Edmund Lonnrot is a middle school student at a prestigious school in New York. He is in danger of going to public school after his dad loses his job. Edmund definitely doesn’t want that to happen. One afternoon while he and his dad are getting ice cream they become witnesses to an assault. Edmund’s photographic memory allows him to accurately draw a picture of the assailant. Turns out the guy is part of an art thief gang that the police are trying to catch. Suddenly, Edmund’s skills are in demand to help identify the gang members and catch them before they pull off their heist. Edmund becomes Eddie Red and starts spending a lot of time in museums. Eddie feels like the police are keeping information from him so he enlists the help of his friend Jonah to solve the case. Turns out the police are way off base so it is up to Eddie and Jonah to stop the thieves.
There was something a bit old-school about this caper that I really enjoyed. I liked that Eddie and Jonah had to be as smart as the thieves to figure out what was going on. I thought it was interesting how misguided and resistant the police were to Eddie’s help, but I guess I wouldn’t want a kid telling me how to do my job either. I appreciated the fact that Eddie’s parents were in the picture and actually interested in what he was doing. That was a nice change from so many middle grade books where the parents always seem to be either dead or absent. This book sets up the Eddie Red series nicely and I am sure fans will be eagerly awaiting the next installment.
Casey Snowden loves baseball. His dad and granddad run the third best umpire school in the country (out of three). He likes nothing better than seeing the students come in, getting back together with the instructors and You Suck Ump Day. This year the ump school coincides with Casey starting middle school. Casey loves baseball but doesn’t want to play or be an ump, he wants to be a sports reporter. Now that he is in middle school he thinks he’ll get the chance to write for the school newspapers. His hopes are dashed when he is told that sixth graders don’t get to write. They have to pay their dues by selling ad space before they become reporters. Casey doesn’t want to give up his dreams and works hard to come up with the most amazing story ever to get in the paper. Things aren’t going so well at home either. Fewer students have signed up for umpire school this year, which means some of the instructors haven’t been rehired either. Casey has to plan You Suck Ump Day himself with the help of his best friend. Casey’s mom is also back in the picture. She left them for Bob the Baker and has been absent for a while. Casey is still mad at her and wants nothing to do with her, but his dad is forcing him to spend time with mom.
There is a lot going on in this book which makes it pretty heavy at times. Casey seems to go from one issue to the next: school problems, bullies, financial problems at home, mom issues, questions about whether dad is moving the school to Florida. All the issues fit into the story, but because there is so much going on it feels like nothing is ever truly developed well. Maybe with fewer issues, the ones remaining could have been truly fleshed out. I liked the uniqueness of the umpire school. I’ve never even heard of it or read anything with it as a subject. I really liked the relationship between Casey and his best friend. It added a lot of humor to the otherwise kind of heavy story.
Annie is on her way to see her dying grandmother who she has never met. Grandma Mary lives in an empty hotel and is a mean, cranky woman. During a storm, Annie travels back in time to 1937 and meets her grandma as a young girl. Mary goes by Molly and is locked in the “lonely room” because she has asthma and her parents don’t want her to die. Molly is unhappy and a bit self-centered until Annie arrives. Annie helps Molly escape the room and they go on adventures throughout the town: roller-skating in Woolworths, experiencing a fair on the docks, traveling through the laundry chute and the dumb waiter at the hotel. As much as Annie enjoys getting to know her grandma and experiencing 1937, she really just wants to get back to her own time and mom.
This book has a bit of The Secret Garden and a bit of The Magic Half and a bit of Eloise. It was a fun historical read with a time travel twist. I loved the setting of the hotel and all the mischief the girls could get into. I do wish there would have been a bit more about the historical time period. It is set in the Great Depression, which Molly being a rich, white girl doesn’t really experience. The girls notice it more on their trips out in town, but it is barely mentioned at all. Molly seems to have lots of money to spend, but no concept of how much things are actually worth, which makes sense when you realize she has never been out of her room. I enjoyed the book overall, but just wanted a little bit more from it.
