Monday, January 8, 2018

It's Monday What Are You Reading #IMWAYR 1/8/2018

All of my books today are not on my Must Read in 2018 list! I keep telling myself I have a full year to get to the list so I'm starting with some I've been meaning to read for a while.


Nerdy Birdy Tweets in a newer book by one of my favorite authors Aaron Reynolds. I read this book to my 5th grade students and it was a hit!! Birdy and Vulture discover a new social media app called "Tweetster" and Birdy can't stop posting. He posts pics of Vulture without her permission and  spends his days staring at a screen obsessed with "likes" and comments instead of playing with his friend. Vulture finally has enough and confronts Birdy about his new social media habits.

This is a very funny and timely book about the effects of too much screen time and the absurdity of ignoring live people in favor of a device. I often feel like my students and my own children are slightly sick of hearing lectures from me about screen time and digital citizenship. This book is a great way to open the conversation and let them draw their own conclusions about Birdy's actions. I highly recommend this for ALL ages!!


Lisa Graff is one of those authors that I find very confusing. There are some books she has written that are my favorites (Umbrella Summer) and some books that I didn't like at all (Tangle of Knots). For me, when she delves into magic she loses me. Her realistic fiction books appeal to me much more. Thankfully, The Great Treehouse War has no fantasy elements whatsoever and I really liked it!

Fifth grader Winnie's parents get divorced at the beginning of the story. What makes this situation so unique is the way her parents decide to split their time with her. Winnie's parents are sticklers for everything being exactly even, but seven days in a week will never divide evenly. That's when they come up with a unique plan for custody. Winnie will spend three day with her mom, three days with her dad and the last day alone in her treehouse which sits directly in the middle of her parents homes. Her Wednesday treehouse day quickly becomes her favorite as her parents begin to compete with one another for her affection. In a fun twist, her treehouse becomes a place that her parents can't legally access, and she decides to stay there full time until her parents stop their bickering. Winnie has a close group of friends that decide they too need some time away from their parents, so they join her in the treehouse until their lists of demands are met by the grownups (more screen time, more game time, etc). Soon, news of the kids living alone in a treehouse makes national headlines and the kids get much more attention than they bargained for.

This is a very fun book and I know my students really enjoy it, but her parents drive me crazy. I found their constant fighting over Winnie to be very frustrating. It was all extremely exaggerated such as fights over who she calls first, waves to first, leaves a note for first and so on. They constantly try to outdo each other and absolutely refuse to be in the same room together. Winnie is failing her classes and her parents are too concerned with which one of them the principal e-mailed first to actually care about her grades.  Winnie tries over and over to talk to them, but their arguing never lets up- thus the treehouse war begins.  The idea of an epic slumber party that never ends seems like a great idea in theory but in reality, the kids eventually learn that they miss and need their parents. Winnie is desperate to find a way for her parents to realize THEY need HER and to put their differences aside. Overall it is cute and clever and living in the treehouse seems like great fun. Once I accepted that her parents were the WORST, I enjoyed it much more. I think 3rd grade and up will like this book.


As a huge fan of Chris Grabenstein (Mr. Lemoncello's Library), I was excited to read the first in his new series Welcome to Wonderland: Home Sweet Motel. It's always a bonus when the main character is a boy because I know my male students will like it. Girls will read stories with male and female lead characters, but boys seem to like boy books the best. I know they will like this because this story is quite fun!

Eleven year old P.T. takes after his namesake P.T. Barnum. He is a great showman who tells outlandish yarns and entertains his class with all of his hijinxs. P.T. lives with his mother and grandfather in The Wonderland Motel. It's a fantastic place with quite a few attractions, but unfortunately, it has to complete with Disney World! The Wonderland would do well anywhere other than Orlando. Because business is so bad, the bank has given them 30 days to raise $100,000 or they will lose the property.  P.T. and his new friend Gloria have to THINK BIG! He's a born entertainer so he is hopeful his fun new plans along with Gloria's keen business skill will save the day, but it's not easy. When they come across an old mystery about a missing treasure, they are certain that following the clues will lead them to the money they need.

