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Looking for something to read? Check out these short reviews of books we've read recently. Some we liked, some we didn't!
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1. Rebel McKenzie by Candice Ransom

rebel I was sold on this book from the very first line: “Convicts can spot a runaway right off the stick.” Then came: “I was trudging down Coolbrook Road, a big fat lie of a name if there ever was one. The brook was invisible, unless you counted the dried-up gulley running alongside.” Still, I was worried that Rebel McKenzie was going to be one of those clever books that just don’t go anywhere, the author too busy thinking of witty things to say to worry about things like plot and character. Then, Rebel was trying to convince the convict that she wasn’t running away: “’I’m out for a walk.’ ‘Wearin’ half your clothes? You look swolled up like a tick.’ It was true I had on seven pairs of underwear, four pairs of shorts, and five T-shirts…” By the way, the title of the chapter is “Never Wear Seven Pairs of Underpants.” Ok, I give. Rebel is running away to try to escape having to spend the summer living with her sister, who she hasn’t seen in 3 years, babysitting her nephew (that’s right, nephew –Rebel’s been an aunt since she was 5) instead of going to the Summer Ice Age Kids’ Dig and Safari in Saltville, Virginia. Rebel wants to be a paleontologist, and she can’t wait for a chance to excavate a woolly mammoth skeleton and stake her place in paleontology history. Instead, she’s living in Grandview Estates, which is really a trailer park (or mobile home community according to Rebel’s sister Lynette), taking care of Rudy, “a spindly-legged boy with cowlicky brown hair and a narrow, ferret face….He put me in mind of one of those plants that grow under rocks” while her sister goes to beauty school. There are some other great characters: Doublewide, the cat who knows how to pee in the toilet, Lacey Jane, who’s been tormenting Rudy, and Bambi Lovering, a young beauty-queen-in-the-making. When Rebel finds out there’s a beauty contest with a cash prize, she decides that winning the contest is her only chance of having enough money to go to the Ice Age Kids’ Dig. The story just gallops along from that point on, with Rebel bulldozing her way past every obstacle (not the least of which is that her idea of talent is being able to burp the names of the 13 colonies). Rebel McKenzie is a great read –clever, and with a great plot and funny characters. Review by Stacy Church

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2. The Moon over High Street by Natalie Babbitt

moonIt was a long, boring bus ride. Looking out the window, there was nothing to see but farm fields stretching forever to an endless horizon. Very few farmhouses were visible. The landscape looked monotonous as it flew by. Joe Casimir was on his way to Midville to stay with his Aunt Myra while his Gran, who was also his legal guardian, was recuperating from a broken hip. Joe had lost both parents as a baby and had always lived with his Gran. He certainly did not want to leave her now at the beginning of his summer vacation. Why did Gran send him away? As Joe was missing his old friends and classmates already, he did not look forward to getting off the bus at Midville. But then, destiny was waiting for him at the new town. One of the first people Joe meets at Midville is beautiful Beatrice, a neighbor, who shows him the town. Then Rover, Beatrice’s big dog, escapes into Mr. Boulderwall’s yard. While trying to get their dog back, Joe and Beatrice meet the local millionaire, Anson Boulderwall, and apologize profusely for the mischievous dog. Many years before, Mr. Boulderwall had emigrated from Poland. When he meets Joe, he thinks that Joe Casimir might be descended from three Polish kings named Casimir. Mr. Boulderwall makes up his mind that Joe should become his adopted son, be trained in business and eventually take over his factory, and also become a millionaire. Soon, Mr. Boulderwall instructs his lawyers to present Gran with the adoption papers for Joe. Gran is shocked. Aunt Myra and Joe are shocked when they hear about the adoption plans. Now everyone in their family and circle of friends advise Joe on what to do. Most of them love the opportunity for Joe to become rich. In the end it is Beatrice who helps Joe make the perfect decision. Review by Trudy Walsh

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3. Guru Nanak: The First Sikh Guru by Rina Singh

guruHave you ever heard of a baby coming into this world laughing? Nanak was born in a small village in India in 1469. After he drew his first breath, there was no crying, but only a gentle laughing coming from the baby. His parents knew then that Nanak was a special child. When Nanak was seven years old, he was sent to the village school, run by a Hindu priest. In no time at all, Nanak learned the alphabet and started writing poems praising God. His teacher was amazed. His mother and sister were proud of him. His father was upset because he wanted his son to learn math and accounting. No matter how much Nanak’s father tried to get him interested in business and making money, Nanak remained a day dreamer. He followed Muslim and Hindu holy men around and engaged them in conversations. Nanak never became the businessman his father had hoped for. Instead, he travelled thousands of miles across India, from the snowy Himalayas in the north to the tropical island of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in the south. Wherever he went, Nanak took his message with him, “Worship one God, treat everyone equally, work honestly, share with the less fortunate, and serve the community.” On this basic belief system Nanak laid the foundation for the Sikh faith. In Guru Nanak we meet an extraordinary, powerful person who follows his dream, performs miracles, and draws crowds of people wherever he goes. Nanak is one of the great spiritual teachers of our times. This biography gives us insight into his active, influential life. Review by Trudy Walsh