Tom and Eddie are very special twins. Tom lives on EarthOne in 2012, Eddie lives on EarthTwo in 1958. They are half-aliens and have telepathic powers. They are the Earths’ only hope for survival because the aliens want to destroy both worlds. There is no mention of the mother, but Tom/Eddie’s father and grandfather are both aliens who happen to be able to be in two places at once. Eddie comes to EarthOne and the twins and their friends embark on a tour to promote TechOff! Day. Of course the men in black are after them because they think the twins know about the aliens. People keep disappearing off the tour with no explanation. There are car chases, Guantanamo style torture of kids, alien rescues, displays of telepathic power and a spaceship chase into space. All of this adds up to one crazy story that makes little sense. It is told from multiple points of view which lead to a less than cohesive narrative. I think everyone got a chapter and was surprised when the dog didn’t. I think the book would have been stronger if told in a third person narrative that gave more cohesion to the story instead of multiple first person narratives. As it was there was a lot of tell and very little show to the book. I haven’t read the first book and maybe that would have cleared up some of the mess. But this book does claim to be a stand alone novel. The story was so implausible and senseless that it was difficult to read. The aliens created EarthTwo as a type of experiment; cloning the planet and putting it 60 years in the past. Yet they take no responsibility for it and their interest really isn’t explained. The whole men in black scenario was so ridiculous I felt like I was reading a mish-mash of bad scifi movie plots. This is definitely a story you can pass on.
Ahh, the joys of working in a public library. You just never know what kind of crazy, sweet, angry, beautiful people you are going to encounter day to day. Gina Sheridan has collected stories about her experiences working in the library in this little gem of a book. I really enjoyed the fact that she categorized the stories by the Dewey Decimal System. While my experiences are not the same as Sheridan’s I can definitely relate to them. Public libraries are open to the public and that just means anyone and everyone can be there. Some days are a delight when you find the right book for a patron or help them with a sticky problem. Other days are a chore when you get yelled at or sneezed on or have to deal with too many frustrating situations. Each day is different and makes coming to work interesting.
Thianna is half giant half human and doesn’t feel like she fits in with her giant family. She is picked on because she is only seven feet tall instead of the normal 18 feet. Because of this she has become stronger and more sneaky than a regular giant. Karn is a twelve-year-old human who just wants to play his Thrones and Bones board game. He doesn’t want to learn to run the farm like his father, he doesn’t want to learn to barter or do anything. Thianna and Karn meet when their fathers gather to trade. Soon after they both end up on the run and relying on each other for survival. Karn is tricked by his greedy uncle into releasing draugs (zombies) which ends up with his father being turned to stone and his uncle in control of the farm. Thianna is being pursued by three women on wyverns who are after something her mother stole. Their journey across the country brings them closer together and makes them realize just how strong they really are. Karn learns that the strategy he employs playing Thrones and Bones can be used in real life. Thianna learns that her mixed heritage comes in handy in many ways. Together they must find a way to defeat their enemies and save their families.
I had really low expectations for this book (not sure why) when I started it. Those expectations were quickly blown away by the extremely interesting world Lou Anders has created. I loved the mixture of fantasy elements and Scandinavian history. I also really enjoyed Thianna’s character. She is such a strong female who takes pride in her strength and resilience. Karn took a little while to grow on me. I wanted him to look up from his board game long before he did, but he too became a strong character to cheer for. It was a fun story and I look forward to the sequel.
Charlie Gaines is a HUGE football fan. He loves everything about the game even if he doesn’t think he plays that well. He is best friends with Anna who is the granddaughter of Joe Warren, the owner of their beloved L.A. Bulldogs. Even though the Bulldogs aren’t doing very well, Charlie and Anna still cheer for them every game day. Charlie is also a fantasy football master. His picks for his fantasy teams always win. Anna convinces him to start a podcast where he can share all his football knowledge. She also convinces him to tell Joe what he thinks about the Bulldogs. This leads to the Bulldogs signing two of the players Charlie suggests. Suddenly Charlie is thrust into the spotlight and made out to be a football boy wonder.
Usually I don’t enjoy sports books very much, but this one really captured my attention. Sure I had no idea what was going on when Lupica was describing football plays, but I really didn’t care. It was the human part of this story that was so enjoyable. Charlie is a truly likeable character with his strengths and his weaknesses. Charlie doesn’t have a father so his growing friendship with Joe was really touching. I also liked Anna a lot. She was a strong female in a male dominated sport. She knew just as much as Charlie about football and wasn’t afraid to let him know it. This is a very strong story about following your heart, sticking with your gut and being a good friend. I think sports fans and non-sports fans alike can find something to like here.
The fairy tale villains want to change the endings of their stories. They are tired of good always winning. So they concoct a plan to kidnap Santa and force the heroes to give up their endings. They have Rumpelstiltskin as their inside man posing as an elf and an evil queen, a witch and a giant to do the kidnapping. Of course things don’t turn out like they planned at all. This is a fun little Christmas tale. I enjoy fractured fairy tales and this was pretty inventive. It is short and very readable so kids could read it very quickly or it could be read aloud at Christmas time.
