Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Houdini and Me – he’s back for one last trick!

Houdini and Me, by Dan Gutman, (March 2021, Holiday House), $16.99, ISBN: 9780823445158

Ages 8-12

Eleven-year-old Harry Mancini lives at Harry Houdini’s old address, so he’s learned quite a bit about the magician. But when someone leaves him a mysterious old flip phone, and someone calling himself Houdini starts texting himself on it, Harry thinks someone has to be playing a prank on him, but the texter knows way too much about Houdini, and Harry’s current apartment… is he really Houdini, and how did he find a way to text from beyond the grave? As the two exchange text conversations, Houdini lays out his plan: he wants to come back and experience life again, and in return, he’ll make Harry famous. But there are always strings attached, aren’t there?

Dan Gutman is already a celebrity in my home and my library for books like his My Weird School and The Genius Files series, and Homework Machine. He has a way of writing that kids relate to so well; it’s like having another kid level with them, and they love it. Houdini and Me has that same first-person narration and conversational voice that kids love, rapid-fire dialogue between characters, and a solid history lesson Harry Houdini, magic, and the early 20th century, that kids will enjoy, too. It’s an interesting take on Harry Houdini – this would make a good reading group book.

Check out Dan Gutman’s author website, loaded with resources, including his My Weird Read-Aloud, excerpts, and information about virtual school visits. Houdini and Me is on the Indie Next List.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Deadman’s Castle and a family on the run

Deadman’s Castle, by Iain Lawrence, (March 2021, Margaret Ferguson Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780823446551

Ages 9-12

Twelve-year-old Igor and his family have been on the run for years. When he was five, his father saw a terrible crime; ever since, they’ve been leaving homes in the middle of the night, creating new identities never settling in one spot, as a man his dad refers to as The Lizard Man hunts them down. But when they settle in yet another town, Igor is tired of running. He wants to be a normal middle school student. He wants to go to school, have friends, go to sleepovers – and he’s more and more worried that The Lizard Man may be a construct of his father’s imagination. But what if it’s not? Deadman’s Castle is is a solid psychological mystery that will keep readers turning pages – I finished this in the course of a day rather than put it down – as they, like Igor, discover new secrets with each turn of the page. It’s intense at some points, taut at others, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

This one has an easy booktalk: “You think your parents are overprotective? Igor can’t have a computer, video games, or even a cell phone because his father is convinced a bad guy is going to track him and his family down using them! And no, he isn’t allowed to come to the library to use them, either.” (Because I know that’s what at least one of my wisecrackers would come up with.)

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

New chapter book series: Twig and Turtle

I received review copies of the first two books in the new chapter book series, Twig and Turtle, from Pixel+Ink toward the end of last year and just sat down to read them, as I get my TBR self together. They are SO much fun! You don’t need to read them in order, but you’ll certainly want to read them all.

Twig and Turtle: Big Move to a Tiny House (Twig and Turtle #1), by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, (Oct. 2020, Pixel+Ink), $6.99, ISBN: 9781645950226

Ages 5-7

Sisters Twig and Turtle were living with their parents in a big home in Boston, but their parents decided to live more authentically, so they sold everything and moved their family to a tiny house in Colorado, where they can pursue their real interests. Dad’s a comic book artist, mom’s a photographer, and Twig and Turtle are navigating their new lives in a tiny home. In this first Twig and Turtle adventure, the sisters are adjusting to a new school and making new friends, but Twig is also worried about Bo, her uncle’s dog who’s been living with her grandmother. She loves Bo, but Bo – a great dane – has been making a ruckus and the neighbors are getting fed up, so she may need to rehome Bo – and Twig is so upset! Mom and Dad say there’s no room for Bo in their tiny new home, but maybe another solution will present itself? Twig and Turtle presents an interesting new take on moving and settling into a new home, new school, and new neighborhood. Twig is a third grader, Turtle is a first grader, and Turtle seems easier and quicker to acclimate than does Twig. The relationships between the girls and the girls and their parents is positive and optimistic. A fun new series; I’m always on the lookout for good chapter books for my intermediate readers and this fits the bill nicely. With Ivy and Bean coming to an end, this will be a nice new realistic fiction series to booktalk.

