Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Kid Athletes: True Tales of Childhood From Sports Legends by David Stabler

Kid Athletes: True Tales of Childhood from Sports LegendsI read very few non-fiction books. However, I love sports, and this book shares interesting stories about sports superstars when they were kids. Peyton Manning says the most pressure he's ever felt was dancing the tango on stage in front of his family and friends. I had to look up the video on YouTube after reading his story! I never knew Jackie Robinson was the leader of a street gang or that Babe Ruth was sent to a reform school at age seven. Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas and 7' 6" Yao Ming were victims of bullies as they grew up. Babe Zaharias and Billie Jean King were discriminated against from competing in sports, because they were girls. Lionel Messi, one of the greatest soccer players in the world, needed to get growth hormone injections, because people thought he was too small to play.

The short stories are easy to read and tell the childhood challenges of male and female superstar athletes. Bruce Lee, Muhammad Ali, and Danica Patrick are just a few of the other athletes shared in the book. Their stories should inspire all young readers to keep trying to reach  their dreams. I liked how the book covered sports ranging from gymnastics to boxing, football to sumo wrestling, and baseball to soccer. There are stories of athletes from long ago, and stories of athletes still competing today. The short story format should appeal to young readers, since they don't need to remember the plot and all of the characters, like in a fictional novel. It's saying something when a non-fiction book can entertain and inform as well as this book. All sports fans will love it!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

One of Us by Jeannie Waudby

One of UsK has no family, survives a bombing by the Brotherhood, and agrees to secretly gather information about the group for a man named Oskar. She's given the new identity of Verity and finds it hard to believe that any of the students might be capable of causing explosions and killing people. She sneaks into the leader's office to get a list of names, but she's not sure if she'll give it to Oskar. Verity doesn't know what his group will do with the names, and she's stunned to discover Oskar has given K's identity to a dead body. With a major Reconciliation Agreement looming, she doesn't know who can be trusted or who she can turn to.

The main characters were around fifteen years old, so this book is for more mature visitors to my blog. Nothing inappropriate happened, but the issues were more serious. The book made me think about how society treats organizations with different ideas. I wasn't exactly sure how to compare the groups to the real world. Oskar's people were never clearly identified until the resolution, so I wasn't sure if he was a true policeman. I wasn't sure if members of the Brotherhood were simply peaceful and misunderstood or if they were terrorists. It was hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys, but that added to the mystery. It was easy to root for K/Verity, since seemed to be used by everyone. I had my suspicions about the other characters, and the plot came to an exciting climax. It's not the kind of book I typically read, but I really enjoyed it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

As if Being 12 3/4 isn't Enough, My Mother is Running for President by Donna Gephart

As If Being 12 3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President!Vanessa Rothrock is a typical seventh grader, except that her mother is governor of Florida and is running for president. Vanessa makes it to the regional spelling bee, and she's very upset when her mother doesn't show up. It seems like her mother is more concerned with becoming president than she is about caring for her daughter. Vanessa feels a little bit of sunshine when she starts receiving sweet notes from a secret admirer, but then something frightening happens. She starts getting notes threatening to kill her mother and her! The notes warn her not to tell anyone, but they also say July is a good month to die. July is when the Democratic National Convention will be held, and her mother will officially be chosen as the Democratic candidate for president. It's also the month Vanessa lost her father, and she doesn't want to lose her mother too.

This book probably has more appeal for girl readers. Vanessa deals with issues experienced by all middle grade girls. She's embarrassed by her slow physical development, except for her over-sized feet, and she's wants the cutest boy in class to like her, except that he's a jerk. She also has less common problems, such as having a bodyguard follow her everywhere and having to worry about being on the national news. The early part of the plot deals with Vanessa's obsession with spelling and boys, but it becomes much more serious once the threats appear. After that, the plot becomes more of a mystery as readers anticipate an attack on her mother.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Classroom #4: When Nature Calls, Hang Up by Robin Mellom

The Classroom When Nature Calls, Hang Up!It's the last week of the school year, and all of the students at Westside Middle School are heading into the woods for a camping trip. Trevor is very nervous about the trip and does all he can to get out of it. After he finally decides to give it a chance, he's paired with the class bully who's been tormenting him for a year. The bully has plans for some epic pranks that all have Trevor as their target. Also, Trevor's best friend, a fanatically organized girl, is in charge of the last day's social event, and her lack of ideas has her very anxious. To top things off, Molly, a girl Trevor likes, will be moving away after the school year ends, and she can't find a good time to tell him.

The book is told from the points of view of several students and staff members, and it's written like a documentary. Different characters are able to share their thoughts and feelings about the events in their own chapters, while the plot is told in the other chapters. The feelings and insecurities are typical for middle school students, and the author is able to share them in amusing ways. Several of the bully's pranks backfire, and one of the characters smuggles her finicky pet cat into the camp. This book is the fourth in the series. I feel like I've read one of the earlier books, but it didn't seem necessary to enjoy this one.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Catch You Later, Traitor by Avi

Catch You Later, TraitorThe setting is in the 1950's, and the fear of Communism is spreading across the country. Pete is living a normal life in Brooklyn, until the day after open house. The teacher announces to the class that Pete's dad is a Communist, so everyone starts to ignore Pete or treats him like an enemy. His best friend, Kat, is being spied on by another student, so her father can make sure they aren't talking anymore. The FBI is even investigating Pete's dad, and he could be put in prison if the government thinks he's Communist. His crime? He told the teacher that schools should teach more about the history of black people and the common man. However, Pete thinks there's more to it. Is his father a Communist? Did his father or grandfather do something that could get the family in trouble? How could an innocent young boy's life go so wrong, so quickly?

