Ghost

Ghost by Jason Reynolds is a fifth-sixth grade, juvenile fiction coming of age novel. Castle Cranshaw, aka Ghost, has always been good at one thing… running. Ghost always thought he’d play basketball, but he’s never tried out for the team. One day, Ghost impulsively challenges a track member to a sprint and the coach sees his potential and recruits him for the team. But Ghost has never been a part of a team before and the only this he’s ever really run from his past… his past and trouble.

Ghost is full of anger and is conflicted about letting the team in. Can he overcome his past, his emotions and tear down the barriers that keep him from being great?

I always try to read several of the Maryland Black Eyed Susan nominees after they’ve been announced. I like to do this because it’s a great way to read outside of your comfort zone and familiarize yourself with different genres of juvenile literature.

Ghost is the perfect coming of age book for boys and it covers such a wide range of topics kids are dealing with these days. Just some of the themes that are addressed are: bullying, socioeconomic issues, family struggles, issues in right and wrong, building confidence, believing in oneself and so much more. Some of these themes can be sensitive like gun violence and drug abuse, but I think they hard handled very well and I personally would even recommend this book to a well read fourth grader.

This book definitely has a little of everything without feeling over done or overwhelming. One of the things I really liked about it was the relationship that develops between Ghost and Coach. It was very realistic and very real. In fact the whole book was just so believable and just very, very real.

Ghost definitely deserves to be a contender for the 2017-2018 BES award. It’s a great read for boys, especially those reluctant readers. I think everyone can find some aspect of Ghost to relate to.

Great read. This one gets five stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

 

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-

PAX

Pax by Sara Pennypacker is a juvenile fiction book and a nominee for the 2017-2018 Maryland Black-Eyed Susan award.

Pax was taken in a just a baby fox by a human boy and his father. For seven years Pax and Peter were inseparable but the war in encroaching and Peter’s father enlists, forcing Peter to move in with his grandfather, where there is no room for a fox. Forced to separate, Peter leaves his fox deep in the woods where he hopes he will be safe. Almost instantly Peter regrets this decision and so begins a 300 mile trek into a war torn wilderness.

Pax is the story of two journey’s: Peter’s journey, alone to retrieve his friend and fulfill a duty all his own; and Pax’s journey to survive a world he has never known, to do more than survive… to thrive.

Being pregnant, I can’t seem to keep my eyes open at night lately but I really want to get through some of these BES’s, so I went to my trusty audiobook. This will actually be a good one to play in the car for your kids; the story has a good flow and the voices are quite captivating.

As much as many of my librarian friends really like this one, it faded for me a little about midway. A great story but a few too many branches in my opinion. This isn’t just Pax and Peter’s journey, it’s the father’s, Vola’s, Runt’s, etc. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but the middle lagged for me and I was craving some more details about the setting and a bit more background.

I also felt there wasn’t much resolution in the end. Peter and Pax’s journey ends but what about everyone else. Yes, Peter and Pax both grow throughout this book and we see how they’ve grown apart but still maintain their deep forged connection, but I still missed the rest of Peter’s story. There was so much build up about Peter’s family life that I felt a little cheated with what we get in the end.

I did love Pax’s narrative. Very believable that a fox was telling this tale. We get his scents and his worldview and the writing even felt almost animalistic in its telling.

Overall, this was a really good story and one I think the kids will like. It may open the door to conversations about nature, war, family relations and finding oneself and growing up. This is definitely a coming of age novel and reminded me a little (very little) of Call of the Wild.

This one gets 3.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

School for Sidekicks

Hi Guys,

What is it with superheroes that we just can’t pass up. I saw this one on our new book shelf and had to pick it up. Sidekicks are some of my favorite characters! This is the first book in a new middle school series.

School for Sidekicks by Kelly McCullough is about one boy who wants more then anything to be a superhero. Every morning, Evan Quick tests his reflexes, his strength, and looks for any sign that he might be turning into a Mask. Mask’s are real life superheroes who fight evil and protect the innocent and Evan would give anything to be one of them.

When his class trip to the Mask Museum is interrupted but a super evil villain, Evan is taken hostage. Captain Commanding, Evan’s favorite good guy, shows up to save the day but the Captain is the one who needs saving and Evan finally finds his inner superhero, winning the day.

Evan is whisked off to sidekick school, where he finds out that being a mask isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Captain Commanding has blacklisted him, his parents won’t support him, rules and regulations thwart him and Evan is saddled with a has-been for a mentor.

What will Evan do when he finds out that when dreams come true, they don’t always come true the way you’d expect?

This is one of those books grownups can use to get their kids reading something other than graphic novels. It’s got all the themes and elements of a comic but in chapter book format. You’ve got an unlikely hero kids can relate to; action and adventure; superheroes fighting crime; a mystery that needs solving; and a plot that moves at an OK pace. So let’s move past Diary of a Wimpy Kids and Captain Underpants and on to chapter books with fun characters and a little more depth. –I’ve been getting a lot of “please, help me get my child to read anything but DOAWK!” lately.

One of the things I liked about this book was the group of kids Evan makes friends with. You can tell we’ve got some big personalities and that is bound to cause some friction but the group always gets past it and in the end you can tell they really are friends. Teamwork and redemption is a big thing in this book.

Evan has a really believable voice in the book. I could imagine kids today saying and doing some of the things Evan does. I think this is so important for middle school lit. Yes, Evan does have mature moments where I was like …really? but they were necessary for the story.

My one big gripe about School for Sidekicks was that it had a slow start and that’s really a hard thing to get past for reluctant readers. As soon as Evan finds his powers, things pick up and the story really moves forward.

This would probably be a good book for a good 4th grade reader or 5-6 grader. Overall, it was an entertaining read if you can get past the first few chapters. This book was one I was able to put down for a few days without thinking about, so I am giving it 3 stars. But ultimately, a good read for those superhero fans out there.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Crimson Skew

Hi Guys,

I finally picked up the third and final audio book in the Mapmakers Trilogy. I’d already listened to The Glass Sentence and The Golden Specific and was hoping this new one would end with a bang.

The Crimson Skew by S.E. Grove picks up right where we left off in The Golden Specific. Sophia is following her hard earned map toward her parents, Theo is forced into the army and a war he wants nothing to do with, and Shadrack is frantically searching for a way to right New Occident and end the corruption.

This book introduces new struggles and ties up loose ends. Old friends reappear and many questions are answered. We learn much about Sophia and Theo and we watch them grow with every trial they face.

I know, not much of a synopsis but without reading the other two books it is almost impossible to sum up this complex series. I mentioned in my last post about this series, that these books contain A LOT. There is so much going on that I am surprised it is intended for such a young audience. I’m not sure a middle school reader would really get all of the tiny intricacies of the story.

My favorite part of this book was that we get to see all of our favorite characters again. The characters really make this series. Each one is unique and full of their own spunk. Sophia seems to be the epicenter of this crew; she draws people to her and to her cause.

The maps were really my favorite part of the whole series. Memory maps, smoke maps, onion maps, maps made of any and everything, each doing something different. It was neat to “see.”

The series as a whole was unique, exciting and full of … well a lot. I enjoyed it and found myself wondering where it would lead. As much as I enjoyed it, this wasn’t a book I was left thinking about. It was good but one I probably wouldn’t read again. This one gets 3 stars from me and the series as a whole I’d give 3.5.

That’s all for now!

-M-