Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Make Way for the Thunder Girls!

Freya and the Magic Jewel (Thunder Girls, #1), by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams, (May 2018, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4814-964-07

Recommended for readers 8-12

I LOOOOVE Joan Holub’s books, from board books to middle grade novels; I read ’em as often as I can and I love every single one of them. When I saw that the Goddess Girls team of Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams were starting a new series on the ladies of Norse mythology, I needed a moment to collect myself. And when I received a review copy from the author herself, I needed a few more moments. Okay, I took another moment. Let’s begin.

Freya is the 11-year-old goddess of love and beauty, happily living on Vanaheim: one of the nine worlds in Norse myth. When she and her twin brother, Frey, are summoned, by Odin, to Asgard to attend Asgard Academy as part of a new initiative to open relations between the nine worlds, Freya is skeptical. Her people have been at war with Asgard, and besides, she has it made at Vanaheim Junior High! But Odin is the king of Asgard, and she’s got to go, so she and Frey head out. Things go wrong from the start when her beloved jewel, Brising, falls from the Bifrost bridge. That jewel is what helps her see the future, and that also happens to be what Odin wants her to help him with! She also runs afoul of Angerboda, a bullying frost giantess, right off the bat. Freya has her work cut out for her, but she’ll learn – with the help of some new friends – that magic can be found in the wildest places.

I love, love, LOVED this book. Not strong on Norse mythology? You don’t need to be; you learn exactly what you need to within the pages of this book. Readers will meet characters whose names are practically household at this point, like Thor, Loki, Odin, and Frigga (thanks, Marvel!). Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams know their mythology and make the Norse tales readable for middle graders (the story of how that wall around Asgard was built is refreshingly kid safe, for starters) and put the same sense of fun into Thunder Girls that they put into Goddess Girls. There’s adventure, friendship, and enough mischief to keep readers happily turning pages. Display and booktalk with (what else?) Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard books, KL Armstrong and MA Marr’s Blackwell Pages trilogy, and NatGeo’s Norse Mythology treasury. (Have some copies of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology around for parents, too.)

Joan Holub has amazing printables on her author website, including Goddess Girls and its companion series, Heroes in Training, bookmarks. Suzanne Williams has a reader’s theatre script for one of the Goddess Girls stories, fun quizzes and downloadable stickers at her website. The next Thunder Girls book is out in October, featuring Sif, so I’ll be counting days until then.

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

Who’s the newest and fairest of them all?

charmedCharmed, I’m Sure, by Sarah Darer Littman, (Sept. 2016, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481451277

Recommended for ages 8-12

What happens when you’re the daughter of the fairy tale world’s version of Brangelina – Snow White and Prince Charming – and you can’t get a date for the Fall Festive school dance? This is Rosie White Charming’s dilemma in Charmed, I’m Sure. She grits her teeth and asks her mom – now a lifestyle blogger for her hugely famous brand – for help, receiving a complete makeover and magic compact from Snow White. At first, it’s great – guys are noticing her! Her friends think she looks fabulous! – but things aren’t always what they seem. Rosie swears the compact is talking to her, and it’s sounding a heck of a lot like the magic mirror that her evil step-grandmother used; next thing she knows, her friends are mad at her, and so is the cute guy she was talking up at the coffee joint. Rosie isn’t giving up, though – she’s going to find a way to get her happily-ever-after.

Charmed, I’m Sure is another fun entry into the flipped/fractured fairy tale genre for middle graders. It’s fun, has some cameos from other famous fairy tale offspring, and the characters are light and silly. There’s a nice message about staying true to yourself, and Snow White gets her message across to her daughter in a very sly way that will make you realize that she knows a lot more than she lets on. (Like most parents, am I right?)

A fun addition to your fun fairy tales collection. Talk it up with Jen Calonita’s Fairy Tale Reform School series and The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper for extra fun reading!

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, geek, Humor, Middle Grade, Puberty, Tween Reads

Win at Life! Insert Coin to Continue

insert-coinInsert Coin to Continue, by John David Anderson, (Sept. 2016, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481447041

Recommended for ages 9-13

Bryan Biggins is a middle school kid who’s obsessed with his favorite video game, Sovereign of Darkness, and obsessed with finding the secret advanced level of play once he beats the game. Time and again. His friends try to tell him to give it up, but Bryan’s not having it; sure enough, one night, he thinks he’s accessed the secret level, but the game just shuts off. When he wakes up the next morning, he’s discovered that his life is the new level! He’s got stats, and more importantly, he gains and loses HP (health points, hit points). People at school are talking to him weirdly, like the teacher that sends him on a quest to get a Twinkie from the teacher’s lounge, past a group of dieting teachers. What happens if all his hit points are used up – or worse, if he runs out of coins to continue? Is this the way the rest of his life is going to go?

This is one of those books that’s too much fun to read and booktalk. A kid wakes up living his own videogame, but the videogame is life as we know it? That’s perfect class trip or reading group discussion material! Bryan is EveryKid, and his friends are fun, along for the ride. Bryan is center stage here, and that’s just fine, because he’s a funny, upbeat narrator that readers will like going on the adventure with. Give this to your gamers, display with C.J. Farley’s Game World, and the insane amount of Minecraft fiction that’s out there.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

The Great Mouse Detective returns!

basilBasil of Baker Street (The Great Mouse Detective), by Eve Titus/Illustrated by Paul Galdone, (May 2016, Aladdin), $5.95, ISBN: 9781481464017

Recommended for ages 6-9

When I was growing up, I loved The Great Mouse Detective. He was a gateway to Sherlock Holmes, I later realized, and I’m sure other people in my age group (Generation X, can I get a holler?) agree. I am thrilled that Aladdin is bringing The Great Mouse Detective series back and introducing Basil and Dawkins to a new audience of readers!

