Posted in Fantasy, Tween Reads

Oddkins – A Dean Koontz tale for middle graders

oddkinsOddkins, by Dean Koontz, (2012,Open Road Media). $6.99/ebook, ISBN: 9781453265901

Recommended for ages 8-12

Toymaker Isaac Bodkins loved to make toys for children. He even gave them a little something special, so the toys were able to help children going through a rough time. He called them his Oddkins, and he loved them. Right before he died, he asked Amos the Bear to find a fellow good-hearted toymaker in The City, and let her know that she’d been selected to receive his gift and become the new toymaker. Amos, a sweet and brave bear, set out with a group of Oddkins to do just that – but just as Isaac Bodkins died, a group of darker toys woke up in the same house. They were the toys made by the previous toymaker, a dark, evil man who hated children and made toys that would hurt them. These toys have been awakened and tasked with stopping the Oddkins, while the dark presence finds another toymaker that will serve his purposes.

Thus begins the tale of Oddkins by horror novelist Dean Koontz. It’s a classic good vs. evil tale, albeit a bit heavy on Christian allegory. The good toys have to learn to work together to accomplish their task, and the bad toys are single-minded in their purpose – to destroy the good toys and help the new, evil toymaker ascend to power. It’s a pretty simply-told tale that should keep middle graders’ attention with some well-paced action and conflict.

The book was originally published in 1988, but brought back as a digital edition by Open Road Integrated Media. It’s available on

Posted in Fiction, Middle School, Puberty, Tween Reads

Book Review: Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume (Yearling, 1970)

Recommended for ages 9-12

This Judy Blume classic follows sixth grader Margaret Simon, whose parents move her from their home in New York to the suburbs of New Jersey, and her search for an identity as she goes through puberty. The book has received numerous awards, including the New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year (1970). In 2005, the book made Time Magazine’s All-Time 100 Novels List.

Margaret meets new friends and they quickly form a secret club called the PTS’s – Pre-Teen Sensations. They have to wear bras to their meetings and they talk about boys, school, and most importantly, when they’re getting their periods. Nancy, the ringleader, makes Margaret uncomfortable with her superior attitude and concern over these things; she’s afraid she’ll be the last to get her period and be made fun of.

Raised without organized religion, Margaret has a very personal relationsihp with God and talks to him whenever she needs a comforting ear. She tells him her insecurities about puberty and her frustration with her family. With the other kids in her neighborhood identifying as either Christian or Jewish, Margaret struggles to know God in one of these faiths, but comes up empty; she asks him, after visiting both a synagogue and a church why she can’t “feel him” the way she does when she talks to him.

I loved this book when I was in sixth grade and re-reading it now, it holds up, mainly because the heart of the story still exists. Mean girls may appear bigger than life now, but Nancy was definitely a pioneering mean girl; Margaret is the Everygirl that we all identified with – insecure about ourselves, insecure about our place in school and our families, and just trying to figure it all out. Blume¬†weaves all of Margaret’s insecurities together to create a solid, realistic character that girls can all identify with. Nobody does puberty like Judy Blume.

Judy Blume’s website¬†features the usual author fare; there is a bio, interview questions, even autobiographical essays. She offers advice on writing and has a section on censorship – she is a very well-known advocate for the freedom to read – and her “Reference Desk” section provides interviews and an index of articles and information about Blume.