Category: Middle School


hidden

Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillier, illustrated by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo

Translated from French, this graphic novel delicately but powerfully explains the impact of the Nazis on a child.  Told by a grandmother to her granddaughter, this is the story of Dounia, a young Jewish girl whose life changes when the Nazis come to Paris.  First she has to wear a yellow star, then she stops attending school, and finally her parents are taken away and she is sheltered by neighbors.  She has to call the neighbor woman “mother” even though she doesn’t want to.  The two flee Paris and head to the countryside where Dounia is able to live comfortably with enough food, but worries all the time about whether she will ever see her parents again.  This is a book about families but also about those people thrown together by horrors who become family to one another to survive.

Dauvallier first offers a glimpse of what Dounia’s life was like just before the Nazis arrived.  Quickly though, the book changes and becomes about persecution and the speed of the changes that Jews in France and other countries had to endure.  Isolation from society was one of the first steps taken, the loss of friends and mentors, then the fear of being taken away or shot entered.  But so did bravery and sacrifice and heroism.  It is there that this book stays, keeping the horrors at bay just enough for the light to shine in.

The art work is powerful but also child friendly.  The characters have large round heads that show emotions clearly.  There are wonderful plays of light and dark throughout the book that also speak to the power of the Nazis and the vital power of fighting back in big ways and small. 

A powerful graphic novel, this book personalizes the Holocaust and offers the story of one girl who survived with love and heroism.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

west of the moon

West of the Moon by Margi Preus

Astri lives with her stepmother, stepsisters and younger sister until she is sold to the cruel goat farmer.  He takes her to his home, refuses to ever let her bathe, has her do drudge work, and doesn’t let her ever return to see her sister.  Then Astri discovers another girl kept locked in a storage shed, who spins wool into yarn all day long.  Astri escapes the goat farmer, taking his book of spells and his troll treasure.  She heads off with the other girl to find her younger sister and then all three flee, heading to find their father in America.  But it is a long trip to get to the sea and an even longer trip from Norway to America.  Along the way, the goatman continues to pursue them, they meet both friendly faces and cruel, and the story dances along the well-traveled roads of folk tales.  Astri slowly pieces together her own story and then resolutely builds herself a new one with her sister by her side.

An incredible weaving of the gold of folktales with the wool of everyday life, this book is completely riveting.  Preus has created a story where there are complicated villains, where dreams are folktales and folktales build dreams, where girls have power and courage, and where both evil and kindness come in many forms.  It is a book that is worth lingering over, a place worth staying in from awhile, and a book that you never want to end.

Astri is a superb character.  Armed with no education but plenty of guts and decisiveness, she fights back against those who would keep her down and separate her from her sister.  As the story progresses and she escapes, she becomes all the more daring and free spirited.  Her transformation is both breathtaking and honest.  One roots for Astri throughout the story, fights alongside her and like Astri wills things to happen. 

A wondrously successful and magical story that is interwoven with folktales, this book is a delight.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.

nightingales nest

Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin

Based on a story from Hans Christian Andersen, this book takes “The Nightingale” and turns it into magical realism.  Little John’s family is in turmoil.  His little sister died jumping out of a tree, his mother can’t deal with the loss and often forgets that her daughter died, and his father is struggling to make enough money to keep them from being evicted.  So Little John has to help his father take down trees to make money.  It is at Mr. King’s home that Little John first meets Gayle, a young foster child whose singing voice seems to heal people and who has built a nest high in one of the trees.  Then Mr. King decides that he has to record Gayle’s voice and hires Little John to bring her to him within a week.  Little John doesn’t want to, so Mr. King resorts to blackmail and money to get him to do it.  This story explores responsibility, betrayal, and loss in a poignant and beautiful way.

Loftin’s writing is exquisite and simple.  She has taken an old tale and breathed freshness and vibrancy into it.  Her setting is tightly woven, just the scope of Little John’s own summer days.  It makes the focus very close, intensifying the choices that Little John is forced to make.  More than most books for tweens, this one truly asks a character to face an impossible decision and then shows what happens afterwards and how that decision has repercussions for many people. 

Little John is a great male protagonist.  He is pure boy, resentful of the situation his family is in but also bound to them by love and blood.  At the same time, he is a gentle soul, worried about Gayle and the circumstances she is living in.  The only character who stretches believability is Mr. King who reads like a stereotypical villain, but he is the only character without nuance. 

