Review / The Friendship War

Book: The Friendship War (2019)
Author: Andrew Clements
Genre: MG, Contemporary

Basic plot: When Grace visits her grandfather, she comes into the possession of a collection of old buttons. She brings the buttons to school and, bam! A fad of button-collecting is started. But soon she’s at odds with her so-called best friend, Ellie. This time, Grace doesn’t want to give in to her friend and so begins the Friendship War …

Opening lines from the book …
Flying from Chicago to Boston by myself hasn’t been as big a deal as my dad said it was going to be. But nothing ever is.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Let’s start with all the cool buttons! I’ve never thought too deeply about buttons, but I did very much enjoy learning about the different types of buttons, especially the vintage ones. I thought this information was handled nicely through the character of Hank, Grace’s new friend.

2) Since I love old things, I definitely felt a kinship to Grace as she wanted the buttons. I think, however, I might be a little more like Hank in wanting to know the history behind them. He does all the research.

3) This was an interesting study in how fads work. Grace has a very scientific approach to things, and this whole button thing is no different. I like the scene where she discusses the idea of supply and demand with her older brother. Which, of course, leads to the thing that gets her into trouble!

4) The war between the two friends was the focus of most of the book. I was definitely on Team Grace. But I do like what Andrew Clements did at the end to make Ellie a little more sympathetic. And how the friendship is eventually saved.

5) I liked the Grampa. (I like grandparents in stories like this.) I just wish there was more with him in the book!

6) Favourite Quote: “Of all the kids you knew back when you were in sixth grade, are any of them still your friends?” This is Grace talking to her mom about the trouble in her friendship with Ellie. If I were to ask the same question of myself, I can answer and say: “Why yes, yes I am!” 🙂

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) There were moments when I couldn’t fully believe in Grace’s motivation. One particular section is when she does decide to launch a full-out war against Ellie. I didn’t totally buy it. (I just had to remind myself to just keep reading.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

I found this interesting, especially compared with The Button War by Avi. While that book is historic fiction, both books deal with button collections. I enjoyed this book by Andrew Clements. (I believe it was the final book published before his death in 2019.)

 


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 / Henry and Beezus

Book: Henry and Beezus (1952)
Author: Beverly Cleary
Genre: MG, Contemporary

Basic plot: Henry Huggins wants a bicycle more than anything. And so, he sets out to figure out a way to make his dream possible which includes a scheme to sell bubble gum at school. But things aren’t easy when your nemesis (Scooter McCarthy) constantly asking about your progress. And then there’s Beezus. She’s okay, but her little sister Ramona just makes Henry’s life miserable …

Opening lines from the book …
Henry Huggins stood by the front window of his square white house on Klickitat Street and wondered why Sunday afternoon seemed so much longer than any other part of the week.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Henry Huggins is such a likable character. I love how he can’t really stand Ramona Quimby, and yet, he’s so nice that he just puts up with her. And THEN, she always seems to turn out to be the key to his success! (Although, in this book, she doesn’t come into the climax as she often does in the other books.)

2) I love Beezus! I love how she has all these games to help her deal with her sister. Like the “Waiting for the Bus” game, just to name one. In this book, she’s forever practicing with her baton in hopes of twirling it in the Rose parade. And of course, she becomes the key to Henry figuring out how to leverage his embarrassing win at the end of the book so he can get that bicycle.

3) Scooter McCarthy makes my blood boil! Which is good. Cleary was definitely able to make us feel for poor Henry in his every attempt to get that bike, only to have Scooter be the thorn in Henry’s flesh. I also like how Scooter isn’t necessarily “bad.” He’s just annoying.

4) Who doesn’t love the name Klickitat Street. I want to live on Klickitat Street!

5) The ending (like all the other Henry books) is quite satisfying. It will make you want to go out and ride around on a bike, whether it’s red or not. My bike is blue, by the way. 🙂

FINAL THOUGHTS

I decided to read this book when the news that Beverly Cleary had died late last month. And since I did a blog post on all the Ramona Quimby books last year, I decided to read one of the Henry books this time. I really like how the Henry books are connected. We have Ribsy and Henry’s desire to have a bike and a paper route. And of course, there’s Ramona the Pest. It really is a delightful series. And while some parts may have aged a bit, overall this book (and the series as a whole) is still very much an enjoyable read. Thank you, Beverly Cleary!

