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Results 1 - 25 of 33
1. Batter Up…Baseball Is Here!

Knuckleball Ned

By R. A. Dickey with Michael Karounos; illustrated by Tim Bowers

 

Ah, the opening of the 2014 Major League Baseball season has officially begun on March 30th. The crack of the bat, fielders sliding to catch fly balls to avoid errors and precise pitchers throwing in a series of multiple configurations of style are all bent on confounding opposition batters for a new season. And the games can be viewed on TV or live, while played on lush green fields from now until October.

If you have a young one who is a Little Leaguer or just revels in the all American game of baseball, R. A. Dickey, the starting pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays and the first “knuckleball pitcher” to win the famous and coveted Cy Young Award has put his new picture book squarely in the strike zone.

Meet Dickey’s “Knuckleball Ned” on his first day of school, uncertain as to where he fits in. He doesn’t want to “strike out” with his classmate, that’s for sure! But just where and how can Ned fit in? He is unlike anyone else with his “wiggling wobbling ways” that are unlike anyone else and is dubbed “Knucklehead Ned” Awww. He wants to belong, but darn it, he’s quite unlike Sammy the Softball, Connie Curveball, or Fiona and Fletcher Fastball or any of his other friends.

His mom’s advice to “Just be yourself” at the same time that the local bullies, aptly called the “Foul Ball Gang”, begin making life difficult for Ned. They make fun of his every move and mom’s advice is getting pretty hard to remember. Mom DOES know best. Trust me, Ned!

How can he get in the strike zone and silence this laughing, backslapping bunch?

When Connie Curveball’s shoes wind up wound around a tree branch, can the prowess and talents of the others come to the rescue? Nope! But Ned’s non-spinning ball can and does. AND it teaches the Foul Ball Gang who he is AND just what he does best.

I loved meeting the teacher named Miss Pitch, natch, who opens up classroom discussion on what each ball in her class does in his or her spare time. Just that part of the picture book alone was a primer on pitching change up styles and all done in a way highly relatable to small kids.

But the greater message that Mr. Dickey wisely imparts in this readable baseball picture book is the advice he imparts to his own four children in the dedication to Knuckleball Ned:

 

May you always celebrate what makes you unique.

 

So, as the umps say, “Play ball!” – with Knuckleball Ned!

 

 

     

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2. Set Aside Back-to-School Fears with Froggy!

Froggy Goes to School

By Jonathan London; illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz

 

 

For those of the Baby Boomer generation, there was a jingle on the radio that signaled the end of all things summer. It presaged school, schedules, earlier bedtimes and butterflies in the tummy time, as all manner of imaginings emerged before the first day of school. The jingle was sponsored by a clothing store long since defunct, having gone the way of chain stores such as E.J. Korvettes and Alexanders. It’s still on YouTube.  The popular, but ominous jingle went:

 

School bells ring and children sing,

IT’S BACK TO ROBERT HALL AGAIN!

Mother knows for better clothes,

IT’S BACK TO ROBERT HALL AGAIN!

You’ll save more on clothes for school,

SHOP AT ROBERT HALL!

 

To quote the anvil salesman from “The Music Man”, “Not on your life, girly, girl!” We did not shop at Robert Hall because as do many public and private school students of today, we wore a UNIFORM – that great leveler of individuality and competition in school attire. Come to think of it, does the antsy amphibian, Froggy, wear a uniform to school?

Find out from that famous frog, as he is a GREAT go to read aloud for parents and kids facing their very first day of school or their 3rd!

Can you parents remember sometimes having had dreams preceding the first day of school about being late via missed buses because of alarm clocks that don’t ring? Froggy’s nightmare is a bit more extreme. Though awakening late, he does make the bus, BUT forgets to don school clothes of ANY KIND save undies!! Thank goodness, he wakes up to his father’s bright “Rise and shine,” (my dear mom used the SAME line), to discover his worst fears were a DREAM.

Young readers can fully identify with the green goggle-eyed young frog that is an easy stand in for them and their concerns. Froggy shares them and lives them – first.

Kids will feel a calm settling over their pre-school nervousness as Froggy joins in the school days activities with relish, getting some things right, like his name printed on the desk, while other skills need a bit more work such as paying attention, speaking softly and not falling out of his seat!

Young back-to-schoolers who find themselves drawing comparisons to Froggy, will find similarities and a few relieved, “Hey, I never did that!”

