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, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

A young girl finds One Good Thing About America every day

One Good Thing About America, by Ruth Freeman, (March 2017, Holiday House), $16.95, ISBN: 9780823436958

Recommended for readers 8-12

At home in the Congo, nine year-old Anaïs is the best English student in her class. She loves spending time at her grandmother’s home. She loves her family: her father, her older brother, Olivier, and younger brother, Jean-Claude, and her mother. But now, her father is in hiding, her older brother, stayed in Africa with their grandmother, and Anaïs, Jean-Claude, and their mother are living in a shelter in Crazy America. Nothing about the people or the language makes sense to her – why would anyone eat chicken fingers? Why do vowels change sounds with every word? – and she misses her home, her life before.

Written in the form of letters from Anaïs to her grandmother, One Good Thing About America, by Ruth Freeman, a teacher who works with English Language Learners. Motivated by her students’ determination and their stories, this is her tribute to them as much as it is a chance to create an understanding of the immigrant experience in America. Anaïs, her family, and her classmates and neighbors develop through the course of the story; experiencing sleepovers, mac and cheese dinners, Halloween, and even a frightening emergency room trip. We never get the full story behind Anaïs’ father’s trouble with the mining company, but readers understand the urgency of the situation: her father is in hiding, on the run, and no one that associates with him is safe. While Anaïs longs for her family to be whole again, she has the added challenge of learning a new language and making a new life in a strange country where nothing makes sense. She has good days and bad days; goes from hopeful to frustrated, and every reader will appreciate and understand where she’s coming from. Little doodles throughout the book illustrate new things Anaïs encounters, from the crunchy fall leaves that “make the sound of eating toast” to ice cream and pizza.

A list of English words Anaïs struggles with – what she hears, as opposed to what she learns – also helps readers understand the challenges our language and colloquialisms present to English language learners. Words in French, Anaïs’ native tongue, introduce readers to some new vocabulary.

One Good Thing About America is a good book for all communities. In our current socio-political climate, I daresay it should be a summer reading selection for middle graders (and their families). I suggest booktalking with Andrea Davis Pinkney’s The Red Pencil and Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again for excellent discussions about the differences within the refugee experience.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Intermediate

Noodleheads See the Future… Is there cake?

Noodleheads See the Future, by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton, & Mitch Weiss/Illustrated by Tedd Arnold, (Jan. 2017, Holiday House), $15.95, ISBN: 9780823436736

Recommended for readers 6-10

Noodlehead brothers Mac and Mac return for a second round of goofy fun in Noodleheads See the Future. The empty-headed brothers (no, really, they’ll show you their hollow pasta heads) are a bit gullible, which leaves them open to pranks by their cousin, Meatball. The Noodleheads head to the woods to get firewood for their mother so she can bake them a cake; where Meatball tricks them and steals their firewood. The joke’s on Meatball, though; the Noodleheads still manage to get the job done for Mom, who bakes them a cake!

Think of the Noodleheads as a first step toward Amelia Bedelia. The brothers take everything literally, like looking up when being told, “heads up”. This is a fun graphic novel to give to emerging independent readers; the text is brief and bold, the panels show events in sequence, and the three chapters are short enough to keep a reader’s attention. Plus, the illustrator and one of the authors is Tedd Arnold, whose Fly Guy series is an Easy Reader favorite. An explanation of the myths inspiring the stories told in Noodleheads of the Future will interest kids and grownups.

This is the second Noodleheads book. The first, Noodlehead Nightmares, was released in 2016. The series is a Guided Reading level L, according to the publisher’s website, and received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus.

 

 

Posted in Historical Fiction, Middle School, Tween Reads

The Girls of Gettysburg is a powerful look at three different lives during the Civil War

girls of gettysburg The Girls of Gettysburg, by Bobbi Miller (2014, Holiday House), $16.95, ISBN: 978-0823431632

Recommended for ages 10-14

The Battle of Gettysburg has countless stories attached to it: the stories of those who fought and died there. The stories of the people who lived in Gettysburg when war came to town. The stories of everyone in the aftermath. Bobbi Miller gives us three incredible stories-based on real-life events and people-of three girls whose lives were forever changed by Gettysburg.

We have Annie, a 13 year-old girl who has already lost family to the Civil War. Frustrated with her mother’s expectations of what a “lady” should be, she runs away, cuts her hair, and takes up arms against the North. Grace Bryan, a 12-ish year-old girl from a free African American family, is the daughter of a farmer who refuses to flee, like so many other black families who fear capture and enslavement by the Rebels. Tillie, a 14 year-old girl who romanticizes the handsome and noble soldiers, discovers a very different side to war when the war comes to her town.

The first thing I loved about this book – and there are so many things I love about this book – is that the Battle of Gettysburg is truly the background, not a character. The girls’ stories stand on their own: strong, infused with feeling, and entirely individual. There is no right or wrong here – something the characters learn for themselves in the course of the book – only people struggling to survive, be it an escaped slave hoping to make it up North, or a young soldier marching into battle with a tintype and a letter to his mother in his pack.

The Girls of Gettysburg will be a great book for a unit on the Civil War, but even for a discussion of women on the battlefield in the present-day.

The author’s webpage offers more information about her books, and resources for educators and writers.