Posts tagged ‘middle grades’

STRANGE NEW WORLD

Walker Wildcats Year 1: The Extraordinary Life of Cassandra Jones Episode 1: The New Girl

Written by Tamara Hart Heiner

Illustrated by Elisa Allan

CassandraJones,pic

Cassandra Jones is a fifth grader who has just been uprooted because her family has moved from Texas to Arkansas. Facing the first day in a new school with trepidation, her fears are allayed when Danelle invites her to eat lunch with her and join her on the playground. Maybe things won’t be so bad.

Cassie is disappointed when her mom is late picking her up, but then rejoices when she finds out that their new house is ready. Soon after she finds a problem when a classmate who wants to be her friend doesn’t get along with Danelle. Then things don’t go smoothly at Girl’s Club, and she is tempted to quit because she is treated unfairly. To make matters worse, her mother says no when Cassie falls in love with a dog that her friend’s family is offering for adoption.

This book discusses many of the trials and tribulations preteens face with their peers and the adults with whom they interact. Marketed for children from second grade through middle grades, girls who are dealing with coming of age and family or school adjustment issues will find it has genuine appeal. Lots of dialogue and a few simple black and white illustrations. I think that teachers in grades three to five may find it a good candidate for a group discussion.

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NERDS AND NINJAS

The Secret Path of Ned the Ninja: Reluctant Hero

Written by Kea Alwang and Melissa Mertz

NedtheNinja,pic

Ned is a bright fifth grader who admits to being a nerd and a klutz. He is taunted in school by Jared Beck, appropriately named Beck the Bonebreaker. When his parents can take no longer take the bullying and taunting, they enroll Ned in karate class. Ned paints a pathetic but humorous scene of his first day in class. The only saving grace is finding that he has a crush on one of the students, Adrianna. Ned is thrown into the fray with no leniency for being a new student. At first Ned is tempted to quit, but he changes his mind when the Tora Khan appears in his bedroom to give him a one to one training lesson. Is it a dream?

The next morning, Ned awakes and is still not sure when strange things begin to happen. When Ned gets to school, he discovers that he is no longer the person everyone knows. Ned learns that fears limit our capabilities. If one can take away fear by redirecting thoughts, limitations can be overcome. Our minds can be made to re-channel our fears and weaknesses.

Ned is such a likable character. He is funny, vulnerable, sincere and honest. Middle grade readers will empathize and grow with this character. The details of karate class keep the story line novel and interesting. Both sexes will enjoy the read. Recommended for all ages eight and up. I read the fifty five page book in one sitting.

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STEPPING UP – John Bloom and the Victory Garden Book Blitz

John Bloom and the Victory Garden

Written by Leigh Shearin

Art & Design by Katie Shearin

VictoryGarden,pic

I used to live in a house that still had remnants of a World War I victory garden popping up between the flowers so I was immediately drawn to this book. So glad that I picked it up this historical fiction tale.

Shearin does an amazing job of capturing the spirit of the three main characters and best friends, ten year olds, John, Joe, and Chewie. The story opens in Appleside, NJ, a small town on December 6, 1941. These three boys and their families will suddenly find their lives turned upside down when Pearl Harbor is attacked and their country enters World War II. The author makes the setting authentic by mentioning things like sitting around the old radio and Fireside Chats of FDR, Life magazine, the 5 & 10 Cent store, and popular games like horseshoes and marbles. These boys spring to life with antics like chewing on their collar, secret door knock signals, and pranks like filling grumpy, Mr. Hutchins’ outhouse with snow. Some things never change; there are the typical classroom hijinks and even incidents of bullying.

When the war breaks out, the boys decide to form a club in an effort to help the war effort. They call it the ABC Club. Recognizing the injustice of rounding up Japanese, German and Italian nationals, they fear the loss of friends in their community. A grumpy neighbor morphs into a new friend when their kindness toward him leads to an unexpected change of circumstances and a new avenue of patriotism.

Middle grade students will empathize with these boys and the difficulties they encounter in adjusting to frightening circumstances. Recommended for children ages nine and older. This is a well-written book with developed characters and plot and is a compelling read for adults as well. Next year’s sequel will continue the story as the course of the war unfolds.