This is a very entertaining book! P.T. is a bit of a con man, but it's all in good fun. He is clever and sharp and Gloria is a great straight man for his routine, Their ideas to save the motel such as frog karaoke and beachfront scavenger hunts are very creative. I love the way P.T. respects and loves his grandfather as well. The only part I could have done without is the bumbling grumpy teacher Mr. Frumpkes who tries to foil P.T.'s grand plans. The scenes with him are just slightly disrespectful on both the part of the students and teacher. Other than that, it was an amusing adventure, and I'm looking forward to visiting the gang again in the next book. A great read for grades 3 and up!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018



Happy 2018! Last year I had 40 books on my list and I completed 26 of them. I’m not counting the books I started and didn’t finish because there were a few I couldn’t force myself to keep reading! While I didn’t finish the list, I’m certain I read well over 50 titles. I am always coming across new books and authors I hadn’t planned on reading (Barnes and Noble shelf browsing is awesome). Besides the titles below, I have a few overall goals for reading this year. I want to read more early chapter books. My youngest students love to read, and I want to have a healthy selection for them. Also, my weakness is boy fantasy books. Outside of The Lightning Thief, I just DON’T LIKE THEM! My male students love The Warrior series and I have tried to like it, I promise I have! I can’t get through it. Regardless of my personal preference, I need to know what’s popular so I can keep that section of the library growing for fantasy genre lovers. My last goal is to try and stay away from sad books. No more death, illness, divorce, severe bullying, depression or tragic accidents. No more books about losing parents, siblings and best friends. I know these are all important topics, but I feel like I was inundated with them last year. I am convinced that I can find great stories that are positive. I know every tale needs a conflict but maybe the problems can be more minor.  I would rather my students get lost in a world of magic, mystery or silly fun instead of adding to their worries. Hopefully my 27 choices for this year will keep all of us smiling!

Supergifted by [Korman, Gordon]The Game Masters of Garden Place by [Markell, Denis]The Last Grand Adventure by [Behrens, Rebecca]Winterhouse by [Guterson, Ben]Granted by [Anderson, John David]The Wild Robot Escapes by [Brown, Peter]The Creature of the Pines (The Unicorn Rescue Society) by [Gidwitz, Adam]Snow Lane by [Angelini, Josie]Lucy Castor Finds Her Sparkle by [Lowe, Natasha]Fenway and Hattie by [Coe, Victoria J.]You Throw Like a Girl (mix)Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi QueenIvyThe Ember Stone: A Branches Book (The Last Firehawk #1)The House That Lou BuiltFront DeskLions & LiarsBobMaggie & Abby's Neverending Pillow FortSamantha Spinner and the Super-Secret PlansSparrow RoadI Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two LivesEllie, EngineerGreetings from Witness Protection!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Some New Middle Grade Favorites!

                                                         Refugee by [Gratz, Alan]

Every once in a while, I read a book that affects me so profoundly that I call all of my friends and tell them they HAVE TO READ IT! Refugee by Alan Gratz is one of those books. I'll admit, I've never been a huge history buff so I tend to shy away from historical fiction. This book, however, might have changed my reading habits. It tells three different stories about children who become refugees while escaping persecution. The first child is Josef whose Jewish family is running from the atrocities of WWII by ship. The second is Isabel, a Cuban girl whose family is trying to escape the oppression of Castro in 1994 by raft and finally, Mahmoud whose Syrian family is struggling to flee war torn Syria on foot. Each one of their stories is completely engrossing. The dangers the families face seem unreal, and it's difficult to grasp that this all really happened and is still happening today. These stories are very emotional and focus on innocent children during wartime. Their journeys stem not from bravery, but from life and death situations. However, the bravery they show facing numerous challenges is a continuous theme throughout the book

The chapters rotate through the three narrators and just when I couldn't wait to see what happened next, it would switch to the other stories. This is quite all right though as each chapter is as captivating as the next. I did have a friend mention to me that she skipped through and read each child's story completely. My advice would be not to do this because you might not fully appreciate the twist at the end of the book.  This one is a bit tough for me to gauge a recommended age level. This is marketed for 9-12 year old children. The reading level is fine for middle grade students, but some might be scared by the guns, bombings, drownings, and other near death experiences. It was difficult for me to process the heartbreak, so I worry about sensitive readers. I would say 6th grade and up with parents being aware of the content.