The youngsters are having a fine time with their teacher, Miss Witherspoon, sharing their summer adventures, when Mr. Mugwort, the Croc enters with a glare on his face just as Froggy is singing the song he learned when he was taught to swim. Is Froggy in trouble on his very FIRST day? No way! Mr. Mugwort is a singer of songs too!

Please join Froggy and your young reader in allaying all fears about the first day of school. If Froggy and family can happily navigate the return to school, so can you and your young scholars!

                                    

 

                                                     

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3. Because of Mr. Terupt: Rob Buyea

Book: Because of Mr. Terupt
Author: Rob Buyea
Pages: 288
Age Range: 9-12 

Because of Mr. Terupt is a book that's been on my shelf for quite a while. I picked it up yesterday when I had a whim for realistic middle grade fiction. Because of Mr. Terupt is about the positive impact of a first-time teacher on seven students from his fifth grade classroom in small-town Connecticut. Foreshadowing (and a blurb by John Irving on the cover) suggests that an accident will occur at some point, lending a larger plot arc to a story that otherwise consists of a tapestry of small classroom incidents.

Short chapters rotate between the perspectives of the seven students (there are others in the classroom, but they are not primary characters). The book is divided into sections by month, starting in September, and going through the full school year. Many of the chapters are quite short, helping to make Because of Mr. Terupt a quick read. 

The different viewpoints, while initially a bit daunting, are well-executed. By the end of the book, I scarcely had to look at the chapter titles to see who each narrator was. One girl writes her chapters like plays ("Act 1, Scene 1", etc.), which helps. The publisher also uses different fonts for each student's name in the chapter titles. The fonts are reflective of the students' personalities, and provide a quick visual cue for readers.

The characters represent different classroom archetypes (alpha mean girl, jokester/bully, math geek, angry boy, smart new girl, overweight pushover, and invisible girl). But there's more to each of them than that. Buyea does a masterful job in developing all seven in such a short book. Mr. Terupt, on the other hand, is a bit of an enigma. He is only revealed through his impact on the students, and the things that they observe about him.

Because of Mr. Terupt reminded me a bit of R.J. Palacio's Wonder, taking on classroom dynamics and interactions. Because of Mr. Terupt is a bit more broad, however, looking at bullying, various troubles at home, social stigmas, and tween girl drama. As an adult reader, I found some of the solutions to come a tad easily, but not grievously so. And I think that kids will find the problems true to life and the solutions satisfying.

Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a feel for the book:

""Mr. T, can we invite James and his friends to our party?"

Everyone was quiet and looked at me. Then Jessica said, "That's a great idea." And the rest of the class agreed. Mr. T had a smile stretched across his face. He just nodded. And I thought I saw him wipe at his eyes. I don't know why he did that, though." (Page 78, Peter) 

And:

""You jerk," I said, without any real authority. Truth is, I didn't really care. It wasn't worth getting upset over. Besides, I'm sort of used to Peter's antics. I thought they were always harmless... Maybe I don't get upset with Peter because I know I'll always outwit him. That drives him nuts, and I love it." (Page 85, Luke)

Of course it's hard to give a complete feel without quoting all seven students, since their voices are fairly different from one another. But those were two representative passages. Rob Buyea taught third and fourth graders for six years before writing this book, and his understanding of kids comes through, I think. 

Because of Mr. Terupt exactly fit the bill for what I was looking for. It's realistic fiction, full of mostly small classroom and personal challenges, but with a higher-stakes crisis to lend suspense. Because there are so many viewpoint characters, most kids (boys and girls) will be able to find some narrator to relate to. I would think that teachers and other adult role models would enjoy it, too. Certainly a must-purchase for elementary school libraries, and a recommended read for anyone who enjoys school stories. I anticipate reading the sequel, Mr. Terupt Falls Again, soon. 

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: October 12, 2010
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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4. Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett (Brett Helquist, illustrator)

If you like The Westing Game, you’re sure to like Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett and illustrated by Brett Helquist (illustrator of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events).   The book jacket says Chasing Vermeer “is a puzzle, wrapped in a mystery, disguised as an adventure, and delivered as a work of art.” A famous painting by Jan Vermeer known as A Woman Writing has disappeared and its mysterious thief has threatened to destroy it. Sixth-graders Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay start out as classmates but soon become friends and fellow sleuths as they boldly venture to follow a trail of clues and track down the missing painting.  Using their wits and intuition, they solve the puzzle of the painting’s disappearance and its mysterious thief  . Chasing Vermeer reminds me a bit of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Petra finds an old used book called Lo! that tells of coincidences throughout time.  As Petra thinks, “Why wasn’t more time . . .  spent studying things that were unknown or not understood .  . . ?  . . . To try to piece together a meaning behind events that didn’t seem to fit?” Perhaps there are no coincidences–perhaps life is really full of patterns and cosmic synchronicity.  Petra dreams of [...]

