Tag Archives: middle grade fiction

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!

 

The difficult second book

17 Oct

So often, the second book in a series disappoints. It fails to live up to the expectations of the first. Or, maybe it fails to cover new ground, while maintaining the energy and character of the first. Kevin Sands has managed to do all three in The Mark of the Plague,  sequel to The Blackthorn Key.

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Publisher’s Summary: Christopher Rowe is back and there are more puzzles, riddles, and secrets to uncover in this follow-up to the Indie Next pick The Blackthorn Key, which was called a “spectacular debut” by Kirkus Reviews in a starred review.

The Black Death has returned to London, spreading disease and fear through town. A mysterious prophet predicts the city’s ultimate doom—until an unknown apothecary arrives with a cure that actually works. Christopher’s Blackthorn shop is chosen to prepare the remedy. But when an assassin threatens the apothecary’s life, Christopher and his faithful friend Tom are back to hunting down the truth, risking their lives to untangle the heart of a dark conspiracy.

And as the sickness strikes close to home, the stakes are higher than ever before…

I really liked this first book and, though prepared to be disappointed, I was entranced by the second. There are several reasons why I liked them both.

First, they are set in Restoration London. That’s the period marked by the return of Charles II as king (1660–85) following the period of Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth.This is a setting rarely explored in children’s & YA lit, so more power to Sands for choosing an interesting time and place.

Second, they both have mysteries involving codes and ciphers. I had a period growing up when I was obsessed with codes and ciphers and checked out the few books our small library had multiple times. I know that there are many middle grade readers out there who feel the same, decades after my youth.

Third, Christopher is an apothecary’s apprentice. The whole apothecary thing is interesting. In fact, several other book series for this age group are about apothecaries:

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Forest of Wonders by Linda Sue Park and the Apothecary  series by Maile Meloy.

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Finally, I love the fact that Christopher is an apprentice. Although we have lots of stories of cruel masters, Christopher found an excellent one in Benedict Blackthorn.

Like The Blackthorn Key,  the problem is wrapped up in  The Mark of the Plague. Both books could be read as stand alones. I don’t know if there is a third book in the works, but, based on these two, I would read whatever Kevin Sands publishes next.

Riding out the storm with a good book

16 Oct

Oregon was under a severe weather watch for most of the weekend. What’s a reader & knitter to do but curl up with a good book and work on her knitting.

The good book I curled up with was Richard Peck’s The Best Man.

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Publisher’s Summary: Newbery Medalist Richard Peck tells a story of small-town life, gay marriage, and everyday heroes in this novel for fans of Gary Schmidt and Jack Gantos

As I was reading I got thinking about the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral.

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The Best Man  would more appropriately be subtitled Two Weddings and a Funeral. The movie has an all English cast, with one American. The Best Man has all American characters and one Englishman.

It was a delightful read. I frequently have to suspend my disbelief when it comes to portrayals of school, teachers and principals in kid lit, and this book was no exception. But I liked the book enough to get past the parts I knew to be unrealistic.

 

 

Perilous Portals

9 Oct

The idea of time travel has spawned all sorts of books for children and adults. One of the latest of  is Once Was a Time by Leila Sales.

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Author’s Summary:In the war-ravaged England of 1940, Charlotte Bromley and her best friend Kitty McLaughlin are inseparable. They read their favorite books, they play imaginary games, and they promise to stick together, no matter what the future may bring.

But that future is more uncertain than they could imagine, as Charlotte’s scientist father has unearthed a staggering truth: time travel is real. And when this discovery attracts the attention of cruel forces, throwing the two girls into peril, Charlotte is faced with an impossible choice between danger and safety, between remaining with her friend or following a portal to another time and place. In a split second, Charlotte’s life changes forever. Alone in an unfamiliar place, unsure of Kitty’s fate, she knows that somehow, she must find her way back to her friend.

Beautifully rendered and utterly absorbing, Once Was a Time is an imaginative and timeless tribute to the unbreakable ties of friendship, perfect for readers ages 9 and up.

