Review / Dead Wednesday

20210926ma_3391Book: Dead Wednesday (2021)
Author: Jerry Spinelli
Genre: MG, Contemporary

Opening lines from the book …
No way … This is Worm’s first groggy thought even before he opens his eyes. He actually whispers it to his pillow: “No way.” Because the feeling he wakes up with—the same one he went to bed with—makes no sense: he wants to go to school.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Dead Wednesday is SUCH an interesting title. What in the world could it mean? Well, I’ll tell you. The eighth graders at Worm’s school get assigned the name of somebody who died in a preventable accident (like a texting and driving accident). And then they get to be that person for the day while the rest of the town/school completely ignore them. Like they’re already dead. (That’s the short explanation. You’ll have to read the book for the rest.)

2) I want to go to Worm’s house! His parents run a retreat for writers. I could definitely go there. 🙂 Worm doesn’t like hanging out too much with all the writers, but he used to sing them the tea pot song when he was little!

3) I like how Worm’s dead person comes into the story. He gets assigned a girl named Becca Finch. Now I won’t give any spoilers, but I do like how it all plays out.

4) And then there’s Worm’s arch enemy: Mean Monica. She really not that mean. But one day, she told Worm to “Get a life!” on the bus and he’s tried to avoid her ever since. It was fun to see them interact.

5) The book does extend beyond Dead Wednesday. It’s interesting how the day affects Worm and helps him discover his own life.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) I really like the bottom half of the book cover. The top half has fire works in the shape of what I think is supposed to be Worm’s dead person. It’s just a little creepy/goofy for my taste.

2) I didn’t really get why Worm’s mom was so adamant that he come home directly after school. There’s a fight that he wants to go to, but I don’t think she knows about it. It was a plot point that didn’t really seem to matter one way or other.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Jerry Spinelli is always up for an interesting tale. I did enjoy this one. (It’s not quite as amazing as Maniac Mcgee, but it does have some insightful moments.

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Hand in Hand

20210909ma_3317Book: Hand in Hand (2016)
Author: Jean Little
Genre: MG, Historical (1880s)

Quote from the book …
At long last, they got word that the teacher was on her way. The night before she was to arrive, Martha lay awake, trying to imagine how life would be once Miss Annie Sullivan walked in the door.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Ever since I was a girl, I’ve been fascinated by the story of Helen Keller. When I see a new title I haven’t read before, I am instantly drawn to pick up the book. And this book is definitely in that category. It’s the story of Helen Keller BEFORE the arrival of Anne Sullivan. (The teacher shows up about half-way through the book.)

2) The narrator is Martha Washington, a young Black servant in the Keller household. According the Jean Little’s research, Helen Keller herself mentions the existence of Martha as part of her early life. It was definitely an interesting POV … Martha does really like Helen all that much (she was extremely spoiled as a young child), and yet she is sent to play with and keep an eye on Helen.

3) I could wait for the teacher, Miss Sullivan, to arrive! Again, we get to see her through Martha’s eyes, which is really interesting.

4) I loved Martha’s mother! In the story, she’s the family’s cook. The story opens with her and Martha and the fact that Martha needs to befriend the hard-to-like Helen. I like how the mother pushes her daughter to see that spark in Helen that would eventually come to light.

5) Was Martha present for the famous W-A-T-E-R incident? Maybe, maybe not. But this account puts her right there. Right there where Helen finally has a moment of understanding that will change her life. That part of the story always gets me!

FINAL THOUGHTS

I would definitely recommend for anybody interested in the Helen Keller story. I liked Martha’s POV and it was neat to read the familiar story through her eyes.

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Ambassador of Nowhere Texas

20210815ma_2847Book: Ambassador of Nowhere Texas (2021)
Author: Kimberly Willis Holt
Genre: MG, Near Historical (2001)
Companion Book to: When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

Opening lines from the book …
My grandmother told me she once watched an abandoned house fold inside itself. The roof had caved in, leaving a hollow shell. “A house needs people, Rylee,” she claimed, “or it will die.”

