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!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum

The Great and Only Barnum...
by Candace Fleming
From the publisher:
"Discover the true story of P.T. Barnum, the man who created the world-famous Barnum & Bailey Circus, as featured in the movie The Greatest Showman! 

The award-winning author of The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and MaryAmelia Lost, and Our Eleanor brings us the larger-than-life biography of showman P. T. Barnum. Known far and wide for his jumbo elephants, midgets, and three-ring circuses, here's a complete and captivating look at the man behind the Greatest Show on Earth. Readers can visit Barnum's American Museum; meet Tom Thumb, the miniature man (only 39 inches tall) and his tinier bride (32 inches); experience the thrill Barnum must have felt when, at age 60, he joined the circus; and discover Barnum's legacy to the 19th century and beyond. Drawing on old circus posters, photographs, etchings, ticket stubs--and with incredible decorative art by Ray Fenwick--this book presents history as it's never been experienced before--a show-stopping event!"

I read this after seeing the movie The Greatest Showman , and I have to say I like Hugh Jackman a lot better than I liked P.T. Barnum after reading this book. It is interesting that the things I didn't admire about P.T. Barnum (his treatment of his family, his lies and "humbuggery"...) were not shown in the movie, but conversely, the things I DID admire about the real man (he insisted his employees acted circumspectly and dressed modestly, he was a huge philanthropist...) were not brought out in the movie, either. I watched the movie with the director's commentary and he said, "We didn't let the truth stand in the way of a good story" (or something like that). He said they made the movie P.T. would have wanted about himself, and I think that is probably true. Who wouldn't want to be portrayed by Hugh Jackman?

Enough about the movie - the book itself was very interesting and informative. I liked the format with the circus-y font emblazoned across a whole page for every new chapter and the boxes with interesting facts on almost every page. I learned a lot, and it was never boring. But then, how could a book about the stupendous P.T. Barnum be boring?

Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 10-14
School Library Journal - Grades 6+

Friday, March 30, 2018

Rebel of the Sands

Rebel of the Sands
by Alwyn Hamilton
From the publisher:
"Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic.  For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female.

Amani Al’Hiza is all three.  She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead.

Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.

Rebel of the Sands
 reveals what happens when a dream deferred explodes—in the fires of rebellion, of romantic passion, and the all-consuming inferno of a girl finally, at long last, embracing her power."

Whew, what a ride! This book is a piece of great storytelling and it sucked me in from page one. It has an incredibly original plot - other people have described it as a cross between a western and Arabian Nights - and characters that you will care deeply about. There is great sorrow and hardship for our heroine, and great growth and strength. It ends with quite a bit of closure, but enough still to come to make you want to get your hands on book 2 immediately. I really loved this one, however sometimes some of the First Beings seemed out of place of what was happening. I'm not sure why we needed the Nightmares or the Skinwalkers when the rest of the story was so gripping (were they First Beings? I'm actually not sure about that.). Maybe they will play a more important and necessary role in the coming books. There was enough of a romance in the book to keep it interesting, but it was in no way the main focus of the story. I really enjoyed the world that was created for this story, and that is saying something because I hate the desert. Seriously hate it. But reading this filled you with the mystique and romance of riding a flying carpet through the desert sky (yes, A Whole New World is now going through my head). As much as I would hate to have desert sand all over me - I don't even like having beach sand all over me - I could feel the love Amani had for her desert home. Well done, Alwyn Hamilton, I heartily recommend this one.

Areas of concern:
*There were upwards of about 20 combined swear words.
*A couple of pretty disturbing deaths.
*A very mild romance with a couple of kisses.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 12+
School Library Journal - Grades 8+

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Thief

The Thief
by Megan Whalen Turner
From the publisher:
"The king's scholar, the magus, believes he knows the site of an ancient treasure. To attain it for his king, he needs a skillful thief, and he selects Gen from the king's prison. The magus is interested only in the thief's abilities. 

What Gen is interested in is anyone's guess. Their journey toward the treasure is both dangerous and difficult, lightened only imperceptibly by the tales they tell of the old gods and goddesses."

I've been in a YA reading slump lately. It's been a long time since something has reached out and grabbed me enough to keep me reading until I finish. We have a winner! I really liked this book and found it interesting, exciting, surprising, and full of fun. It is with horror that I have realized I don't have the second book of the series in my library. I will be remedying that oversight. This isn't a series that gets checked out a lot, so I will need to start pointing it out to students I know will love it. 

Gen was an interesting main character. There were times when he was obnoxiously cocky, but somehow you still love him. The other characters were a slow burn, but you learn to love them as well. I'm still surprised by a couple of things that come out in the end. Did not see those coming.