 


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 / Keep it Together, Keiko Carter

Keep it Together Keiko CarterBook: Keep it Together, Keiko Carter (2020)
Author: Debbi Michiko Florence
Genre: MG, Contemporary

Basic plot: Keiko is best friends with Audrey and Jenna. They decide to make it the goal of the new school year by getting boyfriends. But things become complicated when Jenna and Audrey fall for the same boy. And then Keiko has to deal with her first crush; the confusing behaviour of Audrey’s brother, Conner; her mom being perpetually gone; and just all-around trying to keep everything together…

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK…

1) Keiko is best friends with two girls: Jenna and Audrey. I love this dynamic. Seeing the three girls interact at the beginning is wonderful. Of course, because it’s a book, there’s got to be some conflict to appear and it certainly does.

2) I loved the dog connection in this book! Conner’s dog, Lumpy, is such a fun addition. I just wish there had been more to the animal shelter part of the book. It might have been nice to have Keiko volunteer at the shelter, only to discover that Conner volunteered there as well! (And make it more awkward.)

3) The chocolate references throughout the book are fun. I like how Keiko makes her special spicy hot chocolate (such weird ingredients! I do wonder how it tastes) and how that fits in with the plot. Especially with regards to Audrey and Conner.

4) There was some great tension with the mom being gone all the time. And then, tying that into Jenna’s parents who just got a divorce. I liked how that all came to a head and got resolved.

5) I liked the scenes with the sister, Macy. Especially with her little secret that she’s keeping from Keiko. (Slight Spoiler) It’s theatre-related. (End Spoiler)

THINGS THAT BOTHERED ME…

1) I didn’t really like the ending with regards to Audrey. I wanted a better, more satisfying ending. (Spoiler Alert!) Keiko ends up as Conner’s girlfriend, and I don’t see why Audrey doesn’t think this is a good thing. Keiko and Conner could get married and they’d be sisters!! Instead, Keiko chooses Conner over Audrey. I would have liked it if Audrey figured out that choosing doesn’t have to be a part of her world. (End Spoiler)

FINAL THOUGHTS

A cute book about middle school dating. I’m not usually crazy about these types of books (I’d rather keep it at first crushes in middle school and save the dating for YA), but this one worked. I would recommend to young people who are looking for a little sweet romance!


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 / Real Friends and Best Friends

Real & Best FriendsBook: Real Friends (2017) & Best Friends (2019)
Author: Shannon Hale
Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
Genre: MG, Graphic Novel/Memoir

Basic plot: This is author Shannon Hale’s memoir about her awkward middle grade years. Set in the 1980s, Little Shannon struggles with growing up, and especially with the complicated nature of friendships. These two follow her life journey as she finds her place in the world… and the discovery that she’s a writer at heart. 

*Note: I’m reviewing two books for the price of one in this blogpost!

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Normally, I save this for last, but I wanted to bring up the Author Notes at the end of the book. I really enjoy reading what’s true and what’s been changed for the story. (Note: Most character names have been changed!) As a memoir, the plot revolves around her memories of that time, which she stresses are from her POV. I love how she mentions a few things she wishes were different (like how she could have become friends with the younger girl in the hedge). Also, in the second book, it was fun to see that the fantasy-writing by Little Shannon are based on her real writing at that time!

2) The complicated nature of friendship in middle school is portrayed in all its awkward glory. Poor Little Shannon! Such a yo-yo ride where she’s friends sometimes and other times, not.

3) I loved how the sixth graders (Zara and Veronica) make friends with Shannon (in the first book). I think it’s so important to show that friendships can span different years. It was also great to see the older girls embrace Shannon’s creativity as they join in her imaginary-play games… Yes, even though as sixth-graders, they’re too cool for school.

4) The relationship with Wendy (the sister) is pretty intense at times. I’m glad that it gets worked out in the course of the books. And to know that things became much better in their adult years (via the Author Note). 

5) And that scene depicted on the cover of the second book! I felt for Shannon with regards to her fear of roller coasters. I too had a bad experience on a roller coaster. (Nobody told me I could close my eyes. At five years old, I did the whole ride with my eyes open! Note: Like Shannon, due to peer-pressure, I did go on roller coasters I was in high school (with eyes closed, because I learned that it’s okay to close your eyes!). However, in my 20s and 30s, I learned that I don’t need to put myself under such stress anymore for fear of trying to fit in with the crowd! Let others enjoy the roller coasters!)

6) I liked the little “notes” in front of each chapter. “Do you want to be best friends? (check one) Yes! No Maybe”. Cute! (And very middle-school.)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Since these books take place in the 1980s, there were a few historical references that popped in. And then they kind of popped out again because they didn’t really go anywhere. This felt a bit disjointed to me. For example: the reference to the Challenger tragedy. Perhaps this could have been better dealt with in a regular novel, but it seemed stilted in this one.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I really did enjoy these two graphic novels! And I do think the graphic novel was the right way to go for this memoir. I would recommend the books to fans of Shannon Hale, but they’re also good to get a glimpse at how hard middle school can be… to know that you can get through those years.