                                                                   Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life by [Tougas, Shelley]

I recently finished Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas after Amazon suggested I might like it based on my other interests.  I had never heard of this book before, but I had to give it a shot based on the title alone! I’ve always been a Little House fan and was curious as to the premise of this story. I found it to be very entertaining with several great lessons for middle grade students. Charlotte and her family have been nomads for as long as she can remember. Her mother is a free spirited hippie like woman who moves her family from town to town in a constant search for positive energy and spiritual fulfillment. For this most recent move, Charlotte’s mom is trying to write a children’s book about prairie life so naturally she must transport her children to the town of Walnut Grove to channel the ultimate prairie spirit- Laura Ingalls Wilder. A small town like Walnut Grove isn't really at the top of Charlotte's list of  places she would like to live, so her  journey starts with a negative attitude before she even arrives.  Adding to that, Charlotte, her twin Freddy, and half sister Rose have been uprooted so many times that Charlotte is determined not to make any friends since she will just have to leave them when her mother gets another whim and moves them again. Girls at school try to befriend her, but Charlotte is convinced they will be like mean girls she has known in the past and her new teacher, Mrs. Newman, doesn’t stand a chance with Charlotte again based on past experiences. Charlotte's grand plan is to isolate herself as much as possible and limit social interactions. When her brother Freddy, the only constant in her life, starts to pull away and make new friends, Charlotte feels lonelier than ever. Adding to her struggles, while made famous through the Little House books, life in Walnut Grove is difficult. The town is tiny without a lot of activities and the winters are extremely harsh  In a twist of events, Charlotte, who is sick of hearing about Laura, inadvertently gets a job volunteering at the Laura Ingalls Museum and ultimately realizes the old books can actually teach her a thing or two about acceptance and gratitude.

This is a book I would certainly everyone whether they were fans of Ingalls or not.  I thoroughly enjoyed all of the references to a Pa Ingalls, Plum Creek and Nellie Olsen, but besides the history, it’s mostly a story about family and sibling relationships. As brothers and sisters grow older, roles change and these three children have to navigate that. There is much of the book that was funny and lighthearted but also parts that were a little sad. Living with a flighty mother that needs as much care as a child is another problem facing the siblings. Reading about the mom was frustrating at times because while she loves her kids, her choices are very selfish. While her character is annoying the rest of the story is quite enjoyable. Of course I was rooting for Charlotte to overcome her fear of rejection and find true stability and happiness but there are some funny bumps along the way. I hope that students will read this and perhaps take another look at the original Laura Ingalls Wilder books.

                                                            Restart by [Korman, Gordon]

Restart, Gordon Korman’s newest novel, is a phenomenal book. I wish every middle school would make it required reading. The story begins with eighth grade student Chase falling from his roof and waking in the hospital with amnesia. While he can walk and talk, he has no memory of his family, friends, or life before the fall. When he is finally ready to return to school, still suffering from amnesia, he notices that students seem to be avoiding him and teachers aren’t especially nice to him. Worst of all, the boys that say they are his best friends are total thugs and they expect Chase to be the same way. He soon discovers that the other students avoid him because they fear him. Before the accident, he was the school’s worst bully. He was merciless to students who couldn’t defend themselves and horribly disrespectful to adults. The post-accident Chase can hardly believe the terrible stories he hears about the way he used to be before he hit his head.  He doesn’t have the slightest inclination to be rude or mean to anyone or any memory of acting that way. He’s kind, thoughtful, and polite and is actually disgusted by the boys who were once his friends. They still behave the way he used to behave and they don't respect his choice to be a better person. Chase attends school each day hoping for someone he used to bully to give him a second chance. Finally, Brendan, a boy Chase used to torture from the AV club, reaches out and offers Chase a spot in the club. The other members are horrified. Chase made their lives miserable and is even the sole reason one of the club members, Joel, had to switch schools. Joel’s sister, Shosanna, has the most difficulty with Chase and is very upset that he gets assigned to work with her on a special project at the community retirement home.

