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!



Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Everything, Everything

Everything, Everything
by Nicola Yoon
From the publisher:
"Risk everything . . . for love.

What if you couldn’t touch anything in the outside world? Never breathe in the fresh air, feel the sun warm your face . . . or kiss the boy next door? In Everything, Everything, Maddy is a girl who’s literally allergic to the outside world, and Olly is the boy who moves in next door . . . and becomes the greatest risk she’s ever taken.

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He's tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

Everything, Everything will make you laugh, cry, and feel everything in between. It's an innovative, inspiring, and heartbreakingly romantic debut novel that unfolds via vignettes, diary entries, illustrations, and more."

Parents, listen up! I am so torn on this book because I loved the story so much and for 99% of it, it is perfectly appropriate for middle schoolers. Alas, in my opinion, that 1% makes it inappropriate. I put off getting this one for several years, but after seeing that 7 of the middle schools in our district had it and after book talking it with an 8th grader who told me that there wasn't anything in it to cause concern, I purchased it. Now I can't decide whether to send it on to a high school, or just put a "Content Warning" label on it. The story is so good! Who wouldn't love Maddy and Olly? I so wanted them to have a happy ending, but had no idea how that could happen. The twist at the end wasn't a surprise to me after book talking with my 8th grader, but I could see it being a big shock to most readers. I did feel disappointed in the ending - it was just suddenly over. However, I loved it, with the caveat that it isn't appropriate for younger readers.

Areas of concern:
* I counted 12 instances of profanity and swearing.
* Abusive parent
* Mental illness
* About 4 pages of pretty descriptive nudity and foreplay with fade-to-black intercourse between 18 year-olds.
 

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 8-11
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 12+
*** Mrs. Duke disagrees!  If it were my child, I would say 16+.***

Prisoner of Ice and Snow

Prisoner of Ice and Snow
by Ruth Lauren
From the publisher:
"When Valor is arrested, she couldn’t be happier. Demidova’s prison for criminal children is exactly where she wants to be. Valor’s sister Sasha is already serving a life sentence for stealing from the royal family and Valor is going to help her escape . . . from the inside.

Never mind that no one has escaped in three hundred years. Valor has a plan and resources most could only dream about. But she didn't count on having to outsmart both the guards and her fellow prisoners. If Valor’s plan is to succeed, she’ll need to make unlikely allies. And if the plan fails, she and Sasha could end up with fates worse than prison."

I really enjoyed this book, but had some concerns. The story is gripping from the first page. The main character, although somewhat likable, seems to make one stupid decision after another and drags people down with her when she fails. But the action is intense, the story interesting, and there was good world building. Everything moves along very quickly. I liked that it had closure with the possibility of more - kind of like Harry Potter in that way. I think middle school students will really like this first book in a new fantasy series, and that is who the book is written for.

Areas of concern:
* A lot of violence and abuse towards children in a prison. I found parts quite disturbing.
* A lack of good adults.

Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 8+
School Library Journal - Grades 4-7

Monday, April 13, 2020

Dear Sweet Pea

Dear Sweet Pea
by Julie Murphy
From the publisher:
"The first middle grade novel from Julie Murphy, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Dumplin’ (now a popular Netflix film), is a funny, heartwarming story perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead, Ali Benjamin, and Holly Goldberg Sloan.
Patricia “Sweet Pea” DiMarco wasn’t sure what to expect when her parents announced they were getting a divorce. She never could have imagined that they would have the “brilliant” idea of living in nearly identical houses on the same street. In the one house between them lives their eccentric neighbor Miss Flora Mae, the famed local advice columnist behind “Miss Flora Mae I?”
Dividing her time between two homes is not easy. And it doesn’t help that at school, Sweet Pea is now sitting right next to her ex–best friend, Kiera, a daily reminder of the friendship that once was. Things might be unbearable if Sweet Pea didn’t have Oscar—her new best friend—and her fifteen-pound cat, Cheese.
Then one day Flora leaves for a trip and asks Sweet Pea to forward her the letters for the column. And Sweet Pea happens to recognize the handwriting on one of the envelopes.
What she decides to do with that letter sets off a chain of events that will forever change the lives of Sweet Pea DiMarco, her family, and many of the readers of “Miss Flora Mae I?”
This is a very sweet and heart-warming book and I enjoyed it. The characters are so well drawn and vary from eclectic to mainstream and from popular to bullied, but are always relatable. I loved the voice of Sweet Pea, who had some really big things to deal with and sometimes made stupid decisions, but who had many nuggets of wisdom to share with the reader.

"My mom always says that sometimes the best thing you can do to show a bully that they're in the wrong is to live your very best life."

"Sometimes it's easy to forget that quiet moments mean just as much as the loud ones, because it's not always about moving. Sometimes it's about sitting perfectly and quietly still."

I really appreciated the fact that although Sweet Pea's parents got divorced, they tried very hard to do what they thought was right for Sweet Pea. Not everything they did turned out right, but they worked hard and amicably to make the change as easy as possible for their daughter.

I also appreciated matter-of-fact way the author dealt with several issues. Sweet Pea's weight, her father being gay, the diversity of the characters... those things were just a part of the whole story and not the main focus or thrown in your face as politically correct.

