’t image anyone much older than 2nd/3rd grade enjoying it.
The Barker brothers are back in the final installment of the Superstition Mountain trilogy. They and their friend Delilah found the mine in the mountains before it was buried by an avalanche in the last book. In this book they are trying to figure out what the mysterious historical society group is up to. They are back at the ghost town trying to find clues about the deathbed gold of Jacob Waltz and trying to figure out all the clues their uncle left them. The clues lead them to his long-time girlfriend and a plot in the cemetery. They also have to get back up to the mine and return the gold they took before the curse takes hold.
I read the first book in this series but not the second one. I am sure I missed out on some details but this final book does a nice job reminding the reader what has happened in the past. I like the fact that the mystery is based on actual historical events even if the contemporary people are not. I think that lends an aura of authenticity to the events in the books. I also enjoy the fact that this is also a book about family and the Barker family is very present although the parents do not seem to be as aware of their children’s actions as they probably should be. Overall this is a fun mystery series for middle grade readers.
It is the summer after 8th grade. Lucy, Michael and Elena are looking forward to summer and contemplating their summer reading list. They are all book lovers and Lucy in particular truly loves To Kill a Mockingbird. Their favorite English teacher Fat Bob Nowak died the previous year and was also a big fan of To Kill a Mockingbird. The kids decide to start a campaign in honor of Fat Bob and their love of the book. The campaign will hopefully make more people want to read To Kill a Mockingbird, but how are they going to do that. They decide on “I Kill the Mockingbird” and travel around the state hiding copies of the book in libraries and bookstores (they never steal them). They also start an internet campaign and leave I Kill the Mockingbird posters where they have removed books. Their campaign takes off after Wil Wheaton tweets about it. Soon the I Kill the Mockingbird campaign has made the news and has become a national movement. Of course that is not all that is going on that summer. Lucy’s mom has is recovering from cancer and she is worried about her. Elena is an orphan living with her uncle Mort who runs a bookstore and is afraid she won’t fit in at high school because she is so short. Lucy also has a crush on Michael (he has one on her too) but is afraid to ruin their friendship. Michael is a fabulous baseball player and wants to be challenge during the game. This is a wonderful story about friendship, family and good books.
I actually enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. I was a bit skeptical at first but the premise of the book really worked. I loved Lucy, Elena and Michael. They are smart, articulate and fun characters who seemed exactly like the type of kids who could pull this off. I enjoyed the fact that the parents were actually present in the book and seemed like real people as well. So many kid’s books have absent parents or truly stereotypical ones. I think this is a book that book-loving kids will enjoy (as well as adults) and one that may spark an interest in reading some of the classics mentioned.
The earth in the future is being taken over by garbage and bureaucracy. Rick and Evie and their dad get in trouble with Winterpole after saving a bird whose habitat has become a landfill. Because of previous infractions dad is placed under house arrest, but not before he tells the kids about a secret formula he created years ago that would turn garbage into organic material. Winterpole found out about it and wanted to use it to make weapons (not sure how that would work) so dad and his partner split the formula and the partner disappeared. The kids are determined to find the partner and create an 8th continent out of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Then they would be out from under Winterpole’s control. They are pursued by by Evie’s nemesis Vesuvia who is the secret CEO of her dad’s corporation and determined to turn everything in the world into pink plastic.
I’m not sure how believable this book is supposed to be, but I hope not very is the answer. Everything about it seems so far-fetched and unbelievable that it was difficult to get through at times. I liked the premise however and the writing was fun and entertaining. The characters were a bit one-dimensional especially Vesuvia and the Winterpole people. This book is the first in a planned series and the ending sets up the next book nicely. Even though much of the book makes no sense whatsoever I can see kids picking it up and enjoying the ride.
Jerry Flack is not cool. He is a nerd who likes science and wears glasses. When he moves to a new town he thinks he has a shot at changing his image and becoming cool. He puts away his glasses and gets lessons on being cool from his friend Brenda. Soon he is hanging out with the cool kids and thinks beautiful Cinnamon likes him. But he also misses hanging out with Brenda and the other kids on the science team. And he still likes science and other uncool things. This is a book all about accepting who you are and what is important to you. Is it more important to be cool and do things you don’t enjoy or approve of or is it better to hang out with people you like and do things you enjoy? Jerry has to learn this lesson that we have all learned. No one wants to be uncool or unpopular, but sometimes you realize that being cool isn’t all it is cracked up to be.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.
