Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Almost Home by Joan Bauer

Almost HomeSugar is an intelligent and kind young girl, but her mother can't pay the mortgage on the house. Her absent father is addicted to gambling and racked up debts that cause the bank to take their home away. A stranger gives Sugar a puppy, she calls him Shush, even though Sugar's family doesn't have money to care for it. Sugar's mom takes them to Chicago where she hopes to get a cleaning job and temporary housing with a cousin. The job and housing fall through, Sugar's mom is sent to a mental hospital, and Sugar is sent to a foster home. The foster home is wonderful for Sugar, and her mom is slowly getting better. Things seem to be looking up until her dad comes back into the picture. Sugar's mom thinks the father will solve all of their problems, but their future is very uncertain.

This book addresses the topics of homelessness, foster care, and divorce. The plot shows how complicated these matters can be and how they can harm good people. Sugar's character is very sweet and kind. She is strong-willed, but her mother's issues test her limits. Foster care doesn't always get a good rap, so it was nice to see Sugar end up in a loving home. Sugar's mother was pushed to the point of a breakdown, and her faith in her husband let her down. Be careful what you wish for.

Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917 by Sally M. Walker

Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917World War I is happening in Europe, but its effects are still felt in North America. A large ship, the Mont-Blanc, is modified so sparks won't set off the tons and tons of explosives stored inside. The ship travels to Nova Scotia, hoping to find an escort across the Atlantic Ocean. The entrance to the harbor is narrow, so special pilots are needed to lead ships in and out. On December 6, 1917, terrible mistakes are made. Another ship collides with the Mont-Blanc and starts a fire. The crew is able to escape in time, but the fire detonates the second largest man-made explosion of all time. The devastation didn't stop there.

This book is non-fiction. It contains many facts and truthful accounts of the catastrophe, but the author includes information about real people to humanize the topic. Some of these people survive the explosion, but others do not. It always amazes me to read about disasters that are caused by real people making stupid decisions. Safety precautions were in place, but two other ships not following the rules started the fateful chain of events.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Notes From the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick

Notes from the Midnight DriverAlex takes his mom's car one night and crashes into a yard gnome down the street. The judge sentences him to one hundred hours of community service, and he is sent to a retirement home and paired with a man named Sol. Sol has trouble breathing, but he's healthy enough to tease, insult, and play pranks on Alex. Alex regularly writes letters to the judge, and he asks her to let him switch to someone else. However, as time goes on, he learns to enjoy his time with Sol and asks the judge to let him continue volunteering after his time is up. Sol is pleased when Alex brings his best friend, Laurie, for a visit, but Alex's life changes after his benefit concert at the home. His relationships with Sol, Laurie, and his parents will never be the same.

The highlights of the story can be found in Sol and Alex's characters. Sol is a mischievous, old man, but his humor masks the pain he feels from not seeing his grown daughter. He realizes his life has some important similarities with Alex's life which may be why they get along. Alex starts the book with a lot of anger and learns to change during his time with Sol. The plot addresses a wide range of emotions, and readers can learn lessons in caring and forgiveness.

The Battle of Jericho by Sharon Draper

The Battle of Jericho (Jericho, #1)Jericho and his cousin, Josh, are invited to become members of the Warriors of Distinction. The Warriors are an exclusive, secret club, and they are admired for their charity work. Members of the club form special bonds and enjoy privileges and benefits into adulthood. However, the group demands total loyalty and obedience from its members, and Jericho must prove he has these qualities. Hazing is illegal in Ohio, but the kids take a pledge of silence and cannot talk about the initiation activities. Alex becomes uncomfortable and concerned with the activities, especially when the first female pledge ever is targeted and abused by one of the Warriors. Alex and Josh must make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives, but will it be too late?

A warning, this book is for a more mature reader than most of my other posts. It's not that anything is overly inappropriate, but the characters are all high school students dealing with a pretty serious topic. Hazing is illegal for good reasons, and this book teaches a valuable lesson about peer pressure. Some of the activities are disgusting, but the author shares them to make a point. Most people are forced to make decisions that test their values and common sense, but hazing takes it to the extreme. Hopefully, this book will help readers think before doing anything stupid and possibly save some lives.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

2014 Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Winner!!!


The winner of the 2014 Cybils Award in middle grade fiction is... Nickel Bay Nick!!! 

Remember, we really considered if kids will like these books when choosing the finalists, unlike some other book awards. You can find my reviews for all of the finalists by clicking on the titles below:

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern at Sovern's website

Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj at Bajaj's website

Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson at Johnson's website

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander at Alexander's Facebook page

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman at Dairman's website

Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart at Gephart's website

Nickel Bay Nick by Dean Pitchford at Pitchford's website

To see finalists in all categories, click on the following link:
2014 Cyblis Finalists

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Code Orange by Caroline B. Cooney

Code OrangeThink of all those diseases in the past that ravaged countries and killed millions of people. Mitty's science class is doing research on some them, and Mitty's mom offers him an old medical book to use. He finds an envelope inside that says it contains scabs from small pox victims in the early 1900's. Mitty's not normally a reliable student, but something about this disease interests him; there haven't been any cases of it in a couple of generations. He reads about the symptoms and history of small pox, and he discovers there really isn't a treatment for it. As days go by, Mitty realizes he may have been exposed to the virus, and he may be endangering everyone he meets, including his girlfriend. His problems become even worse when he searches for help on the Internet.

The idea of the book touches the fears of many Americans as terrorists threaten the world. Mitty is a likable, realistic character; he could be a teenager in any family. The author provides side comments about the virus in Mitty's body, so you will know what's happening before he does. The chapters contain a great deal of non-fiction reading about small pox, and this may turn off some readers. The twist in the plot after Mitty sent emails for help on the Internet was unexpected.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

Hattie Big Sky (Hattie, #1)Hattie's uncle leaves her his claim for a ranch on the plains of Montana. The little shack isn't much of a house, but she's determined to plant crops and get a fence built in order to keep the property. Her best friend from home is fighting the Germans in World War I, but there's a war brewing in Vida, Montana too. Perilee, Karl, and their kids are Hattie's best friends on the prairie, but a local group is angry about Karl's German heritage. And Hattie finds trouble, because she likes her neighbors. Fences are knocked down, mysterious fires are set, and threats are made. These dangers just add to her farming problems due to drought, heat, and insects. Her efforts will result in failure if she can't find some way to save the farm.

Be prepared to experience a wide range of emotions as you read this book. You'll admire Hattie's courage as she struggles to save the farm. You'll be angry with the meanness of some neighbors and their prejudiced ways. You'll be happy with Hattie's sense of humor and her interactions with the kids. And there will be sadness due to unexpected tragedies. It's unusual to read about the war with Germany from a setting in Montana, but the story works. I recommend it.