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4. Mosey: The Remarkable Friendship of a Boy and His Elephant by Ralph Helfer

moseyThey were born on the same day on a small farm in Germany: Bram Gunterstein, the boy, and Mosey, the elephant. They grew up together. The boy and his elephant were inseparable. Their relationship was so close that once, when Bram was sick in the middle of the night, Mosey became so agitated in the barn that she trumpeted and stamped until the parents woke up and realized something was wrong. Bram was rushed to the hospital. Mosey had saved his life. When Bram turns thirteen, tragedy strikes. His father, who is an elephant trainer for the local circus, comes down with a dreadful disease and makes Bram promise to always take care of Mosey. Then the circus is sold, and all the animals are to be shipped to America, including Mosey. At first Bram is heartbroken and doesn’t know how to keep his promise. Then he bravely makes an appointment with the new circus owner, Mr. North, and offers to take care of Mosey and become his official trainer. Mr. North looks at the young boy and tells him that he has his own professional elephant trainer who, from now on, is in charge of Mosey. Bram is determined to find a way to stay with Mosey. With the help of some friendly circus people, he becomes a stowaway on the ship that carries all the animals via India to America. Only Bram’s devoted love for Mosey gives him the strength to endure the adventures on the high seas, including the survival of a hurricane. Mosey is a fast-paced book filled with danger and adventure. Bram meets each new life-threatening challenge with a brave and loving heart. He would do anything for his best friend, his “twin,” his Mosey, “the greatest elephant that ever lived.”

elephantAnother adventure-filled elephant story is An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo. This book is also based on a true story, the same as Mosey. Review by Trudy Walsh

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5. An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo

elephantKarl and his mother are sitting at the edge of their seats as ninety-year-old Lizzie tells them the amazing story of survival and adventure of when she, her mother, her little brother and an elephant trekked at night across war-torn Germany. Lizzie tells them what it was like growing up in Germany during World War II. When her father was inducted into the German army, he left Lizzie, her little brother, Karli, and her mother behind. Lizzie’s mother had a job at the zoo in the city of Dresden in East Germany. As the war progressed, it soon became clear that Dresden would be the next target for the Allied bombers. The zoo director called an emergency meeting. He told his staff that in the event of an air raid all the large animals would have to be shot. Everyone was shocked, but they soon realized how dangerous it would be for the people of Dresden if a direct hit destroyed the large animals’ cages, and tigers, lions and elephants ran free. Lizzie’s mother had been taking care of an orphaned elephant. She begged the director not to shoot this gentle elephant, who was no threat to anyone. Finally the zoo director put Marlene, the young elephant, into Lizzie’s mother’s care. Marlene would now have to be with Lizzie’s mother day and night. Every evening Marlene came home with Lizzie’s mother from the zoo and was brought into their garden, to the delight of Lizzie, Karli and the neighborhood children. In the morning, the elephant went back to the zoo. Lizzie and Karli looked forward each evening for the arrival of Marlene. They learned to feed her, clean up after her and play with her. In a very short time they learned to love her, and Marlene became part of the family. Then, one day, the warning sirens sounded and everyone rushed to the air raid shelter. Lizzie, Karli, their mother and Marlene were too far out on a walk in the park to make it safely to the shelters in time. They had no choice but to flee into the countryside. From a safe distance they watched the bombs fall on Dresden and came to realize that they would never be able to go back home. The decision was made that all four would have to travel west to get away from the burning city and the advancing Russian soldiers. What an adventure-filled trip it turned out to be for them! An Elephant in the Garden is a fast-paced, exciting story.

moseyIf you like this book, then check out another elephant adventure story: Mosey: The Remarkable Friendship of a Boy and His Elephant by Ralph Helfer. Both books are based on true stories. Review by Trudy Walsh

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6. Margaret and the Moth Tree by Brit and Kari Trogen

margaret

For the majority of Margaret Grey’s existence (all eleven years) she has been an orphan taught to be quiet and to cause the least amount of trouble possible. When Margaret’s parents died, her only living relatives were the quiet, but-not-big-on-hygiene, bachelor Uncle Amos, and the well-mannered-to-a-fault Great Aunt Linda. Margaret lived with one, then the other, but as years went by, they, too, die and leave her alone. She gets sent to the Hopeton Orphanage where she hopes against hope that she will finally find a warm and kindly place to call home. Instead she comes face-to-face with terror and tyranny in the form of Miss Switch. Miss Switch seems to have leapt from the pages of a Roald Dalh story and can go head-to-head with the best of evil villains. In fact, she is one of the worst kinds of villains –she appears kind and motherly in front of the public, but once public eyes look away, she switches and turns nasty and cruel. Even though she’s the matron of an orphanage, she hates kids, especially orphans (or dregs, as she calls them). I could go on about her awfulness, but you will soon see there is no end to her cruelties (she thinks being cruel is a kind of talent). Here are some examples of her cruelty: locking a child outside on a windowsill all night through a storm, ignoring her cries; gluing hands together; taping mouths shut; the list goes on and on. When Margaret tries to get help from the outside, she is punished severely, but it’s actually the punishment that empowers her and inspires her revolt. Her punishment? No one is allowed to speak to Margaret, and Margaret is not allowed to utter a word. As the days go by in silence and solitude, Margaret uncovers a kind of sixth sense: if she truly listens, she can hear the quietest of sounds, even a fluttering of wings. It is this talent that helps  her discover the moths (playful creatures that talk and play games all night). Her discovery of the moths and her friendship with them give Margaret the courage to overcome her fear and turn the switch on Miss Switch in a humiliating and hilarious climax. For those of you who like Roald Dahl’s Matilda, this is a story for you. You’ll be rooting for Margaret all the way to the end, just like you did for Matilda. Review by Lizzy Healy

