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Sam and Morgan are best friends. Strike that – Sam and Morgan used to be best friends. Now Morgan has declared that he will be kicking Sam’s butt in exactly 33 minutes. How did these life-long friends come to this place? That’s exactly what Sam is trying to figure out in Todd Hasak-Lowy’s 33 Minutes. Told mostly through flashbacks from Sam’s point of view, Hasak-Lowy uses sharp wit to take a bit of the edge off the very real heartache that comes with growing up and growing apart, without sugar-coating the reality of this all-too-familiar situation.
Sam is incredibly bright, but not so popular. Morgan has become quite popular in junior high, but he’s never been the best student. As Morgan’s new friends begin taking up more of his time, Sam can’t help but feel left out and a bit jealous. Over the course of a few months, tensions build between the two best friends, and when everything comes to a head Sam is certain it must be Morgan’s fault. A little reflection over the course of the ever dwindling 33 minutes, however, sheds some light on the reality of Sam and Morgan’s situation, and Sam realizes that maybe he is not completely blameless himself.
In Sam Todd Hasak-Lowy has created a very real and very witty character. Sam’s clever observations will have readers laughing out loud but the humor does not take away from the painful reality of Sam’s situation. It is exactly this mixture of humor and reality that make this book an excellent choice for a book discussion group (particularly for boys) or for a 5th or 6th grade classroom read-aloud.
Posted by: Staci
Finally, after a long winter of dissatisfying-to-outright-bad novels, a DELIGHTFUL new fantasy has appeared!
Tom is used to living his ordinary (but happy) life with his parents, running their deli and hanging out with his friend Charlie. One day, though he awakens to a shocking discovery: his father is a fairy. A real, live, MAGICAL fairy. Which means that, he, Tom is a demisprite: demisprites are illegal, and the fairy authorities are trying to find Tom and his family to arrest and even execute them!
Tom’s father goes on the run, Tom’s mother is hidden somewhere (hilariously) magical, and Tom himself is spirited away by his surprisingly non-fairy-like godmother, Lorna Mustard, the owner of a scrapyard in Scotland. In the course of just a few days, Tom is introduced to his other (even more non-fairy-like) godmothers, his unexpected cousin Pindar, a number of revolutionary genies, and the hottest new fairy rock star (singer of the smash hit: Old Fairies Suck).
That might be enough to overwhelm an ordinary person, but Tom’s not ordinary (and neither are his friends) and he plans to rescue his family if it’s the last thing he does–even if it means that he has to completely change fairy society.
This book is a delightful romp full of truly original moments and laugh-out-loud characters, and it’s impossible to read it without a huge smile on one’s face. I enjoyed Kate Saunders’ last book, Beswitched, but I LOVED this one, and I hope all of you will, too.
Posted by: Sarah
Peter and Thea live in two separate worlds, and neither has any idea of the ways that they are connected. Peter is a resident of New York City, where he lives in an apartment building and can easily satisfy his love of Chinese food. Thea lives in a home almost entirely made of sealed ice, in a city under the icy surface of Greenland, where her people have created a viable life for themselves underground after they were persecuted generations ago.
When Peter’s father, a scientist who studies global warming, takes the family to Greenland on an expedition, Peter’s mother becomes increasingly withdrawn, and the mysterious headaches Peter has been experiencing worsen. Meanwhile, Thea’s desire to experience the larger world brings her very close to danger but also brings forth long hidden truths, which reveal her connection to Peter and his family. Their two lives come together in a story which involves science, mystery, family drama, and adventure.
Readers of fantasy will enjoy the vividly drawn underground world Thea lives in, and science enthusiasts will be fascinated by the way Rebecca Stead weaves global warming, molecular biology, and genetics into her story. Recommended for grades 5 and up.
Posted by: Parry
Living on an island off of Maine is idyllic to eleven-year-old Tess. She likes to ride her bike, read, swim, and to build things. She especially loves going lobstering with her Dad and attending the one room school where her Mom is the only teacher. She likes knowing all the year-round islanders, as well as the summer-only islanders. When the State of Maine threatens to close down the school due to a low student enrollment, Tess worries about how life would change for her and her family if they would have to move to the mainland.