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) I like how this book is connected to another book by the same author. While, I have never read When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything. (That book seems to be about Rylee’s dad, Toby.)

2) I really enjoyed Rylee’s enthusiasm. I love that they had a snow cone stand! Joe could be a little surly and mysterious at times, but it works with the story. I like how they team up!

3) And then there’s Twig. She’s Rylee’s friend who decides to take a break from friendship with Rylee. I felt for both girls and I did like how the story brings them together by the end.

4) I love how the title worked into the story. Joe is not particularly friendly in the story, especially when he first arrives. Being from New York City, he looks down on “Nowhere” Texas and he asks if Rylee is the town’s ambassador. I love how Rylee decides that, yes, she can indeed be the ambassador for her town!

5) I like that they referred to the attacks as “September 11th”, which is how we tended to do it back then. Later on in the book, it switches to 9/11, which again did seem authentic to me.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) For most of the time when I was reading, I didn’t FEEL like I was back in 2001. I’m not sure she captured the time period. There were hints every now and then (like references to dial-up internet). I wish it had been more consistent.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I lived in New York City during the attacks on 9/11, so I knew I had to read one of the many books that came out this year to mark the 20th anniversary. This one got my attention. (And it does make me want to read the companion book!)

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / War and Millie McGonigle

20210815ma_2849Book: War and Millie McGonigle (2021)
Author: Karen Cushman
Genre: MG, Historical (WWII)

Opening lines from the book …
George lifted the slimy creature to his mouth and bit it right between the eyes. I had seen him and the other Portuguese octopus fishermen do that a hundred times, but it still made me shudder. “Doesn’t that taste muddy and disgusting?”

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Millie is not a particularly likeable child at the beginning of the story. However, she does have a character arc and I really liked watching her grow. I loved the little reference to the Secret Garden and how Mary Lennox isn’t the most likeable character at the start of her story!

2) I did like that the story did follow various relationships Millie has… with her younger brother and sister, with her mother, and with a new friend.

3) I love the library scenes! Millie is obsessed with finding books about dying and death, but the librarian won’t let her take out adult books yet. So, she decides to get her older friend to get a library card. The best scene is when Millie gets introduced to a very wonderful book! (“What’s a hobbit, anyway?”)

4) McGonigle is such a fun name to say! One of Millie’s quirks is that she writes her last name in the sand or the mud. And each time she did this, I’d get to say the name McGonigle in my head. 🙂

5) I like that the book doesn’t end in 1945. Most books about World War II think they have to take us to the end of the war. I’m glad this one didn’t. It takes place in 1941-42 and the story wraps up very nicely in its own way. (At least, that’s what I remember. I don’t think the book took us beyond 1942.)

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) The neighbor-lady (mother of Icky) kind of bothered me. I felt she (and pretty much all of her family, with the exception of the niece) were portrayed in a very one-dimensional way. At one point, they demonstrate their evilness by their prejudice against the Japanese. While I agree that such prejudice was NOT a good thing (and the ensuing camps were an atrocity!), these attitudes were a very real part of history following Pearl Harbor. There were “good” and “bad” people who held these views (due to fear, etc.) I think a more nuanced approach would have been stronger. I would have been more interested in seeing Millie struggle with neighbors she actually liked and admired for having these prejudices. What would Millie do? Stand up for what she believes in? Could she say something that might change the character’s mind? So many possibilities.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall, I didn’t love this one as much as I think I normally like these books. However, I was satisfied when I finished the book. I like how everything is wrapped up, AND that it didn’t have to include the end of the war.

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Blackbird Girls

20210808ma_2823Book: Blackbird Girls (2020)
Author: Anne Blankman
Genre: MG, Historical (1986/1941)

Opening lines from the book …
Valentina wondered where the birds had gone. They weren’t waiting on the sill when she went to the sitting room window that morning.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) This book is set in the Soviet Union and goes back and forth between 1986 and 1941. Of course, at one point, the characters in each time period merge. I really enjoyed seeing that happen. I know quite a bit about life in the Soviet Union as my grandmother grew up there. The parts set in 1986 were less known to me, but I found them equally as interesting.

