Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Meet two new middle grade heroines with big imaginations

Ruby Starr, by Deborah Lytton, (Aug. 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $7.99, ISBN: 9781492645771

Recommended for readers 8-12

Ruby Starr loves getting lost in a good book. She even has a lunchtime book group with her BFFs at school: The Unicorns! Things change when Charlotte, the new girl in school, shows up and starts making big changes: she scoffs at reading and wants to make The Unicorns a drama club, and she’s spending more and more time with Ruby’s best friend, Siri. Ruby needs to dig deep into her imagination to help bring things back to normal again.

Part Secret Life of Walter Mitty, part Dork Diaries, Ruby Starr is a lovable new protagonist for middle grade readers. She daydreams scenarios to help her cope with the everyday frustrations – or imagine exciting outcomes for upcoming events – and zones out while she’s doing it, making for some giggleworthy moments throughout the story. The imagination sequences are illustrated, letting readers in on the joke. The stress of friendship – and losing it – will resonate with middle graders, as will the fear of being the outsider in the group; Ruby handles these challenges with humor and style, even reaching out to her frenemy and offering a helping hand. I loved seeing a nice librarian-student relationship, too; maybe the author can give us a Ruby Starr/Unicorns reading list to promote to our kids!

Ruby Starr is a fun entry into the humorous journal fiction sub-genre. Give this to your Dork Diaries, My Dumb Diary, and Frazzled (by Booki Vivat) readers. Ask them to draw an imaginary scenario for themselves! There’s a reader’s guide on Deborah Lytton’s author webpage, along with an author Q&A and link to her blog.

The Half-True Lies of Cricket Cohen, by Catherine Lloyd Burns, (Aug. 2017, Farrar, Straus & Giroux), $16.99, ISBN: 9780374300418

Recommended for ages 8-12

Cricket Cohen has a big imagination. Sometimes, it gets away from her – especially when she wants to impress someone, or just make a boring autobiography school assignment a little more exciting. After all, it’s fun when she and her grandmother pretend, right? Well… wrong, at least according to her schoolmates, who are tired of her making up stories, and her teacher, who wants her to redo her autobiography assignment with the truth this time. When her parents leave her alone with her grandmother, Dodo, while they go summer house-hunting in the Hamptons, Dodo convinces Cricket that they’re going to run away and have an adventure; Cricket’s all too happy to go. But Dodo starts becoming confused, and Cricket finds herself having to bail herself AND Dodo out of hot water when she’s the only one who knows what’s fact and what’s fantasy.

The Half-True Lies of Cricket Cohen is much more than a novel about a kid who likes to embellish the truth. It’s a story about grandparents and grandchildren, and it’s a story about what happens when children find themselves with the responsibility of caring for an adult: something that today’s kids sometimes find themselves managing.

Cricket finds herself disappearing into her imagination to deal with her boring classmates who prefer talking about clothes, shoes, and crushes to geology and stuffed animal brain surgery, but you can also argue that it’s an attention-seeking response to her parents, who are consumed with their nonprofit fundraising for the city’s public schools. They live above their means, and her mother – a control freak and perfectionist – treats her own mother like an inconvenience. Artsy free spirit Dodo pushes back against her daughter’s rules and regulations, and Cricket embraces her kindred spirit; but Cricket, previously unaware of her grandmother’s health struggles, finds herself in the position of being responsible for herself and her grandmother when her grandmother’s failing memory causes a problem in a department store.

The New York setting is fun – it’s got a touch of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to it. The story handles big issues like family relationships, aging grandparents, and embellishing the truth with a shot of fun and adventure. At the same time, the Dodo is the one character that remains truly likable throughout the story. Cricket and her family may be living above their means, but they are still an upper middle class family, living on New York’s Upper West Side and renting summer homes in the Hamptons. Her parents border on neglectful, putting the welfare of New York City’s public school children ahead of their own daughter’s. Cricket’s actions are understandable in the bigger picture, and she becomes a more sympathetic character as the story progresses.

