Sunshine and rainbows: Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Holm, Jennifer L., & Holm, Matthew. Sunny Side Up. Graphix, 2015. 216 pages. Hardcover $20.44, ISBN 978-0-545-74165-1; PLB $17.56, ISBN 978-1-48988-011-6; TR $11.09, ISBN 978-0-545-74166-8

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

Genre: Realistic Fiction (Graphic Novel)

Part of a Series? No.

Plot Summary:

Sunny Lewin is sent to spend August with her grandfather in a retirement community. This shatters Sunny’s summertime dreams of beach lounging and fun having. Instead, her grampa’s “big plans” for each day tend to include going to the post office or the grocery store. Only one other person at the community is her age, and while Buzz and his comics are a fun distraction, they aren’t enough to stop Sunny from thinking about her big brother Dale. What is happening with Dale, and is it Sunny’s job to fix it?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This is a super sweet and poignant story. The material is a bit intense, but it’s written well for a third through seventh grade audience. Some kids don’t know how to respond to the reveal, but I don’t think this is necessarily a problem.

Trigger Warnings:

  • substance abuse

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:


Grade Level: 3-7

Awards and Starred Reviews: n/a


Imaginary Friends: Crenshaw

Applegate, Katherine. Crenshaw. Feiwel and Friends, 2015. 245 pages. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN 978-1-25004-323-8; PLB $18.51, ISBN 978-1-51810-864-8


TL;DR: Do I recommend this? YES!


Genre: Fantasy


Part of a series? No.


Plot Summary:

Jackson and his family do what they can to make ends meet. They were homeless once, living in a van when they lost their house. Jackson is afraid that they are approaching another homeless period. To compound his fears, a gigantic cat that eats grape jellybeans, wears snazzy tee-shirts, and takes bubble baths keeps appearing … but only he can see it. Crenshaw is this cat’s name, and the last time he saw Crenshaw was when he was homeless (and a little kid!). Jackson is all about the facts — science, chemistry, things that you can prove. So why does Crenshaw keep appearing? Is Jackson crazy, or does he just need to accept the magic?


Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

Once again, Applegate takes a difficult subject and infuses it with magic and care. Jackson’s homelessness is discussed in a frank tone; Applegate does not use those moments to condescend to her readers. Jackson also reflects on how compared to other children who have been homeless, he had it easy as his period of homelessness was shorter than those he has met with similar stories. Crenshaw himself is fascinating; he combines the sweetness of an imaginary friend with the attitude (Cattitude?) that a talking giant cat would likely have.


This story also made me cry in public, which I am usually unhappy about. This story was just so sweet, however, that I did not mind. Jackson’s little sister (amongst others) work to help him accept magic in the world, and while readers will have to check out the book to find out if he does, I guarantee that it will give them something to think about.


Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a great book for reading circles to inspire the discussion of imagination. A fun activity would be to snack on jellybeans and make care packages for local shelters. (Idea from myself)


Grade Level: 3-6


Awards and Starred Reviews:

Horn Book Guide starred 4/1/16

Horn Book Magazine starred 9/1/15

Library Media Connection starred 1/1/16

Publishers Weekly starred 6/22/15

School Library Journal starred 8/1/15


Reviews referenced:

Carr, J. (n. d.). Crenshaw (Review of the book Crenshaw). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from

Kirkus Reviews. (2015, June 29). Crenshaw (Review of the book Crenshaw). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from


Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Hale, Shannon. Princess Academy. Bloomsbury Press, 2005. 314 pages. Hardcover $15.34, ISBN 978-1-58234-993-0; Tr. $6.84, ISBN 978-1-61963-613-2; PLB $13.71, ISBN 978-1-48986-273-0


TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes


Part of a series? Yes — Princess Academy series


Genre: Fantasy


Plot Summary:

Miri is nervous. Will her Pa just let her work in the linder quarry? She feels useless and knows her town agrees with her — she’s too small to mine linder, so what’s the point of her? When it’s announced that the prince’s bride will come from remote Mount Eskel and that the girls must attend a Princess Academy in preparation, Miri’s world is opened. Learning to read gives Miri pathways to a new world and new understandings. Will she gain confidence and learn that she is not useless?


Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

I thought this was a really sweet fantasy novel about confidence, empathy, bravery, and even prejudice. As “lowlander” after lowlander assumes the Mount Eskel girls to be stupid (and the Mount Eskel girls assume the lowlanders are weak), each group gets to know the other and realize that they are not as different as they seem.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This novel really packages discussions about empathy and bravery well, too, so this would be a great book club pick or reading circle choice. Readers could discuss different ways that parents or other adults show that they care for others. They can talk about what it’s like to feel different. Perhaps I could steer the conversation eventually towards a conversation of what it means to have different abilities and strengths, and then I could give the kids time to discuss their own cool skills. (Idea from myself)


Grade Level: 5-9


Awards and Starred Reviews:



Review referenced:

Plevak, L. L. (2005). Princess academy (Review of the book Princess Academy). School Library Journal, 51(10), p. 161.