Note: In many ways, this book reminded me of the Sunny graphic novel series by Jennifer and Matthew Holm.


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 Bicycle Spy

bicycle-spyBook: The Bicycle Spy (2016)
Author: Yona Zeldis McDonough
Genre: MG, Historical (WWII)

Basic plot: It’s Marcel’s job to deliver bread from his parents’ bakery on his bicycle. And with the French occupation by the Nazis, he often gets stopped. Luckily, they haven’t discovered Marcel’s secret… that the bread hides messages for the French Resistance. And then comes Delphine, a new girl to the village with her own secrets. It’s up to Marcel to help her.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I liked the Tour de France references in this book. Marcel, like many kids his age, wants to “train” for the big race. Of course, with the war going on, there was no race. Loved the little history of the race at the end of the book.

2) Marcel’s parents (the bakers) keep him in the dark about their connections to the Resistance. I love how Marcel accidentally figures it all out. And then, how he joins in with his family’s mission, full speed ahead.

3) Delphine. Loved her! I liked the intrigue and how, little by little, we find out her story. By the end of the book, I was definitely rooting for Marcel and the others in their rescue attempt.

4) This book made me hungry with all the talk of bagettes! And I don’t blame the soldiers for focusing on Marcel’s tasty pain d’épice. Yum.

5) I like how Marcel’s ordinary bravery and courage are what push the book. One of the best scenes for me came at the end with regards to his bike (his wonderful bike!) and a flat tire and the sacrifice he makes to complete his mission.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Not a huge thing, but I was expecting a bigger pay off with the Tour de France. Other than the bicycles used, there isn’t much of a connection. Of course, there weren’t any races during the war, but he could have met somebody who had won the race in the past.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I love historical fiction, and I do like a good World War II spy book. This one is a quick read and overall, quite satisfying.


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 / Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess

macy-mcmillan-rainbow-goddessBook: Macy McMillan & the Rainbow Goddess (2017)
Author: Shari Green
Genre: MG, Contemporary

Basic plot: Life is not easy for Macy. First of all, she’s deaf and so it’s sometimes hard to communicate with the world. And then there are all the recent changes to her life…. Her mom’s getting married, they’re moving, and she’s had a falling out with her best friend. And then, her mom volunteers her to help her crabby neighbour with her own move.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) All the literature references! I loved this book for just that. First of all, Macy loves to read, and soon enough, she finds out that [*Slight Spoiler] her crabby neighbour also loves books. [end spoiler] When it came to the quote about Anne of Green Gables, I was just flabbergasted. THIS woman (the character Iris, and probably also the author since she wrote the thing in the first place) gets why Anne is so amazing. (Can you tell it’s one of my favourite books?)

2) The title is interesting. The Rainbow Goddess refers to Iris, the “crabby” neighbour. I loved how their relationship (like that of a grandmother and granddaughter) develops over the book, especially the scene near the end with regards to the wedding.

3) It’s a quick read, written as a novel in verse. I liked how the author formatted the conversations. Since Macy is deaf, it’s interesting to see how she worked the dialogue that in sign language.

4) The new step-father-to-be… I really liked seeing such a positive spin put on this character, Alan. He really does try with Macy, especially how he tries to learn some basic sign language. And his daughters are adorable! (One of the best parts is when Macy is disgusted by Alan’s plain paint choices at his house and she decides that she wants her room to be purple, just to bug him. Only to discover… well, I won’t spoil it.)

5) The friendship debacle with Olivia is a good side plot. I loved how that played out as well.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) So, in the story, Macy loses her hearing at age four. I wondered about the fact that she can’t speak. But by age four, wouldn’t she have already learned how to talk. (I suppose it’s possible she was a late-talker.) Not a big deal, but it just made me wonder.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I didn’t know what to expect when I opened this book. What I got was a wonderful surprise. I completely LOVED it! The characters and story arc. Everything. I highly recommend this book! (And if you love Anne of Green Gables, I recommend it that much more.)


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 / Chloe in India

chloe-in-indiaBook: Chloe in India (2014)
Author: Kate Darnton
Genre: MG, Contemporary

Basic plot: Chloe and her family have moved from their home in Boston to the subcontinent of India. As Chloe attends school, she tries to impress Anvi and Prisha. And then there’s Lakshmi, a girl who is pretty much an outcast at school. While Chloe becomes friends with outside of school, at school they remain apart, until they decide to audition for a traditional dance. Now Chloe must figure out if she really wants to remain friends with Lakshmi, or continue to try to impress Anvi.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I loved reading about Chloe’s experience of living in such a different part of the world from where she grew up. Kate Darnton was able to bring Delhi, India alive for the reader. I love experiencing Chloe’s discoveries (like Humayun’s Tomb), especially with how she begins to open her eyes and embrace these experiences.