2) This book is about Chernobyl. (Can’t you tell from that cover?) I’m fascinated by this topic, although this is the first book I’ve read about the disaster that occurred in 1986. The opening chapters deal with what happened. I was riveted! The author did a wonderful job in pulling us in, especially with regards to all the lies that were being told (or not told) in the wake of the nuclear disaster. The Soviet Union was a place where fear reigned. From the whisper-campaign of neighbors against neighbors to the ever-present threat of the secret police, I felt this story got that right. 

3) I love how the two main characters, Valentina and Oksana, are not at all friends at the beginning of this story. It sets us up for some wonderful conflict between the two. I love the uneasy-alliances trope in books. The book also flashbacks to 1941 where we meet Rifka. She’s Jewish and must escape the arrival of the Nazi army as it invades the Soviet Union. Of course, at one point all three of them come together.

4) The title was quite interesting. I was interested to see how it developed. It has to do with how the two girls end up standing up for one another.

5) I loved the author’s note at the end of the book explaining how this is story is based in part on a friend’s experiences. I usually like authors’ notes, and this one did not disappoint!

FINAL THOUGHTS

There are not so many books about the Soviet Union. Because of my grandmother, I definitely am drawn to them. But I think this is history that we need to know, whether or not we have a connection.

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Leaving Lymon

20210814ma_2840Book: Leaving Lymon (2020)
Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome
Genre: MG, Historical [1940s]
Companion to: Finding Langston

Basic plot: Lymon doesn’t have it easy. With his daddy in prison and his momma gone, he’s being raised by his grandparents. But when Grandpops dies, he and Ma are transported to the world of Milwaukee. Ma isn’t well herself, and soon enough, Lymon ends up with his momma and her new family in Chicago. Meanwhile, Daddy keeps promising to be there for Lymon, but he keeps leaving. The only thing that seems constant is Lymon’s love of music, but even that’s in danger of being taken away from him.

Opening lines from the book …
Ma and Grandpops didn’t tell me nothing ‘cept we were going on a train.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) I felt for Lymon! It’s been a while since I read Finding Langston, so I didn’t actually remember this character. (Although, it did come back to me once the two stories merge.)

2) Loved Mr. Eugene, the barber! After Lymon leaves Milwaukee, the person I missed the most was Mr. Eugene. I enjoyed being in his barber shop with Lymon. One of my greatest hopes as I was reading the Chicago parts was that somehow Mr. Eugene would come back in the story.

3) The musical elements of this book was nicely done. While Langston was into poetry, Lymon is definitely drawn to music. His grandfather’s guitar plays a nice role in the story. And when something happens to that guitar… I felt for poor Lymon. But I like how he is drawn to all sorts of instruments, from the trumpet to the piano. You just knew that if he could just have half a chance that music would be a great help in his life.

4) I waited a long time for Langston to come into the story. He isn’t in it for very long. I love his introduction as “country boy”. It was a nice bringing of the two books together.

5) I loved the ending with Daddy and Ma. I won’t spoil it here, but I like seeing hope at the end of a book.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) The story is set through the war years (early 1940s) and yet I didn’t have ANY notion that a war was going on. There were no men walking around in khaki. No mention that the war was over in 1945. Lymon does have a radio, so I’m surprised that he seems completely obvious to this. I’m not saying that he needed to be super aware or anything, but a few references might have help ground me in the early 1940s.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I did not love this book as much as I loved Finding Langston. (That book is a gem!) But I did find Lymon to be quite sympathetic, and I really wanted him to be understood and succeed. Would definitely recommend for anybody who did enjoy the first book.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Camp Average

IMG_8027This is a two-for-one book review. These two MG books are the first in a series about the kids at Camp Avalon (aka Camp Average). In the stories, the villain is the camp director: Winston of the short red shorts. He’s obsessed with winning (it’s even in his name: Wins-a-ton). And his focus is to bring Camp Avalon up to speed as a bonafide sports camp. But the Camp Average kids are going to have something to say about that…

Camp Average // by Craig Battle (2019)

Opening Line: It was late June, as always, when the buses arrived.