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7. The Humming Room by Ellen Potter

humming roomMost people assume that being strong or tough is the skill that will protect you and save you, help you survive when you're in a dangerous situation, but Roo Fanshaw sees it differently. Her special skill is hiding, being able to disappear at a moment’s notice. Roo has spent most of her life hiding, finding the smallest spaces to curl herself into. It is in these small spaces that she feels able to breathe freely; in fact, open spaces make her feel enclosed, as if she can't breath. It is Roo’s hiding skill that saves her life when her parents are murdered in the trailer where they lived. Roo was hiding underneath it, close to the earth. Roo feels she has a quiet connection to the earth and the life that dwells in it. She puts her ear close to the ground and she can hear, actually hear, the sound of life teeming beneath it –a kind of humming sound. Though she loves the quiet reflection of small safe places, Roo’s life doesn't stay quiet for long. After her parents die, a long-lost eccentric uncle agrees to take her in. She moves to his mansion on Cough Rock Island, a mansion that was once a hospital for children sick with tuberculosis, full of secrets and ghosts. Roo doesn't believe in ghost stories, but there are strange noises coming from the forbidden east wing of the house, and the locals are full of superstitious stories of the river and the mansion. But the river, the mansion, and life on the islands have their own story to tell. Since she came to Cough Rock, Roo is full of questions. Who gave her uncle those bloodied scratches across his face? What is that strange humming sound Roo hears through the wall? Who is that wild boy canoeing up and down the river? Roo is determined to come out of her hiding space (both physically and mentally) and learn the truth about the house and her family. Though everyone in the house tries to keep her away, Roo discovers a secret garden hidden in the center of the mansion, a garden locked away because it holds a tragic secret. This story is inspired by the classic "The Secret Garden." Though elements of the story unfold in a familiar way, the characters that Potter creates are quirky and likable. Roo is strong and feisty. The author has done an excellent job of giving readers a different angle on a familiar story. Reading The Humming Room may even inspire you to take a favorite classic tale, write what it would be like in a different time, with different characters, and see how the story unfolds. Review by Lizzy Healy

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8. Cold Cereal by Adam Rex

cold cerealKoKolumps, Burlap Crisp, Puftees. “There’s a little bit of magic in every box!” say Goodco Cereal Company’s commercials. Sound familiar? When you hear a cereal commercial on TV, you may get excited about a toy, sticker, or even a coupon in the cereal box… but actual magic? And who would ever guess that a cereal company (especially one named GoodCo) would be evil and plan on world domination? Scottish Play Doe, a.k.a. Scott, sees things, weird things. As if that weren't bad enough, he is the new kid in town. Scott, his mom, and his little sister Polly have just moved to Goodborough New Jersey, home of the GoodCo Cereal company factory where his mom just got a new job as a researcher. Scott has grown up seeing things his doctors call "hallucinations" that accompany blinding headaches… things like a uni-cat, unicorns, a weird-talking rabbit man, and a smallish man (dare we say leprechaun?) who tries to steal his backpack and is on the run from the GoodCo cereal company. How literal is Goodco’s motto "magic in every box?” Turns out this magic is actually being sucked from real magical creatures that only Scott can see. With Scott’s realization that his so-called hallucinations are actually real, his world has turned upside down. He finds friends and allies in Erno and Emily, twins who look nothing alike. Erno has dark brown curls while Emily has straight white blonde hair, the palest skin and . . . pink eyes. Erno and Emily have grown up in Goodborough and have had numerous foster fathers, all of whom worked for GoodCo. You could even say that the twins belong to GoodCo. There are strange happenings going on in this little cereal-town. Emily has dizzy spells which require her to put pink milk ear drops in her ears every morning, courtesy of GoodCo's "doctor;" there are strange white vans canvassing neighborhoods looking for magical escapees, and there is definitely a strange taste getting stronger and stranger in GoodCo's most popular cereal, Puftees. Scott, Erno, Emily, and Mick-the-leprechaun all come together to uncover Goodco's sinister plans--and try to take the first steps in saving the world from this evil cereal company. It’s one heck of ride and one you will most definitely enjoy… although a warning is in order: you may think twice about what exactly you're eating next time you scarf down a bowl of your favorite sugary, colorful, crunchy breakfast cereal! Review by Lizzy Healy

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9. Check Out Some Great Illustrated Fiction

illus inside

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10. May B. : A Novel by Caroline Starr Rose

may bI won’t go.

“It’s for the best,” Ma says,

yanking to braid my hair,

trying to make something of what’s left.

Ma and Pa want me to leave

and live with strangers.

I won’t go.