Ali is determined to raise her flock of fairies and get her wish. She wants to be smarter so she won’t be compared unfavorably to her sister anymore. Raising fairies isn’t easy however. There are lots of rules that have to be followed and you have to feed them constantly. What do fairies eat? Hair of course. That is why you must wear your hair up in a bun and spray it with hairspray so the fairies don’t get your hair. Ali doesn’t know it but the fairies have a plan of their own. They don’t want to be tied to children and hair anymore and just need a few more flocks to complete their plan. Ali learns that all is not as it seems. Breaking fairy rules have consequences like being turned into a fairy slave. Ali must convince her friends to stop the fairies and free the slaves. This was definitely not my favorite book. I thought the concept was kind of clever but the execution was a bit tedious. I really didn’t want to finish the book and ended up skimming the last third of it to see how it all turned out. I think the story could have been streamlined a bit to make it more readable.
Luno comes from a long line of Zorgoochi. They have been in the pizza business for generations, delivering pizza across the galaxy. Luno finally gets to start delivering and his first deliveries are doozies. He doesn’t make it back with many tips, but he does seem to improve his skills. Zorgoochi deliveries are dogged each step of the way by Quantum Pizza who wants to take over all the pizza business in the universe. Luno must find the golden anchovy and save his family before the evil Quantum completes its takeover. This was a silly book, but fun. I can see where fans of Captain Underpants will be comfortable moving on to this book. It was a bit too far off the believable spectrum for me to truly enjoy, but it had its moments.
I really wish I had been snowed in while reading this book. I would have been the perfect book to be reading while cozy on the couch with a quilt and hot chocolate as the world turned white outside. As it wasn’t snowing, I still enjoyed my couch and quilt while reading this book. Greenglass House is a hard book to categorize as it seems to shift about or meander every which way depending on its mood. I had a hard time pinning down if it was set in the real world or an alternative and whether it is in the past or the present. But in the end it did not matter. I enjoyed Milo’s story thoroughly and would definitely recommend it.
Milo lives with his adoptive parents in Greenglass House, an inn that caters to smugglers and is difficult to get to. He is looking forward to a quiet Christmas with just mom and dad. Then the guests start arriving, one after another. Milo’s quiet Christmas disappears as a strange group takes up residence in the inn. The cook is recalled along with her daughter and granddaughter, Meddy. Milo and Meddy are the only kids in the house and on their own for a lot of the time. Meddy introduces Milo to a role playing game and they don their new identities of Negret and Sirin. These new identities come in handy when items start disappearing from the guests and someone starts sabotaging the inn. They must figure out who the guests really are, what they are looking for at the inn, and who is behind the thefts.
I think the thing I enjoyed the most was Milo’s transformation throughout the book. He goes from being a quiet, unassuming boy to a confident detective. He gains confidence in himself and his place in the world through the investigation and Meddy’s influence. I also liked that his parents are present and an active part of his life. He is adopted and that fact weighs on him but never makes him doubt his place in the family. This is a longer book and because it doesn’t fit with conventional genres may lose some readers, but those who stick with it are in for a treat.
Segregation and racism were alive and well during WWII. That didn’t stop thousands of young black men from joining the military to fight for their country. Almost all of these men were assigned menial jobs and deemed not fit for combat. In the Navy, that meant stateside duties instead of serving on ships. This book is about the group of men who loaded ammunition onto war ships at Port Chicago. They were all black with white officers. The men had no training in munitions or ship loading. The conditions were dangerous and that danger caught up to the port one evening. On July 17, 1944 the port exploded killing over 300 soldiers. It destroyed two ships and the entire port. Every man in the port area died. Those on the base that survived were not very happy about going back to work after the disaster. This is the story of the 50 men who refused to load ammunition again. They were charged with mutiny and went on trial. The trial found them all guilty of mutiny even though it didn’t seem like their actions fit the definition of mutiny. There were even men charged who refused to load munitions because they weren’t capable and had never loaded before: a cook, an injured man, an underweight man. Didn’t seem like it mattered why they refused the order they were still charged. Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP became involved in the case and tried to get the charges dropped on the basis of racism, but were unsuccessful. Even though this case made the Navy rethink its segregation policies and eventually led to the integration of the Navy, the men’s records were never cleared of the charges. It is a sad part of our history and one Sheinkin did a fabulous job covering. Highly readable with lots of interesting information.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias was a sports wonder. She excelled at pretty much any sport she attempted: basketball, running, high jump, bowling, golf. You name it and she probably tried it. She was a brash, outspoken, driven person who didn’t always make friends with her competitors or teammates. She had to overcome huge odds to make it in the sports world at a time when women were not thought to be athletically talented. I am not a sports person and had never heard of her before reading this book. I feel like I should have. She opened doors for women athletes and showed that women are just as good if not better than men!