When Charlotte, Lottie, goes trough the portal, she awakes in a small ten in Wisconsin. It is 2013. Confused at first, she quickly adapts, but always, in her heart, she is looking for a way back. Slowly but surely she gathers information about the people she left behind, even as she creates a new life for herself. The sudden discovery of a clue sends her on a temporal journey where she can finally make sense of what hap end so many years ago.

This short book is a quick read and excellent book for someone who is curious about the emotional impact of time travel, but not that interested in the science of it.

A story of friendship

18 Sep

I have a first period reading class every other day. The first half is supposed to be silent reading. The second half is supposed to be instruction in reading strategies, etc, though we have a little more leeway on Fridays.

Well, Friday found me deep in the book I was reading, When Friendship Followed Me Home  by Paul Griffin.

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When the clock reached the point at which we should stop, I was at a critical place. I could have stopped, but it was Friday. My former elementary students used to say “Friday is free day”, so I told my class my dilemma and asked their indulgence. They voted unanimously to continue reading all period.

Publisher’s Summary: Ben Coffin has never been one for making friends. As a former foster kid, he knows people can up and leave without so much as a goodbye. Ben prefers to spend his time with the characters in his favorite sci-fi books…until he rescues an abandoned mutt from the alley next-door to the Coney Island Library.

Scruffy little Flip leads Ben to befriend a fellow book-lover named Halley—yes, like the comet—a girl unlike anyone he has ever met. Ben begins thinking of her as “Rainbow Girl” because of her crazy-colored clothes and her laugh, pure magic, the kind that makes you smile away the stormiest day.

Rainbow Girl convinces Ben to write a novel with her.  But as their story unfolds Ben’s life begins to unravel, and Ben must discover for himself the truth about friendship and the meaning of home.

Paul Griffin’s breathtaking middle-grade debut will warm your heart as much as it breaks it.

I finished the book, just before the bell rang. If I;d been home, I probably would have cried. I made an immediate decision. I was so moved by this book, that I decided it would be my BookTalk book for today, instead of the one I’d planned. When Friendship Followed Me Home  was added to many “Next” lists.

A wolf among sheep

12 Jun

“The year I turned 12, I learned how to lie.”

That is the opening line to Lauren Wolk’s beautifully written Wolf Hollow.

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Publisher’s Summary: Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.

Brilliantly crafted, Wolf Hollow is a haunting tale of America at a crossroads and a time when one girl’s resilience and strength help to illuminate the darkest corners of our history.

I couldn’t this one down. I brought it to school and stayed up late last night to finish it. The library has this book catalogued under a number if subject headings: family life, veterans, homeless persons, and, the inevitable, bullying. Yes, Betty is a bully, but this book is about so much more than that. Little is revealed to us about Betty’s past. We don’t really need to know because this is Annabelle’s story. It is Annabelle who  lies, takes action, confesses and mourns, and learns.

I’ve mentioned two fox books that are potential 2016 Newbery winners. This is a wolf book to give the foxes a run for their money. If you have a middle grade reader, encourage them to pick this book up this summer.

The third book

8 Feb

I’m about 2/3 of the way through the third book in Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood and Co. series,  The Hollow Boy.

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Although these are books about ghosts, they aren’t really scary, which is why I can read them. The Hollow Boy  gets into much more character development and moves Lucy, our narrator, Lockwood & George beyond the sort of stereotypical Harry Potter trio trope. The humor is still there. Lucy is testing her ability to talk to ghosts, we learn more about Lockwood’s past and George gets a little more depth. The problem of “The Problem” isn’t solved yet, so we can look forward to a fourth book.

