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!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Gone-Away Lake

Gone-Away Lake
by Elizabeth Enright
From the publisher:
"Summer has a magic all its own in Elizabeth Enright's beloved stories about two children and their discovery of a ghostly lakeside resort.

Portia always expects summer to be a special time. But she couldn't imagine the adventure she and her cousin Julian would share this summer. It all starts when they discover Gone-Away Lake--a village of deserted old houses on a muddy overgrown swamp.

"It's a ghost town," Julian says. But the cousins are in for a bigger surprise. Someone is living in one of those spooky-looking old houses."

A sweet children's book about a simpler time and place. Imagine a world where children could pack a lunch, walk out of the house and be gone for the whole day exploring and playing without any adult worrying or wondering. And how sad that our children and grandchildren will never have that freedom. So it's nice to have a book that shows us what it used to be like.  Read it aloud at home or school, or just by yourself.  

Sunday, April 28, 2013

This Is What Happy Looks Like

This Is What Happy
Looks Like
by Jennifer E. Smith
From the publisher:
"When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O'Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds.

Then Graham finds out that Ellie's Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media's spotlight at all costs?"

Some people have said this book is like You've Got Mail meets Notting Hill , or You've Got Mail meets Win a Date With Tad Hamilton , either way.... what's not to like? I loved this charming, bubbly story. And it actually goes much deeper than charming and bubbly. I really felt the characters, their joy and heartache - it actually made me tear up a few times. Once again, literary references had me hooked from page one (a boy who names his pet pig Wilbur and says he is radiant and humble? Loved it!). I loved that Ellie's mom played such a big role and was a good and loving parent. I loved that Graham missed having a better relationship with his parents and worked to resolve that. The setting of Maine was lovely (a little joke from the book... but it was lovely), the secondary characters were important to the story and were true and loyal friends, and the story was gripping. All of this without one vampire or teenage warrior. Kudos to the author. I highly recommend this one!

Areas of concern:  2 cuss words.  Several sweet kisses.  An adult had an affair and an illegitimate child many years ago.  

Suggested ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 15+
School Library Journal - Grades 8+
*Mrs. Duke says, "Sometimes I really wonder about these reviews.  I have ordered books for our library based on them saying they were for ages 12+, only to find horrible language, disgusting situations or atrocious violence.  Then a book like this comes along that was a very sweet, clean romance and they recommend it for ages 15+.  I would definitely rather have my middle school daughter read something like this than even things like Twilight or The Hunger Games, both of which are at the cleaner end of the spectrum for books aimed at teens."

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Clockwork Angel

Clockwork Angel
by Cassandra Clare
From the publisher:
"Magic is dangerous—but love is more dangerous still.
When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.
Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What’s more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own.
Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by—and torn between—two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm's length . . . everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world. . . . and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all."

This book is the first in a series that is a prequel to the very popular Mortal Instruments series.  A movie is coming out from the first book of that series this summer.  This series is about the ancestors of the Mortal Instruments characters.  It is very much a steampunk novel, which is very popular right now.   The setting is Victorian London, but an alternate sort of London.  The action certainly starts right away in this book.  I was immediately drawn to Tessa, I thought she was the perfect heroine; innocent, sweet, loyal, yet spunky, brave and strong. I loved the allusions to Boadicea, the warrior queen. But even though there was action from the very beginning, portions of it felt very slow. I have a feeling that the next 2 books are probably even better because everything has been set up and we know all the characters so the story can just go forward.  I found the character of Will very annoying, but I'm sure there is a very good reason for his sullen and irritable behavior, which we will discover in the sequels. Other things I really liked were the chapter headings of Victorian poetry, and the literary quotes between Tessa and Will. I forgive a lot of things for a A Tale of Two Cities quote or an Oscar Wilde poem. 

Areas of concern:  I don't remember any bad language in this book, if it was there it was very mild.  They had a phrase they used - "by the Angel" - which might have been profanity to them but it didn't bother me.  The romance was very clean, just a couple kisses.  There was some talk of brothels.  The violence was very heavy with Shadowhunters against demons and mechanical creatures.  Tessa was treated very roughly when the book started.    The feeling of the book was pretty dark overall.  

Friday, April 26, 2013

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

From the Mixed-up Files
of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
by E.L. Konigsburg
From the publisher:
"When Claudia decided to run away, she planned very carefully. She would be gone just long enough to teach her parents a lesson in Claudia appreciation. And she would go in comfort-she would live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She saved her money, and she invited her brother Jamie to go, mostly because be was a miser and would have money. Claudia was a good organizer and Jamie bad some ideas, too; so the two took up residence at the museum right on schedule. But once the fun of settling in was over, Claudia had two unexpected problems: She felt just the same, and she wanted to feel different; and she found a statue at the Museum so beautiful she could not go home until she bad discovered its maker, a question that baffled the experts, too. The former owner of the statue was Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Without her-well, without her, Claudia might never have found a way to go home."