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5. What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen






Mclean moves often with her dad, going to where he is assigned to resuscitate restaurants in trouble: "Restaurant Impossible" assignments. Mclean decides to be a new person for each move. But now her real self and name have bubbled to the surface. It all begins and ends with Dave. He yanks her into a hiding place during a chase. She repays the favor by ricocheting a basketball onto his head. There are a bevy of memorable characters. Deb commandeers a public service project that the distressed restaurant manager, Opal, has been suckered into assembling. Everyone of Dave's buds get involved. Dave's FBFs welcome Mclean and the oddball Deb into their circle. Jason, the cook, is Harvard educated. Tiffany, wait staff, is trouble and contributes some zingers. I loved the "ensemble casting." But part of that cast is Mclean's mother who insists on visitations with Mclean. Mclean resent her mother leaving her dad and refuses to go with her. But the money and lawyers of her new step-father might be more than Mclean can handle. Can Mclean and her family be fixed?

ENDERS' Rating: ****

Sarah Dessen's Website

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6. Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris





Katie Grable, type A team manager/first aid helper/straight arrow, discovers that the coach has a stash of unlabeled containers of "vitamins" that he is injecting into some of his players. Well, they are bottom of the league heap, and coach thinks he has to try something. Katie is ready to gallop in on her white horse to expose the STEROID scandal, but then one of the players bites her lip off at a party and chews it up. Ewwwww! Mike was always an animal, but this is a new low. What was in those syringes? How will Katie solve this impending disaster?

I have one tiny question. What do football coaches and their star gridiron beasts think of this hilarious book?


Entertaining story, great cover, and welcomed new author! This is going to be a hit at my HS.

ENDERS' Rating: *****

Carrie's Zombified Blog

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7. Pamela G.M, by Florence Gunby Hadath

That's The Way It Was Wednesday

On the occasional Wednesday, I review a book written during World War II. It was a time when no one knew what was going to happen from moment to moment, so they offer a very different perspective on the war.

Dustjacket image courtsey of
Lasting Words Ltd.
Northampton, UK
I was really in the mood for a 'jolly' school story, so I pulled Pamela G.M. off the shelf and reread it. It was published in 1941 and is the fourth book on Hadath’s Pamela series, but the only one I have read and, as far as I know, the only one set during the war.

The story opens sometime after the war has begun, but Miss Grammett’s boarding school for girls’ in the village of Chinbury, England is going to carry on as usual and resist evacuation.

The school has been given a mobile canteen, to be used for driving around to where troops are located and selling them cups of tea and biscuits, along with other necessary items like soap, shoelaces and razor blades. It was assumed that Miss Grammett’s husband would drive the canteen, but he has no interest in doing it. Pamela, a student who has already learned to drive, manages to finagle the necessary documentation allowing her to drive the canteen, even though she is underage.

But this is not just Pamela’s story, and the book skips around and tells of the adventures of different students, which are separate but still connected to each other. Each schoolgirl is given a job to help the war effort and Fanny Gates is made the treasurer of the War Savings Fund. Her job is to collect money from the people for the fund, and her trials of getting money from the other girls are recounted in one chapter. In another chapter, a student is sent to deliver a message to chair of the Chinbury Food Week campaign and manages to capture a German spy. Later, one of the younger students inadvertently ends up taking an airplane ride with a famous woman flyer modeled somewhat on Amy Johnson. Other girls are assigned to do knitting or land work for a neighboring farmer.

All of these chapters are quite humorous and entertaining except for the last one, which is quite serious. Pamela, along with her partner Martha Tydd, are driving around the countryside in their mobile canteen, trying to find out where the soldiers have been relocated, when they hear the sound of airplanes. Soon, they see bombs being dropped on the small village of Combe Edge. As they drive into the village, they see some shops burning and a badly injured woman being carried out to the street. Pamela hears the docto

5 Comments on Pamela G.M, by Florence Gunby Hadath, last added: 9/3/2011
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8. 4. I Know This Kid