May B. (short for Mavis Elizabeth Betterly) doesn’t want to move away from her sod farm house on the Kansas prairie, but her parents are adamant that she needs to move in with the Oblingers to help Mr. Oblinger’s fancy new wife get used to farming life.  Mrs. Oblinger is homesick: she’s way too fancy to be living in a dirt-floor sod house in the middle of nowhere, and May B’s family could use the extra money that she’ll earn.  Life at the Oblingers’ home turns out to be as lonely and sad for May B. as it is for Mrs. Oblinger, but while May B. has plenty of work to do, Mrs. Oblinger just dreams the day away.  When Mr. Oblinger has to go into town and stay overnight, Mrs. Oblingers seizes the moment to run away from the farm.  Mr. Oblinger rushes after her as soon as he discovers his wife gone, leaving May B. all alone.  She’s never been alone before, and she’s frightened.  She hopes they’ll be back soon, but they don’t come back!  With little food or wood for the fire, May B. has to find the strength to survive the huge blizzard that’s coming.  She’s terrified, freezing and starving, but she decides to try to find her way home.  Why hasn’t anyone come to help her?  Why has she been forgotten?  Have her parents sent her to this terrible place to die alone?  Review by Loretta Eysie

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11. Vanished by Sheela Chari

vanishedNeela loves to play her veena, a rare antique one sent by her aunt in India, but only  in her own room where no one can hear her.  “She had heard about how some musicians got stage fright, but she was sure that what she had was far worse.  At home she could play all the notes, and sometimes when she closed her eyes, she imagined herself in a concert hall with hundreds, even thousands of people watching her.  But if there was a real, live person in the room other than her parents or her little brother, something happened, as if her notes stuck together and became an out-of-tune, out-of-rhythm mess. Something happened to her, too –shaky knees, a dry throat, and once or twice, she saw spots.”  Nevertheless, she braves her fears and brings her instrument to school the for Instruments Around the World unit.  You would have thought the worst would be over after she played in front of her class, but as Neela was wheeling the large, unwieldy case containing her veena home, a sudden downpour drove her to take shelter in the vestibule of a church.  A well-dressed older man appeared suddenly and offered to let her dry off inside. She knew she wasn’t supposed to go anywhere with a stranger, but it was a church, after all, and she was awfully wet.  She was even more worried when he asked her to leave her veena in the closet while they went into the kitchen to make cocoa, but he was so insistent.  After she barely finished her cocoa, the man (“call me Hal”) disappeared, and when she checked the hall closet, her veena had disappeared, too!  As Neela tries to find out what happened to her veena, she learns a lot of interesting things about its history, like the fact that it is a rare “Guru original,” perhaps the very first one made by the famous veena-maker Guru, and it’s rumored to be cursed!  The veena always disappears and ends up back in the shop in India where it was first sold.  Neela’s relentless determination to solve the mystery leads to the uncovering of more than one person’s secret identity, a kidnapping, and a hair-raising near-accident when the thief pushes Neela off a moving train!  It’s hard to believe this is Sheela Chari’s first novel –it’s such a great story of tradition, family loyalty, music and friendship.  Review by Stacy Church  

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12. Fetching by Kiera Stewart

fetchingWhat a great idea!  Use dog training techniques to shape your enemies’ behavior!  Olivia decides she’s had enough of being tormented by Brynne and her mean group of friends.  If she can use training to change a dog’s behavior, why not a person? The first step is: body language.  If you are someone who’s always tormented by bullies, you need to cultivate a strong assertive presence (think Cesar Milan!) –head up, shoulders back. “Basically, the way you walk and stand and talk tells everyone how you feel about yourself  It can say that you’re in charge and you know what you’re doing, or it can say ‘loser.’” Olivia has a hard time convincing her fellow Bored Game Club members that her plan can work, but they gamely (ha ha) try to ignore any bad behavior –even when it makes them feel like wusses.  Then Olivia teaches them about looking for cues that bad behavior is about to occur: “’You know how when a dog starts to get upset, sometimes its hair stands up on its back, or it might start to growl…There’s always some type of cue before an attack, and we’ve got to start noticing these signs…Because once you see the cues, you can create a distraction.’”  They’re having some mild success, but what really gets things going is when Olivia decides they have to step up the training by using treats (gum, cookies, post-it notes) to reward good behavior (anything from Corbin passing by Mandy without making an insulting noise, to actually witnessing one of Brynne’s minions standing up to her).  It isn’t long before the balance of power has shifted: Olivia’s friend Mandy, formerly a social outcast who outlined her lips with Sharpie, is running for class president, and their lunch table is so crowded with popular kids that there’s no place for Olivia anymore.  It also isn’t long until Olivia feels sorry for the formerly-popular, now-outcast Brynne.  When Olivia finds out that her best friend Delia shared some very private information about Olivia’s mentally-ill mother, Olivia turns to Brynne to fill in for the friends she’s turned against.  The class election provides plenty of drama, especially after Olivia tells Brynne the reason for her social downfall: that Olivia trained the other kids to dislike her.  This is a very clever book, and the techniques will be recognized by anyone who has familiarity with dog training.  In the end, Olivia promises to never use dog training on humans again, but I think a little calm, assertive behavior can go a long way towards improving your relations with the people around you!  Review by Stacy Church

