Newbery Verdict: Wolf Hollow

20220306ma_0412Book: Wolf Hollow (2016)
Author: Lauren Wolk
Publisher: Dutton Children’s Books
Genre: MG, Historical (WWII)
Newbery Honor Book (2017)

Opening Lines of the Book…

The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie. I don’t mean the small fibs that children tell. I mean real lies fed by real fears–things I said and did that took me out of the life I’d always known and put me down hard into a new one.

MY THOUGHTS…

This book is about bullies. And what a bully do we get to meet in Betty, the new girl at school! She is particularly nasty. Poor Annabelle! How I felt for her as Betty made her wicked threats.

And then there was the strange hermit-type, Toby. I think I read somewhere that he’s been compared to Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, and I would say that’s about right. It turns out that Betty plans to use him as her scapegoat. Let’s just say that a lot of the grown-ups in the book think Betty is a little angel.

When Betty goes missing, things really get serious. Annabelle wants to save Toby, but she also thinks she knows where Betty might be.

I liked the little connection to photography with Toby and his photos. As a photographer myself, I like books that feature cameras and such.

The ending is bittersweet. I won’t spoil it, but there are some good things that come out in the end. And there are also some sad things. It has a nice realism to it.

NEWBERY VERDICT…

I did enjoy this book overall. Although, not everything is pretty-pretty. And Betty is a hard villain to stomach. I can see why it was given a Newbery Honor!

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!


Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up. (Note: This year is the 100th Anniversary of the Award!)

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 / Connect the Stars

connect-the-starsBook: Connect the Stars (2015)
Author: Marisa de los Santos & David Teague

Genre: MG, Contemporary

Basic plot: Aaron and Audrey both have special abilities. Audrey can tell when somebody’s lying. And Aaron has a photographic memory. When they end up at the same desert survival camp, that’s when things start to get interesting. They meet two more misfits and try to avoid the two bullies. But then one of the bullies simply disappears…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Let’s start with Audrey and Aaron’s special abilities (superpowers, if you will). It certainly makes for interesting reading! I love how these abilities prove to be their downfall at the beginning of the story, and that they have to “learn” how to use them. I love the juxtaposition of the “abilities” of the others in their group (Kate and Louis). While their abilities aren’t quite as spectacular, the four of them make a good team!

2) It’s written in the alternating POVs of Audrey and Aaron. I almost wanted the POVs of Louis and Kate as well, but I’m not sure if that would have made it better. I was nice to get the different perspectives. (I’m guessing each author is responsible for one POV.)

3) I liked the crusty Jare! (Sure, at times he was over-the-top; and if I were writing him, I’d have toned that part down.) He’s the leader of their group and I enjoyed the twists and turns and the mystery surrounding him.

4) Daphne and Randolph are introduced as your typical middle-school bullies. But the story takes a little turn and they turn out to be not quite so typical and I liked that.

5) At one point, the story seems to turn into a murder mystery! I loved how the little clues got the kids thinking along those lines. And I also love how the authors dealt with the “reality” of the situation.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The final question in the quiz competition (the one that is Aaron’s downfall) did not feel like a real quiz question. It felt forced to me, like the story needed it to be that way. Not a huge deal-breaker.

2) I kept wondering if a wilderness outing like this would be a legal nightmare, and thus, realistic in today’s world. But that’s probably just the grown-up talking in me.

FINAL THOUGHTS

You probably have to suspend some disbelief to enjoy this wilderness survival story. With a little mystery thrown in, and a lot of teamwork, the story was quite enjoyable.


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: All’s Faire in Middle School

alls-faireBook: All’s Faire in Middle School (2017)
Author: Victoria Jamieson
Genre: MG, Graphic Novel
Rating: 4 stars

Basic plot: Imogene and her family are part of the Renaissance Faire family. And this year, she’s been promoted to be her dad’s squire. Every weekend, they live in a world of knights and dragons; during the week, Imogene has to navigate middle school. After being homeschooled, this is her first taste of education in the classroom… and, well, she’s finding it difficult to figure out all the unwritten rules. This leads to her trying a few things that don’t exactly end up the way she intended, which includes a suspension from school and estrangement from her younger brother.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The Renaissance Faire setting is super fun. We get hermits and dragons and queens! It was interesting to learn about all the behind-the-scenes things that happen. I like how Imogene learns to make her “street” performance her own.