Four stories kids can relate to no matter what school or century they're in.
Two are by a master of school stories, one is by a newcomer who writes like she's written them for years and another is from an acclaimed writer-illustrator team.
Troublemaker, by Andrew Clements, Atheneum, $16.99, ages 8-12, 160 pages, 2011. Clayton Hensley thinks the more trouble he gets into at school, the prouder his older brother Mitchell will be. After all, Mitchell was a big problem when he was in school and now he's even gone to jail (for mouthing off at judge). Clayton's sure his own latest infraction at school, drawing a picture of the principal as a jackass, will tickle Mitchell to no end. After all, it's as fearless as anything Mitchell ever did in school and it's clever too. But when Mitchell returns home after serving time, he doesn't sound like himself. Jail was scary, he says; he's done messing up and he's not going to let Clayton ruin his life either. He tells Clayton it's time to do things the smart way; he's even got a plan to do just that. But first Clayton's going to have to trust Mitchell. And by trust, that means change in ways Clayton never imagined. But can he? Will acting "goody-goody" be too much for Clayton? Will he be happy not goofing off? Clements has an amazing ability to make readers want to root for any character, no matter how wrongly they behave or how mean they act. From page 1, readers are drawn to Clayton, despite his smart-alecky disdain for others. And as he embarks on Mitchell's plan to reform his behavior, they cheer him on and even stand by him when he lapses. This is a book every principal should have stacked up in the office to hand out to kids who've lost their way. A joy to read, it's an empowering book for troubled kids, and eye-opening one for anyone who knows who they are but doesn't really know them.

Fear Itself (Book 2, Benjamin Pratt & the Keepers School), by Andrew Clements, illustrated by Adam Stower, Atheneum, $14.99, ages 7-10, 240 pages, 2011. Benjamin Pratt and his friend Jill have just 24 days to stop a developer from ripping down their old seaside school to make way for a theme park. But with Jill getting discouraged about how to stop it and a new shifty-eyed janitor watching their every move, what chance do they have? After all, they are just kids. Well, be that as it may be, Ben isn't about to give up. He's a

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9. A Separate Peace by John Knowles

I haven’t read this small novel since I was in the 10th grade, so it was interesting to reread it now, with oh so many more years of experience behind me, much like the narrator, Gene Forrester.


Gene has returned to his private prep school, The Devon School, 15 years after graduation and begins to recall his friendship with his roommate, Finny, beginning in the summer of 1942. On the surface, they present a facade of being best friends, getting along so well, no one would suspect anything could ever be wrong. Yet, they couldn’t have been more different. Gene is quiet, serious, intellectual, and not terribly athletic. Finny is boisterous, impulsive, not a good student, but a great athlete. Finny believes that people are innately good; Gene believes people have ulterior motives. That summer, their differences cause cracks in their facade of friendship.

At school for an unprecedented summer term, due to the war, all school rules seem to fall by the wayside. One afternoon, after jumping out of a tree into the Devon River, Finny pushes the unwilling Gene into doing it also. The jumping becomes a ritual of the summer for Finny, Gene and a few other friends. But when Finny forms the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session with nightly mandatory meetings, Gene begins to suspect that Finny’s motives are to take him away from his studies and he begins to resent his roommate.

Gene and Finny continue in this pattern behavior, with Finny proving his athletic ability and pulling Gene away from his studies, and Gene always giving in to Finny's demands and resenting it. Even after Gene explains that he is aiming to be the best student of their year, Finny still manages to persuade him to come to the river for the ritual jump. This time, though, Finny wants them to jump together. Out on the tree limb, Gene bounces it ever so slightly, but enough to cause Finny to fall and shatter his leg on the river bank.

Gene’s feelings of guilt cause him to confess to Finny that the fall was his fault, but Finny refuses to believe him. It is only later that Finny does become convinced of Gene’s culpability and the idea that this is so proves to be too much for him.

The underlying theme of war is present throughout this novel, but the main theme is the idea of a separate peace, a peace that is made separate and apart from the world at large. Devon provides it by keeping the war at bay, out of the lives of the students, despite on campus training of senior for combat. Finny’s separate peace is the state of denial he lives in, refusing to admit that the world can be full of hostility. Gene’s is more complicated, but he too makes a separate peace. The question is with whom- Finny or himself?

