Posts from the ‘middle grades’ Category

AN UNEASY FEELING

WHERE DO the CHILDREN PLAY?

Written by Tom Evans

This book relates the story of Wesley and Rory, two twin boys who were more different than alike. Wesley is curious and impetuous, while his twin Rory is cautious and unassuming. Set in the 1950s, the tale begins when the boys are five years old and residents of an orphanage. Up to this point, they had spent a good deal of time in and out of foster homes. When Mr. and Mrs. Barnes show up at the orphanage and appear interested in the boys, they are not overly optimistic about a permanent placement.

To their surprise, the Barnes couple and their other adopted daughter introduce the boys to a relatively stable environment, although Mrs. Barnes is a strict disciplinarian who puts up with no-nonsense. The first part of the book speaks of their early years, adjustment to middle-class suburbia, and relationship to their peers.

A dramatic event sets the scene for Part Two. A four-year-old boy is kidnapped and murdered. Wesley is obsessed with this case and the suspected murderer, who is a fifteen-year-old girl. Wesley is haunted by her and feels that he knows her. She is the missing link to finding out his identity and family roots. He becomes a self-appointed detective and partners with a newspaper journalist to solve the mystery.

Evans develops his characters well. The reader identifies and empathizes with them. Read this compelling tale to piece together the clues. Recommended for readers ages twelve and older.

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SEEDS AND TREES

STRONG WORDS

SEEDS AND TREES: A Children’s Book About the Power of Words

WRITTEN BY BRANDON WALDON

ILLUSTRATED BY KRISTEN AND KEVIN HOWDESHELL

 

This book features a young prince as the protagonist. He lives in a castle by the sea. Every day he goes out to collect seeds. The prince soon realizes that some of these seeds become dark seeds, while others remain green. As the trees he plants grow, the dark seeds develop thistles and thorns. The green seeds blossom into beautiful shade trees. The reader comes to understand that the green seeds represent good words that are beautiful and true, while the dark seeds represent harmful, cruel words. As the prince becomes older, he notices that the dark trees are overshadowing the others. One day he meets a young girl who always speaks true and kind words. She carries with her the tools to remove the dark trees. She helps him take care of and nourish the green trees while removing the dark trees.

This tale is a beautiful way to teach children the importance of the type of words they use. Harsh words lead to hurt, bullying, and the destruction of good relationships. I would highly recommend this book to parents and teachers of children in elementary and middle school. It provides lots of material for a variety of discussions on behavior and developing good, strong relationships with peers and adults. The illustrations complement the text beautifully.

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AN ACTIVE IMAGINATION

Ronan’s Dinosaur

Written by Nadishka Aloysius

Illustrated by Manoshi de Silva

This chapter book features a five-year-old boy named Ronan who is suddenly moved to join his parents at his Grandmother’s rural home in Sri Lanka. Ronan and his parents lived in the urban area of Colombo.

Ronan is an anxious, lonely boy who does not like change. His parents have moved in temporarily to help his ailing grandmother. Ronan’s parents are kind and caring parents who do their best to assuage his fears. One day while playing in the garden, Ronan finds a lizard named Scoot. Scoot can talk. He explains to Ronan that she is a dinosaur. Ronan is skeptical, but he learns to enjoy exploring with her and making friends with Tryx, her dinosaur friend who lives in the trees.

When Ronan’s parents hear him talking aloud, they think he is talking to himself and become concerned. So, they take him to visit a neighbor next door who has a dog named Spike. Ronan is afraid of the dog, until Scoot talks to the animal. Again, Ronan learns he has nothing to fear.

Ronan’s grandmother has a setback and must visit the hospital. There he confides in his grandmother and reveals his secret. She remembers her own youth spent with Scoot. The time has come to sell the house and move to a nursing home. Ronan is devastated. Will Ronan ever see Scoot again?

This is a wonderful book to share with children who like to be alone or who experience anxieties. It gently explains that change is not necessarily bad and that we grow from personal experiences both real and imaginary. Targeted for children ages seven and older. I would especially recommend it for ages nine through twelve as a portion of the vocabulary is challenging.