What I found so moving in this story is the depths of Chase’s guilt when he discovers who he used to be. I could feel his deep regret as I was reading each chapter. Even though he targeted many students  before the accident, Chase is a victim now as well. He is a victim of his past actions and suffers the consequences. The sub plot of the retirement home is a way for him to redeem himself.  Meeting some of the elderly residents helps to shape the moral compass of the new Chase. While the amnesia is at first tough for him, all of the characters in the book, including Chase, come to learn that it is actually a profound gift for them- the chance to start over and become the people they were once too scared to be. I highly recommend this book to all middle level readers.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Book Fair Bonanza

It's the most wonderful time of the year- that's right, Book Fair time! We recently held our school book fair, and I'm always amazed at how excited both students and parents are to attend. As soon as I announce the fair date, the kids burst into squeals of delight. I also celebrate because I know I will have the chance to peruse many new titles. Today's post is about some of my favorites from the fair.


When I first glanced at this book, I thought it was going to be much scarier than it actually was. I thought there might have been ghosts or haunted woods or something creepy, but the story is NOTHING like that at all. It's actually a really neat story with a few unexpected plot twists. The main character in The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange is Henrietta, Henry for short, a young girl living in 1919. Her family moves to a new home after the tragic death of her brother Robert. Her mother is suffering from extreme depression due to Robert's death and the family hopes that country living will help them all to heal. The father, growing frustrated with Mama, takes an extended work trip leaving Nanny Jane in charge of Henry and her baby sister Piglet (yes, Piglet). Before he leaves, Father allows a local doctor to take care of Mama, but Dr. Hardy is a little TOO excited to try experimental treatments on her. Mama is growing worse everyday, not speaking or eating and sleeping all day long while Henry has been banished from seeing her. Henry knows she MUST save her mother but how can a young girl take on the powerful town doctor? Henry finds help and guidance in the mysterious lights in the woods of Hope House and at the same time helps to solve a mystery from long ago.

I really liked this book. While it dealt with mature topics, the tone and writing is still definitely for children. It powerfully portrayed the effects of grief on an entire family. Also what is unique about this story is the description of treatment for mental illness at this time in history. People suffering from depression had little help and being locked away was the best answer. Henry was a very strong and brave character who refuses to give up on her mother. She is clever and willing to take whatever risks necessary to keep Dr. Hardy away from Mama. The mystery of Hope House and the hidden room (I love a good hidden room) added to the suspense of the story. This isn't exactly a lighthearted tale, but a great story nonetheless for the right mature middle grade reader.

                                                         Weekends with Max and His Dad by [Urban, Linda]

Weekends With Max and His Dad tackles the subject of divorce in a positive way. Instead of dwelling on Max's sadness, Lind Urban write about all of the adventures Max gets to have with his dad when they spend their weekends together. Each weekend is a new experience where Max gets to meet fun new neighbors, set up the new apartment and play super spies with his Dad (all while eating their special pancakes).

Divorce is very difficult for an entire family, but what's nice about this book is that it doesn't focus at all on the problems that led to the parent's separation. It doesn't mention anything that happened before their first weekend together. Max isn't bitter or sad and his father is genuinely excited to see him and spend time together. It's obvious to the reader that Max's Dad is trying very hard to help Max feel safe and loved. Max has two homes and one isn't better than the other- just different. I wouldn't go so far as to say that this story makes divorce look easy- Max still has times where he feels awkward and uncomfortable in his new circumstances, but his father's obvious care and love helps him adjust. Max learns that his father's new place can be filled with love and be just as much of a home as the one he shares with his mother. This is geared towards students in grades 2-5 and the writing clearly reflects that age group. There is quite a bit of humor and again, no deep raging emotions about divorce. It's sweet and I would certainly recommend it to young students whether their situation matches Max's or not.


