Review / The Children’s Blizzard, 1888

20211218ma_4061Book: The Children’s Blizzard, 1888 (2018)
Author: Lauren Tarshis
Genre: MG, Historical Fiction
Series: I Survived


Opening lines from the book …
A deadly blizzard raged across the prairie, and eleven-year-old John Hale was trapped in a frozen nightmare. The wind screamed in his ears as he staggered through the blinding snow. His whole body was numb.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) That opening is pretty exciting! The first chapter (which feels like a prologue) drops us right in the middle of things. Of course, the second chapter will take us back a few months to let us get to know the characters before letting us know what happens next.

2) I liked the story about the boys hunting King Rattler. As the newcomer to the prairie, John feels outside the friendship circle. But then they invite him along. I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a good thing, but I’m glad it was the start of their friendship.

3) There’s some nice foreshadowing going on when John thinks he’s lost his sister Frannie in the long grass at the beginning of the story. I like how that comes into play during the blizzard later on.

4) I love the story trope of the strict teacher that the kids don’t quite understand but learn to trust. This teacher is sort of like that.  

5) This book reminded me so much of The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I later found out that this was a different blizzard (her book was set in 1880-1 rather than 1888).

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) At the end of the book, the author has a list of other books about blizzards, etc. And the one book that is missing is The Long Winter. While the blizzard years are different, they do both take place in Dakota Territory. And that book is arguably one of the BEST of the Little House books, and even was given a Newbery Honor book. In fact, I had to go to the internet to find this info out. It’s like talking about the best fantasy books and forgetting to mention The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings

FINAL THOUGHTS

This is the first book I’ve read from the I Survived series. They’re short and quick to read. It had a lot of exciting parts and I’m glad to see historical fiction that isn’t a time-travel 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 / Becoming Brianna

20211211ma_4022Book: Becoming Brianna (2020)
Author: Terri Libenson
Genre: MG, Contemporary/Graphic Novel
Companion Book to: Invisible Emmie


Opening lines from the book …
Well, here I am again. How, how, how did I get myself into this TWICE? Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment. Or just a sucker. That last one probably nails it. Why else would I put myself in the spotlight again?

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) I loved being back with the Emmie crew! This is Brianna’s book, and she’s being forced into another public speaking event. Instead of a talent show, her mother has talked her into going through with a bat mitzvah. The story is told from the “Now” and the “Past Leading up to Now,” which I thought worked well…

2) Then there’s the storyline of Brianna’s new friends. Emmie thinks they’re just playing with Brianna, but Brianna won’t listen to Emmie. (Cue: Friend fall-out!) I thought this was an interesting subplot of the book and I liked how it was dealt with at the party.

3) The mom is super intense! She has all these secret plan for the party after the service. I wasn’t sure what to expect when the party room is revealed. I’ll just say that I was pleasantly surprised. And (Spoiler! I like how Emmie was involved in helping the mom with the idea! End Spoiler.)

4) I loved the rabbi and the cantor. The rabbi especially. He was old, but had a super good sense of humor!

5) And this being an Emmie-book, I knew there would be some tiny little twist. I didn’t guess the twist until it happened, but I did notice it. And had I been actively trying to figure it out, I might have. But I also like being surprised, so I went into this book NOT looking for the twist.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) (Slight spoiler – Emmie and Brianna ALWAYS have some sort of falling out! Sigh. I wish there was a little more variety with Brianna’s troubles. Oh, well, it wasn’t a major failing. It just felt like something I’ve read before. End spoiler.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

This is definitely an asset to the Emmie and Friends series. I like the hybrid graphic novel approach to these books. There are more words than in a typical graphic novel, which I really like. If you liked Invisible Emmie, I’d recommend this one as well.