Magical and beautiful, this is perfect for discussion in a classroom, this book begs to be talked about thanks to its complexity.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from copy received from Penguin.

mark of the dragonfly

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

Piper survives alone in the house she once shared with her father in Scrap Town #16.  The scrap town is built around an area where meteors crash carrying items from other worlds.  Piper makes the little money she has by salvaging things from the meteors and using her knack with machines to repair them to working order.  Then one day, Piper finds an unconscious girl in a destroyed caravan.  She takes her back to her home, where she discovers that the girl, Anna, has lost her memory but also bears the mark of the king of the Dragonfly Territories, putting her under his protection.  Anna is not alone though, there is a man following her that she calls “The Wolf” and who desperately wants Anna back.  Piper and Anna flee and sneak onto a slow-moving freight train with the help of Piper fooling the alarm systems.  They aren’t able to stay hidden on the train for very long, but Anna’s mark gets them a free ride in luxury.  Still, the train ride is not without risk and the first hurdle is convincing the young head of security that they can be trusted. 

Johnson has created a rich world filled with elements of fantasy, steam-punk and science fiction.  Blended together into one, they work to a certain point but much is left unexplained and unexplored.  Readers will have immediate questions about the meteors but those are quickly left behind as questions about fantastical beasts arise, and still more questions about the steam punk elements. That said, the book does work and there is hope that more of the world will be understood in upcoming books in the series. 

Piper is a wonderful protagonist.  I enjoyed reading a book where a girl is the one who can handle machinery better than anyone else.  She is also incredibly brave and has a huge heart that is quick to embrace new people.  Her personality shines in the book.  The pacing of the novel will keep young readers engaged in the story.  It is near breakneck speed, rushing headlong into the next part of the adventure. 

Rich and delightful, get this book into the hands of young steampunk fans who are looking for a new adventure.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Delacorte Books for Young Readers.

children of the king

The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett

Along with their mother, Cecily and Jeremy are sent from London to the English countryside during the bombings of World War II.  Seeing other children who don’t have parents or family with them, Cecily decides that her family should take in one of the young refugees.  So she picks out May, a girl who looks just the right age to be a friend but also still young enough that Cecily can be in charge.  But May won’t be contained by Cecily, and soon is out exploring the countryside on her own.  She is the one who first discovers the two boys hiding in the ruins of Snow Castle.  Cecily joins May and the two of them meet the boys who are dressed in old-fashioned clothing.  Meanwhile in the evenings, Cecily and Jeremy’s uncle Peregrine tells the story of Richard III and his nephews.  The two stories weave together, two levels of history intertwined into one gorgeous tale.

Hartnett does so much in this book without ever losing sight of the heart of the story.  Her story telling is phenomenal.  She shares details of life during the Blitz and creates a warm and rich world of safety in the country.  Within the World War II setting, she manages to have a character tell of another historical period with its own harrowing historical details.  So often in a book with a story within a story, one is better than the other.  Here they are both beautifully done and complement each other nicely.

Throughout the book, Hartnett uses imagery and beautiful prose.  Her writing is rich and dazzling, painting pictures of the countryside, the city, Heron Hall, and England for readers.  Here is how the study in Heron Hall is described for readers on page 35.  This is just part of the lush writing that sets the stage:

Underfoot were flattened rugs, and a fire karate-chopped at the throat of the chimney.  There was a good smell of cigarette smoke mixed with toast and dog; this room was a den, the lair of Heron Hall’s owner.  Here, rather than in any of the grander rooms, was there the house’s living was done.

Hartnett’s characters are done with an ear for tone.  Jeremy and Cecily have a mother who is mostly absent though she is right there all the time.  She is disengaged from their days and even when they are out in town together she is separate and withdrawn.  Cecily too is a rather unlikeable character.  And what a risk that is, to create a story primarily about a little girl who is pushy, bossy and whiny.  Yet it is Cecily who makes the book work, the character who brings the responses, the action, and keeps it from being overly sweet or convenient. 

Gorgeously written with a complex storyline and interesting characters, this is one incredible piece of historical fiction.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Candlewick Press.

story of owen

The Story of Owen by E. K. Johnston

When the world saw Lottie Thorskard fall from a girder, everyone wondered what she would do next.  No one expected her to move to the tiny town of Trondheim and start slaying dragons there with her wife, her brother and his son.  But that is how Owen started attending the same school as Siobhan.  Siobhan is not a popular student, but she gets good grades and loves to play and write music.  None of this should have made her even noticeable by Owen, whom everyone wanted to know better.  Somehow though Siobhan with her biting wit gets invited over to Owen’s home for dinner and Owen’s family including the famous Lottie have a plan that involves Siobhan.  They want her to be Owen’s bard.  Which will involve being nearby when they fight dragons.  So Siobhan must train to defend herself with a sword, learn more about different types of dragons, and she becomes an important piece of Owen’s story herself.

