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.

Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody

Will in ScarletThis is the story of Will Shackley and how he came to join Robin Hood, before he was the famous outlaw, and his merry men. Will's father is a nobleman, but Will is forced to grow up quickly when his father fails to return after a crusade. Another nobleman, Sir Guy, accuses Will of murder and then kills Will's uncle and guardian. Will flees but is found by a band of thieves, so he calls himself Will Scarlet to hide his identity. His life is spared when he says he can guide the thieves into the castle to steal treasure, while Will only wants to return to kill Sir Guy. Will, Rob, John, and Much escape the castle, but they're now criminals wanted by the sheriff, Sir Guy, and Gilbert, the leader of the merry men. Will and the others travel the countryside and steal from the wealthy and greedy, so they may help the poor farmers they find. Eventually, their paths must cross with Sir Guy and the sheriff to settle their conflicts.
I really enjoy these kinds of adventures. The young, brave boy is forced to take on adult problems and becomes a hero in the process. They're underdogs against the armies and forces of their opponents. Much's character also has a secret being kept from the others that you know must eventually come out. Will's character changes and grows as he sees the poverty of the farmers and as he spends more time with Rob, John, and Much. The plot contains a good amount of action and adventure to keep readers entertained..

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cooper & Packrat: Mystery on Pine Lake by Tamra Wight

Cooper and Packrat: Mystery on Pine LakeCooper's family runs a campground by Pine Lake, and a big attraction is the loons that nest on a small island. This year, the water level rises unexpectedly, floods the nest, and ruins the eggs. Cooper and a camper, Packrat, decide to create a floating island where the loons can safely build a new nest. However, not everyone is happy to have the loons around. Somebody intentionally made the water level rise and tore apart the first floating island the boys tried to make. Cooper tries to solve the mystery without the attention of his too-busy parents and his pesky little sister. The lives of the loons and their babies are depending on him.

I like Cooper's new friendship with Packrat and their determination to make things right. Packrat wears a long coat full of all kinds of odd, useful objects that explains his name. Cooper is a nice brother and a loyal son, but he's frustrated that the family business is keeping his parents from spending time with the kids. Broken promises from them causes his little sister to make a possibly fatal decision.

The Short Seller by Elissa Brent Weissman

The Short SellerLindy is in the seventh grade, and she starts feeling tired with a sore throat. It turns out she has mono and strep throat, so she'll be stuck at home for awhile. Her dad asks her to buy stocks, an investment in companies, using the home computer while he's at work. Lindy sees him make hundreds of dollars very quickly, so she gets curious. Her dad lets Lindy invest a hundred dollars in the stock market any way she'd like, and she makes money too. She's starting to get excited about it when it's time to head back to school. However, it looks like things have changed between her best friends, Steph and Howe, and Lindy finds it hard to get used to. Perhaps even worse, Lindy makes a daring plan to make even more money in the stock market, but her parents will kill her if they find out what she's up to.

The stock market may not appeal to most young readers, but I enjoy math. The problem it creates for Lindy is unique, and she manages to make it even worse. The conflict with her friends is more common. Readers who like reading and math may enjoy the story.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Ultra a novel by David Carroll

Ultra-marathon runner David Carroll, a Kennesis Lake cottager, is hoping to inspire young readers to follow their dreams with his new book, Ultra, a novel. Ultra is a fictional book centred around the running event, ultra-marathon. Carroll has competed in the Haliburton Forest Ultra race for five years. He will compete in his sixth on Sept. 7. His book comes out in September.Imagine having a heart that is 20% larger than normal and muscles that don't cramp. This describes Quinn, and he's entered an ultra marathon, running one hundred miles through the wilderness in less than twenty-four hours. He must run over mountains, through forests with bears, cougars, and snakes, and survive the weather. Even a tornado. Along the way, his mind tires, and he starts to hallucinate. The strange dreams are confusing but also provide inspiration. What is the reward for surviving this ordeal? A silver belt buckle. But for Quinn, it may also bring peace of mind.

I was amazed that people would choose to put themselves through one-hundred miles of agony and the fear of getting DNF, did not finish, after their names. The author was able to make running through the wilderness sound interesting, and the hallucinations made me think and added humor. Something was going on with Quinn's father, but that question wasn't answered until the end. Although the whole story is focused on running, even non-runners can find enjoyment in the book.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher

The Wig in the WindowSophie and Grace sneak out in the middle of the night to discover the identity of a serial killer. However, they get side-tracked when they pass the school guidance counselor's house. She's yelling into her cellphone that she'll "rip their throats out" and slams a cleaver into a bag sending red splattering everywhere. The girls are convinced the counselor is a killer, but the police investigate and tell the girls they are wrong. The counselor becomes more involved in Sophie's life, and the girls are still convinced that she's done something wrong. Then, a woman claiming to be an FBI agent tells them a story about the death of eight teenagers in Texas, and she says the counselor was involved. Are the girls making their observations fit their assumptions, or is something totally different going on? They receive a warning that they're in danger, but they ignore it. Bad move!

In the beginning, I felt like this was a silly mystery with girls having overactive imaginations, but it quickly became more serious. Although there was a main suspect, the author made me question the evidence. Then, I questioned it again. The resolution to the mystery was both expected and surprising. You'll need to read the book to see what I mean.