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13. The Death-Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean

death“On the morning of his fourteenth birthday, Pepper had been awake for fully two minutes before realizing it was the day he must die.” This is the opening line of the rip-roaring adventure awaiting the “le pauvre” (poor thing) –Pepper Roux. Pepper and those around him, his parents and aunt, have known since the day he was born that he was not to live beyond his fourteenth birthday. Everyone was resigned to it, even Pepper. The night before he was born, Pepper’s spinster Aunt Mireille had a dream of St. Constance, who told her “in perfect diction” that Pepper Roux was to die by fourteen. To make sure that Pepper would indeed be going to heaven, his aunt and mother made him go to church and pray all day, every day, on his calloused knees, making sure he was truly sorry for whatever "wrongdoings" he committed since the last time he prayed. His Aunt Mireille filled his pockets with prayers and messages to give to the saints and family members who reside in heaven. But when it came the day for Pepper to die, he, in fact, did not. He did not want to disappoint, but in truth, Pepper wanted to live. He wondered how this could happen: had he somehow sidestepped fate, shaken off the saints that were to capture him and whisk him away to heaven? He did not know, but felt he was an intruder in life, an escapee, and that at any moment the angels and saints would realize their mistake and come after him in a flourish of fire and ice. But even so, when given the opportunity, Pepper sought out a life not his own. His attempts to slip into other peoples shoes propelled him all over France and from one life to the next. He donned the Sea Captain hat of his father, the apron of a butcher's assistant in a fancy department store, as well as the life of a horse trainer, newspaper writer, telegram deliverer, juvenile delinquent and many more. Through each of these misadventures Pepper was a bit naive, always seeing the best in others and very trusting of some unsavory characters. In every life he led, he inadvertently caused mayhem while trying his best to spread joy and goodness in the depraved lives he saw around him. Yet Pepper knew too well that Death was after him. Ultimately, Pepper (with the help of a few surprising friends) came to learn to finally face his own death, and that things and people are not always what they seem. Pepper Roux is one extraordinary character –unforgettable, and the kind of person you would want to know in real life. You want Pepper to succeed and overcome the obstacles in front of him; you also want to protect him from the danger around him. This is a wonderfully crafted story filled with plenty of adventures. It's a book that once finished is not easy to leave behind. I also must suggest checking out the audiobook version of this story, narrated by Anton Lesser. Mr. Lesser brings the characters to life with such vibrancy. He also helps articulate many of the French words with flavor. Ms. McCaughrean writes sentences that twist and turn and instill humor and wit; Lessen brings this humor to light in an incredible way that help the story break out from the pages. Review by Lizzy Healy

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14. Water Balloon by Audrey Vernick

waterThe water balloon blitz was just a joke when it started out in second grade. Marley found the water balloons early on a hot spring day. She decided to fill them and hide them to surprise her best friends, Jane and Leah, with an attack during their Monopoly game later in the day. Their version of Monopoly was wholly unique: the best friends had made up crazy actions to perform when you land on a square or draw a card. It made for a much more exciting time (for instance, if you landed on Marvin Gardens the other players had to quickly make up a new hairstyle for you). Marley blitzed them with the water balloons and it was one of the best moments and most fun the girls ever had. And so began a full-on blitz war: every summer one of them blitzed the other two and were awarded points for how daring and how surprising the attack was. That was during the height of their friendship, but now the three friends are in 7th grade and, as often happens, things have changed. It’s the summer before 8th grade and the girls haven't blitzed each other in a couple of years. Their lives have just gotten too busy. Marley's parents are divorcing and she is spending the summer at her dad's new place, unwillingly babysitting the most hyperactive twin 5-year-olds in existence. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Jane and Leah are doing an intensive acting camp together with high-schoolers and are too busy to hang out or even return Marley’s phone calls. Marley's life has done a complete 180 –she feels stretched as thin as a too-filled water balloon.. Marley wishes she could go back to childhood when everything was simple and she, Jane and Leah understood each other, were all each other needed, blitzing and laughing the days away. The only bright light of her summer is Jack, the baseball-loving neighbor at her dad's house with the brightest blue eyes. As her friends become more and more distant, she becomes more desperate to hold on to the old days. She decides to bring the water balloon blitzing back, but makes a grave mistake when she blitzes everyone (including high school boys) at Jane's first boy-girl, no-adult 4th of July party. Jane and Leah are furious and officially cut her out of their lives. They are more interested in boys and parties than games of monopoly; they even say she is the one who has not been a good friend since she has been so depressed about her parents. They actually tell her to get over it! Marley has a long summer with lots to learn about friendship (who your true friends are), romance (especially with a cute neighbor who is there for you when you need him), and family (in whatever form that may be).

Marley can be hard to like at times but it is easy to identify with her and her struggles with family and friends. The most excruciating aspect of the book is how awful her "best" friends are. They turn on her and blame her for everything without caring about her or what a difficult time she may be having. Marley comes to realize that you can't stay friends with people who are not true friends just because you’re scared to be alone. It takes time but she (and you as the reader) will come to realize that things are not always as bad as them seem and changes can make life better. If you like dramatic coming-of-age stories with some romance mixed in, then check out Water Balloon by Audrey Vernick. Review by Lizzy Healy