After much talk of how to save the school, the solution is to simply increase the number of school children on the island. To achieve this goal, families are asked to consider taking in a foster child and Tess’s close knit family decides they have room in their hearts and home for another child. They look forward to the arrival of thirteen-year-old Aaron and Tess and her sister are excited about the prospect of a brother.
The smallness of living on an island can be somewhat overwhelming to an outsider, especially one who has been bounced around from foster family to foster family. Aaron is not charmed by island life and clearly resents the fact that he is unable to live with his mother. His only comfort comes from playing his trumpet and the piano. In time, he also comes to enjoy going out on the lobster boat with Tess and her Dad.
Tess, who is a very superstitious girl, worries that if Aaron doesn’t stay on the island, then she also will not be able to stay due to her school closing. “Touch blue and your wish will come true” is one of her sayings about luck. She tries hard to show Aaron the simple joy of her everyday life and she tries to help him cope with his past disappointments. She hopes that her belief in good omens will hold true and Aaron will find a way to fit in both her family and the island community.
This often touching story shows how children can find ways to help one another when faced with adversity. I found it a most enjoyable read and would heartily recommend it.
Posted by: Wendy
Lorelei’s life use to be pretty good, until her mom died. Now her father is remarried to the wicked Molly, her brother has grown cold and distant, and her best friend seems to have abandoned her just when she needs her the most. If that isn’t enough, now Lorelei has to start at a strange new school called Splendid Academy that seemed to appear out of nowhere mere days before the old school suspiciously burned down.
Initially, Lorelei thinks Splendid Academy might actually be a good place for her. The principal is extremely welcoming and seems to have a soft spot for Lorelei, the students have a great deal of freedom, the playground is amazing, and the food is to die for. However, Lorelei can’t help but wonder if the school might not be as splendid as it seems. Is it just her imagination, or do all the candy bowls keep replenishing themselves? Why are there candy bowls on the students’ desks, for that matter? Why do the teachers seem so concerned with how much the students are eating? And is that a giant copper kettle hidden in the teachers’ lounge? Only Lorelei and her new friend Andrew seem to think Splendid Academy might be too good to be true and by the time they figure out what really is going on, they may not have a chance to save the other students or themselves.
In The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, author Nikki Loftin puts a contemporary spin on the story of Hansel and Gretel by having the witch run a charter school in suburban America. Loftin does a great job of bringing the classic fairytale elements into the modern world. Similarly to fairytales of old, the story is tense enough to inspire some nail biting, but not so dark as to terrify young readers. The characters are engaging and relatable and the action develops quickly making this a great choice for a read-aloud for 4th through 6th grade. Like children drawn to a candy cottage, it is easy for readers to be pulled into this modern fairytale.
Posted by: Staci
Cut off from the rest of the world by an enormous mountain, secured by a massive gated wall exists the city of Deliverance. The residents of Deliverance are special. They look like everyone on the other side of the mountain, but they all possess a form of telekinesis called psi. The people of Deliverance use their psi for everything including cooking, cleaning, getting dressed, driving, etc. Ocassionally, however, children’s psi powers do not develop and are labeled Freaklings. Of course, it is impossible for Freaklings to exist among the psi wielders; therefore, those children are sent to the nonpsi village outside the walls of Deliverance where they are taught to survive in a world where they must do everything for themselves.
Taemon was not born a Freakling, but he is different from other psi wielders. He has the ability to “mind wander” or see inside objects using his mind – a very dangerous power in the hands of the wrong person. Taemon’s brother, Yens, is extremely gifted at using psi and hungers for fame and power. As Yens starts to realize just how powerful Taemon really is, he begins to feel threatened and attacks Taemon in hopes of scaring him into explaining the root of his power. As a result, Taemon actually loses his ability to control objects with psi and must hide his handicap or be exiled from the city. Ultimately, Taemon must make a decision that will impact everyone in Deliverance and even beyond, but can he trust himself to make the right decision?
Posted by: Staci
Sports camp! Fun or intimidation? Maybe a little of both. It is Riley Liston’s first time away at sports camp, Camp Olympia. He doesn’t have any friends at camp and he is the youngest and the smallest. He is eleven and all the other boys are either twelve or thirteen. In spite of these facts, Riley is competitive and he loves sports.