2) The struggle to be accepted by the “ruling cliques” at school is so important to kids. At times I wanted to yell at Chloe to get her priorities straight! And yet, it’s not like Anvi was pure evil. She’s a complicated character. And this book shows the complications very nicely.

3) I loved how the relationship with Anna (Chloe’s older sister) develops, especially at the end of the book.

4) There’s something about origami that is appealing. In the book, Chloe teaches Lakshmi how to fold cranes (after reading a book about a girl who wanted to fold 1000 cranes).

5) The climax with the dance is definitely a fun sequence in this book. Everything comes together in these last scenes, including the fact that the mom is an investigative reporter!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The language in this book gets a little PG-13 in places. Not something I usually expect in a middle-grade book! And I don’t think it was really necessary to the story. I think it was to show how the mom’s hard-nose investigative reporter or something. But, storywise, it wasn’t needed in my opinion. And to be honest, it was a turnoff for me…

FINAL THOUGHTS

I completely enjoyed reading about Chloe in India! It’s a story about complicated friendships and finding out who your friends really are.


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

#MGTakesOnThursday / Cat Found


cat-foundBook: Cat Found (2011)

Author: Ingrid Lee
Publisher: Chicken House
Genre: MG, Contemporary

This book in three words…

Cats, Rescue, Strays

Favourite Sentence from Page 11…

“Billy didn’t move. His big toe itched, but he kept still.”

My thoughts on this book…

This book is a companion book to Dog Lost, although there really is no direct correlation between the two books other than the topic of a community up in arms over animals. In this case, it’s about feral cats. Billy rescues a cat and hides her in his room, away from the prying eyes of his parents. (That’s where my favourite sentence from page 11 comes in… He’s trying to keep still so the cat won’t be frightened of him.)

However, it’s getting harder to keep her hidden in his room. He tries to hide Conga in an abandoned church, but when the town decides to get rid of all the feral cats in the community, now Conga’s in grave danger. Billy needs to do something!

This book is definitely for the animal-lover in you. You’ll be rooting for Billy and Conga. And who can resist that adorable kitten on the front cover?

Note: You can read my review on the companion book for this: Dog Lost.


This post is part of a challenge to celebrate middle-grade books. For more information, go to: https://bookcraic.blog/2020/09/24/mg-takes-on-thursday-17/

How to take part…

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

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 / Summerlost

summerlostBook: Summerlost (2016)
Author: Ally Condie
Genre: MG, Contemporary

Basic plot: Cedar Lee joins the crew at the town’s summer Shakespeare Festival where she meets Leo. It’s not long before they’re running an under-the-table tour of the festival’s most famous actress. There’s a little mystery surrounding her death twenty years prior and Cedar and Leo are determined to figure it out…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The Shakespeare festival is such a fun setting for this book. I love books about the theatre. Where I live, we have two big summer theatre festivals (within a 2-hour driving radius), so this is familiar ground to me. I also have done work in theatre myself (all behind the scenes).

2) There are tunnels that run under the theatre for the actors to get backstage. How fun is that? (And yes, this is a huge attraction to the kids in the story.)

3) I love how the kids are hired to sell the programs and concessions at the festival. And that their boss, Gary, is so into it. “Remember, you are in England!” Of course, they’re not actually allowed to speak with a British accent… except Leo.

4) The backstory of the death of Cedar’s dad and brother in a car crash is nicely woven into the plot. I also love Cedar’s relationship with her younger brother Miles. (Although, I don’t understand their fascination with watching the soap opera; I’m with the mom on that one!)

5) Leo is awesome. I love his enthusiasm for Lisette Chamberlain and how he knows everything there is to know about her. And how the kids set up a little tour-guide business!

6) I loved that the book was divided up into “Acts.” Although, since this was a Shakespearean festival, in my opinion, it should have been divided up into five acts, instead of three. And the epilogue… They totally missed the opportunity to call it: Curtain Call!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Another name that didn’t feel like it needed to be sooooo unique. And I kept forgetting her name (the story is told in first person). And with her brothers named Ben and Miles, Cedar seems like she doesn’t belong to the same family.

2) The ending was a little bit meh for me. (*SPOILERS) There’s this big build-up to the tunnels that run under the theatre. And while the kids do get to explore them, it’s probably the least interesting part of the book. Nothing happens there. We already know about the ring. Basically, it felt anti-climatic. (End Spoiler)

FINAL THOUGHTS

I would recommend to theatre-lovers. Double points for anybody who loves Shakespeare. I wish the hint at mystery worked better than it does, but overall it’s not a bad read. I enjoyed it.


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