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Proving yourself

14 May

Sometimes, I get exhausted reading serious realistic books. I love them, but the weight of the characters’ problems is sometimes too much for me  and I need something a little more action-packed.

This weekend, I picked up The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras and was carried back in time to 13th century Scotland. This excellent first middle grade novel moves at a fast pace as Drest, our heroine, seeks to rescue her family, held captive by a lord. Although she sets out by herself, she is not alone. She has the voices of her brothers in her head, giving her advice. She also has a wounded knight who she is taking back to the castle from which he came – and the one in which her father and brothers are being held captive. I was so caught up in the tale, I read it in one day. Talk about escapism!

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Publisher’s Summary: A Scottish medieval adventure about the youngest in a war-band who must free her family from a castle prison after knights attack her home–with all the excitement of Ranger’s Apprentice and perfect for fans of heroines like Alanna from The Song of the Lioness series.

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Grand Slam

16 Apr

I wish I could be in kid in Mr. Ward’s poetry class. He is a teacher in Nikki Grimes’  Between the Lines, known for his open-mic poetry readings and boys vs. girls poetry slam.

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Publisher’s Summary: Darrian dreams of writing for the New York Times. To hone his skills and learn more about the power of words, he enrolls in Mr. Ward’s class, known for its open-mic poetry readings and boys vs. girls poetry slam. Everyone in class has something important to say, and in sharing their poetry, they learn that they all face challenges and have a story to tell—whether it’s about health problems, aging out of foster care, being bullied for religious beliefs, or having to take on too much responsibility because of an addicted parent. As Darrian and his classmates get to know one another through poetry, they bond over the shared experiences and truth that emerge from their writing, despite their private struggles and outward differences.

The novel in verse is narrated in multiple voices that alternate with Darrian’s. There are some tough issues in the book  but nothing, that would keep it out of my 6th grade classroom. It is definitely written for kids as there is a feel good ending and lots of hope for this group of high school kids.

An old-fashioned caper

15 Jan

I am always a little skeptical when celebrities turn author. I wonder if they got preferential treatment or if their fame in another area let them jump the queue and get a book deal when other, sometime better, writers are slogging away.

When Decembrists frontman Colin Meloy’s first book,Wildwood, came out in 2004, I was intrigued. I read it and enjoyed it, especially because it was firmly set in Portland. It was followed by two others in the series. All three were illustrated by his wife, Carson Ellis, best know for Du Iz Tak?

The pair also teamed up on 2017’s The Whiz Kid and the Grenadine Kid,  but the setting moves from the forests of Portland to the city of Marseille.

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Publisher’s Summary: It is an ordinary Tuesday morning in April when bored, lonely Charlie Fisher witnesses something incredible. Right before his eyes, in a busy square in Marseille, a group of pickpockets pulls off an amazing robbery. As the young bandits appear to melt into the crowd, Charlie realizes with a start that he himself was one of their marks.

Yet Charlie is less alarmed than intrigued. This is the most thrilling thing that’s happened to him since he came to France with his father, an American diplomat. So instead of reporting the thieves, Charlie defends one of their cannons, Amir, to the police, under one condition: he teach Charlie the tricks of the trade.

What starts off as a lesson on pinches, kicks, and chumps soon turns into an invitation for Charlie to join the secret world of the whiz mob, an international band of child thieves who trained at the mysterious School of Seven Bells. The whiz mob are independent and incredibly skilled and make their own way in the world—they are everything Charlie yearns to be. But what at first seemed like a (relatively) harmless new pastime draws him into a dangerous adventure with global stakes greater than he could have ever imagined.

This was such a fun read! It got me thinking about that scene in Oliver!

It also saw me flexing my fingers and practicing my sleight of Hand. I imagined myself as a magician or retrieving things from pockets using only my index and middle finger. Not other people’s pockets…just my own. But don’t worry – I don’t think younger readers will be pulled into a life of crime by reading the book. And I hope they do!

 

 

A Winter Break Fave

4 Jan

I have to go back to work today. It is a good thing I love my job,

Fortunately, I will have the lingering memory of one of my favorite Winter Break reads to soothe my heart.

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The main character in Jared Reck’s debut, Matt, is just an all around nice guy. He has nice friends, and a nice family. He is nice to his little brother. He isn’t the star player on his basketball team, but he aspires to it, and we know he will be in a few years.

