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, 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

Monday, January 27, 2020

The Similars

The Similars
by Rebecca Hanover
From the publisher:
"New York Times Bestseller!

Don't miss the series debut that readers are calling Gossip Girl meets The Umbrella Academy, set in an elite boarding school, where secret societies rule, nothing is as it seems, and the genetic copies of attending students have just joined the Junior class...

This fall, six new students are joining the junior class at the elite Darkwood Academy. But they aren't your regular over-achieving teens. They're DNA duplicates, and these "similars" are joining the class alongside their originals.

The Similars are all anyone can talk about. Who are they? What are the odds that all of them would be Darkwood students? And who is the madman who broke the law to create them? Emmaline Chance could care less. Her best friend, Oliver, died over the summer and it's all she can do to get through each day without him. Then she comes face-to-heartbreaking-face with Levi, Oliver's exact DNA copy and one of the Similars.

Emma wants nothing to do with the Similars, but she keeps getting pulled deeper into their world. She can't escape the dark truths about them or her prestigious school. No one can be trusted, not even the boy she is falling for with Oliver's face.

This exhilarating and riveting debut by Rebecca Hanover is the next obsession for readers who devoured Two Can Keep a SecretOne of Us Is LyingScythe, and Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful."

The plot of this book was pretty fascinating and the characters were likable, but there was something about the writing that was off putting for me. And there is a pretty obvious political statement going on throughout the book which, for some reason, always irritates me in a young adult novel. However, I don't think middle schoolers will mind or even notice. All they will care about is the exciting story, the boarding school setting (my students LOVE boarding school settings!), and the romance. There are several twists that will keep them reading and the end will have them yelling for more! Luckily the second book has now come out so they won't have to wait. Is it the best book I have ever read? Nope. But I will be recommending it to certain students that I'm sure will love it.

Areas of concern:
*A small handful of cuss words.
* A few kisses and talk of wanting to spend the night but deciding it wasn't the time.
* Possibly just the idea of cloning.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 14+
School Library Journal - Grades 8+

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Traitor's Game

The Traitor's Game
by Jennifer A. Nielsen
From the publisher:
"Nothing is as it seems in the kingdom of Antora. Kestra Dallisor has spent three years in exile in the Lava Fields, but that won't stop her from being drawn back into her father's palace politics. He's the right hand man of the cruel king, Lord Endrick, which makes Kestra a valuable bargaining chip. A group of rebels knows this all too well - and they snatch Kestra from her carriage as she reluctantly travels home.The kidnappers want her to retrieve the lost Olden Blade, the only object that can destroy the immortal king, but Kestra is not the obedient captive they expected. Simon, one of her kidnappers, will have his hands full as Kestra tries to foil their plot, by force, cunning, or any means necessary. As motives shift and secrets emerge, both will have to decide what - and who - it is they're fighting for."

It took me a while to get into this book because I didn't really like the main characters very much for a while. I did learn to like them, and the plot was exciting (if predictable) and the world building was cool. I liked that the 2 main characters knew each other as children, but why Simon would ever even think of liking her again is hard to believe. The antagonist in this story is incredibly evil in a Voldemort-y sort of way, but even Voldemort was scared of Dumbledore, and Lord Endrick seems pretty much indestructible and horrible. Quite frankly, I'm not sure how that will pan out in the 2nd and 3rd books. I did like some of the twists at the end and felt very satisfied with the overall experience when I finished. I think middle schoolers will love it.

Areas of concern:
*Very evil person who enjoys inflicting pain, torture and death on anyone and has killed countless people.
*A very dysfunctional family dynamic.
*Many tense moments with death imminent.
*Mild romance.

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

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Begone the Raggedy Witches

Begone the 
Raggedy Witches
by Celine Kiernan
From the publisher:
"When witches kidnap her dad, Mup is swept up in a wild tide of magic that carries her to another world. Can she reunite her family and find her way back?

On the night that Aunty dies, the raggedy witches come for Mup's family. Pale, cold, and relentless, the witches will do anything for the tyrannical queen who has outlawed most magic and enforces her laws with terror and cruelty -- and who happens to be Mup's grandmother. When witches carry off her dad, Mup and her mam leave the mundane world to rescue him. But everything is odd in the strange, glittering Witches Borough, even Mam. Even Mup herself. In a world of rhyming crows, talking cats, and golden forests, it's all Mup can do to keep her wits about her. And even if she can save her dad, Mup's not sure if anything will ever be the same again. First in a new trilogy by Irish author Celine Kiernan, this tale of family and forbidden magic charts a fresh path through the landscape of beloved fantasy tradition -- and promises to bewitch any reader in search of stories to love."

It took me a while to get into this book, but once I did I enjoyed it. It had a kind of A Wrinkle In Time vibe to it. The main character, Mup, was incredibly courageous and loyal - just how I like my main characters to be. Her little brother, Tipper, was adorable. I enjoyed the world that the author created and all the different variations of magic in that world. Actually, this book brings to mind a number of different classic children's books because the evil queen is very reminiscent of the White Witch of Narnia. I found the evil queen in this book even more disturbing, though, because this queen is a mother and grandmother trying to kill her own offspring. I had a student tell me she really loved this book, so I hope the word spreads, because I'm not sure the cover will sell this well.

Areas of concern:
*I only noticed 2 uses of the "d" word, but another reviewer said there were 6 instances of cussing.
*There are two really awful mothers who hurt their own children and try to or do kill their fathers.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 6-8
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 8-12

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Benefits of Being an Octopus

The Benefits of Being
an Octopus
by Ann Braden
From the publisher:
"Some people can do their homework. Some people get to have crushes on boys. Some people have other things they’ve got to do.

Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there’s Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.

At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they're in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it’s best if no one notices them.

Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.

Unfortunately, she’s not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia’s situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they’re better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she’s ever had?

This moving debut novel explores the cultural divides around class and the gun debate through the eyes of one girl, living on the edges of society, trying to find her way forward."

You know it's a good book when you are just taking it out of the box, getting it ready for check out, leafing through it, and suddenly you're hooked and read it all in one sitting. I have a lot of students who will love this book if I can just get them to check it out. The cover is not very conducive for check out, unfortunately, but the story is lovely. The main character has way too much to deal with in her short life. I felt very connected to her even though my childhood couldn't have been more different from hers in the socio-economic sense. Like Zoey, I was very shy and just wanted to blend into the background in Jr. High/Middle School. Getting up in front of people was a huge deal for me. I think students can connect to this character on many different levels. I appreciate the glimpse into a different lifestyle, it reminded me of some of the things our students live with every day. Thankfully there was a concerned adult (Ms. Rochambeau) who really tried to bring our main character out of her shell and aim her towards a better life. I did feel like a lot of things were left unanswered at the end of the book and that our heroine was still in a precarious position, but such is life.
(And am I the only one who chanted, "We rendezvous with Rochambeau, consolidate their gifts" over and over in my head while reading this? And once Hamilton gets in your head, it doesn't leave.)

Areas of concern:
*A very dysfunctional family situation.
*Emotional abuse/control
*Discussion of gun control - pros and cons

Suggested Ages:
Book List - Grades 4-7
School Library Journal - Grades 5-8