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BREAKING THE MOLD – BOOK REVIEW BLITZ

Roxy Rogers: Your Destiny is Calling

Written by Emily Siskin-Toy

Illustrated by Brian C. Krumm

Roxy,pic

Roxy Rogers comes from a baseball family. From the day she was born, her family groomed her to be a talented ball player. Everyone in the family, great grandparents, grandparents, and parents had been star baseball players. Her great grandfather had played with Joe DiMaggio, grandpa was on the team with Jackie Robinson, and her dad played with the Los Angeles Dodges in the 1980’s. Her grandmothers played professional ball and even her older sister Morgan had already played on an Olympic team. But Roxy had a passion that she enjoyed more than playing baseball; she wanted to be a soul singer like her idol,  Aretha Franklin.

Roxy hummed while she walked in the opening day parade with her team. When the singer slated to sing the National Anthem at her game gets stuck in traffic, she is invited to sing. The crowd goes wild and Roxy realizes that she has another real talent. To their credit, her family cheers her on. It seems like Roxy might be breaking the mold of family tradition.

This book is executed well. The illustrations are charming. I like the game at the end challenging readers to find the 48 musical clues, and the background information on names of famous baseball players mentioned in the story. Encourages children to act independently and be true to their passions, even when others expect something else. Good choice for early readers, aficionados of baseball, and admirers of strong female characters.

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LOST BETWEEN TWO WORLDS

Hope Defined (Dinah Dynamo)

Written by Shannon Humphrey

HopeDefined,pic

This book is a tale of two heroines; Hope, a thirteen year old wannabe astrophysicist, struggling to make a difference in the “hood” on Earth, and Dinah, one of the scions who travel space creating planets and chasing the stars. Hope must overcome bullies and racism; Dinah must figure out how to control the forces struggling to tear her being apart.

Humphrey succeeds in writing a book that addresses problems many middle grade students face, bullying and racism, while at the same time facing how to “come of age.” The parallel science fiction story of Dinah, who is being tested in her world, lends an appealing element to the middle grade reader. Hope is truly a creative genius, but she is faced with opposition from her black friends who want her to give up her “nerdiness” and just fit in, while at the same time fighting to compete with the white kids who are jealous of her and scheme to get her in trouble. Her mother does not understand her devotion to her studies, but a neighbor named Mr. Lewis is willing to help. Hope has strange dreams about a girl who looks like her and gives her confidence; Dinah struggles with a strange feeling that she is needed to help someone, but does not understand how or where this impulse originates.

The plot details the kind of experiences middle school students face everyday and portrays situations with which they can empathize. I highly recommend this book to parents and teachers as a starting point of discussions on bullying and racism. It raises many situations that should be raised before these issues arise. Children age nine and up will find this a compelling read and a useful resource for answering may of their questions in a nonjudgmental fashion. This story teaches and does not preach; a most effective way to reach the minds of tweens and young teens.

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BEDTIME BONANZA

LOTS AND LOTS (RHYMING CHILDREN BEDTIME STORIES)

Written by Peter Collier

Lots and Lots pic

What a refreshing collection of amusing short stories written in rhyme! This collection is very different from the typical bedtime fairytale or animal story. I especially like the fact that the featured character is a very bright little girl named Frances Nicolson, who just can’t stop asking questions. She inquiries about common everyday activities like baking a cake without a recipe and using the wrong kind of pebble as a skipping stone. Frances questions her neighbor about the funny words he uses like, “Hunky Dory” and “old curmudgeon.” She refuses to believe in tales like the Loch Ness Monster because they can’t be proven. Her imagination is unlimited: Frances uses her own backyard to go on an African safari, have tea with kings and queens, and climb the world’s highest mountain.

Frances’ curiosity is insatiable. Some of her questions include:

Do you have any bellybuttons?
If chickens are boneless, how could they walk?
What’s the difference between hunks and chunks?

When the circus came to town, Frances had all sorts of questions for the clowns like what is the reason for their baggy pants and why don’t they get dizzy from standing upside down all the time. Frances has a friend named Susan Jane who has a habit of exaggerating the truth. That exasperates Frances because she just has to have the right answer! There is only one time when Frances is quiet. Can you guess when?

