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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Middle Grade Novel, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 110
1. Next Year's Readers: TBR Focus on Diverse Characters

I always thought I was doing an adequate job building a diverse classroom library. Then A Fine Dessert and A Birthday Cake for George Washington happened. Franki and I started having conversations with each other and with teachers around our district about the importance of building more diverse classroom libraries -- libraries with books that can serve as mirrors where students can see themselves, and libraries with books that can serve as windows, giving students an accurate look at others' lives. As I browsed through the chapter books in my classroom library in preparation for a PD I was co-leading in my building on this topic, I was dismayed by the lack of diversity. To quote Maya Angelou, "Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better." 

Next week I'm going to lead my class in audit of my classroom library, both for gender bias and for racial bias. I was inspired by this post. I think the conversations will be incredibly powerful.

In the meantime, here is one book that's sitting at the top of my #summerbookaday TBR pile and two others that I have pre-odered on Amazon. 

Save Me a Seat
by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan
Scholastic, May 2016

"Joe and Ravi might be from very different places, but they're both stuck in the same place: SCHOOL. 

Joe's lived in the same town all his life, and was doing just fine until his best friends moved away and left him on his own. 

Ravi's family just moved to America from India, and he's finding it pretty hard to figure out where he fits in. 

Joe and Ravi don't think they have anything in common -- but soon enough they have a common enemy (the biggest bully in their class) and a common mission: to take control of their lives over the course of a single crazy week."

by Grace Lin
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (October 4, 2016)

"Pinmei's gentle, loving grandmother always has the most exciting tales for her granddaughter and the other villagers. However, the peace is shattered one night when soldiers of the Emperor arrive and kidnap the storyteller.

Everyone knows that the Emperor wants something called the Luminous Stone That Lights the Night. Determined to have her grandmother returned, Pinmei embarks on a journey to find the Luminous Stone alongside her friend Yishan, a mysterious boy who seems to have his own secrets to hide. Together, the two must face obstacles usually found only in legends to find the Luminous Stone and save Pinmei's grandmother--before it's too late.

A fast-paced adventure that is extraordinarily written and beautifully illustrated, When the Sea Turned to Silver is a masterpiece companion novel to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky."

by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Atheneum Books for Young Readers (June 28, 2016)

"From the critically acclaimed author of Anything But Typical comes a touching look at the days leading up to the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and how that day impacted the lives of four middle schoolers.

Ask anyone: September 11, 2001, was serene and lovely, a perfect day—until a plane struck the World Trade Center.

But right now it is a few days earlier, and four kids in different parts of the country are going about their lives. Sergio, who lives in Brooklyn, is struggling to come to terms with the absentee father he hates and the grandmother he loves. Will’s father is gone, too, killed in a car accident that has left the family reeling. Naheed has never before felt uncomfortable about being Muslim, but at her new school she’s getting funny looks because of the head scarf she wears. Aimee is starting a new school in a new city and missing her mom, who has to fly to New York on business.

These four don’t know one another, but their lives are about to intersect in ways they never could have imagined. Award-winning author Nora Raleigh Baskin weaves together their stories into an unforgettable novel about that seemingly perfect September day—the day our world changed forever."

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2. Next Year's Readers: Three Next-In-The-Series

I believe in the power of series books.

I believe in the power of graphic novels.

Here are three next-in-the-series graphic novels that are on my TBR pile for the first week of June:

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Alamo All-Stars
by Nathan Hale
Amulet Books, 2016

It was fun to sit and listen to a group of girls talk about the merits of this series last week. They are good readers and detail-oriented, so the amount of smaller-font text doesn't put them off. They each have a different favorite in the series, but none of them has read Donner Dinner Party yet (my personal favorite). They talked about how this is the kind of series where it's important to read the first one first so that you understand why Nathan Hale (the historic character) is telling all these stories (to delay his hanging). After that, you can read them in any order.

Thank you, Nathan Hale (the author) for making history fun and accessible!

by Judd Winick
Random House Books for Young Readers, 2016

This is book two. The first book in this series ended on such (SUCH) a cliffhanger that I can't believe I'm not reading this book right now. (And as I typed that, I just guilted myself into taking this copy to school for the last 8 days so that every child who groaned audibly upon finishing it will be able to read book two before going on to middle school.)

HiLo is my new favorite superhero. Read this series; he'll be your favorite, too!

by Mike Maihack
Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2016

I love graphic novels with strong female characters who are cast as adventurers and sheroes. Bring on Cleopatra, Emily (in Amulet), Claudette (Giants Beware and Dragons Beware), and Zita (Spacegirl).

Don't get me wrong. There's a place for Babysitters' Club. I'm just loving these strong, capable girl sheroes.

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3. Next Year's Readers: Three Middle Grade Novels

Now that students are bringing back all the books they've had checked out the past few months, I am faced with the reality that my bookshelves are officially At Capacity, and so is my classroom when it comes to the number of bookshelves in the room. In order for there to be space for all my books, some weeding is going to have to take place. This also means that in order for me to add new books, I will have to make room by removing the books no one has been reading. (Which is SO hard, because for each and every book I remove, I can imagine a possible future reader who will love that book!) 

That said, here are three new/newer middle grade novels that are ensured a place on the shelves in my classroom.

Counting Thyme
by Melanie Conklin
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 2016

Thyme and her family move from California to New York City in order for her little brother to take part in a cancer drug clinical trial. All Thyme wants is to do enough chores to earn the time she needs to go back and spend her shared birthday with her best friend Shani.

Thyme gradually adjusts to life in the city (including a small apartment rather than a house with a yard), her new school and friends, the housekeeper, Mrs. Ravelli, and the quirky neighbor, Mr. Lipinski, and is able to look beyond her own life to realize the complexity of others' lives.

It's been a long time since characters and a story grabbed me like this and wouldn't let me go until I finished the book!

by Shelley Pearsall
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2015

This is another book that grabbed me at the first page and wouldn't let me go until I finished it! Karen Terlecky's review on GoodReads sums up the plot: "This was a cross between Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life and Touching Spirit Bear." The author's notes at the end gave an interesting view of her process -- where she got the idea for the story and how much of the story is truth vs. imagination. It's been since The Hired Girl and The Thing About Jellyfish that I copied so many great quotes into my notebook.

by Sharon Draper
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015

Woven through this unflinching look at racial discrimination in the Jim Crow south during the Depression, is the story of the awakening of a young writer to her craft.

From the KKK, to separate and definitely unequal schools, to blatant voting discrimination, Sharon Draper tells it like it was. Through it all, Stella, her family, and her community remain positive and hopeful, working for a fair and just future which today remains elusive but just as worth fighting for now as it was then. This is an important book for read aloud and discussion, either in racially diverse or in racially similar classrooms. 

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4. 3 Books I'd Have in My Classroom Library if I Taught 5th Grade

I have been reading lots of books lately that I would so love to have in my classroom library. But they just aren't a great match for 3rd graders. They are books that would be perfect if I taught 5th grade. That always tends to happen around Newbery time. I try to catch up on all of the books that I've had on my stack all year and so many of the good ones seem to be more 4th-6th grade books.  This month I read a few good ones.

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods was a great story about an eleven year old character who I fell in love with immediately.  The book blurb states, "Violet is a smart, funny, brown-eyed, brown-haired girl in a family of blonds."  Violet's mother is white and her father is black. But her father died before she was born and she is struggling with not knowing about that side of her family.  This is a great story about family and identity and love. It hits on issues of race in ways that are honest and accessible to 10-12 year olds.  I loved this character so much--she is spunky and smart and strong. She is definitely a character that will stay with me for a while.

I am embarrassed to say that I don't remember whether or not I read Elijah of
 Buxton.  I feel like I did but I can't be sure.  When I heard about The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis, I heard that although it was connected to Elijah, it definitely stood on its own. So I gave it a try. Honestly, I didn't intend to love the book-nothing about it seemed like the kind of things I love about a book. But, around page 50, I realized that I had fallen in love with the characters and the story.  This is definitely a book for 5th grade and above. Not  because the content is a problem but because it is more complex than I think younger kids can handle. The characters are amazing.  The story is quite the adventure. It is really perfect in every way.  If I were teaching 5th grade, this might be a read aloud or I might get a group of readers together to discuss this one.  

The Angel Tree by Daphne Benedis-Grab is a sweet story that would be good in a 5th grade classroom. It would also be good in a 3rd grade classroom. It is the story of a town that has an Angel Tree put up secretly each year. The tree invites people to hang wishes and other community members help to make the wishes come true. This book is about 4 kids impacted by The Angel Tree.  This is a simple story with a very obvious theme.  It is good for kids who like a predictable story with a theme that is very accessible to readers. I don't have many holiday books in my rooms but this one is more about a community coming together for each other.  

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5. The Audiobook is Live!!

I’m so excited to tell you that the audiobook of WISH YOU WEREN’T is live! I didn’t realize after approving the final version that it would take Audible nearly two weeks to listen to it to make sure the quality was up to par, but I’m glad they did. Because that ensures that anyone who […]

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6. Hello, My Pretty

Last year when Wish You Weren’t came out, I was happy with the cover and hopeful that it represented the story well. I still love the cover, but I also started to realize that the static image implied a “quiet” type of story. If you’ve read Wish You Weren’t, you know that’s not the case. […]

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7. I Am Malala – 2015 Diversity Reading Challenge

Category #6 is up today, and while Brown Girl Dreaming was one of my favorite reads of last year, I have opted to review the young reader’s edition of Malala’s story, which is co-written by the talented YA author (and … Continue reading

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8. The Vanishing Island Blog Tour: Day One!

Welcome to the first stop on The Vanishing Island blog tour! Read on to enjoy the story's summary, meet main character Bren Owen, learn a bit about author Barry Wolverton, and enter to win a signed ARC! 

(Publishing September 1, 2015):
Does  the Vanishing Island really exist? And if so, what treasure—or terrible secret—was hidden by its disappearance?

It’s 1599, the Age of Discovery in Europe. But for Bren Owen, growing up in the small town of Map on the coast of Britannia has meant anything but adventure. Enticed by the tales sailors have brought through Map’s port, and inspired by the arcane maps his father creates as a cartographer for the cruel and charismatic map mogul named Rand McNally, Bren is convinced that fame and fortune await him elsewhere. That is, until his repeated attempts to run away land him a punishment worse than death—cleaning up the town vomitorium.

It is there that Bren meets a dying sailor, who gives him a strange gift that hides a hidden message. Cracking the code could lead Bren to a fabled lost treasure that could change his life forever, and that of his widowed father. But to get there he will have to tie his fate to a mysterious Dutch admiral obsessed with a Chinese legend about an island that long ago disappeared from any map.

