Posts tagged ‘middle grades’

A HERO IN DISGUISE

Nate Rocks the World (Volume 1)

Written by Karen Pokras Toz

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Nate Rockledge is a ten year old boy who, like most boys his age, has a barrage of problems. He hates school, and because he has no athletic talent is always the last one chosen. Nate’s family seems dysfunctional to him. His mother can’t cook or sew, yet she expects him to eat the food she prepares and wear the lopsided Halloween costumes she insists on sewing for him. She also forces him to hang out with her friend’s daughter, Lisa, who is the class nerd. Nate has a thirteen year old sister named Abby who torments and teases him. His dad tries to be cool, but retells the same old stories so often that he makes a fool of himself. Nate does have a cool friend named Tommy who is often involved with his adventures, yet Nate’s only enjoyment is drawing cartoons and daydreaming that he is a superhero. In those moments he can say, “Nate Rocks.”

So Nate the protagonist alternates between a ho-hum existence and a penchant for imagining heroic exploits where he is suddenly drawn into situations in which people desperately need help. For example, rescuing a dog from a burning house, releasing a girl tied to railroad tracks, helping a child find her way home, and becoming an astronaut to save the earth from being destroyed by a meteorite. The reader is sucked into the action because the dialogue and story line are woven in such a way that you cannot help but cheer Nate on in his exploits even when they seem highly improbable. Then a day comes along when Nate gets the opportunity to be a real hero.

The book is recommended for middle grades or ages nine through twelve. I feel that the book appeals to boys and girls because Abby is also a strong female character. Lots of tweens will see similarities with how they view their relationships with family and school friends. There is a great deal of humor in the story. You might even find yourself laughing out loud. Young readers will find many family and school incidents which will be similar to the events happening in their own lives. The approximately 140 page book is a quick read with lots of action that will attract even a reluctant reader. Classroom teachers might want to use the story as a morning read aloud over a few sessions to garner reading interest and enhance listening skills.

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GNIT-WIT GNOME

Gnit-Wit Gnipper and the Perilous Plague Rosehaven:The Hidden City

by A.J. Lantz

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A.J. Lantz is a new and talented writer. The reader quickly understands the characters and plot because they are so well depicted and rapidly developed. In this first book we meet Gnipper an eight year old gnome who has developed the unfortunate distinction of bringing trouble wherever she goes. Gnipper’s father is a science professor who is also the Lord of the Board of Gnomes.

Poor Gnipper lost her mother at the age of four. She has no friends for two reasons. First, she is considered bad luck, and secondly, she has failed to secure her pileus. The pileus is the tall pointed hat that a gnome earns by displaying intellectual prowess. At first the pileus was an honor earned by a few distinguished gnomes. As time went on the cap was no longer an honor but considered a badge of shame if not earned by age seven.  Those unfortunates who failed to achieve it were considered stunted and derisively called gnit-wits.

Gnipper is desperate to please her father and achieve status as a learned gnome. All of her previous scientific experiments have failed. Finally, she thinks that she has an ingenious idea. While serving her father, Professor Tallhat his morning tea, she casually suggests that she has a brilliant new idea which will earn her the pileus. He presses her for information, but she tells him that it will be a surprise. Suddenly, the professor collapses. Gnipper struggles to get her father’s body down to her basement laboratory. It seems that her experiment has gone terribly wrong!

Gnipper races to the doctor, Kelda Pearlhorn, who just happens to be a unicorn. Unlike most of the island’s inhabitants, she has always been kind to Gnipper. When Gnipper describes the situation, the doctor becomes alarmed and races to the lab with Gnipper on her back, knocking over anything or anyone in her path. The doctor diagnoses the illness and is at a loss to treat it, until Gnipper comes up with a brilliant solution. However, this will require a great sacrifice from the doctor. Gnipper learns an important lesson about the pileus, while Kelda models an important lesson that Gnipper needs to learn.