 

Twig and Turtle: Toy Store Trouble (Twig and Turtle #2), by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, (Oct. 2020, Pixel+Ink), $6.99, ISBN: 9781645950257

Ages 5-7

The second Twig and Turtle story centers on the new toy store opening in the neighborhood, which gets the kids all excited: especially since there’s a contest to name the new store, and the grand prize winner will also get to choose a toy of their own! Twig and Turtle are excited to win: they were only allowed to pick five toys each to take with them when they moved, but Twig is worried; Mom has already told them that for every new toy they receive, they need to choose one to part with. What if Twig doesn’t want to part with any of them? Toy Store Trouble looks at tough decisions kids have to make, and the solutions they can come up with when given time to think things through. The book also features thrift store shopping and trade-ins, so it’s a nice nod to stepping away from “fast fashion” and consumer culture.

 

Twig and Turtle: Quiet Please! (Twig and Turtle #3), by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, (Feb. 2021, Pixel+Ink), $6.99, ISBN: 9781645950455

Ages 5-7

Full disclosure: I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s just come out, so I wanted to make sure to include it here. The family is starting to chafe against tiny house living, especially when Twig is participating in a school read-a-thon while the rest of the family is living in the same space! One of Twig’s classmates is able to log more reading time, so she starts staying up way past her bedtime to keep up, making Mom and Dad realize that there need to be some changes made.

The Twig and Turtle series has black and white illustrations throughout, and is a nicely written series that looks at a different way of living than we normally see. I think the kids will enjoy this one.

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

Booktalk this Book: Dress Coded

Dress Coded, by Carrie Firestone, (July 2020, GP Putnam), $17.99, ISBN: 9781984816436

Ages 9-13

I’ve been killing myself with anticipation over this book since I received the early galley last year. I finally put everything else aside and finished this in a day, because it’s that good. Told in short chapters and including podcast transcripts, text messages, and letters, Dress Coded is a perfect snapshot of what it’s like being a young woman in middle school today. Molly Frost is fed up: fed up with her vape-addicted brother, who’s wreaked havoc on her family; fed up with feeling invisible at school, and fed up with the school’s dress code, which seems hardwired solely to embarrass and harass female students of a certain body type. It all blows up the day her friend Olivia is humiliated by the dean and principal for wearing a tank top at school and refusing to take her sweatshirt off her waist to put it back on – a reason that makes itself clear as the story progresses. Several of Molly’s friends have been “dress coded” for similar offenses, and the humiliation and frustration are far greater than the suspected offense. Molly starts a podcast, Dress Coded, where girls speak up about their dress coding experiences and the mental and emotional fallout from run-ins with staff. The podcast grows into a movement to remove the dress code, and Molly, at the center of it, finds the power within her to stand up to her brother and the school bully, and the ability to help other girls find their voice. A primer in middle school activism and a scathing indictment of how women’s bodies are weaponized and sexualized from a young age, Dress Coded is simply essential reading. Please, educators, put this on your summer reading lists!

Dress Coded is author Carrie Firestone’s middle grade debut. I can’t wait to see what else she’s going to give my middle graders. The book is a Booklist Editors’ Choice Selection, a Texas Lone Star Reading List Selection, and a Rise: Feminist Book Project Selection. It has starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly. Submit your own dress coding story at Carrie Firestone’s author webiste, and learn about her other books, workshops, and author inspiration, too.

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

Fairy tale meets the half pipe: Beauty and Bernice

Beauty and Bernice, by Nancy Viau, (Sept. 2018, Schiffer Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 9780764355806