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15. Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

breadcrumbsWhat if all the old fairytales you heard when you were little, the stories that were told at a library story time perhaps, were all real? What if there really are houses made of gingerbread, cursed shoes, magic woods right behind your own house, or even witches made of ice? Breadcrumbs is a story that asks that question --what if it’s all real and can happen to you. Once upon a time… it was cold, and a blanket of snow covered the entire world …or so it seemed. The world looked like a magical place filled with endless possibilities. There was a girl named Hazel and a boy named Jack. Hazel and Jack had been best friends for as long as they could remember. They both loved using their imagination to create magical worlds where they would slay dragons, sail the seas as pirates, or turn an abandoned shack into a magical palace. But then things started to change. Jack had always divided his time between Hazel and his guy friends at school. Hazel didn’t fit in unless she was with Jack. She looked different and acted different from her classmates. She would get so lost in her imagination, all the stories she had heard and read, stores of Hogwarts and Narnia, that she didn’t realize that the things she thought and did were what made her stand out. But Hazel didn’t mind, not really, because there was always Jack, waiting for her and being there for her when she needed him. But one day something happened to change everything. Jack got a shard of magic glass stuck in his eye, magic glass that makes you see the world in an ugly light. Suddenly Jack didn’t have time for Hazel and her "childish" games. Hazel was lost and felt completely alone. In only a couple of days the winter wonderland of yesterday became like an ice prison of loneliness. But then Jack disappeared, willingly going with the white witch into the woods where his heart froze over. Only Hazel had enough courage, heart, and imagination with which to find him…. if he even wanted to be found! Hazel encountered many strange things as she travelled through the woods, things that were not entirely as she had read about in her stories: cursed dancing shoes, unsavory woodsman, wolves as sentries, a strange couple that captures children (but not for eating), and the biting cold of the White Witch that beckons her forward. Despite all the confusion of the woods, Hazel never gave up on making it out of the woods with Jack by her side. This is a wonderful modern fairytale that captures your attention. Anne Ursu took the classic fairytale of The Snow Queen and set it in modern times in America. You start to see that the world around you holds all the possibilities of the stories you read --all possibilities, both good and bad. Review by Lizzy Healy

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16. Ten Miles Past Normal by Francis O’Roark Dowell

ten milesJanie Gorman is a girl who desperately wants to be normal. The only real problem with that is that she’s not. That is, she’s not particularly abnormal. but her family lifestyle is a bit on the abnormal side of the spectrum. When Janie was younger, she went on a school field trip to a farm, and decided she wanted to live on a farm. Her parents actually loved this idea and decided it was high time they sell their suburban house and cars, pack everything up, and move out to the country. At first it was cool; everyone in 6th grade thought it was awesome that she had goats outside her bedroom window, but now, in 9th grade, Janie is known as “farm girl.” Her farm duty of milking the goats every morning (which more often than not results in animal poop on her shoes) does not help matters. On top of that, her mom runs a blog about her life on the farm. This, to put it simply, is not helping Janie achieve the normalcy she so desperately wants. Janie has yet to find her place in the world at her new high school. She eats by herself in the library every day instead of the cafeteria. All of her friends from middle school are in a different lunch, and she’s too shy to make new friends. Even her friendship with her pushy best friend Sarah is feeling rocky. At first Janie feels that it would be nice to go back to that old suburban life, but comes to realize that being “normal” isn’t always the coolest thing. She must know this somewhere inside of her. She certainly takes part in plenty of not so “normal” hi-jinks: she learns bass and joins Jam Band, she idolizes her best friend Sarah’s older sister (the infamous wild-child, high-school-senior Emma), shegets arrested while doing a school project on a local freedom school, and she kind of falls in “like” with a boy named Monster (yes, that is his real name). Janie begins to realize that coolness comes in many forms, and that being a wallflower isn't her style after all. "I'm the cute chick with the bass," she thinks. "Now that's a reputation I can live with." Review by Lizzy Healy

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17. Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

okayIt’s 1968, and 8th grader Doug has just moved to the small town of Marysville, in upstate NY.  He has no friends.  He is living with his angry, abusive father, and a bully of an older brother, who, after only a few days in the new town, is already falling in with the wrong crowd. Doug doesn’t particularly like the idea of moving to this new town, or a house he calls “the dump,” especially since everyone in town already considers him a bad egg, or a “skinny thug” just like his Dad and brother. He struggles against being the bad kid that the police and most of his teachers assume him to be. Doug truly wants good things to happen, although he feels that if something good happens, then something bad will too; it’s as if he is always waiting for the other shoe to drop and remind him of his low place in the world. Doug finds an unlikely ally in the fiery Lil Spicer, whose father offers him a job delivering groceries. Doug begrudgingly takes the job because he has nothing else to do, but his life is forever altered when he wanders into the library and comes face-to-face with the plates of John James Audubon’s birds in a book under glass.

“I went over to the table to see how come it was the only lousy thing in the whole lousy room. And right away, I knew why. Underneath the glass was this book. A huge book. A huge, huge book. Its pages were longer than a goodsize baseball bat. I’m not lying. And on the whole page, there was only one picture. Of a bird. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

He was all alone, and he looked like he was falling out of the sky and into this cold green sea. His wings were back, his tail feathers were back, and his neck was pulled around as if he was trying to turn but couldn’t. His eye was round and bright and afraid, and his beak was open a little bit, probably because he was trying to suck in some air before he crashed into the water. The sky around him was dark, like the air was too heavy to fly in. This bird was falling and there wasn’t a single thing in the world that cared at all. It was the most terrifying picture I had ever seen. The most beautiful. I leaned down onto the glass, close to the bird. I think I started to breathe a little bit more quickly, since the glass fogged up and I had to wipe the wet away.”