At the end of the story, we are given a glimpse into Lantz’s new novel. In Rise of the Retics  we meet Tyranna, an eleven year old orphan who is being raised at Lipkos Monastery near the Baltic Sea. She is the only female orphan, but she doesn’t like to restrict herself to female pursuits. While writing her letters in her room, she hears nonresident her door. Some knights appear outside her room and drag her down to the gate. On the way, she is terrified to see that the monks have been murdered. She anxiously awaits her fate as she is torn from her the only place she has ever called home.

The only criticism I have is that there are no pictures to go along with the wonderful language, pathos and humor in this story. I would love to see some of these exquisitely defined characters and scenery displayed as illustrations. Tweens and teens will love this new series of fantasy adventures. They are so well written that adults will enjoy them as well.

 

 

POIGNANT AND POWERFUL

A Journey of Dreams

by Marge Pellegrino

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Journey of Dreams is a work of historical fiction which takes place in 1984-85. During that time the Guatemalan government destroyed 440 villages using a slash and burn campaign. More than one million families were displaced and 200,000 people fled Guatemala. Human rights volunteers and religious leaders found safe havens for some of the exiled. It became known as the Sanctuary Movement. These volunteers funneled them to safety and helped them to gain political asylum. In this book Tomasa is a thirteen year old Mayan girl born in the highlands. She embodies the experiences of many of these refugees. Her story reflects the courage of many like herself and reveals the rich tapestry of her culture.

At the beginning of the story Tomasa and her family live in a small village. They farm on their land; the women sell native clothing and crafts at the local market. But lately, the rebel soldiers have been forcing young boys to join the army. They mercilessly wipe out the opposition. One day Tomasa’s mother tells her son Carlos that government planes are spraying harmful chemicals. They are overheard and must flee the village to survive. Conditions continue to deteriorate. Many local villagers have been placed in model villages, which are nothing more than concentration camps. Papa is determined to escape with the family. Soldiers suspect them; they are forced to return. Soon after soldiers come to burn their village. Their grandmother dies trying to escape. They hide and make their way slowly on foot to the capital city. From there they will try to cross into Mexico. Every night as they cower in the fields, Papa tells them a native story, while every night Tomasa has haunting nightmares. Papa must find work while Tomasa, her brother Manuel and baby sister, Maria hide. They are afraid of everyone. It takes three tries to cross the border to Mexico.They almost lose their lives on the river and are endangered by the soldiers shooting at them and the “coyotes” who take their money to protect them.

Finally, as they arrive in Mexico, their friends in the Sanctuary Movement attempt to protect them. Manuel despairs of ever finding his mother and adopts Juana, another refugee as his protector. Their goal is to reach Phoenix, Arizona in the United States and to locate their mother and brother, Every move is fraught with danger. They fear moving around in the daytime. Will they ever find a measure of safety and become a family again?

This book is carefully researched and well written. I finished the book in less than two hours. Age recommendation is eleven and up. The book provides a glimpse into the horror of warfare and human enslavement. The interweaving of native culture in dreams and storytelling is vivid and engaging, The author provides a glossary of Spanish and native terms as well as a map to mark the journey. Teachers will find much to discuss with their students and adults will learn more about a tragedy that resulted in making a native people stronger and more resilient.

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AN ADVENTURE IN THE WOODS

Breadcrumbs

by Anne Ursu

Breadcrumbs

This book is a strange mixture of realism and fantasy. In the first part of the book, we meet Hazel, a ten year old fifth grader who is struggling to readjust. Her life has been turned upside down because her parents have recently divorced and she can no longer afford to attend private school. She is a loner who is having difficulty adjusting to her new public school. Hazel has one anchor, Her next door neighbor Jack has been her close friend for four years. They have a secret meeting place, an old abandoned house. Here they talk of dragons, castles, knights and pretend play. They skate and sled together in the Minneapolis winter. While Hazel’s mother tries to interest her in other female friends like Adelaide, Hazel only wants to spend time with Jack. Mom worries about Hazel’s troubles in school and her inability to concentrate or make new friends,

Suddenly, one day at school everything changes. Jack is hurt in the playground. Something has mysteriously landed in his eye. No one knows what happened or where the glass splinter came from. Jack disappears and Hazel searches for him. Jack is cold and mean to everyone, Hazel cannot understand why she is being shunned. Then she sees Jack walking into the forest and decides to follow him. Here is where the fantasy adventure begins in Part Two.

