Sam and Morgan are best friends. Strike that – Sam and Morgan used to be best friends. Now Morgan has declared that he will be kicking Sam’s butt in exactly 33 minutes. How did these life-long friends come to this place? That’s exactly what Sam is trying to figure out in Todd Hasak-Lowy’s 33 Minutes. Told mostly through flashbacks from Sam’s point of view, Hasak-Lowy uses sharp wit to take a bit of the edge off the very real heartache that comes with growing up and growing apart, without sugar-coating the reality of this all-too-familiar situation.
Sam is incredibly bright, but not so popular. Morgan has become quite popular in junior high, but he’s never been the best student. As Morgan’s new friends begin taking up more of his time, Sam can’t help but feel left out and a bit jealous. Over the course of a few months, tensions build between the two best friends, and when everything comes to a head Sam is certain it must be Morgan’s fault. A little reflection over the course of the ever dwindling 33 minutes, however, sheds some light on the reality of Sam and Morgan’s situation, and Sam realizes that maybe he is not completely blameless himself.
In Sam Todd Hasak-Lowy has created a very real and very witty character. Sam’s clever observations will have readers laughing out loud but the humor does not take away from the painful reality of Sam’s situation. It is exactly this mixture of humor and reality that make this book an excellent choice for a book discussion group (particularly for boys) or for a 5th or 6th grade classroom read-aloud.
Posted by: Staci
Finally, after a long winter of dissatisfying-to-outright-bad novels, a DELIGHTFUL new fantasy has appeared!
Tom is used to living his ordinary (but happy) life with his parents, running their deli and hanging out with his friend Charlie. One day, though he awakens to a shocking discovery: his father is a fairy. A real, live, MAGICAL fairy. Which means that, he, Tom is a demisprite: demisprites are illegal, and the fairy authorities are trying to find Tom and his family to arrest and even execute them!
Tom’s father goes on the run, Tom’s mother is hidden somewhere (hilariously) magical, and Tom himself is spirited away by his surprisingly non-fairy-like godmother, Lorna Mustard, the owner of a scrapyard in Scotland. In the course of just a few days, Tom is introduced to his other (even more non-fairy-like) godmothers, his unexpected cousin Pindar, a number of revolutionary genies, and the hottest new fairy rock star (singer of the smash hit: Old Fairies Suck).
That might be enough to overwhelm an ordinary person, but Tom’s not ordinary (and neither are his friends) and he plans to rescue his family if it’s the last thing he does–even if it means that he has to completely change fairy society.
This book is a delightful romp full of truly original moments and laugh-out-loud characters, and it’s impossible to read it without a huge smile on one’s face. I enjoyed Kate Saunders’ last book, Beswitched, but I LOVED this one, and I hope all of you will, too.
Posted by: Sarah
Cut off from the rest of the world by an enormous mountain, secured by a massive gated wall exists the city of Deliverance. The residents of Deliverance are special. They look like everyone on the other side of the mountain, but they all possess a form of telekinesis called psi. The people of Deliverance use their psi for everything including cooking, cleaning, getting dressed, driving, etc. Ocassionally, however, children’s psi powers do not develop and are labeled Freaklings. Of course, it is impossible for Freaklings to exist among the psi wielders; therefore, those children are sent to the nonpsi village outside the walls of Deliverance where they are taught to survive in a world where they must do everything for themselves.
Taemon was not born a Freakling, but he is different from other psi wielders. He has the ability to “mind wander” or see inside objects using his mind – a very dangerous power in the hands of the wrong person. Taemon’s brother, Yens, is extremely gifted at using psi and hungers for fame and power. As Yens starts to realize just how powerful Taemon really is, he begins to feel threatened and attacks Taemon in hopes of scaring him into explaining the root of his power. As a result, Taemon actually loses his ability to control objects with psi and must hide his handicap or be exiled from the city. Ultimately, Taemon must make a decision that will impact everyone in Deliverance and even beyond, but can he trust himself to make the right decision?
Posted by: Staci
Lorelei’s life use to be pretty good, until her mom died. Now her father is remarried to the wicked Molly, her brother has grown cold and distant, and her best friend seems to have abandoned her just when she needs her the most. If that isn’t enough, now Lorelei has to start at a strange new school called Splendid Academy that seemed to appear out of nowhere mere days before the old school suspiciously burned down.