Before long, Bren is in greater danger than he ever imagined, and will need the help of an unusual friend named Mouse to survive. Barry Wolverton’s thrilling adventure spans oceans and cultures, brings together the folklore of East and West, and proves that fortune is always a double-edged sword.
-Summary provided by Walden Pond Press

Introducing the hero of THE VANISHING ISLAND, Bren Owen.

Several years ago I read a story about Jules Verne, the great French adventure novelist. Legend has it that at age 11, young Jules tried to stow away on a ship bound for the Indies, only to be  caught by his father and punished so severely that he vowed to travel “only in his imagination” from that point forward. 

I have no idea whether that story is true or not, but I liked the idea of childhood misbehavior leading to something so profitable as the collected works of Jules Verne. (On an unrelated note, I was a terrible child.) 

My hero, Bren Owen, is a headstrong 12-year-old boy growing up in the town of Map, on the coast of Britannia during my slightly skewed Age of Discovery. Bren's father is a mapmaker who wants Bren to follow in his footsteps. But Bren wants to chart his own course, and overhearing the tales of adventure by sailors passing through the port town of Map only stokes his adventurous spirit.

Aside from that, living in Map stinks — literally. Aside from the smell of fish, Bren and his father live in the town’s margins, where people dump their waste into the unpaved streets, and so do the horses. Bren has a nemesis in the form of Duke Swyers, a town bully who gets away with it because his father is Cloudesley Swyers, a wealthy purveyor of fine wigs and pomades. And finally, Bren’s mother died two year ago during an outbreak of plague, leaving him alone with a father he has little in common with. 

So what does Bren do? What any emotionally lost preteen in the 16th century did - tries to stow away. His first two attempts were dismal failures, but Bren is convinced the third time will be the charm. It's not, and this time he lands in real trouble - a medieval version of Juvenile Court, which results in a medieval version of community service - spending the summer cleaning up the town Vomitorium, the concrete, windowless building where sailrs and gentlemen go after a night of overindulging. 

How bad is it? “Map was a coastal town, and so clams, mussels and oysters were among the most common foods. Raw or barely cooked, these muscular, rubbery mollusks were natural drain-chokers — especially when clotted together in a thick chowder of puke. More than once Bren had to unclog the drain with his bare hands, lying on the floor and sticking his long, thin arms as far down as possible, which felt like reaching inside the guts of a dead animal.” 

But, like young Jules Verne, Bren's punishment is life-changing. One day he meets a sick and dying sailor, using the Vomitorium for cover, who bestows upon Bren-in the most disgusting way possible-a strange gift that gives Bren the leverage he needs to finally escape Map and seek the adventure he desires.

Barry Wolverton is the author of Neversink. He has more than fifteen years’ experience creating books, documentary television scripts, and website content for international networks and publishers, including National Geographic, Scholastic.com, the Library of Congress, and the Discovery Networks. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee. You can visit him online at www.barrywolverton.com.

Links for Barry Wolverton: 

Links for Walden Pond Press:

Blog Tour Schedule: 

6/15/2015 Blue Stocking Thinking                  bluestockingthinking.blogspot.com

6/16/2015 The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia    hauntedorchid.blogspot.com
6/17/2015 Small Review                               smallreview.blogspot.com                 
6/18/2015 Maria's Melange                         www.mariaselke.com/
6/19/2015 Unleashing Readers                    unleashingreaders.com 
6/19/2015 The Hiding Spot                             ​thehidingspot.blogspot.com 
6/22/2015 This Kid Reviews Books              thiskidreviewsbooks.com 
6/23/2015 Mundie Kids                                http://mundiekids.blogspot.com/
6/24/2015 Paige in Training                        https://pageintraining.wordpress.com 
6/25/2015 Novel Novice                              novelnovice.com

     For a chance to win a signed ARC of The Vanishing Island, simply leave a comment below telling why YOU want a copy of the book! Will it be a gift, will you read and review it, add it to a classroom library, hug it before bed each night, etc. Check back no later than June 22nd to see if you are the winner! A winner will be chosen at random and the book will be mailed directly from the publisher. If the winner is not able to be contacted by June 22nd a new winner will be chosen. Thank you for stopping by!

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9. Books for Fairy Tale Lovers

I have several 3rd graders who are hooked on fairy tale novels. I think most of them were hooked with the Whatever After series early in the year, and they've moved on from there (even though they devour the new ones as they are released). Many books I have in the classroom. Others, they've discovered on their own and shared with other readers who have similar tastes.  There are so many series out there that fit exactly what these kids are looking for---fairy tales or something connected in some way to the fairy tales they know and love.  These are some of the favorites in the classroom right now.  They are all great for grades 3-5ish.

The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer.  You can visit the Land of Stories webpage here.

The Fairy Dust Trilogy by Gail Carson Levine

The Grace Lin trilogy (3rd one due out this year) is a great series for kids who enjoy other fantasy/fairy tales.  Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is the first in this trilogy. 

We are currently reading aloud Rump by Liesl Shurtliff. My kids love this one and are anxious to read the other two in this series,  Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk and Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood.


The Kingdom Keepers series isn't quite a fairy tale but there are lots of familiar characters and storylines as it takes place in Disney World!  There is a Kingdom Keepers website that you can visit here.

The Sisters Grimm( Fairy Detectives is the first in the series) is another great fairy tale series by Michael Buckley.

A new favorite is the Hamster Princess series by Ursula Vernon (author of the Dragonbreath series).  I read this one last summer and could not believe how much I loved this princess and the humor in these stories. There are only 2 out in the series but we hope there are lots more coming soon!

And we love the Tuesdays at the Castle series at our school. Last year we were lucky enough to host Jessica Day George for an author visit and it's been fun to see kids continue to be excited about the new books in the series too!  

This is one of my favorite kinds of books so it has been fun to watch a group of 3rd graders discover the fun in these this year!

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10. #610 – Saucy and Bubba: A Hansel and Gretel Tale by Darcy Pattison

saucy and bubba.

Saucy and Bubba: A Hansel and Gretel Tale

written by Darcy Pattison

Mims House       1/20/2014


Age 8 to 14


“In this modern-day Hansel and Gretel story, Saucy and Bubba struggle to get along with Krissy, their alcoholic stepmother. One freezing night, Krissy locks Saucy out of the house and Saucy must sleep in the barn. In a desperate move, Saucy and Bubba run away to their aunt’s house—except Aunt Vivian isn’t home. Trying to take care of Bubba for several days forces Saucy to take charge of her own life and accept a terrible sacrifice in order to find safety for herself. This is the simple story that weaves through the tangled threads of family and


“Saucy Dillard loved gingerbread days.”


Since Saucy and Bubba’s mother died, daddy has been very lonely. He hired Krissy to babysit the two kids, and then fell for the young alcoholic woman. Daddy married her and has been googoly-eyed for her ever since. Stepmom gets away with her actions because her hubby is in denial of the problem, preferring to blame his oldest child. That is more than enough to topple any eleven-year-old girl. Add acting as Bubba’s guardian—self-appointed—in charge of his happiness in addition to his safety, and the recipe for disaster more than doubles.

Saucy and Bubba would make a good story for social work students. It covers the same ground without the dryness of an adjunct text. In addition to alcoholism, the story involves child abuse and neglect, a mean stepparent, an absentee father, and runaway children. Pattison also throws in a possible pedophile, just in case there is not enough social angst. The pedophile is nothing more than bait, used to unite Krissy and Saucy in battle. I was surprised Saucy told Krissy the problem, given her justified fear of the woman, but the two make an insurmountable team—possibly because they are so similar—while rescuing Bubba from danger.

Saucy and Bubba is a dysfunctional family drama. The father, who I think is the biggest problem, is an absentee father, not because he is gone a lot as a long haul trucker, but because he overlooks most all of what his new bride does to his children, preferring to blame the eldest child instead of the real problem, his wife. In regards to Krissy leaving the kids on an outing (to get gas), going to a bar (getting drunk and driving home) and never picking them up (they walked home in the cold and dark), he says to his oldest, eleven-year-old Saucy,

“Krissy isn’t the problem. You are. Next time, you stay put.”

The best part of the story is during the runaway. All that before then is set-up. The kids have such a long way to go they must take a greyhound and then walk several miles. Bubba is but seven-years-old, naïve, and trusting. He nearly becomes the victim of the same pedophile, twice, all for the want of a cookie. He is also a genius with numbers. The two run into a few colorful characters, like the young teen working the bus station soda counter. He advises Saucy to take care of herself first before trying to care for another. In the end, he is spot on and that is exactly what Saucy must do to save her entire family. The ending did surprise me, but it is a great solution and the best for Saucy. If only all family problems could be solved so easily.

How is this A Hansel and Gretel Tale? Pattison uses several elements from the original story. Krissy is the wicked stepmother—and the evil gingerbread witch. Bubba is Hansel, using white stone as markers to follow home. Just as in Hansel and Gretel, the father abandons his kids, but instead of leaving them in the woods, he ignores the problems and leaves the kids with the cause.

Middle grade and older kids who like family dramas will enjoy Saucy and Bubba. There is enough angst to sell the story and enough heart to keep the reader interested in what becomes of the two kids. I still do not understand why Pattison had Saucy run and hide near the end, after she was so close to everything she worked for, but it did add one more element of suspense and force the father to open his eyes, maybe for the first time since marrying Krissy. Oh, well, there’s the reason. Pattison is a formidable writer whose work has been translated into numerous languages. Saucy and Bubba is another winner in a long line of winning stories.

SAUCY AND BUBBA. Text copyright © 2014 by Darcy Pattison. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Mims House, LITTLE Rock, AR.

Purchase Saucy and Bubba:  A Hansel and Gretel Tale at AmazonB&NBook DepositoryMims Houseyour favorite bookstore.


Learn more about Saucy and Bubba:  A Hansel and Gretel Tale  HERE.