This Journal Belongs to Ratchet by Nancy J. Cavanaugh

This Journal Belongs to RatchetRatchet lives in a small town with her strange father, but she wishes she knew more about her mother, who died when Ratchet was little. Her father moves frequently, fixes cars in the garage with Ratchet's help, and yells at the city council weekly to tell them how they're idiots and should be trying to save nature. Consequently, Ratchet is home schooled and doesn't have any friends. Her father's latest craze is to save the local park, but it just seems to be one more thing to embarrass her. Ratchet's anger grows from loneliness, missing her mom, and her father's secrets. It seems as though things get worse when her father is sentenced to teach a go-cart class at the community center, and the neighborhood boys and girls make even more fun of Ratchet. Finally, Ratchet decides to take over the class and she's determined to uncover the mystery of her mother by herself.

The entire book is composed of different forms of writing as Ratchet completes her assignments. There are free verse poems, narratives, journal entries, and persuasive essays. This format offers a nice variety of writing, and the plot flows along. The author was able create empathy for Ratchet, as she tried to learn about her past and improve her future. The book had an interesting cast of characters with Ratchet, her father, Hunter and his mother, and Eddie J, the adult town bully.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Handbook of Nothin' by N.K. Wright

Handbook of Nothin'Nathan Wright is always messing up, so people called him Nothin' Right. There's a 350-pound goat in the corral that sends him flying whenever he tries to take care of the other animals. He breaks his brother's bike, spills buckets of milk, and gets picked on by bullies. However, he's able to impersonate famous people, seems to have a growing talent for high jumping, and a cute girl may like him. He sent away for a Kung Fu handbook, and it just arrived in the mail. Is this the solution to his problems, or will it make things worse? Real life is a lot different from television and books.

Nathan is an underdog, and it's easy to root for him. The descriptions of his screw-ups are usually humorous, and the on-going battle with the goat is entertaining. His relationship with the cute girl creates some tension for him, but it also helps him to develop some confidence. She believes in Nathan. It was more difficult to follow the plot early in the book, but I enjoyed the book overall.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Summer of the Woods by Steven K. Smith

Summer of the WoodsDerek's family moves to Virginia, so he, along with his brother Sam, have more room to explore the outdoors. The brothers plan an adventure in the woods behind their house, and Sam finds a 1931 wheat penny in the creek. They find out that a previous owner of their home was suspected of stealing rare coins from the local museum. Later, in his house, Derek discovers an 1895 Indian Head cent and a treasure map of a cave. He's determined to find the stolen coins, but searching in caves is very dangerous!

The plot moves quickly, and the events are easy to follow. The book shares historical facts about Virginia, and there's a good deal of information about coin collecting. The parents are very supportive, and the brothers learn something about making good decisions.

Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz

Prisoner B-3087Yanek is living in Poland as the Nazis begin their invasion at the start of World War II. The Jews hope that help will arrive soon, but Yanek's family realizes that they can only remain safe if the Nazis don't find them. This works for awhile, but they're eventually found and sent to prison camps. Yanek ends up alone and understands that he must not care for anyone else if he hopes to survive the camps. The work is hard and many prisoners die from it or are murdered by the guards. It is said that Goeth, one of the prison commandants, won't eat breakfast until he's killed a Jew. Yanek has dreams of escaping, but he is sent to Auschwitz, a legendary death camp. Yanek vows that he will survive and never forget the horrors he has witnessed.

This book recounts the cruelty and fear facing Jews at the hands of the Nazis. The author is able to express the terror, so readers can feel it too. The events are based on true stories which is even scarier. Yanek displays a determination and will to survive that is not seen in many people.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Whistle in the Dark by Susan Hill Long

Whistle in the DarkClem leaves school at the age of thirteen to work in the mines with his father, as is expected. Clem has bigger dreams, but many complications create problems for him. He finds a stray dog (his mother hates dogs), his sister has frequent epileptic seizures, he becomes friends with the scarred, school outcast whose father is an abusive moonshiner, and there's always the risk of cave-ins while underground. It's almost more than Clem can handle. Some major events rock Clem's world, including a death, and he will need to make some life-changing decisions to survive.

I liked the many emotions the author was able to touch throughout the plot. There was joy and sadness, fear and courage, hope and despair. Clem's unlikely friendship with a young girl, with facial scars that resulted in becoming the victim of verbal insults, caused him to reflect on his life and gave him someone else to care for. The dog helped create positive change, but the author included several tragic events that created despair. I thought the book was written well.

The Stormglass Protocol by Tim Pratt and Andy Deemer

The Stormglass ProtocolJake discovers that people are hiding in the abandoned house down the road, and he's even more surprised when they appear in his room that night. Lizzie and Filby are secret agent kids, and Jake has been chosen to join their organization, Stormglass. The kids are investigating the mass deaths of some animals in the park, when Jake discovers a strange-looking bee, dead on the ground. It turns out an evil organization is planning to set genetically-engineered killer bees loose on the world. The trio sets off around the world to stop them, but it looks like there's a mole within Stormglass. And the mole seems to be Lizzie or Filby!