Oh, the friend drama of middle school! There are many of my students who will relate to this story and who might actually learn something from it.

Areas of concern:
*Bullying (for a variety of reasons)
*Divorce
*Dishonesty with friends
*A couple of minor swear words
Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 4-8
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 8-12

Monday, April 6, 2020

The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects
by Maurice Broaddus
From the publisher:
"Thelonius Mitchell is tired of being labeled. He’s in special ed, separated from the “normal” kids at school who don’t have any “issues.” That’s enough to make all the teachers and students look at him and his friends with a constant side-eye. (Although his disruptive antics and pranks have given him a rep too.)

When a gun is found at a neighborhood hangout, Thelonius and his pals become instant suspects. Thelonius may be guilty of pulling crazy stunts at school, but a criminal? T isn’t about to let that label stick.
 "

I didn't enjoy this book and had to force myself to finish it, even though the writing is fantastic. But this book wasn't written for me, and it deals with issues I have never had to deal with or experience. The middle schoolers this book was written for will feel very differently than I did because they are dealing with these issues every day of their young lives. It is not for every middle schooler, but the ones who come from poverty or difficult homes and who struggle with behavioral problems or bullying will definitely bond with the characters in this book. One of the main issues I had with the book is that so many problems went unresolved and I'm not really sure what message kids will take from that. I don't want to give away any spoilers so I can't really explain, but several things bothered me. I did appreciate a handful of caring and hard-working adults who were trying to help the main characters, they counteracted the handful of other pretty horrible adults. While I don't recommend this book to everyone, there is a population who can really benefit from it.

Areas of concern:
* I only remember one cuss word (*b*word), but there could have been a couple more mild cuss words.
* Bullying, bullying, bullying. Some pretty heavy stuff that mostly goes unpunished.

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

Thursday, February 6, 2020

New Kid

New Kid
by Jerry Craft
From the publisher:
"A graphic novel about starting over at a new school where diversity is low and the struggle to fit in is real.

Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.

As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?"

Let me just preface this by saying how much I dislike graphic novels. I think it has to do with some sort of sensory overload or something, but I really don't like them! However, my students LOVE them and can't get enough of them. I received this one recently and knew that it had received the Newbery Medal, so I glanced through it. Then I read the first chapter. Then I read the entire book. And I really loved it! I loved the main character, his parents and grandfather. The setting of a wealthy private school and the financial aid kids was new to me (except for my vast knowledge of Gilmore Girls). Jordan's thoughts through his drawings were insightful and eye opening. This graphic novel has a lot of depth and I appreciated the lessons it taught. I hope I am a better person because of it. Thank you, Jerry Craft, for writing and illustrating such an amazing book.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 8-12
School Library Journal - Grades 4-7
(Mrs. Duke thinks it is an important book for everyone to read.)

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Ice Garden

The Ice Garden
by Guy Jones
From the publisher:
"Jess is allergic to the sun. She lives in a world of shadows and hospitals, peeking at the other children in the playground from behind curtains. Her only friend is a boy in a coma, to whom she tells stories. One night she sneaks out to explore the empty playground she's longed to visit, where she discovers a beautiful impossibility: a magical garden wrought of ice. But Jess isn't alone in this fragile, in-between place... "

I mildly enjoyed this book - enough to read it all in one sitting. It was a little odd, but it was interesting to read about a girl who is allergic to the sun. I wish it all would have been about Jess and her challenges. It kind of lost me when the whole Ice Garden part started. Was it dream-like, was it mystical? I couldn't really tell and it was just all very peculiar. Not to mention the danger of having a 12 year old girl sneak out of her house every night. I really felt for her poor mother. I'm wondering how to sell this one to my students. That is why I wish it had just stayed realistic fiction about a girl with a challenge. Those always fly off the shelves! 

Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 8-12
School Library Journal - Grades 3-6

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

Insignificant Events in 
the Life of a Cactus
by Dusti Bowling
From the publisher:
"Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again.

Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all . . . even without arms."


While doing a realistic fiction book talk with 6th graders, one of them recommended this book to me. I'm so glad she did because I really enjoyed it. What an amazing main character, who makes up for her lack of arms with her determination, grit, humor and compassion. Aven's parents raised her to do things on her own and she never made excuses - just carried on. I can't imagine how difficult it would be to have to start a new school (in middle school) with a challenge such as hers. One example I found particularly touching was her hesitancy in eating in front of her new peers, so she would try to find different places to eat lunch where no one could see her eating with her feet. And yet she manages to find friends and change lives. The title seemed strange to me until I read about the big, 200 year old cactus that Aven loves to sit next to and where she realizes that her problems and issues are a very insignificant event to that ancient saguaro, who has seen many things in it's lifetime. I loved that profound thought and hope students understand it and internalize it. There is a sequel to this, however we definitely get a very good ending with plenty of closure.
This would make a great read-aloud, class read, family read, or for students (and adults) who love Wonder or Out of My Mind . Not only does it deal with Aven's challenge of no arms, but it also portrays a middle school student with Tourette Syndrome, a very overweight middle school student and issues surrounding adoption. I definitely recommend it to one and all.
 

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 8-12
School Library Journal - Grades 5-8