Middle school students have reading interests that run the gamut from Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Twilight. Sometimes as a parent it is hard to know what is age appropriate for your child. Through this blog, I will try to help parents make informed decisions about what is available in our library. I am hoping that this blog will be a resource for our parents, and that we can all work together to make our students life-long readers!



Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo)

The Hidden Oracle
by Rick Riordan

From the publisher:

"How do you punish an immortal?

By making him human.

After angering his father Zeus, the god Apollo is cast down from Olympus. Weak and disorientated, he lands in New York City as a regular teenage boy. Now, without his godly powers, the four-thousand-year-old deity must learn to survive in the modern world until he can somehow find a way to regain Zeus's favour.

But Apollo has many enemies—gods, monsters and mortals who would love to see the former Olympian permanently destroyed. Apollo needs help, and he can think of only one place to go... an enclave of modern demigods known as Camp Half-Blood."


I know this is a blasphemous statement to a lot of people, but I'm not a Rick Riordan fan. I read Percy Jackson and thought it was "meh", so I never read any more of his books. However, one of my students promised this one was amazing, so I tackled it. I ended up annoyed with the constant need to be cute and witty. It seemed way over the top. And it seems like the humor is aimed at the wrong audience. There are so many of the quips and one-liners that will go way over the heads of the target readers. Granted, I chuckled at some of them. "A penguin and a nun walk into a Shake Shack"...... come on, that's amusing. However, my middle school students would have no idea what that even means. 
It probably didn't help that I haven't read the entire Percy Jackson collection and didn't know or couldn't remember who most of the people were. 
I really didn't like Apollo, and when the main character annoys the heck out of you, it is hard to enjoy the book. I thought his constant talk of his past lovers (male and female) was totally inappropriate for this age group as well. 
So now that I have made the attempt twice, may I please be released from reading any more of this author? I will leave that to my students, who can't get enough or Rick Riordan no matter how prolific of a writer he is. Middle school students - enjoy! Adults - take a pass. No, wait, I know a lot of adults who love Rick Riordan, so if that is you - definitely read it.

Areas of concern:
*Above mentioned talk of Apollo's past lovers, both heterosexual and homosexual.
*Teenage love stories abound - both heterosexual and homosexual.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 5-8
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 12-17

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Counting by 7s

Counting by 7s
by Holly Goldberg Sloan
From the publisher:
"In the tradition of Out of My Mind, Wonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family. 

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life... until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.
 "

Holly Goldberg Sloan knows how to tell a story. Characters may be quirky, plot holes may exist, but still you want to read. I very much enjoyed this book, and the students at our middle school really enjoy it, it gets checked out a lot. But to compare it to Wonder is going a little too far. Things are a lot less believable and real in this book. That doesn't mean it wasn't incredibly entertaining and heartfelt, just not that realistic. And, once again, I have to take exception to the way public school employees were treated. A teacher, principal and school counselor who are incredibly stupid is kind of a slap in the face to all the wonderful teachers, principals and counselors we have in the public school system. Really? NO ONE realized that Willow was gifted? So in a way this felt a little farcical, like a Lemony Snicket book. And if you just let it flow and not worry about it being unrealistic, then it is a wonderful, fun read. I loved Willow's voice! She was quirky, annoying, innocent and wise. Her brain doesn't work quite like anyone else's, but because of that she has many amazing thoughts. 

The average teenager was willing to wear very uncomfortable attire. From my observation, the older you get, the more you like the word cozy. That’s why most of the elderly wear pants with elastic waistbands. If they wear pants at all. This may explain why grandparents are in love with buying grandkids pajamas and bathrobes. The outfits worn by my fellow students were, in my opinion, either way too tight or way too loose. Apparently having something that actually fits was not acceptable. 

So put aside the many improbable circumstances and behaviors and just enjoy the storytelling.

Areas of concern:
*A 12 year old dealing with the death of her parents.
*A public school system that fails horribly, over and over again.
*Bullying of main character (only at the beginning of the story).

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 7-10
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 10+
School Library Journal - Grades 5-8
(An interesting range.  I would say it is very appropriate for all middle schoolers.)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Star-Touched Queen

The Star-Touched Queen
by Roshani Chokshi
From the publisher:
"Fate and fortune. Power and passion. What does it take to be the queen of a kingdom when you’re only seventeen?

