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/

 

Reviews

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Mullaly Hunt, Lynda. Fish in a Tree. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2015. 276 pages. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN 978-0-399-16259-6; Tr. $7.69, ISBN 978-0-14-242642-5; PLB $18.51, ISBN 978-1-5811-637-7

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

This book is a deep dive into Ally Nickerson’s experience with her dyslexia. Unable to read and convinced that she is just stupid, Ally has worked very hard to prevent anyone from knowing just how much trouble she has with homework. She would rather get sent to the office for misbehavior than have her secret found out. Unfortunately, at her teacher’s baby shower, the principal pulls Ally into the hall to chastise her for the card she gave Mrs. Hall. Ally is perplexed — it had been a card with beautiful flowers on it. To her horror, she learns it was a sympathy card. Now everyone thinks she’s a monster for giving a sympathy card to her teacher who was leaving for maternity leave … hopefully, her substitute teacher won’t judge her too harshly for this mistake. Will Mr. Daniels catch on to her secret? Will anyone be able to help?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book is not only a gripping book about dyslexia, but it also explores middle school awkwardness, bullies, and friendships. Ally bonds with Keisha, a girl who is very outspoken, and Albert, a science-obsessed classmate who cuts the backs off of his shoes when they get too small for him because he cannot afford a new pair. The class bully zeroes in on the trio, but Ally’s friendships help her to keep her head high. Teachers are presented as human figures — capable of mistakes but trying to do their best.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a fantastic book club book or read aloud. Perhaps this would be a good reading circle book. Students should lead this discussion, as it is the kids in the novel who band together to carve out a place for themselves in the school’s hierarchy. Having students lead discussion and take charge of the topics and activities for this unit would be interesting. (Idea from myself)

 

 

Grade Level: 5-8

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 12/15/14

Library Media Connection starred 9/1/15

School Library Journal starred 1/1/15

 

Reviews referenced:
Kirkus Reviews. (2014, Nov. 18). Fish in a tree (Review of the book Fish in a Tree). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/lynda-mullaly-hunt/fish-in-a-tree/

Moore, T. (n. d.). Fish in a tree (Review of the book Fish in a Tree). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/fish-in-a-tree

Publishers Weekly. (2014, Dec. 1). Fish in a tree (Review of the book Fish in a Tree). Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-399-16259-6

 

Reviews

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff

Graff, Lisa. Lost in the Sun. Philomel Books, 2015. 304 pages. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN 978-0-399-16406-4; Tr. $7.69, ISBN 978-0-14-750858-4; PLB $13.81, ISBN 978-1-51810-658-7

 

TL;DR: Do I Recommend This? Yes

 

Genre: Realistic Contemporary Fiction

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

Trent Zimmerman has a lot on his mind. His dad has started a new family with his second wife Kari, and they are expecting a baby almost any day now. Meanwhile, it feels like Mr. Zimmerman is doing his best to tick Trent off. Trent’s fuse is shorter than usual, too, due to the fact that no one wants to talk to him anymore. After a tragic accident the school year before, Trent finds himself overwhelmed with guilt over the death of a peer, and it appears that the town agrees with him that he is at fault for the boy’s death. To make matters worse, Trent can’t try to play sports again to mend those friendships because any athletic activity makes him go clammy, remembering that February hockey game. Friendless and feeling attacked at home (first by his father’s attitude, then by his siblings’ insistence that Trent visit his dad anyway), Trent begins acting out. Fallon Little doesn’t seem to mind, but she’s weird. Could they become friends?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

 

This book is fantastic. Graff does a fabulous job describing Trent’s “fire” that erupts in his chest and forces him to blow up when he is angry. Trent does his best to control his impulses, but sometimes (often, early on, he cannot control them at all) they get the better of him, costing even more trust in the community.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This book would be a great book for a student dealing with anger management issues or who is interested in reading about this topic. It could also be a great book club book — there is a great deal of potential discussion that could be had when considering Trent, Fallon, and their classmates. A fun club activity would be to watch one of Fallon’s movies and look for the continuity errors. (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 3-6

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 3/15/15

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books starred 9/1/15

Kirkus Reviews starred 3/1/15

Publishers Weekly starred 3/16/15

School Library Journal starred 4/1/15

 

Reviews Referenced:

Eisenhart, M. (n. d.). Lost in the sun (Review of the book Lost in the Sun). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/lost-in-the-sun

Publishers Weekly. (2015, March 16). Lost in the sun (Review of the book Lost in the Sun). Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-399-16406-4

 

Reviews

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.

Reviews

Catch-up Post: Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Oh wow! I had heard great things about Raina Telgemeier, but I had not yet had a chance to read any of her books. I fixed that this August!

Smile is delightfully relatable. Having had braces, a retainer, spacers, headgear, braces again, and new retainers (which I still wear!), I was VERY familiar with an adolescence spent in the orthodontist’s chair. 🙂 Poor Raina, though; her story is a bit more frightening than mine!

Kids with orthodontics will agree with many of the miseries Telgemeier presents, and kids without will still get a fun, relatable story. Deftly woven in are also storylines about when kids outgrow friends, find new ones, and blossom into their own people.

Genre:

  • Graphic Novel

Major Things:

  • Orthodontics
  • Growing up
  • Friendships

**Some blood on the page!