Meet the author, Darcy Pattison, at her website:    http://www.darcypattison.com/

Find other Pattison books at the Mims House website:   http://mimshouse.com/


New in 2014 by Darcy Pattison

Aliens, Inc. Book 1: Kell, the Alien

Aliens, Inc. Book 1: Kell, the Alien

Aliens Inc. Book 2: Kell and the Horse Apple Parade

Aliens Inc. Book 2: Kell and the Horse Apple Parade

Aliens Inc. Book 3: Kell and the Giants

Aliens Inc. Book 3: Kell and the Giants









Also by Darcy Pattison, Click Title for Review

Wisdom, the Midway Albatross

Desert Baths

Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma: The True Story of an Orphaned Cub

11Ways to Ruin a Photograph



saucy and bubba
copyright © 2014 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews

Filed under: 5stars, Library Donated Books, Middle Grade Tagged: alcoholism, children's book reviews, darcy pattison, family drama, family dynamics, Hansel and Gretel, middle grade novel, Mims House, runaways, Saucy and Bubba: A Hansel and Gretel Tale, wicked stepmother

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11. #616 – Cousins and Robbers: Tales of Black Jack Jetty by Michael A. Carestio


Virtual Book Blog Tour — Cousins and Robbers: Tales of Black Jack Jetty by Michael A. Carestio


Cousins and Robbers: Tales of Black Jack Jetty

written by Michael A. Carestio

published by Michael A. Carestio         7/15/2013


Age 8 to 12


“The Great Recession is punishing families across the land: lost jobs, lost dreams, lost hope. Tough times bring out the best, and worst in people. The sleepy South Jersey shore towns are being hit by a crime wave, a band of robbers boldly breaking into homes right in the middle of a summer day. The cousins of Black Jack Jetty devise a plan to protect home and family. That plan will drag them into the mean streets of the meanest neighborhoods in Atlantic City. That’s where the tale twists and turns like a treacherous rip tide. Lucky will tell you the rest.”


“We’re going to Atlantic City,” Jack says, in a rare display of bravado.”

The Story

The cousins, nine-year-olds Riley, Jack, and Nick, seven-year-old Willy, and honorary cousin, nine-year-old Angel are determined to catch the robbers brazen enough to rob in clear daylight. They all fear their home on Black Jack Jetty will be next, thinking the robbers will be looking for the gold coins they recently found belonging to a deceased uncle. (Book 1) The kids go on reconnaissance, including using an old military lookout post on the top of the house. From there they can see most of the area.

Angel notices a lot of landscapers, which is not unusual in Margate. Only problem is, these guys never mow a lawn or trim a bush. Out on their bikes the kids go, looking for this black landscaping truck pulling a white trailer. Once found, two of the kids try to take a closer look and end up inside the locked trailer when it takes off to wherever the robbers take it at the end of the day. Two other kids follow the trailer and their cousins, while Willy goes home. He is to tell their Aunt Jane what has happened, but only after two hours have passed. Willy, though visibly distressed, refuses to say a word until those two hours have swept away. Will the cousins safely escape the robber’s trailer? Will the robbers be brought to justice?


First, let me say that the narrator is so annoying that had this not been for a review, I would have tossed the book after page five. The story of Cousins and Robbers is a mere 89 pages, easily a one sitting tale. It took me several days. In frustration, I left the story several times only to pick it up a day or two later—because I had to. The narrator spends more time interjecting opinions and commentary more than he likes to narrate the story. It takes quite a while before you realize the “narrator” is a seagull that can talk. He also physically enters the story near the end. Lucky’s narration is always in italics, while a normal narrator is in regular print. Yep, two narrators. Plus, I found the paragraphs in italics—one nearly every page—annoying, causing me to shift from story to commentary. This interrupts the actual story, and I do not care what this seagull thinks about the action, the economy, or the Great Recession. This narrator simply interrupts the story, like someone talking about the day’s events while you try to read the paper. Now, kids might enjoy this oft-time funny bird and not feel the distractions I felt.


If you ignore all those italic paragraphs, what is left is a decent story, with a good plot, a good conflict, and an interesting ending, though easily solved. I say this with one caveat: in children’s stories, even cops and robbers, kids should be the ones who solve the problems. In this case, the talkative seagull and an adult rescue the kids, rather than the other kids rescuing their mates. Worse, these characters enter the story near the end. I don’t like reading about these great kid characters only to have two new characters (an adult and a seagull), show up in the last ten pages and save the day. In children’s literature, kids solve the problems, are the heroes, and empower the story—and the child reader.

The illustrations, photographs that look like someone’s old vacation pictures, often do not relate to what is happening on the page next to it or in the story as a whole. Granted, illustrations can be the most expensive part of a kid’s book, but if the alternative is confusing photographs that Uncle Jay took on his last vacation, skip them all together. Illustrations should enhance the story and move it along its journey.


I believe the author knows how to write a good story. He understands the elements needed for a good story. Maybe he took some bad advice about the seagull playing opinionated narrator, or having the seagull’s narration stand out by italicizing it. A good editor might have caught all of this and had it corrected. Here is the sentence, from the story, about the use of a talking seagull:

“Now before you go thinking what a cheap literary device . . . a talking animal . . . how cliché . . . Get over it . . . please.”

The author calls his use of a talking seagull cliché, and he is right, so why did he use it? Was he saying I know this is cliché but I do not care what you think? No, I think this was a tongue-in-seagull-cheek joke that took a dive, coming across arrogant instead of witty. As for “Get over it,” not possible. There is too much of this talking animal interrupting the story to express its opinion or make an unneeded comment, yet, in its defense, the author/seagull says,

“I am opinionate, informed, and do not suffer fools lightly.”

Oh, and the prologue, which I do not like anyway, is nothing more than the identical repetition of three pages (41, 42, 43) from the middle of the book. What is the reason for this? It seems like the author knows what he needs to do, but insists on not doing it or does it incorrectly. Don’t waste your time with the prologue. Skip it and start at the beginning of the story at Chapter 1.


Now, the good. Boys will enjoy this tale of cops and robbers. They, as I, will like Angel, the “guest cousin” whose father is in jail for robbery. Angel is a taller and bigger than average nine-year-old who could have saved the day. That would have been a great ending. Angle would have earned the position of a cousin and I would have looked forward to further adventures with Angel in the group. Kids will also like the bicycle chase. It has loads of adventure, suspense, and humor.

While Cousins and Robbers needs tuned—lengthening the story, correct the typos—the elements for a great kid’s story are there. The writing is good. The plot is good. The cousins are good characters that speak to kids and are easy to like. The conflict is believable. There is a nice twist. The adult characters, while they take on too much of the story (important sections like the ending), most are characters one can like. The setting is fabulous. Not just on the beach, but at a house that sticks out into the bay, looking dangerously defenseless—though defenseless it or its occupants are not.


Kids will like Cousins and Robbers. They might even think Lucky’s squawking narration is funny. It is witty in an annoying way. You never know what will influence a child while he or she reads a story. A good plot, convincing conflicts, excellent writing, and, humorous twists are great if not marred down by a cliché. Remove the unnecessary. Build on what really works. Write for kids. Think like a kid. Let the kids be the heroes. Accomplishing those, while not always easy, could bring Cousins and Robbers to the level of a Best of 2014 novel for children. The current story is a good start.

COUSINS AND ROBBERS: TALES OF BLACK JACK JETTY. Text copyright © 2013 by Michael A. Carestio. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Tony Auth, Alex Forbes, et al. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Michael A. Carestio, Philadelphia, PA.


Buy Cousins and Robbers . . . at AmazonB&NCreateSpaceAuthor’s Websiteyour favorite bookstore.

Learn more about Cousins and Robbers . . . HERE.

Meet the author, Michael A. Carestio, at his website:     http://www.blackjackjetty.com/

About Michael A. Carestio

author use unsure probably notA native Philadelphian, Michael has spent much of his career in advertising as a Creative Director. Black Jack Jetty: A Boy’s Journey Through Grief is his entry into children’s literature and reflects the loss he felt as a young boy over the death of his own father.

quoteThe story takes place in Margate, down beach from Atlantic City where Carestio spends his summers with friends and family.

Mr. Carestio has two daughters, two granddaughters, and two World Series Championships thanks to his beloved Phillies.

 Find Michael A. Carestio at these sites:
Also by Michael A. Carestio
Black Jack Jetty

Black Jack Jetty

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copyright © 2014 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews

Filed under: 4stars, Books for Boys, Children's Books, Library Donated Books, Middle Grade, Series Tagged: Atlantic City, Atlantic Ocean, Black Jack Jetty, children's book reviews, cops and robbers, Cousins and Robbers: Tales of Black Jack Jetty, Michael A. Carestio, middle grade novel

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12. #628 – Virgil Creech Takes a Swipe at Redemption by Mark Myers

virgil creech 1.

Virgil Creech Takes a Swipe at Redemption

written by Mark Myers

published by Mark Myers                  12/19/2013


Age 8 to 13     222 pages


“Welcome to the sleepy little town of Portsong, Georgia where there is a struggle a foot. Unbeknownst to the current owner, Virgil Creech has his selfish eyes set on taking back a dog he considers his. To be fair, as the youngest of nine bickering and bustling brothers, Virgil has always had to fight for the few things he could call his own. In this case, the property in question ran away from Virgil several months prior and now wants nothing to do with the boy, for he has found a happy home with the kindly Colonel Clarence Birdwhistle. Undetered, Virgil teams up with  reluctant friend, Henry Lee, to retrieve the dog.”


“That was a mark!” yelled Henry as he disappeared behind the row of elm trees to round up the ball.”

The Story

Four friends, Virgil, Henry, Willy, and Joe are playing in the town green (like a park) when Virgil kicks the ball hard and too high hitting Colonel Birdwhistle in the back of the head, knocking him out onto the pavement. The boys cautiously check to see if he is alive and Virgil accidentally causes Birdwhistle to hit his head again, knocking him cold. Later, at the hospital, Willy and Joe check on Birdwhistle and leave believing the boys have caused Birdwhistle to become blind. Willy, Joe, and Henry decide to find a dog, train it as a Seeing Eye dog, and give him to the Colonel.

At the city dump, the boys find a dirty, matted, and awful smelling mongrel. Henry gives the dog a half-hour session in leading the blind, and then takes the dog to the hospital, leaving it in Birdwhistle’s room. The Colonel takes the mutt home, cleans him up, and decides to keep him. The dog, now named Oscar, is now a happy dog.

Virgil realizes Oscar his is dog and is mad that Birdwhistle stole the dog from him. According to Virgil, Birdwhistle came right into his house and took Bertie (same dog, different name). Virgil is determined to get his dog back and enlists the help of his one friend, Henry Lee. Henry is determined to keep Virgil sway from Oscar. To complicate matters, a nationwide contest for a trip to Africa gets the town, including Virgil, up in a tizzy. Virgil knows he is the winner and must just wait for the day his name is called. When he returns from Africa, he will then get his dog back. But Colonel Birdwhistle has been entered hundreds of times by townsfolk who appreciate and admire him. Birdwhistle wins, causing Virgil to believe the Colonel has now stolen two things from him. He is madder than two Creech boys fighting over a chicken drumstick are. How will Henry contain Virgil and keep Oscar safe and with Birdwhistle. Can he do it?


