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
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
It’s September, so everyone is back in school–and surrounded by a whole student body full of germs! The weather is getting colder, and it seems like there are sniffles and coughs everywhere. We’re all taught to wash our hands constantly, but somehow everyone always gets sick anyway.
What do we need in a situation like this? A funny book about a flu pandemic, that’s what. (Yes, really).
Finn Reeder is annoyed that his teacher, Ms. Westing, is out of school with the flu, especially since she left instructions that the class is supposed to start keeping a journal “with a full page for every single day.” Finn writes dutifully (if not cheerfully) away, and finds that he is unwitting keeping a log of a massive flu pandemic that lays his school, town, and the entire country low.
With his father burning the mail and forcing the family to wear hazmat suits, half the school out sick, and his English class proctored by a mysterious figure in a gas mask, will Finn manage to make it through the month without dying of . . . dodgeball? (Guess which teacher is NOT sick). Check out this hilarious notebook-style semi-graphic novel to find out.
Posted by: Sarah
Kevin Spencer is the most romantic 14-year- old guy you will ever meet – or so he would like to have us believe. He has a crush on Tina Zabinski who, in Kevin’s eyes, is the most beautiful girl in the world. He just knows he would make a perfect boyfriend. He realizes that he must swing into immediate action when the new boy in school, Cash, starts showing attention to Tina.
Since romance is based on chemistry, Kevin decides that he must gather information on love and romance by creating a variety of experiments. Some of his experiments are successful and others not so much. He feels that his experiments have him on the right tract to understanding girls and thus becoming the best of the best when it comes to being a boyfriend.
The problem is Kevin tries too hard. His experiments don’t really help him figure how girls think. Nor do they give him the nerve to ask Tina out. Is this romance doomed before it even begins? I suggest you read this clever and funny book to find out.
Other books about Kevin Spencer are Flat Broke and Liar, Liar.
Posted by: Wendy
As far as Deza knows, hers is the only family in Gary, Indiana with their own family motto. The Malone’s like to say that “We are a family on a journey to a place called Wonderful.” The nice thing is, they really are. Their journey though, is rather circuitous with more than their share pitfalls and dead ends.
Unfortunately, the Malone’s live in Depression era Gary, Indiana. The area’s been hit hard by the “economic downturn,” especially, if your skin is brown. Wonderful almost always seems to be just around the bend, out of reach.
However, readers will be left with the feeling that for Deza, her mother, father and her brother, Jimmie, Wonderful is not so much a destination as it is the feeling whenever they are all together. Wonderful is a state of being, not a state.
Christopher Paul Curtis has brought this wonderful family to life in a way that I can’t remember him doing since The Watsons Go To Birmingham. They are characters who care deeply about each other in with and in spite of their frailties which make them all the more appealing to readers. From father’s desperate job hunting and mother’s quiet strength in the face of her ignorant, racist employer to Jimmie’s fierce need to be seen as a teenager rather than a ”little kid” and Deza’s passion to be learning while still being a help to her family, these are people we care about and cheer for. The strong sense of family is missing in so many books these days. Curtis has show, admirably, that even when the prospect looks bleak, real families can and do exist in literature just as they do in life. Kudos, Mr. Curtis.
Posted by: Eileen
Fancy Nancy is growing up and so are her readers. Kids who are growing out of the Fancy Nancy picture books and leveled readers will be thrilled to see this new series of chapter books featuring all of the characters from the previous books by Jane O’Connor. O’Connor’s sweet, funny text is paired well with Robin Preiss-Glasser’s illustrations once again in this story.
Nancy emulates Nancy Drew since she received a special first edition copy of a Nancy Drew book from Mrs. De Vine, her fabulous neighbor. Nancy and her best friend Bree decide to become detectives just like Nancy Drew. They are dressed for the job with Nancy in a pink trenchcoat and Bree in purple complete with rhinestone-studded magnifying glasses. The only problem is, there are not any cases in Nancy’s quiet town. That is until her teacher’s prize marble goes missing on Family Day. Nancy is on the case immediately!
This chapter book is good, wholesome fun for 1st and 2nd graders who are beginning to read chapter books independently. As in the picture books, Nancy likes to use new vocabulary words, and kids will have fun learning the meaning of words like “motive” and phrases like “in the dark of night.” This story also incorporates a secret code readers can try to crack and a lesson on the lost art of playing marbles.
Posted by: Kelly
It is the summer before eighth grade and Marley’s world has been turned upside down. Her father and mother are separated. Her mother has gone to visit old friends and Marley has to live with her Dad whose house is in a different neighborhood. To make matters worse, her best friends for forever are both going to theater camp and are making new friends and not including her. When she is invited to a pool party at her friend’s house she decides that this is the perfect opportunity to do the water balloon blitz that the friends have been springing on each other for years. But this time her friends’ reactions are not surprise and delight as Marley anticipated. They are angry and embarrassed at her juvenile behavior.
