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

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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

Get out while you can! Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

Grabenstein, Chris. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. Random House, 2013. 291 pages. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN 978-0-375-87089-7; Tr. $4.55, ISBN 978-0-307-93147-4; 2013 PLB $19.99, ISBN  978-0-375-97089-4; 2014 PLB $12.13, ISBN 978-1-48983-367-9

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

Genre: Mystery/Game

Part of a series? Yes — Mr. Lemoncello’s Library series

Plot Summary:

Kyle Keeley finds out from his best friend Akimi Hughes that there’s an extra credit essay due that morning — and the winners not only receive extra credit, but they also get to spend the night locked into the brand new, high-tech, super fabulous library opening the next week. Kyle is desperate to have the chance once he finds out that Luigi L. Lemoncello, game maker extraordinaire and donor who helped make the new library happen is one of the essay judges and is hosting the lock-in. Kyle, Akimi, and ten other students from the seventh grade are chosen for the lock-in which becomes an “Escape” game. Will Kyle and his friends solve the clues and win the game?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This is a fun book for those readers who like puzzles in their books. There is a lot of information, plenty of red herrings and helpful clues, and clever puzzles hidden throughout the text in addition to the ones the students must solve. The only downside is, as many Goodreads reviewers have noted, that the characters feel a little flat. Charles isn’t sufficiently evil. Akimi and Kyle and one-note. Hayley’s change of alliances isn’t handled in an interesting way. For these reasons, I can’t say that this is a fantastic book, but it’s a great one for your reader who enjoys puzzles.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a great start-of-the-year book club pick. Readers can then do their own real-life Dewey Decimal scavenger hunt in the library and play an Escape puzzle per Heather Booth’s instructions from Teen Librarian Toolbox, linked above (those are popular in my lesson plans, apparently!) (Idea from myself)

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2014

Booklist starred 6/1/13

Kirkus Reviews starred 5/1/13

Reviews

Whodunnit?! The Westing Game

Raskin, Ellen. The Westing Game. Puffin Books, 1978. 182 pages. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN 978-0-525-47137-0; 1997 Tr. $6.50, ISBN 978-0-14-038664-6; 2004 Tr. $5.19, ISBN 978-0-14-240120-0; 1997 PLB $14.61; 2004 PLB $13.01, ISBN 978-1-41552-763-4

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes!

 

Genre: Mystery

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

Sixteen people are called to the Westing House when millionaire Sam Westing dies on Halloween. In order to determine who inherits the fortune, the sixteen people (heirs) must find out who killed Westing. Clues are given out piecemeal, and everyone is a suspect! Bombs, getting snowed in, and theft heighten the tension.

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

I’ve heard from many people that this is their favorite book. I had to give it a shot, especially since the third grade boys are working on a mystery novel unit. The plot is intricate; I found myself needing to flip back and forth to make sure I had remembered a clue correctly, and I was focusing so hard on the threads of the story that I almost missed my bus stop! It’s an engaging story with some real twists and great red herrings.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

At the school where I work, third grade does a mystery unit. I’m so glad that we have this book in the collection; this is a great fit for a mystery project. I would hold a murder mystery party in class or in book club as an activity. (Idea from myself; how to hold a murder mystery party information here; for an academic library, but could be usable/scalable for an elementary school library.)

 

Grade Level: 5-8

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred

Newbery Medal, 1979

 

Reviews referenced:

Jackson, K. (n. d.). The Westing game (Review of the book The Westing Game). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/the-westing-game

Kirkus Reviews. (1978, May 1st). The Westing game (Review of the book The Westing Game). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/ellen-raskin-0/westing-game-raskin/

 

Murder Mystery information:

Kirby, M. (2003, Aug. 4). How to host a murder mystery in your library. Carleton.edu. Retrieved from https://www.carleton.edu/campus/library/reference/workshops/MurderMystery.html