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.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman

The Schwa Was Here (Antsy Bonano, #1)This book was recommended by a friend, and I gave it a rating of  four out of five. Antsy Bonano meets a "new" friend named Calvin Schwa, although they've been sitting next to each other in Science all year. Most people have difficulty seeing the Schwa and don't even realize he's standing right next to them. The boys even start making money by using his ability to be virtually invisible. Then, the boys get caught breaking into the house of a mean, old man, and their lives are changed. Instead of having the boys arrested, he forces them to do jobs for him.

The Schwa's ability to be "invisible" makes the plot unique. The boys scientifically test this power, which leads to other antics. The plot changes as Calvin becomes depressed; he wants to find out the truth about his missing mother. This problem gives the book a theme. I don't really like the resolution of the plot, but I get it. Overall, it was a fun book to read.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Anubis Speaks by Vicky Alvear Shecter

Anubis Speaks! A Guide to the Afterlife by the Egyptian God of the DeadThis book is non-fiction, but it reads like a "normal" story. Anubis, Egyptian god of the dead, narrates a guide to the afterlife. He shares information about mummification, rituals, and a journey through the Underworld. You'll learn about the different gods and goddesses, why they used animals as symbols, and why they built the pyramids. But don't let the facts and information scare you; Anubis is a descriptive storyteller. He tells you that mummy wrappings were as long as five football fields, but he also lets you know that the hearts of the damned were chewed up by "Amut's razor-sharp teeth. There was a certain squishiness, a rubber-like smacking..." Their heads were "squeezed in a wine press until they popped like overripe grapes." Pretty detailed, huh!

If you have an interest in mummies, Egyptians, or their rituals, but you don't want to read a boring non-fiction book, check this book out. You'll be entertained by Anubis, Egyptian god of the dead, and you'll learn something along the way.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Cybils

 I was on the panel to choose the finalists in the category of middle grade fiction books! Our list will be out on January 1, 2014. The Cybils are chosen by people who blog about literature for children and young adults. You can find our list of finalists, and finalists in other genres, by clicking on the following link: The Cybils! You can also meet the other panelists in my group and visit their blogs:

Jennifer Donovan at

 Karen Yingling at

 Deb Marshall at

Jennifer Rumberger at

Julie Williams at

Heidi Grange at

Monday, December 9, 2013

Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War by Helen Frost

Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of WarJames and Anikwa, a young boy in the Miami Indian tribe, are friends in 1812 America. They explore the wilderness together, and they try to teach each words from their languages. The Indians and settlers trade goods they each need, and salt is one of them. The friendships are strained when British and Americans armies start heading to the area. Other tribes want to join the British, because they fear the Americans will take away their lands. The Miami tribe is caught in the middle. They don't want to do anything to hurt their settler friends, but they can't fight against their Indian friends. The clock id ticking as the opposing armies draw closer.

The book is written in prose. This may turn off some readers, but it makes the plot move more quickly. I enjoyed the interactions between James and Anikwa, but I could see trouble brewing between them. The other characters created doubt in their minds and innocent events created conflicts.

The Other Side of Free by Krista Russell

The Other Side of FreeThis story takes in the early 1700's, when the British and Spanish were fighting in what is now Florida. Jem flees from Carolina to a camp outside of St. Augustine where slaves and natives are promised protection by the governor and the Spanish army. He wants to join the militia army, but he's told that he's too skinny and weak. One day, Jem finds a baby owl with an injured wing, and he decides to nurse it back to health. With some rocky moments, they seem to become friends, and Jem sets out to teach Omen to fly and hunt. Jem does many things to entertain himself, but it's not always safe with wild animals and the British army lurking. And unbeknownst to the people in the camp, there's also a spy among them.

The plot offers interesting information about colonial times, and the war supplies the element of suspense. Jem is an adventurous character. I enjoyed the author's description of his relationship with Omen, but she also shared Jem's insecurities and his determination. The conflict between England and Spain before the United States became a country is not a common topic of novels.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Waffler by Gail Donovan

The WafflerMonty is a waffler; he's always changing his mind. For example, he can't decide what kind of pet to get, and he changes its name several times after bringing it home. His twin sister, Sierra, and he split time between their mom's and dad's houses each week. Both parents have remarried, and the twins gained a baby sister and an older sister. At school, his teacher puts three embarrassing band-aids on Monty's arm to help him stick to decisions; no waffling! Monty gets assigned a reading buddy from a kindergarten class, but he offers to take on three unofficial buddies who didn't paired up. The teacher doesn't know about this, and it creates problems for Monty. Is this another example of why he's called a waffler?

Monty's life with divorced and remarried parents, his new sisters, and a demanding teacher should appeal to young readers. He's a nice character and really tries to do the right thing. I liked how everything worked out for him in the end.