 


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 / Lost in the Sun

IMG_9229Book: Lost in the Sun (2015)
Author: Lisa Graff
Genre: MG, Contemporary


Opening lines from the book …
When we were real little kids, Mom used to take Aaron and Doug and me to Sal’s Pizzeria for dinner almost every Tuesday, which is when they had their Family Night Special. I think she liked it because she didn’t have to worry about dinner for three growing boys for one night, but we liked it because there was a claw machine there…

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) I loved the interaction of the three brothers. Aaron is probably my favorite. He’s the oldest and the one who helps the younger boys navigate all their problems. Of course, we find that it does take a toll on him as well. Doug’s the youngest and is just trying to keep up with the others with all his pranks. And then there’s Trent, the narrator…

2) For most of the book, I had a hard time rooting for Trent. He wasn’t always likeable. I felt sorry for him, but I could NOT understand why he went out of his way to be rude or mean to his teachers. (Okay, so I did know. He wanted those detentions so he didn’t have to visit his dad. I just couldn’t get why you’d want to do that.) That said, by the end of the book, I liked the growth in his character!

3) Since I mentioned the teachers, let’s talk about them here. I liked both Ms. Emerson and Mr. Gorman. Especially Ms. Emerson and all her plants. Trent hates her from the get-go (calls her an old crone), but they eventually establish a truce over the plants!

4) My favorite character probably is Fallon, the girl with the scar on her face. If you ask her about it, she’ll give you a different story each time about how she got that scar. I love how she befriends a friendless Trent. And how it all comes around to him helping her as well.  

5) I also loved the scenes (later in the book) with Annie, Doug’s young friend and the sister of the boy involved in the hockey-puck incident. I like how we get a little closure in that part of the story.

6) There’s a nice baseball theme running through the book. I’m pretty sure that’s what the title is references (when a fly ball gets lost in the glare of the sun).

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) It was hard to like Trent at times. He has a lot of demons over an incident that happened involving a hockey puck. I almost put the book down halfway through, but I’m glad I pushed through.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I would recommend this book to baseball fans but also for how the main character works out his demons. The end of the book is worth getting to!


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 / The Beatryce Prophecy

20211121ma_3988Book: The Beatryce Prophecy (2021)
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Genre: MG, Fantasy


Opening lines from the book …
Answelica was a goat with teeth that were the mirror of her soul—large, sharp, and uncompromising. One of the goat’s favorite games was to lull the monks of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing into a sense of complacency by arranging her features in a benign and indifferent expression. For weeks, she would bite no one.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Let’s start with Answelica. I loved this goat! (I don’t think I’d like to meet her in real life, but I’m happy to meet her in the pages of a book.) What a character! And yet, she has a soft spot, which comes later in the book.

2) The next character we meet in the book is Brother Edik with the wandering eye (his left eye “would not stay quiet and still, but rolled around in his head…”) He’s the kind of sympathetic and slightly quirky character that we all love in a book like this one. He’s wary of the goat, but he has a heart of gold, especially when it comes to…

3) Beatryce! Yes, Beatryce is a lovely character. The goat practically melts under her touch. And the loyalty she gains from the other characters is definitely deserved. She just exudes a personality that demands loyalty. She seems to be the girl in the prophecy and ends up with a death warrant on her head from a very jealous king. (Okay, so not everybody likes Beatryce.)

4) And then there’s Jack Dory. I didn’t think there was any need to add to the cast of characters until we met him. Love his introduction: “I am Jack Dory!” (My one regret with this book is that we don’t get to know Granny Bibspeak. I really wanted to know her!)   

5) Finally, there’s Cannoc. (Spoiler! He turns out to be the King who walked away, leaving us with a horrible king that wants to kill Beatryce.) He was a lot quieter than the other characters, but I did like him.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) (Another SPOILER alert: At the end, the king gives up his throne to Beatryce’s mom. Except, since we really didn’t get to know the mom, this did not feel like a satisfactory or perfect ending. I am definitely invested in him handing his crown to Beatryce at some point! To be truthful, if I were the author, I’d have killed off the mom. Which sounds horrible, I know! But that’s what authors are supposed to do.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

I enjoyed this book. It reminded me a little of the Tale of Despereaux, which makes sense since it’s by the same author. Love the connection between the girl and the goat in this one.