Virgil Creech Takes a Swipe at Redemption tells the story of two boys, Virgil, Henry, a British transplant, and the man’s dog, Oscar. Virgil is a mean boy, the last of nine boys. Not a day goes by that he is not beat or taken advantage by one of his brothers. In turn, Virgil always has a chip on his shoulder, beats up kids at school, must always get his way, and has no friends. Virgil’s temper is as short as a temper can possibly be. Henry is a kind, well-mannered boy from a fine family. After Virgil kicks a ball that knocks-out Colonel Birdwhistle, the boys, especially Henry and Virgil, are thrown together for survival.

The well-planned and well-written story will keep you turning the pages. The author understands the psyche of the twelve-year-old boy and offers explanations and comments throughout the book. At first, I thought these annoying, but as more and more pages turned, the narrative became more natural, the comments regarding boys in general became interesting, and the story became a smooth ride, except for the Virgil bumps along the way. Packed with humor, tender moments, and upheaval only two young boys can cause, Virgil Creech Takes a Swipe at Redemption will please adults as well as kids.

I enjoyed the story, which focused more on Henry and his life than on the main character, Virgil. As one reviewer has already pointed out, Henry should be the protagonist. Virgil is a perfect antagonist and causes most of Henry’s stress. Once Henry understands how Virgil treated his dog and how the dog ended up living in the city dump, he vows to keep Oscar with the Colonel. Even Oscar stays away from Virgil, refusing to go anywhere he can smell the boy—which is not hard for anyone to do. At one point, the author states that Virgil is the only Creech that did a selfless act. Not so, the two brothers who rescued Bertie (Oscar in a former life), and cared for the dog, albeit in a dump, thought only of the dog, not themselves. Seems any Creech could have a heart deep within his chest.

There are no illustrations in the story. Oscar is a small dog, one that Henry can easily pick up. The dog on the cover is not small. I do like the angry hate-the-world scowl on Virgil’s face. This accurately portrays the boy’s disposition. While reading the story, Colonel Birdwhistle looked very near the image on the cover. The houses seem out of place for an area of town filled with green grass. Maybe on the other side they would be correct. Having saidall that, for someone who has not read the story, the cover is inviting and makes you want to know what the scamp on the cover has done.

I am not overly fond of the trick Birdwhistle and George, Henry’s father, plays on the town when Birdwhistle decides not to accept the trip he won, without entering himself. I like the first part, but what is the difference, as Henry asks, between leaving for three months and hiding out, without your dog, for three months. The Colonel does not want to leave the town, where he feels accepted and a member of nearly every family, yet he is still gone from the children and the story hour Birdwhistle did not want to miss. It would have made more sense for the Colonel to feign an illness. The author wanted a twist that would delight the reader but I think this failed to hit the mark.

Kids who love adventure or family-spun stories will enjoy Virgil Creech Takes a Swipe at Redemption. For his first book, Myers offered readers a well-crafted story, less the twist. There is a second Virgil Creech story to be released this Fall. I cannot wait to find out what bothers Virgil enough to make his face “glow red.” It is entitled, Virgil Creech Sings for His Supper. There is no preview, so make of this title as you will. Just the idea of Virgil singing scares me.

For a middle grade boy’s perspective of Virgil Creech Takes a Swipe at Redemption  click HERE.

VIRGIL CREECH TAKES A SWIPE AT REDEMPTION. Text copyright © 2013 by Mark Myers.

To purchase your copy of Virgil Creech Takes a Swipe at Redemption go to AmazonB&NBook DepositoryAuthor’s Websiteyour favorite bookstore.

Learn more about Virgil Creech Takes a Swipe at Redemption  HERE.

Meet the author, Mark Myers, at his website:    https://portsong.wordpress.com/



virgil creech 1



copyright © 2014 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews


evil fairies love hairm

Don’t forget! Evil Fairies Love Hair releases AUGUST 5th. As a reminder, the review is HERE.

Get it at Amazon   B&N    Book Depository    Clarion 

Filed under: 5stars, Books for Boys, Debut Author, Favorites, Library Donated Books, Middle Grade, Series Tagged: 1920's, boy's book, bullies, children's book reviews, family relationships, friends, Mark Myers, middle grade novel, Virgil Creech Takes a Swipe at Redemption

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13. #643 – The Pushcart War: 50th Anniversary Edition by Jean Merrill & Ronni Solbert

The Pushcart War: 50th Anniversary Edition

Written by Jean Merrill
Illustrated by Ronni Solbert
The New York Review Children’s Collection   9/16/2014
Age 8 to 12             230 pages
“Do you know the history of the pushcart war? The real history? It’s a story of how regular people banded together and, armed with little more than their brains and good aim, defeated a mighty foe.”


“The Pushcart War started on the  afternoon of March 15, 2026, when a truck ran down a pushcart belonging to a flower peddler.”

The Story

The Pushcart War began on a normal New York City day. The streets were jammed with cars, taxis, and delivery trucks that ranged from the normal size to the mammoth trucks with tires large than your car. It was taking up to four hours to travel four city streets. Tempers are running high, especially for Mack, a truck driver, who, despite his parents being pushcart peddlers, hated pushcarts. That day, with pure intention, deliberately ran into Morris the Florist (no known relation). Thanks to Marvin Seeley’s photo of the onset of the Daffodil Massacre, we know how the war started.

THE PUSHCART WAR. Text copyright © 1964/1992 by Jean Merrill. Illustrations copyright © 1964/1992 by Ronni Solbert. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, New York Review of Books, New York, NY.The trucks don’t want the pushcarts on the road and blamed them for the congestion. For some reason, these light, tiny, carts bothered the heavy, huge trucks. The peddlers couldn’t let the attack of Morris the Florist go unanswered, but lacked the funds the truck companies enjoyed. instead of a major affront, the peddlers decided to use pea shooters and pins to deflate the trucks tires, causing mass congestion and anger people to the point of voting trucks off city streets. For a while it worked and no one could figure out how the tires all went bad within minutes of each other. Until a mechanic found a pin.

A single pin, or many pins does not reveal the culprit. One the newspapers ran the story, children began shooting truck tires for fun, unwittingly taking up the cause for the pushcart peddlers. Unfortunately, Frank the Flower was spotted and arrested for killing a truck tire with a pea shooter. He confessed to all 18,991 flattened tires.

“All 18,991?” asked the Police Commissioner as if he had not heard correctly the first time.

“I cannot be sure down to the last tire,” said Frank the Flower. “But I have been at it several days now.”

“But 18,991 tires!” Aid the Police Commissioner.

“It was nothing,” said Frank the Flower.

Well, kids took up the cause and to stop them the city began taxing tacks, which made the British upset since they are the world’s top producers of tacks. This got Washington involved. New York City becomes embroiled in the Pushcart War, though this name is not used yet. The Big Three Truck Companies: Leaping Lemas, Mighty Mammoths, and Tiger Trucking held a secret meeting to wipe out the pushcarts and the Pushcart King. What will happen to New York City in 2026? Will the pushcarts survive? Will the British calm down? Will Frank the Flower, who single-handedly killed 18,991 truck tires, ever leave his jail cell? What will happen to Mack, the trucker who put Morris the Florist into the hospital and started the war?

THE PUSHCART WAR. Text copyright © 1964/1992 by Jean Merrill. Illustrations copyright © 1964/1992 by Ronni Solbert. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, New York Review of Books, New York, NY.Review

“The Big Three,” comprised of three delivery truck firms LEMA (Lower Eastside Moving Association) also called “Leaping Lemas,” and Tiger Trucking or “Tiger Trucks,” and Mammoth Moving, which used three sizes of trucks: Baby Mammoth, Mama Mammoth, and the Mighty Mammoth. These are the bullies of the story. For once, the bullies are not too big to fail.

The Pushcart War is a fun read. The humor is terrific and kept me groaning and laughing every few pages. The pushcart peddlers are a colorful bunch of characters especially The Pushcart King. The name to Maxie Hammerman because he fixes all of the pushcarts or builds new ones from scratch and is the only one in New York City capable of making the pushcarts correctly. When the trucking bullies decide to kidnap and dispose of The King—thinking he is the mastermind behind the campaign to rid the city streets of their trucks—Maxie has a surprise of his own. This is one of the best scenes of the story. It felt like I was reading the script from the movie called The Sting.

THE PUSHCART WAR. Text copyright © 1964/1992 by Jean Merrill. Illustrations copyright © 1964/1992 by Ronni Solbert. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, New York Review of Books, New York, NY.

Kids will enjoy this futuristic farce of a “true tale.” The author casts herself as the futuristic novelist reporting on The Pushcart War ten years after the dust has settled and people are ready to hear about the war once more. City kids play a large part in the war, keeping the mayor and police commissioner completely puzzled. Written in 1964, the author envisions a New York City sixty years down the road. I find it interesting that there is no grand technology like cell phones and computers. The biggest difference is the extremely crowded streets, excess number of delivery trucks, and prices remaining similar, if not lower than the prices of her current time. (Apples are 5 cents).

The Pushcart War has style. The illustrations are black and white line art similar to what one would find in a newspaper only upgraded several times over. I love the illustration of Frank the Flower shooting his peashooter for the first time and Mr. Jerusalem who, after struggling over the morality of shooting truck tires, finds he is not only a terrific shot but enjoys his mission. Mr. Jerusalem quickly becomes the top tire executioner.

THE PUSHCART WAR. Text copyright © 1964/1992 by Jean Merrill. Illustrations copyright © 1964/1992 by Ronni Solbert. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, New York Review of Books, New York, NY.The Pushcart War is a classic tale of the big bully taking on the little guy and finding the littlest guy can outsmart, outthink, outwit the big dumb bully with grace and class. It should be required reading for every middle grade student. There is a little sociology, psychology, criminology, and a few other “ologies” worth reading. I love The Pushcart War.

THE PUSHCART WAR. Text copyright © 1964/1992 by Jean Merrill. Illustrations copyright © 1964/1992 by Ronni Solbert. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, New York Review of Books, New York, NY.


Buy The Pushcart War at AmazonB&NBook DepositoryNew York Review of Booksyour favorite bookstore.