Sir Sidney’s Circus is the best circus in the world. The circus goes to sea when they receive an invitation from Flora Endora Eliza LaBuena LaPasta to be guests on the SS Spaghetti. Everyone in the circus is excited about the trip except Sir Sidney because he gets seasick. Once they board the SS Spaghetti they find out that Flora is a little girl and her mom is the Captain of the ship. Unfortunately, the captain is not happy that Flora fired all the entertainers and brought the circus on board. She is even more unhappy when they empty the swimming pool (the elephant jumped in) and injured a passenger (he tried the spaghetti tight rope the Banana Brothers set up). But when the ship hits an iceberg she is happy the circus is there to help fix the ship. This is a cute beginning chapter book. It has an engaging story and lots of illustrations to keep the story moving. I really enjoyed how Klise included illustrations showing conversations between the characters. I think kids will enjoy this book by Kate Klise.
I received this book from Netgalley.
Cory hates being a tooth fairy. She isn’t very good at it and doesn’t enjoy it, but her mom is a tooth fairy and convinced her it was the career for her. When she quits her mom is furious as is the Tooth Fairy Guild. Cory just wants to help people and wants to find a career that will let her do that. She starts taking odd jobs like babysitting (for Humpty Dumpty and the old lady who lived in a shoe), mowing yards (for the three little pigs of course) and doing inventory (for the lady selling seashells on the seashore). She also starts setting up her friends on dates trying to find them the perfect match. The Tooth Fairy Guild does not take quitters lightly and starts a campaign of harassment that follows Cory wherever she goes. They send rain and gnats and crabs and the big bad wolf. None of it convinces Cory that she should go back to being a tooth fairy. As the harassment escalates so does her determination to find something truly helpful to do.
I had high hopes for this book as I really enjoy fractured fairy tales, but this book was a bit of a disappointment. I liked the fact that we got to see such a nice mixture of fairy tale characters, but I wanted more of a story. The story itself seems very disjointed with Cory moving from one odd job with a fairy tale character to another. The only truly cohesive thing seems to be the harassment by the TFG, but even that seems a bit extreme. I liked the ending and how Cory’s matchmaking desires finally makes sense but I also thought it was a bit rushed. There was a lot of story about Cory babysitting and such but very little about what happens when she finds her true calling.
Rose is on the autism spectrum with Asperger’s. She is obsessed with rules, prime numbers and homonyms. She gets upset when people don’t follow the rules or when she has problems understanding something. The adults in her life respond to her in different ways. Her father doesn’t understand and all and gets angry at her when she does not respond in a normal way. Her teacher and aide try to help her through difficult situations at school. It is her uncle Weldon who truly understands and accepts Rose. Their relationship is the heart of this story and one that grounds Rose and helps her live as normal a life as possible. Her father gave her a dog one evening which she named Rain. Rose loves the fact that both of their names are homonyms (rose/rows and rain/reign/rein). A hurricane strikes their New York town and her father lets Rain out into the storm. Rain disappears and Rose does everything she can think of to find him. She calls shelters and gets her uncle to help her search. When they finally do find Rain their joy is tempered by bad news. Rose has to find the courage to do the right thing and accept the reality of the situation.
I really only remember Ann Martin for her Babysitter’s Club books (which I was obsessed with as a kid). I hadn’t read a book by her in years and have to admit that I was very pleasantly surprised by this one. Rose is written so realistically that at times it is almost painful to read her story. Probably almost as painful as it would be to watch it unfold in real life. She does truly try to life as normal a life as possible, but she doesn’t always respond in the normal ways. Her meltdowns feel real and natural as does her confusion over the actions of others. I think this is an eye-opening look at what a person with Asperger’s goes through and how they think and react to situations. It was wonderful and truly worthy of the praise it is getting. The ending alone is enough to break your heart and make you want to give Rose a huge hug.
Albie is a boy in fifth grade who has issues. He doesn’t do well in school. He is so bad in fact he was kicked out of his fancy prep school and sent to public school instead. He isn’t good at math or reading or spelling or art. His parents expect a lot more from him; his dad expects perfection, but Albie is just not able to deliver. He isn’t cool or smart and doesn’t have many friends. His new babysitter Calista helps though. She tries to help him study and does fun things with him. His parents are distant and don’t really seem to have a lot of time for him. Albie spends the school year trying to figure things out and figure out his place in the world.