2) The odd friendship between Imogene and Anita is completely realistic… having your “school friends” and your “faire friends”. It happens, especially in middle school! And then, of course, there’s the rift. But I liked how Jamieson resolved everything by the end of the story.

3) At times, Felix drove me batty—I definitely saw why Imogene could lose her temper because of his antics. Still, there were other times when I thought he was a cute little brother. He adores Imogene, but… just as he’s fierce in his love, he’s also fierce in his unforgiveness.

4) I liked the relationship between Imogene and the “Princess” Violet, especially as she helps Imogene prepare her presentation for the dreaded Science class. One of my favourite moments is what Violet says to Imogene when Imogene dismisses the princess in the story of St. George and the Dragon. Violet brings up the princess’s courage and kindness as positive attributes, something to admire. I sometimes feel saddened at the backlash against the princess trope. (Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like a helpless princess who doesn’t have a thought in her head, but really, not all princesses are like that!) I like that Imogene, even if she herself doesn’t aspire to play the role of the princess, learns to respect that we all play different roles in life. And that’s a good thing.

5) Oh, those mean girls! The “friends” of Imogene. (Of course, there’s going to be a set in a story about middle school!) I love how Imogene is even warned by Anita about them. But, I also like how that whole story plays out.

6) I loved how the speech bubble for *Sigh* always seems to be dripping. I could just SEE the sigh!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I wish that [SPOILER] Imogene hadn’t found Felix’s squirrel, Tiffany (the one she throws away in the water). I mean, it’s nice for Felix, but it felt a little unrealistic to me. I wish Felix and Imogene could have come to a point where he’s able to forgive her, even without Tiffany making a comeback. [End Spoiler]

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – A fun book that merges dragons with middle school… but all set in our world. I would recommend, especially to those who want a good graphic novel to read.


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: All of Me

all-of-meBook: All of Me (2019)
Author: Chris Baron
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars

Basic plot: Ari has to deal with bullies who make fun of his weight. He can’t help being hungry all the time, can he? But, when he reaches a point of self-harm, his mother finally steps in. He’s going on a diet! It’s hard, but Ari perseveres. But he still has struggles with his dad leaving, his friend Lisa not answering his calls, and his mother not really understanding him. On top of it all, he’s working toward his bar mitzvah. Little by little, Ari grows to accept who he is, while at the same time accepting that he can’t change everything.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I was really rooting for Ari in this book. I thought his struggles with his weight were realistic. I like that we get to see the process of a transformation. Not that he becomes the skinny kid, but he becomes the person he wants to be.

2) I’m so glad Ari has friends in the story. He still has to deal with the teasing and such, but it’s not like he’s completely alone. But, I’m also glad that those friendships aren’t depicted as perfect. Like the friendship with Lisa. And even the part where Pick abandons him on the bike path to hide.

3) The calls with Gretchen were cute! I was expecting a little surprise there that didn’t quite happen, but I still enjoyed this part of the story.

4) One of my favourite parts is when the diet book “drowns”. Very clever way to deal with that part of the story.

5) I loved the Rabbi! Yes, he was a great addition to the cast of adults. I loved how he just talked to Ari, encouraged and helped him.

6) The book was written in blank verse. I thought it worked pretty well in this book.

7) Loved the ending when Ari goes back to school and sees his old bullies for the first time since school got out for the summer.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) While I liked the camping part, I had a hard time believing the parents would let their kids go on that trip alone. Overnight. By themselves.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I would highly recommend this book. Not all people share Ari’s problem, but everybody has something about them that they don’t like. In this book, Ari does some serious soul-searching. And I really like that it ends on a very positive note!