My gripe about graphic novels has always been that young students will often read them without checking the reading level or looking to see if the content is appropriate. If it's got pictures, most kids will assume it's fine for all ages. Unfortunately, that's not always the case and students are reading graphic novels way above their reading and maturity level. Graphic novels are just super fun to read and everyone wants one! This is why I have been on a hunt for graphic novels that are perfect for a young audience. I think According to Aggie fits the bill! It's an American Girl graphic novel by Mary Richard Beumont based on the recurring "Aggie" article in  AG Magazine.

 Aggie is 11 years old and is finding that her friendships are beginning to change. Her best friend Fiona is starting to pull away and cancel their long standing Friday afternoon play date. They didn't have a fight or any kind of disagreement. Fiona is simply starting to develop different interests and make new friends. Aggie is saddened by the way things are going and searches for an answer as to why things are changing. As Aggie's mother tells her, sometimes there is no real answer.  Along the way Aggie befriends a new student and realizes that while she misses Fiona, she can still be happy.

This is a very common problem for young students. As they grow and change, friends often drift apart. What this novel does so well is that it is empathetic to young children in this situation while offering hope. I think someone going through friendship changes  will find a lot of comfort from Aggie's situation. Being in graphic novel form makes this story easy to read and the content never gets too mature. It is simple and sensitive to tween feelings and sure to be an excellent choice for parents and children to read together.

                                                               Bizzy Mizz Lizzie by [Shannon, David]

I'm certain we all know people with seriously over-scheduled children. I'd love to wrap this one up and anonymously mail it to some of my mom friends.  Bizzy Mizz Lizzie is the latest creation of the AMAZING David Shannon. Lizzie is a busy bee that is involved in a ridiculous amount of after school activities. She flits from one thing to the next without ever having time to stop and be lazy with her friend Mizz Daisy. My favorite line in this story goes something like, "the only bee busier than Lizzie is her mother who has to fly her everywhere." I'm sure most parents can relate! Along with participating in an abundance of activities, Lizzie also feels the need to excel at all of them. She goes full speed ahead until one day she just physically can't do it anymore. She cracks. The consequences of what she sees as a failure turn out to be EXACTLY what Lizzie needs- time to stop and quite literally smell the roses. I think this book is for kids of all ages because this is an ever growing problem and a great lesson for both children and parents (myself included).

                                                        I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness by [Verde, Susan]
I Am Peace is the perfect book to heal the Bizzy Mizz Lizzies of the world! Written by Susan Verde and illustrated by the phenomenal Peter Reynolds, this is a book about mindfulness. Mindfulness is a word I have been hearing quite a bit lately. I think it's growing in popularity because our world is moving at a frenetic pace that we haven't seen before. Mindfulness is the practice of being in the moment and aware of current surroundings. It's a way to calm and relieve stress. Too often, our children are in the "what if" worry zone and need reminding to focus on the present. This book is a beautiful guide to doing just that. Each page takes the reader on a guided mediation to connect with earth, wonder about nature and focus on the fives senses. It asks the reader to close his or her eyes and be still. I read it to my second grade class and I think I got as much out of it as they did. I'm not sure I ever sat in my classroom with my eyes closed and focused on the sounds around me. I could hear other teachers, kids in the hallway, doors closing, footsteps, the heater switching on, and music from somewhere in the building. I was quite refreshed when I opened my eyes. I really enjoyed reading this book and my students shared they liked it as well. I think it's an excellent gift (and reminder) for all ages.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

I'm Back And So Are These Stories!

I'm back to blogging! I took a full month off from my blog to focus on my family, back to school preparation, enjoying the last days of nice weather and everything else the end of summer brings! I have certainly kept reading, and I'm excited to share some new titles. All of the books I read this week are the second in a series. I'm not a huge fan of sequels, because like the movies, they sometimes disappoint, but I simply must find out what happens to my favorite characters.