The bottom line of this enticing book is that you cannot learn without asking questions. That might be annoying to parents and teachers, at times, but it is the way all children enrich their minds. Collier is to be commended for a clever story line and a character who represents a wonderful role model for children.

MONSTER MELANGE

Monsters I Know (Rhyming Bedtime Stories

Written and illustrated by Peter Collier

MonstersIKnow, picThis book would make a delightful Halloween read. The types of monsters are unorthodox and most of them are not very scary! First, the reader encounters The Big Foote Belly Button Lint monster. He lives at the feet of Thomas Mcfee’s bed. It began as some belly button lint and grows bigger every day eating only colored string. There is a Hungry Tree who walks about eating farm animals, the Smelly Kiss, Smelly Sam stomach gasses monster, a Spaghetti Dinner Monster, and the Dead End Rubbish monster.

Perhaps the scariest is the cursed School Chair monster.
The author describes it as,

“One moment you’re there
and the next you’ll be gone;”

The Jones family certainly lived to regret not getting rid of The Fridge. I won’t give away its secrets except to say,

“No one goes near it anymore:
Never will anyone open its door;
All it does now is snarl and snore.”

Children age six and up will love the absurdity and the silliness in these rhymes, although some of the vocabulary will not be understood by younger readers This kind of slapstick humor is especially appealing to middle grade boys. Although the concepts are clever, the rhymes are sometimes a bit forced. There are some issues with punctuation and line placement. In this kindle version, the illustrations are very small. Larger pictures would have added a lot more to the desired effect of the tales. On the other hand, if you are looking for a very different and funny Halloween book of short tales, this one will surely fit the bill.

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ABSURD ADVENTURE

Jellybean the Dragon

Written by Elias Zapple

Illustrated by Jade Young and Ilaeira Misirlou

NewJellybeanthedragon, pic

In this eBook short story we meet Emma, a ten year old orphan who lives in a castle plunked down in a forest of make believe fruit trees. Her parents died when they ate too many carrots in an eating contest, which left her sole ruler of the land of trees and pet crocodiles. Emma is no ordinary little girl, she has already completed training as an astronaut and has her own spaceship.

One day a red and green flying dragon crashes down and burns a mango tree in the process. The townspeople are angry that he has destroyed this tree so Emma rescues the dragon by squeezing him into her rocket and flying him home to his planet named Hoppity, next to Dino, far into space beyond the planet Neptune. The reader is introduced to facts about the planets as each of them is passed along on the journey to Hoppity. Her dragon friend gives her the gift of a magical plant that will grow all kinds of treasure.

Once they arrive on the ground, Emma also finds a cool reception. The dragon townspeople led by Nixon sentence her to fifty years in prison. Jelly puts her in his mouth and rescues her once more and flies her on his back to another planet named Earth. Here Emma befriends Miss Tickler, the talking cat. Jelly’s twin Cyril is as Jelly puts it, “his stupid brother.” Soon, strange vibrations occur. The dragons know there will be an earthquake soon. Emma and her friends escape in the nick of time.

She is transported to Zanu where she meets the dragon king named King Buttercup. Here Emma is finally welcomed. The king desires to make her a princess and showers her with gifts. Emma wants no part of this; she tells him that she wants to be, Emma the Guitarist. The king will agree only if Emma participates in a competition with their best guitarist, Fillmore. Fillmore is known there as, “Les Paul of Dragons.” Emma spends lots of time practicing her riffs only to discover from Jelly that this competition has a catch. The loser must have his arms chopped off and stay away from the planet Zanu forever. What a dilemma! If Emma loses where will she find a home and how will she survive?

You will have to read the story to see who wins the competition and what happens to Emma, Fillmore and the rest of her dragon friends. As you may have guessed, there are lots of incongruities in the story and the humor is the type that appeals to the middle grade reader. For example, the author talks about, “other works by This Dude,” and mentions in the preview of soon to be released books, “coming soon to a bathroom near you.” I like the glossary which includes more difficult vocabulary words like malfunctioned, imprisoned, scythe, and made up terms like orangeness. Children are also introduced to some information about the planets and space travel. This eBook is available on Amazon and Smashwords.

Please note that at the request of the author, I have updated the cover and illustrator information that have changed since I originally read and reviewed this post several months ago.

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