Learn more about The Pushcart War HERE

Meet the author, Jean Merrill, from New York Times:   http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/12/books/jean-merrill-childrens-book-writer-dies-at-89.html?_r=0

Meet the illustrator, Ronni Solbert, from NYRB:  http://www.nybooks.com/books/authors/ronni-solbert/ 

Find more classics at The New York Review Children’s Collection website:  http://www.nybooks.com/books/imprints/childrens/

The New York Review Children’s Collection is an imprint of The New York Review of Books:   http://www.nybooks.com/


Also by Jean Merrill and Ronni Solbert

The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars 3/10/2015

The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars









pushcart war


Copyright © 2014 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews

Filed under: 5stars, Favorites, Library Donated Books, Middle Grade Tagged: bullies, children's book reviews, Jean Merrill, middle grade novel, mighty trucks, New York Review of Books, outwitting an opponent, pushcarts, Ronni Solbert, standing up for what is right, The New York Review Children’s Collection

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14. #647 – The Guardian Herd #1: Starfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

guardian herd 1 starfire


The Guardian Herd #1: Starfire

Written by Jennifer Lynn Alvareztop-10-use-eb-trans
Harper/HarperCollins Children’s Books      9/23/2014
Age 8 to 12              272 pages

“Once every hundred years, a black foal is born, prophesied to either unite or destroy the five herds of flying horses that live in the land of Anok. He is fated to become the most powerful Pegasus in all of Anok. Star is this black foal. Even though Star has malformed wings that make him unable to fly, the leaders of each herd will take no risks and want to execute Star before his first birthday. With the help of his friends, Star must escape the clutches of the powerful leaders. His epic journey of self-discovery turns into a battle between good and evil that will keep readers eagerly turning the pages.”


“Star trotted through the dense pine forest, alone.”

The Story

The Pegasi of Anok (mythical winged horses), consists of five herds each with their own leader—the over-stallions—and their own land. None crosses the borders without permission. Wars have been raging between these herds for hundreds of years. Star is a black foal born into the Sun Herd, led by Thunderwing. When Star’s mother died birthing Star, Thunderwing’s mate adopted him, much against her mate’s wishes.

Star, a black foal, was born under the Hundred Year Star. If he can remain alive until his first birthday, he will receive the star’s power, and then become either a destroyer or a healer. No one knows which he will become, not even Star, and this terrifies the over-stallions of each herd. The last black foal born under this star all thought would be a healer. He was a good weanling, but when he received the power, he became a destroyer and wrecked havoc in all the land of Anok. It is up to the over-stallion of the guardian herd—Thunderwing—to kill the black foal before his first birthday, or to let him live and receive his ultimate power. Thunderwing is as scared as the others are and plans to execute Star before his first birthday.

Only Star’s three friends and his adopted mother believe Star will be a healer and seek to keep Star alive so he can receive the power of the Hundred Year Star. The other weanlings (those under one-year of age) bully Star and his three friends, mainly because he cannot fly. He does not fit into his wings, and must walk every like a common horse—a terrible insult to a Pegasus.

One particular weanling has it in for Star and tries to kill him. But in doing so, he crosses into another herd’s land, starting a war. Between this new war and the majority of pegasi wanting him executed, Star knows he must be on his own. Can Star survive without his friends, tend to his own food and water, and remain hidden from all other pegasi? Whether or not Star can survive on his own will greatly determine his future. With five herds looking for him, Star’s odds of survival are slim.


The Guardian Herd has every element a kid wants in an adventure. The author has created an imaginative, highly stylized world kids will appreciate. There are great characters that are easy to understand and like, even the terrifying bully Brackentail. This adventure has tons of action, some with violence. The violence is not bad until the final battle, making this book more appropriate for middle graders on the older end of their age-range.

There are many characters is The Guardian Herd. So many that the author starts with five pages of descriptions so kids know the herds and the pegasi in each herd. I found this section a tad overwhelming and skipped it altogether. I had no trouble remembering who was who and where they belonged. The only thing this list does, in my opinion, is make the story seem cumbersome and it might scare off a reader or two. I would drop it or place it at the end of the story.

Star is a wonderful character. Despite his worthless wings and inability to fly, Star has a warm personality, respects and honors his friends and adopted mare, and is braver than one would think given his situation and fate. Star is a character whose side you will quickly take up. When off on his own, Star’s humor—or the author’s humorous writing—had me in stitches. I loved his friend Crabwing and the things they did in and around the bay.

Granted, there is a huge war near the end of the story and the violence can be just shy of young adult territory, but I do not think it will give any kid nightmares, especially when the scenes that follow these battles are as strong and easy to envision. Once these scenes begin, the war becomes a distant memory. I think these final scenes will override any violent scenes a kid may linger on. The ending is extremely well written and strong. It was nothing as I imagined it might be. I cannot explain any further without spoilers, so this will have to do: the ending is fantastic. If the author does not hurry up and finish the next book, I may start stalking her blog.

The Guardian Herd may not be a New York Bestseller, yet, but it will entertain, and possibly teach your child a few things about friendship, respect, and loyalty. If not, they will still be completely engrossed for a few hours with an imaginative world that actually resembles our own world in many ways. I highly recommend this series for kids age 10 and up. Adults who love fantasy adventures will also enjoy The Guardian Herd #1: Starfire. This is Jennifer’s debut novel with HarperCollins—her first traditionally published book!

THE GUARDIAN HERD #1: STARFIRE. Text copyright © 2014 by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez. Advanced Readers Copy received from the publisher, HarperCollins Children’s Books, New York, NY.


Get your copy of The Guardian Herd: Starfire at AmazonB&NBook DepositoryHarperCollinsyour favorite book store.

Learn more about The Guardian Herd: Starfire HERE

**Also Available in Audio

Meet the author, Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, at her website:    http://www.jenniferlynnalvarez.com/

Find more exciting stories at the HarperCollins website:    http://www.harpercollins.com/

HarperCollins Children’s Books is an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Here is a twelve-year-old kid’s view of The Guardian Herd #1:  Starfire. Read Erik’s review HERE


Also by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

The Pet Washer

The Pet Washer




Reviewed HERE



guardian herd starfire


Copyright © 2014 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews

Filed under: 6 Stars TOP BOOK, Debut Author, Favorites, Library Donated Books, Middle Grade, Series, Top 10 of 2014 Tagged: children's book reviews, Guardian Herd, HarperCollins Children’s Books, HarperCollins Publishers, Hundred Year Star, Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, Land of Anok, middle grade novel, Pegasus, Starfire

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15. #654 – Rhyme Schemer by K. A. Holt

rhyme scheerx

Rhyme Schemer

Written by K. A. Holttop-10-use-eb-trans
Chronicle Books 10/01/2014
Age 8 to 12 176 pages

“Kevin has a bad attitude. He’s the one who laughs when you trip and fall. In fact, he may have been the one who tripped you in the first place. He has a real knack for rubbing people the wrong way—and he’s even figured out a secret way to do it with poems. But what happens when the tables are turned and he is the one getting picked on?”


“First day of school.
My favorite.
Easy prey.

Giant John.
A parade float of himself.

The Story

Kevin, the class bully, is in seventh grade. He loves picking on certain kids. His teacher, Mrs. Smithson, does not like him, but does like to send Kevin to the principal’s office. She also turns a very blind eye when Kevin is no longer the bully, but the bullied. At home, Kevin is the accident baby with four “P” brothers: Patrick, Paul, Petey, and Philip. Mom and dad are both busy physicians with little time for home or Kevin.

Kevin keeps a notebook of his days at school, writing them in verse. Petey, in charge of driving Kevin to school, is a bully himself. When he notices Kevin’s notebook, Petey makes terrible fun of Kevin and then chucks the notebook out the car window. Kevin searches but cannot find it. Robin, who fits perfectly between the boy’s bathroom sink pipes, finds the notebook. It becomes blackmail. Robin wants to be the Poetry Bandit. Robin is a little jerk.

Mrs. Little, the librarian, knows it is Kevin tearing out pages from classics, circling and adding a letter or two, creating a unique poem, and then posting it at school for all to see. Mrs. Little soon takes to Kevin. She encourages Kevin to stop defacing school property and use paper other than pages from children’s classics for his unique poetry. As long as Robin has Kevin’s private notebook, sharing it at random, Kevin is nervous. There are a few bombs in the notebook that Kevin does not want exploding at school.


Written in verse, Rhyme Schemer is a fast read. It is also an extremely enjoyable read that kept me laughing, sometimes loudly. Kevin is not a bad kid. His home life looks ideal to others, but reality is another matter. His parents are rarely home and brother Petey—who hates Kevin—is especially mean whenever possible. Bullies beget bullies. Kevin enjoys picking on his classmates. He meets with the principal much too often.

Kevin is not the classic bully who is mean and full of hate that spews out at other kids. Kevin is frustrated and trying to get his parent’s attention. His home life is mostly unfair and soon school will become unfair. The teacher ignores Robin’s attacks at Kevin, whether it is passing mean notes during class or ignoring a physical confrontation—where Kevin does not retaliate. She really does not like Kevin and then favors Robin, mainly because his father holds an important position.

I really like Kevin. He is a character you can easily favor, wanting him to catch a break. He’s a likable kid. Kevin pays a big price for defending Kelly, but he gains a friend, his first. I understand Kevin. He is the baby in a large family, but instead of being spoiled, he is picked on, sometimes harshly for no real reason. In a house full of people, Kevin is alone. What must it be like to have four brothers, all wanted, and with planned-out names beginning with a “P” (I wish I knew why), but he is the accident with a name beginning with the wrong letter. This alone must make him feel alienated from his family. Kevin deals with school unfairness and home by becoming a feeling-less, like stone.

Kids will like Rhyme Schemer. They will like Kevin. Kids will see a bully from a new perspective. The text is funny in so many places, and even sad in a few. Ms. Holt’s writing style is enjoyable and kid like. Kevin is the narrator, but I wonder if he is also the author and Ms. Holt his conduit. Kevin wrote several Odes to his principal’s tie. Some are in the story and some are at the end of the book. Don’t pass these by.

“[Clearing throat noise here.]
O, Principal’s tie
You make me want to puke
Because you are the color of
Squishy, moldy fruit”

Reluctant readers will also find Rhyme Schemer easy to read. At the end, I was not ready to stop reading. I wanted more. There are no unanswered questions, no threads laying in wait for a resolution; I simply want to read more of Kevin’s poetry. Rhyme Schemer is one of those rare books that stay with you, long after the last page flips over. I hope to read Kevin’s eighth grade notebook.

RHYME SCHEMER. Text copyright © 214 by K. A. Holt. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA.

