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

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

ARC Alert (with a book birthday today!) — The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken

Thank you to Disney/Hyperion and NetGalley for the ARC. Below is my honest review.

Bracken, Alexandra. The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding. Disney/Hyperion, 2017. 362 pages. Hardcover $16.99, ISBN 978-1-48477-817-3

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Horror

Part of a series? Appears to be — no spoilers, but the ending makes me think there’s a sequel!

Plot Summary:

Prosperity “Prosper” Oceanus Redding has had it up to here with his family’s nonsense. His evil grandmonster (grandmother, to most people) runs his hometown of Redhood, MA with an iron fist (it helps that she’s managed to remain mayor for the last ten years). His twin sister Prue (Prudence Fidelia Redding, thank you so much for the names, Pilgrim ancestors) has survived a weak heart and countless surgeries and emergencies, so for her, middle school is nothing to get worked up about. For Prosper, it’s torture. He isn’t successful, popular, or powerful — basically, he’s nothing like the rest of his family. A family dinner at the grandmonster’s house takes a turn for the sinister when Prosper’s parents call from out of the country demanding that Prosper grab his sister and run. A mysterious stranger crashes the party, rescues Prosper from his grandmother and the knife she’s trying to kill him with, and drags him to Salem, MA. The mysterious stranger is none other than Uncle Barnabas, a fellow Redding failure. He and his daughter Nell (an actual witch!) promise to save Prosper from both his grandmother and a much more sinister evil — an ancient demon by the name of Alastor who is currently residing inside of Prosper. How did the Reddings rise to power in the 1600s? Not through their work ethic! Rather, Alastor cut a deal with Honor Redding, the man from whom the town of Redhood got its name. After his rise to power, Honor enlisted a witch to help him get out of the deal, leaving Alastor to curse the family name and promise to return one day to destroy the Reddings once and for all. The time has nearly come, hence Prosper’s near-death at his grandmother’s get-together. Will Alastor succeed in destroying the Reddings, or will Prosper and his friends find a way to elude Alastor’s curse?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book has EVERYTHING. A snarky outsider narrator with a killer sense of humor? Check. A young witch whose first words readers encounter are lines from The Crucible? Check. A haunted house that is both tourist trap and actually haunted? CHECK! Family drama, mysteries, lies, and secrets? YOU GOT IT. A sassy demon? OF COURSE. A tiny black kitten that’s also a super powerful changeling who can fly? YES, FRIENDS! (Maybe I’m the only person who was looking for that? Okay.) Once I picked this one up, I couldn’t put it down. Prosper’s voice is intensely readable. This book delivers on creepiness, action, and humor. One scene can go from super creepy malefactor activities to an action-packed fight scene straight into Prosper’s deadpan reaction to the hoopla. The pace of the book is quick, but it never feels rushed. This is a great autumn read.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

I would totally hand this one to students looking for a deliciously creepy, funny, and action-packed adventure. It feels like a good fit for fans of Doll Bones by Holly Black, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire LeGrand, and the Jackaby series by William Ritter.

Grade Level: 3-7

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 08/01/17

Publishers Weekly starred 07/03/17

Reviews

Friends for Ever-After: Friends For Life by Andrew Norris

Norriss, Andrew. Friends For Life. David Fickling Books/Scholastic, Inc., 2015. 234 pages. Hardcover $15.34, ISBN 978-0-545-85186-2

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes

Genre: Fantasy (ghosts)

Part of a series? No.

Plot Summary:

Francis is having a tough time; he sits alone frequently because no one at his school thinks that fashion design is a normal hobby for a boy. When Jessica sits with him at lunch, he is surprised by their pleasant conversation … and more surprised to learn that she is a ghost. Jessica is equally surprised; no one can ever see her. Together, Jessica and Francis bond, and when more people are able to see Jessica, the friends must find out if their ability to see Jessica means that they have something they need to do.

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This was a very sweet book. I had no idea what it was about when I started it, so I was very surprised by some of the twists. Without giving away too much, the book is about bullying and suicide. The topics are handled very thoughtfully, and the idea that life is worth living is upheld throughout the novel. I would be careful about how young of a reader I would hand-sell this too; suicide is a tough topic, and I would want to ensure that a reader was properly emotionally mature to read this one, but for many middle-graders, this will be a powerful read.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a really great reading circle group. I wonder if it would be fun for people to (perhaps anonymously) submit things they are interested in (in the event that they are as shy as Francis is about his hobby). Alternately, we could have a non-anonymous sharing of talents and a kind of “teach your hobby” day in the library for kids to showcase their abilities and help teach friends how to do those things (i.e., fashion design or coding or … anything!). (Ideas from myself)

Grade Level: 5-8 (Titlewave says 3-6, but given the topic >>> suicide , I’m leaning more towards Kirkus Reviews’ age range)

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Library Media Connection starred 2/1/16

Publishers Weekly starred 5/18/15

Reviews

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 https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/crenshaw

Kirkus Reviews. (2015, June 29). Crenshaw (Review of the book Crenshaw). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/katherine-applegate/crenshaw/

Reviews

Rock and Roll! Roller Girl

Jamieson, Victoria. Roller Girl. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015. 239 pages. Hardcover $17.89, ISBN 978-0-525-42967-8; Tr. $11.09, ISBN 978-0-8037-4016-7; PLB $17.06, ISBN 978-1-48988-662-0