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself."

While reading this book there were moments where I was so engrossed in the beautiful writing and the music and poetry of it, that I would get to the end of a paragraph and say, "Wait. What just happened?". The writing was stirring and magical and gripping, yet I feel like I am a little clueless about many things that happened. It was weird and other-worldly, but it was supposed to be weird and other-worldly because there is actually a place called The Otherworld in the book. I'm very conflicted about this one! On the one hand there were many things I loved, on the other hand I found a lot of things very confusing. I found the romance believable, very insta-love, but there is a reason for that. The villain was deliciously evil. One of the characters was creepily humorous (a talking horse-thing that wants to eat people.) I loved the sisterly bond, but disliked the rest of the familial relationships. The Indian mythology helped with the magical feeling of the book. All in all, I was very invested in the story and characters, but I'm not convinced that middle schoolers will be that invested. Will they be as enthralled as I was by the pictures the words of this book paint? I can think of a few that will stick with it, but probably high schoolers will do better with it. Not because of content issues, just because of maturity.

Areas of concern:
*No bad language that I can remember.
*Several passionate kisses between husband and wife. They share a bed, but it is clear that they are only sleeping there. 
*Quite a bit of violence is alluded to, but I never felt anything was very graphic. 
*Bullying of the main character at the very beginning of the book.

Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 12+
School Library Journal - Grades 9+

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Truth About Forever

The Truth About Forever
by Sarah Dessen
From the publisher:
"A long, hot summer...

That's what Macy has to look forward to while her boyfriend, Jason, is away at Brain Camp. Days will be spent at a boring job in the library, evenings will be filled with vocabulary drills for the SATs, and spare time will be passed with her mother, the two of them sharing a silent grief at the traumatic loss of Macy's father.

But sometimes, unexpected things can happen—things such as the catering job at Wish, with its fun-loving, chaotic crew. Or her sister's project of renovating the neglected beach house, awakening long-buried memories. Things such as meeting Wes, a boy with a past, a taste for Truth-telling, and an amazing artistic talent, the kind of boy who could turn any girl's world upside down. As Macy ventures out of her shell, she begins to question her sheltered life. 

Is it really always better to be safe than sorry?

This is the first Sarah Dessen book I have read, and I'm kind of torn about it. On one hand, I loved the characters and the storyline. I was completely drawn in to the heartache and attraction the 2 main characters shared. I hurt for Macy and her mother and their dysfunctional relationship and loss of self. The secondary characters were beautifully drawn and were every bit as important to the story as the main ones. I loved every member of the Wish team and want to go hang out with them. There is a deepness about this book, and it isn't your ordinary YA contemporary. 

On the other hand, I was not happy about the cussing and partying and sneaking out that was portrayed. Don't tell me that is "normal" teenage behavior, because it doesn't have to be. However, if that is what they are reading in books and seeing in movies and on TV, then it convinces teenagers that that is how they are supposed to act. The whole moral of this book is saying that when Macy was trying to be perfect she wasn't healing and moving on, but when she was sneaking out and drinking then she was really becoming a better person. I was a little uncomfortable with that, even though it wasn't that stark in it's telling. 

My students constantly ask for more of Sarah Dessen, but I'm not convinced she is a good fit for middle school. If my students want YA contemporary, I'll steer them towards Kasie West, who tells the same type of stories without all of the bad language and behavior. 

Areas of concern:
*Quite a lot of profanity, vulgarities and cussing. The *f* word rears it's ugly head twice and it is completely unnecessary.
*Quite a bit of teenage drinking.
*Sneaking out at night.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 9-12 (I agree with this one.)
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 12+
School Library Journal - Grades 7+

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Mostly True Story of Jack

The Mostly True Story
of Jack
by Kelly Barnhill
From the publisher:
"Enter a world where magic bubbles just below the surface. . . .

When Jack is sent to Hazelwood, Iowa, to live with his strange aunt and uncle, he expects a summer of boredom. Little does he know that the people of Hazelwood have been waiting for him for quite a long time.

When he arrives, three astonishing things happen: First, he makes friends -- not imaginary friends but actual friends. Second, he is beaten up by the town bully; the bullies at home always ignored him. Third, the richest man in town begins to plot Jack's imminent, and hopefully painful, demise. It's up to Jack to figure out why suddenly everyone cares so much about him. Back home he was practically, well, invisible.