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HUNTER OR HUNTED?

Etty Steele: Vampire Hunter

Written by Grayson Grave

Etty lives in the town of Brightwater, a seaside town that is rumored to be inhabited by witches. Etty lives with her human father and her mother who is a vampire hunter. Every day Etty must endure training sessions in a secret room that is hidden away in the basement of her house. Etty has one friend, a classmate named April Showers. They have not spent much time together lately as Etty has spent the summer at a vampire hunting training camp.

When Etty and April return to school in September, things become awkward. A new boy named Vladimir Dox has all the markings of a vampire, dark glasses, red lips, pale skin, and strange behavior. April befriends Vladimir; Etty is skeptical. Then two people are murdered, and April reveals her grandmother has given her a ring for protection. Etty discovers that April comes from a family of witches who don’t want vampire hunters interfering with their work.

When a schoolmate and Etty’s mom disappear, April and Etty decide to take Vladimir with them to investigate. What will happen to this strange alliance? Is Etty’s mom in danger? Will they solve the murder mystery and discover who is the vampire lurking around the town? What will happen to the friendship between April and Etty?

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A NEW BEGINNING

In Memory of Dad

Written by Maranda Russell

Kaley Jergins is a spirited fourth-grader who loves playing basketball. While she enjoys practicing with her teammates, Kaley especially enjoys playing with her father, Kyle. Kyle played basketball in college and received a championship ring after participating in The Final Four matches several times.

One-night Kaley’s placid world is turned upside down when her father suffers a heart attack. After his death, she and her mother withdraw. Kaley gives up basketball because the memories of her father pain her too much. One day her former teammate, Drea begs her to attend a game, which Kaley reluctantly agrees to do after much cajoling. A surprise event propels Kaley from her lethargy and convinces her to move on with her life.

This short story is a good way to discuss the topic of death and dying in families who have experienced or who are about to experience a loss. Teachers might also use the book as a read-aloud for class discussion. The author writes an afterword in which she offers suggestions to young readers for coping with the loss of a family member. Recommended for middle-grade and young adult readers.

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TRIAL AND ERROR

 

Jerry the Squirrel: Volume One (Arestana Series)

Written and Illustrated by Shawn P.B. Robinson

This book is the first in a series that features Jerry, a squirrel who loves to invent things. Jerry uses his imagination to problem solve the issues of everyday life that confront him. One day Jerry decides to end the problem of not having his slippers next to his bed when he wakes up to a cold floor each morning. Jerry spends all day and night designing a pair of slippers that will come to him each morning. When Jerry succeeds in the task, he gets more than he bargained for. His slippers take charge and take him on a wild adventure. All the squirrel neighbors watch in fascination. They are eager to sign up for a pair of slippers just like Jerry’s.

The book contains other adventures. One of these deals with Jerry needing to come up with an idea fast when he fails to garner enough nuts for the winter and another chronicles his adventure with the nut beetles. All of them feature the trials and tribulations of Jerry’s career as an inventor who experiences success and failure.

This book might best be described as a series of short stories rather than a chapter book. Because it does not contain illustrations and the stories are short, it is a good choice for reluctant or beginning readers. It encourages creativity and independent solutions to problem-solving. I would recommend it for ages six through fourteen.

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A Math Problem

Math on the Table (The Gracie Series)

Written and illustrated by Grace La Joy Henderson

Gracie loves to do math problems. When she finds a blank math worksheet on the table in the living room, she becomes excited. Gracie inquires of her parents where it came from. Both joke that they don’t know the answer. Gracie decides that it must have been placed there for her. She hurries to solve all the problems on the paper and feels elated when she accomplishes the task.

When Gracie’s younger brother discovers the completed worksheet, he becomes distraught. It turns out this was his homework. Gracie feels ashamed. She apologizes to her brother and learns a valuable lesson. This book is part of a series in which Gracie learns life lessons through personal experiences. The series is recommended for ages three through eleven but probably most appropriate for ages seven and older.

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