Friday, July 31, 2015

A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano

Pram has never truly been told the tale of her beginnings.  A beginning that started with her still inside her mother, even as she hung from the branch of the tree. Pram was orphaned right from the start, but was taken in by her two no-nonsense aunts. Pram is even short for Pragmatic -- named such because it was deemed sensible for a young lady, and sensible is just what the aunts wanted for Pram.

But Pram has always been the opposite of sensible.  She’s dreamy, and her oldest and best friend is a ghost named Felix who appeared one day in the pond by the home for the aged where she lives with her aunts.

Pram is forced by the state to actually attend school at the age of eleven and this is where Pram meets her first real life friend. She gets into an argument with Clarence before school even starts when he informs her that she is sitting in his desk. By lunch time they have discovered that both of their mothers are dead and with this the seeds of their friendship are planted.

As time goes on, Pram doesn’t tell Clarence that she can speak with ghosts, but she does agree to accompany him to a spiritualist show where he hopes his mother’s spirit will reveal herself. Things don’t go as Clarence hoped and instead the spiritualist is very interested in Pram. What Pram and Clarence cannot know is that the spiritualist is anything but a charlatan, and a girl like Pram is very valuable to her.

What follows is a haunting and frightening ghost story that straddles the world of the living and the dead. Lyrical and tender, DeStefano’s story will scare readers without tipping into horror. This is an achingly beautiful story of love and loss, of friendship and family. A Curious Tale of the In-Between is for the deep reader, and I can see it becoming that touchstone title that ferries readers into more complex and intricate stories.

Gorgeous.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Real Life Tween Review - The Imaginary, by A.F. Harrold

I figured, since I live with you real live tweens, it is high time that I have them write some of the book recommendations that appear on this blog.  Tween 2 read The Imaginary before school was out, and she loved it!  The following is what she has to say about it!

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I had just finished a book, and as always, I was looking for a new one. Just like most kids, I like it when a book sticks to me. Sometimes I read the first two chapters of one book and I do not like it and then same with the next, and so on. As usual I asked my mom/librarian for a suggestion. She usually gives me like 8 books and I don’t like any of them, so it is usually hard for her to give me suggestions. This time she gave me this book, and it hooked me right from the introduction. I checked it out and just read it.


The one thing that keeps Amanda happy is her imaginary friend Rudger. After all, she is an only child.  There is just him and her. They are best friends. But Amanda’s mother thinks there is something wrong with Amanda. Amanda loves to imagine. Rudger and Amanda always go on adventures in the backyard. Then one day Mr. Bunting comes to the door.


Mr. Bunting hunts Imaginaries. Rumor has it that he eats them! He sniffs them out and this time he has sniffed out Rudger. With Mr. Bunting’s (well let’s say) “assistant” he has almost got Rudger in his clutches! With Amanda unconscious in the hospital, Rudger is alone with nobody believing in him.  He is starting to fade away with Amanda not being able to imagine him. All at once he is trying to get to Amanda, escape from Mr. Bunting, and not fade before it is all done. On his way he meets some other imaginaries that help him. But can he make it before fading?


A.F. Harrold has created humor, with scary moments and magic all in one plot. This book was super amazing! Emily Gravett has so many great and detailed pictures. The illustrations and the book work in harmony together. This is a must read book! Ten out of ten stars! **********

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Katie Friedman Gives Up Texting (And Lives to Tell About It)

The first time I saw this title, I have to say I laughed out loud.  I lifted my gaze from the catalog, and surveyed the library to see most middle schoolers faces glued to their phones.  Needless to say, the title struck me even before I got my hands on the book.  While it was on my desk, it drummed up lots of interest from the kids and the adults alike.

Katie Friedman is an expert multitasker.  She's the kind of tech user who would have ALL THE TABS open.  As we begin she is texting her friend Hannah, posting a pic of her dog, receiving some texts from Becca, and sending texts to bff Charlie Joe Jackson. This is all before breakfast.  During breakfast she gets some texts from Nareem, Eliza, Hannah,  and Becca.  Then on the bus ride to school Katie is texting with Charlie Joe, and her mom.  Whew!  Exhausted yet?

The thing is, it's pretty easy to send a text to the wrong person.  Especially if you are texting multiple people at the same time.  Lots of times, it's kind of funny to send the wrong text to the wrong person. But sometimes it's really not.  Especially when you're texting about something personal.  Something like not liking your boyfriend so much anymore...and sending it to your boyfriend.

Hitting send changes everything for Katie.  Not only has she gone and really hurt Nareem's feelings, but she begins to realized how far into their phones her friends are.  She thinks about the fact that it just seems easier to text people instead of actually talk to them.

