Word of Mouse

Word of Mouse by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein is a middle school, juvenile fiction novel about a little mouse with a big heart. Isaiah is a very special mouse, not only is he “electric neon blue” but he is super smart, he can read, write and if you listen very carefully he can even talk!

Our story begins when Isaiah and his 96 multi-colored brothers and sisters attempt to break out of the “bad place” but something goes horribly wrong and Isaiah is the only one who makes it out. Now he is on his own in a world he knows nothing about, dodging cats, dogs and trying to make it alone.

But a mouse needs his mischief and Isaiah is determined to get his back. With the help of some very unlikely friends, Isaiah may just do that and find a little courage along the way.

Patterson and Grabenstein make a great team. This was such a fun, inspiring story the kids will love. Isaiah has an upbeat, positive attitude even when all seems lost. He is able to see the positive side of everything and he will do the right thing even if it isn’t easy.

Although there are a ton of lessons in this book, the biggest theme is that being different isn’t just okay, it’s great! Everyone is different and when we look past our differences we can see what’s really special in each and every one of us. Isaiah learns (and teaches us) that when you are told what to do and what to be that you can miss out on opportunities and hidden talents you never knew you had. This is something every parent, teacher and adult wants to (or should want to) teach our children and this book definitely gets that point across.

I listened to the audio book of Word of Mouse and it was fantastic. A really great one to bring with you in the car and probably an even better one to read out loud to your kids. I could also see this being a positive middle school book club pick.

I thought this was a really great read. This one gets a high 4.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Wolf Hollow

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk is another juvenile fiction book, with a historical feel, nominated for the 2017-2018 Maryland Black Eyed Susan Award.

For a town living in the shadow of WWI, Annabelle and her family live a quiet but peaceful live in small-town Pennsylvania. Annabelle and her two younger brothers walk to their one-room school every day from their family’s farmhouse. One day, things are shaken up in Wolf Hollow when a new student enters Annabelle’s life, Betty Glengarry.

Betty is a cruel and manipulative little girl who has her sights set on Annabelle. When Annabelle refuses to put up with Betty’s bullying, Betty threatens her younger brothers. Things only escalate when Toby, an eccentric WWI veteran who lives on the outskirts of society, gets involved.

As Betty’s malice turns toward Toby, things go from bad to worse in a hurry. Missing children, pointed fingers and more. Can Annabelle uncover the truth when no one will believe her?

Oh boy, I did not know what I was getting into when I started this one. This is a very serious book with serious themes and serious actions and repercussions. I read another reviewer’s comment that this is a middle school read… but not–and I feel the exact same way. I don’t think I would recommend this book to a sensitive reader.  Although, it is definitely a book that adults would enjoy and perhaps reading this one with your child (or at the same time) would be the way to go. But as a warning there is death, severe injury to children, lies and persecution in this book.

I think one of the main, positive, themes of this book is truth–telling the truth and not giving in to what everyone around you says/believes. Annabelle knows right from wrong and she pursues the truth with dogged determination, even if it means fibbing and blurring lines to get there. Annabelle’s family are well respected in her small town and even so, doing the right thing isn’t easy when lies are spurred on by gossip and too quick judgements.

This book is actually a prime example of how the best laid plans can devolve into chaos at rapid speed. I mean, the meat of this book takes place in only a matter of two or  three days at the most. And, for me, this was a realistic and important lesson. Things don’t always go as planned even if you have the best intentions at heart.

This wasn’t a bad read but I worry that it might upset it’s intended audience. Yes, we need strong fiction with a variety of morals and lessons but I think we need to prepare young readers for this one. It definitely should be recommended but maybe with a caveat.

This one gets 3.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Wild Robot

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown is a juvenile fiction novel up for this years 2017-2018 Black Eyed Susan award.

When a shipment of robots crashes on a deserted island, one lone robot is left intact. When Roz is accidentally awoken by a curious otter, she opens her eyes for the first time, alone, on a remote and wild island. Not knowing anything about her whereabouts or how she got there, Roz does the only thing she can do, survive.

Slowly Roz begins to adapt to her surroundings. She watches and learns survival techniques from the animals around her. Eventually, Roz learns to speak the language of the animals but they are weary of the monster invading their island. When an accident causes Roz to adopt a baby gosling, the rest of the island begins to see Roz for the asset she very well may be.

This is a story of survival. A story of adapting to the world around you and working together to beat the odds.

You wouldn’t think a book about robots and wildlife would mesh well but it surprisingly does. You really do get a lot out of this book. We learn about different animal habitats and habits. You get to see the good and the bad parts of mother nature in ways that aren’t overly graphic for the kids and are done in an abstract, educational way.

There were also a lot of great lessons in this book. Team work, determination and never giving up, accepting ones differences and finding the beauty in even the worst circumstances. This is definitely a book for readers of all ages and quite appropriate for it’s intended 4th – 6th grade audience.

I actually chose to listen to the audio book of this one, so I only flipped through some of the images that accompany the book. What images I did see, really did add to the story. I can see this being a real appeal to reluctant readers who need a bit of a break here or there. As for the audio, I thought it was really well done. It was neat getting to listen to all of the different voices–this would make a really great road trip audio book for the kids. My only gripe about the audio is that the last 20 minutes or so had music accompanying it. It was really difficult to concentrate on the story with the music. I think maybe it was a little too loud.

I could see this being a very easy read that would appeal to both boys and girls. It would make an excellent book club choice. This one gets 4 high stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Best Man

Hi Guys,

I can’t for the life of me remember why this one was on my middle school tbr pile. I believe I saw it on a list and went “sure, why not.” I assumed it had something to do with a wedding, but in actuality it is so much more.