The power of the Audubon paintings causes an intellectual awakening in Doug. The local librarian starts teaching him ho to draw, and he discovers that the library is a safe haven from his terrible home life. Doug’s friendship with Lil is the driving force that helps him discover friendship and goodness all over the town. He finds the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a whole town, and even the tragic return of his oldest brother from Vietnam. Together they find inspiration in learning about the plates of John James Audubon’s birds, and have a hilarious adventure on a Broadway stage. There are many themes in this story, some devastating and others wildly funny, but ultimately the book is about the healing power of friendship and art. Review by Lizzy Healy

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18. Sparrow Road by Sheila O’Connor

sparrowNo music. No TV. No computer. No telephone. And every day, silence until supper. Those are the rules of Sparrow Road, an artists’ retreat set in an eerie mansion in the countryside of Michigan, where Raine O’Rourke is forced to spend her summer. Raine can’t figure out why her mother agreed to leave their Milwaukee home and her Grandpa Mac to work there as a cook. “Not everything’s a mystery,” her mother tells her when Raine pesters her with questions. But Sparrow Road is full of secrets. The mystery of why her mother took the job is solved when 12-year-old Raine meets Gray James, the father she has never heard about. The mysteries of the mansion take longer, but Raine and Josie, a quilt-maker, piece together the history of the former orphanage, and Raine uses clues she finds in the attic to write the story of a former orphan, Lyman Chase, which she shares at the end of summer festival, the Art Extravaganza. Review by Stacy Church

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19. The Danger Box by Blue Balliett

dangerThis is the latest book by the author of the wonderful Chasing Vermeer, and it’s sequels.  I didn’t love everything about it (in fact, I almost quit reading during the first chapter because I found it annoyingly vague) but once I got into the real story, it pulled me right in.  First of all, I’m always interested in a book that’s told in the present tense, “I’m pulling the Danger Box out from the back of the toolshed.  Now I’m crouching by the rakes and hoes.  It’s a windy June night, and the shadows from the kitchen light are bumping and chasing.”  And Zoomy is a great character.  He lives with his grandparents, who love him despite his strange habits (incessant finger-tapping and list-making), and medical condition (pathological myopia).  In fact, his grandmother always seems to know what he’s feeling, and how to make him feel better.  It’s a pretty folksy tale, not always a favorite for me, but, for the most part, the author makes it work.  Zoomy’s life is completely changed by two things: his psychopathic father reappears in his life, and he makes his first friend, Lorrol, a girl he keeps running into at the library.  Zoomy’s dad, Buckeye, left behind a wooden box, and when they decide to open it, they find an old journal inside.  Zoomy begs to be allowed to read it, and of course, trying to figure out what it is opens the door for all kinds of discoveries and adventure.  There’s arson, theft, attempted murder…All in all, a good read.  Review by Stacy Church

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20. Review of Close to Famous by Joan Bauer

closeNow here’s the way to write a book in a folksy way without being irritating!  The beginning tells it all: “The last place I thought I’d be when this day began is where I am, which is in a car.  Mama’s car to be exact, and she’s driving headstrong through downtown Memphis with an Elvis impersonator on our tail.” 12-year-old Foster tells my favorite kind of story – funny/sad, and there’s plenty to be sad about.  After Foster’s dad was killed in Iraq, her mom got mixed up with the wrong kind of guy, the aforementioned Elvis impersonator, in fact, and now they have to run away in the middle of the night.  Things get even worse when Foster realizes when they finally stop funning that she doesn’t have the pillowcase she keeps her special things in, including her dad’s dogtags.  Luckily, Foster has a lot going for her, too.  To begin with, she’s an amazing baker who’s determined to become the youngest Food Network star to have their own cooking show.  She and her mom are really close, and she seems to make friends wherever she goes.  She even makes friends with the aging reclusive movie star Miss Charleena, who is the first person in their new town of Culpepper to realize that Foster can’t read.  They strike a bargain: Foster will teach Miss Charleena to cook, and Miss Charleena will teach Foster to read.  When her favorite Food Network star, Sonny, is out of commission from a motorcycle accident, Foster (with the help of her new friend Macon, a future filmmaker who just got his first camera phone) sends him a recording of herself doing a special cooking show just for him.  By the time Sonny sends her a letter back, she can pretty much read it herself!  Review by Stacy Church

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21. Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

words in the dustThe newspapers are filled with headlines of places far away.  Afghanistan, especially, has been in the news this year.  We read mainly about the ongoing war there.  Words in the Dust takes us right into the heart of a family living in the Afghan mountains.  We meet thirteen-year-old Zulaikha, who has to help with the daily chores in the family compound.  Her life is complicated by the fact that she was born with a cleft lip.  When an American soldier notices her disfigured face, he is determined to get medical help for her, and Zulaikha’s life is forever changed.  Words in the Dust is a very intimate story of a young girl growing up in a typical Afghan family.  Zulaikha yearns to read.  Since there is no opportunity for her to go to school, she secretly learns the alphabet by tracing the letters and words in the dust. Books are a wonderful way to travel to different parts of the world.  Here is an exciting book about a very different land and culture. Words in the Dust will quickly draw you in, and you won’t be able to put it down until the last page is turned.  Review by Trudy Walsh