This short story of a two week sports camp experience is chock full of successes and failures, tentative new friendships, and the formation of a team from kids that were just assigned to the same cabin, Cabin 3 – Threshers. There are also pranks and ghost stories, after lights out retaliations and spooky happenings. Looming over all is the threat of Big Joe, a huge snapping turtle which supposedly inhabits Lake Surprise and is capable of biting off a swimmer’s arm or foot. This adds a lot of drama to the last, big swimming competition.
This is a fun, quick read sprinkled with Camp Olympia Bulletins which give the highlights of the sports events of the day and give the standings of the teams. Recommended for boys 5th grade through 7th.
Posted by: Fran
It’s September, so everyone is back in school–and surrounded by a whole student body full of germs! The weather is getting colder, and it seems like there are sniffles and coughs everywhere. We’re all taught to wash our hands constantly, but somehow everyone always gets sick anyway.
What do we need in a situation like this? A funny book about a flu pandemic, that’s what. (Yes, really).
Finn Reeder is annoyed that his teacher, Ms. Westing, is out of school with the flu, especially since she left instructions that the class is supposed to start keeping a journal “with a full page for every single day.” Finn writes dutifully (if not cheerfully) away, and finds that he is unwitting keeping a log of a massive flu pandemic that lays his school, town, and the entire country low.
With his father burning the mail and forcing the family to wear hazmat suits, half the school out sick, and his English class proctored by a mysterious figure in a gas mask, will Finn manage to make it through the month without dying of . . . dodgeball? (Guess which teacher is NOT sick). Check out this hilarious notebook-style semi-graphic novel to find out.
Posted by: Sarah
Joy Wells loves Spooking. It is a dark and spooky town built on a hill and her parents bought a house there because they could get a great big house for the price of a little boxy house in the neighboring bright and modern Darlington. Joy inherited a book when the oldest resident of Spooking died and became fascinated with the author, E. A. Peugeot, and his frightening tales about the Bog Fiend. Joy believes that the bog fiend lives in the bog next to Spooking and is horrified that the good citizens of Darlington want to drain the bog and build a water park. While investigating the bog, Joy meets Madame Portia, the only bog resident.
For Halloween, Joy and her brother Byron go trick-or-treating at one of the most over-the-top houses in Darlington. The evening turns frightening when the smoke machine breaks, the rotting skeleton gets out of the coffin , and the school children panic! After rescuing her brother from the chaos, Joy takes him into the bog to visit Madame Portia in her submarine house on stilts. While there, the Bog Fiend attacks the house with hideous squealing howls and terrible destruction to the house.
This is a good book for a spooky read in October! Recommended for 4th through 6th grades. If you like it there are 2 more books in the series which is called “The Joy of Spooking.”
Posted by: Fran
Humphrey the hamster is the class pet in Room 26 of Longfellow School. Ms Mac, the temporary teacher, purchases Humphrey for the students and she personally takes tender loving care of him by bringing him home with her at night and on the week-ends. He is no ordinary hamster and during the school day he learns lessons along with the students. He even has his own little notebook and pencil.
Life is wonderful for Humphrey until it is time for Mrs. Brisbane, the regular teacher, to return to the class. Mrs. Brisbane does not like him one bit and she is not about to bring him home with her on the week-ends the way Ms Mac did. But there is no need for Humphrey to panic because the room mothers arrange for him to spend time with the family of a different student each week-end. As I mentioned, Humphrey is no ordinary hamster and he finds ingenious ways to help the various families solve their dilemmas during his week-end visits. He is so very remarkable that even Mrs. Brisbane has a change of heart toward him.
This book is written from the voice of Humphrey who is simply the smartest and most lovable hamster I have ever encountered. There are other Humphrey books in the series so his antics will continue to entertain you.
Posted by: Wendy
It’s the season for spooky books, and for kids who want a scare, ONLY a spooky book will do. Some children, though, want their creepy books to be creepy with a difference–not just cheap scares and cliffhangers, but something atmospheric that draws a reader fully into the world of the book. Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz is perfect for those readers. Schlitz takes us into the Gothic, foggy 150-years-ago world of Lizzie Rose and Parsifal, two children who work for Grisini, a not-at-all-nice puppeteer. When Grisini is hired to perform for the birthday party of rich Clara, a girl who seems to have everything (except siblings, all of whom have died), Lizzie Rose and Parsifal think their fortunes are looking up. Unfortunately, first Clara, and then Grisini disappear, and their lives take a turn for the desperate.