Ages 8-12

I continue my quest to read down my TBR and feature great backlist for your readers advisory and your booklists. This time out, I’ve got another Nancy Viau book, Beauty and Bernice. Twelve-year-old Bernice Baransky is a skater girl. She’s a grunge-loving whiz on a skateboard, on the verge of middle school, and she’s got a crush on fellow skater Wyatt – not that she can do anything other than nod when he calls her “Dude”. Enter Odelia, a new transplant to the neighborhood, who appears dressed in princess gowns and decides to make Bernice her new best friend and project. She’s determined to teach Bernice her guide to the “Social Graces”, with lessons on hygiene, posture, and manners, and Bernice reluctantly goes along for the ride, teaching Odelia that she can let loose a little, herself. Both spend a summer learning about one another while volunteering with Smile Academy, a summer camp for children with Down syndrome. A kind story that brings a little everyday magic to realistic fiction, this has some surprises that will make readers smile. The subplot with the girls volunteering – and encouraging their friends to help – with the Smile Academy gives nice depth to the characters and allows for Bernice’s character growth.  If you have skater fans, sell the detailed discussions on skateboarding.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Somethings Bugging Samantha Hansen – but it’s not bees!

Something’s Bugging Samantha Hansen, by Nancy Viau, (Aug. 2019, Schiffer Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764357763

Ages 8-12

Samantha Hansen is a 10-year-old fourth grader with a love for bugs, especially bees! When she discovers that the local apiary owner is considering selling his bee farm, she launches into action, assembling her classmates to drop some knowledge on the importance of bees to her community, and encourage everyone to help save the apiary. She’s also dealing with some big feelings: she is learning to keep her temper under control, which is really difficult, because her best friend, Kelli, is hanging out with another girl lately, and she’s got big feelings to contend with. This is the second Samantha Hansen book; the first, Samantha Hansen has Rocks in Her Head (2008), introduced us to Samantha, her temper, and her coping mechanisms. It’s a good book for STEM/STEAM readers, with information about bees and apiaries; it’s a good family story that continues the exploration of loss within a family, and working through feelings in a positive way. Black and white illustrations introduce the chapter heads, and colorful endpapers show bee-friendly flowers, a honeycomb, and different types of bees. A good book club choice because there’s so much covered in this story, you can also use this Bee Hotel activity from Vivify as an end of book activity.

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Pepper Page Saves the Universe!

Pepper Page Saves the Universe (Adventures of the Supernova, Book 1), by Landry Q. Walker, (Feb. 2021, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250216922

Ages 8-12

What happens when a comics superfan discovers that she IS her favorite superhero? That’s what happens to orphaned Pepper Page, a high schooler who loves her Supernova comics more than anything: she can rattle off major storylines, lament retcons and canon versus headcanon and fancanon with the best of us fangirls, but imagine if you woke up one day to find a supreme being telling you that you’re really Wonder Woman, and all these comics have been chronicling your adventures? It’s a little much for Pepper to handle; thank goodness she’s got her cat companion and her two best friends to help out. When they aren’t under a supervillain’s influence, that is. Comics fans will love the nods to comics fan favorites like Peter David and the iconic Jack Kirby; there are tips of the hat to Golden and Silver Age comics throughout the story, and this is just a great new series to get in on right now. Parents and caregivers, read along with your tweens and share your comics knowledge! I know I will. Have Zita the Spacegirl fans? Get them reading this series immediately.

Pepper Page Saves the Universe has a starred review from The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Heels, Faces, Works and Life: Bump by Matt Wallace

Bump, by Matt Wallace, (Jan. 2021, Katherine Tegen Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780063007987

Ages 8-12

MJ is a twelve-year-old wrestling fan who is dealing with loss in her home life and racism in her school life. She feels isolated, alone, with only her wrestling show for company until she notices a covered wrestling ring in her neighbor’s yard. Turns out, her neighbor is the owner of a wrestling school, and after some intense discussion with her mother and some successful nudging on MJ’s part, Mr. Arellano – Papí, to his wrestling students – agrees to take her on as a student. At the Victory Wrestling School, MJ finally feels like she’s part of something, but an investigator from the state Athletic Commission is doing his best to shut Mr. Arellano down. MJ is determined to get to the bottom of some shady business and save the school and her wrestling family.

