Book Review Wednesday: Middle Grade Reading Round-up

It is very possible that these books will not be new to you. Many of them were published last year or before and have already been nominated and listed. Still, these wonderful books finally made it out of my to-be-read pile and are officially read and returned to the library (and other trusting book-loving souls out there.) I found it interesting that each had a bully character. If you’ve read the books, I’d love to discuss how authors portray bullies and how we can make them multi-faceted. I think that the omniscient narrator in TRUE was especially effective for this.


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Jeremy has a problem. A big problem. An I-messed-up-my-dad’s-beloved-boat problem. He’s ready to make it right but is going to need a bunch of cash to do the job. Enter– the Windjammer Whirl. A contest to build and race a model boat with $500 to the winner.  New problem? Only Cupcake Cadets (similar to Girl scouts) can enter the race. Jeremy and his good friend Slatter don their skirted uniforms and wigs and hilarity ensues.  Eric Luper does a great job making the book light and readable but injects enough heart and growth for the characters so that the story comes off as more than fluff. If your kiddo liked the Fudge books by Judy Blume, they’ll love this novel. This book is a Maine State Student Book Award nominee.


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Ella and her best friend Z share a fantasy world of knights, princesses and chivalry. Thing is, Ella knows it’s just pretend, but Z seems to want to stay there all the time. Ella understands this. A fantasy world is often easier than the one that Z inhabits. Ella protects Z at the same time she deals with her own difficulties: the death of her father, being biracial in an all-white school, and a skin condition that leaves her with patches of dark and light skin.  When a new kid, another Black kid, comes to school he widens her world. Ella grows through the decisions she makes about friendship, popularity, and responsibility. Kekla Magoon writes beautiful, honest characters. This book is a Maine State Book Award Nominee.


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Katherine Hannigan has a knack for pairing wonderful, plucky heroines with quiet small town worlds to end up with more adventure than you may have originally guessed. I don’t want to give too much away with this one. Delly, the main character has been bad, bad, bad news for as long as anyone can remember. With the help of her little brother, and a new friend, Delly turns around the bad so that everyone (not just the reader) can see her inner goodness. Delly is just the kind of friend we all hope to have. The engaging narrative pulled me along, with threads woven from three or four different subplots. I didn’t want to leave the book at the end. While the ending was realistic, it may come across to some readers as didactic. However, there are some problems that kids just can’t solve on their own.


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I’m not sure how one book can have so much humor and pain in the same story but Gary D. Schmidt managed it in OKAY FOR NOW. When agents and editors say that they are looking for a unique and honest character voice, this is what they are talking about. With the backdrop of the Vietnam War, Doug moves to a new town with everything working against him and he manages to rise above his circumstances. I know. I haven’t told you much but I don’t want to print any spoilers. For a better synopsis, an excerpt and a reading by the author (don’t listen if you don’t want a spoiler) check out this page: National Book Award Finalist.  I did have issues with the father’s and Lil’s plot lines, but who am I to criticize Gary D. Schmidt? I’d recommend this for kids 13 an up, but I feel very strongly that kids will self-select material with which they feel comfortable and put down books for which they aren’t ready.

Next week– angsty YA audiobooks…

Book Review Wednesday: Bug Boy


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Luper, Eric. Bug Boy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.

The crafts people and artists who make up my circle of friends amaze me. I feel lucky and proud to have Eric Luper in this circle. I know that I said I would only review picture books and books for middle grade audiences. I know. But I just finished Eric Luper’s, Bug Boy (which is a Young Adult book) and I couldn’t put it down.

What’s really wonderful about this book is how Eric works the plot arch. First the reader learns to love the protagonist Jack Walsh, a shabby horse exerciser and stable cleaner. He makes Jack’s desires crystal clear and provides the main character with enough know how, personality, and drive to get the job done. The reader routes for Jack 100%.

Next, Eric immerses the reader in the horse racing culture of Saratoga Springs in 1934. From architecture to wardrobe, racing strategy to jockey speak, the historic and racing details are amazing. The reader can hear the sounds of the track: skirts rustling, hooves pounding, bookies gambling– cigar smoke mixes with whiskey and horse manure. Lovely!

Finally, Eric ratchets up the tension by inserting well-placed obstacles for our hero. The obstacles are physical, psychological, and ethical and force Jack Walsh to make grown up decisions. As the tension mounts (get it, mounts), Eric reveals back story as smoothly as a spider exudes her webbing until he catches the reader on the edge of her seat. At one point of the story, I actually said aloud, “Oh no she didn’t.”

While the book is written for Young Adults I highly recommend it for adults as well. If this book isn’t optioned for a movie in the next few years, I’ll eat my riding helmet.