Courage, Love, and Strength: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Brubaker Bradley, Kimberly. The War That Saved My Life. Puffin Books, 2016. 336 pages. Hardcover $10.36 ISBN 978-0147510488

img_0143Ada and Jamie have never had it easy, and for Ada, life has been nothing but pain. Born with a clubfoot that her mother never sought treatment for, Ada is raised in a single room, forbidden by her mother to ever walk, let alone  leave their flat, even as Jamie, Ada’s 6 year old younger brother, is given free run of the neighborhood. When it is announced that children are being evacuated out of London in preparation for bombs that Germany may drop on the town, Ada learns that her mother intends only to send Jamie out into the country. Ada sneaks away with Jamie armed with the ability to walk — a skill she taught herself over the summer months in preparation for Jamie’s start at school. The country is not like home — there are many things they don’t know, and there are a lot of people who are upset by the influx of evacuees. There is also, however, a pony named Butter, and he lives with a woman named Susan Smith who is made to take them in. While Susan never wanted children, she takes care of Ada and Jamie, buying and making them new clothes and keeping them well fed and educated. Will Ma ever reply and let Ada get surgery for her clubfoot? Will they be sent home to London? What does “home” mean?

I really enjoyed this book. It’s completely gripping, and Ada’s voice is very clear. Her PTSD that she suffers resulting from her mother’s verbal and physical abuse is written realistically, and her fits are never meant to make readers think she is silly or stupid — readers are  upset on her behalf. This is a powerful historical fiction read, especially as context for a unit on the start of the war in Britain and the preparation for the bombings. While a fictional character, Ada is a realistic lower-class London girl. This is also a great read for kids who like horses and ponies, as equestrian activities take up a good portion of the action as well. This is a powerful recommendation for kids who want more context or who simply are interested in World War II.


Time Travel and Twenty Thousand Dollars: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me. Wendy Lamb Books, 2009. 199 pages. Hardcover $11.29 ISBN 978-0385737425

IMG_0140.JPGThis book is a total brain-bender! We follow Miranda in her letters to an unknown “you” in the school year spanning 1978-1979. Miranda tells the story of the day her friend Sal told her he wanted to take a break being friends. Devastated, Miranda does her best to live with that decision, even though it means walking past the scary Laughing Man, a homeless person who has a tendency to kick into traffic, scream at the sky, and call out specific passersby. Despite her fear of the laughing man, Miranda manages to have a pretty good go of things. She often thinks about her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, with Marcus, a mysterious kid who punched Sal “just to see what would happen.” While Marcus is convinced time travel is real, Mira isn’t so sure. She is also receiving mysterious letters, and these letters freak her out pretty badly.

This was not the mystery I was expecting, but it was still a great read. The concurrent preparation for her mother’s shot on The $20,000 Pyramid injects urgency into the novel, as does the unexpected appearances of each letter. The laughing man swoops between lucidity and madness, and it leaves Miranda and readers with a lot of questions. The repeated references to A Wrinkle in Time could make this a great next read for kids who loved L’Engle’s story and would like to have someone (albeit a fictional someone) to “talk to” about the book and its time travel capabilities. It would be fun to play Catchphrase during book club to show kids how hard it can be to think on your feet like Miranda’s mother would have to do, and conversations about friendship, growing up, and empathy could be really fruitful. Furthermore, I really appreciated the portrayals of characters with differences (Richard’s need for a platform shoe on his right side, Annemarie’s epilepsy) respectfully and without making them seem as though they had been inserted to increase the “diversity” of the novel.


Catch-up Post: Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

I read this book earlier this summer. As I wrote on my main blog,

I loved this book! Its style was very reminiscent of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, a major favorite of mine. While this book was a lot bigger than I expected a MG book to be, I never felt like it dragged (even if my hands got tired holding it up!). Otto, Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy had me captivated. I had to know more about this harmonica with the letter “M,” and the cliffhangers made me keep going. I remember finishing the Mike section late one night and thinking, “Just one more chapter!” — but I knew that if I did try to do “just one more chapter,” I’d be up all night until I finished the book! So I had to put it aside.🙂

I definitely would recommend this book to young readers.

Swoon! I loved Echo so much. Framing anything in a fairy tale is a surefire way to get me hooked, and this book was no exception. Ivy, Mike, Friedrich, and Otto all captured my interest, and I would be happy to recommend this to any young reader.


  • Death
  • Racism
  • Prejudice

Major Plot Points/Themes/Etc.:

  • Racism
  • Prejudice
  • Historical Fiction
  • Music
  • Harmonicas
  • Fairy tales
  • Perseverance

Catch-up Post: Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

This blog is going to house my 45 books read this semester for my materials for tweens class, but I also want to use this site to hold my thoughts/reviews/whatevers for any MG or other young read book I’ve read! So, here is the first in a short series of books that I read this summer for another class.

As I wrote on my main blog,

Wonderstruck was gorgeous, although given Selznick’s work, that’s no surprise! I loved the overlapping stories of the boy in the 1970s and the girl in the 1920s. I especially loved how her story was told largely in graphic format. What a great read!

The illustrations, per Selznick’s usual, are stunning. I particularly loved how the girl’s scenes played out exclusively in illustration.Selznick does a great job with the story, and it’s one that I highly recommend!

Themes/Major Plot Points:

  • Being Deaf
  • Family
  • Death of a parent
  • Grief and loss
  • Adventure
  • Runaways
  • Theatre
  • Museums