The world-building was very cool. I felt like I was actually seeing the dystopia (glad the author explained that) and the river ebbing and flowing, not to mention trying to come down a mountain on loose shale. I found the different countries' governments a little confusing, but I think that will all be explained more fully in the rest of the series. 

I actually liked the stories of the gods. Sometimes those kind of things slow the book down for me, but I felt like it really set things up for the story and helped me understand things better. 

All in all, I really enjoyed this and highly recommend it.

Areas of concern:
*The religion in this book consists of several gods, and the term Oh Gods, or gods-damn it is used several times.
*Some violence - nothing graphic.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 10+

Monday, March 5, 2018

Dark Breaks the Dawn

Dark Breaks the Dawn
by Sara B. Larson
From the publisher:
"On her eighteenth birthday, Princess Evelayn of Eadrolan, the Light Kingdom, can finally access the full range of her magical powers. The light looks brighter, the air is sharper, and the energy she can draw when fighting feels almost limitless.

But while her mother, the queen, remains busy at the war front, in the Dark Kingdom of Dorjhalon, the corrupt king is plotting. King Bain wants control of both kingdoms, and his plan will fling Evelayn onto the throne much sooner than she expected.

In order to defeat Bain and his sons, Evelayn will quickly have to come into her ability to shapeshift, and rely on the alluring Lord Tanvir. But not everyone is what they seem, and the balance between the Light and Dark comes at a steep price."

I liked this book, but didn't love it. People kept referring to it as a retelling of Swan Lake, and I was trying throughout the book to figure out how it was. After I finished I discovered it was like a prequel to Swan Lake, so the next book will probably be more like the story of the ballet. 
I found the world that was created very intriguing, although there was a lot I didn't understand. I enjoyed the characters, and liked reading from the points of view of several of them. It took me quite a while to get into the story, but once I did I liked it. But it was weird because most of the book is leading up to one big event, and then that event is over incredibly quickly. This was no The Two Towers where the battle scene lasts forever. It's hard to say too much about it without giving anything away, but I was very sad at the end and I want to know what happens in the next one, although some things can't be fixed. So, do I recommend it? Sure, I think there are a lot of people who will really love it.

Areas of concern:
*Violence and death.
*Talk of the queen needing to "bind" with someone and procreate quickly to save the kingdom.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 7-10
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 12+

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Dividing Eden

Dividing Eden
by Joelle Charbonneau
From the publisher:
"Twins Carys and Andreus were never destined to rule Eden. With their older brother next in line to inherit the throne, the future of the kingdom was secure.

But appearances—and rivals—can be deceiving. When Eden’s king and crown prince are killed by assassins, Eden desperately needs a monarch, but the line of succession is no longer clear. With a ruling council scheming to gain power, Carys and Andreus are faced with only one option—to take part in a Trial of Succession that will determine which one of them is worthy of ruling the kingdom.

As sister and brother, Carys and Andreus have always kept each other safe—from their secrets, from the court, and from the monsters lurking in the mountains beyond the kingdom’s wall. But the Trial of Succession will test the bonds of trust and family.

With their country and their hearts divided, Carys and Andreus will discover exactly what each will do to win the crown. How long before suspicion takes hold and the thirst for power leads to the ultimate betrayal?

I have really enjoyed Joelle Charbonneau's other books, so I was looking forward to this one. I was very disappointed and almost didn't even finish it. I really hate it when I don't like the main characters. Why keep reading if I don't care what happens to these two stupid people? However, I soldiered on and did mildly enjoy the story and action, and did end up caring about one of the main characters when something was explained. 
I found the world building confusing and have no idea what the Xhelosi (I have no idea if I spelled that correctly, and I don't really care) were, or why or how they exist. I didn't understand how the kingdom and ruling family came to be, or how the kingdom interacts with other kingdoms. So many confusing things! 
I didn't hate this book like I thought I was going to for about 1/2 of it, but I definitely didn't love it. 

Areas of concern:
*A 17 year old main character who will sleep with anything in a skirt.
*Drug addiction in a character. 
*Some violence.
*Horribly dysfunctional family dynamic.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 13+
School Library Journal - Grades 7+

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Mustaches for Maddie

Mustaches for Maddie
by Chad Morris &
Shelly Brown
From the publisher:
"Maddie is a normal twelve-year-old girl. Well, except for the fake mustaches she carries in her pocket. She likes to make people laugh and slapping on a mustache, especially a fuzzy pink or neon green one, always gets a smile. Maddie hopes that the class queen, Cassie, will find her mustaches as funny as she does and want to play with her at recess. She's been self-conscious lately because her right arm only feels normal when it's curled against her chest and she's constantly tripping over her feet. But that's probably just part of growing up and not something weird, right?