The reader is informed that a demon with a forty seven syllable name decided to fling an enchanted mirror into the sky which shattered into a million pieces. Strange things began to occur on earth. Personalities change, people stop working or suddenly isolate themselves. Jack developed a cold heart. Hazel knew something horrible had happened to Jack. She was determined to save him and so she walked alone into the woods at night with a backpack and a heavy heart.

Hazel saw the white witch at the edge of the forest, She knew that Jack had been lured into the woods and would never return if she could not break the spell. Now the adventure begins. Hazel faces her fears and death as she travels into the forest. She meets wolves, demons and strange creatures. Breadcrumbs has often been described as a retelling of the Snow Queen. There are elements of many other fairly tales as well like The Nightingale and The Red Shoes.

This book is written well and has beautiful language. There are many metaphors, analogies and personifications. It has been suggested for ages eight and up, but I feel much of the dark fantasy is more appropriate for children twelve and older. The struggle of the characters to find themselves and face their fears adds a level of realism to the story. Adults will find the tale intriguing and may enjoy reminiscing about their childhood struggles. Certainly, the book lends itself to lots of discussion and comparisons on the multifaceted plot and characters.

STEP INTO THE WAR OF 1812

Sackets Harbor Powder Monkey: The War of 1812

by Hope Irvin Marston

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Hope Irvin Marston has written more then thirty books for children. Sackets Harbor: Powder Monkey will not disappoint. This book has value on several levels. It is based on real historical events carefully researched and developed. The book reveals a glimpse into the life of families who lived there. Last, but certainly not least, the story is an adventure tale that tweens, teens and adults will not be able to put down.

The story begins with a ten year old boy named Rankin sneaking out of bed to catch a glimpse of the warship sent to guard Lake Ontario from imminent attack by the British. The embargo forbids the local farmers from trading with the Canadians preventing the Americans from smuggling potash in for sale. Rankin, his brother Will, and his Pa risk arrest every time they cross the river. Rankin is enthralled by the warship and is determined to find a way to enlist in the fight. Will convinces his parents to allow them to try. Captain Woolsey is impressed with the boys’ enthusiasm and astounded that they can write. Rankin will become a powder monkey, which means he will be transporting the gun powder to the cannons. Will, who had been an apprentice with a gunsmith, will be an armourer working with weapons aboard the ship.

Marston does an excellent job of portraying the emotions of these two boys. The glamor soon wears off as Rankin must swab the bilge and Will spends hours cleaning rust off the old cannons. Much to their dismay, their ship is dispatched to catch smugglers; friends and family trying to sell potash just as they had done. Rankin is becoming despondent. Finally, one year later in 1812, war is officially declared.

Their ship, the Oneida, is no match for the British fleet. How will they and the hard working families of Sackets Harbor face the overwhelming odds?  Can they succeed in defeating the British?

The author provides lots of resources to help the reader fully comprehend the historical events. There is a map of the area, a list of the historical characters, a glossary of time period and naval terms, an annotated bibliography including internet resources, how to visit the battlefield, and even the local folklore associated with it. Teachers and homeschooling parents will be able to take this story and use it as a springboard for discussion and activities in many other areas of the curriculum.This book is so well written that most children and adults will want to read it in one sitting. Even though there are no illustrations within the story itself, the text is large and double spaced making it easy to read and follow for those with vision or learning disabilities. The main characters are male, but I do not see it as a “boy’s ” book. Authentic period language words like “Huzzah” and “Thankee” make it easy to imagine yourself being there. The spirit of camaraderie in battle displayed by the settlers will make you want to stand up and cheer them on to succeed. This book is targeted for a middle grade audience, but adults will find it equally enjoyable and informative. If you choose to read this book, you won’t be disappointed!

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