My Thoughts: The books follow Mack (11 years old in this one) and his ragtag group of friends from Cabin 13. All (or at least most) of them just want to do fun camp things like swimming. However, camp director Winston puts them on the baseball team. Mack leads the (secret) charge in trying to lose every game. He even convinces his good friend Andre, who actually really is a good baseball player.

I think what I enjoyed best about the books is the friendships that develop. There’s the youtube star who is kinda quiet. And the prankster who keeps losing his “silver dollar”. And there’s the kid who has no athleticism at all but is great with stats. Winston is a formidable opponent who seems to be able to match Mack and his buddies step for step… until he makes a promise. And that promise might just lead the Camp Avalon team to victory against their arch-rivals at Camp Killington.

Camp Average: Double Foul // by Craig Battle (2020)

Opening Line: Mackenzie Jones had seen this look on his friend’s face before.

My Thoughts: This time, the Camp Average kids are focused on basketball! At first, Mack refuses to leave his beloved swimming activities, even though basketball’s his favorite sport. But, one by one, all the camp activities mysteriously get shut down… leaving only the sports team. Oh, and rocketry. Mack’s convinced it’s due to Winston, and he’s not wrong when all the swimming facilities suddenly open up when Mack joins the basketball team!

This summer, the camp has opened up to girls. So in order to prepare for the big sporting event at the end of camp, the boys’ team plays the girls’ team. But Mack and his friends decide to give Winston a little more grief as they sabotage the practice games. (They really don’t want Winston to win!) But when Winston does his own sabotage, they suddenly change their minds and try to figure out how to play the game.

This book has a nice lead into what appears to be a third book.

Final Thoughts

A fun series about a sports camp. These books reminded me a lot of Gordon Korman’s books, especially those with a definite sports angle.

 


Have you read either of these books? What did you think?

*Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Ways to Grow Love

penderwicksBook: Ways to Grow Love (2021)
Author: Renee Watson
Genre: Lower MG, Contemporary
Sequel to: Ways to Make Sunshine

Basic plot: Ryan Hart is back. This time, her family is preparing for the birth of a baby. And that means eating a lot of pickles, going home early because Mom isn’t feeling well. She can’t wait to get away to attend her first sleep-away camp. But that also means dealing with her arch-enemy, Red.

Opening lines from the book …
Nothing is the same. Now that Mom is pregnant, everything has changed.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) I loved coming back to spend time with Ryan and her family. I felt her frustration over the changes in her life because of the baby. But I love how she loves her mom so much, that she’s willing to eat jars and jars of pickles to help her out! (I love pickles, by the way. Not sure I could eat as many as Ryan eats!)

2) One of the first scenes is the trip to the library. Ryan’s mom can’t go, so her grandmother promises to take her. They are in and out of that library so quick! Poor Ryan. I think Grandma could have at least grabbed one more book on your summer reading list! (I loved the summer reading lists as a kid.)

3) I was ready to go to war for Ryan against her brother at the summer camp! This was definitely a highlight of the novel… All the pranks. And of course, Ryan has to deal with her nemesis, Red. I do like that Red is a little more subdued in this one and that they seem to be making progress. But then, Red betrays them. Lots of nice conflict!

4) Deacon Leroy is just awesome. He isn’t in the book much, but his part in the camp fiasco was great.

5)I loved the naming of the baby part of the book. I was all set for the baby to be named “Ruby” (I think that’s a pretty name!) but then Watson gives us a wonderful little twist with this part of the book. (But I won’t spoil it.)