Inspired by her musical heroine, Jane Plantero, Katie sets out on a quest.  A quest to live without her phone for a while.  And Jane says if Katie can convince 10 of her friends to give up their phones for a week, she will come and play a show for them.  The twist is that Katie is not allowed to dangle to carrot of the concert.

How hard will it be to convince a bunch of middle schoolers to give up their phones?

Tommy Greenwald has tackled the topic of kids and phones without making it seem like a "topic".   Gweenwald nails the voice as usual, and if I didn't know better, I'd say he was a teacher.  Charlie Joe pops up throughout the book to lend his sarcastic wit with segments like, "Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Why Texting Is Awesome". Where Greenwald shines is in writing the relationships.   They are messy and fickle and constantly shifting ... totally like in middle school.  Katie isn't all good, just as Charlie Joe isn't all snark.  This is a book that should just show up on library tables, and in living rooms all over the place.  I think this would make a fantastic book club book, and the kind of classroom read that will get kids talking.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Hilo - The Boy Who Crashed to Earth, by Judd Winick

There are never enough graphic novels for kids.  This is a simple truth. When I look to our circulation at school, out of the top 50 circulating titles during the school year 44 were graphic novels.  88%!  So I was pretty delighted when my colleague Karyn told me there was a graphic novel for kids I needed to check out.  I finally got my hands on the arc and sat down to give it a go.

DJ is just an average kid in the middle of an above average family.  The one thing he was really good at was being a good friend to Gina, but Gina moved away 3 years ago.

DJ is sitting on the roof of his club house when he sees something crash out of the sky.  Imagine his surprise when a blond boy in silver undies climbs out of the newly formed crater in the earth.  This kid has a lot of energy and even more questions since his "memory is a busted book" and he's not quite sure where he's from or what he's doing on earth.  DJ takes Hilo in without much of a plan, and quickly finds himself with his hands full.

DJ is surprised when Gina ends up back in town, and notices that she's changed quite a bit in the 3 years she's been out of Berke County which makes DJ notice that he hasn't really changed. At all.

As Hilo's past is revealed to him in his dreams bit by bit, it soon becomes apparent that danger is on the way.  And now maybe DJ will realize he's not so ordinary after all.

This outstanding graphic novel needs to be purchased in multiples.  Winick has created lovable, funny and real characters that readers will laugh with and cheer for.  The movement in the art is reminiscent of both Watterson and Gownley and I defy anyone to read Hilo without feeling moments of joy.  While reviewers have pegged this as a 9-12 title, I'm saying all ages.  I know we will have kids from 6 to 14 eager to check this one out, and my adult self enjoyed every moment!

I heart Hilo.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Whew!

I know it's been a while.  The last month has been a bit bonkers with the end of the school year looming, and a bunch of projects in the air.  One of the most exciting projects was moderating a panel during School Library Journal's Day of Dialog at the beginning of BEA!

Consequently, I was reading up a storm.  I'm happy to share a bit about the books that were represented on the panel!

Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle

I talked about this fantastic and hole filling title on this blog when it first came out.  I can tell you, if you ever get an opportunity to have Tim on a panel make it happen!  Stage presence times 1000 -- lovely, generous and kind, Tim speaks eloquently about his own books as well as the world of publishing.  He has also been a visiting author at our school and our kids still talk about him and his presentations!





Gone Crazy in Alabama, by Rita Williams-Garcia

I am going to dedicate a whole blog post to this one soon (if you can't wait follow the title link to the Book Smugglers review), but suffice it to say the Gaither sisters remain characters who I will always carry in my heart.  Rita makes each word in her books count, and these are titles I am going to listen to with my daughters this summer.  A fantastic panelist, Rita is willing to get real and share stories.  She speaks powerfully on her writing process and is willing the share the lessons she's learned about writing over the years.



Lost in the Sun, by Lisa Graff

This will get a Tweendom review soon as well. Feel free to follow the title link to the NYTimes review.  Lisa revisits the world of Umbrella Summer, this time focusing in on Trent -- the boy who shot the puck.  I quickly got sucked into Trent's world of broken family and friendships and was pulling for him as he tried to figure his way through his guilt and pain.  Lisa writes across ages and genres and brings keen insight to the conversation.  Lisa clearly remembers her middle school years and is willing to get personal! Such fun!



Goodbye Stranger, by Rebecca Stead

Again, one I will talk about more closer to the pub date. I have linked to Monica Edinger's review in the title.  I have seen Rebecca speak several times now (including being the lucky duck to be there for the presentation of the Newbery Award) and each time she comes fresh to the table. It's obvious she considers the questions, and her heart is in it for her readers. She speaks about middle school readers having the freedom of choice, and the many little deaths they experience as they grow up.  Goodbye Stranger does read a bit older than When You Reach Me and Liar and Spy and I can't wait to put it in the hands of my students and hear what they think!