 


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 / Genius Under the Table

20211015ma_3661Book: Genius Under the Table (2021)
Author: Eugene Yelchin
Genre: MG, Historical (1970s)


Opening lines from the book …
The first time I saw real American tourists, they hopped out of a tourist bus in Red Square in Moscow and cut in front of us in line. “Nice manners!” my mother shouted. “We’ve been freezing our butts off for hours and they just breeze in like that?”

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) The title is a reference to Yevgeny’s place to sleep… and yes, since the whole family sleeps in the same room, that means his place is under the big table! He uses the privacy of this space to work on his drawings. I love that! The kid in me definitely wants to sleep under the table too!

2) I love this author’s depiction of life in the Soviet Union in the 1970s. I felt for young Yevgeny over the idea that to succeed in Soviet society, he must discover his great talent. His brother is a talented figure skater. (Super fun scene where he uses Yevgeny for weight-lifting when he moves over to pairs figure skating.) And there’s the back story about the mom and her own talent. She wants Yevgeny to be a great ballet dancer like Baryshnikov. (Let’s just say, Yevgeny has a different talent than ballet.)

3) The Dad! I loved him so much! The best line is when he talks about genius under the table. (The only thing that really makes me sad about the dad is that he still does not quite see the problem with communism, even if he realizes that Stalin is not as flawless as the State would have them think.)

4) There’s a scene that made me cry… it was so heartbreaking. And I will leave it at that.

5) I thought the connection with Baryshnikov (the ballet dancer) was great. It works really well into Yevgeny’s own story and adds that tidbit of historical happening to this story that I love so much. I definitely did a bit of research on Baryshnikov after reading this book!

FINAL THOUGHTS

This book is so powerful. And wonderful. (I may be a bit prejudiced as I love reading books about the Soviet Union since my own grandmother spent her childhood there.) I loved the peek into Soviet life in the 1970s. I’d also recommend this author’s Breaking Stalin’s Nose, which was a Newbery Honor book.

(P.S. Thank you to Rosi Hollinbeck for this book! I won it as a giveaway. Thank you, thank you, thank you!)


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 / The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

20211023ma_3678Book: The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl (2018)
Author: Stacy McAnulty
Genre: MG, Contemporary


Opening lines from the book …
I don’t remember the moment that changed my life 4 years ago. Call it a side effect of being struck by lightning. That bold of electricity burned a small hole in my memory. It also rewired my brain, transforming me into Lucille Fanny Callahan, math genius.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) I loved Lucy’s relationship with her grandmother and uncle, but especially Nana (grandma). I love how Nana isn’t a push-over, and yet is the kind of sweet and loving granny we all want! And Uncle Paul is great too, with his great sense of humor.

2) This is definitely a fish-out-of-water story. Lucy is so smart, she’s already tackled high school in her homeschool curriculum.But Nana insists she needs a little practice in the real world … and so that means middle school. However, Lucy just wants to fit in and hide the fact that she’s a math genius. So, she pretends she isn’t. And since she’s not used to being in school, she has plenty of mishaps which is the fun and games of the book!

3) Windy’s a fun friend-character. I love how genuine she is, and how she accepts Lucy even with all Lucy’s OCD ways. (Like how Lucy has to stand and sit 3 times before she can actually sit down.) Of course, there are the scenes at Windy’s birthday party that complicates matters.

4) The project involving the animal shelter will definitely be plus for the animal-lovers. (Who isn’t an animal-lover?) I do love how Lucy uses her math brain to figure out a solution to help her new animal friends.