Knowles wrote A Separate Peace in 1959 and it didn’t take long for it to find its way on to high school and college reading lists. It is, after all, a classic coming of age story that stills stands up in today’s world.  But it is also a challenged novel. In 1980, the Vernon-Verona-Sherill, NY School District deemed it a "filthy, trashy sex novel." In 1985, the Fannett-Metal High School in Shippensburg, PA challenged it because of its allegedly offensive language. In 1989, the Shelby County, TN school system thought it was inappropriate for high school reading lists because the novel contains "offensive language." In 1991, A Separate Peace was challenged, but retained in the Champaign, IL high school English classes despite claims that “unsuitable language” makes it inappropr

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10. My Life Undecided by Jessica Brody



Brooklyn seems destined to make bad choices. Not only did chasing a lizard into a hole garner nationwide coverage of her rescue, a great party and bad cooking torched her mother’s model home that used to be for sale. Grounded until she is “forty,” she decides to turn over her decision making to anyone following her new blog called “MyLifeDecided.com.” One decision she does not have to make is fulfilling the 200 hours of community service with ancient, grouchy Mrs. Moody who is obsessed about “Choose Your Own Adventure” style of stories. Brooklyn likes the new southern guy, but when she blogs and asks for a vote of YES for a date with him, the blog followers tell her NO. Then her math teacher insists that she advance to a more difficult math class. The followers vote yes on that crazy idea also. Brooklyn's parents are ecstatic about her sensible choice. Brooklyn, not so much!

ENDERS' Rating: ******

Jessica Brody's Website

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11. The Other Half

by Diana Wynne Jones

This is not about my own school. I prefer to forget that. This is about how a large part of the job description when you write for children is the remorseless visiting of schools. When I was young and strong, I was required to do this almost once a week. Half of the time, the visit was entirely rewarding: the children, as always, were lovely; the staff, enthusiastic; and I could find the school entrance. Even when I lost my way (or, on one memorable occasion, when a silly old man jumped off the moving train and someone had to pull the emergency cord) and I arrived late, this kind of visit was always wonderful. On the occasion of the man jumping off the train, one of the boys actually gave me the idea for my book Howl’s Moving Castle.

These visits kept me going for the other half of the time, in which there was never any problem with the children, but the adults behaved atrociously. At the very least, the Headmaster would rush at me as I arrived, wring my hand in a crunching grip, and say, “I haven’t read any of your books, of course.” I was always too busy shaking my right hand and wondering when I’d recover the use of it to ask the obvious questions: “Why haven’t you? And why of course?” Headmistresses were less predictable. Here the common factor was that they regarded me as an intrusive nuisance and were liable to have arranged for the whole school to do something else. I would arrive at the school at the stated hour, having allowed time to hunt around the buildings for the way in, to be met by the School Secretary saying, “The Headmistress has them all in Maypole Dancing practice. Do you mind waiting an hour and a half?” It often took strong resolution not to simply turn around and go away.

The visit which caused me eventually to decide not to visit schools anymore was arranged as part of a citywide book festival. All schools in the city were supposed to participate. I was escorted to this particular school by two nice but nervous librarians in a small old car. As we chugged up the forecourt to the dark and forbidding school buildings, an obvious School Secretary came rushing toward us, holding out one hand to stop us. We stopped. “No Supply Teachers today,” she shouted. “We don’t need any extra staff. Go away!” Somewhat shaken by this welcome, we explained that we were not in fact spare teachers but an Author Visit arranged by the city. “Oh, then come in if you must,” she replied, “but the Deputy Head won’t be pleased.” The said Deputy Head, whom we encountered at the entrance, seemingly standing by to repel visitors, was indeed not pleased. She told us brusquely that we had better get ourselves to Room Eleven then. After some hunting about, we found this room. It was large, anemically lit, and full of empty desks. Scattered about at the desks were seven or so depressed-looking girls and boys. The skinny, angry-looking teacher in charge said to us, “The rest of the class have gone to a Latin lesson. You wouldn’t want them to miss their Latin, would you?” I suppressed a desire to tell him that, yes, I thought they might miss their Latin just this once, because the librarians by now both looked as if they might cry. Instead I sat where the man told me to and started to get on terms with the remaining children. After six or so minutes, we were beginning to loosen up and enjoy ourselves and the kids were starting to ask questions when the door burst open and the Deputy Head reappeared, energetically ringing a large brass bell. “Everybody out!” she shouted. “Children, go home. The rest of you go away. We’re on strike from this moment on!”

There was nothing to do but go. The librarians and I went and had coffee and stared at one another limply. Schools, I thought, would be fine if it wasn’t for the adults running them.

Diana Wynne Jones’s latest book is The House of Many Ways (Greenwillow).