The introduction seems adventurous and interesting. Basically, Jake is taken right off the street and becomes a new secret agent. I found it strange when his parents talked about spies and missions like it happened every day. I guess they must think Jake is making up stories. The plot moves along nicely, and there's a good amount of action. This book will appeal to middle grade readers who enjoy teen spy novels.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Twerp by Mark Goldblatt

TwerpJulian is in the sixth grade and has a close group of friends, especially Lonnie. Julian agreed to write a book to get out of reading Shakespeare, and this book is the result. He talks about playing with fireworks, a conflict with a pigeon, and outrunning cars. But, problems really start when he writes a love letter for Lonnie and gives it to Jillian, the cutest girl in school. Misunderstandings follow. Then, Julian's title as fastest runner may be coming to an end, and something happened to a boy named Danley. Julian was suspended for what he did, and it continues to bother him. The book will help Julian find peace.

Julian is a great character. He's a normal kid trying to do the right thing but still makes mistakes. I can identify with his problems. The early chapters are almost like separate short stories, but the plot is more focused after the letter. The book has a nice message, and Julian's good deeds work out in the end.

Totally Unrelated by Tom Ryan

Totally UnrelatedNeil has been playing Celtic music with his family since he was five years old. Their family band goes on tour every summer, and they've become very popular. Neil's best friend wants to enter a talent show with him, but Neil thinks they need a singer. Then at one of the family performances, Neil meets a girl. Sandy wants to play guitar with him sometime, but Neil discovers that she has a voice too. She agrees to perform in the talent show and starts to have feelings for him. Neil's guitar playing improves as he puts in more practice, but a problem is brewing and may ruin everything.

Celtic music is unusual for a novel, but it's not a problem. The plot moves quickly, and the author was able create an interesting problem. I don't know that I liked Neil's decision, but either way would have had issues. It all worked out in the end.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Power of Two by Lori Sawicki

Jamie is tired of Sadie controlling all of the other girls during sixth grade recess. Sadie appears to be popular, but everyone is afraid to disagree with her and face her bullying. Jamie finally decides to stand up to Sadie and becomes good friends with Pru, a small girl already being targeted by Sadie. The girls start playing lacrosse during recess and hope other boys and girls will join them, however the fear of Sadie still remains. They'll need to try something different. And the situation becomes more complicated when Pru collapses from a food allergy. The fear of losing her best friend takes over all of Jamie's thoughts and emotions.

Bullying by the "popular" kids is not an uncommon issue in schools. This plot describes the difficulty kids have in standing up to them. It also deals with a couple of health problems that face kids, asthma and allergies. Pru's health is a major issue. The inclusion of lacrosse as the new recess sport may turn readers off, or it may make them curious and draw them in.

World War II Pilots by Michael Burgan

World War II Pilots: An Interactive History AdventureThis book is an interactive history adventure; it's a choose your own adventure story. The beginning shares a brief history about the start of the second world war. You can then choose to become a pilot in the Royal Air Force and fight the Germans. You might decide to join the American Air Force to fight the Japanese in the Pacific. Finally, you can opt to join the Tuskegee Airmen, a new force made up of black pilots. From there, you will make decisions that will affect the war and will eventually determine if you survive. You can choose the types of planes you want to fly, which targets to attack, and other options. Sometimes your decisions result in positive consequences, but sometimes you're killed.

These types of books can be quick-reads, but it's always fun to create different stories. This book also lets readers learn about the war and the effect the air force had on its outcome. It's a nice experience.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Ellie McDoodle Diaries: The Show Must Go On by Ruth McNally Barshaw

The Ellie McDoodle Diaries: The Show Must Go OnThe sixth grade at Ellie's school is putting on a play of "The Wizard of Oz", and she is the stage manager. She promises her best friend, Mo, the part of Dorothy, but the adults in charge of casting choose someone else. Now, Mo won't speak to Ellie. Ellie finds that the job of stage manager is more complicated than she expected. She tries everything she to make the play, and her friendship with Mo, work, but things don't go smoothly. Luckily, Ellie has a loyal group of friends who are willing to help.

The plot was easy to follow, and it had a nice message about friendship. The focus of the plot was on the play, and it provided some drama and humor. I enjoyed Ellie's brothers. Her older brother had creative ideas for different projects, and her younger brother saved the day for opening night.

The Hidden Summer by Gin Phillips

The Hidden SummerNell and Lydia are best friends, but Lydia's mom says they cannot see each other for a couple months, or more. It seems the mothers can't get along. Nell gets an idea for the girls to spend summer days together, living at the abandoned golf course next door. The girls pretend to be going to camp and summer school each day, but they return home each evening. Things seem to be going along well until the girls suspect that someone else has been coming to the golf course too.