To honor E. L. Konigsburg, who passed away this week, I did a quick re-read of her Newbery winning book that I loved as a child.  It did not disappoint, which is unusual because I so rarely enjoy the winning Newbery books.  I remember when I read it as a child, I thought running away and living in a museum was the coolest thing ever.  Now that I have actually visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it was even easier to be impressed.  I didn't see a lot of statues when I visited because I just wanted to sit in the Impressionists wing the whole time.  It didn't matter that people were milling around, I could have sat there gazing at those paintings all day long, so I really related to Claudia and Jamie and their obsession with the Angel statue.  However, it is interesting to read the book with adult eyes and feel the horror of 2 children on their own in New York City and to have such empathy for their poor parents.  This is a fun story that encourages interest in the arts and good grammar!  (You'll have to read it to find out ;) )


Monday, April 8, 2013

The Star of Kazan

The Star of Kazan
by Eva Ibbotson
From the publisher:
"Annika is happy living in the servants' quarters of a house owned by three eccentric professors. She adores Ellie and Sigrid, the cook and housemaid who found her as a baby, abandoned on a church doorstep. In the eleven years since, they have taught her how to bake and clean to perfection. Then one day a glamorous stranger arrives, claiming to be Annika's mother. Annika is no servant, she learns, but an aristocrat whose true home is an ancient castle. But at crumbling Spittal, Annika discovers that all is not as it seems in the lives of her newfound family. . ."

I do love my Eva Ibbotson! This book was very much in her mold. It is one of her children's books, but reminded me a lot of her books for adults, being set in Vienna with a heroine who is so good and loyal. You definitely cheer for Annika and her loved ones, and want to get even with her enemies. The plot isn't very surprising, you'll guess what is going on quite early, but the way the author gets us there is fun. The characters are all well formed and the settings and descriptions are vintage Ibbotson. This is probably my second favorite of her children's books. It will be hard for anything to beat Journey to the River Sea.  

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


by Amanda Hocking
From the publisher:
"Amanda Hocking is an indie publishing sensation whose self-published novels have sold millions of copies all over the world, and Switched is the book that started the phenomenon. Prepare to be enchanted…

When Wendy Everly was six years old, her mother was convinced she was a monster and tried to kill her. Eleven years later, Wendy discovers her mother might have been right. She's not the person she's always believed herself to be, and her whole life begins to unravel—all because of Finn Holmes.
Finn is a mysterious guy who always seems to be watching her. Every encounter leaves her deeply shaken…though it has more to do with her fierce attraction to him than she'd ever admit. But it isn't long before he reveals the truth: Wendy is a changeling who was switched at birth—and he's come to take her home.

Now Wendy's about to journey to a magical world she never knew existed, one that's both beautiful and frightening. And where she must leave her old life behind to discover who she's meant to become…"

After being talked into reading this by my 8th graders (who explained that being a troll wasn't disgusting at all!), I thought that it had a lot of possibilities.  Unfortunately for me, they didn't get realized.  The main character of Wendy was so annoying and unlikable that I'm not sure why she had so many people falling all over themselves loving her.  Quite frankly, I didn't care what happened to her.  There were numerous grammatical errors which really annoyed me.  The ending felt like a huge let-down...suddenly it was just over.  I feel no need to continue the series.  However, my 8th graders really love it.

Areas of concern:  It always makes me nervous when there is a swear word on the first page of a book!  4 uses of the *d* word, 2 uses of the *b* word, 1 use each of the *a* word, *s* word, *h* word and the big, bad *f* word.  There are a couple of very passionate kisses.  I understand through reading some spoilers, that the final book in the series has a sex scene.

Suggested ages:
Amazon page - Ages 12+
*Mrs. Duke says this series is probably for older teens.*

Monday, April 1, 2013

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan
by Katherine Applegate
From the publisher:
"Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.
Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he's seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.
Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it's up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.
Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan's unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope."

I may be the only person on the planet who didn't think this book was amazing.  It won the Newbery Medal for 2013.  But after reading reviews that used words like "life-changing", "it transformed me", and "I cried for the last 30 pages", I was expecting a little more. It was a sweet story, if quite predictable.  It just didn't pull me in.  Charlotte's Web (another children's book with humanized animals that received the Newbery Honor Award) had me from the first sentence.  My lack of feeling for this book may stem, in part, from the double spacing and empty pages.  I felt that made the whole thing seem rather choppy and disturbed the flow.  However, I can see middle schoolers enjoying this book. The animal characters are charming, the story is sweet and simple with a happy ending.

On another note...I rarely agree with the Newbery winners, so I'm not surprised that I just found this book okay, but it still leaves me flabbergasted that Wonder didn't even get a nod from the Newbery people and this is what won the award. *Sigh*

Suggested ages:
Publisher's Weekly:  Ages 8-12
School Library Journal:  Grades 3-7