Read a excerpt of Rhyme Schemer HERE (no cost)

Buy Rhyme Schemer at AmazonB&NBook DepositoryChronicle Booksyour favorite bookstore.
Learn more about Rhyme Schemer HERE
Meet the author, K. A. Holt, at her website:   http://kaholt.com/books/
Find more middle grade books at the Chronicle Books website:   http://www.chroniclebooks.com/

Also by K. A. Holt

Brains for Lunch

Brains for Lunch

Mike Steller Nerves of Steel

Mike Steller Nerves of Steel




Coming Fall 2015 – House Arrest – Chronicle Books



rhymer schemer

Copyright © 2014 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews

I really like the author information on the back inside book jacket.
K. A. Holt is a writer
a mama
a bad (but fearless) cook.

She has written three
books for kids.


She shelved books
in the library
during grade school.

Ms. Holt claims
she never had a detention.

Believe what you want.”

Filed under: 6 Stars TOP BOOK, Books for Boys, Favorites, Library Donated Books, Middle Grade, Poetry, Reluctant Readers, Top 10 of 2014 Tagged: absent parents, bullied, bullier, children's book reviews, Chronicle Books, K.A. Holt, middle grade novel, poems, poetry, seventh grade

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16. Middle Grade Recommendation – The Girls of Gettysburg

Title: The Girls of Gettysburg Written by: Bobbi Miller Published by: Holiday House, September 2014 Themes: Mighty girls, The Battle of Gettysburg, Civil war Ages: 8-12+ Historical Fiction Opening Lines: Annie sank lower in the water, like a frog in … Continue reading

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17. #659 – Fat and Bones and other stories by Larissa Theule & Adam S. Doyle

Fat & Bones: And Other Stories

Written by Larissa Theule
Illustrations by Adam S. Doyle
Carolrhoda Books            10/01/2014
Age 8 to 12           104 pages

“Welcome to Bald’s Farm. Well, perhaps it’s not Bald’s Farm anymore. The old man has kicked the bucket, setting off a wave of conflict from the muddy pig pen to the tall wheat fields. In this darkly funny, slightly supernatural chain of tales, no creature is safe. Not Leonard Grey, a spider with sophisticated tastes. Not Esmeralda, a resentful one-footed pig. Not Tulip, a plant with a mean streak. And as for Bones, the old man’s son, and Fat, his winged rival? They’ll learn that danger lurks in the strangest of places . . .”


“Fat stood on the topmost branch of the tree, gazing in the direction of the farmhouse.”

The Story

Bones is the son of his father, the farm owner, who has most recently passed away. Fat is the former farmer’s fairy. They hate each other with a passion usually reserved for love. Now that Bone’s father has died, Bones will run the farm and his first priority: get rid of excess Fat.

In the span of one day, Bones tries to take out Fat, who tries to take out Bones. The pigs must move around on less and less feet to supply Bones with his favorite meal of pig foot stew. Pa may be dead, but Bones is still hungry. Ma, who is crying herself blind ventures out to the pigpen to grab a foot. Which one does she get?

Leonard’s family thinks he is the strangest spider that has ever spun a web. He cannot sneak and lives alone. He reads poetry while drinking herbal tea. Down below, Fat is making a new potion and needs the fresh blood of a spider. Leonard picks this moment to prove he can sneak. He cannot.

The Dead Man Song is for Priscilla Mae, the escaped spider for which Leonard has found love. She sees a group of animals honoring the dead farmer’s passing. Jimmy’s in Love pits mouse against mouse for the love of a mouse across the kitchen floor. Cat lurks on the floor, waiting for a wandering mouse. Sometimes he greets the mouse.

“Good afternoon, mousie-pie.”

Sometimes he pounces. Occasionally, that tricky cat does both. A mouse just never knows. Jimmy decides to take a chance but the floor is full of water—salty, tear stained water. Daisy and Tulip are the best of friends, sharing a puddle. All is well, until little sprouts move in and choke the water supply. Daisy and Tulip argue over how to get the sprouts to leave. The differences could mean the end of Tulip or Daisy.

Finally, Dog Alfred visits his Ma. Ma wants Alfred to go home. Alfred is sneezing. He has a cold. Alfred is upset, (and sets up Ma to speak a line of funny I love)

“Ma,” he said, [pleading voice] “I came all this way. I can’t go home now.”
“You live next door,” she said.

Fat & Bones: And Other Stories


Fat & Bones: And Other Stories is a fast read with only 104 pages. On those 104 pages, every word counts thanks to wonderful writing and editing. Each story has something to teach kids. In Leonard Grey III, Leonard learns it is okay to be yourself and love is better than alone. Fat feels morally obligated to care for his neighbors, even when he is the one who injured said neighbor. Be nice to others; get to know your neighbors; be responsible for each other. Esmeralda must decide which is more important, her jealousy and “revenge” or the good of the group. Fat and Bones is philosophy 101 for the middle grades.

I am not a fan of the cover. The moon grinning as it does is eerie, but that is the intent. The illustrations use dark tones of green, grey, and black. The image is often part of the shadow or obscured by it. I am sorry to say, I am not a fan of these illustrations. I love the individual stories. I enjoyed the way one story depends on the other. What happens in one story—or does not happen—affects another story, which affects another, and so on, yet none may be the wiser. Fat & Bones: And Other Stories play this out for kids in a way they can understand.

Humor plays a big part, easing what are actually dark themes of death, jealousy, war, and dejection into an enjoyable, funny story, odd as that may sound. Some kids may not like the darker, philosophical themes, while others will love them. I think the older the child, the more they will enjoy Fat and Bones.

These Seven stories, all intertwined, are a great read. Each story has a unique mix of characters from the Bald Farm. Each has their own plot, conflict, and resolution, yet the stories build on each other, need each other to live. There are many things kids can learn from these stories while reading a funny, heart-felt whole divided into parts that seem to stand on their own—because they do. Older kids will enjoy this book. Adults will enjoy this book. Fat & Bones: And Other Stories is the author’s debut.

FAT AND BONES AND OTHER STORIES. Test copyright © 2014 by Larissa Theule. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Adam S. Doyle. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Carolrhoda Books, Minneapolis, MN.
Purchase Fat and Bones at AmazonB&NBook DepositoryLerner Booksyour favorite bookstore.
Learn more about Fat & Bones: And Other Stories HERE
Meet the author, Larissa Theule, at her twitter page:    https://twitter.com/larissatheule
Meet the illustrator, Adam S. Doyle, at his website:    http://adamsdoyle.com
Find other middle grade novels at the Carolrhoda Books blog:   http://www.carolrhoda.blogspot.com/

Carolrhoda Books is a division of Lerner Publishing Group.

fat and bones
Copyright © 2014 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews

Filed under: 4stars, Debut Author, Library Donated Books, Middle Grade Tagged: Adam S. Doyle, Charolrhoda Books, children's book reviews, Debut Book, fairies, farm life, feuds, Larissa Theule, Lerner Publishing Group, middle grade novel, pig foot stew

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18. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

I haven't had time to read as many upper middle grade/young adult books that I'd like to this year. There have been a few 2014 books that have been on my radar but that I haven't had a chance to read.   I am trying to make time to read more of these books lately--at least the few that everyone seems to be talking about.

Last week, I read The Crossover by Kwame Alexander.  I had started this book a few times but didn't get past the first few pages. I picked it up last weekend and was hooked in just a few pages. (I always find it so interesting how important timing is when we read books!)

This is a novel in verse. It is a powerful novel in verse intended for upper elementary/middle school kids.  It is one that is being talked about as a good one for boy readers but I see it as an amazing book for all readers.

The book is about basketball. But more importantly it is about basketball player Josh Bell and his twin brother Jordan. They are stars on their school basketball team and basketball is clearly their passion.  The story revolves around the two of them and their parents--a family you come to love immediately. And a family that will stay with me for a very long time.

But things are changing for both boys-as they grow older, discover girls, and face life issues.

This is an amazing book. A must read for anyone who likes to keep up with great books for this age. A must read for teachers and parents trying to stretch their upper middle grade readers to try something new. So glad I took the time to read this one. Once I was hooked, I didn't get off the couch until I had finished.

An incredible and powerful read.

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19. The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

by Dan Gemeinhart
Scholastic, January 2015
ARC provided by the publisher

This review copy came to me packaged in an interesting way. In a heavy ziplock bag labeled "THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO READ The Honest Truth" were these items:

a postcard from Mount Rainier, a carabiner, and a package of tissues. Actually, even the ziplock bag wound up being important to the story.

This is the story of a kid named Mark, who has a best friend (who happens to be a girl but who is NOT a girlfriend) Jessie, and another best friend who is a dog named Beau. It is a story of the deep and powerful bond of friends.

Mark writes haiku in his notebook. He takes photographs with an old-school camera that uses film. This is the story about the healing power of art.

This is a story full of spirit and heart. It's a story that makes you rage at the unfairness of life and cheer for all the angels that take care of strangers every day in a million small ways.

This is a story of a boy who runs away from home to climb Mount Rainier. It's about the need for big goals so that you can prove to yourself and the world that you are still in control of your life. It's about surviving the storm so that you get a chance to glimpse the sun coming out from under the clouds at the other end of it.

I apologize for reviewing this book so far in advance of its release date. You will want to read it. It's Dan Gemeinhart's debut novel. We will all want to read more from him.

On a separate but related note, I am going to invite my students to "market" a book they've read this year using the "three things you need to read this book" idea. Once upon a time, that might have seemed like a trite way to ask students to respond to their reading. Now it's marketing. Hmm...

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20. New Book: Letters from Heaven / Cartas del cielo

Celeste is heartbroken when her grandmother dies. But everything changes when a letter mysteriously comes in the mail—from Grandma! As letters continue to arrive from the beyond, each with a recipe of a favorite food her grandmother used to prepare, Celeste consoles herself by learning how to cook the dishes.

Meanwhile, without Grandma’s Social Security check Mami needs to get a second job to make ends meet. Celeste has to quit dance lessons, and a bully at school gloats that she will replace Celeste as the star in the upcoming recital. To top things off, her friends think that she has gone crazy . . . dead people can’t send letters!

Soon Celeste realizes that all the recipes combined make an entire meal: café con leche, guava and cheese croissants, congrí, plantain chips, ropa vieja and flan. Can she really make a Cuban feast to celebrate her cherished grandmother’s life?

Published in bilingual "flip" format by Arte Público Press, this middle-grade novel celebrates the cultural traditions of the Spanish Caribbean while tackling challenging subjects, such as trouble with friends and the death of a grandparent. The book includes six traditional Cuban recipes with easy-to-follow instructions.