The idea of girls hiding in an abandoned putt putt course all day makes an interesting conflict. Their friendship is admirable, and Nell's plan is creative. Both girls have issues with their mothers. Nell feels like her mother doesn't want her, and her mother has a bit of a temper. Lydia feels like her mother ignores her. The girls' plan is adventurous, but can it help them fix their lives at home?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

All That's Missing by Sarah Sullivan

All That's MissingArlo lives with his grandfather, but his grandfather's mind "travels in time." He forgets things, and it's getting worse. One evening, Arlo's grandfather doesn't come home, so Arlo sets out in the rain to find him. The police meet Arlo in front of the house and tell him that his grandfather is in the hospital. He had a stroke, and a social worker wants to put Arlo in a shelter. Arlo decides to run away to find a grandmother he hasn't seen since his parent's funeral, when he was two. He has no idea what will happened when, or if, he finds her.

Arlo is an interesting character as he struggles to hide his grandfather's mental issues from everyone else. He struggles in school, but he has a great heart. The conflict is unique, although the adults are pretty naive. What the plot lacks in action it makes up for with sympathy and concern for Arlo.

Turn Left at the Cow by Lisa Bullard

Turn Left at the CowTravis runs away to stay with his dead father's mother in Minnesota. He never knew his father, but Travis discovers that he died after breaking into a bank. When some of the stolen money turns up, everyone assumes Travis found it. Kenny and Iz were already searching for the money, so they decide to team up with Travis to find it. However, Travis receives a threatening note, and the adventure suddenly gets dangerous. Is it from the crazy man living at the dump or someone else? Or is it possible that Travis's father is still alive?

The plot developed into a decent mystery with many suspects to choose from. The solution was a surprise. Travis and Iz had family problems, and that may have helped to bring them together.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Words With Wings by Nikki Grimes

Words with WingsThis book about Gabby is written in prose. Her parents divorce, and she moves away with her mother. It's hard on Gabby, but her daydreams help her escape to fond memories with her parents. However, the daydreams keep her from making new friends and keep her from doing well in school. The teacher is trying to figure out ways to help Gabby, but change doesn't really come until she meets the quiet boy at the back of the room. Maybe it's possible to be practical like her mom but still be a dreamer like her dad.

I'm not typically a huge fan of poetry and prose, but this book was well done. The book quickly moved through Gabby's post-divorce life, but the author creatively blended in descriptive memories of Gabby's life growing up. There were vivid images of leaves, and winter, and spring, and life when her parents were together. It was an enjoyable experience.

Sasquatch in the Paint by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld

Streetball Crew Book One Sasquatch in the PaintTheo grew six inches taller over the summer, so he's expected to be the star center on the school's basketball team. However, he stinks. He starts to put in extra practice time, but he may lose his place on the school's academic team because of it. He meets a mysterious girl near the neighborhood basketball courts, but he finds himself threatened when he tries to save her from a dangerous biker. Then, he's forced to visit a cousin he hates, but his cousin seems to have changed, a little. The cousin secretly gives Theo a CD that will later create more problems for him. Can Theo possibly succeed on the basketball and academic teams at the same time, or is he destined to fail at both?

With Sasquatch in the title, I wasn't expecting much from the plot. However, the author was able to create some interesting conflicts and character interactions. Perhaps too many. There was the basketball team, the academic team, the mystery girl, his cousin, and Theo's dad joined a dating service. I think the plot would have worked better if the focus had remained on basketball and academics, and maybe the girl. The cousin and dad's dating just distracted me from the main problems. However, I enjoyed the book overall.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine

Seeing RedAfter the death of his father, Red is living with his mother and younger brother. Life is tough, and Red's mother decides they're going to move to Ohio to be closer to her family. Red is very upset about moving away from memories of his father, so he'll do anything he can in order to stay. A neighbor boy talks Red into spray painting his home, so people won't want to buy it. Red gets caught. Red meets with a gang of boys in the middle of the night to ask for help, but they make him set a cross on fire and want him to hurt a black friend who has been tied to a tree. In school, he doesn't understand the need for history, but he starts to learn about injustices done to black people in the South. He realizes it's unfair and starts to think about making his own history.

The book started with Red's determination to stop the move to Ohio, but it transitioned into a plot involving racism. Both events were traumatic for him. I found it surprising at how naive Red was about the treatment of blacks in the South, especially with the story being set in 1973 Virginia. There were many references made to games, television shows, etc. from that time period, and there was a great deal of information about the civil rights movement.

City of Dead: Galveston Hurricane of 1900 by T. Neill Anderson

Horrors of History: City of the DeadThis books shares fictional accounts of real people as they fought to survive a powerful hurricane that destroyed Galveston, Texas. A young woman struggles to help neighbors as their homes are swallowed by the Gulf of Mexico. A doctor plans to watch the storm from his porch until he realizes there are two feet of water in his home, and it's still rising. And an orphanage full of innocent boys and girls slowly crumbles in the waves.

The Galveston hurricane is still the deadliest natural disaster in United States history. It was hard to read about real people knowing that many of them wouldn't survive. The doctor was a great example of a man who had no idea that this hurricane was going to be worse than anything he had ever seen. The plot changed points of view, but the suspense grew as the water quickly rose. The homes didn't stand a chance against the rain, wind, and waves, and I kept wondering which characters might manage to live.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson

cover_imageEel lives in London, in 1854, and he does various odd jobs to survive. He must keep his life a secret, because there's a dangerous man, Fisheye, searching for him. Rumor had it that Eel had died, but somehow Fisheye discovered the truth. Eel seeks help from one of his employers, but the man has fallen ill with cholera, The Blue Death. More people are stricken with the disease, and over seventy citizens have died. Eel seeks help from a doctor he knows, but it may be too late to save other victims, including young children. The doctor's new ideas about the disease may not be enough to stop this deadly plague.