As in many YA novels, something bad happens and he tries to deal with it on his own. What sets this one apart is how his family rallies to help him. It is a lot quieter than other debut novels, but it is wonderful.  Just a lovely, lovely book!

Publisher’s Summary: Seriously, how can you see a person nearly every day of your life and never think a thing of it, then all of a sudden, one day, it’s different? You see that goofy grin a thousand times and just laugh. But goofy grin #1,001 nearly stops your heart? 
 
Right. That sounds like a bad movie already.
 
Matt Wainwright is constantly sabotaged by the overdramatic movie director in his head. He can’t tell his best friend, Tabby, how he really feels about her, he implodes on the JV basketball team, and the only place he feels normal is in Mr. Ellis’s English class, discussing the greatest fart scenes in literature and writing poems about pissed-off candy-cane lumberjacks.

If this were a movie, everything would work out perfectly. Tabby would discover that Matt’s madly in love with her, be overcome with emotion, and would fall into his arms. Maybe in the rain.

But that’s not how it works. Matt watches Tabby get swept away by senior basketball star and all-around great guy Liam Branson. Losing Tabby to Branson is bad enough, but screwing up and losing her as a friend is even worse.

After a tragic accident, Matt finds himself left on the sidelines, on the verge of spiraling out of control and losing everything that matters to him. From debut author Jared Reck comes a fiercely funny and heart-wrenching novel about love, longing, and what happens when life as you know it changes in an instant.

 

A book for animal lovers

4 Dec

One Amazing Elephant, by Linda Oatman High, is a quiet middle grade novel. It reminds me a little of The One and Only Ivan  because it alternates perspectives between Lily and Queenie Grace, providing readers with a deep understanding of and empathy for the elephant’s experience.

It seems to be flying under the radar and not getting a lot of attention, but there is definitely an audience for it. Any reader who loves animals will love it.

 

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Publisher’s Summary:  A poignant middle grade animal story from talented author Linda Oatman High that will appeal to fans of Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. In this heartwarming novel, a girl and an elephant face the same devastating loss—and slowly realize that they share the same powerful love.

Twelve-year-old Lily Pruitt loves her grandparents, but she doesn’t love the circus—and the circus is their life. She’s perfectly happy to stay with her father, away from her neglectful mother and her grandfather’s beloved elephant, Queenie Grace.

Then Grandpa Bill dies, and both Lily and Queenie Grace are devastated. When Lily travels to Florida for the funeral, she keeps her distance from the elephant. But the two are mourning the same man—and form a bond born of loss. And when Queenie Grace faces danger, Lily must come up with a plan to help save her friend.

Friendship & Forgiveness

3 Dec

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The Ethan I Was Before, by Ali Standish, is a book I chose to add to my Mock Newbery Club list before I’d actually read it. It was getting some buzz and was on the lists of a few other people.

Publisher’s Summary: Life can be transformed in one moment, but does that one moment define you for life?

Lost in the Sun meets The Thing About Jellyfish in Ali Standish’s breathtaking debut. A poignant middle grade novel of friendship and forgiveness, The Ethan I Was Before is a classic in the making.

Ethan had been many things. He was always ready for adventure and always willing to accept a dare, especially from his best friend, Kacey. But that was before. Before the accident that took Kacey from him. Before his family moved from Boston to the small town of Palm Knot, Georgia.

Palm Knot may be tiny, but it’s the home of possibility and second chances. It’s also home to Coralee, a girl with a big personality and even bigger stories. Coralee may be just the friend Ethan needs, except Ethan isn’t the only one with secrets. Coralee’s are catching up with her, and what she’s hiding might be putting both their lives at risk. The Ethan I Was Before is a story of love and loss, wonder and adventure, and ultimately of hope.

My sense from the club members who have read Ethan is that they liked it well enough, but it isn’t top of their list. It reminded me a lot of Bridge to Terabithia. 

Perfection

29 Nov

We often make things so black and white for girls. You are either a good girl or you are a bad girl.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erika L Sanchez, is narrated by Julia, the eponymous imperfect daughter. This is a really great read and was a National Book Awards finalist.I think every young woman who reads this will connect with Julia, who never measures up to her family’s expectations because they never really see her for who she is.

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Publisher’s Summary: Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.

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