This book is beautifully, spookily written, with compelling characters and perfectly described settings. It won’t be for children who hate historical fiction, or anyone who wants a quick read, but for kids who want a long spooky night where they can enter another world, this is an excellent choice.
Posted by: Sarah
What is not to love about a book that features high seas adventures AND delicious meals? Climb aboard the Traveling Restaurant! The Traveling Restaurant takes place in a fantastical land that has lost the use of magic after a “great accident.” In fact, the main character, twelve year old Jasper and his baby sister Sabilla have never even seen magic. Ever since the “great accident”, Fontania has been ruled by the Provisional Monarch, Lady Gall, a vain woman that does not take criticism well. Lady Gaill is obsessed with her own beauty and popularity and keeps everyone in the kingdom on pins and needles with her extreme measures to keep order in the kingdom. Jasper finally has his fill of Lady Gall when he discovers that she tried to poison his baby sister Sabilla at an event. When he tells his parents, they decide it is time to tell Jasper the secrets of his family’s past, including why Lady Gall would be threatened by the one-year-old Sabilla. Jasper’s parents also decide it is time to flee the kingdom.
Unfortunately, before Jasper learns very much, the family is separated and Jasper finds himself alone on the boat docks of Fontania. He finds his way to the Traveling Restaurant, a boat manned by the mostly silent Dr. Rocket and his gruff assistant Polly. As the restaurant sets off to reunite Jasper with his family, Jasper starts to notice some strange things about himself as well as Dr. Rocket, Polly and even the ship itself. He does not have very much time to dwell on it as they find themselves confronted by pirates, Lady Gall’s army and several natural (or maybe not so natural) disasters. Filled with action and adventure as well as a lot of heart, this rousing adventure would work really well as a family read aloud for kids in first, second and third grades.
Posted by: Kelly
It is no secret that middle school can be tough, but clearly some kids have a tougher time than others. August “Auggie” Pullman’s first year of middle school would fall under the “tougher” category. Auggie is a normal kid, or at least he would like everyone to see him that way. However, Auggie was born with a severe facial deformity for which he has undergone numerous surgeries. As a result, he has had to be homeschooled…until now. Just as he is about to begin the fifth grade, Auggie’s parents have decided that it is time for him to start attending school outside his home. Among the numerous other challenges of beginning middle school, Auggie is also saddled with the challenging task of convincing his new classmates and teachers that, despite his extraordinary appearance, he really is an ordinary kid. In the novel Wonder, author R.J. Palacio uses multiple first-person narratives to weave an achingly realistic account of the hardships Auggie faces during his first year in middle school as well as how his arrival in his new school affects those around him.
Through the use of a multi-cast recording, the Brilliance Audio recording of Wonder brings an enhanced depth and authenticity to Auggie’s story. If you have never listened to an audiobook, this is a great title to try out. Palacio’s style of first-person narratives lends itself perfectly to an audio recording, particularly one with multiple cast members to represent the book’s various narrators. Each narrator breathes a whole new life into his or her character as we, the listeners/readers, are able to experience more fully the complicated emotions that drive his or her actions throughout the story. Listening to Auggie’s story also adds a whole new level to the humor that Palacio skillfully places throughout the book. It is virtually impossible not to crack a smile when listening to Auggie and his parents joke about the fact that his new principal’s last name is Tushman.
Whether you read it, listen to it, or read along while listening to it, Wonder is perfect for any middle schooler or those of us who remember what it was like to be one…but if you ask me, you really should try giving it a listen.
Posted by: Staci
It starts out like every other Christmas for Lily and Liam – they are going to stay with their Grandma and Grandpa in the country, where they plan to read, bake cookies, and head into town to buy Christmas presents using the money they earned through babysitting and doing odd jobs. But everything changes when sensitive and thoughtful Liam notices that Gran and Grandpa’s cow is now standing all alone in the meadow that he used to share with the donkey (who has since gone back to live with his owner). Liam knows that White Cow must be very lonely, and he cannot stop thinking about it. He is determined to help White Cow, even though it won’t be easy and it will disrupt all of their Christmas plans. Liam finally enlists the reluctant Lily to help him, and they find a way to give White Cow a gift, which really turns out to be a gift for them all.
