Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Middle School

KidLit in Translation: My Life as Lotta – A House Full of Rabbits

My Life as Lotta: A House Full of Rabbits, by Alice Pantermüller/Illustrated by Daniela Kohl, (Oct. 2019, Sterling Publishing), $12.95, ISBN: 9781454936244

Ages 7-10

Lotta is a fifth grader who has younger twin brothers, a mother with a shopping problem, a father who doesn’t seem to like much, and who desperately wants a dog (or a small sheep), but will settle for one of her best friend’s many, many rabbits. Originally published in Germany, My Life as Lotta is similar to Diary of a Wimpy Kid: the book is written as Lotta’s diary entries, is loaded with scribbles and notes, and stars a protagonist who finds herself in the wackiest situations.

Maybe I’ve got Wimpy Kid burnout, but My Life as Lotta didn’t do much for me. Lotta’s parents seem pretty awful – maybe they get funnier with subsequent books? Her best friend, twin brothers, and teacher are all pretty run-of-the-mill supporting characters, with Lotta taking center stage for all the wackiness. That said, I’m definitely not the intended audience for this book, and can see my intermediate-level readers enjoying it. If you have the extra dollars in your book budget and Wimpy Kid/Dork Diaries/Timmy Failure books do well for you, give My Life as Lotta a shot.

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

Aven’s back in Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus!

Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus, by Dusti Bowling, (Sept. 2019, Sterling), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4549-3329-8

Ages 9-14

Dusti Bowling gives readers more of the unsinkable Aven, her family, friends, and life at Stagecoach Pass in the follow-up to 2017’s Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus (which also happens to be one of my favorite middle grade books ever). Aven, a middle grader born with no arms; her best friends, Connor, a boy with Tourette’s and Zion, a boy with weight problems, formed a tight-knit group of kids who could lean on each other, strengthen one another, and – because what are friends for? – drive one another nuts. Insignificant Events is a brilliant novel with characters that become part of you the first time you meet them, so to learn that Dusti Bowling was giving us another book about Aven and Company was just the news myself, and so many other readers, needed.

Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus changes the game on Aven and her friends once more. Just in time to start high school, Connor’s moved away and makes a new friend. A new female friend. Trying not to let jealousy get to her, she works on affecting indifference, but a cruel prank by some of of the Mean Boys (yep, they exist, and you know exactly who they are) in school devastates Aven, sending her into a PTSD-like spiral of anxiety and depression. Lando, Zion’s older brother, seems interested in Aven, but she can’t imagine – especially while continuing to be bullied by the creep that pranked her – that he’d be interested in her, which makes her more miserable. There’s a subplot where Aven wonders about her father while trying to find Henri’s – the ice cream man at Stagecoach Pass – family as his dementia gets worse, that put my emotions through the ringer.

There’s so much taking place in Momentous Events. Aven and her friends are struggling with adolescence and the things that come with it; namely, shifting friendships, crushes, and first relationships. Aging, death, and family – especially when you know there are family members “out there” somewhere – take up huge parts of Aven’s thinking and feelings here. A new friend on the scene introduces Aven to fictional punk rock band Screaming Ferret, which gives her a new outlet for her feelings and makes me very happy; each chapter begins with a Screaming Ferret lyric, giving readers a heads-up as to what Aven’s mood may be for that chapter.

There are no downsides to Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus. Dusti Bowling gives readers – yet again – incredible characters with messy lives; lives that we recognize, challenges we can understand, sympathize with, and appreciate; and she does it with humor, care, and feeling.

Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus has a starred review from Kirkus and is the follow-up to the award-winning book, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus. Author Dusti Bowling’s website includes free downloads of cactus bookmarks, teaching resources, and activity guides. Educator Tara Bardeen has created an educator’s guide for Momentous Events, available as a free pdf.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Dusti Bowling spends 24 Hours in Nowhere

24 Hours in Nowhere, by Dusti Bowling, (Sept. 2018, Sterling), $14.95, ISBN: 9781454929246

Ages 9-12

Gus is a 13-year-old kid, abandoned by his parents, living with his grandmother in Nowhere, Arizona. When Bo Taylor, the worst bully in town, tries to force him to eat a spiny cactus, Rossi Scott interferes. She’s one of the best dirt bike racers in nowhere, and she’s got designs on winning the big race the next day – until she gives up her bike to save Gus. Now Bo has the bike, and Gus heads to Dead Frenchman’s Mine in the hopes of finding a piece of gold to get the bike back. Matthew, one of Bo’s cronies, is along for the trip, making sure Gus doesn’t spray paint a rock; Jessie, Gus’ former best friend, and Rossi show up to talk some sense into Gus, but a cave-in traps the four friends, leaving them to seek a way out and avoid mountain lions.

I loved Dusti Bowling’s fantastic debut, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus (2017), so I immediately requested the ARC for 24 Hours in Nowhere. I am happy to say, there’s no sophomore slump here! Dusti Bowling continues writing smart, empathetic books about kids who are just doing the best they can in the face of everyday life. The teens share stories about their Worst Day Ever, giving us a glimpse into poverty, abuse, neglect, abandonment, race, (Jessie is Mexican-American, and Rossi is Native American, from the Tohono O’odham Nation) and white privilege, all within the greater examination of life in poor, rural America. Gus is a first-person narrator and alternately has moments of introspection, empathy, and humor. There’s a little bit of Goonies, a little bit of Holes, and a lot of great storytelling to be found here. Psst… teachers… put this one on next year’s Summer Reading lists, please?

Check out Dusti Bowling’s author website for extras (just Cactus for now, but sure to be updated with 24 Hours shortly) and school visit info, including free Skype visits! 24 Hours in Nowhere has a starred review from School Library Journal.

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

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus is amazing!

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, by Dusti Bowling, (Sept. 2017, Sterling Children’s Books), $14.95, ISBN: 9781454923459

Recommended for readers 9-12

I was lucky enough to attend a children’s author dinner at BookExpo this past year, and got to hear several authors, including Dusti Bowling, talk about their upcoming books. As Ms. Bowling spoke about the work she put into her book, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, you could just see the passion she poured into her story of Aven, a kickass middle grade heroine of a new kind: she’s an adoptee, so, yay!; she’s headstrong, smart, focused, and she’s witty. And she happens to have been born without arms. She loves to tell people wild stories of how she lost her arms: an alligator wrestling match is my favorite, but she’s got a few doozies.

Aven starts the novel as the new kid in town. Her parents have moved to Arizona, where her dad accepted a job running a floundering western theme park called Stagecoach Pass. Now, Aven gets stared at. She’s different. She relies on her feet like most people rely on their hands. She’s eating lunch in the bathroom, because she can’t stand to have anyone stare at her eat with her feet. But she meets Connor, a boy with Tourette’s, and Zion, who’s shy about his weight, and things start looking up. The friends lean on one another, drawing and giving strength to each other.

That alone would be a great storyline, but throw in a mystery – a BIG mystery – at Stagecoach Pass that Aven is determined to unravel, and you have an incredible book in your hands. Aven, Connor, and Zion are kids that I want to know; Bowling breathes beautiful life into them and makes readers care about them. She provides positive, complex, realistic portrayals of kids living with disabilities and how they meet those hurdles every day, every hour, every minute. Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus has numerous accolades and received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and Shelf Awareness.

I adored this book and can’t believe it took me this long to finally get to it. Give this to your Wonder fans, display and booktalk with books starring smart middle grade heroines, like Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin, and of course, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona and Roald Dahl’s Matilda.

Check out Dusti Bowling’s author webpage for a free, downloadable discussion guide and to read up on news and updates.

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

Gamer Squad takes on video game monsters in the real world!

