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, November 28, 2016

The Lie Tree

The Lie Tree
by Frances Hardinge
From the publisher:
"Winner of the Costa Book of the Year 2015, The Lie Tree is a dark and powerful novel from universally acclaimed author, Frances Hardinge. 

It was not enough. All knowledge- any knowledge - called to Faith, and there was a delicious, poisonous pleasure in stealing it unseen.

Faith has a thirst for science and secrets that the rigid confines of her class cannot supress. And so it is that she discovers her disgraced father's journals, filled with the scribbled notes and theories of a man driven close to madness. Tales of a strange tree which, when told a lie, will uncover a truth: the greater the lie, the greater the truth revealed to the liar. Faith's search for the tree leads her into great danger - for where lies seduce, truths shatter . . ."

I'm at a loss as to what to say about this book. It was weird, it was dark, it was beautiful, it was enthralling. It gave me a Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children kind of vibe, but don't ask me to explain why. Maybe the wonderful weirdness of both. This is not a feel-good book. It is uncomfortable, maddening, and bewitching. I didn't really like any of the characters, but I was drawn into Faith's descent. I don't know that this is actually a children's book - possibly more young adult. I'm not sure how many of my students will be drawn into it, even though it is quite gripping. Overall it is beautifully written and magically crafted.

Areas of concern:
*Murder of an important character.
*A young girl placing herself in very dangerous situations.
*An overarching darkness.

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

Friday, November 18, 2016

with their eyes: September 11th: The View From a High School at Ground Zero

with their eyes:
September 11th:
The View From a High
School at Ground Zero
by Anna Thoms
From the publisher:
"Tuesday, September 11, started off like any other day at Stuyvesant High School, located only a few blocks away from the World Trade Center. The semester was just beginning, and the students, faculty, and staff were ready to begin a new year.

But within a few hours on that Tuesday morning, they would all share an experience that transformed their lives.

Now, on the tenth anniversary of September 11th, we remember those who were lost and those who were forced to witness this tragedy. Here, in their own words, are the firsthand stories of a day we will never forget."

Very different perspective on the events of September 11th. Here are some random ramblings on what I read:
*I think it would be interesting to do some sort of follow-up on the people in the book. Have they been affected by PTSD, or health issues due to the particles in the air? 
*I recently visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum and saw the flag that was put on the fallen towers. I wish I would have known the story behind it when I was there. 
*I was struck by the thoughts of one of the high school students who was so angry with the out-of-town visitors who were taking pictures and treating it as a tourist attraction. He wanted to tell them that when something that meant a lot to them was blown up in their backyard, that he would make sure to come and take pictures there.
*The story of the young man whose family had left their windows open that day and when they were finally allowed to return to their home, the dust and debris were everywhere. 
*The resiliency of youth was very apparent. Some of them hardly seemed affected at all, aside from the trial of having to go to another school for a few weeks.
There were many more things that touched me or made me think. I just did a genre book talk with a 7th grade student. She had read Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story, and was using it for her historical fiction genre book. Wow. Something that we lived through and changed our world is now history for my students. That is why it is important to have these kind of books available for them to read. And I loved that is wasn't just from the students' perspective, but custodians, teachers, administrators and even a lunch lady. Fascinating, traumatic, and touching stories!

Areas of concern:
*There is some language as they interviewed people and used their exact words - even the uh's, um's, like's... So the "s" word was used a handful of times, and the "f" word appears 3 times. I was actually pretty impressed that was all that was in it considering the circumstances.
*There is nothing graphic mentioned, but there were disturbing allusions to the events of September 11th. 

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

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home 
for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs
From the publisher:
"A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs.

A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows."

This book always looked way too creepy for me. However, many of my students love this series, so I thought I would see what I was missing. It was not that creepy - it was gory and violent at times, but not necessarily weird or creepy. Okay, maybe it was weird and a little creepy. All in all it was reasonably gripping and exciting. I thought it was an interesting premise, but sometimes it felt very disjointed. When I got to the end of the book and saw the pictures from the movie, I couldn't remember anything about the twins. I remembered their picture, but couldn't remember their names or what they did. Sometimes it felt like the author just wanted to use one of his old, creepy pictures so he threw in a character and then forgot about them. (And speaking of the movie..... Emma is the levitating girl and Olive has the fire?! Why?) 
There were other things that bothered me about this one as well. The whole romance-with-your-grandfather's-soul-mate thing was kind of yucky. You'll have to read it to understand, but I was disturbed by it. There was some pretty gruesome violence. And I never felt completely connected to the characters. I thought Jacob was obnoxious at the beginning, and it never really explained the reasons for that. And why did he have no friends? I didn't feel like that was explained either, just used and made necessary so he wouldn't care about leaving. 
However, it is imaginative, I loved the setting and I loved the time-loop concept. I can see why the kids seem to love it.