 “A tender depiction of a child’s acceptance of the death of a beloved grandmother and the cultural importance of traditional foods.”
—Kirkus Reviews

 “This delightful novel is a Like Water for Chocolate for young readers. Celeste rises out of her grief by replacing her sadness with el sabor of life, by living as her grandmother did, with love and flavor."
— Judith Ortiz Cofer, author of Call Me María

 “Add one girl who misses her abuelita to a handful of coveted Cuban recipes, stir in a pinch of magic and you get a heartening tale of love, loss and the healing power of family and friendship.” 
—Laura Lacámara, author of Dalia’s Wondrous Hair / El cabello maravilloso de Dalia

 “A poignant and uplifting story about the special bond only a grandmother and a granddaughter can share. Delicious and magical!” 
—Reyna Grande, author of The Distance Between Us

Letters from Heaven / Cartas del cielo
by Lydia Gil ISBN-13: 978-1-55885-798-8
Available now from Piñata Books, Arte Público Press

0 Comments on New Book: Letters from Heaven / Cartas del cielo as of 11/20/2014 2:42:00 AM
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21. New Middle Grade Novels

Thank goodness winter break has given me some time to catch up on all of the great 2014 books I haven't gotten to yet. I am trying desperately to NOT read any 2015 books until I get through about 10-15 of the middle grade novels I want to read from 2014. Once I start 2015, they will keep coming and I'll never find time to get back to my stack.

So far, I've read several good middle grade novels. None of these are really a match for 3rd graders but they seem great for 4th-6th.

Ship of Dolls by Shirley Parenteau is a book that I think lots of kids will like.  It is a great into into historical fiction for kids new to that genre.  The story is about the dolls that America sent to Japan in 1926. This is the story of one girl and one doll.  Lexie is dealing with the death of her father. She has recently moved in with her grandparents so there is lots of change in her life.   But her class is sending a doll to Japan as part of the Friendship Doll and Lexie feels very connected to the doll.  Loved the stories and the characters in this one and learned a lot about the Friendship Dolls.  I can think of several 4th graders who might like this one.

All I can say about Revolution by Deborah Wiles is WOW! I loved Countdown and have been anxiously awaiting this second book in Wiles' 60s trilogy.  I am not sure how I waited so long to read it but it is amazing. Just like in Countdown, Wiles weaves real photos and quotes through the story of a girl growing up in the 60s.  This book focuses on Freedom Summer in Mississippi (1964). A fabulous story with believable characters. And I have to say that I learned a great deal about the summer of '64 that I didn't realize.  This is one I'd love to reread. A must read and accessible to 5th graders and above. I wish more adults who are not children's lit fans would find books like this one, as it seems to be one that everyone should read.

I'm about halfway through Screaming at the Ump by Audrey Vernick and can already think of several readers who would like this book. This is a story for sports fans but it is different from others I've read in that the character is not an athlete. Instead, his dad and grandpa own an umpire school (Behind the Plate) and Casey is a big part of it. But mostly, he wants to be a sportswriter.  This is a great story with great characters and a different kind of sports story for kids who love Matt Christopher and Mike Lupica.

I listened to the audio of Tell Me by Joan Bauer and I LOVED it. 12 year old Anna is definitely a favorite character of 2014.  She is funny and kind and quirky.  Anna's parents are having some trouble so they send her to spend some time with her grandmother--in a town that is getting ready for a big Flower Festival. There, Anna sees a little girl who seems to be held against her will and she feels that she must do something.  The book tackles the real issue of human trafficking in a way that is accessible to middle grade and middle school readers. The story is a great one and I am thinking perfect for 5th and 6th grades.  

0 Comments on New Middle Grade Novels as of 12/31/2014 11:00:00 AM
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22. blog hop tour hops to frog on dime

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Blog Hop is a blog tour showcasing authors and their writing process. I was honored to be tagged by Kristin Lenz, writer of YA and New Adult novels, and all around super fly, groovy chick. (Thank you, Kristin for inviting me!) I tagged another YA writer extraordinaire, Ann Finkelstein, for the next leg of the Blog Hop. You can learn more about Ann at the close of this post.

So, here we go with the Q & A portion of our program.
I hope you are grading on a curve. (And remember, I was promised there would be NO math problems.)

What am I working on now?
I just finished my second contemporary middle grade novel, SHORT CHANGED, at the end of May. Thankfully, as I was wrapping up novel two, ideas for middle grade number three began to percolate. Did I mention Ray, the main character of this novel, is forcing me to learn to knit because he likes to knit? He takes his protagonist role very seriously. I don’t want to disappoint him.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
It has my voice. What would be the point of imitating anyone else? We already have a Jerry Spinelli and Sharon Creech. I like to blend humor with tenderness (tempered with enough references to boogers or puke to make it believable and boy-friendly).

Why do I write what I do?
Writing middle grade is a sweet spot for me–readers are still young enough to appreciate my dorky sense of humor, but sophisticated enough to handle more complex plot lines, language and themes. But I don’t have to write any “content.” (blushing) I know. I know. I’m such a ninny.

How does my writing process work?
First off, you should know, I never ever intended to write a novel, much less two, going on three. I remember showing my grandpa one of my published magazine stories. He said, “That’s good, Vick. Now, where’s your novel?” I told him flat-out, “I’m not a novelist. There’s no novel in me.” (See? Such a ninny I am.) It wasn’t until a friend asked me to collaborate on a novel with him that I ever thought to attempt such a crazy thing. I mean, novel writing was for, sheesh, I don’t know–novelists. But I reasoned that before I co-wrote a novel, maybe I’d better see if I’m capable of creating a one on my own. And so it began.

My first middle grade novel, SHRINK, germinated from a short scene based on a childhood memory. The story took on a life of its own as I began to ask why–why did the main character say that? Why does he feel this way? Why did he make that decision? To whom is he telling his story? And why? Because I was neon green at novel hatching, I pretty much let the characters run the show, which meant I had a lot of clean up to do on the back side. (Kids are not known for their logic or consistency you know.) I still love the characters in that first novel and even miss them when I see a real-world kid who looks like one of them. I must have done something right.

My second novel was inspired by a stupid idea. I thought it would be clever and ironic to write a novel with the title SHORT STORY. But that, I was wisely advised, would get way too confusing. So, I changed the title to SHORT CHANGED, but kept the basic story. I tried writing this novel on my own, like the first one, while trying to avoid the rookie pitfalls. But eventually, I opted to enroll in a novel-writing course through the Institute of Children’s Literature. The individualized instruction and the built-in deadlines helped me progress. I’d recommend taking an ICL class. If you want to know more, just let me know via my contact page and I’ll get right back to you.

My third novel is unfolding very differently. I want to plot and plan and outline before fully immersing myself in this novel. I am gathering articles and ideas too. And, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve got to take those knitting lessons. I’m also going to “interview” each of my characters in order to create character sketches. I treat characters like they are already fully-formed people. It’s my job to get to know them and create a world for them to live in and circumstances to respond to. (And how “simple” is that?)

Based on what I’ve experienced so far, I love the entire novel-writing process–the first niggling from a new idea, meeting my characters, creating that first draft, revising (ad nauseam), receiving critiques, revising again . . . I love it all. Except when I don’t.

(I hope I got the answers right.)

The next stop on the Blog Hop tour will be hosted by my talented friend and Sock Sister Ann Finkelstein. Ann writes young adult novels in Michigan. She enjoys biking, hiking, cross-country skiing and photographing the great outdoors. Read more about her. You can read Ann’s brilliant answers about her writing process on Friday, June 20. Don’t miss it!

Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives. ~ James Joyce

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23. And then there was one...

...one winner, that is. Without further adieu, the winner of the Grasshopper Jungle ARC is...

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 6.02.27 AM
Congratulations, Danielle! I'll be sending your book out later today. I hope you enjoy reading it! And if anyone is looking for some more good reading, Lucy Silag from Book Country interviewed me on their blog today. This Penguin community for writers is a great place to meet critique partners and get your work read in a public forum. WISH YOU WEREN'T is an Editor's Pick this month (yay!) and I was thrilled that they wanted to profile me.

If you'd like a chance to win your very own copy of WISH YOU WEREN'T, don't forget about the other two blogs I mentioned yesterday. Sheri Larsen at Writer's Alley interviewed me and she's giving away a print book and an e-book. And the delightful Rosi Hollinbeck, a reviewer for the San Francisco Book Review, posted her review of WISH YOU WEREN'T on her blog, The Write Stuff, and she's giving away a print copy.

Oh, and one more thing! If you live in Santa Barbara County and want to learn more about writing for middle grade readers, I'm leading a workshop at the Solvang Library with three other authors: Valerie Hobbs (Sheep), Gwen Dandridge (The Stone Lions) and Kimberley Troutte (Saving Miner's Gulch). The workshop is on Saturday from 1 to 3:30 and we'll be doing a book signing from 12 to 1pm. To find out more, you can visit the library's website. I'd love to see you there!

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24. #590 – Colt Humboldt and the Close of Death by T. A. Anderson


Colt Humboldt and the Close of Death

by T. A. Anderson

published by T. A. Anderson       2/4/2014


Age 9 to 13             460 pages


“When twelve-year-old Colt Humboldt’s dad drags the two of them from perfectly good Dallas to ancient Edinburgh for a “fresh start,” Colt knows e’s in for a long, boring summer. Fat chance. That very first night, the peculiar Alesone and her little brother Peer crawl out of Colt’s closet, begging for his help to save their family from a horrible fate. Unfortunately, the instructions for doing so are contained in a fickle book that lies to make it up as it goes. Worse, those instructions give this ragged trio one week to journey across Scotland in a impossible adventure to capture three treasures—treasures fiercely protected by a hidden, treacherous world determined to see Colt fail . . . preferably by death. But if Colt and his new friends can survive a horror novel come-to-life, a madman and his minions, a disagreeable folklore legend, and the shocking discovery of just why Alesone and Peter are so odd . . . Well, the next wo treasures won’t come so easily.


“The flight attendant standing along the curb resembled a ripe blueberry volcano about to blow its top, thought 12-year-old Colt Humboldt from the backseat of the taxi. Her head-to-toe blue uniform appeared dangerously close to its design limits, with a blue cap squeezed over short blonde curls and three very prominent chins squeezing out of her collar.”


Not long after Colt’s mother died in a tragic automobile accident—which Colt survived—his dad accepts a position at the Edinburgh Zoo. Colt is not happy about moving from Dallas to Scotland. He chooses The Keepers room for his bedroom, not knowing the room’s history. This begins the history kids will learn about while reading the book. There are many pieces of knowledge inside the story, the biggest being the black plague that wiped out many in Europe.