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 Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Book: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (1972)
Author: Barbara Robinson
Genre: MG, Classic
Rating: 5 stars

best-christmas-pageant-everBasic plot: Every year, the Christmas pageant is pretty much the same… that is, until the Herdmans decide they’re going to be a part of it. And once the Herdman kids decide on something, well… there’s no other way. (At least, not if you value your life.)

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This book is short and sweet, but it’s just right! All the characters are fleshed out. It’s wonderfully written. In some ways, it reminds me of Beverly Cleary’s books (which makes sense since she was writing at the same time.)

2) I love how the bullies of the story (i.e. the Herdmans) have a nice little arc. They don’t become fully angelic or anything, but the Christmas pageant does have an effect on them. Especially how the Christmas story (one they were unfamiliar with) makes them more human to the other children.

3) The humour in this book is great! I like how the narrator is able to capture all the little quirks of all the characters, like Alice who makes snide little comments throughout the performance all because she really wanted to Mary instead of Imogene Herdman. One of my favourite lines is when Mother (the director) says: “We’ve never once gone through the whole thing… I don’t know what’s going to happen. It may be the first Christmas pageant in history where Joseph and the Wise Men get ina fights, and Mary runs away with the baby.” That perfect encapsulates the whole book!

4) The ham… If you’ve read the book, you know what a mean. But the ham (for me) shows that those Herdman kids have potential after all.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Nothing. (Although, some might find the book a bit dated. It was published in 1972, but that never bothers me.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 5 Stars (out of 5) – I’ve seen this book around for ages, but I’ve never read it until this year! What was I waiting for? It’s funny and sweet. I’d definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a fun Christmas 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: The Thing About Georgie

thing-about-georgieBook: The Thing About Georgie (2006)
Author: Lisa Graff
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: The thing about Georgie is that he’s in fourth grade and he’s… short. And he’s just trying to navigate life by trying to avoid Jeannie the Meanie, the news that his parents are having a baby, and his best friend becoming his not-so-best friend.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I really enjoyed Georgie as a character. I liked his personality. It was also interesting to read about a kid with has to deal with the reality of being a dwarf in our world.

2) I found his friendship struggles to be one of the best parts of the book. From dealing with Jeannie the Meanie, and even his friend Andy. Lots of misunderstandings. I felt for Georgie as he was trying to figure it all out.

3) I loved the Presidential plotline where the class has to do a group report. Georgie and his nemesis, Jeannie, get Lincoln, when what Georgie really wanted was George Washington. (While I like Lincoln, I also wasn’t too sure about the choice of this president. See below.)

4) There are these little short “handwritten” passages, usually at the beginning of a chapter, telling us what Georgie can and cannot do because of his dwarfism. I liked learning about a topic I don’t know a lot about. But what I really liked was the arc of that little storyline!

5) Georgie has some really nice growth in this book. (No pun intended.) I enjoyed watching him learn about life and about his friends and about himself. I liked Jeannie’s character arc as well.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I wish Georgie had gotten a more obscure president for his report. Maybe this is because I know too much about Lincoln. In my classroom experience, he’s definitely one of the more popular presidents. I don’t know why other kids didn’t argue about being left with John Adams or Woodrow Wilson. I would have loved to learn a little more about a less-popular president, especially if it could be tied into Georgie’s theme.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – The thing about this book… I liked it! A good solid read which makes you want to root for Georgie!


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: Brave

braveBook: Brave (2017)
Author: Svetlana Chmakov
Genre: MG, Graphic Novel/Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Jensen’s prepared for anything… especially a zombie apocalypse. But he’s finding middle school hard to navigate. His solution is to try to avoid the bullies at all costs. When the school newspaper wants to interview him about that very topic, he freezes up. He doesn’t think he’s being bullied. But then he starts seeing bullying around him everywhere, including from his own “friends”. That’s when he decides it’s time to be brave and do something about it.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Jensen is a very likable protagonist. Even with his little quirks about sun spots. I love seeing him grow throughout the book and seeing his thought process. For example, his hatred of math and the “evil” math teacher goes through a nice arc.

