Reviews

Friendship on the Field: Braced by Alyson Gerber

Gerber, Alyson. Braced. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2017. 281 pages. Hardcover $14.59, ISBN 978-0-545-90214-4

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Part of a series? No

Plot Summary:

At the end of her vacation before seventh grade, Rachel finds out that her scoliosis has progressed to the point where she must wear a brace. She is fitted for her brace and prescribed a 23-hour-a-day routine. Rachel has big plans for seventh grade — making starter offense on the soccer team, getting to know a guy from class better, and generally being awesome. A brace for her scoliosis has no place in her plans, but her mom refuses to let Rachel spend extra time out of her brace. Can Rachel still rock it on the soccer field in her brace? Will her teammates support her, or are they just laughing at her?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This is a great book. The author draws on her own experience of having to wear a brace as a teen, and Rachel’s voice comes through super clearly and realistically.

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred02/01/16

Kirkus Reviews starred12/15/16

 

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Reviews

Places, people! SHORT by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Sloan, Holly Goldberg. Short. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017. Read by Tara Sands. 296 pages/6 hours and 33 minutes. Hardcover  $14.59, ISBN 978-0-399-18621-9 ; TR $7.69, ISBN 978-0-399-18622-6

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction / Theatre

Part of a series? No

Plot Summary:

Julia Marks is having a rough start to her summer. Her dog/best friend Ramon has just passed away, and she finds herself looking for him all the time. She’s feeling misunderstood; with Ramon, she never had to talk about why she never says the word “short” or how it feels to be the one in the family small enough to sneak in the dog door when someone forgets their keys. This summer, she’s supposed to look after her little brother Randy, and perhaps as a way to keep both kids occupied, Mrs. Marks has Julia try out for the summer production of The Wizard of Oz with Randy. To Julia’s huge surprise, she does well enough to get cast. As a munchkin, she gets to work with Olive, a little person and adult cast member. Julia does well enough that she becomes the dance captain for the munchkins, plus she gets an added role as a Winged Monkey. Her neighbor Mrs. Chang is so excited to hear about Julia’s summer project that she starts making munchkin costumes for Julia. When Sean Barr, the director of the show, sees Julia’s munchkin gear, Mrs. Chang finds herself a role in the show. As summer progresses, Julia begins to wonder if her height really does define her — and whether that is a good or a bad thing.

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book had me crying within the first five minutes … basically, as soon as she mentioned Ramon, I was a goner. Actually, nearly every time she really talks about Ramon, I end up crying. But that’s just me! The book itself was wonderful. Julia’s first foray into the world of acting is really sweet, interesting, and plausible. It feels like readers are backstage with her as she learns what wings are, what it means to hit your mark, and more.

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred, 10/15/16

Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred, 12/01/16

Readalikes?

Better Nate than Never (according to Those About to Mock)

I’m curious to see if How to Stage a Catastrophe is a readalike.

Reviews

Punks and Posada: THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK by Celia C. Pérez

Pérez, Celia C. The First Rule of Punk. Read by Trini Alvarado. Viking/Recorded Books, 2017. 310 pages/5 hours and 20 minutes. Hardcover $14.59, ISBN978-0-425-29040-8

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!!!

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Part of a series? No

Plot Summary:

Maria Luisa O’Neill-Morales — Malú — lives and breathes punk music. Growing up in her father’s record store Spins and Needles has helped her be able to craft her punk identity. This means that moving to Chicago with her mother (“Super Mexican”) for her mother’s new professorship will also mean finding a way to preserve her punk self while not getting into daily battles with her mom (who just wants Malú to act like una señorita). Moving away from everything she knows is hard, and none of the zines she’s made arguing her case to her mom change the fact that she’ll be living in Chicago for the next two years. Upon arrival, Malú learns that not only is her punk cred unimportant to her classmates, she also finds that they expect her to act like una señorita, too, referring to her as a “coconut” for her love of punk music and culture. Can Malú stay true to herself and find a place in her new school?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book is fantastic. The music references are cool, the descriptions of Malú’s zines are awesome, and the development of each character is wonderful. I would absolutely hand this off to students looking for coming-of-age stories, stories about moving away, and stories about finding yourself.

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews starred06/15/17

Publishers Weekly Annex starred08/07/17

School Library Journal starred06/01/17

 

Readalikes?