Have The Half-True Lies of Cricket Cohen available, along with Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart, and There Will Be Bears, by Ryan Gebhart, for readers who may be coping with an aging grandparent. Booktalk it with Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Kay Thompson’s Eloise, Laura Marx Fitzgerald’s Under the Egg, and Nadja Spiegelman’s Lost in NYC graphic novel for a fun New York reading theme.

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

Can our favorite Book Scavengers figure out The Unbreakable Code?

The Unbreakable Code (Book Scavenger #2), by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, (April 2017, Henry Holt & Co. BYR), $16.99, ISBN: 9781627791168

Recommended for readers 8-12

The sequel to Book Scavenger (2015) continues the adventures of friends, code breakers, and bookworms Emily and James. Emily’s parents have put a hold on their state-hopping, giving Emily a feeling of permanence she missed terribly. She and James find themselves in the middle of another mystery when they notice their teacher, Mr. Quisling, acting strangely; they follow a trail of encrypted messages in Book Scavenger-laid Mark Twain books. The messages are an attempt to break a legendary, historic puzzle known as the Unbreakable Code, which leads to either a treasure or a curse. As mysterious and suspicious fires pop up around them, Emily and James are worried that Mr. Quisling is the arsonist – unless they can figure out who his mysterious Book Scavenger messenger is.

The Unbreakable Code is loaded with the adventure, mystery, and code-breaking fun that made the first book so enjoyable. There are mysteries within mysteries, and a real sense of urgency as the tweens try to get to the bottom of the arsonist on their trail. There’s a very good subplot about the history of Chinese immigrants during the California Gold Rush that shines a light on a part of history that doesn’t get as much discussion as it should. Ms. Chambliss also presents a very different Mr. Griswold, changed by the events in Book Scavenger. He’s withdrawn, hesitant, apprehensive; his buoyant style is toned down, and he surrounds himself with his assistant, Jack, and the company of dogs to guard him. Emily and James’ secondary mission is to nudge Mr. Griswold back to his former self.

A fun follow-up and a fun accompaniment to coding and spy programs. Introduce kids to coding with Book Scavenger and Gene Luen Yang’s Secret Coders! Kids can play their own game of Book Scavenger at the Book Scavenger website and sign up for the newsletter.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Catch Ralfy Rabbit, the Book Burglar!

ralfyWanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar, by Emily MacKenzie, (May 2016, Bloomsbury), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1681192208

Recommended for ages 4-7

Ralfy Rabbit LOVES books: he dreams about them; he makes lists of them; he wants to be surrounded by books ALL THE TIME. He loved books so much that he started sneaking into people’s bedrooms and reading their books while they were sleeping, but even that wasn’t good enough; he upgraded to taking the books home! One little boy named Arthur noticed that his books were starting to go missing, and to add insult to injury, soggy lettuce and half-eaten carrots were left behind. He makes a plan to catch the book burglar, but can Ralfy be rehabilitated?

A fun story with a good subplot about borrowing (and a great shout-out to libraries!), Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar is a great storytime book and a great independent read. Kids can appreciate Ralfy’s single-minded love for books and understand Arthur’s dual frustration at having his books go missing and have no one believe him. Arthur’s confrontation and solution makes for good conflict resolution and problem-solving that works for everyone.

Emily MacKenzie’s artwork is adorable. Ralfy is wide-eyed and innocent, even when he’s up to no good; when he’s caught red-handed, his eyes fill up with tears and readers can’t help but feel bad for the poor book bandit. Arthur is drawn with a kindness that will invite readers to put themselves in his place right away. The pictures are sketched with defined outlines, and the font changes for emphasis: bolds, enlarged fonts, angled text to keep readers’ attention.