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? YES ABSOLUTELY

 

Genre: Sports story (Graphic Novel)

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

Once again, I find myself wishing that I could do roller derby (alas, I am terrified of falling over and breaking my glasses, and my balance on skates of any kind is laughable). Jamieson’s protagonist Astrid discovers roller derby one night when her mother takes her and her best friend Nicole out for an Enlightening Cultural Experience (ECE). Unlike previous ECEs when Astrid has been forced to watch an opera, go to a modern art museum, or otherwise improve herself, Astrid instead gets to watch women on roller skates slam into each other to win points. She immediately plans to attend the Rose Bud roller derby summer boot camp with her best friend Nicole … until Nicole’s dance class friend (and Astrid’s number one enemy) Rachel starts talking about plans for dance camp. Confident in the knowledge that Nicole won’t desert her for Rachel, Astrid is shocked when Nicole ditches her and roller derby for a summer of dancing on pointe. Astrid’s summer doesn’t get much better when she finds out that roller derby is HARD … falling more often than she actually skates, Astrid feels lost, until her favorite jammer Rainbow Bite replies to her anonymous notes asking for advice. Could Astrid make new friends? Can she become a superstar roller derby girl? Or is she just a Rose Dud?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

I could not put this graphic novel down. I raced through it, eager to read more roller derby names, follow more plays, and get to know Astrid and Zoe (her musical-obsessed roller derby friend) better. I further appreciated Jamieson’s nod to the intense athleticism required for ballet, too. While it is awkward that Nicole chose Rachel and dance over Astrid and roller derby, Nicole’s preferred activity is not painted with the “girly girl” brush that her other choices are. Instead, Jamieson shows the painful side effects of dancing on pointe — bloody toes and bandaged feet, not unlike Astrid’s roller derby injuries. While Nicole’s interest in boys and shopping are more typically feminine than Astrid’s pursuits, their sports are not as different as one might assume. Readers will also appreciate the diversity on the page and the excitement of the sport.

 

Note: This didn’t affect my reading of the graphic novel, but one parent reviewer on Common Sense Media was appalled by the use of profanity in the rude nickname Astrid is given by the school bully (who refers to her as “Ass-Turd.”) While I didn’t find this to be a huge problem, it might be for some folks, so I should remain aware of the potential reactions to the nickname.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

A fun book club activity for this book could be designing a roller derby team — names for players, team names, and a logo. We could also potentially watch clips on YouTube from a roller derby bout, after I’ve had a chance to preview some to ensure there aren’t any inappropriate signs in the crowd or language caught on the microphones. (Ideas from myself)

 

Grade Level: 5-8

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books starred 4/1/15

Horn Book Guide starred 10/1/15

Horn Book Magazine starred 3/1/15

Kirkus Reviews starred 12/15/14

Newbery Honor 2016

Publishers Weekly starred 1/26/15

School Library Journal starred 12/1/14

 

Reviews referenced:

Beach, A. (n. d.) Roller girl (Review of the book Roller Girl). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/roller-girl

Natsmom22 (screen name). (2016, Feb. 12). Profane and inappropriate for its target audience (blog comment). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/roller-girl

Kirkus Reviews. (2014, Dec. 6). Roller girl (Review of the book Roller Girl). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/victoria-jamieson/roller-girl/

Publishers Weekly. (2015, Jan. 26). Roller girl (Review of the book Roller Girl.) Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-8037-4016-7

 

Reviews

Aca-Awkward

Chmakova, Svetlana. Awkward. Yen Press, 2015. 210 pages. Hardcover $20.45, ISBN 978-0-316-38132-1; Tr. $9.40, ISBN 978-0-316-38130-7

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes!

 

Genre: School story (Graphic Novel)

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

This graphic novel explores what it is like to be new in school, how to make friends, and how to cooperate. Peppi is new in school, and when she accidentally runs into a nerdy boy (making her drop all of her things), the popular kids refer to her as “Nerder’s girlfriend” as he helps her clean up. She is later mortified by the fact that she shoves him away and runs. As a member of the Art Club, her mortification increases when Jamie (“Nerder”) turns out to be a really good guy … and a member of the Science Club. These two clubs hate each other, and when a competition to earn the last spot at the school’s club fair gets ugly, due to an awkward circumstance, Peppi might ruin everything!

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

I have not said “Squee!” out loud since high school, but here I am, squeaking (or should that be “Squee-king?”). The characters in this book are well-rounded, realistic, and diverse. Ms. T is a fantastic science teacher (I wish I had had her class!), and the background cast includes some well-defined nerds, popular kids, and artists.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a fantastic book club book, and it could be used to start a multi-club collaboration. Perhaps the book club could, for this unit, partner with a sports team to create a multimedia arts project (so, rather than “scientists working with artists,” this could be a “bookworms working with athletes” collaboration). (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 5-8

 

Awards and starred reviews:

School Library Connection starred 4/1/16

 

Reviews referenced:

Pawuk, M. (2015, July 20). Review of the day: “Awkward” by Svetlana Chmakova (Review of the book Awkward). School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs.slj.com/goodcomicsforkids/2015/07/20/review-awkward-by-svetlana-chmakova/

Vail, A. M. (2015, June 20). Svetlana Chmakova’s Awkward is anything but, and you need to read it (blog post). The Mary Sue. Retrieved from http://www.themarysue.com/awkward-comic-review/