From the September/October 2008 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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12. Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett (Brett Helquist, illustrator)

If you like The Westing Game, you’re sure to like Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett and illustrated by Brett Helquist (illustrator of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events).   The book jacket says Chasing Vermeer “is a puzzle, wrapped in a mystery, disguised as an adventure, and delivered as a work of art.” A famous painting by Jan Vermeer known as A Woman Writing has disappeared and its mysterious thief has threatened to destroy it. Sixth-graders Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay start out as classmates but soon become friends and fellow sleuths as they boldly venture to follow a trail of clues and track down the missing painting.  Using their wits and intuition, they solve the puzzle of the painting’s disappearance and its mysterious thief  . Chasing Vermeer reminds me a bit of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Petra finds an old used book called Lo! that tells of coincidences throughout time.  As Petra thinks, “Why wasn’t more time . . .  spent studying things that were unknown or not understood .  . . ?  . . . To try to piece together a meaning behind events that didn’t seem to fit?” Perhaps there are no coincidences–perhaps life is really full of patterns and cosmic synchronicity.  Petra dreams of [...]

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13. Same Difference by Siobhan Vivian



This book, like Beautiful Americans, Sophomore Switch, and Vidalia in Paris presents a view of what a change in venue does for a teenager. Most involve summer school experiences.

Emily, a talented artist and member of the “in” (and boring) crowd at a typical suburban high school, is given an opportunity to attend an artist summer school in Philadelphia. I must admit that Philly is now a travel destination for me, as Vivian drew an attractive picture of the city. Emily is hesitant about going, doubting her artistic abilities, but realizes that her best friend is increasingly absorbed by a new romance. So she joins bizarre Fiona and other art types and traipses through the city’s art scene. And what about that student assistant???

ENDERS Rating: a good read

Siobhan Vivian's Website

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14. Back to School: Book Lists, Book Reviews, & Other Resources

Book Lists

Previous Posts at Wild Rose Reader

Other Resources


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15. Nikki & Deja: The Newsy News Newsletter


Nikki and Deja: The Newsy News Newsletter by Karen English. Illustrated by Laura Freeman. Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing. January 2010. Reviewed from ARC.

The Plot: Nikki and Deja decide to start a neighborhood newsletter. Problem is, what types of things can two third graders report on? Especially when they may not know the whole story?

The Good: Nikki, Deja, and their classmates are typical kids, in dialogue, characterization, classroom antics, and as portrayed in the realistic illustrations throughout the book.

Children will readily identify with the school dynamics and recognize themselves and their classmates in the too zealous lunchroom monitor, the teasing notes despite the teacher's instructions to treat one another with respect, the gray line between not having permission but not being told not to do something.

While Nikki and Deja do learn a lesson about their newsletter (not to jump to conclusions and to really investigate something), everything is not tidely resolved.

A great fit for children who are beginning to read chapter books: illustrations, short chapters, realistic stories, familiar friends and surroundings.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.


© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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16. Immortal by Gillian Shields




When is a old Gothic mansion not spooky?

Evie senses that immediately when her soldier father enrolls her in the prestigious, expensive, eerie Wyldcliff School for Young Ladies as he reports overseas. With her mother dead and her grandmother elderly and ill, this is his only option to care for his daughter. So Evie begins school after the school year has begun, and enters as a scholarship student, aka, a student needing financial help: two-fisted ostracizing. On her way to the school, which the taxi driver insists in evil and will not drive her all the way, she trudges into a Gothic-ly handsome, black-haired young man who is instantly smitten by her. She knows the women teachers are up to something at the school. The young man insists on nighttime meetings and he wanes from healthy to puny. The other scholarship students seems crazy. Evie discovers startling facts in old portraits and books and diaries. Danger creeps closer and closer as she uncovers powerful secrets. The book is hard to put down, and though British, American readers will relish it.

A sequel is coming in which Evie has to make a life or death choice.

ENDERS' Rating: ***

Gillian Shields' Info on HC Website

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17. FAT CAT by Robin Brande




I have had a streak of excellent reads the last few months! Only one book I reviewed did not make this recommend blog. Maybe that supports my theory that the best writers are writing for YAs.

Robin's first book, Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature, was a 2008 BBYA book, and FAT CAT is on the fast track to be a winner for next year. Catherine, Cat, is a brilliant teenager with a knack for scientific inquiry, which is put to the ultimate test during a yearlong science project to be judged at a high school level fair in the spring. Through the luck of the draw, Cat draws a picture from which she uses herself as the primary scientific experiment and observation. This project is anything but ho-hum. Amanda, Cat's best friend, is beside her all the way. I want Amanda for my best friend. Along the way, Cat discovers that she has become a "guy magnet" and has a crash course in repelling guys. Cat has to face a four-year hurt by her former best friend, Matt. She cooks her way into the hearts of all around her. But does she win the competition? Does Cat understand what has happened to her?