I’ve paired this with Helen Docherty’s Snatchabook and Ian Schoenherr’s Read It, Don’t Eat It! for library visit read-alouds; the kids love Ralfy and Arthur, but know that Ralfy’s “not being nice” when he takes books. One Kindergartner even called out, “He should just go to the library!” (Love that kid!) You can have a great discussion about borrowing versus taking things with kids as young as preschool; for younger audiences, use Ralfy’s adventure as a good starting point for talking about sharing and forgiveness.

Originally published in 2015 in the UK, Ralfy’s just arrived on US shores. Give him a welcome space on your shelves! There’s an activity kit available from Bloomsbury UK, and you can see more of Emily MacKenzie’s art and books at her author site.

Posted in Uncategorized

CYBILS Judges Announced!

The CYBILS judges for the 2016 awards have been announced, and I made the cut! I’ll be a second round judge for the Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction category, and I’m thrilled! Go to the CYBILS main page for links to the judges in each category and discover some great blogs.

Your turn is coming! Nominations open on October 1, and we want to know what you think are the best children’s and YA books you’ve read this year! Rules for nominating are here.

cybils

2016 Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction Judges: 

First Round

Sherry Early
Semicolon http://www.semicolonblog.com

Kristen Harvey
The Book Monsters thebookmonsters.com

Brandy Painter
Random Musings of a Bibliophile http://randommusingsofabibliophile.blogspot.com/

Charlotte Taylor
Charlotte’s Library http://charlotteslibrary.blogspot.com

Brenda Tjaden
Log Cabin Library http://logcabinlibrary.blogspot.com
Second Round

Mark Buxton
Say What? http://buxfantasy.blogspot.com

Monica Edinger
Educating Alice http://medinger.wordpress.com

Heidi Grange
Geo Librarian http://geolibrarian.blogspot.com

Rosemary Kiladitis
MomReadIt https://momreadit.wordpress.com

Tasha Saecker
Waking Brain Cells wakingbraincells.com

Posted in Fiction

Rebuilding Childhood Libraries: My Quest

As I mourn the Library of Alexandria, so too, I lament the passing of my own childhood library. I’m not talking about Narnia, Middle Earth, Whoville, or The Monster at the End of the Book; no: those books are still very much in print and enjoyed the world over, and they should be. They’re wonderful, and they’re classics for good reason. I still have my childhood copies. No, I’m talking about some of those books that strike you, often out of nowhere, when you say, “What happened to that book? Can I get another copy of that one? I want to read it RIGHT NOW.”

I loved Pyewacket, by Rosemary Weir, when I was a kid. LOVED this book. Slept with it, read it until the binding fell off. I don’t know when my copy of Pyewacket and I parted ways, but about two years ago, I wanted it. Thanks to Amazon, I was able to secure myself a former library copy at 2 in the morning, when the need was too great to withstand (hey, The Strand has to close sometime). Pyewacket and I have been reunited, and it feels so good. And that got me thinking about other books from my childhood library that I want back; join me, as I begin my quest to rebuild my own personal Alexandria.

 

Pyewacket, by Rosemary Weir, 1967, Abelard-Schuman

pyewacket

The cats of Pig Lane are sick of their humans. They want to be free, to form their own cat community, so they make a deal with the local rats and mice to drive the humans out, leaving the neighborhood to them. Pyewacket, the old alley cat, is the leader of the group. He’s a big old tomcat with a torn ear, and a rockstar to the other cats. I love this book.

 

The Lively Adventures of a Burly Woodcutter, a Pint-Sized Inventory, Two Pretty Pastry Cooks, and a Gang of Desperate Criminals,
by Hilde Janzarik, 1966, Harper & Row

lively adventures

This one is another fave, and when I was talking about it with one of my BFFs, she flipped out: she loves this book, too, and hadn’t thought about it in years, until I mentioned it. This is next on my “must acquire” list. The title here pretty much tells you everything you need to know. I remember reading this large hardcover, laughing out loud at the sheer craziness of the story, and loving every minute of it. I can’t wait to get a copy of it again, and introduce it to my 4 year-old. If you love Monty Python, it’s that level of surreal, but for kids.