I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand I really liked the fact that Albie was just your average kid. He wasn’t super talented or super smart or super anything. In fact he was pretty much the opposite. He struggles with school. He struggles with making friends. Things are hard for him and they don’t get miraculously better at the end of the book. On the other hand I had a really hard time with this story. Albie’s parents are horrible with unreal expectations for him (which could be very realistic) and with little time or interest in Albie. They make no effort to find out what is going on with him or what he is having problems with or even what he likes. My biggest issue was probably Albie himself though. At one point Albie is tested for dyslexia and finds out he doesn’t have it, but he clearly has something. He is very immature for a fifth grader, he doesn’t pick up on social clues that most kids his age would clearly understand and he has a lot of problems learning. I think a lot of kids reading this book will be frustrated by Albie and the fact that he is so clueless about things. When the bully Darren starts being nice to Albie most kids will instinctively know that Darren can’t be trusted. He is clearly trying to get close to Albie because his friend is on a reality TV show. But Albie thinks he is suddenly cool and tries to help another “uncool” friend become cool. I can’t imagine any fifth grader acting like this. It seems more like the behavior of someone in third grade. I think the message of this book is good though. It is all about accepting yourself for who you are and realizing that not everyone is a superhero or has special powers. It was just a bit of a mixed bag for me though.
At some point in our future the Great Distortion takes place and the world is unstuck from time. What does this mean? It means that different eras/time periods co-exist throughout the world. You have the Prehistoric Snows in Canada, Late Patagonia in South America, the 40th Age in the Philippines area and here in the United States you have New Occident in the east and the Baldlands in the west. Some areas are so disrupted they are closed, but many others are open to exploration and trade. Sophia lives with her uncle in Boston in New Occident. Her parents were explorers who disappeared when she was three. Uncle Shadrack is one of the foremost cartologers (mapmakers) in the world and is teaching her about maps. Then Shadrack is kidnapped and leaves a message for Sohpia to find Veressa. She teams up with Theo and heads off to the Baldlands. Turns out Shadrack was kidnapped by the mysterious Blanca and her Sandmen. She wants Shadrack to help her find the carta mayor, the water map of the world, and revise it so the world is whole again. Everyone meets up in the Baldland capital of Nochtland, but there they discover that the world is not static like they thought. A glacier age is making its way north and wiping out every other age it crosses. Sophia, Theo, Shadrack and the friends they have made have to figure out how to stop it and stop Blanca.
So if the description confuses you, you are not alone. This is a very complex story that while fascinating requires a suspension of belief to enjoy. The description of the world is amazing, but it really doesn’t answer a lot of questions. For instance, no one knows what age the great disruption occurred in; however, there are ages from the distant past and the distant future. How can there be an age from a future after the great disruption if the great disruption occurs? Why are some ages closed and others open? Why can you travel and trade among some but have no idea what is going on in others? If this is earth, why are there people with feathers or metal bones? How can ages move and expand? It kind of makes your head hurt when you think about it. I think one of my biggest headaches was the language. There are lots of made up words that are like our words but not. Things like Baldlands (which I always read as Badlands) and cartologer (which I read as cartographer). It made a confusing story even more confusing. There is also the issue of the maps. Seems in this world you can make way more than paper maps. There are water maps, glass maps, cloth maps, metal maps and these maps contain not just geographical features but memories from people. No explanation on how these maps were created or how people learned to make them. Of course there was no explanation on the carta mayor and how and why it was created either.
Then you have the book itself. It is rather long and the age it is aimed at is questionable. It is complicated and has some nasty bits (torture and such) which seem to point towards a more teen reader, but the main character is obviously young and there is no romance between Sophia and Theo which points toward a more middle grade reader. I’m not really sure who I would recommend this book to. Of course there is the story itself which got even more far-fetched the longer it went along while at the same time remaining completely predictable. That isn’t to say I didn’t like the book or enjoy it. I couldn’t put it down and really wanted to know how everything ended up. I was disappointed by the ending and still very confused when I finished.
Sammy wants nothing more than to have a puppy. Unfortunately, he is stuck with Max, a smelly mutt his sister brought home. Even though Max is loyal and well trained, Sammy doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. Sammy starts working as a dog walker at CountryWood, the nearby gated community. He has to earn the money for the puppy himself. His single-mom doesn’t have any extra money for a puppy and doesn’t want one since they have Max. At CountryWood, Sammy has to deal with bully Justin who terrorizes him every time he is walking the dogs.