I liked Cat; her focus, her commitment to herself. And what does her story come wrapped in: a funny, well-paced story that YAs will love reading.

ENDERS' Rating: *****

Robin Brande's Website (I suggest following her website if you are a writer).

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18. Imaginary Friends: Lissy’s Friends by Grace Lin

What do you do if you’re the new girl at school and no one smiles at you or talks to you or sits by you at lunch?  Well, if you’re Lissy, you make a friend.  You make an origami crane to be your new friend at your new school.

Author/illustrator Grace Lin uses wonderfully vibrant patterns and colors to tell the story Lissy’s Friends (Viking 2007).  As the new girl, Lissy hasn’t made friends yet, so she makes a paper crane to be her friend. 

After school Lissy’s mother asks her, “Did you make any friends in school today?”  She answers, “Well . . . I did make one friend.” 

Lissy makes herself more and more origami animals.  Soon she has a whole flock of origami friends.  And these paper friends keep her company and help her . . . until she can make people friends of her own.

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19. The Legendary Amber Brown

In many a SCBWI conference, I have heard the name of Amber Brown, one of those unforgettable characters.  Likewise her creator, author Paula Danziger, who from what I can tell, was quite a character herself.  Paula Danziger has written over thirty books, several about divorce.  Amber Brown is Feeling Blue (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1998; this edition illustrated by Tony Ross) is one of these.

Amber is what you’d call a character. She’s got what you’d call personality.  She paints the dog’s toenails.  She puts candy corns on pizza:  “It’s a new reciple.  Try it.”  She loves her name Amber Brown (although she used to hate it because it’s also the shade of a crayon):  “It’s a very colorful name for a very colorful person.” 

But Amber’s also got a problem.  Where should she spend Thanksgiving? Her parents are divorced. Amber lives with her mom who will soon be marrying Max.  Mom and Max want Amber to go to Walla Walla, Washington to visit Max’s sister for Thanksgiving.   Amber’s dad lives in Paris, but he is moving back to New York.  He want Amber to spend Thanksgiving with him.  The grownups tell Amber, “. . . whatever you want to do, we’ll go along with it.”  And Amber thinks, “Why do I have to make the decision?”  

Amber thinks, ”I wonder if there is a kind of a dream that is worse than a nightmare.   Because that’s what I’m having right now.  If I go to Walla Walla with Mom and Max, Dad’s going to be unhappy.  If I stay here wth Dad, Mom and Max are going to be unhappy.  Either way, I lose.  Either way, one of my parents loses. At least, one of them wins.  But no matter what, Im going to be the loser.”

All this serious talk is mixed in with a lot of day-to-day fourth grade stuff–Halloween, new kids at school, book reports–and it doesn’t come across heavy-handed.     The book is honest about the emotions of divorce.  Amber thinks about the way things used to be.  When mom and dad were married.  When mom and dad got along.  And she wishes things could be the way they used to be.  But she has positives as well.  She likes Max, Mom’s new boyfriend. And she likes her new babysitter.  And she likes having two houses to stay in.

In the end Amber says, “I have to make the choice because I have no choice.  Sometimes life is confusing.  Sometimes it’s not easy.  This is one of those times when it’s both . . .  confusing and not easy.”  Amber Brown is Feeling Blue takes readers on that amazing roller coaster ride known as growing up, complete with all its ups and downs.

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20. Center Field by Robert Lipsyte





Mike is a center fielder. He lives by the example and motivational messages of a great major league center fielder. But between a bum ankle, a new Latino player, and his irritating yet popular girl friend, things are not going smoothly. Then abrasive, sexy, brainy Katherine Herold enters his life and she creates an amazing major league opportunity for Mike. An irritating weasel of a nerd causes Mike to overreact in the hall, and he ends up being a double-agent, sorta, for the nerds versus his coach that he adores! If that is not enough, a controversy arises over the new player’s nationality and age. His family becomes part of the intrigue. If it sounds convoluted, it is not. Wow! What Lipsyte novel is NOT good???

ENDERS' Rating: ****

Robert's Website

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21. So Many Boys by Suzanne Young




In this episode of “The Naughty List” novels, Tessa has given up her skirt in the Smitten Kittens cheer squad and her nocturnal sleuthing of cheating boyfriends. In fact, SOS has been disbanded. Her hands are full with trying to have a relationship with her college freshman boyfriend, Aiden. Then someone hijacks the SOS files and takes on cases, for hire and for revenge. Tessa misses her cheering days, and the squad leadership decides she can come back if she dates sweet, popular Jake Townsend. But Aiden’s actions are complicating things. An old enemy is moving in. The Kittens are not so peppy any more. Another boy, besides Jake, is showing interest. What ever will Tessa do? Entertaining, humorous and soapy. Next: A Good Boy is Hard to Find.