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) Come on, Grandma! I think you could have picked one more book on the list before leaving the library! (I don’t remember if we ever learned if Ryan made her full card book bingo, either.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

So much fun to come back to Ryan and her family! A sequel worthy of the first book.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / Journey to Freedom, 1838

20210620ma_1313Book: Journey to Freedom, 1838 (2020)
Author: Sherri Winston
Genre: Lower MG, Historical

Basic plot: This is the story of Eliza Harris from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She’s the slave that fought to get to freedom across the icy Ohio River to keep her young son from being sold into slavery.  

Opening lines from the book …
Eliza Harris pressed her body against the house. Winter air chilled her skin. The conversation she overheard chilled her soul.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) I love the author’s note that connects this story to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the novel that played a huge role is swaying public opinion over the horrors of slavery. Sherri Winston explains how Harriet Beecher Stowe used several stories to create Eliza Harris.

2) There’s quite a bit of excitement during the escape portion. It’s amazing what women (and men) like Eliza went through to make it to freedom.

3) I found it interesting how Eliza’s “mistress” (the lady of the house in which Eliza is a slave) is quite a sympathetic character; there’s a scene where Eliza tells her that her baby is to be sold. First, she can’t believe that her husband would ever sell Eliza’s baby.. Sometimes these characters are portrayed as heartless and cruel. But I’m glad Sherri Winston put some nuance into the slave owners instead of falling back on caricature and flat characterization. (Not that it makes it right to own slaves! But I think it’s important to show nuance.)

4) I love the cover. I didn’t know the connection to Uncle Tom’s Cabin when I picked this book up, but once I found that out the cover made complete sense!

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) (SPOILER) In the story, Eliza falls into the freezing river and is thoroughly soaked. I’m not sure how she made it after that. Freezing water tends to paralyze you, I think. Although, I’m not an expert in this. I wonder if that’s part of the real story. If it is, all I can say is, what an amazing woman! (End Spoiler)

FINAL THOUGHTS

This is definitely a book meant for the younger middle-grade crowd. I absolutely loved the history behind it. And I’ve always been a sucker for an Underground Railroad story. I find the bravery of those people to be inspiring!

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review / My Dog Made Me Write this Book

20210620ma_1307Book: My Dog Made Me Write this Book (2019)
Author: Elizabeth Fensham
Genre: MG, Contemporary

Basic plot: Eric is having dog trouble. It’s all he’s wanted forever… a dog of his own. He gets to pick out a dog, and chooses a mutt that he calls Ugly. Not as an insult. But Eric, aka Eccle, starts to wonder if Ugly is insulted by his name and is taking it out on his poor owner. And if something doesn’t change, Eric going to lose his dog. Because Mom has had enough with a dog that won’t behave.

Opening lines from the book …
Running away is a very difficult thing to do if you are going to do it right.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Eric has a fun voice in this book. In some ways, he kind of clueless that he’s part of the reason why his dog is so unruly.

2) I loved the scenes where Eric and his friends come up with a list of reasons why Ugly doesn’t like Eric. And one of the reasons has to do with Ugly’s name. So, Eric tries thinking of a new name for Ugly, but one that will sound like his old name.

3) I think my favourite side character is the grandfather. I love mentor characters, and Grandpa fits the bill. I love how he encourages Eric to work with Ugly.

4) The story begins with a runaway scene. There’s something quite charming with scenes where a kid prepares to run away from home. This scene works very well. Eric ends up at the park and nothing exciting happens. Nobody seems to care that he’s run away.

5) And then there’s Mrs. Manchester and her cat (aka Ugly’s nemesis!) I enjoyed seeing the progression of the relationship between Ugly and the cat. (In fact, if I remember correctly, that cat is one of the reasons Ugly might be sent away.) But then comes Maggie the dog whisperer.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) I didn’t really like Gretchen the older sister. She’s practically an adult (I think she’s supposed to be 18 or 19), but in many ways, she acted like she’s in her early teens. I think I could have handled her better if she had been only 13 or 14.

FINAL THOUGHTS

A good book for dog lovers! It also helps kids see that it takes work to have a dog. Take it from the dog whisperer…

 


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday