Tag Archives: middle grade fiction

Jane Kurtz’s Planet Jupiter Blog Tour

13 May

The sign on the Music Millennium store near my house says it all:

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Jane Kurtz’s new book, Planet Jupiter,  celebrates Portland’s weirdness while telling a beautiful middle grade story of family and belonging.

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Author’s Summary: Jupiter and her family have spent their lives on the road, moving from town to town in a trusty old van, making do, and earning their living busking for tourists. But when their van breaks down, Jupiter’s mother rents an actual house in Portland for the summer so that Jupiter’s annoying cousin Edom, recently adopted from Ethiopia, can stay with them. Luckily, Edom doesn’t want to be in Portland any more than Jupiter wants her there, and the two hatch a plan to send Edom back to her mother. In the process, Jupiter learns that community — and family — aren’t always what you expect them to be.

Clearly, Kurtz’s depiction of Portland is one of the things I love. She captures the farmer’s market culture and all of the quirkiness of this city I call home. But there are other things that make this an excellent middle grade read.

The fact that Jupiter and her brother, Orion, are named after celestial bodies might seem contrived, but it is very Portland – I have neighbors who named their children after various species of trees! But Kurtz uses the names effectively and weaves celestial metaphors throughout her writing. This is the sort of thing I love pointing out to my students!

Jupiter’s fear of change and her desire to help Edom leave are like a snapshot of how Americans feel about refugees and immigrants generally. Fear of the other, fear of change are overcome when we have the opportunity to get to know people.

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Jane Kurtz is celebrating the release of her new book, Planet Jupiter, with an event May 16, 2017, at 7pm at Annie Bloom’s Books in Portland. Honoring the theme of music and busking in the book, she will be joined by special musical guests Colette and Madelaine Parry.

I hope to see you there!

 

A place for everyone

11 May

I was never the coolest kid. Maybe that’s why I like the quirky kids in class. Maybe they are just really interesting. Like the kids in Erin Entrada Kelly’s Hello, Universe.

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Publisher’s Summary: In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his crazy-about-sports family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and she loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister, Gen, is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just stop being so different so that he can concentrate on basketball. They aren’t friends, at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find the missing Virgil. Sometimes four can do what one cannot. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms. The acclaimed author of Blackbird Fly and The Land of Forgotten Girls writes with an authentic, humorous, and irresistible tween voice that will appeal to fans of Thanhha Lai and Rita Williams-Garcia.

I like the voices of these kids – they ring true. You can tell when an author really gets how kids think, and Erin Entrada Kelly really gets it. This is a lovely story of friendship that celebrates the differences in all of us.

The hottest book in my classroom library

13 Apr

A few weeks ago, after I’d finished reading it, I booktalked Fonda Lee’s Exo  and added it to my classroom library.

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It hasn’t been back on the shelf since. Kids are passing it, hand to hand and urging the person reading it to read faster.

Author Summary: It’s been a century of peace since Earth became a colony of an alien race with far reaches into the galaxy. Some die-hard extremists still oppose alien rule on Earth, but Donovan Reyes isn’t one of them. His dad holds the prestigious position of Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government, and Donovan’s high social standing along with his exocel (a remarkable alien technology fused to his body) guarantee him a bright future in the security forces. That is, until a routine patrol goes awry and Donovan’s abducted by the human revolutionary group Sapience, determined to end alien control.

When Sapience realizes whose son Donovan is, they think they’ve found the ultimate bargaining chip . But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son.  Left in the hands of terrorists who have more uses for him dead than alive, the fate of Earth rests on Donovan’s survival. Because if Sapience kills him, it could spark another galactic war. And Earth didn’t win the last one . . .

I don’t read every book before I add it to my library. I do like to read books that lean more YA than middle grade, though. Sixth grade advanced readers are funny creatures. They have the cognitive abilities to tackle complex text, but lack the life experience to understand mature content. Exo is the perfect sort of book for my students: action-packed sci-fi to challenge their reading and an age-appropriate moral dilemma.

If you like science fiction, or know someone who does, pick up a copy of Exo.

Short

23 Feb

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Like Julia,  the main character of Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Short,  I was always in the front row for school pictures. Like her, I could use a step stool to reach the water glasses in the kitchen, but I generally use a ladle to extend my reach and pull one forward.

Also like Julia, I know how hard it is to lose a beloved dog. Her dog, Ramon, dies just before the book opens, but we learn about it in the first chapter.

Publisher’s Summary:In this heartwarming and funny middle-grade novel by the New York Times bestselling author of Counting by 7s, Julia grows into herself while playing a Munchkin in The Wizard of Oz
 
Julia is very short for her age, but by the end of the summer run of The Wizard of Oz, she’ll realize how big she is inside, where it counts. She hasn’t ever thought of herself as a performer, but when the wonderful director of Oz casts her as a Munchkin, she begins to see herself in a new way. As Julia becomes friendly with the poised and wise Olive—one of the adults with dwarfism who’ve joined the production’s motley crew of Munchkins—and with her deeply artistic neighbor, Mrs. Chang, Julia’s own sense of self as an artist grows. Soon, she doesn’t want to fade into the background—and it’s a good thing, because her director has more big plans for Julia!