I don't think this one is so much a sequel as it just shifts focus to another character in the Charm Girls club series by Jenny Lundquist. The first book about the girls is The Charming Life of Izzy Malone. There we meet Izzy and her friends and learn of their delightful club. The charm girls earn charms for their bracelets by completing a variety of  different tasks. In The Wondrous World of Violet Barnaby, we learn more about Violet, who in the first book, recently lost her mother. It's now been a year and a half since her mother's passing and Violet's father has remarried. He could have dated and married any eligible female on the planet but instead chose "The Hammer," the strictest and most difficult teacher at Violet's school. As she is packing her belongings to move into The Hammer's (Melanie's) house, Violet finds a letter addressed to her that her mother wrote before she died. Her mother compiled a Christmas Wish List full of experiences that she wanted Violet to have such as making a snow angel and baking Christmas cookies. Unfortunately, Violet is NOT in a holiday mood and moving to a new home surrounded by someone else's belongings (someone who is NOT her mother), isn't helping her Christmas spirit. Violet must rely on her friends, her new crush, and her new step siblings to find some holiday joy.

I haven't read the first book, but I ordered it immediately because I really liked this one! Violet is heartbroken, and she's trying to navigate her new surroundings and deal with her grief at the same time. The entire blended family struggles with combining old and new traditions, and I think that's a relatable topic for many children today. Violet is a likable character and her friends will show readers what true friendship among tweens should look like. They aren't mean girls obsessed with material goods or any of those typical stereotypes. Great book for grades 4 and up!


I adored The Littlest Bigfoot by popular adult author Jennifer Weiner. I'll admit I was nervous to read the second installment, Little Bigfoot, Big City because I was afraid it wouldn't be as great as the first. I found it to be better than a typical middle novel because there were answers to some of the questions but there was another cliffhanger at the end. Many readers love this kind of thing, but I like instant gratification! While I want a resolution ASAP, it's such a unique story that I will hang in there until the end.

Alice learns at the end of the first book that she isn't human so she is searching for answers about what she might be instead. We do get an answer to that question, but a good bit of the story is about her changing friendship with Millie. Like any pre-teen females, they have hit a rough patch and become a little insecure about their bond. As Alice is searching for answers to her past, Millie is focused on achieving her dream of becoming a future singing superstar. Each girl is on a very different path, but they still need each other for support.

Like all of  Ms. Weiner's novels, this book is engaging and fun to read. The Yare lifestyle is simply fascinating to me and I actually gasped out loud when Millie took the potion to remove her fur!! The story moves quickly and as new mysteries are revealed, we get answers to questions from the first book. I really like this series and I hope I can encourage more students to give it a chance!

                                                              Swing It, Sunny by [Holm, Jennifer L.]

First let me start by writing that I really liked the first book in this series- Sunny Side Up. Jennifer Holm certainly has a talent for writing children/YA books. I think most young readers can find themselves represented in her characters and their stories. Swing It Sunny picks up shortly after Sunny returns from her grandfather's home in Florida. The main conflict of the story remains Sunny's struggle with her brother's troubles. In this book, Dale has been sent to boarding school to try and get his life back on track. Sunny is disappointed that it's taking longer than she would like and she is unsure of where she stands with him. Luckily she has her best friend and also a fun new neighbor to keep her smiling.

I liked this story, but I wanted much more. I finished reading it in fifteen minutes. I know my students will love the style of short chapters and of course, the pictures are awesome, but I found myself wanting more conflict and plot twists. I kept reading waiting for something big on the next page, but then it ended. Sunny does get a resolution to her problems with her brother and she gains a lot of self confidence from her baton twirling older neighbor. Maybe I am missing the point. I often gripe that graphic novels are too mature for young readers. Perhaps Sunny's conflicts are just enough for the 9-12 age group. The quick turnaround of her problems and lack of any major drama are what elementary age students are looking for. Maybe I spent this summer reading too many complicated novels with twists and turns. The 70's references of Six Million Dollar Man and Gilligan's Island etc., are really fun to read and it certainly makes me nostalgic! No matter what I think, I DO believe my students will pick this up and it will get checked out every week!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Real Us Blog Tour


I’ve been a fan of Tommy Greenwald for a long time. My students and my own children love the Charlie Joe Jackson series, so I was thrilled to get a copy of his newest title The Real Us. It certainly didn’t disappoint. This book is for every tween who struggles with both fitting in and standing out.