What’s New, Lincoln?, by Dale Fife, Coward-McCann, 1970

lincoln

This one was my challenge. I remembered it was about a kid from the projects, whose dad is a merchant marine, and he created a neighborhood newspaper that got his neighbors mad at him. I couldn’t remember the title, I vaguely thought the main character’s name was Lincoln, and that’s about it. Lots and lots of keyword searches and Google Book obsessing finally led me to this title – and I discovered that there were FOUR Lincoln books in total! My friend – the one who also loved The Lively Adventures – squealed along with me, because this was one of her faves, too! Who else loved this book? You’ve got to be out there! Did anyone else start their own newspaper because of Lincoln? I wrote one up talking all about my toys’ adventures like they were my neighbors.

The Saturdays, by Elizabeth Enright (The Melendy Quartet), 1941, Farrar & Rinehart

Saturdays5.jpg

Yes! A book from 1941! It’s still sold in paperback, I think, but this is the cover I remember having and loving (those Dell Yearling covers were so good). Little did I know that this was the first book in the Melendy Quartet – four books about the ISAAC siblings! Four siblings get tired of having nothing to do on Saturdays, because their individual allowances are so tiny, so they form a club – Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club (I.S.A.A.C.). – pool their allowances, and one sibling gets to use the money each Saturday, to go enjoy themselves in New York City. I loved reading about NYC in the ’40s, and being an only child, books about siblings always drew me right in. This series is on the list.

The Dark Forces series, various authors, 1983-1984, Bantam

thegame thedoll

I didn’t have Goosebumps when I was a tween, I had Dark Forces. We had ouija boards, devil dolls, and dark magic, and it was amazing. As far as I can tell, there were 15 books in the series. I remember having a bunch, but I specifically remember The Game and The Doll. Maybe Devil Wind, The Companion, and Magic Show. Doesn’t matter: I will have them all.

So that’s a quick roundup of books so far. Come on, there has to be books from your childhood that you want back! Sound off in the comments, I’ll write them up in a future post!

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

Are you a Book Scavenger? Read, Play, and Find Out!

bookscavengerBook Scavenger, by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (June 2015, Henry Holt), $16.99, ISBN: 9781627791151

Twelve year-old Emily is on the move again. Her unconventional parents are on a quest to live in all 50 states, so she and her brother don’t get a chance to put roots down anywhere. This move takes them to San Francisco, where Emily’s idol-Garrison Griswold, book publisher and creator of the game Book Scavenger-lives. Shortly after arriving, she and her new friend James discover a strangely new copy of the classic Edgar Allan Poe story, The Gold Bug; they learn that Griswold has been viciously attacked and is in the hospital, and people start showing an unusual interest in her copy of The Gold Bug. Could there be a connection?

This is a new spin on the middle grade mystery, with a real-life tie in that’s interesting and brings kids into the world of The Book Scavenger. Influenced by the online site Book Crossing, where you leave books for people and record where you’ve left and discovered books, Book Scavenger creates a game where you can attain levels of detective-dom by finding books and hiding books using clues to lead your fellow players to them. Chambliss and publisher Henry Holt have brought Book Scavenger to life, hiding advance review copies of Book Scavenger all over the country and inviting readers to locate them – go to http://bookscavenger.com/ to get on board and join the fun!

There is some great discussion on cryptography and hidden codes used in the book – James and Emily are fans that bring the practice into their school after being caught passing notes – and the book becomes a true whodunit, with readers trying to figure out who could have been behind the attack on Garrison Griswold, and more importantly, what is the secret of The Gold Bug? The characters are likable, even if Emily does become frustrating in her single-mindedness over solving the mystery at points, and Book Scavenger makes for exciting summer reading.

Check out Jennifer Chambliss Bertman’s author page for updates on what she’s working on.