When Maddie's arm continues to bother her, her parents take her to a doctor who gives them a shocking diagnosis: the cause of the abnormal behavior of her limbs is a brain tumor and she must have surgery to remove it. She's understandably afraid as he describes the procedure, but knows she must find a way to be brave and must face her fears--all of them--at the hospital, at home and at school.

She will need all of her courage not only to face her illness, but also to face Cassie at school. Both Cassie and Maddie are auditioning for the same role in the school play, but when Cassie accuses Maddie of lying about her tumor in order to get attention, Cassie's bossiness turns into bullying.

And as Maddie's surgery approaches, she begins to worry more and more about the outcome. What if something goes wrong? What if the doctors don't get all the tumor out of her brain? What will happen to her family? What will happen to her?

It will take all of Maddie's vibrant imagination, a lot of kindness-both given and received-and of course, the perfect mustache to overcome the tough stuff ahead of her."

I read so many amazing reviews about this book that I think I was expecting too much..... the new Wonder or something. It definitely was not that. It was a sweet, relatively cheesy story about a young girl with a brain tumor. Some parts felt very, very young, so I'm not sure how middle schoolers will feel about it. There is the requisite "mean girl", who is really so horribly mean that I'm not sure why we should care about what happens to her. There is the whole mustache thing that would be mocked mercilessly in middle school. So even though this book is based on the authors' daughter and her experiences, it didn't feel real at all. However, it may transfer to all of our students who love realistic fiction about medical issues. We'll see. It's a very safe, tame read.

Areas of concern:
*A viciously mean girl.
*Serious medical issues for a young girl.
*If religious references concern you, there is talk of a family praying for their daughter. No prayers are stated, just that prayers are being said.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 8-11
School Library Journal - Grades 4-6

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Beyond the Bright Sea

Beyond the Bright Sea
by Lauren Wolk
From the publisher:
"From the author of the critically acclaimed Wolf Hollow comes a moving story of identity and belonging.

Twelve-year-old Crow has lived her entire life on a tiny, isolated piece of the starkly beautiful Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts. Abandoned and set adrift on a small boat when she was just hours old, Crow's only companions are Osh, the man who rescued and raised her, and Miss Maggie, their fierce and affectionate neighbor across the sandbar.

Crow has always been curious about the world around her, but it isn't until the night a mysterious fire appears across the water that the unspoken question of her own history forms in her heart. Soon, an unstoppable chain of events is triggered, leading Crow down a path of discovery and danger.

Vivid and heart wrenching, Lauren Wolk's Beyond the Bright Seais a gorgeously crafted and tensely paced tale that explores questions of identity, belonging, and the true meaning of family."

I am in a huge minority about this book because it has great ratings, but I thought it was very slow until well into it, then there was a plot with jewels and thieves that seemed ludicrous, and then the whole thing just petered out with a massive amount of unanswered questions. Were there moments of beauty? Yes. Were there moments of insight? Yes. Do I see this getting checked out by middle schoolers? Not unless a librarian talks it up to them, and then I see it being returned with a bookmark still in chapter 2 or 3. 
I'm probably also in the minority in disliking how authors right now are forcing our 21st century sensibilities on people in history. I don't care how politically incorrect the Little House or Sue Barton books were, I loved them. Are the stereotypical generalities of Native Americans and NYC Italians portrayed in those books the way we look at things now? Nope. Leprosy was/is a horrible disease. It was highly contagious and there was no cure. It could also be latent in a person for years. So the actions of the people on Cuttyhunk were understandable at that time. I really appreciated it when, towards the end of the book, Crow and Osh were having a conversation about all the people who wouldn't help the lepers on Penikese:

Osh sighed. "Time to let that go now," he said.
"I can't," I said. "It's not right."
Osh turned to go into the house. "Maybe not," he said, "But I've said all I've got to say about it." He paused. "Except this: Those lepers were out there for years while we were right here, just across the water. But we never sent peaches or figs or blankets. We never stepped foot out there, either." 

So instead of being all 21st century judge-y, Osh was pointing out that they weren't any different than the other islanders. I'm glad that little conversation happened.

Mark my words, this will get at least a Newbery Honor. Whenever I'm not impressed by a book that has a lot of hype, it usually gets a Newbery nod. But please read it for yourself because a lot of people disagree with me and think it is wonderful and beautiful. 

Areas of concern:
*Some pretty intense moments with a very evil man

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 10+
School Library Journal - Grades 5-8