Friday, August 29, 2014

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied by Jess Keating

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are UntiedHow cool would it be to have parents who work at a zoo and travel the world working with animals? Not very cool when you're named after a snake, and you're just trying to survive the seventh grade. Ana's best friend moves to New Zealand, and she's left alone to deal with teasing from the snobby girls and other classmates. She's flunking math, she's unprepared for her speech, and she has no idea what to for an art project that represents her own self. She wants to avoid everyone's attention for a few weeks and make it to summer break. Easier said than done. Her world-famous grandfather shows up and wants to put the family in a movie. There's no way Ana is brave enough to make it.

Although the setting is a bit unusual, the author captures the fears and frustrations of middle school girls. Actually, middle school boys have many of the same problems. The supporting characters offer some wonderful personalities, and Ana finds support from some unlikely sources. The book offers a lesson on overcoming your fears and becoming the person you want to be.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Also Known as Elvis by James Howe

Also Known as ElvisThis book is a 2014 release, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Skeezie is thirteen, and he's living with his mom and two little sisters. His mom is working two jobs, so he gets a job at the Candy Kitchen to help pay the bills. Skeezie seems to constantly argue with his mom, and he envies his friends and their family time. Then, his father shows up with a couple of major announcements that will affect Skeezie's life. He tries to talk to his co-worker, his friend, and a popular girl (girlfriend?), and it's all so confusing. He's not sure what to do, but his life will certainly never be the same.

The plot is typical for many books, but it's unusual to be told from a boy's point of view. I haven't read many books that focus on boys' feelings about girls, family, and divorce. Skeezie is upset about being responsible for his sisters, helping to pay bills, and missing his father. He wants to have a normal family life, but it's not that simple. I enjoyed reading about his anger, sadness, and kindness. Action is not found in this plot, but it has very strong character relationships and emotions. The climax and resolution were a little surprising, although I kind of expected them in the back of my mind.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Gollywhopper Games: The New Champion by Jody Feldman

The Gollywhopper Games: The New ChampionThis book is the first in a new series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Cameron wins a chance to compete for one million dollars. It's like the golden ticket in the Willy Wonka story, but there are 900,000 contestants, including Cameron's brother. Each round of the contest requires Cameron to solve puzzles and riddles, and it's all caught on camera. He makes some friends along the way, but some other competitors make things difficult and uncomfortable. Slowly, other kids are sent home, and Cameron gets closer to the  life-changing prize. As a twist, there is a spy who is poisoning the contest.

This book is made for puzzle lovers. Every part of the plot allows readers to see the clues along with the characters and to try coming up with the correct answers. The characters' bonding and conflicts keeps things interesting. The climax was a little surprising, and the resolution was very unexpected.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara Altebrando

The Battle of Darcy LaneThis book is a 2014 release, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Julia's plans for a wonderful summer with her best friend, Taylor, are dramatically changed when a new girl, Alyssa, moves in across the street. Taylor is mean and stuck-up. She puts down Julia whenever she can, challenges Julia to a game called Russia, and Julia's friendship with Taylor is suffering. Then, Julia is confused about her relationship with the boy living behind her home, and her parents are being secretive about why they won't let her move into the extra bedroom. Julia's mom signs her up for two weeks of band camp, the cicadas are coming, and Julia must figure out some way to save her summer.

The author captures the confusing life of a twelve-year-old girl, as her life changes. Friendships are confusing. Am I popular? Does that boy like me? Why are they being mean to me? Will this embarrass me? The resolution of the plot is not 100% happy, but Julia learns some valuable life lessons in the end.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Charlie Bumpers vs. The Really Nice Gnome by Bill Harley

Charlie Bumpers vs. the Really Nice GnomeThis book is a 2014 release, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. Charlie's fourth-grade is putting on the annual play, and he is hoping to get the part of evil sorcerer. He doesn't get the part, and even worse, he must play the part of the nice gnome! It's a boring part, and he needs to be nice. He tries switching parts, changing lines, and even messing up, but nothing works. What else can he do to save himself from embarrassment?

Charlie's character is a normal fourth grader. He has a bossy older brother, a nosey little sister, and he's always trying to get out of walking the dog and picking up "the call of nature". The plot is easy to follow, moves along quickly, and should be enjoyable for younger readers.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Great Green Heist by Varian Johnson

The Great Greene HeistThis book is a 2014 release, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. Gaby is running for school president, and she is unaware her main competition, Keith Sinclair, has bribed the principal to make sure he wins. Jackson, a classmate and complicated "friend", smells a rat and starts to secretly help Gaby.  Jackson has a reputation, rightfully earned, as a schemer and prankster. His Mid-Day PDA embarrassed Gaby a while back, and she hasn't spoken to him since. Jackson now sets plans in motion to help her, but Keith manages to stay one step ahead of him. How can Jackson outfox Keith and still stop the principal from rigging the election. Sounds like it's time for another scheme.

The plot was fun, but it was a bit unrealistic. A principal being bribed to fix a student election? The schemes were entertaining, and I liked Jackson's uncomfortable relationship with Gaby. You know they'll get back together in the end!

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

The CrossoverI found this book on the new releases shelf at my local library, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Josh and his twin brother, JB, are the sons of a former professional basketball player, and they're the stars of their middle school team. They are tight and unstoppable...until a new girl comes to the school. Josh starts to feel abandoned, and the pressure builds when his father refuses to see a doctor about his health. Josh finally loses his cool and must now suffer the consequences.

The book is written in verse, which I don't usually like, but this works. The poetry clearly tells the story, but it allows the author to be more creative as he describes the boys' talents. The plot deals with family and school conflicts, and it focuses on Josh's struggles. His parents want the sons to become responsible young men, which makes the father's behavior ironic. I think all readers can enjoy this book; it doesn't read like a poem. It shares some powerful lessons about life.