This is a very gentle story, told in gentle, simple prose and illustrated with soft pencil drawings. The book’s calm and quiet atmosphere, as well as its message which celebrates generosity, empathy, thoughtfulness and courage, make it a perfect choice for the Christmas season. This short chapter book would make a good holiday read for any independent reader or as a read aloud for the whole family.
Posted by: Parry
About a month ago, Seattle librarian and book maven, Nancy Pearl, had a brief spot on NPT talking about her “most memorable characters” of 2011. She had high praise for Max “the Wolf,” Willingham’s main character in Down the Mysterly River. I beg to differ.
Oh, Max was alright, but I found him a bit of a whiner and maybe too much of a “Boy Scout.” Actually he was a Boy Scout and proud of it. Don’t get me wrong, I have a long and happy history with both the Cub and Boy Scouts, but, really, I’ve never met a 6th grade boy as upstanding as Max. For me, he just didn’t ring true.
I did however, really enjoy the book. It’s a great adventure, full of tension, excitement, mystery humore and surprises. It has heart, especially because of the three secondary characters. One of the biggest surprises for me was how involved I became with Banderbrock the warrior badger, McTavish the cantankerous barn cat and especially the amiable, slow-witted but fiercely loyal “sheriff” bear, Walden.
After a somewhat slow and confusing beginning, I found myself keenly interested in solving the mystery of exactly where—and why—the friends found themselves. What had they done to deserve the wrath of the malicious “Blue Cutters” who hounded them so relentlessly, and would they ever see their homes again? Thanks to Willingham’s forte as a storyteller, all becomes clear. There seems to actually be a possibility for a sequel. I’d be interested to see—and read–that.
Posted by: Eileen
After a fall season full of innovative and original new fantasies for children comes a fairy tale retelling that is both original AND traditional.
The Princess Curse retells the traditional story The Twelve Dancing Princesses, but with a twist. The first wave of fairy tale retelling novels were pretty straight-forward: merely novel-length retellings of the fairy tale. The second wave contained heroines that were more strong and opinionated, but they often seemed all of a type — just modern women dropped into medieval settings with all their anachronistic ideas intact. The authors took pains to point out that their main characters weren’t “just” princesses, but they never gave us any examples of what else they were.
Reveka, of The Princess Curse, on the other hand, is very clear about who she is and what she wants. She was raised in a convent (while her father, a soldier, was fighting in various wars), and is now an herbalist’s apprentice. What she wants more than anything is to be an herbalist herself and to have her own herbary in a convent. Her needs and desires — and considerable skills! — tie directly into the action of the plot, and is the catalyst for several major revelations in this well-told story.
In addition to a compelling and believeable protagonist, Haskell gives us a very specific setting. The story is set in Sylvania, a fiction region of the real country Romania, and mentions Hungary and Transylvania. Many of the fantasy elements are derived from the Romanian language and folklore, and are worked into the dialogue and description seamlessly.
We all think we know the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, but really: what’s life like in the castle for those who aren’t royalty? How are the countries surrounding their kingdom reacting to the problem? How did the princesses end up in that magical predicament anyway? And who precisely is it that placed them under that enchantment? What does that mysterious person really want, and why? Reveka’s journey through her own story will give readers the answers to all these questions.
Posted by: Sarah
Venice is a magical city, as almost everyone knows. Prosper and Bo know this–their mother always told them so. When their mother dies and their aunt tries to separate them, the two brothers run away from Germany to Venice. They live by their wits until they meet Scipio, a masked boy who claims to be the lord of thieves. He protects the two boys, along with several other orphans, by bringing them the proceeds from his midnight raids.
They should be safe, but Prosper can’t keep from looking over his shoulder for their aunt, and for the child-finding detective she’s hired. And what happens when Scipio is tempted to steal something that might be beyond his abilities? And what could be on those islands out in the lagoon?