ENDERS' Rating: ***
Suzanne's Blog

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22. Back Home by Michelle Magorian

Michelle Magorian is probably best known for her excellent book Goodnight, Mr. Tom, but she also wrote several other World War II novels for adolescent readers. One of those other books is Back Home.

It begins in the summer of 1945. The war is over and 12 year old Virginia Dickinson is returning to England. Virginia had been a scared, timid 7 year old when she was evacuated to an American family in Connecticut. Five years have passed and she is confident 12 year old who now goes by the name Rusty, the nickname her American family gave her because of her red hair. Rusty isn’t very happy about her return. She barely knows her own mother, who is now a talented mechanic with the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS.) She has a four year old brother Charlie that she has never met and who dislikes Rusty from the beginning. And, she has acquired an American accent, which is greeted with disdain and she is constantly told that she must lose it.

Rusty is temporarily taken to Devon, where her mother and brother have been living with an elderly woman named Beatie. There she meets Beth Hatherly, a girl whose own family seems to resemble the rather bohemian American family Rusty stayed with. She is just beginning to enjoy herself in Devon, when she, her mother and brother move back to her grandmother’s house in London. For Rusty, the move is again temporary, she has been enrolled in a girls’ boarding school, Benwood House, in part to become re-anglicized and hopefully to help her lose her accent.

Rusty’s paternal grandmother is strict, critical and condescending. She intensely dislikes Rusty’s accent, her confidence and her behavior. She also feels Charlie is too coddled by her daughter-in-law and needs to learn to behave like a big boy.

But, if living in her grandmother’s felt like hell on earth, boarding school is worse. Benwood House is definitely not the Chalet School. It is cold, unfriendly, condescending and highly critical of Rusty’s American experience and, of course, the ‘despicable’ accent. Everything Rusty does seems to result in a mark against her and her house, which has the unfortunate name Butt House.

One day, on a trip into town, Rusty overhears some boys calling one member of their group Yank, and she begins talking to him, not realizing that speaking to boys is against the rules. For this infraction, Rusty receives a discipline mark and is called up in front of the whole school and publicly humiliated. The next day she receives the sad news that Beatie has died. Feeling sad and alone, that night, Rusty discovers that she can climb down some scaffolding outside her window, and escape into the woods surrounding the school, feeling free for the first time since arriving in England. She manages to get a note to Yank on her next visit to town, telling him where and when to meet her that night.

The boy, Lance, shows up and they continue to meet at night, exploring and talking. Eventually, they find a bombed out house and Rusty begins to decorate it with the carpentry, painting and stenciling skills she learned in the US. Gradually, however, Lance begins to be accepted by the boys in his school, while things only get worse for Rusty, especially after her father returns home from the army.

It is clear that Rusty’s parents have grown apart during the five years of war. Her mother has become quite independent and refuses to give that up even though she is expected to by bot

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23. THE KNIFE THAT KILLED ME by anthony mcgowan





Catholic schools have not been the scene of such violence since Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War.

Paul Varderman, an everyman high school student, just tries to keep it together as he navigates through bullies, girls and strange teachers at his private school. But this school is home to its own frightening sociopath. Roth, big, neanderthal, strong and brilliant thrives on the groveling and simpering of fellow students. Roth threatens Paul if he does not become a delivery boy to a rival at the neighboring school. That terrifying encounter is the unraveling of the lives of bullies and "the freaks." This is an unforgettable story that you and your friends can talk about for days.

ENDERS' Rating: ****

Anthony's Website

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24. Hilarious Middle Grade – The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleburger

Who is the sage of the universe?  Who can you go to for wisdom when all around you is confusion?  Who can you trust?  Yoda, of course.  Tommy knows it, and his fellow sixth graders know it.  Maybe Yoda appears as an origami puppet on the finger of uber-nerd Dwight, maybe Yoda talks in a [...]

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25. Seven Kinds of Ordinary Catastrophes by Amber Kizer



Gert Garibaldi looks at her world with its catastrophes and calls it like it is. this bright, unabashed teen picks through the mine field of high school, boys and home while making uncensored commentaries about the people in her life. Her first boyfriend is the poster child for "What you don't want in a boyfriend." If you like gutsy, Gert is your girl! The first book about her: One Butt Cheek at a Time.


ENDERS' Rating: *****
Amber's Website

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