This story is historical fiction, but the author is able to help readers identify with Eel. The plot describes the dangers of cholera, but also introduces scientific advancements regarding the disease. The side problem between Eel and Fisheye adds additional tension to the story.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. by Greg Pincus

The 14 Fibs of Gregory K.Gregory lives in a family full of math lovers. His father was the first winner of the City Math competition, and his brother won it more than once. Even his little sister is a math wizard, but Gregory's talent is writing. He's flunking math in school, and his parents probably won't let him go to Author's Camp with his best friend, Kelly. Then, Kelly informs him that she is moving this summer. Gregory tries to avoid the truth by fibbing to Kelly and his parents, but he'll need to face it eventually. Why did he enter City Math (he's terrible at math)? Why can't he tell his parents that he loves poetry? Why did he lie to Kelly about Author Camp? How will he get out of this mess?!

I'm kind of weird in that I like language AND math. This book was right up my alley. I enjoyed the true friendship between Gregory and Kelly and the closeness of their bond. Gregory's situation worsened as he lied, and he showed his creativity as he struggled to get out of it. I felt a connection with Gregory, and I liked how he learned the value of telling the truth.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Easter Ann Peters' Operation Cool by Jody Lamb

Easter Ann Peters' Operation CoolEaster is starting the seventh grade, and she has a plan to make it the best year ever. Make a new, good friend, be more comfortable around boys, have a cool talent, and stand up to the class bully. Things don't work out so well on the first day. She has a couple of embarrassing moments and fails to have a good response to the bully. However, a new girl stands up to the bully and seems to think Easter is okay. Easter hopes to talk about the day with her mom, but her mom is "under the weather". She is very depressed and has a drinking problem. The problem has been getting worse, and Easter does all she can to keep it a secret from her friends and her father. But things aren't going to get better unless Easter makes it happen. That's a lot of pressure for a seventh grader.

The plot began with the common problem of a young girl starting middle school. However, the mother's drinking and a new girl with the confidence to be different are not common. Alcoholism is the big conflict in the story. The author was able to describe Easter's fears, frustrations, and confusion, so it was easy to connect with her character.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Zero Tolerance by Claudia Mills

Zero ToleranceSierra is an honor student and is an active member of leadership council. She's a teacher's dream. She accidentally brings her mother's lunch to school one day, and the bag has a small knife for cutting an apple. She immediately reports it to the cafeteria monitor, because she knows it's strictly against school rules to bring a weapon to school. The monitor sends Sierra to the office, and things quickly go from bad to worse. Sierra is suspended until a meeting is held where it's being recommended she be expelled from school. Zero tolerance for weapons in school! Her father, a lawyer, gets involved, as do news stations, students, and teachers. The conflict keeps growing and growing until something must give.

This book won't win awards, but I kept reading to discover the climax. All of the characters, except maybe Sierra's mother, handle the situation very badly, No one is very likable as the plot moves along. As a former teacher, I tried to treat every situation based on the facts. I treated everyone fairly, but maybe not equally. Being expelled for doing the right thing is wrong!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Losing It by Erin Fry

Losing ItBennett lost his mother when he was five, and now his father has collapsed and is taken to the hospital. Bennett's overweight, and he has to stay with his health-conscious aunt. His dad must now try to recover from a stroke, and Bennett is determined that he will not end up like his dad. He decides to start running cross country. This is a difficult decision, and it might cost him his best friend. And there's the cute girl in English and the bully at lunch to complicate things. Bennett is facing the biggest challenges of his, so it's time to "step up to the plate."

Bennett is a very likable character, and he has more conflicts than anyone should ever face. The author presented him as a courageous and vulnerable boy, and I was able to feel his internal conflict. P.G. was a great friend, and Taylor demonstrated the positive side of people too. His aunt represented that saying of "You can't judge a book by its cover." Or maybe an old dog CAN learn new tricks.

Jessica Darling's It List by Megan McCafferty

Jessica Darling's It List #1: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness & Perfection (Jessica Darling's It List, #1)Jessica is starting the seventh grade, and her sister presents a list of things to do in order to become popular, pretty, and perfect: Wear different things every day, make the cheer team, pick a boyfriend wisely, and stick with the It clique. Jessica tries to follow the list, but she's not her sister. She likes to wear t-shirts, she's uncoordinated, she's awkward around boys, the It clique is full of drama. However, her best friend has blossomed into the cutest girl in the seventh grade, and they have no classes together. And Jessica is even stuck in an all-boy shop class! Jessica finds her "wings" in an unexpected way but still must survive the drama.