Cornelia Funke has created a jewel of a world in what is technically a fantasy, but what is really more like the ordinary world lit with glimmers of the extraordinary. Each of the characters is perfectly drawn and each is consistent in their behavior and believable as a real person. The slow, sunlight-on-the-water atmosphere of Venice notwithstanding, the plot propells one through the story, without ever dropping its hold. What makes these feats even more impressive is that the story was originally written in German, and the delightful setting, plot and characters survived the translation process.
Much thanks to Cornelia Funke and her translator, Oliver Latsch, for releasing this book to readers on both sides of the ocean.
Posted by: Sarah
If you are looking for a scary ghost story with blood thirsty, terrifying ghosts this story is not for you, though you will get a little peek into the after life. This is a rather sweet ghost story. There are some very evil, dangerous, and unlikeable characters in this story, however. One of them is the ugly stepmother who has locked her stepdaughter, Liesl, up in the attic. Another is the wicked alchemist who has taken a lot of the life, beauty and sunshine from the world in order to make a magic potion for the Lady Premiere, also a nasty character. The alchemist has an apprentice whom he uses to run his errands. He is an orphan and his name is Will.
It is actually Will’s mistake which starts the story in motion, he delivers the box of magic to the wrong person. When Liesl runs away, Will follows her and her ghost friends, Po and Bundle, come too. They are also helped by a friendly watchman, Mo, who carries his pet cat in a sling. This is a fun story with lots of action, creepy characters and a satisfying ending.
Posted by: Fran
This story is about the year after Arkansas was forced to integrate their high schools. The Little Rock Nine, nine African-American teens, braved the crowds, the publicity, the hate and the racism to take that first step toward equality in the Little Rock public school system. The author thought that that was what she was going to write about when she went to Little Rock. But when she started talking to people, all they could talk about was the year after the Little Rock Nine, when the governor of the state closed the schools in order to avoid integration.
Marlee is twelve years old and very shy–she only talks to her family. Her older sister has been sent away to highschool because the school in Little Rock is closed. Marlee misses her terribly. Then she meets the new girl, Liz, who says she just moved to Little Rock. Liz singles Marlee out to be her best friend and Liz is everything that Marlee is not. Liz speaks her mind, even with Marlee’s best friend Sally who is really kind of a bully. But Liz is very diplomatic and is able to get around Sally with flattery too. Liz decides that she is going to help Marlee talk and Marlee is amazed to find herself speaking up for the first time in her life. She also finds out that being friends with someone you really like and admire and share interests with can be very good. But then Sally finds out that Liz is actually African American and Liz has to leave school.
Can Marlee and Liz stay friends? How does Marlee feel about integration? Her Dad believes in it. Her mother is afraid of it. Can Marlee make a difference? Can she help reopen the schools so that her sister will come home? And what is going to happen with the older brother of the boy whose math homework she does? He wants to get back at Liz and her family for passing for white and Marlee knows he has dynamite in the trunk of his car! This is a wonderful friendship story, a coming of age story and a scary adventure story too. You may get bogged down a bit when Marlee is helping the Women’s Organization but keep reading. The action is yet to come!
Posted by: Fran
What if your favorite cereal company had more in mind than just making sure you got a tasty breakfast?
Scott (short for, well, you don’t want to know what), who gets migraines and sometimes sees things, sees a rabbit-headed man on the way to school, and finds a leprechaun in a public bathroom. Emily and Enzo (twins who look so little alike that it’s suspicious), who have an incredibly tall, big-footed housekeeper, think that their foster father is acting weird. What do the kids have in common? Their parents work for the Goodco Cereal Factory, a company with ties to nearly everything in town. Is there maybe something a little funny about Goodco? Is there REALLY “a little bit of magic in every box”?
Rex’s new fantasy is hilarious (a delight in a genre that is too often filled with portentious prophecies, grim weather and unsmiling heroes) and engaging. In spite of its (appropriately) epic length, the story moves quickly, and no reader will be tempted to put the book down. The characters, both the realistic and fantastical, are wonderfully drawn, and the back-story incorporates traditional myths and legends in a refreshingly original way.
While Scott, Emily and Enzo’s adventures are not over at the end of the book–a sequel! Hooray!–the volume is wrapped up in a very satisfying manner. In spite of that, I still can’t wait for the next book.