Frazzled by Booki Vivat

 

Reviews

The fox and his boy: Pax by Sara Pennypacker

Pennypacker, Sara. Pax. Balzer + Bray, 2016. 276 pages. Hardcover $14.59, ISBN 978-0-06-237701-2; PLB $20.46, ISBN 978-1-53792-339-0

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Realistic fiction

Part of a series? No.

Plot Summary:

When Peter’s father announces that he must go to war, it means that Peter must move in with his silent grandfather … and give up his beloved fox, Pax. Pax is puzzled by his boy’s sadness that day in the car, and when his boy throws the toy soldier far into the woods, Pax thinks it’s a game of fetch. Instead, both fox and boy are crushed as Peter is forced to rush into the car and leave his fox behind. After his first day with his grandfather, Peter realizes he can’t leave Pax on his own in the wild. Peter sets off on foot to cover the distance to find his fox. Pax realizes that living in the wild is much harder than living with his boy. Can Pax learn to take care of himself? Will he be alone forever? Will Peter make it to his fox?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book KILLED ME. I have a “no books with animals on the cover” rule because if the book is meant to be serious, I KNOW I’ll be ugly-sobbing by the end. Pax definitely delivers on that front! On his adventures, Peter meets Vola, a war veteran with one leg. Vola is a powerful character, and I loved her chapters. Pax’s voice as a narrator is clear and beautiful. Ultimately, this is a great book that I know I will never read again (TOO MUCH CRYING). I would absolutely hand this to a fan of wilderness, survival, and animal stories.

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred, 11/01/15

Kirkus Reviews starred, 11/01/15

Publishers Weekly starred, 11/16/15

School Library Journal starred, 12/01/15

Reviews

She is here, she is here, she is here: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Barnhill, Kelly Regan. The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Narrated by Christina Moore. Algonquin Young Readers/Recorded Books, 2016. 388 pages, 9 hours and 37 minutes. Hardcover $15.41, ISBN 978-1-61620-567-6; PLB $18.56, ISBN 978-1-53791-113-7

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!!!!

Genre: Fantasy

Part of a series? No

Plot Summary:

Each year, the Protectorate must sacrifice the youngest child to an evil witch who lurks in the woods. This sacrifice guarantees the Protectorate’s continued subsistence…a meager one, fed mainly by a mystical bog and often filled with suffering. The sacrifice is a necessary evil … or, at least, that’s what the Grand Elders want the people to think. There is no witch. Except, unbeknownst to the Elders, there is a witch, and she’s good. The witch, an old woman named Xan, rescues the baby every year and finds a new home for the child in the Free Cities, feeding the child starlight along the way. One year, a woman fights the Elders who come for her baby. The woman is imprisoned in the Sisters’ tower and diagnosed mad. The baby captures Xan’s heart, and one night by mistake, Xan feeds the child moonlight and enmagics her. Luna the baby is so magical that Xan must bind her magic until her thirteenth birthday. Will Luna learn how to use her magic? Is Fyrian a Perfectly Tiny dragon? Will the Protectorate ever be free of its sorrow? And why do Xan and her swamp monster Glerk remember only that “Sorrow is dangerous?”

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

UGH THIS BOOK. This book is pure magic. Christina Moore’s reading is delightful; as Barnhill has written a gem of a book that draws on oral tradition, Moore’s performance is a truly wonderful storytelling feat. Fyrian’s voice is a treat, and Glerk’s grumbling is great. This is absolutely a pick for readers who want to know more about defeating evil or coming of age. The story is extremely dark, but I think kids who already love dystopias are going to be fine with this one.

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred, 07/01/16
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books starred, 09/01/16
Kirkus Reviews starred, 06/01/16

Newbery Medal, 2017
Publishers Weekly starred, 06/06/16
School Library Journal starred, 07/01/16
Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred, 10/01/16

Reviews

Return to the Sweet Life: The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase by Wendy Mass

Mass, Wendy. The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase. Little, Brown and Company, 2016. 533 pages. Hardcover $16.29, ISBN 978-0-316-08919-7; PLB $13.06, ISBN 978-1-53791-619-4; TR $7.69, ISBN 978-0-316-08918-0

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Mystery

Part of a series? Yes — this is the sequel to The Candymakers

Plot Summary:

Logan, Miles, Philip, and Daisy can’t believe that after these few months, Harmonicandy is finally about to go into production. Each child also is grappling with issues in their personal lives — does Daisy have a brother? How can she balance being a spy with having normal friends? How can Miles find out more about his family without upsetting his father? How can Philip feel closer to his mother’s memory while continuing to build his own future? And how is Logan to deal with the sympathy from everyone who knows that he did not win the contest when Philip’s win was the only way to save the factory? Things go from tricky to bananas when — once the first Harmonicandies are made and shared at the Kick-Off — Logan realizes that they do not use the same chocolate from the original Harmonicandy batch in the contest, rendering their win moot. If they can’t reproduce those exact Harmonicandies, they are disqualified! How to find the winning chocolate, and what will everyone do if they can?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book is a wild ride. It feels more disjointed than the first Candymakers book, but our beloved narrators are just as unputdownable as ever. The team embarks on a road trip to find the mysterious chocolate (and Daisy’s family … and Miles’s family … and Philip’s family …), and characters from other Mass novels find their way into cameos here. It’s a fun read with good questions about stewardship and what’s right.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This still delivers as a solid mystery, and I’d also hand this to Mass fans for the cameos she provides.

Grade Level: 3-7

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

Reviews

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice: The Candymakers by Wendy Mass

Mass, Wendy. The Candymakers. Little, Brown, 2010. 453 pages. Hardcover  $15.44, ISBN 978-0-316-00258-5 ; PLB $13.86, ISBN 978-0-329-89179-4 ; TR $8.54, ISBN 978-0-316-00259-2

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Mystery

Part of a series? Yes –the second book is The Candymakers: The Great Chocolate Chase

Plot Summary:

Logan Sweet is super excited and a little bit — make that really — nervous. The big candy making contest has arrived, and now Logan is one of 32 twelve-year-olds competing to have their candy be chosen as the next “it” candy. Being the grandson of Samuel Sweet, candy innovator and founder of the Life is Sweet candy factory means that Logan feels he has a lot to prove. But to win, he needs to beat every single other child competing, and as we are soon to learn, the other three contestants from his region also have a reason to win. Logan is also excited, however, to have the chance to spend time with people his own age — he has grown up inside the factory and has seldom gone into the outside world. Will Miles (a bit of a strange kid who has a tendency to talk about the Afterlife), Daisy (a bubbly girl with a weirdly heavy purse and a tendency to read out loud by herself), and Philip (a world-class snot) turn out to become his friends? Or are they simply competitors? (And is everyone exactly who they seem to be?)

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book was AMAZING. A student recommended it to me, and once I started it, I could not put it down. This book is told through each child’s point of view, and as soon as we get up to the night before the big contest, we switch from Logan to Miles (who relates all of the action up to that point as he experienced it) to Daisy (who does the same) to Philip (who does the same), finally back to Logan. Each child has secrets that they do not share with each other, and each child is motivated by something beyond simply making the winning candy. (Do all of them even want to make candy? I’ll leave it to you to find out!) Deliciously, this book utilizes unreliable narrators, leaving kids to find out as they read whether or not we know who these people are.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This is definitely a great read for anyone, particularly fans of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

Reviews

Once upon a time … The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

Chainani, Soman. The School for Good and Evil. Read by Polly Lee. Harper, 2013. 488 pages. Hardcover $15.44, ISBN 978-0-06-210489-2; PLB $13.86, ISBN 978-1-48982-456-1; TR $6.84, ISBN 978-0-06-210490-8

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes

Genre: Fantasy, fairytales

Part of a series? Yes — The School for Good and Evil series

Plot Summary:

Sophie of Gavaldon knows that when the mysterious schoolmaster comes to steal children (one for the princess school, one for the witch school), she’s a shoe-in for the role of the princess. She’s given her life to good deeds — just look at her best friend Agatha. Nobody likes Agatha!

Imagine Sophie’s shock when the schoolmaster does come for her … and drops her off in the School for Evil, sending Agatha into the hallowed halls of the School for Good! Is this a terrible mistake, or do the girls have more to learn about what makes “good” and “evil” so?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

While this book does not probe as deeply into “good” versus “evil” as I would have liked, this is still a delicious fairytale. Well, as an older reader, I struggled with some issues that felt a bit straw-feminist like to me? (Agatha’s early loathing of Tedros was fun, but it does not sustain itself over the course of the fairy tale. It feels like something she must grow out of…)  As well as some spoilers [Chainani plays with heteronormativity in ways that uphold heteronormativity, so I am not fully comfortable with that], but over all, I would hand this one off to a student who enjoys fantasy and stories about schools of magic.