Calista Getz is the prettiest and, of course, most popular girl in her class. She is admired by her classmates, coaches and teachers. Calista’s first week of school begins perfectly with her two best friends, Ellie and Ella, by her side and the promise of a date with super cute Patrick for the First Week Dance. Everything at her lunch table is going really well, but Calista and her friends aren’t the only ones in the cafeteria. Artistic and quiet Damian White has watched Calista from afar all last year, and he knows there is much more to her than her looks. He doesn’t dare approach her due to an embarrassing medical condition that causes him to sweat- A LOT! Laura Corbett also watches Calista and wonders why they stopped being best friends once Calista became uber popular. Laura remembers how Calista used to love soccer and reading and all of their fun adventures before Calista’a popularity soared. It hurts that Calista seems to have moved on from their friendship, but there's no room at the popular table for smart, but chubby Laura.

While the week starts well on Monday, it soon takes a terrible turn for Calista when on Tuesday she gets a pimple, a scaly face rash, and an elbow to the nose. Her looks suddenly turn from beautiful to something from a horror movie. While her face will certainly heal in a couple of days, unfortunately, that’s all it takes for her popular “friends” to drop her like a hot potato. How can they do this to her? She's never had anyone ever treat her this badly. Luckily, Damian and Laura refuse to abandon her like the other kids, and they help Calista understand that she is so much more than her good looks. She has brains and depth and an awesome sense of humor. After her face clears, will Calista return to the popular crowd and their shallow ways or will she find that maybe she has more to offer?

On the cover of this book it says, "You're more than what people see" and that is certainly the theme of this story. Damian sweats like crazy and Laura is overweight, but they are the most fantastic kids in the book. They represent the majority of a realistic school population where most kids aren't part of the beautiful crowd. This story is told through the three main characters voices in alternating chapters so the readers get a great sense of how the events of the first week of school effect everyone so differently. I'll admit, I was a little surprised by the feelings the tweens revealed.  Kids like Calista and Patrick are supposed to rule the school while the Damians and Lauras are supposed to get out of their way, but what makes this story so terrific is that they don't all play into their sterotypes. Laura and Damian aren't the typical outsiders who cower when the popular kids walk by. They are confident and sweet and actually pretty secure kids. They stand up for themselves to kids who are pretty intimidating (Will, Ellie, and Ella) and speak up for others. This isn't a depressing tale of kids who aren't popular getting tormented. It feels more realistic than that. I was also pleasantly surprised by Patrick. I expected him to be the good looking snob who puts kids like Damian in the trash can, but instead, he's a great guy. He's just trying to find his way like everyone else. (I think maybe I've seen Mean Girls one too many times). Even Calista quickly learns not to take herself too seriously and gets over the idea of having to be perfect within the time frame of the story. I think that's what makes this a great upper elementary/middle grade book- it all happens within a week so there's no long drawn out bullying or crisis. This is a light and refreshing look at the class system in middle school. The writing flows easily with humor and heart and I would swear Tommy Greenwald was a pre-teen girl in a former life since he writes them so well! This book is a great way to start a discussion with kids about discovering who they REALLY are and how they REALLY feel and then becoming a more REAL version of themselves. I can't wait to add this to my library!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Ghost Stories by the Campfire #scarystories

If you've been following this blog at all, you know my FAVORITE genre is creepy (but not too scary) books. The three books I chose to read this week all fit into that category!