Posted by: Sarah
As far as Deza knows, hers is the only family in Gary, Indiana with their own family motto. The Malone’s like to say that “We are a family on a journey to a place called Wonderful.” The nice thing is, they really are. Their journey though, is rather circuitous with more than their share pitfalls and dead ends.
Unfortunately, the Malone’s live in Depression era Gary, Indiana. The area’s been hit hard by the “economic downturn,” especially, if your skin is brown. Wonderful almost always seems to be just around the bend, out of reach.
However, readers will be left with the feeling that for Deza, her mother, father and her brother, Jimmie, Wonderful is not so much a destination as it is the feeling whenever they are all together. Wonderful is a state of being, not a state.
Christopher Paul Curtis has brought this wonderful family to life in a way that I can’t remember him doing since The Watsons Go To Birmingham. They are characters who care deeply about each other in with and in spite of their frailties which make them all the more appealing to readers. From father’s desperate job hunting and mother’s quiet strength in the face of her ignorant, racist employer to Jimmie’s fierce need to be seen as a teenager rather than a ”little kid” and Deza’s passion to be learning while still being a help to her family, these are people we care about and cheer for. The strong sense of family is missing in so many books these days. Curtis has show, admirably, that even when the prospect looks bleak, real families can and do exist in literature just as they do in life. Kudos, Mr. Curtis.
Posted by: Eileen
Inspired by a true story, Katherine Applegate tells one of the most compelling animal stories I have ever read. Written in short prose from the perspective of Ivan, a silverback gorilla who was poached from his home in Zaire and purchased by mall owner, Mack, as an infant. Ivan starts his life in America living with Mack and his wife, dressed in baby clothes, eating at their kitchen table. But, as Ivan grows, his gorilla behavior makes it increasingly difficult to keep him in their home. Mack purchases the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade and makes his living displaying Ivan for many happy shoppers. He is joined by Stella, a Circus elephant who performs every day and Bob, a feisty stray dog, who sneaks into Ivan’s domain to sleep on his big, warm stomach each night. Ivan accepts his life in his small “domain.” He enjoys television, junk food and visits from Julia, the janitor’s daughter, who teaches him to draw with crayons and paint.
As the years go on, Mack finds it more difficult to keep up the mall. Ivan grows and is not as cute as he once was and people stop coming to the Exit 8 Big Top Mall. Mack can’t pay the bills and care for the animals and the neglect takes its toll on Stella’s health. As a last ditch effort, Mack purchases Ruby, a baby elephant. Ruby’s homesickness and fear makes Ivan long for his wild infancy. And when Stella the elephant dies, Ivan vows to find a better life for Ruby, a life outside of the tiny cages at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall. Ivan knows from watching TV that zoo’s are wonderful places with wide spaces for animals. Bob says “a good zoo is how humans make amends.” Using his painting skills, Ivan creates a billboard sized painting of Ruby living happily in a zoo. With Julia’s help, he gets the billboard posted on the highway for all who drive by to see and eventually, Ruby and Ivan make their way out of the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade and to a new, better life.
Though peppered with sadness, this story is ultimately triumphant for all of the characters. The short, flowing prose would make this book an excellent read aloud for families who can talk about the conservation and animal cruelty issues addressed in this book as they read. Readers will be hard pressed not to fall in love with straight forward and sweet Ivan and all of his animal friends at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall.
Posted by: Kelly
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Kevin Spencer is the most romantic 14-year- old guy you will ever meet – or so he would like to have us believe. He has a crush on Tina Zabinski who, in Kevin’s eyes, is the most beautiful girl in the world. He just knows he would make a perfect boyfriend. He realizes that he must swing into immediate action when the new boy in school, Cash, starts showing attention to Tina.
Since romance is based on chemistry, Kevin decides that he must gather information on love and romance by creating a variety of experiments. Some of his experiments are successful and others not so much. He feels that his experiments have him on the right tract to understanding girls and thus becoming the best of the best when it comes to being a boyfriend.
The problem is Kevin tries too hard. His experiments don’t really help him figure how girls think. Nor do they give him the nerve to ask Tina out. Is this romance doomed before it even begins? I suggest you read this clever and funny book to find out.
Other books about Kevin Spencer are Flat Broke and Liar, Liar.
Posted by: Wendy