5) I enjoyed the little sections where we get to know Lucy’s online math friends! Although, I do like that Lucy finds her IRL friends too: Levi and Windy.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) I was a little disappointed about a connection that was hinted at early on in the story. The revelation, unfortunately, wasn’t satisfactory to me, I’m pretty sure because it wasn’t set up. I know what the author was trying to do, but I’m not sure it worked. (Sorry about being vague, but I don’t want to give spoilers. Let’s just say it has to do with #5 above.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

I enjoyed this book and was rooting for Lucy. The animal connection makes it fun. And it made me wondering if black dogs really do have a hard time being adopted…

 


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 / Invisible Emmie

20211030ma_3683Book: Invisible Emmie (2017)
Author: Terri Libenson
Genre: MG, Contemporary (Illustrated)


Opening lines from the book …
This is me. You’re probably wondering how I became a puddle of slime. Eaily explained. It happened in a day. Okay, five hours, If you want to get technical. It also involved a really embarrassing incident. I’ll get to that.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) This is the story of two girls. Katie’s life is perfect. She’s popular and everything goes her way, but she’s not nasty about it. On the other hand, Emmie is … well, she’s invisible. The main plotline follows Emmie as she tells her story. Then we get snippets of Katie’s perfect life. It’s a nice contrast.

2) I love that Emmie does have a good friend Brianna, even if she can be a little bossy toward Emmie. I like how their relationship plays out, especially with regards to the disaster of the letters they write.

3) And then there’s the boy. Tyler is the love-interest for both Katie and Emmie! (Of course, Emmie’s love is the quiet kind. Tyler doesn’t even seem to really remember that she exists.) What I like is that we do get to know him through Emmie’s chapters, especially when the whole disaster comes to a head.

4) Joe! Argh! What a troublemaker. He’s the guy responsible for all the turmoil in the book. Every book has to have a bad guy, right?

5) I loved the little twist at the end of the story. I won’t spoil this, but it was quite nice how everything fits into place.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) The only tiny little thing is the joke about the dead rats at the school. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to think this is supposed to be real or just symbolism. In my schools, I’m sure there were mice (maybe even rats), but I never saw them, dead or otherwise. Maybe I just never noticed. OR maybe I’m just being too literal!

FINAL THOUGHTS

I LOVED this book. I think this might be one of the best books I’ve read this year. Definitely loved that little twist at the end.

 


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 / Nessie Quest

20211023ma_3679Book: Nessie Quest (2020)
Author: Melissa Savage
Genre: MG, Contemporary


Opening lines from the book …
Words may seem innocent enough, but I’m here to tell you that they’re a way bigger deal than most people know.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Ada Ru is going to Scotland for the entire summer with her parents! How cool is that? She gets to live in an old abbey and gets to have tea and scones every day! Oh my. What a dream. 🙂

2) Enter Hammy Bean. He’s blind (something I missed at the opening of the story but figured out as the book progressed), but he’s such a loveable guy. He lives with his grandmother because his parents are royalty. Or is it that they’re missionaries? Or doctors serving in Africa? The story always seems to change, and Ada Ru looks to find the truth behind Hammy Bean’s past.

3) I love the walkie-talkie system that the kids have. Hammy Bean constantly wakes Ada Ru up in the wee hours of the morning to give her the tasks for the day. (She’s “working” for him as they join the hunt to find Nessie.) And the secret code! I love how Dax (another friend) learns the code first and that Ada Ru decides that she does not want to be left out in the dark.

4) Getting back to the whole Hammy-is-blind thing … There is a wonderful exchange where the kids discuss color and Hammy Bean bascially says “I don’t know what you mean by color.” I love how Ada Ru comes up with a description to help him “see” color and clouds and all that.

5) I like that there’s a slight connection to Melissa Savage’s first book, Lemons. This is not really a companion book, per se. But the characters in this book do reference the characters in that one. It’s a fun little connection. (And no, it’s not absolutely necessary to read that book first!

6) Oh, and did I mention Scotland?