Basil of Baker Street is a mouse detective, and Dr. David Q. Dawson is his faithful sidekick and chronicler. Living in late 19th-century London, Basil is the Sherlock Holmes of the Mouseworld and Dawson is his Watson. Together, the duo learn at the feet of the great Sherlock Holmes, as he recounts his adventures, further fueling Basil’s desire to be the greatest mouse detective ever. In Basil of Baker Street, the two have helped establish the community of Holmestead, a small mouse village located comfortably in the basement of 221B Baker Street – they live in Sherlock Holmes’s basement. One night, as Basil and Dawkins are leaving Holmes’ apartments upstairs, their mousekeeper, Mrs. Judson (yes!! Mrs. Judson!), comes to them in distress: the Proudfoot mouse twin sisters have been mousenapped! Basil and Dawkins are on the case, and every turn of the page is a delight.

I read this on my lunch hour and had a huge smile on my face the entire time. Grownups, re-read this book. Read this book to your kids, your nieces and nephews, your students, your friends’ kids – just read it and read it to kids. It’s such a great little adventure, with adorable, well-written, smart characters and a fun whodunit that ends safely for all. This is a great read for first and second graders who are ready to take the leap from beginner chapter books like Scholastic’ Branches series, and it’s a book so many parents and grandparents (the book was first published in 1958). Paul Galdone’s black and white illustrations will bring you back and keep your little one’s attention: Galdone’s illustrated fairy tales are still being published, so show your kids those books and ask them if the art looks familiar!


When you’re done enjoying the book together, pull up the movie (1986) and curl up together. It’s available on Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, iTunes, and GooglePlay. Seriously, it’s a classic: Basil Rathbone, the Sherlock Holmes I grew up with, voices Sherlock Holmes and Vincent Price voices the evil Professor Ratigan. And then enjoy this BuzzFeed article, because they’re big fans, too.


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

Framed! Gives us a new tween sleuth, Florian Bates

florian batesFramed! A Florian Bates Mystery, by James Ponti (Aug. 2016, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481436304

Recommended for ages 8-12

Florian Bates is a 12 year-old seventh grader in Washington DC. He’s the new kid in school, he likes pizza and egg rolls, he’s in the Scrabble Club, and he’s on the FBI’s speed dial. Florian is like a young Sherlock Holmes: he notices all the small details that people often overlook. He’s even got a cool acronym for it: TOAST, short for Theory of All Small Things. His dad designs security systems for museums and his mother restores paintings, so he’s developed an eye for the details.  When he teaches his TOAST theory to his new friend, Margaret, they foil an art theft that saves the National Gallery millions of dollars, Florian finds himself on the FBI’s speed dial – and possibly on a crime syndicate’s hit list!

Framed! is a fun whodunit for tweens. Florian is Sherlock Holmes without the intimidating presence, and Margaret is a sidekick with the promise of becoming more involved in future books. I love the TOAST theory and the detail with which Ponti describes and illustrates various ways to apply it; it’s a great talent to hone and a smart and fun way to communicate it to readers. As the mother of a tween who can stare into a refrigerator and tell me there’s no milk, simply because the container isn’t dancing and jumping into his arms when he opens the door, I thoroughly support teaching kids the importance of noticing the details.

The story is light and fun, and kids will appreciate that, FBI consultant or not, Florian’s parents aren’t letting him solve any mysteries until he gets his homework done. This is a good selection for libraries (personal, school, or public) where kids need a good mystery and are ready to move on from A to Z Mysteries.

James Ponti is the author of the Dead City series, a middle grade series that follows the adventures of Molly, a tween zombie hunter, in New York City.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Last Boy at St. Edith’s wants OUT!

last boyThe Last Boy at St. Edith’s, by Lee Gjersten Malone (Feb. 2016, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481444354

Recommended for ages 8-12

Seventh-grader, Jeremy, is not thrilled. His school, St. Edith’s, was formerly an all-girls’ school that briefly admitted boys, but it never quite caught on. He’s been counting down the number of boys leaving the school, until Andrew – #2 on his list – announced he was leaving, making Jeremy the last boy at St. Edith’s. It’s embarrassing and it’s really annoying, but his mom, who works at the school so he and his sisters can go for free, will not even consider letting him go to the local public school. Desperate, Jeremy decides to take matters into his own hands: he’s going to get expelled.

Turning to his best friend, Claudia, the two come up with a series of pranks that should do the trick. Jeremy has rules: no one gets embarrassed or hurt, and no permanent damage gets done. But the mysterious prankster’s first gag gets huge laughs, and Jeremy finds himself caught in the snowballing effect of pranking; he’s got to up the ante, but things start getting out of control. How far will Jeremy go to get thrown out?

I LOVED this book. Jeremy has a distinct voice that comes through loud and clear, and he’s got some valid arguments: he’s the butt of other school’s jokes; his own school’s teachers refer to the student body as “ladies”, so he feels humiliated in his own environment; his mother, however valid her reasons are for keeping him at St. Edith’s, is too stressed out to really listen and understand Jeremy; and his flaky tree-hugging dad is not there for him at all. He still manages to keep a sense of humor about him, and he’s a likable kid. He’s a good kid from a good family who just wants one thing to go his way, and he’s got a conscience – whether he always listens to it remains to be seen.

There are plenty of social and family issues addressed in this seemingly light read: family relationships; divorce; social classes; gender roles; friendship, and consequences. The Last Boy at St. Edith’s deserves a spot on summer reading lists, for sure. I’ll be putting together some discussion questions and a booktalk to generate interest in this great debut.

The Last Boy at St. Edith’s has received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews. You can visit Ms. Malone’s author website for more information about her, including links to social media and information on school and library visits.