The author described common problems for middle school girls, but it wasn't too girly for me to enjoy. I liked how Jessica was able to find good results after all of her mistakes. The story really focuses on the difficulty of fitting in and the complications of keeping friendships. After teaching middle school for twenty-five years, I could "totally" appreciate the characters and plot. It's okay to be yourself!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff

GingersnapJayna lives with her older brother during World War II, but he is soon sent away to fight against Japan. Jayna lives with the landlord while he's gone, but she receives word that her brother's ship is sunk. He's missing. A voice tells Jayna to travel to Brooklyn to find her grandmother. The voice says to bring the turtle from the pond too, and Jadyn makes sure to bring her stone of hope. When she sets off for Brooklyn, the biggest thing she has is hope.

I found the plot very touching. The author was able to share Jayna's innocence, determination, caring, and hope. I felt sorry for her as she tried to find a family, not knowing if her brother was alive or dead. The voice offered advice, but it was almost like Jayna was talking to herself. Maybe it was a ghost? Things didn't turn out exactly as she planned, but it was okay.

Seeing Red by Anne Louise MacDonald

Seeing RedWhenever Frankie has dreams in color, he believes they come true. It started with an orange dream of fire, the turquoise dream of his grandmother's death, and now he's dreamed about red. It's not clear, but Frankie believes it's about his best friend getting hurt. The dreams scare Frankie, and he's also terrified of horses. His dad decides to volunteer him to help an autistic boy at a horse camp, and everything changes. A weird girl from school and the camp seems to be able to read Frankie's mind, and she offers to help him rescue an injured petrel bird. He's scared and confused, and he doesn't know how to stop these powerful. Do his dreams predict the future or do they cause it to happen?

The rural setting will be different for most readers, but the animals should interest them. Frankie is a likable skater, trying to overcome his fears. Horses are beautiful creatures, and this plot describes how they can be used to help children with special needs. It tells a story of fears, friendship, and healing.

Navigating Early by Claire Vanderpool

Navigating EarlyJackie's mother passes away, and his father, a retired navy man, decides to move them from Oklahoma to Maine. Jackie is sent to a boarding school where he meets Early, an unusual student with an unusual story. His brother died during World War II, but Early won't accept it. He tells Jackie the tale of Pi. It describes the disappearance of digits in the mathematical Pi, but also may explain some confusing events in Jackie and Early's lives. Early decides to travel into the mountains in search of the missing Pi, and Jackie goes along. Early seems a little delusional, but Jackie is there for support. However, Early may not be as crazy as he thinks.

I enjoyed the plot and the connections made between the two stories. These connections require some mature thinking or readers will get lost and lose interest. Early's story describes the math term Pi as a character, and I thought Early was nuts or hallucinating at times. I was impressed at how believable events became around the climax, and the epilogue added some integrating twists too.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Heartbreak Messenger by Alexander Vance

The Heartbreak MessengerI probably should not have enjoyed this book, but I did. Quentin is a seventh grader, and he's created a job delivering break-up messages for high schoolers. It seems the boys want to avoid the drama and tears that would come if they spoke to the girls themselves. The first message isn't too bad, but some of the jobs don't go smoothly or include special requests. Flowers, candy, and dead rats cost extra. Quentin makes some money, but his emotions start getting mixed up when Abby, one of his best friends, starts dating a boy in the art club.

The plot and conflict are uncommon, so that may be what appealed to me. I don't think this is the best way to deal with relationships. Quentin seems to have no feelings, but the author is able to show that's not the case. He's inexperienced with girlfriends, so he's just now starting to learn about them. All of us will need to deal with the issue someday.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Counting By 7s by Holly Golderg Sloan

Counting by 7sWillow is an adopted girl and has problems interacting with other people. She loves the number seven, she respects all plants and animals, and she's a genius. However, her parents die in a car accident, and Mai, the only friend she has, tries to keep Willow out of foster care. With the "help" of the school counselor, it's still quite a chore to keep their plans secret. The question is, "Will Willow ever find happiness?"

Willow was a unique character. She was very intelligent and intellectual, but her life was never normal. Willow met Mai and her brother during a counseling session, and they became the main people in her life. Readers might have some trouble identifying with Willow's character, and the plot can be depressing. The sympathy and compassion shown by Mai and her family was remarkable.

Athlete vs. Mathlete by W.C. Mack

Athlete vs. MathleteOwen is miffed that he must try out for the seventh grade basketball team, but he's really shocked when the coach demands that Russ, Owen's fraternal twin, must attend tryouts too. Russ is into academics, but he happens to be tall. Owen helps Russ get ready, hoping Russ won't embarrass them both. However, Russ makes the team, and things get complicated after. How will he balance basketball, school, and his Masters of the Mind team? And Owen complicates things further when he starts to get jealous.

The twins created an interesting plot, and their conflicts are common to most middle school students. How are the athletes and brainiscs supposed to get along? The plot is told alternately from each twin's point of view, so readers are able to appreciate their thoughts and feelings.

Don't Feed the Boy by Irene Latham

Don't Feed the BoyWhit's parents work and live at the zoo, and he is forbidden from leaving the grounds. They seem to care more about the zoo than their own son. He meets a girl, Stella, who comes to the zoo every day, drawing pictures of the birds. She uses the zoo to escape from her home life. Her father lives with alcohol and painkillers, a loaded gun kept under his chair. Whit realizes Stella's life is in serious danger, and he'll do anything to help her. When Stella disappears, something drastic needs to happen.