                                                             One for Sorrow: A Ghost Story by [Hahn, Mary Downing]

The QUEEN of children's spooky stories just published this gem last week. Mary Downing Hahn's One For Sorrow is set in 1918, but it's content is very relevant for today's youth. Annie Brown is the new girl in school and can't wait to make friends. She's always been well liked and never had a problem fitting in with other girls. On her first day, she is immediately taken under the wing of Elise Schneider who proclaims they will be "best friends forever." Initially, Annie is excited to have a buddy until she realizes that the other girls can't stand Elise. She is mean, clingy and awkward and is later revealed to be a liar and thief. Elise has deep problems that cause her bad behavior, but the other students treat her terribly not having an ounce of sympathy for her. Poor Annie can't seem to break away from her new "friend" and  falls victim to the same bullying that Elise does. When Annie is finally able to get away and befriend the popular girls, she leave Elsie alone once again. Going further, Annie joins in the relentless teasing that Elise endures.

Soon the Spanish Influenza rips through the town taking Elise as one of its victims. Annie feels badly but is also slightly relieved she will never see Elise again- or so she thinks!!! SHAZAM!! In typical Mary Downing Hahn fashion, Elise begins to haunt Annie from beyond the grave and forces her to get even with all of the mean girls. Annie feels like she is slowly losing her mind and is desperate for a way to rid herself of the ghost.

Quite honestly, I don't even have to read a summary when it comes to this author. I love everything she writes, and I know my students will as well. She's been writing since I was a little girl, and I am thrilled she is still producing scary tales. That said, I was actually a bit torn throughout my reading because Elise really is a nasty girl, and I had trouble feeling sorry for her. It's an interesting view of bullying- does a mean, hateful girl, who is sometimes a bully herself, ever deserve a taste of her own medicine? Of course no one should ever be teased, but I had a hard time finding sympathy for her. At the same time, I don't think the character could have been written any other way. She needed to be awful in life so her ghost could be awful in death. In all, a great read and my students will love it.


                                                          The Girl with the Ghost Machine by [DeStefano, Lauren]

Where has Lauren DeStefano been all of my life? The Girl with the Ghost Machine is excellent and quite unique. This one really made me think. What if you could spend one more minute with a dearly departed soul? Would you do it at any cost?

Young Emmaline's mother died tragically, and her father has locked himself away in the basement searching for a way to bring her mother's energy back to the land of the living.  He spends so much time on his ghost machine that he neglects sweet Emmaline. Much to her shock and surprise, his machine works! She can talk to her mother again- but not without a price.

This review is tough to write because I don't want to give away any of the story. There are quite a few twists and turns. I read this one to the last page without a break- it is fantastic! The characters are well written and the plot is incredibly creative. Be warned- if you have lost anyone close, it will be difficult not to think of that person while reading this book. The main theme of the story is grief and the different ways we all handle it. I finished reading with the lingering question of "what if?" for a few days after I closed it.

I am excited to add this to the library and will read some of DeStefano's other stories.


From what I can deduce, the The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street is Linday Currie's first solo novel and it's a beaut! I don't often find ghost stories for middle grades set in modern times, and it was a nice surprise.

Young Tessa is faced with a move from sunny, bright Florida to a cold and wet Chicago town. She's not happy about the move, and it's made even worse when things start to go bump in the night in her new room. Ghostly drawings appear mysteriously in Tessa's sketch book, her brother's doll cries real tears, and she feels a deep sense of sadness throughout the house. Tessa is certain there is a ghost trying to tell her something. When she accidentally blurts the truth about her haunted home, her new classmates react in a surprising way. Instead of thinking she's crazy, they vow to help her solve the mystery. Andrew, Richie, and Nina become her partners in the paranormal, and they work together to solve a puzzle that's over 100 years old. From libraries to graveyards, they leave no stone unturned to help their ghost find peace.

I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery. I always love a ghost story that is "just right" for younger grades (4-5). It kept me on the edge of my seat but wasn't too scary or violent in any way.  It's a neat story and the kids' adventure kept me interested and turning the pages. There is the usual dynamics of tweens trying to find their way and make friends, and the characters are relatable nice kids. There is one small thing bugging me- there is a character, Cassidy, who seems kind of thrown in without a purpose. I don't see a reason for her other than possibly setting up a sequal??? I did have a few unanswered questions at the end, so I'd love a second book. I'm  excited to add this title to the library when it's published this October!