What Colt thinks are ghosts awakens him the first night. These “ghosts” are actually two kids from the 1645. Alesone and her five-year-old brother Peter are running from the soldiers who want them back into the close in which the government has trapped all the inhabitants, thinking it will stop the black plague. The two kids are after a cure for their parents. To get the cure and passage back to their own time period, they must complete three missions, which get progressively harder and more dangerous. Colt agrees to help them. He is smitten on Alesone and bored without his friends.

Peter, Alesone & Colt

Peter, Alesone & Colt

Throughout the story, Colt must explain items that are commonplace in the twenty-first century but unheard of in the 1600’s. Many appear to be magic to the two kids. Peter has a habit of smashing things he does not understand, like alarm clocks and television sets. Five-year-old Peter experiences his first sugar high after a breakfast of Frosted Flakes™. He loves the cereal so much he sneaks a box home with him. Sugar highs are not common in the 1600’s as they are now. Peter also likes Colt’s Dallas Cowboys helmet, which took an arrow, saving the boy’s life on one journey.

Peter is an interesting character. He never utters a word, is very resilient, and handy in some of the sticky situations the three kids get into. Pretty good for s five-year-old out of his element. Peter also supplies much of the humor. I did think it odd that Alesone, a bright girl, is oblivious to the changes from her world to Colt’s. It takes her quite a while to accept that she is not in her 1645 world, as she continues to search for a pastor from 1645 and runs from/is afraid of the present day police who have no interest in Alesone or Peter.

Kids who like adventures with fantasy and humor mixed in will love Colt Humboldt. I read the 445 pages in two sittings, staying up late at night. If I were a kid, I would have taken a flashlight to bed just to keep reading the book. I love the characters. They are easy to care about and actually fun to root on as they continue searching for the three items needed to send Alesone and Peter back home. Nothing is what it seems on these journeys. Some of the secondary characters suddenly pop up, instantly twisting the story. Colt Humboldt is not difficult to understand or keep track of these twists and turns, but one does need to pay attention.

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Much of the humor comes from Alesone and Peter being out of place in Colt’s world. He has no idea why they are so surprised by much of what they encounter, not knowing for a long time where the two kids have come from. All he knows is their parents will die if they do not collect the three treasures the Brown Man requires. The Brown Man of the Muirs (folklore) is but one of the folklore and creatures of Scotland legends included in the story. The true villain will be quite a surprise. Though the big villain in Alesone’s world, Mr. Vermyne, is rather easy given his name. He is a rat all right. Vermyne is one of those twists that will surprise you, yet make sense.

Mr. Anderson’s writing is excellent. Colt Humboldt and the Close of Death is the first of a series of adventures involving Colt. I am anxious to read the next volume. I love the way Anderson told Colt’s first story, though he could have made this into three books. A nearly 500-page book, with multitudes of folklore creatures, can look rather daunting to some middle graders. The pacing is great and the adventures are believable, though the last mission is a tough fight. Kids are in for a wonderful ride. A publisher would be very smart to get Anderson under contract. Colt Humboldt, with some high-powered marketing, and focused publicity should take flight right onto the bestseller list where it belongs. It is that good. Colt Humboldt is also T. A. Anderson’s debut.


COLT HUMBOLDT AND THE CLOSE OF DEATH. Text copyright © 2014 by T. A. Anderson. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, T. A. Anderson.

Buy Colt Humboldt and the Close of Death at AmazonB&NBook DepositorySmashwordsKoboAuthor’s websiteyour local bookstore.


Learn more about Colt Humboldt and the Close of Death HERE.

Meet the author, T. A. Anderson, at his website:  http://taandersonauthor.wordpress.com/


If you only read one adventure/fantasy this year, make it Colt Humboldt and the Close of Death. Just my opinion and there are still several months left to find something better. We won’t.



colt humboldt 1

Filed under: 6 Stars TOP BOOK, Debut Author, Favorites, Historical Fiction, Library Donated Books, Middle Grade, Series Tagged: black plague, children's book reviews, Colt Humboldt, debut work, folklores, Mary King's Close, middle grade novel, Scotland, Scotland legends, T. A. Anderson

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25. #594 – Return to Canterbury by Melissa Ann Goodwin

return to canterbury.

Return to Canterbury

by Melissa Ann Goodwin

Melissa Ann Goodwin, publisher     12/20/2013


Age 8 to 12          270 pages


“Things have settled down for thirteen-year-old Jamie Reynolds since last Christmas. That’s when he time-traveled to 1932 and wound up in the town of Canterbury, Vermont. There he met Kelly and Christopher Pennysworth, who quickly became his best friends. Back in his own time again, he misses them every day. But as the July 4th, 2008 holiday approaches, the biggest black cloud still hovering over Jamie’s life is the mystery of what happened to his dad, who has been missing or almost a year.

“Little does Jamie know that he will soon reunite with Kelly and Christopher for an adventure even bigger than their last. Together they’ll uncover a secret plot that threatens to destroy Canterbury. But will they be able to stop it before it’s too late? And will Jamie finally solve the mystery of his father’s disappearance? Return to Canterbury with us and find out!”


“Dear Jamie, writing you another letter, even though I know you’ll never get to read it. But there’s ever so much going on in Canterbury these days and it seems strange not to be able to tell you about it. I miss you awfully, and writing to you almost makes me feel like we’ve talked. Almost.”

The Story

Jamie returns to Canterbury after seeing a picture of himself at the time capsule during the 4th of July celebrations—in 1935. He is standing with Kelly and Christopher, who he befriended in the first story entitled The Christmas Village. Jamie also sees a photograph that looks just like his dad, also from 1935. He knows he will be time-traveling again, this time to bring back his dad. What he doesn’t know just yet is that he will help foil a plan to put Canterbury underwater to form a hydroelectric power plant. To make that happen, a big shot from New York has to buy up the local farmland from farmers who will not sell. But this new “villain” has a plan that will make that problem go away.  Jamie, Kelly, and Christopher set out to foil all of the plans, safekeeping Canterbury for future generations.


I have not read The Christmas Village, though now I would like to read it. The sequel to that story, Return to Canterbury, can stand on its own. The author does a good job getting the reader up to speed without the reader feeling they are reading old material. It is 2008 and Jamie has meet the 88-year-old Kelly. Just last year, twelve-year-old Jamie meet ten-year-old Kelly.  Now she is 88, which is a strange situation for Jamie. Kelly knows what will happen when Jamie returns to Canterbury but cannot tell him for fear of changing the past, thus changing the present and future. This leads to one of a few holes in the story that did bother me, but did not destroy the great fun I had reading the story. It caused a momentary, “Wait. That can’t be right,” and a halt in reading.

Jamie is now in present-day Canterbury. When he goes back to 1935 Canterbury and the prospect of Mr. Boggs—the guy from New York with plans to flood Canterbury for a hydroelectric power plant—Jamie should realize, from the current Canterbury, that the 1935 plan fails, yet the three kids put themselves in great harm to stop the plan. True, if Jamie had not helped, maybe the future would have changed, but it is odd that he doesn’t at least realize all will turn out okay based on present day Canterbury, where he had just left. I suppose this and the other two holes are the ultimate definition of suspending one’s beliefs.

Since I am on the subject, the one hole involves the first book, The Christmas Village. In that one, it is 2007 and Jamie travels to Canterbury 1932 after staring at his grandmother’s Christmas Village. In the sequel, Return to Canterbury, Jamie tells of his father after the two return from 1935. For one, his dad learned woodworking, making his mother the Christmas Village, the same one Jamie used in 2007 to transport to 1932, but not built until 2010. The Christmas Village could not have existed in 2007. The editor should have picked up on this and request a change.

The other involves Jamie and his dad’s returning from 1935 to the present 2008. They touch something that Jamie writes in 2008 while with Kelly’s granddaughter Kendall. The message could not have been anywhere in 1935, yet there it is. How? Suspending one’s beliefs and ignoring the inconsistencies that occasionally appear was necessary for me, yet the story of Jamie’s Return to Canterbury is very good. The writing is excellent. No typos or misspells to stall one’s reading. Editing is also good, except for the inconsistencies not caught. The story is a fun read. The three kids solving the crime and capturing the bad guys is much fun.

I like the 1930’s Canterbury, where everyone knows everyone and people gather to help each other as much as to celebrate. Jamie learns a few secrets, which turn out to be wonderful gems. I read this in two sittings, anxious to nab the diabolical Mr. Boggs and to find out what Jamie and his dad put in the time capsule—which would be opened a mere two years after they both return home to 2008.

Return to Canterbury felt like a gift. The story is a good old-fashioned tale about a good old-fashioned village of gentle (not genteel) people, loving and helping each other, though not legally or biologically related. Return to Canterbury gives one hope for the future—not about time travel but about the goodness of people.  It is also a story that will have some reminiscing and others longing for days as nice as in Canterbury. Return to Canterbury is an intriguing story solved by three industrious kids who each bring something different to the story.

Kids will enjoy Return to Canterbury. It is perfect middle grade fare. Jamie, Kelly, and Christopher are a solid team. Though each is great on his own, it is not enough without the other two. Teamwork, friendship, family, community, family-by-choice, time-travel, and a simpler life are all important in Return to Canterbury. I highly recommend this story. I bet The Christmas Village,which started the series, is just as worthy of your time

** I apologize. I try each week to shorten these reviews, but some books I have much I want to say, mainly to convince you the book is worth your time to read. Deciding what to leave out is beyond difficult. It has become nearly impossible.

RETURN TO CANTERBURY. Text copyright © 2013 by Melissa Ann Goodwin. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Melissa Ann Goodwin, Andover, MA.

Buy Return to Canterbury at AmazonB&NBook DepositorySmashbooks—author’s website—your local bookstore.


Learn more about Return to Canterbury HERE.

Meet the author, Melissa Ann Goodwin, at her website:  http://authormelissaanngoodwin.blogspot.com/


Also by Melissa Ann Goodwin

The Christmas Village

The Christmas Village



THE CHRISTMAS VILLAGE won the 2013 BLOGGER BOOK FAIR READER’S CHOICE AWARD for children’s action/adventure.




return to canterbury

Filed under: 5stars, Favorites, Historical Fiction, Library Donated Books, Middle Grade, Series Tagged: 1930's Canterbury Vermont, arson, children's book reviews, family of choice, friendship, hydroelectric power stations, Melissa Ann Goodwin, middle grade novel, time capsules, time travel

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