Bubbling over with humor and tenderness, this is an irresistible story of self-discovery and of the role models who forever change us.

Julia is a quirky and lovable main character. Her observations about the world of the theatre  are insightful, funny, and sometimes she admits she has no idea what the adults are talking about. It is sort of how it is for kids. Shawn Barr (the director),  Olive (her munchkin companion), and Mrs. Chang ( her neighbor and costumer) all help Julia overcome the loss of Ramon and grow in character, if not in stature. A great book for middle grade readers.

 

AS goes MG

10 Feb

I have made no secret of the fact that I love A. S. King. I will read (and probably buy) anything she writes. Unfortunately, I cannot put her books in my 6th grade classroom library. Until now.

Yes, Amy Sarig King has written a novel for middle grade readers!!!!

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Like her books for older readers, there is a fantasy element. yes,let’s call it that. The eponymous Marvin Gardens is a plastic eating creature that resembles a cross between a dog and a pig…with amphibian-like skin.

I book talked it yesterday, reading aloud the part about Marvin’s first poop – sixth graders still love that sort of thing – and I had them hooked. I told them about Obe’s problems with his friends, with Marvin, and with his neighborhood; problems they can all relate to. I’m hoping this one won’t spend much time on my shelves.

Publisher’s Summary: Obe Devlin has problems. His family’s farmland has been taken over by developers. His best friend Tommy abandoned him for the development kids. And he keeps getting nosebleeds, because of that thing he doesn’t like to talk about. So Obe hangs out at the creek by his house, in the last wild patch left, picking up litter and looking for animal tracks.

One day, he sees a creature that looks kind of like a large dog, or maybe a small boar. And as he watches it, he realizes it eats plastic. Only plastic. Water bottles, shopping bags… No one has ever seen a creature like this before, because there’s never been a creature like this before. The animal — Marvin Gardens — soon becomes Obe’s best friend and biggest secret. But to keep him safe from the developers and Tommy and his friends, Obe must make a decision that might change everything.

In her most personal novel yet, Printz Honor Award winner Amy Sarig King tells the story of a friendship that could actually save the world.

Another book about the Inquisition in France…imagine!

5 Dec

A few weeks ago, I wrote about The Passion of Dolssa, which was set in France in the 13th century. Narrated in multiple voices, it told the story of a girl pursued by the Inquisition in France.

And here I am again, writing about a very different book.  The Inquisitor’s Tale, Or, The Three  Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz.

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It is set in France in the 13th century. Narrated in multiple voices, it tells the story of a girl, two boys and a dog pursued by the Inquisition in France.

This book is for a middle grade audience and has some funny features, including a farting dragon. But it also treats serious themes.

Publisher’s Summary: 1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children. Their adventures take them on a chase through France: they are taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. On the run to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned, their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, where all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints.

Join William, an oblate on a mission from his monastery; Jacob, a Jewish boy who has fled his burning village; and Jeanne, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions. They are accompanied by Jeanne’s loyal greyhound, Gwenforte . . . recently brought back from the dead. Told in multiple voices, in a style reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales, our narrator collects their stories and the saga of these three unlikely allies begins to come together.

Beloved bestselling author Adam Gidwitz makes his long-awaited return with his first new world since his hilarious and critically acclaimed Grimm series. Featuring manuscript illuminations throughout by illustrator Hatem Aly and filled with Adam’s trademark style and humor, The Inquisitor’s Tale is bold storytelling that’s richly researched and adventure-packed.

As with The Passion of Dolssa, I found that it took a few chapters to get into the book, but it was well worth the effort. The book includes a detailed historical note and bibliography.

LOL

27 Oct

I have a couple of boys who truly laugh out loud when they read. They are young 6th graders. They like funny books and they really get into them. The class will be reading silently, then, suddenly a snort or a chortle erupts. The best part of this is that these boys seem to be oblivious to the effect of their outbursts. They blithely carry on reading.

Jonathan Follett and Matthew Holm must have had in mind when they wrote Marvin and the Moths.

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 I can picture them chortling as they read this book, which I won in  Goodreads Giveaway. For my part, I found it a little slow to get started and stereotypical, but it will be a welcomed addition to my classroom library.

Publisher’s Summary:Matthew Holm, the Eisner Award–winning co-creator of Babymouse, teams with his childhood best friend for a hilarious prose debut.

Middle school is off to a rocky start for Marvin Watson. Doomed to misfit status, his only friends are a girl with major orthodontics, the smelliest boy in school, and the trio of sarcastic man-sized moths that live in his attic.

No one said middle school would be easy! Also, no one said that Marvin’s town would be threatened by mutant bugs, including a very hungry, Shakespeare-quoting spider. But life in the suburbs is full of surprises. Will Marvin be the one to unravel the mystery behind the mutants and save the town? Or will he be too busy with the real threat: his first school dance?!

This hilarious send-up of middle school has the humour of James Patterson’s I Funny, the underdog hero of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and the zany action of NERDS… and features illustrations by co-author Matthew Holm, New York Times bestselling illustrator of the Babymouse series and Sunny Side Up.

Plus: talking moths!

 

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