Tucker thought life would be so much better after he created comic hero h2o’s new sidekick in a contest. But things at school are the same as ever. He is still bullied by super-jock Wesley and his minions. The art club is losing members and its one and only bulletin board. Tucker has to somehow make the Art Club popular so it won’t get cancelled. He convinces the principal to let them have a pep rally. The pep rally is awesome until the sports teams highjack it. Next, Tucker starts distributing comic panels of his Beanboy superhero fighting for the arts. To his surprise, the students start really responding to Beanboy, but that doesn’t help the Art Club. Then Tucker gets the bright idea to enter the school dodge ball contest. He just has to convince his fellow art clubbers to do it and get them good enough to win against the jocks. He gets help from surprising places and learns more about himself and his friends.
I have not read the first Beanboy book, but that didn’t stop me from really enjoying this one. I will admit that I didn’t really have high expectations for this one. I thought it would be along the lines of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Middle School books, but it was much better than that. Tucker’s story was inspiring and highly enjoyable. I found myself cheering for the art club kids and hoping that would triumph in the end. This is definitely a story about the little guy coming out on top, triumphing over the popular bully. I enjoyed it and I hope kids will as well.
Sniffer Dogs is a delightful little book about working dogs. Nancy Castaldo does a great job illustrating the different jobs a dog’s nose is perfect for. Dogs can be trained to sniff out bombs, arson, people, dead bodies, and even illness. I really enjoyed the stories about actual working dogs and their partners. This book is kid friendly with lots of pictures and pop-outs of dogs, short chapters and lively text.
It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while you read a book and it just blows you away. I really enjoy novels in verse even though I don’t enjoy poetry like I probably should. I love how authors who write novels in verse can get across so much information with so few words. Sometimes novels in verse read like short prose paragraphs, but the truly great ones highlight different styles of poetry and draw the reader in completely. Kwame Alexander’s Crossover has been getting a lot of buzz lately and all of it is well deserved. The Crossover is a potent novel that draws readers in and doesn’t let them go.
Josh and JB are twin brother and the stars of their middle school basketball team. Their mom is the assistant principal at their school and their dad is a former basketball star and olympian. The Crossover is told through Josh’s voice as he practices his mad rap skills on and off the basketball court. He is your typical 13-year-old boy with a lot of the same concerns and issues most boys his age deal with. He is cocky about his basketball skills, he is jealous when JB gets a girlfriend and starts spending more time with her, he is concerned about his dad’s health. Things come to a head with JB when Josh takes his frustration and anger out on the basketball court. Concerns about his dad get more real when he realizes just how sick his dad potentially is. When dad has a heart attack and is in the hospital Josh and JB have different reactions regarding basketball. Their team is playing the championship game and they have to decide if they are going to play or spend time with dad. It is heartbreaking to watch Josh win the championship at the same time he loses his dad. A truly heartbreaking story.
Dead, dying or sick parents seems to be a trend in middle grade literature right now. The subject makes for really powerful stories as kids have to deal with situations they shouldn’t have to deal with for years. You really don’t expect to lose a parent until you are an adult yourself. So losing one at a young age is horrible and heartbreaking and makes great literature. While The Crossover isn’t really about the aftermath of losing a parent it is an essential part of this story. The dad was the heart of the family and Josh and JB and the mom have to learn to readjust their life with the heart gone.
One of the things I really appreciated about this book was the fact that the poem styles were all over the place. There are lots of different styles here that make this book so much more interesting than if everything was written in the same style. I really liked the poems where Josh described the action on the basketball court. Even though I am not a sports fan, this style really brought the game alive in a way that regular prose would not have been able to. Hopefully the fact that this story is told through poems will not turn young readers off. It is a wonderful story about family and brothers and basketball and loss and growing up. I highly recommend it.