Publisher’s Summary: As a massive outbreak of supernatural Visitors baffles Scotland Yard and causes protests throughout London, Lockwood & Co. continue to demonstrate their effectiveness in exterminating spirits. Anthony Lockwood is dashing, George insightful, and Lucy dynamic, while the skull in the jar utters sardonic advice from the sidelines. There is a new spirit of openness in the team now that Lockwood has shared some of his childhood secrets, and Lucy is feeling more and more as if her true home is at Portland Row. It comes as a great shock, then, when Lockwood and George introduce her to an annoyingly perky and hyper-efficient new assistant, Holly Munro.

Meanwhile, there are reports of many new hauntings, including a house where bloody footprints are appearing, and a department store full of strange sounds and shadowy figures. But ghosts seem to be the least of Lockwood & Co.’s concerns when assassins attack during a carnival in the center of the city. Can the team get past their personal issues to save the day on all fronts, or will bad feelings attract yet more trouble?

If you are looking for a not too scary series for a middle grade reader, I highly recommend Lockwood & Co.

A trip to Ancient Rome

12 Oct

Jennifer A. Nielsen has a new series and the first book is entitled The Mark of the Thief.

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Nic is a Gaulish slave in mines in Ancient Rome. Temperamentally, he is much like Sage, the protagonist of Nielsen’s Ascendance  series: a cocky underdog. In some ways the story felt very similar to that series, just transplanted to a new location.

This novel felt more erratic that the previous series, with one action packed dilemma after another. The biggest differences are the location and the incision of magic.

Publisher’s Summary:When Nic, a slave in the mines outside of Rome, is forced to enter a sealed cavern containing the lost treasures of Julius Caesar, he finds much more than gold and gemstones: He discovers an ancient bulla, an amulet that belonged to the great Caesar and is filled with a magic once reserved for the Gods — magic some Romans would kill for.

Now, with the deadly power of the bulla pulsing through his veins, Nic is determined to become free. But instead, he finds himself at the center of a ruthless conspiracy to overthrow the emperor and spark the Praetor War, a battle to destroy Rome from within. Traitors and spies lurk at every turn, each more desperate than the next to use Nic’s newfound powers for their own dark purposes.

In a quest to stop the rebellion, save Rome, and secure his own freedom, Nic must harness the magic within himself and defeat the empire’s most powerful and savage leaders.

I don’t know if I will read the next novel in the series when it comes out next year. I think this series will be for ardent fans of Nielsen’s first series.

Moving beyond boxes: 6th grade read alouds

3 Sep

The boxes are all unpacked and I have begun really thinking about what will happen in my room this year. I have the luxury of teaching two 2-hour blocks of Humanities. We are committing to Writers’ Workshop for the first half of the block so I know that won’t feel luxurious all the time, but I want to get into the habit of reading aloud to my gifted 6th graders no matter what. I ave a couple of ideas about what I might read to them. And, I might decide to read something different to each class, to keep me sharp. Here are some books I am considering:

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Surviving a plane crash…surviving middle school… there must be some connection!

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Crash by Jerry Spinelli

Middle school…bullying …friends

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Unbroken  by Laura Hillebrand (the YA version)

resillience… a key to succeeding in middle school

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A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord

prejudice and friendship, loss and love and female main characters

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The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

This might be old enough that they haven’t read it

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Small as an Elephant  by Jennifer Jacobson

RESILIENCE!!!

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Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

A beautiful story told in beautiful language

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Summer School

25 May

This week I handed out  summer school flyers. Summer school is completely optional, of course, though highly recommended for those receiving the “invitations”. There were definite groans. In his debut novel, Return to Augie Hobble, 

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Lane Smith introduces us to the eponymous character who failed his creative arts class and must redo his final project. His dad runs a seedy amusement park and Augie’s summer assignment there is collecting garbage. Augie’s summer is does not look promising. Smith takes this unpromising summer and shakes it up by adding a plan to run away, bullying, werewolves, missing pets, robbery, visions and government agents. With so many weird and wonderful things happening, the thread of the story could get lost, but Smith ties up loose threads and leads readers to a satisfying ending. This would make a great end of the year read aloud or a great book for upper elementary/lower middle school kids to read as they kick off summer vacation.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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