Initially, Lorelei thinks Splendid Academy might actually be a good place for her. The principal is extremely welcoming and seems to have a soft spot for Lorelei, the students have a great deal of freedom, the playground is amazing, and the food is to die for. However, Lorelei can’t help but wonder if the school might not be as splendid as it seems. Is it just her imagination, or do all the candy bowls keep replenishing themselves? Why are there candy bowls on the students’ desks, for that matter? Why do the teachers seem so concerned with how much the students are eating? And is that a giant copper kettle hidden in the teachers’ lounge? Only Lorelei and her new friend Andrew seem to think Splendid Academy might be too good to be true and by the time they figure out what really is going on, they may not have a chance to save the other students or themselves.
In The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, author Nikki Loftin puts a contemporary spin on the story of Hansel and Gretel by having the witch run a charter school in suburban America. Loftin does a great job of bringing the classic fairytale elements into the modern world. Similarly to fairytales of old, the story is tense enough to inspire some nail biting, but not so dark as to terrify young readers. The characters are engaging and relatable and the action develops quickly making this a great choice for a read-aloud for 4th through 6th grade. Like children drawn to a candy cottage, it is easy for readers to be pulled into this modern fairytale.
Posted by: Staci
Living on an island off of Maine is idyllic to eleven-year-old Tess. She likes to ride her bike, read, swim, and to build things. She especially loves going lobstering with her Dad and attending the one room school where her Mom is the only teacher. She likes knowing all the year-round islanders, as well as the summer-only islanders. When the State of Maine threatens to close down the school due to a low student enrollment, Tess worries about how life would change for her and her family if they would have to move to the mainland.
After much talk of how to save the school, the solution is to simply increase the number of school children on the island. To achieve this goal, families are asked to consider taking in a foster child and Tess’s close knit family decides they have room in their hearts and home for another child. They look forward to the arrival of thirteen-year-old Aaron and Tess and her sister are excited about the prospect of a brother.
The smallness of living on an island can be somewhat overwhelming to an outsider, especially one who has been bounced around from foster family to foster family. Aaron is not charmed by island life and clearly resents the fact that he is unable to live with his mother. His only comfort comes from playing his trumpet and the piano. In time, he also comes to enjoy going out on the lobster boat with Tess and her Dad.
Tess, who is a very superstitious girl, worries that if Aaron doesn’t stay on the island, then she also will not be able to stay due to her school closing. “Touch blue and your wish will come true” is one of her sayings about luck. She tries hard to show Aaron the simple joy of her everyday life and she tries to help him cope with his past disappointments. She hopes that her belief in good omens will hold true and Aaron will find a way to fit in both her family and the island community.
This often touching story shows how children can find ways to help one another when faced with adversity. I found it a most enjoyable read and would heartily recommend it.
Posted by: Wendy
Peter and Thea live in two separate worlds, and neither has any idea of the ways that they are connected. Peter is a resident of New York City, where he lives in an apartment building and can easily satisfy his love of Chinese food. Thea lives in a home almost entirely made of sealed ice, in a city under the icy surface of Greenland, where her people have created a viable life for themselves underground after they were persecuted generations ago.
When Peter’s father, a scientist who studies global warming, takes the family to Greenland on an expedition, Peter’s mother becomes increasingly withdrawn, and the mysterious headaches Peter has been experiencing worsen. Meanwhile, Thea’s desire to experience the larger world brings her very close to danger but also brings forth long hidden truths, which reveal her connection to Peter and his family. Their two lives come together in a story which involves science, mystery, family drama, and adventure.
Readers of fantasy will enjoy the vividly drawn underground world Thea lives in, and science enthusiasts will be fascinated by the way Rebecca Stead weaves global warming, molecular biology, and genetics into her story. Recommended for grades 5 and up.
Posted by: Parry
It starts out like every other Christmas for Lily and Liam – they are going to stay with their Grandma and Grandpa in the country, where they plan to read, bake cookies, and head into town to buy Christmas presents using the money they earned through babysitting and doing odd jobs. But everything changes when sensitive and thoughtful Liam notices that Gran and Grandpa’s cow is now standing all alone in the meadow that he used to share with the donkey (who has since gone back to live with his owner). Liam knows that White Cow must be very lonely, and he cannot stop thinking about it. He is determined to help White Cow, even though it won’t be easy and it will disrupt all of their Christmas plans. Liam finally enlists the reluctant Lily to help him, and they find a way to give White Cow a gift, which really turns out to be a gift for them all.
