Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Middle Grade Quick Takes: Toy Academy, Ask Emma, Confusion is Nothing New

Every now and then, I dive into my TBR, which accumulates at an astonishing rate. This week, I managed to read a few more from the TBR, and wanted to give a quick take on them, since they’ve been out for a while but still deserve some mention.

Toy Academy: Some Assembly Required (Toy Academy #1), by Brian Lynch/Illustrated by Edwardian Taylor, (Jan. 2018, Scholastic), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-338-14845-9

Ages 7-10

This is the first in a new intermediate/middle grade series, and it’s SO much fun. Grumboldt is a stuffed animal of some sort – he has a somewhat amusing and dubious origin – and desperately wants to belong to a kid of his own. He meets a transforming car robot named Omnibus Squared, who, as it turns out, is recruiting toys for Commander Hedgehog’s Institute for Novelty Academia – The Toy Academy. Grumboldt manages to talk his way into admission, and tries desperately to be a great toy, so he’ll be assigned to a great kid, but he’s got some challenges. There’s a bully (it’s always a soldier, isn’t it?) named Rex constantly bugging him, and he can’t stay awake during Bedtime Prep. When Commander Hedgehog’s arms go missing, though, Grumboldt sees a chance to help out and make good at Toy Academy after all.

Have readers who love Toy Story? (Seriously, who doesn’t?) Give them Toy Academy. It’s sweet, hilarious, and loaded with toy references that everyone – kids and grownups alike – will recognize and get a laugh out of. Brian Lynch is a screenwriter with Minions and The Secret Life of Pets to his credit, so he knows how to write things that kids like. Edwardian Taylor’s art is a perfect match for the wacky, fun storytelling and gives us characters we’ll know and love for books to come: Grumboldt is a lovable plush with mismatched parts; Micro is a lively action figure whose collectable status limits her movement – she’s stuck in a plastic bag, because she HAS VALUE; Commandant Hedgepig is a knockoff, off-brand version of Commander Hedgehog who insists on being called his proper name rather than his emerging nickname, Bootleg. The second Toy Academy book, Ready for Action, is also available, so put these on your series purchase lists if you don’t have them already.  The kids will love them.

Ask Emma, by Sheryl Berk & Carrie Berk, (May 2018, Yellow Jacket), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0647-2

Ages 8-12

Emma is a 13-year-old seventh grader who loves to give advice, whether or not it’s asked for. She decides to start an Ask Emma column, so she can make herself available to all of her classmates at Austen Middle School, but quickly discovers that she’s a bit tone deaf in the process; she tends to push her best friends into doing things her way. She even tries to get the cute new guy, Jackson Knight, to join all the groups she thinks he should and tell her all about himself, but he gives a little pushback, which adds to his mystery. Emma starts getting some negative comments on her blog, and things start going haywire in Emma’s real world, too. When a hurtful picture of Emma starts making the rounds around the school, she decides to nip a potential cyberbully in the bud and takes action.

This is the first book in a new series from The Cupcake Club authors Carrie Berk and Sheryl Berk, and it left me a little wanting. Emma never really sees how self-absorbed she is, or apologizes for the things she does to her best friends. Her friends turn their backs on her when another student that Emma tries to “help” lies to make herself look good, but she never has that aha! moment when she examines her own behavior. A few negative blog comments and one mean picture become an overblown cyberbullying campaign, which, in this day and age, is forward thinking – catch cyberbullying in its early stages, before it becomes something out of control – but her related blog entry makes it sound like she endured a hateful campaign where she was bullied day and night. This one is a little out of touch; maybe an additional purchase where the authors are popular. The additional characters, including Jackson Knight and Emma’s best friends, Izzy and Harriet, seem interesting and I’d like to read more of their stories.

 

Confusion is Nothing New, by Paul Acampora, (May 2018, Scholastic Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-338-20999-0

Ages 9-13

Fourteen-year-old Ellie Magari just found out her mother, who left her and her father when Ellie was a baby, has died. Never having known her mother, Ellie tries to figure out who her mother was, especially when her father presents her with a box of her mother’s memorabilia, mysteriously sent to Ellie. She discovers that her mother was the singer in an ’80s tribute band, married her *other* high school sweetheart, and that the band is playing the local college soon. Ellie struggles with learning about her mother and how to grieve someone she never knew, while expressing frustration with her father’s reluctance to talk about her at all. Thankfully, Ellie’s friends, her principal, and an interesting new music teacher are there to help her put together the rest of the missing pieces.

Confusion is Nothing New is good, and yes, I say that partly because I love all things ’80s. (I would make a heck of a playlist to booktalk this book.) But aside from the music, it’s got a solid, readable story, and the characters have incredible heart and humor. Ellie is a likable, relatable character who takes no foolishness when a teacher treats her friend badly; she’s also vulnerable and working her way through big revelations dropped on her throughout the book. I loved her school band friends and the ease of their relationships; their humor, and their loyalty to one another. This one is a good read for tweens and teens – it’s on the cusp of being YA, but not – who want to read about another character figuring it out as best as she can.

 

Author:

I'm a mom, a children's librarian, bibliophile, and obsessive knitter. I'm a pop culture junkie and a proud nerd, and favorite reads usually fall into Sci-Fi/Fantasy. I review comics and graphic novels at WhatchaReading (http://whatchareading.com). I'm also the co-founder of On Wednesdays We Wear Capes (http://www.onwednesdays.net/), where I discuss pop culture and geek fandom from a female point of view.

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