The setting's a bit unusual, but it's a nice plot. It's a good story of friendship, and it should also appeal to animal lovers. Both characters have their own family issues, but they find comfort and safety in each other. Overall, it was an entertaining story.

The Girl From Felony Bay by J.E. Thompson

The Girl from Felony BayAbbey's father is in a coma, accused of stealing valuable jewelry from an elderly client. She is certain her father is innocent, and she's forced to live with her mean uncle and aunt. All of her father's possessions were sold to pay back the victim, but Abbey's fortunes change when Bee moves into her old house. Bee is the daughter of the man now owns the property. The girls become fast friends, and Abbey shows Bee around the grounds. The girls discover some "No Trespassing" signs, and an adventure begins. Someone is digging on part of the land, and the girls are determined to find out why. Abbey is convinced that it has something to do with her father's accident and the jewelry theft. The question is, who can she trust?

I thought the plot was going to be about a sorrowful girl with no friends, but it turned into a decent mystery. I found the clues easy to follow, so it should be a good mystery for young readers. I liked how Abbey and Bee quickly bonded, and the way most of the characters helped each other. Abbey found an unlikely ally in the end. The author also worked in some Civil War facts too.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Every Day After by Laura Golden

Every Day AfterLizzie lives in the South during the depression. Her father left to find work, and her mother has withdrawn into her own mental world. Times are tough, and Lizzie isn't sure if they have enough money to survive. She keeps hoping that her father will return in time to save them. To make things worse, Erin, a girl at school, is determined to make Lizzie's life miserable. She wants to beat Lizzie at everything, but the conflict worsens when Lizzie's best friend must drop out of school, and he starts to hang out with Erin. Finally, things get really serious when it looks like Erin won't stop until she gets Lizzie's mom put into a mental hospital and Lizzie shipped off to an orphanage.

This book slowly grew on me. I truly enjoyed how the plot progressed and the message that was shared. It wasn't overly dramatic, but it managed to keep me curious. As I look back, Lizzie was a very interesting, dynamic character, and she kept me wondering. She seemed very strong and bull-headed early in the plot, but her soft side came out as she cared for her mom. She got angry and scared when she seemed to lose her best friend, and her whole world seemed to be falling apart. But, the one thing she learned from her father was how to take lemons and make lemonade.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle

Better Nate Than Ever
Published by Simon & Schuster
Nominated by Jen Petro-Roy
Nate lives in a small town in Pennsylvania, but his dream is to perform on Broadway. His friend Libby and he make a plan for Nate to sneak away and ride a bus to New York City. Alone. The plan is for Nate to attend an audition for E.T. and then return immediately to Pennsylvania. Things don't work out that way. He does better than expected but ends up stuck on the streets of New York. An interesting series of events ensues.

The plot may not appeal to all readers, but it kept my attention. Nate was a great character and was always optimistic. He was naive, but he was a kind person. I enjoyed the description of his auditions, and his actions helped bring his dysfunctional family back together. Libby also added another view of the story. This book touches on questions surrounding male sexuality in a young, teenage boy.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech

The Boy On The Porch
Published by HarperCollins
Nominated by Stacy Dillon 
This book is being considered for a Cybil's award. One day, Marta and John find a young boy sleeping in a chair on their porch. They don't know who left him, and the boy can't/won't talk at all. He seems to communicate by tapping, and the animals on the farm are able to understand him. The boy, the man and woman named him Jacob, is very creative, and he's able to make music and art from anything given to him. Marta and John finally decide they must search for Jacob's parents, and things begin to change.

The plot was easy to read, but it had a mystique that kept me wanting more. I kept wondering about why the boy couldn't talk and what he really wanted to say. I wanted to know where he came from and why he was left with the couple. I really enjoyed the love shown by Marta and John toward this frustating little boy. The main thing I didn't like was when I was left wondering at the end. I had many questions left unanswered.

A Summer of Sundays by Lindsay Eland

A Summer of Sundays

Published by Egmont USA
Nominated by Robin Willis
Sunday Fowler has two older sisters, three younger brothers, and she's tired of not being noticed. Her parents sometimes forget her name, and they once left her at a gas station for two hours without noticing. So, when the family travels to Alma, Pennsylvania for the summer, Sunday is determined to make a name for herself. It starts with a locked box in the basement of the library her father is remodeling. Sunday finds some old letters and a manuscript, and she sets out to uncover their secrets. Her adventure crosses paths with a grouchy old man who's rumored to eat raw meat and carry a sword in his cane. Sunday slowly uncovers the truth, but revealing it may ruin everything.

Many readers can identify with Sunday's desire to be special. However, her brothers adored her, her sisters respected her advice, and her parents depended on her. She was already pretty special but didn't realize it. The mystery behind the letters and manuscript truly challenged her character.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers
Nominated by Melissa Fox 
Kyle and eleven other students from his school win a chance to enter the new library designed by Mr. Lemoncello, a world-famous game creator, before anyone else. The library promises to be a fantastic, magical place. While there, the students are invited to enter a race to see who can be the first person to escape from the library. The winner will become the spokesperson and the face of Mr. Lemoncello's game company, and become rich. Kyle and his best friend immediately team up to search for clues. They visit rooms arranged by the Dewey Decimal System and read  through many of the books. Their main rival is a mean, self-centered boy who will do anything it \takes to win. The race is on!