Brandon is a foster kid who is bullied by his teacher, his classmates, his foster mother and the town thugs. He is a dreamer who could care less about school or any of the people around him. He escapes to the woods where he has built a tree house and daydreams about the Green Man. One day he finds an old man asleep at the base of his tree. He believes he has finally found the Green Man and the man goes along with it. Because he has flunked 6th grade, Brandon has to attend summer school where he meets Shae. She is different from all the other kids he knows and he finds himself a little interested in knowing more about her. Together, Brandon, Shae and the Green Man form a family of sorts in the woods where they are safe and loved. But Brandon is beat up terribly by the town thugs who then go after the Green Man. Brandon must find his courage and step up for what is right.
Some people are just lost. They become disconnected from the world and live in their own minds. Brandon is beginning down that path. He can’t seem to find anything worthy in the real world. He wants to live in his idea of a perfect world where nature matters and the Green Man is there to protect the forest and its inhabitants. It is easy to see why he wants to disconnect from the world. He doesn’t know who his parents are; his mom abandoned him as an infant. He has been shuttled around foster homes his whole life. His current foster mom Mrs. Clancy seems to care more about watching tv shows and doing crossword puzzles than paying attention to Brandon. His teacher is a nightmare who bullies him and allows the other students to bully him. The forest is really his only refuge. Shae isn’t quite as broken down as Brandon, but she too has her issues as does Ed Calhoun/Green Man, a Vietnam vet who became a homeless bun, drinking in the park and living in the woods. Together they start to heal each other. The story doesn’t have a happy ending, but it does have a hopeful ending. Hopeful that things will start to get better.
The residents of Spence Mansion are going into the greeting card business. Ghost Olive C. Spence writes the cards and young Seymour Hope illustrates them. The new business came about because author Ignatius B. Grumply started getting letters from an old love who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Nadia S. Richenov is determined to get Ignatius back now that he is a successful author and she is having money troubles. Then there are the two escaped criminals who look a lot like the new couple in town offering home security systems. There is a rash of burglaries but no one will listen when Seymour tries to tell them the truth. Olive brings back her old butler, also a ghost, to act as security at the mansion, but he just drives Ignatius crazy. The book is told through letters, greeting cards, newspaper articles, text messages and notes. I’m not a huge fan of this format as I think it doesn’t do a great job of telling the complete story. However, the book was a fun, quick read with a nice light mystery.
Lucy and Cam want nothing more than to get out of the Sunnyside Trailer Park. Their plan is to compete in the annual BotBlock competition, win $5000 and 15% college tuition. They have a plan to complete their mission that includes raising the admission fee, building and programming their robot and getting to the beachside competition. Lucy wants to escape a mom with manic-depressive disorder who seems to be off her meds and Cam wants to get away from a house filled with children and his mom’s abusive boyfriend. In addition to their problems at home, they are also hassled by a bully at school. Their road to victory is hit with several roadblocks when Lucy’s mama takes them on a runaway roadtrip to escape the authorities.
Mental illness is a hard topic to cover in middle grade fiction. It isn’t often written about and when it is sometimes it is overblown or completely unrealistic. Chasing the Milky Way does not suffer from either of those problems. It is a very realistic look at what it is like to live with a mentally ill parent. Lucy deals with so much more than most kids will ever deal with, but I am sure kids with mentally ill parents will recognize a lot of her story. It is a book that was a bit hard to read because it seemed so realistic. I just knew disaster was around the corner and I kept not wanting it to arrive. I wanted Lucy and Cam to succeed but knew there was very little chance it was going to happen. It was almost like watching a horror movie where you knew the bad guy was going to attack at any moment. You cover your eyes or hide behind the chair and peak out at intervals. That is kind of like how I felt reading this book. Mama is not the bad guy of course, her illness is, but it still felt like it could jump out at you at any moment, which I am sure is how mental illness sometimes feels. This book is going to be a hard sell to a lot of readers, but the ones that tackle it are going to have their eyes open to a world I hope they never experience.
Johnny is a sheep who is left on the doorstep of Mrs. Mutton. She takes him in and raises him like any child. He goes to school and even though he is different he is basically treated like a weird child. This is a collection of three adventures, but really includes several short chapters that can all be read on their own. Graphic novels are extremely popular in the library and I am sure this one is going to find its fans. It is more geared towards beginning chapter book readers than some of the other graphic books I have read. Johnny is in kindergarten and dealing with first year of school type issues: friends, bullies, teachers, parents, etc. It was a light, entertaining read.