I’m not sure why this book took me so long to read since it is less than 200 pages. It was a nice story about a boy learning to appreciate what he has. I also liked the fact that Sammy’s friends are a nice mix of cultures and personalities. I just found the book to be a bit heavy-handed in its message. I also found Sammy to be a bit selfish and self-absorbed. I identified more with poor Max than with any of the people characters. I am sure it will find appreciative readers, but I wasn’t one of them.
This is the second book in the last but not least series. Lola Zuckerman is always last in line and doesn’t like it. Her parents are both out of town and her grandma is staying with her and her brother Jack. She is also having a bad week at school. Her best friend Amanda is spending more time with friend stealer Jessie. New girl Savannah is also trying to butt in. Lola keeps doing mean things and getting in trouble. The girls are alternatively nice and mean to each other and no one comes off perfectly nice in this book. It is a good story for those beginning chapter book readers even if it is a little long for that type of book. That is my main complaint about the book. The characters are in second grade and the book is clearly geared towards that age group yet it is a whopping 195 pages. It is a much better story than the first one of the series and hopefully the author will keep getting better.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley.com.
Strike!: The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights details the history of the farm workers struggle that started in California with the grape workers. These workers were generally migrants who travelled northward through California as the grape harvest came in. The Filipino and Chicano workers were not paid very much and their living conditions were deplorable. In the 1960s, two dynamic leaders started organizing the workers and trying to get them better working conditions. Cesar Chavez worked with the Chicano workers and Larry Itliong worked with the Filipino. They eventually banded together to form the United Farm Workers of America Union and led a successful strike and boycott of the industry. Their efforts took many years, but they showed through peaceful, nonviolent means that they could accomplish their goals. This book is an excellent source for kids to learn about the creation of unions and the conditions workers had to endure. It offers a wonderful historical perspective on what was going on in the agriculture sector during the 20th century.
Things are not going well for Celie. She is fighting with her former best friend Lulu and she doesn’t even know why. She and Lulu have to attend Friendship Forward to work on their problems. Her big sister is friends with mean Trina, who Celie can’t stand. Her grandma is acting strange and her parents are worried. Celie has been spying on everyone and keeping secrets. Celie is keeping track of everything in her top-secret diary and spy notebook. There is a lot going on after all and she doesn’t want to forget anything. I thought Celie was a fun character and would appeal to girls starting to read chapter books. She is dealing with real world problems that a lot of young kids have to deal with: friends, siblings, parents and grandparents. I did think the book would appeal to younger readers, maybe early elementary grades. Even though Celie is 10, I think a lot of 10-year-olds will be beyond this book. Would probably appeal more to 8-9 year olds.
I have never heard of Pellagra or the fact that it was an epidemic in this country in the first half of the 20th century. After reading this book I am pretty happy that it is not a disease we need to worry about any longer. This book was so very interesting. I love learning about new things; I also really like reading about disgusting things. Pellagra is a disease that was around Europe for hundreds of years before appearing in the United States in the 1900s. It was believed the disease was caused by eating bad corn products which is why it affected mostly poor people in the South. They lived on grits and cornmeal and little else. Pellagra caused the four Ds: dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia and death. It killed between 1 in 10 and 6 in 10 people affected. It took almost 40 years of investigations by multiple doctors to figure out what really caused Pellagra and how to treat it. Dr. Joseph Goldberg worked on the Pellagra problem for over 15 years and was the one who discovered that it was a lack of niacin in the diet that caused the problem. Because of his work with the Public Health Services that our grain products are now fortified with vitamins and minerals to decrease the chances of diseases caused by dietary deficiencies. This was a truly fascinating book.
The Quirks are not your normal family. Mrs. Quirk can influence your thinking by looking you in the eye. Grandpa can skip time. Grandma is a tiny little fairy. Young Finn is invisible unless he has gum in his mouth. Penelope can make things just by thinking of them. Only Molly is normal though she is immune to everyone else’s quirks. The Quirks have only been in Normal a short time and hope to not move again any time soon (they always have to move when their quirks cause too much commotion). However, their neighbor Mrs. DeVille is snooping around and the Quirks are afraid she is going to cause trouble for them. They are also enjoying the fact that they are getting circus lessons at school and may get to perform in front of the entire town. The Quirks are fun and quirky and they don’t want anyone to find out how unique they are. I thought this was a fun book with a lot of character. The Quirks are entertaining and unusual. I didn’t realize this was the second book in the series, but I don’t think it detracted from the story. I think kids will enjoy this unique series.