Mr. Lemoncello reminded me a lot of Will Wonka. He's a bit eccentric and a playful character. He constantly quoted book titles when he spoke and dressed up in unusual costumes. I enjoyed the references to other books. The clues referred to trivial information from history, book numbers and titles, and rebus puzzles. It was nice to see the goodness of Kyle's character as he interacted with other characters and tried to win the contest. The joy of reading is a main theme of the book.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Genie's Wishes by Elisabeth Dahl

Genie WishesThis book is being considered for a Cyblil's award, so I'm not giving it my usual rating. Genie is a normal fifth grader with normal fifth grade problems. She is chosen to write the class blog, which gives her the chance to express her thoughts about them. Cafeteria food, friendship, and life are topics for her blog. A new girl moves in who becomes popular, but may not be the best classmate for Genie as Sarah, her best friend, is drawn away. Genie is torn as her life changes, but she finds ways to come out on top.

This book slowly grew on me. I think most fifth grade girls will be able to identify with Genie's character. She goes through problems with girls, boys, school, and family. The blog allows readers to read about her thoughts, but it also communicates the thoughts and feelings of her classmates. I appreciated that Genie's character didn't freak out when emotional issues arose, as I've read in many other novels. She seemed level-headed and did the right thing.

A Song for Bijou by Josh Farrar

A Song for Bijou
Published by Walker Books for Young Readers
Nominated by Brandy Painter 
This book is being considered for a Cybils award, so I'm not giving it my normal rating. Alex goes to an all--boy school, but he takes a liking to a new girl, Bijou, from the nearby, all-girl school. He finds out she's from Haiti, which  is a problem for cultural reasons. Her family doesn't believe she should socialize outside of school with anyone, let alone a boy, so their relationship must be kept secret. Bijou's and Alex's friends help get them together, but there are other classmates who are not as helpful. Bijou's brother is supportive of them, and he even teaches Alex to play Haitian drums. However, the lies they must tell in order to see each other may lead to their doom.

I don't recall reading any books that involve the Haitian culture. The relationship between Alex and Bijou is realistic, and Bijou's family structure creates interesting conflicts. They're good kids learning about relationships, but it's difficult living with the expectations and influences of others. Overall, it's a good story.

Odette's Secrets by Maryann MacDonald

Odette's SecretsThis book is being considered for a Cybils award, so I'm not giving it my normal rating. Odette is a young Jewish girl living in Paris, but she must keep her faith a secret. Many people believe the Jews are bad luck, and Odette's family can lose everything if they're discovered. Her father joins the army when Hitler's armies invade France, but he soon becomes a prisoner of war. Odette's mother is helping others hide from the Nazis, but it eventually becomes too dangerous to stay in Paris. Odette, and later her mother, move to the country where things are better, for awhile. The fear of Jews is also in French peasants, so Odette learns to be Christian in order to survive. Living among this fear, and with Germans all around, life is dangerous and hard.

This book is written in poetic form, but it's easily read as a novel. It's an interesting view of Jews during the Holocaust who didn't live in concentration camps. The author captured Odette's fears, excitement, and confusion as she questioned her life and beliefs. Overall, it is a powerful novel.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Duke by Kirby Larson

DukeThis book is being considered for a Cybils award, so I'm not giving it my usual rating. Hobie loves his dog, Duke, a playful, loyal German Shepherd. His father enlisted to serve his country during WW II, but Hobie is questioning his own bravery and support for the soldiers. He decides to donate Duke to the military, and he has mixed emotions about it from that moment on. Meanwhile, Hobie must deal with the normal kid problems in the 1940's, with the bully picking on the new kid who's grandfather is from Germany, and with the fear of safety for his father and Duke.

The plot is similar to a less-intense version of Letters From Wolfie. It captures the innocence of kids hanging out together and blends it with the intense patriotism during the war. The author shared the conflicting emotions of fear, guilt, and bravery experienced by Hobie. Different concepts of bravery were shared.

Hold Fast by Blue Balliett

Hold FastI'm not going to give an "official" rating for this book, since I'm on the panel to choose finalists for the 2013 Cybils book award in middle grade fiction. Early's father, Dash, works on the sixth floor of a large Chicago library, and he's taught his family to love words and rhythms. They dream of moving from their apartment into their dream house. Dash takes on a side job to inventory old books, but it's done late at night and no one can say anything about it. He's also hiding away large amounts of cash received in plain envelopes. Then, Dash disappears, and the family's whole world falls apart. The police suspect Dash was doing something illegal, and the family loses the apartment after thieves break down the door and trash the place. Early, along with her mom and little brother, move into a homeless shelter where they'll stay unless they can solve the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Dash.

The plot was interesting and kind of read like a mystery. It shared the lives of people who were forced from their homes and ended up in public shelters. The most confusing part of the book was Dash's love of rhythms and patterns. He seemed to be sharing clues in cryptic messages about them, but it was pretty abstract for casual readers to understand. The book had a nice message about maintaining hope.