Areas of concern:
*Around 50 uses of cussing and/or vulgarities (depending on whether you're a Yank or a Brit).
*Already stated gruesome violence (disgusting monsters who eviscerate and eat sheep and a couple of the characters in the book - among other things).
*Weird romance which involves kissing. (The boy is 16 and the girl is something like 83 but is stuck in a time-loop at age 16. When she was really 16, she was in love with the boy's grandfather.)
*Trusted adults either acting like idiots or villains. 

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

Monday, November 7, 2016


by Kay Honeyman
From the publisher:
"I will not get involved…I will not get involved…I will not get involved…

As a congressman’s daughter in Washington, DC, Kate Hamilton always pushes to make things right. But when a scandal sends her family to Red Dirt, Texas, she decides to step back for a while. She’ll take pictures for her portfolio. She’ll volunteer at her aunt’s animal shelter. And most of all, she’ll stay out of politics (including her father’s latest election) and away from guys (especially after her ex’s betrayal).


If Kate’s political skills can be useful in Red Dirt, should she really let them go to waste? After all, her friend Ana Gomez and quarterback Kyle Stone would be a perfect match. Her dad’s campaign could benefit from a teenage perspective. The irritatingly handsome Hunter Price should learn he doesn’t know everything…When Kate’s plans backfire, she must find the soul beneath her DC spin, and risk her heart—the biggest involvement of all."

The front cover of this book says, " Friday Night Lights meets Jane Austen's Emma ...", and that is a pretty perfect description. This is a very fun book that I read in practically one sitting. Even though the main character does a lot of stupid things, she is still likeable (so reminiscent of Emma ). It is interesting to see her progression and growth throughout the story. 
One of the questions I ask my students when they are book talking with me is, "Does the setting enhance the story, and is it important to the plot?". The answers for this book are yes and yes. I could feel the West Texas sun and dirt, and nowhere on earth is high school football as important as West Texas. 
I also enjoyed seeing the growth of the family as they came together after some hard times. The political aspect was intriguing and added to the tension of the storyline. 
I loved the secondary characters from Hunter (the slow buildup to a romance), Ana (the nice girl who helps the main character become a better person), the new campaign manager (who adds a lot of humor), to the protagonists who were spot-on.
I thought this was a really fun book, and I appreciated the lack of bad language (even from the jocks!) .

Areas of concern:
*The main character's ex-boyfriend causes a scandal by posting pictures of her on the internet. In one of the pictures she appears drunk, but in reality she was just imitating a fellow party-goer who WAS drunk. 
*At a party after a football game, a drunk player tries to force his attentions on a character. She gets away.
*An ex-boyfriend spreads ugly rumors about a girl and how far she went (the rumors aren't true) and she is bullied throughout the book.
***I thought it was a pretty clean read. No bad language and just a couple of sweet kisses***

Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 13-17
School Library Journal - Grades 9+
*Mrs. Duke thinks that because of the absence of bad language and the very light, slow-building romance, it is okay for older middle schoolers.*

Friday, November 4, 2016

Loki's Wolves

Loki's Wolves
by K.L. Armstrong
From the publisher:
"In Viking times, Norse myths predicted the end of the world, an event called Ragnarok, that only the gods can stop. When this apocalypse happens, the gods must battle the monsters--wolves the size of the sun, serpents that span the seabeds, all bent on destroying the world.

The gods died a long time ago.

Matt Thorsen knows every Norse myth, saga, and god as if it was family history--because it is family history. Most people in the modern-day town of Blackwell, South Dakota, in fact, are direct descendants of either Thor or Loki, including Matt's classmates Fen and Laurie Brekke.

However, knowing the legends and completely believing them are two different things. When the rune readers reveal that Ragnarok is coming and kids--led by Matt--will stand in for the gods in the final battle, he can hardly believe it. Matt, Laurie, and Fen's lives will never be the same as they race to put together an unstoppable team to prevent the end of the world."

This is one of those books where I have to set my feelings aside and try to think like a middle school boy. I didn't particularly enjoy it - but then I didn't like Percy Jackson, either. Percy Jackson is much better than this one, though. I didn't like the characters very much and the writing didn't impress me. And how do all of these children just strike off on their own without more repercussions?! However, I know several middle school age kids who love this series, and this is one I recommend for kids who ask me what they can read after Percy Jackson. There is plenty of action, Norse gods are very popular right now, it ends with a huge cliffhanger, and it moves at a fast pace. Win, win, win, win for middle schoolers. 

Areas of concern:
*Complete and total lack of parental concern.
*Scary situations
*Sudden death of a main character.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 8-12
School Library Journal - Grades 4-6