I loved Bump, because it’s such a good mix of family stories – the family we have and the families we create – plus the fun and work of the wrestling business. MJ knows that the bruises are real; she loves the rich history of the luchadores, and she loves being part of this history. Wrestling fans will enjoy all the nuances and peek into the ground floor of the industry, and sports fans will enjoy the heart and guts that comes with dedication. Matt Wallace addresses the casual racism that exists in our schools, and all too briefly looks at the issues with racism within MJ’s friend group. The action is fast-paced, and there’s a wild moment that belongs in a wrestling storyline that brings the story to its conclusion. A good read that I’d hand off to my library kids. Add some luchador coloring masks to your book discussion activity and invite the kids to explain why they chose the designs they did; make the masks an extension of their personalities. There’s a good explanation of lucha libre and its place in Mexican culture at SpanishPlayground.net.  Not an #OwnVoices book, but a good read that kids will like.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Measuring Up brings together two worlds

Measuring Up, by Lily LaMotte/Illustrated by Ann Xu, (Oct. 2020, Harper Alley), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062973863

Ages 8-13

Twelve-year old Cici is a Taiwanese girl whose parents are moving to Seattle. She’s not thrilled about leaving her life behind in Taiwan, especially her A-má, the grandmother that helped raise her. While she and A-má video chat, she misses her grandmother terribly and wishes she could bring her to the States. School is okay, but there are the inevitable comments from bullies; even her new friends tend to lump her in with “Chinese” as opposed to “Taiwanese”. Cici wants so much to bring A-má to Seattle to celebrate her 70th birthday, and a kids’ cooking contest offers her the perfect chance to do it: the grand prize will pay for A-má’s ticket! Cici has a few hurdles to overcome, though: her father’s insistence on prioritizing schoolwork over everything else, including cooking; the fact that she only knows how to cook Taiwanese food, and being intimidated by one of the other contestands, a girl named Miranda, whose family owns a popular restaurant and who was practically raised in kitchens. With some help from a friendly librarian (hi!) who introduces her to Julia Child, Cici begins finding her own “courage and conviction” – and that inspires her as she finds herself in her new country.

Cici navigates two worlds in Measuring Up: her Taiwanese world and her new, American world; neither of which make her entirely comfortable all the time. She struggles to “fit in” with her American friends, with new activities like sleepovers – that don’t sit so easily with her parents – and her discomfort with her friends seeing “how Taiwanese” her home life is. Learning to cook with Julia Child’s recipes, and Child’s willingness to not be perfect, gives her the confidence to step outside her comfort zone. Working with Miranda is intimidating at first, but with her newfound confidence, Cici begins trusting herself and finds her voice in the competition and with Miranda, too. It’s an exciting development to watch unfold across the pages, and the colorful artwork is eye-catching. Readers who enjoy slice-of-life, coming of age books like Shannon Hale’s Real Friends books, Victoria Jamieson’s All’s Faire in Middle School, Remy Lai’s Pie in the Sky will love Measuring Up. The New York Times has a great article on food-related novels for kids, too; it’s a great piece on how we connect food, family, and culture. and and Visit author Lily LaMotte’s webpage and find out more about the book, including a recipe from the story.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

Chef Yasmina and the Potato Panic

Chef Yasmina and the Potato Panic, by Wauter Mannaert, (Feb. 2021, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250622051

Ages 10+

Yasmina is a young chef who loves to work with food. Her dad works in a french fry restaurant (frites! frites!) where he coworkers eat their fill of fast food, while Yasmina makes sure to send her father healthy greens, spring rolls, and vegetable dishes. The family is strapped for cash, so Yasmina gets her fresh ingredients from her wacky friends at the neighborhood garden and, occasionally, from the mysterious neighbor’s rooftop garden. But something weird is afoot when the community garden is bought out by a wealthy corporation and plowed over with scientifically enhanced potatoes that cause some strange behavior in anyone who eats them! Not only are they obsessed with the taters, they’ve started barking, slobbering, and howling at the moon. Yasmina needs to find out what’s going on, fast!

Yasmina is quirky, but tends to be a little hard to follow. The smaller panels contribute to this; it’s hard to see what’s going on and subtle nuances may go missing with a first read. The artwork is fun and colorful, with exaggerated facial expressions and body behavior, but the main point of the plot – the genetically modified foods versus the small community garden – may get lost. Overall, an interesting read that I’m going to put in my library and talk up, because I think it’s a good book for discussion, but this may be an additional purchase for strapped budgets.