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22. Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky

index.phpJust think: To receive all that you desire, fill one balloon with your breath. This haunting idea is the basis of the mysterious story Juniper Berry: A Tale of Terror and Temptation by M.P. Kozlowsky. You might think at first that 11-year-old Juniper Berry lives a perfect life: she lives in a gorgeous mansion, has rich, beautiful movie-star parents, and everything she could possibly want… everything, that is, except a real loving family. Before Juniper’s parents were famous, they doted on her –she was the best thing in their lives. She dreamed of being a writer and she wrote plays that her parents spent hours acting out for her. But lately her parents have been distant, cold, and even cruel. Though on the outside they look the same, something is changing under the surface. Juniper spends hours in her big mansion using telescopes, magnifying glasses, and all sorts of tools that help her bring the world that seems so far away, right up close to her. She values truth and what lies beneath the surface of things more than anything. When she finally makes a friend in the weak, but gentle, boy named Giles, who lives down the road, they find they share a common bond. Giles’s parents have also been acting strange and cruel. Juniper and Giles are determined to find out why. On a cold and rainy night, Juniper follows her parents as they sneak out of the house and into the woods. What she discovers is a terrifying underworld ruled over by a strange man/creature called Skeksyl. He offers you anything you desire in the world, all bound in a balloon. All you have to do is exchange a balloon filled with your breath and for a balloon filled with Skeksyl’s breath. Once you inhale Skeksyl’s balloon, all the secrets of the world are yours. Juniper and Giles want to save their parents, but they, too, get tempted by this strange man/creature. It seems like such a small price to pay—a balloon of air –for everything you want. In this case Giles wants to be strong and Juniper wants to be loved. What they don’t realize is that piece by piece they are selling their souls for their wildest desires.

Can Juniper see the truth through this temptation? Can she hold strong and save not only her parents and Giles, but the many others who have also wandered down to that dark underworld? This is a haunting tale much like a modern folktale. Right from the start the story of Juniper grabbed me and pulled me into her world, a world where nothing is as it seems. I found the story thoughtful, exciting and very creepy. For a small hint of the kind of creepiness I mean, read the description of Skeksyl: “The man, if he could be called such a thing, stepped closer, slinking his way toward the children, his face still hidden but for a smile that glowed like moonlight. It was all teeth, long, yellowed teeth that stretched his purplish lips wide across his face-a twisted triangle of sneering terror. “I am so glad you came”, he nearly squealed.” You may think you would give up anything to get your greatest desire, but remember, be careful what you wish for! Review by Lizzy Healty

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23. Wild Life by Cynthia DeFelice

wild life12-year-old Eric rushes home to show off the certificate he just earned for passing the hunter safety course, only to find that his parents have both been called up to serve active duty in Iraq. After that, things happen very quickly.  Eric is sent off to North Dakota to live with his grandparents.  He finds life with his grandparents unbearable, so he runs away off onto the prairie, taking only his gun, and a dog that he rescued, along with him. Eric is determined to make it on his own, and live off of the land. Wild Life is a fast-paced story of adventure and survival.  Review by Trudy Walsh

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24. Small Acts of Amazing Courage by Gloria Whelan

small actsSmall Acts of Amazing Courage takes us to India, where Rosalind lives in a beautiful home with many servants.  Her parents are English, and they are expected to send their children back home to England to get proper educations.  Independent-minded Rosalind doesn’t want to go to England, a country she feels no connection to.  Rosalind loves India.  She loves to explore the bazaars of the city with a native friend.  Her father returns from the war in 1918, and finds out that Rosalind has become involved in the lives of beggars, and has gone to listen to the rebel Gandhi speak at a street demonstration against the British.  He is livid and, over the protestations of Rosalind and her mother, books a passage for her to London.  He plans for his daughter to live with her aunts while getting a good English education.  Free-spirited Rosalind has other ideas.  She sees the whole world as a place to discover.  She wants to learn by getting involved rather than by just sitting on a school bench.  This, or course, gets her into all kinds of trouble, as you can well imagine. In Small Acts of Amazing Courage we read about Rosalind growing up in luxury in an exotic country, exploring bazaars, buying a baby from a beggar to save his life, always letting her heart guide her rather than her head.  It is a beautifully written book.  Review by Trudy Walsh

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25. Angel in My Pocket by Ilene Cooper

angelShortly after seventh-grader Bette finds a golden angel coin in the change collected at a car wash, puts it in her pocket and forgets about it, things begin to change for her.  She meets a mysterious new neighbor, Gabi (short for Gabriel), who helps her come to terms with the losses and changes in her life.  Joe, who has been getting into trouble for stealing and bullying, steals the coin from Bette, and his life starts to change also. In turn, the lives of two more of Bette’s classmates are changed after the angel coin passes to each of them.  Bette attends a performing arts school, and the story of the angel coin unfolds as the children are involved in the school’s big musical production.  In time, the four children become friends, and marvel together at everything that has happened to them. Angel in My Pocket is a wonderful story about finding friends when you desperately need them.  Review by Trudy Walsh

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