The Looney Experiment, by Luke Reynolds

And last but not least we have The Looney Experiment, by Luke Reynolds. While relatively new to the world of middle school literature, Luke has been writing extensively on the world of education for some time.  His job as a 7th grade teacher obviously gave him the stage presence necessary to hang with the rest of the panelists!  His passion for literature and for kids is palpable and he reminds us that kids want us to notice them and see what is below the surface. His character of Atticus demonstrates this idea as there is so much going on in his mind that his classmates, and most of the adults in his life just don't see!

It was such an honor getting to moderate this panel, and I just wish we had more time.  I want to thank all of the authors for being so generous with their time, and also thank School Library Journal for allowing me to have this opportunity.  This was definitely a career highlight for me! This was the first time I had ever moderated, and I hope it won't be the last!

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Water and the Wild, by K. E. Ormshee

Every now and again a book comes along that renders me smitten. In this case, the book was unexpected.  It showed up on my front porch, which is something that doesn't happen so often these days. I was intrigued by both the cover and the title and since it was a weekend, I settled in.

There is not much that makes Lottie Fiske happy.  She is stuck living in the boarding house with Mrs. Hester Yates after her intended guardian passes away in his porridge.  Mrs. Yates is not much like her husband who was always doing things that were kind.  She finds Lottie a bother who doesn't help with the chores, and is more likely found cavorting in the garden with her imagination.

Two things do make Lottie happy, and they are the apple tree in her yard, and her best friend Eliot.  She has been putting her wishes in that tree for ages now and each year on her birthday she receives the trinkets she asks for. So when Eliot's health takes a turn for the worse, Lottie knows she needs to use her birthday wish for something more important than hair bows.

An apple tree gateway, a magical legacy, political intrigue and plenty of double crossing do not deter Lottie from trying to get what she needs in order to help Eliot. The problem is, Eliot's not the only one who needs what Lottie has come for.

Ormshee has written one heck of a charming story that had me right from the beginning. Setting, character, story and world building all come together in a way where readers do not see the strings. The writing itself is a pleasure to read, and I am planning on reading this aloud this summer to my own daughters. The book comes blissfully map free, but I find myself wanting to draw not only Lottie's journey, but the characters she meets along the way.  From her apple tree, to Iris Gate and especially the Wisps...I have them in my mind's eye, but want to put pencil to paper and give them more shape and look upon them.  While this book doesn't scream sequel (and you all know how much I adore the stand alone), I find myself wanting more of these characters.  For fans of the faery, friendship, poetry and a well spun yarn.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Jack & Louisa Act 1, by Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Weterhead

Jack can't believe that he is moving from New York City to a suburb of Cleveland!  He knows that it's where his dad is from, and that work is bringing him there, but for a kid city born and raised, the suburb and its stand alone houses aren't exactly familiar territory for him.  His parents know he's feeling down when an offer of listening to the Into The Woods soundtrack is turned down.

Louisa is just coming down from being at Camp Curtain Up (theater camp if you can't tell) with the other MTNs (musical theater nerds).  As she and her parents pull into their driveway, they notice that the new family is moving in two doors down.  Louisa notices that the kid looks about her age, and then suddenly she notices his tshirt.  It's from the musical Mary Poppins! This is a very interesting development. After all, up until now, Louisa was the only MTN in her grade!

If Louisa only knew! Jack's dad's job wasn't the only reason they were moving to Cleveland.  Jack had lost a job himself. He is a theater kid, and not too long ago he was cast in the musical The Big Apple.  And not in a bit part either.  He was super excited to be part of the cast...until the first rehearsal.  Jack is going into 7th grade, and his voice was changing. The notes no longer came easily...and sometimes they didn't come at all.  So Jack was no longer first choice for the role.  Which obviously made leaving NYC a heck of a lot easier.

In this age of google, Louisa finds out about Jack pretty quickly.  And seeing as they are in the same class at school, she figures they are pretty much meant to be friends since they have so much in common.  But Jack is thinking about reinvention.  It's pretty easy to be a theater kid and be a boy in NYC, but in Cleveland he figures his soccer skills will make his life easier than his singing and dancing skills.

Sometimes, however, it's hard to turn off what you really love.  And when the community theater announces it's putting on one of Jack's favorite shows of all time, will he be able to resist the call of the stage (let alone Louisa's influence)?

This is a pitch perfect middle school story that's not simply about theater, but drills down into issues of family, friendship and being true to oneself.  Keenan-Bolger and Wetherhead get the voices spot on without ever venturing into over-the-top Glee caricatures.  The alternating voices go back and forth in time, but are never confusing, rather a great device for giving the back story in pieces instead of one big chunk.  Fans of Federle will eat this up, as will fans of realistic fiction and musical theater.

Super fun.