The Best Man by Richard Peck follows Archer from kindergarten through sixth grade and the two weddings that bookend this time in his life. Archer is a typical kid, learning the ropes as he goes. He has to deal with bullies, teachers who go on maternity leave, sick grandparents–many of the things kids face over a span of years.

Circling all this is Archer’s Uncle Paul. Everyone seems to tip-toe around Archer. He isn’t a very observant kid; he needs things spelled out for him, so when he finds out that his Uncle Paul is gay, he is literally the last to know. He is also the last to find out that his student teacher is gay and starts dating his uncle.

This is a book about things kids deal with everyday: school, making friends and the knowledge you gain as you grow.

This is a really hard book to explain. Seriously, my mini synopsis does little to inspire but The Best Man has some really great lessons to teach about acceptance and growing up today.

One of the things I loved about this book was how well it portrays modern childhood. Kids have cell phones, there’s YouTube and  Facebook, media frenzies, and more. This would actually be a great book for parents who are having trouble relating to the things their kids are dealing with today that they never had to.

Now, so as not to give any false allusions, nothing really ever goes wrong for Archer (there is one exception but even that ends up tidily solved). This isn’t really a book about overcoming obstacles. It is more a look into how we grow up in today’s society. But Archer and his family are charming, his friends are true and for the most part, his story is believable.

The book has a really great voice and the pace of the story keeps it moving. I would recommend this book to 4th – 5th graders. It is more targeted toward a male reader but Archer’s best friend is a strong female character, who grows up and deals with her own troubles right alongside Archer.

My initial instinct was to give this book 5 stars and I am going to stick with my gut.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Full of Beans

Hi Guys,

There is just something about a lime green cover that attracts the eye. This cover looks modern, right? You wouldn’t expect to be picking up a historical fiction book about depression era Key West? Well, I was wrong and you would be too.

Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm follows Beans, one of the slickest, barefoot, marble playing hotshots of Key West. It is 1934 and the height of the Great Depression. Beans is always looking to make some change and his favorite hobby is going to the movies and watching baby super stars like Baby Laroy and Shirley Temple. Beans has grand expectations.

One day New Dealers descend on the town, determined to make Key West into a vacation hot spot. But garbage lines the streets, businesses are closed, houses are crumbling, wild dogs run rampant and no one wants to volunteer to help. Beans doesn’t believe the New Dealers for one second–adults are lying liars and Beans has plans of his own, plans with potentially major consequences.

Will the New Dealers save Key West? Will Beans find fame and will his plans succeed? Or will everything come crashing down?

Holm does it again with Full of Beans. This middle school read accomplishes so much. We get an entertaining story with moral lessons about lying and giving back. We get quite a bit of history, about a time so removed from the present that kids might not even be able to relate and yet it is done in a way that kids will believe. We also get an entertaining story with ups and downs and a read that moves along at a good pace.

This book would make an excellent 4th – 5th grade book discussion pick. Full of Beans can be used to introduce the Great Depression and one of the great success stories of Roosevelt’s New Deal. What’s great about this one is that it is a book parents would actually enjoy reading and discussing with their children. While the kids might not be familiar with the history, the Depression is a topic many adults are familiar with and could easily talk about. There are even discussion questions and further reading to get you started.

I was just so surprised with how much history was actually packed into this book. The Depression, history about Key West, famous baby actors, and the New Deal is only the focus. There is a man with leprosy and we learn that Key West was home to a whole community of lepers. We find out that Robert Frost and Hemingway were some of the first vacationers in Key West. And we even see some medicine of the time when Bean’s brother, Kermit, comes down with a serious illness.

Overall, this was a surprisingly informative read with a good story. This would be a good 4th – 5th grade read, with a rebellious eleven-year-old that lots of boys can probably relate to. I gave this one 5 stars.

That’s all for now!

-M-

School of the Dead

Hi Guys,

I’d been waiting for the new Avi book to come out and apparently is snuck onto the shelves without me knowing!

School of the Dead by Avi is a mystery/scifi, middle school read set in modern day San Francisco. Everyone has that one uncle who is just a little strange, for Tony Gilbert it’s his “Weird Uncle Charlie.” Needing a place to stay, the aging Uncle Charlie moves in with Tony and his parents. Tony soon forges a bond with his odd uncle–who is interested in all things supernatural–and the two become very close.

When Uncle Charlie passes away, Tony is so upset that he starts seeing his uncle everywhere! A thumbs up at the bus stop, a smile of encouragement at school, etc. With the inheritance Uncle Charlie left for Tony’s schooling, the family picks up and moves from Connecticut to San Francisco. Tony even starts at a new school, the same one his uncle went to when he was a boy.

This posh new school has weird rules and a sketchy history. Soon Tony is seeing ghosts, solving mysteries and fighting for his life! Who can Tony trust when no one and nothing is what it seems?

I’m not going to lie, there are books that get me giddy or make me laugh but very rarely does a book actually make me anxious. I was nervous for Tony while reading this book! I wasn’t sure what was going to happen or where the book was leading. I actually had that, someone is watching you, feeling. And it’s a middle school book! Now, I will admit, I don’t read a lot of mysteries but still, I am a grown woman and this book succeeded in giving me the heebie jeebies. Well done Avi. Well done.

On top of the mystery and ghosts, there were some very relatable aspects to this book that I think would resonate with a middle school audience: a death in the family, starting a new school, making friends, being different, even bullying if you want to make the ghosts out to be bullies.

My only criticism of this book was how quickly it ended. It built and built and built, but there wasn’t really a come down–it just ended. I mean I was satisfied with the ending but I would have liked a few pages of, now that we’re not in peril any more… I guess that’s what the imagination is for.

Overall, I was very satisfied with this book. There were twists in this that I wasn’t expecting and it had a good pace for the audience. A good read for boys and girls. This one gets 4 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-