2) I thought it interesting that the bullying in this story is not just confined to the “bully” characters. Even Jensen’s own “friends” display bullying. Not that they necessarily trying to be mean, but they very thoughtless. I loved the phrase that about a true friend is somebody who will save you a seat. (*SPOILER: Peppi–from the first book in this series– does exactly that. And at the end, Jensen himself approaches one of the bullies–now without his cohort–to offer to sit with him during lunch.)

3) I really liked Jorge, the baseball dude who ends up being Jensen’s project partner. I can’t believe Jensen ended up with such an awesome partner!

4) I enjoyed the math tutoring sessions. I liked how the author brought in one of the bullies to these scenes. And I thought it was good that she showed that Jensen’s grades didn’t improve right away.

5) At the end, Chmakov gives us a little author’s notes about sun spots. I almost wished had put this into the story itself, especially giving Jensen the discovery moment that the sun spots are not as life-threatening as he suspects.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) At times, I felt like this book came across as being a little too didactic on the subject of bullying. It just felt forced at times.

2) I really didn’t like Jenny. She’s the one who does the report on bullying, but she herself is a bully! I don’t think this was really dealt with and I wanted it to be addressed. She definitely has some serious anger-management problems.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Really enjoyed Jensen’s voice in this book. I’d recommend for middle-schoolers, especially those who like graphic novels.


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 Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet

tragedy-girl-named-hamletBook: The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet (2010)
Author: Erin Dionne
Genre: Upper MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Hamlet Kennedy is facing a year of headaches and heartaches. Her genius (younger) sister is joining her at her middle school. Her Shakespearean parents don’t get her. On top of that, they have been invited to speak to her class about… you guessed it, Shakespeare. And then there’s the mystery of who is leaving origami pigs in her locker…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Can I just say how much I love this title?! It’s fun. Plus it gives a great sense of what the story is going to be about.

2) I liked the relationship between Hamlet and her sister, Dezzie. There’s a nice arc in how they relate to one another. There are moments where they fight, and yet they also care about one another. I love how they work together at the end of the story.

3) I also liked their dad… He’s not quite as crazy as the mother. While both are Shakespearean scholars, the dad is a little more down-to-earth.

4) The little twist with the origami pigs was cute. I liked how this part of the plot mirrors the romantic escapades and mix-ups of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I did have a little trouble suspending my disbelief to think that a family would name their daughter Hamlet. Desdemona makes sense. But Hamlet?! Why would you do that to your baby girl? Why?!

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – A fun contemporary read about sisters, school, and Shakespeare. And origami pigs 🙂


YOUR TURN…

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

Review: You Go First

You-go-firstBook: You Go First (2018)
Author: Erin Entrada Kelly
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: This is the story of two protagonists who are Scrabble partners online. Charlotte is dealing with a father in the hospital and Ben is dealing with the news that his parents are getting a divorce. On top of that, they’re both having trouble at school.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This is a book about the masks we wear. Each of our two protagonists (Charlotte and Ben) have their own struggles that they hide from the world.  It’s an interesting topic explored in this book… how we know people, but really do not “know” them because none of us wants to go first with our story. Both kids (Charlotte and Ben) are facing some challenging stuff. But the answer is not in finding each other. The answer (given in the book) is finding a friend. A friend where you are. Of course, in real life this is harder than the book makes it out to be.

2) I like how this book takes on the topic of bullies… many different kinds of bullies; including former friends who betray you. This is Charlotte’s problem. And then there are the more classic bullies, the ones that Ben has to face. The answer (which I think is in fact very true) is in finding that one friend. Fortunately for both Ben and Charlotte, they do each find a good friend by the end of the book.

3) The online Scrabble component of the story was a fun connection between the two characters.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Ben and Charlotte never actually meet. By the end of the book, I wondered why she wrote about two kids that never meet and never really interact in any meaningful way. (Neither one of them “go first” in revealing the tough stuff that they’re dealing with.) Come to think of it, this could have been two different books in a series.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I rather liked this story. Would definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a book dealing with how how kids deal with tough issues in their lives.


YOUR TURN…

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