The Mostly True Story of Jack is an eerie tale of magic, friendship, and sacrifice. It's about things broken and things put back together. Above all, it's about finding a place to belong.
 "

Enter a world where magic bubbles just below the surface. . . .

When Jack is sent to Hazelwood, Iowa, to live with his strange aunt and uncle, he expects a summer of boredom. Little does he know that the people of Hazelwood have been waiting for him for quite a long time.

When he arrives, three astonishing things happen: First, he makes friends -- not imaginary friends but actual friends. Second, he is beaten up by the town bully; the bullies at home always ignored him. Third, the richest man in town begins to plot Jack's imminent, and hopefully painful, demise. It's up to Jack to figure out why suddenly everyone cares so much about him. Back home he was practically, well, invisible.

The Mostly True Story of Jack is an eerie tale of magic, friendship, and sacrifice. It's about things broken and things put back together. Above all, it's about finding a place to belong.
 

I liked this, but I didn't love it. The writing is excellent (as usual with Kelly Barnhill), and the story is unique and interesting, but it just didn't have that magical feel of both The Witch's Boy and The Girl Who Drank the Moon by the same author. Which is kind of unusual because it contained a lot of magic. I didn't connect with the characters very much, in fact there isn't one that stands out in my mind that I really loved. And some of the plot line was quite confusing. However, it kept my interest and I can recommend it to my middle schoolers - not as highly as the other 2 our library has by this author, but I think there are quite a few who will like it. 

Areas of concern:
*Good vs. evil abounds. Children are taken from their families and eventually forgotten.
*One of the taken children is returned with many scars and unable to talk.
*Some bullying takes place.
*One very quick, tame kiss between kids that I think were 12 years old?

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 8-12 (I can't imagine an 8 year old following this complicated story, and I think older than 12 can still enjoy it.)
School Library Journal - Grades 5-8

Monday, January 30, 2017

My Lady Jane

My Lady Jane
by Cynthia Hand, Brodi
Ashton and Jodi Meadows
From the publisher:
"The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane is about to become the Queen of England."

I started this book over a month ago and I'm still only at 50%. I just can't take it anymore. Why did they make this about Lady Jane Grey and then completely change history? Why not just make new characters? The whole book is silly, but not in a good Princess Bride-y kind of way, just in a ridiculous way. I can't keep going with it when there are so many good books out there to read.
  
*I have read several reviews from people who have loved this book, so the above review is just my opinion - please read it for yourself to make your own decision.

Areas of concern:
*A lot of talk about bedding, brothels, marriage bed..... nothing graphic, but mentioned a lot.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 7-11
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 13+

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who
Drank the Moon
by Kelly Barnhill
From the publisher:
"Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule--but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her--even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.
 
The acclaimed author of The Witch’s Boy has created another epic coming-of-age fairy tale destined to become a modern classic."

I loved this book! I could take everything I said about Kelly Barnhill's The Witch's Boy and use it for this book as well (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...).   The Girl Who Drank the Moon is also a magical, lyrical fairy tale that promotes love, family, courage and forgiveness. There were parts of this book that sang, there were parts that wept, and there were parts that made my heart pound with excitement. I want to turn around and start reading it all over again. 

The characters were all so alive and real. There are quite a few that are intrinsically important to the story, but we don't know why until things all get wrapped up in the end. I loved them all so much and for such differing reasons. Fyrian was hysterical; Xan was loving and kind and good; Luna was adorably mischievous but spread such love; Antain was wise beyond his years; the poor, mad mother was so tortured; Glerk, the wise poet of the swamp, reminded me of Aslan. Around all of these characters were magic, sorrow, love and hope, all swirled together in a delicious way.

As with  The Witch's Boy, this one would make a wonderful read-aloud as a family or classroom. I highly, highly recommend it for middle grade on up through adults. 

Areas of concern:
*Babies are taken away from their families and "sacrificed" to the witch (nothing bad actually happens to the babies - they are given to good families who love them).
*There is a villain who is quite evil, but masks it with supposed goodness.
*A character is disfigured during an attack by magical creatures.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 5-8
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 10+