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

Readalikes?

If you love Sophie’s need to be the BEST, pick up The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire LeGrand. There’s a similar “pity best friend” plot line where the best friend (much like Agatha) is the better of the two kids. (Victoria of Cavendish does turn nicer a bit faster than Sophie does, but still — the plot is similar.)

Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories series delivers on fairytale retelling and having ordinary children fall into a storybook world. Colfer’s series is contemporary fiction whereas the girls of Gavaldon appear to live in a more rustic era, but the “brave new world” feeling is similar.

Reviews

Run Like the River: Gregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne. Gregor and the Code of Claw. Scholastic, c2007, p2008. 412 pages. PLB $13.36, ISBN 978-0-329-65712-3  ; TR $6.84, ISBN 978-0-439-79144-1

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Fantasy

Part of a series? Yes — the Gregor the Overlander series (The Underland Chronicles).

Plot Summary:

Gregor has returned to Regalia to claim his sword and read the Prophecy of Time, another Warrior prophecy that appears to hold the key to his –and all of the Underland’s– fate. It is up to Gregor to save the Underland, and his sister must also play an important role. The rats are marching for Regalia, and the Regalians must keep them at bay. Can the humans of the Underland win enough allies — warmblood and other — to save their homeland? Or will the rats rule all?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book is intense. Collins really delivers on the peril in this one, and there is a great deal of violence on the page. Characters we know and love are wounded (sometimes mortally), and unnamed figures are killed during the battles. Gregor struggles with the ethics of killing, so the violence (while intense) is not there simply for violence’s sake, but is instead handled thoughtfully. That said, I would still be mindful of a student’s age/sensitivities before handing this one to them. You will definitely be crying by novel’s end!!

n/a

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Horn Book Magazine starred 10/01/07

 

Reviews

Despair and darkness: Gregor and the Marks of Secret by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne. Gregor and the Marks of Secret. Scholastic, c2006, p2007. 343 pages. PLB $13.36, ISBN 978-1-42874-501-8 ; TR (mass market) $6.84, ISBN 978-0-439-79146-5

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Fantasy

Part of a series? Yes — the Gregor the Overlander series (The Underland Chronicles).

Plot Summary:

It is summer vacation in the Overland, which means that Gregor now has a great deal of free time to spend with Ripred for echolocation lessons. Gregor is less than thrilled with this development, particularly as his echolocation skills are not particularly strong. Ripred surprises Gregor with the news that he wishes to kill a creature who is dangerous, unstable, and who has the potential to be extremely powerful. The next day, Gregor is attacked by three rats who smash his flashlight and show him just how important echolocation is. Ripred goes missing, but Gregor is unsure of how to (or if he should) inform Vikus of Ripred’s intentions before his disappearance. During a birthday party, a bat scout drops off one of Luxa’s crowns, informing her that a nibbler had given it to him and said that Luxa would know what it meant. Luxa makes light of the delivery in public, but as she and Gregor know, it means that the mice are in grave danger. When Luxa, Gregor, and their bonds go to find the mice, the entire colony is empty, save for one dead mouse, her body hiding a strange carving on the ground. They return to Regalia, pack up for a “picnic” (so that they may escape Regalia and search for the mice without alerting the Council) only to need to take Hazard, Boots, Howard, and Nike along. They are soon trapped by an earthquake, and the peril is real. Traveling through Hades Hall to the Firelands in order to return safely to Regalia takes them through some dangerous lands with even more perilous inhabitants … what Gregor and his friends encounter in Hades Hall is enough to push the Underland past the brink and into a full-scale war. Will Gregor and his friends be able to help the nibblers? Or is all lost in the Underland?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book begins to take Gregor into more intense territory — there are absolutely some scenes (highlight here for spoiler >>>) for instance, a mass grave of mice, as well as a massacre that happens on the page that make me hesitate to hand this to a young reader. That said, the book is gripping, and Gregor grapples with some very real ethical dilemmas. A strong fourth installment to the Underland Chronicles that ends on a serious cliffhanger.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

n/a

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Horn Book Magazine starred 10/01/06

Kirkus Reviews starred 05/15/06