I hope young readers give this book a chance. Although, the fear of Communism isn't as rampant today, an analogy can be made to way some Muslims were treated after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Pete's character battles huge internal and external conflicts. The teacher's verbal attacks and being shunned by kids who were his best buddies the day before present challenges. Pete is confused by things his father said, and he's not sure what to do about an FBI agent. Kat is challenged by the whole situation too, because she doesn't want to abandon her best friend. Pete treats the whole situation like it's a mystery, and he's the detective who will solve it. Sections of the book are written in italics to mimic the tone of old, old mystery novels and movies.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney

The Face on the Milk Carton (Janie Johnson, #1)This book is the first in the series; I actually read the third book first! Janie is a typical sophomore in high school and sits down to have lunch with her friends. She picks up her friend's carton of milk carton and notices the face of a three-year-old girl on the side. She freezes and thinks, "I remember that dress." Is it possible that she could have been kidnapped? Janie becomes obsessed with finding out about this little girl, and memories start to pop back into her head. Smiling faces, ice cream, twin brothers, and a sister. Janie has two loving parents, but they couldn't have stolen her from another family, could they? With the help of her new boyfriend, Janie sets out to discover the truth. A missing birth certificate, a sister her parents won't talk about, and all of those memories. What IS the truth?

You really need to read the books in order, because the next one picks up where the previous book leaves off. The conflict is pretty huge, as Janie is forced to question her whole life. She loves her parents, but has it all been a lie? She doesn't want to believe she actually belongs to another family, but what if it's true? Don't they deserve to know their long-lost daughter is alive and well? As I mentioned, the series will read like one long book, so be prepared to get hooked on the adventure!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Watch the Sky by Kirsten Hubbard

Watch the SkyJory's family lives just outside of town, and they're a little strange. His stepfather holds frequent drills in the middle of the night, so the family will be ready for some unknown emergency. His little "sister", Kit showed up in the backyard one day and hasn't said a word in three years. The stepfather says a meteor shower is the sign he's been waiting for, so he has the family start digging a shelter into the base of the canyon. He won't tell the family what the danger might be, but he says the family needs to trust him. No one can find out what they're doing, and no one can find out about Kit. Jory makes some friends when he returns to public school, but that only makes it harder to keep secrets. Jory wonders if his stepfather is wrong; what if there is no danger coming? But what if he's right.

The plot is a bit unusual. The stepfather is certain that something is going to happen, and he's sure he sees signs of the impending disaster. He looks to the skies when he talks about it, but he won't the danger is aliens. Jory's character is put in a tough spot. He wants to be a faithful son, so he helps prepare the shelter as best he can. However, he likes going to the public school and making friends. Kit is a mysterious character, and Jory discovers a secret about her. I wish there had been more of a resolution to the book, because I'm left with many questions about the family's survival.

Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen by Donna Gephart

Olivia Bean, Trivia QueenOlivia is obsessed with the television show Jeopardy, and she's excited to hear "Kid's Week" is coming up. However, a parent must complete the application to appear on the show, and that's a problem right now. Her father married her best friend's mother and moved to California. He also has a serious gambling problem and isn't very reliable. Olivia's mother just lost her job, and her new boyfriend recently moved in. Olivia is upset with how he acts like her new dad and disturbs her time watching Jeopardy. And then there's the boy living next door. Olivia feels she can't let him beat her at school, but she has no confidence when it comes to geography. She's confused when he starts being nice to her, but then he teases her on the way to school. She's confused by all of these problems, the Jeopardy audition is coming up soon, And she just has to get on that show!

This book had many common problems found in other books. New adult in the house, boy/girl relationships, and trying to impress the divorced, unreliable father. I enjoy trivia, and this book was full of it. Olivia's little brother added a humorous touch to the plot, since he was obsessed with gross trivia. Do you know why an ostrich pees on itself? I enjoyed watching Olivia's character overcome her insecurities and how she discovered the people in her life who were truly special.

The Voice on the Radio by Caroline Cooney

The Voice on the Radio (Janie Johnson, #3)This book is the third in a series, although I did not read the first two yet. Janie is still recovering mentally after discovering she was kidnapped as a young child. She loves the parents who raised her, but she's trying to accept the realization that she has another set of birth parents. Her boyfriend, Reeve, is away at college, and he's adjusting to his new life. However, he makes a big mistake. He wants to make an impression as a radio deejay, so he tells Janie's story on the air. Students and faculty at the college are drawn into his broadcasts, and they expect more. Reeve continues to share Janie's life until two things happen. Janie surprises Reeve when she visits the college, and a mysterious listener calls the station. This listener.can create even bigger problems for everyone.