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) I didn’t get why Ada Ru did NOT want to go to Scotland! I mean, Scotland. She obsessed with Harry Potter and at the beginning of the book she has not desire and they’d be staying in an old abbey. In the book, she claims that she’ll be homesick. But wait! Both Mom and Dad will be there. I just didn’t buy into this.

FINAL THOUGHTS

What a fun romp. I love the trio of Ada Ru, Hammy Bean, and Dax and all their attempt to find the Loch Ness Monster.

 


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 / Nazi Prison Camp Escape

20210912ma_3328Book: Nazi Prison Camp Escape (2020)
Author: Michael Burgan
Genre: MG, Historical (WWII)

Opening lines from the book …
On a summer morning in 1942, Bill Ash joined the other prisoners trudging across the sandy ground toward a small concrete building.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1)  The book starts with an exciting escape. Bill Ash goes through quite of few of these escapes from the various POW camps where he was prisoner. And the prison tends to move his around a lot, so we get to see lots of prison-break attempts.

2) I loved the theme of the importance of freedom. Ash knows he can sit out the rest of the war and be treated relatively well as a POW (Prisoner of War). And yet he doesn’t do that. He does make the risk of trying to escape. I found that pretty fascinating.

3) (Slight Spoiler) I did find it interesting that Ash isn’t actually part of the “Great Escape” itself since he was in the “Cooler” when it happened! (End Spoiler)

4) That cover art … I was rooting for the men to escape! You can just feel the tension in that cover.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This will appeal to those interested in non-fiction and World War II. I love the history behind it all. Having watched the movie (the book does reference it), reading this book brought that viewing experience back to me.

 


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 / When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

zachbeaverBook: When Zachary Beaver Came to Town (1999)
Author: Kimberly Willis Holt
Genre: MG, Historical (1970s)
Companion Book: Ambassador of Nowhere Texas

Opening lines from the book …
Nothing ever happens in Antler, Texas. Nothing much at all. Until this afternoon, when an old blue Thunderbird pulls a trailer decorated with Christmas lights into the Dairy Maid parking lot.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) The main character, Toby, is quite likable. He’s definitely struggling with his life. His mom has left to try to make it big in Nashville, and Toby doesn’t know quite what to make of it. He tells lies (about the Grand Ole Opry burning down … it was just a little fire!) to explain her continued absence. I really liked Toby’s dad!

2) And then there’s his best friend, Cal. He’s not always the kindest person in Antler, but even Cal has his good points. I love how the two friends (Toby and Cal) grow as people, especially as they come into contact with Zachary Beaver.

3) Which does bring me to Zachary Beaver. (Such a great name, by the way!) In the book, Zachary Beaver is billed as “the fattest kid in the world.” When he comes to town, people stand in line and pay money to see him as they would a gimmick or a sideshow. That was a reality for many sideshow acts that used to travel around. What makes this book interesting is how Toby and Cal (oddly enough for Cal!) eventually get to know Zachary as a real person. And that journey is what I found fascinating. And also, any topic that encourages us to discuss differences and empathy … Yeah, I think that’s important.

4) I also loved that the town is almost its own character, which is fun. Especially as you get to know the different quirky townspeople in this “nowhere” place. And then I loved how those quirky townspeople come together to help Zachary Beaver. There’s Cal’s sister (who just got her driver’s license) for one. And the guy who owns the diner.

5) I thought the connection to Vietnam was handled in a good way. We get this part of the story through letters from Cal’s older brother, Wayne. And I like how Wayne eventually makes a connection to Scarlett and her boyfriend.

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) I really had trouble liking the mom. Maybe this was because she was “off-screen” for the whole book. But then again, so was Wayne. But I really liked Wayne and getting to know him through his letters. I suspect with regards to the mom, it has something to do with going off to find yourself and leaving your family behind. I don’t really like that in people, and I have a hard time liking characters like that.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I picked up this book because of the “sequel” Ambassador of Nowhere Texas. It was fun to see the adults from that book as kids in this one. If you are going to read the second book, I would recommend reading this one first!

 


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