Gamer Squad: Attack of the Not-So Virtual Monsters, by Kim Harrington, (Aug. 2017, Sterling), $6.95, ISBN: 9781454926122

Recommended for readers 8-12

Bex is a gamer, and her game of choice is Monsters Unleashed: an augmented reality game where you hunt and capture monsters using your smartphone and the game app. (Pokemon Go players, you got this.) She and her best friend, Charlie, love playing the game until a mishap with a strange machine at Charlie’s grandfather’s place causes a WiFi gitch and empties Bex’s monster catalog… into the real world! Now, it’s up to Bex, Charlie, and a frenemy Willa to track them all down and get them back before the monsters overrun their town.

Gamer Squad is one of those series you just know the kids are going to swarm when you get them on the shelves. It brings handheld gaming to middle grade fiction with fun and adventure, and author Kim Harrington manages to give us a strong female protagonist, a story about friendship, and addresses bullying all at once. It’s a fast-moving story with likable characters, excitement, and leaves you ready for the sequel, which in this case, released on the same day.

Gamer Squad: Close Encounters of the Nerd Kind, by Kim Harrington,
(Aug. 2017, Sterling), $6.95, ISBN: 9781454926139

A no-brainer for your gamer kids and a nice fiction-y wink to add to your STEM program displays. I’ve just ordered both for my library; the third book hits shelves this Fall.

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

“Cyrano de Bergerac in yoga pants”: Cici Reno, Middle School Matchmaker

cici reno_1Cici Reno: #MiddleSchoolMatchmaker, by Christina Springer (Apr. 2016, Sterling Publishing), $14.95, ISBN: 9781454917519

Recommended for ages 9-13

Middle schooler Cici Reno is the go-to person for… well, darn near everything. She knows just the right thing to say, just the right advice to give. Maybe she’s so Zen because she takes classes in her mom’s local yoga studio and tweets advice about the right pose for the right mood? The thing is, her best friend, Aggie, is crushing on Drew – who happens to be Cici’s  brother’s buddy – but has no idea how to talk to him. Cici volunteers to create a fake Twitter account and talk to him online, posing as Aggie. And that’s where the trouble starts: Cici finds herself falling for Drew. Drew falls for the girl he’s chatting with online, who he thinks is Aggie, but he’s totally confused as to why Aggie’s so different when she sees him in person. And Cici? Well, for possibly the first time in her life, she doesn’t have the answers.

Cici Reno is a fun intro to crush and romantic fiction for tweens, and a sneaky/smart way to introduce the classic tale, Cyrano de Bergerac, to middle schoolers. It’s a classic tale of miscommunication that fits perfectly with today’s kids, who largely interact online. I also love the introduction and description to various yoga poses, and the mental/emotional benefits of each, that Cici Tweets out at the beginning of each chapter. Not only does it gives readers a clue as to what’s going to happen in the upcoming chapter, it offers a little bit of yoga instruction that I appreciate and hope tweens will take the bait and discover on their own.

Cici is a likable character. She’s not a mean girl; she’s not vapid; she’s a realistic tween who does a favor for her shy friend, with the best of intentions, and finds herself stuck in a situation she didn’t expect. Aggie is a surprisingly supportive best friend; I normally find myself irritated with the classic “best friend breakdown” formula that many books fall into, but Cici and Aggie avoided all that by simply talking things out. Thank you for that, Ms. Springer! It’s going to be a talking point when I booktalk this one, because I will be adding this to my shelves for summer reading. I think the use of social media and miscommunication will fit nicely with my tweens, and it gives me a great jumping off point for a discussion on how you can pretend to be someone else online – and, in classic devil’s advocate mode, how someone shy and/or introverted can use social media to interact more comfortably than he or she would feel in person.

Christina Springer’s author website offers more information about her books, a link to her blog and appearances, and contact information.

Here’s a glimpse at #MiddleSchoolMatchmaker:

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