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.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The League by Thatcher Heldring

The LeagueThis book is a new release (2013), and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Wyatt is a 98-pound eighth grader, and he needs to get control of his own life. He's been bullied by Spencer since the first grade, and he's being forced to play golf by his dad. He really wants to play football, partly to impress his cute neighbor, but his parents won't even approve of his playing in a touch football league. So, Wyatt decides to start a series of lies in order to play in a secret tackle football "league" with his teenage brother. Playing tackle football for the first time is really scary for Wyatt, but he soon comes to love it. Hopefully, playing a game he loves won't totally ruin the rest of his life.

I was never close to being the biggest athlete in school, so I can identify with Wyatt. The bullying, interactions with his brother and sister, and dealing with parents who don't seem to listen are common adolescent problems. The overly protective mother lives in many homes across the country. I liked how Wyatt tried to take control of his situation, although lying to his parents wasn't a great idea. The relationship with the neighbor girl had a realistic ring to it, and it gave balance to Wyatt's life.

Mountain Dog by Margarita Engle

Mountain DogThis book is written in poetic form, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Tony's mom came to America from Cuba, but she got involved in illegal dogfighting. Tony is placed in foster care with his Uncle Tio after his mom is sent to prison. His uncle lives in the Rocky Mountains and serves as a volunteer rescuer with his dog, Gabe. Tony is leery of making new friends, and he is having trouble adjusting to feelings about his mom. Uncle Tio teaches him about search and rescue with Gabe, and Tony also learns survival techniques for the wild. Living in the middle of a mountainous forest may make this information come in very handy.

The poetic format (it doesn't rhyme) seemed unusual for this type of story, but it worked. It helped express Tony's feelings about life in the middle of nature, his mom, Gabe, and trying to move on. Also, most of the book is written from Tony's point of view, but some are written from the dog's point of view. The dog helps with the description of Tony's ever-changing emotions.