You should read the first two books in the series, starting with "The Face on the Milk Carton". Reeve is an impulsive character who doesn't think about the consequences of his decisions. Meanwhile, Janie is learning to accept the fact that she has a second family that loves her, but they are all strangers to her. Obviously, it's easy to predict that she's in for a huge conflict with her boyfriend. The plot offers several different issues through Reeve, Janie, and Hannah. Be sure to read the first book in the series to learn a little bit about Hannah!

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book ThiefThe setting is in Germany, during World War II. Liesl's brother dies on a train, as their mother delivers them to a foster home. Life is hard for Liesl, but she leans on her foster father, Hans, for comfort and support. He reads with her every night, as she wakes up with nightmares, and Liesl finds comfort in books. She receives a few as gifts, she steals a few more, but her most special book is "The Gravedigger's Handbook". She found it on the ground when her brother was buried. As the months and years go by, Liesl becomes friends with Rudy. They play together, go to school together, and steal together. Liesl's step parents do their best to keep food on the table, as work and money become scarce. Then, their lives take a dangerous turn when the family hides a Jew in the basement. The only thing worse than a Jew in your basement, living among Nazis, during World War II, is a dead Jew in your basement.

Although he never identifies himself, the Grim Reaper is the narrator of the story. As you can imagine, he provides a different point of view to German life during a huge war. Liesl has an admirable obsession with books, and she has strong compassion for others. She truly loves her new papa and worries constantly about the sick Jew in the basement. She even cares about her grumpy, grouchy, insulting mama. The book shares the story of German citizens during the war, and not all citizens are pro-Hitler Nazis. Liesl's papa is one person who did not join the Nazi party right away, and his family suffered because of that decision. The author paints a descriptive picture of Liesl's life growing up, and contrasts that with the life and death reality of a war-torn country.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John

The Terrible TwoMiles Murphy is depressed. He's forced to leave his friends and the ocean behind, because his mom is moving to Yawney Valley, a city that's proud of its cows. He's determined to establish his reputation as the greatest prankster at his new school, but he's surprised by what he finds on his first day. Someone has moved the principal's car to the top of the stairs, blocking the front entrance to the building. No one knows how it got there, but the principal blames Miles. Miles is impressed by this prank by an unknown student, so he starts making his own plan that will make everyone realize he is the top prankster. He manages to get hundreds of people, including the principal, to attend a huge birthday party for a student who doesn't exist, but things don't turn out the way he expected. The unknown student asks Miles to team up with him, but Miles declares a prank war instead!

I'm guessing most readers will enjoy the pranks. It's funny how all of Mile's plans get messed up, and the other student always bests him. The principal is a funny character. He's a fifth-generation principal at the school, and his son is a bully. The principal is obsessed with rules and cows. He even gives Miles a book full of cow facts that's important to the climax of the book. There aren't any deep messages about life, but it's a fun story.

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.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Captain Nobody by Dean Pitchford

Captain NobodyNewton and his two friends are in the fourth grade, and no one pays any attention to them. They make plans for amazing Halloween costumes, but Newton's plans get disrupted. His older brother, hero of the high school football team, is knocked into a coma while scoring the winning touchdown. His parents are very worried as his brother won't wake up, so Newton puts on his brother's old clothes to cheer them up. His friends make him a cape and mask, and he becomes Captain Nobody. Kids and adults start to notice him, and he becomes the protector of the little man. The costume gives Newton confidence as he helps others, and his actions lead to great deeds. But, how can they save his brother from his endless sleep?

This book was a 2009 finalist for a Cybils book award, and it was much more than I expected. Kids wearing costumes and pretending to be heroes without any special talents or powers? The brother's injury kept things serious, and the heroic deeds were simple enough to be believable. Newton reluctantly helped people, because the costume allowed him to overcome his fears and insecurities. Perhaps all of us have a hero hiding inside.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes

Operation YesBo lives on an Air Force base and has trouble behaving in school. This year in sixth grade, he has a first-year teacher, Ms. Laupe, who behaves rather strangely. She puts tape on the floor to form a rectangle and places an old, stinky couch inside of it. Everyone entering the rectangle must think "Yes and", and then anything is possible. The students learn about all of the normal subjects, but they are able to let their imaginations go wild inside the temporary stage. Bo loves it and really starts to enjoy school. He gets very excited when his teacher announces the possibility of a theater camp next summer until... His cousin Geri comes to stay after her mom is deployed to Afghanistan, and Bo's dad might be heading over there too. Then, something traumatic happens in Ms. Laupe's life, and the class's whole world is turned upside down.

This book was a finalist for a 2009 Cybils book award, and it runs through the whole range of emotions. There's joy, seriousness, sadness, and humor. The plot addresses war and how it affects the lives of people and families. Kids want to be heard, and the students in Room 208 take on a huge project to make a difference. It's interesting to follow Bo's character as he deals with the celebrations, disappoints, and fears in his life. Operation Yes shares a wonderful message of caring, determination, and teamwork to have a positive effect on the world.