Marley has a tough summer ahead of her but there is a cute boy next door who seems to like her, her father is working at reconnecting with her, and the job that her father arranged for her, a nightmare caring for difficult twin girls, uncovers a lot of quick thinking and creativity that Marley didn’t know she had. I liked Marley and you will too. Recommended for girls grades 5 and up.
Posted by: Fran
I have recently become a huge fan of the author Lenore Look. How can you not love an author who describes herself on Twitter as: “writer, re-writer, deadline misser, wrong-turn maker, detour taker, yoga pose messer-upper, raconteur extraordinaire.”
Look’s first professional titles were picture books that were both heartwarming and funny. She has continued that tradition with her juvenile fiction series, Ruby Lu, and the bestseller Alvin Ho. All of her titles feature Asian characters living in America that are easily relatable to readers of every nationality. Look’s Alvin Ho books have gained a lot of critical acclaim and popularity among young readers, but the Ruby Lu series is not one to be missed either. Ruby Lu is written for slightly younger readers and can be found in our Easy Fiction section.
The series begins with second grader Ruby Lu introducing readers to her large family and her daily struggles as a second grader. Ruby Lu, Star of the Show is the third book in the series. Ruby is starting 3rd grade. She lives with her large family in a household that consists of her parents, her baby brother, and cousin Flying Duck and Flying Duck’s parents who are all from China. The book touches on some important issues facing today’s children. Ruby’s father loses his job, her mother joins the workforce for the first time in Ruby’s life, and Flying Duck’s family assimilates to life in America. Add to that Flying Duck is deaf and is fluent in Chinese Sign Language, but not American Sign Language, and you have a lot of issues that kids in all neighborhoods can relate to.
The story centers around Ruby trying to adjust to life on a very tight budget and has a great subplot about her relationship with her dog, Elvis, which it turns out, knows all of kinds of tricks because he comes from a very special background. Although heavy on issues, this story is never heavy handed. Ruby is a delightful child and the characters in these books are funny and touching, and never overly sarcastic or mean to each other. It is a great choice for kids who have liked Judy Moody and Clementine who are a little too young to read Alvin Ho.
Posted by: Kelly
This book is the second in a series. The first book is titled Faraway Island. The first book won the Batchelder award in 2010 and this book took a Batchelder Honors award this year. I did not read the first book and I still enjoyed this one.
Stephie and her sister have been evacuated from Vienna because of the Nazis and sent to live with families in Sweden. They are Jewish and their parents are still in Vienna but are trying to leave. The girls have been separated because there wasn’t a family able to take them both. Stephie has been awarded a scholarship and at thirteen is going to continue her education at a school in Goteburg. She has to cross from her island on the ferry and she will be living with a family in the city.
I really liked Stephie. She was a loving and responsible big sister, a good student and a good friend. She is attached to her adoptive family and respects their opinions. Life is really hard for her though. She has to handle a lot of situations, some of them very upsetting and frightening, some of them confusing, at a time when she is growing up and experiencing her first love and at a time when the world is engulfed in war and prejudice. There are two more books I believe planned for the series.
I recommend this book for girls in grades 5 through 8 who like historical fiction and particularly for girls who like books about the Holocaust.
Posted by: Fran
I like to reread The Long Winter in January or February – after the holidays and during that long stretch when winter feels most cold and bleak to me. It tells the story of how Laura Ingalls and her family survived the harsh winter of 1880-81, enduring seven months of near constant blizzards in their little house in town in the Dakota Territory. Through this winter, the Ingalls family is together but cut off from all supplies (the trains can’t run) and often even cut off from their neighbors living yards away. The Long Winter tells of stories that I cannot even imagine; like how, when the first blizzard hits, Laura and her classmates must leave the schoolhouse and make their way home not a mile away, yet all the while the threat of being lost out on the prairie is imminent, for they cannot see in front of them and apart from their little prairie town there is nothing for miles and miles. It tells of the kind of resourcefulness Laura’s family displays, making kindling out of twisted bunches of hay when there is no firewood to be had. And it tells of how Laura’s family manages to create moments of joy throughout the dark months, making a pie out of green pumpkins and celebrating a festive Christmas with what little food and treats they have, song, and stories.
I love this book because I am inspired and comforted by the way Laura’s family never compromise their love for each other or their dignity during some of the harshest circumstances, and I always close the book with new resolve to meet life with courage and joy. And as with all of the Little House books, I relish in the details of a way of life so different from my own – so that if the need should ever arise, I now know to make a lamp with a button, a little grease, and a bit of cloth.
Recommended as a family read-aloud, preferably by the fireside of a cold winter’s evening.
Posted by: Parry