This is a very gentle story, told in gentle, simple prose and illustrated with soft pencil drawings. The book’s calm and quiet atmosphere, as well as its message which celebrates generosity, empathy, thoughtfulness and courage, make it a perfect choice for the Christmas season. This short chapter book would make a good holiday read for any independent reader or as a read aloud for the whole family.
Posted by: Parry
It is no secret that middle school can be tough, but clearly some kids have a tougher time than others. August “Auggie” Pullman’s first year of middle school would fall under the “tougher” category. Auggie is a normal kid, or at least he would like everyone to see him that way. However, Auggie was born with a severe facial deformity for which he has undergone numerous surgeries. As a result, he has had to be homeschooled…until now. Just as he is about to begin the fifth grade, Auggie’s parents have decided that it is time for him to start attending school outside his home. Among the numerous other challenges of beginning middle school, Auggie is also saddled with the challenging task of convincing his new classmates and teachers that, despite his extraordinary appearance, he really is an ordinary kid. In the novel Wonder, author R.J. Palacio uses multiple first-person narratives to weave an achingly realistic account of the hardships Auggie faces during his first year in middle school as well as how his arrival in his new school affects those around him.
Through the use of a multi-cast recording, the Brilliance Audio recording of Wonder brings an enhanced depth and authenticity to Auggie’s story. If you have never listened to an audiobook, this is a great title to try out. Palacio’s style of first-person narratives lends itself perfectly to an audio recording, particularly one with multiple cast members to represent the book’s various narrators. Each narrator breathes a whole new life into his or her character as we, the listeners/readers, are able to experience more fully the complicated emotions that drive his or her actions throughout the story. Listening to Auggie’s story also adds a whole new level to the humor that Palacio skillfully places throughout the book. It is virtually impossible not to crack a smile when listening to Auggie and his parents joke about the fact that his new principal’s last name is Tushman.
Whether you read it, listen to it, or read along while listening to it, Wonder is perfect for any middle schooler or those of us who remember what it was like to be one…but if you ask me, you really should try giving it a listen.
Posted by: Staci
What is not to love about a book that features high seas adventures AND delicious meals? Climb aboard the Traveling Restaurant! The Traveling Restaurant takes place in a fantastical land that has lost the use of magic after a “great accident.” In fact, the main character, twelve year old Jasper and his baby sister Sabilla have never even seen magic. Ever since the “great accident”, Fontania has been ruled by the Provisional Monarch, Lady Gall, a vain woman that does not take criticism well. Lady Gaill is obsessed with her own beauty and popularity and keeps everyone in the kingdom on pins and needles with her extreme measures to keep order in the kingdom. Jasper finally has his fill of Lady Gall when he discovers that she tried to poison his baby sister Sabilla at an event. When he tells his parents, they decide it is time to tell Jasper the secrets of his family’s past, including why Lady Gall would be threatened by the one-year-old Sabilla. Jasper’s parents also decide it is time to flee the kingdom.
Unfortunately, before Jasper learns very much, the family is separated and Jasper finds himself alone on the boat docks of Fontania. He finds his way to the Traveling Restaurant, a boat manned by the mostly silent Dr. Rocket and his gruff assistant Polly. As the restaurant sets off to reunite Jasper with his family, Jasper starts to notice some strange things about himself as well as Dr. Rocket, Polly and even the ship itself. He does not have very much time to dwell on it as they find themselves confronted by pirates, Lady Gall’s army and several natural (or maybe not so natural) disasters. Filled with action and adventure as well as a lot of heart, this rousing adventure would work really well as a family read aloud for kids in first, second and third grades.
Posted by: Kelly
It’s the season for spooky books, and for kids who want a scare, ONLY a spooky book will do. Some children, though, want their creepy books to be creepy with a difference–not just cheap scares and cliffhangers, but something atmospheric that draws a reader fully into the world of the book. Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz is perfect for those readers. Schlitz takes us into the Gothic, foggy 150-years-ago world of Lizzie Rose and Parsifal, two children who work for Grisini, a not-at-all-nice puppeteer. When Grisini is hired to perform for the birthday party of rich Clara, a girl who seems to have everything (except siblings, all of whom have died), Lizzie Rose and Parsifal think their fortunes are looking up. Unfortunately, first Clara, and then Grisini disappear, and their lives take a turn for the desperate.
This book is beautifully, spookily written, with compelling characters and perfectly described settings. It won’t be for children who hate historical fiction, or anyone who wants a quick read, but for kids who want a long spooky night where they can enter another world, this is an excellent choice.
Posted by: Sarah