This is one of those books that surprises right from the beginning.  Somehow I didn’t realize that this is a modern-day dragon tale set in Canada.  In this book, the world has always had dragons and they form the heart of literature and song going back into history.  Johnston takes the time to rewrite the lives of famous people for the reader, building her world so successfully that it all makes perfect sense that dragons are here and have always been. 

The juxtaposition between the two main characters is brilliantly done.  But perhaps the very best part is that this is not a romance.  Yes, a male and female main character but no sparks, no kissing, no sex.  Instead they are busy trying to save their community together.  Siobhan and Owen are both vibrant and intelligent.  They have the sort of brilliant dialogue that one would expect from a John Green book.  Except they do it while fighting dragons!  Amazing.

A completely incredible debut book, this takes fantasy and turns it on its head with a thoroughly modern take on battling dragons and extraordinarily deep world building.  This is one of the best and most unique fantasy novels I’ve read in years.

Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Carolrhoda Books.

dumbest idea ever

The Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley

This graphic novel memoir focuses on one idiotic idea that changes comic-creator Gownley’s life forever.  At 13, Gownley was on top of the world.  He was popular, getting great grades, and was top-scorer on the school basketball team.  Then he got chicken pox and he had to miss the championship game.  But that wasn’t the end of his bad luck, he followed the chicken pox with a bout of pneumonia and missed more school.  Soon Jimmy wasn’t a basketball star and his grades were getting bad.  Jimmy did have one thing going for him though, the dumbest idea ever!  It was an idea that would make him money, get him popular again, find him a girlfriend, and even impress a very stern nun.  And let me tell you, it takes one amazingly stupid idea to accomplish all that!

Gownley reveals how he became a cartoonist in this graphic novel.  It is cleverly done with a strong story arc that keeps the entire book sturdily structured.  Gownley has a wonderful self-deprecating humor that works particularly well in comic format.  His humor is smart and very funny, often conveyed with ironic twists of eyebrows or sarcastic facial expressions.  The book is a quick read thanks to the format but also to the fast pacing that will have readers happily turning page after page. 

Get this into the hands of Smile! fans who will appreciate the humor, the honesty and the art.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from library copy.

BEA logo

The committees have selected the books for the 2014 BEA Editor Buzz panels.  Here are the book on the YA and Middle Grade Buzz lists:

YA Buzz Books

The Jewel Lies We Tell Ourselves The Walled City

I’m Glad I Did by Cynthia Weil

The Jewel by Amy Ewing

King Dork Approximately by Frank Portman

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

 

Middle Grade Buzz Books

Life of Zarf: The Trouble with Weasels 

Life of Zarf by Rob Harrell

Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson

The Truth about Twinkle Pie by Kat Yeh

The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill

Zoo at the Edge of the World by Eric Kahn Gale

snicker of magic

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

Felicity’s mother loves to move to new places, so Felicity has lived all over the country.  But when her mother returns to the small town of Midnight Gulch, Felicity quickly realizes she has never lived in any place quite like this one.  Midnight Gulch had once been full of magic of all sorts, but then a curse took the magic away and drove two brothers apart as well.  But there is magic left in town, if you know where to look.  It’s not big magic, just little pieces that were left behind.  Felicity has one of those pieces of magic herself, she can see words everywhere, words spoken aloud and words thought silently.  She is a word collector keeping a list of the words she finds.  Others in town have some magic too, including Jonah, a mysterious boy who calls himself the Beedle and does good deeds around town.  Then there’s also the ice cream factory that makes a flavor that evokes memories both sweet and sour.  Felicity loves Midnight Gulch, but can she figure out a way to keep her mother from moving on to new places again?

This book was such fun.  Lloyd has created an entire town that is filled with a wonderful mix of magic and history.  Throughout the book, we learn about what first made Midnight Gulch so magical and then how it was taken away.  Then little by little in tantalizing ways readers see the magic that is left and are offered clues about how it may return someday.  It’s a book that is surprising and very readable.

Felicity is a great protagonist as she struggles to keep her family in one place.  As she finds out more about her own family history and discovers members of her family and community she never knew before, she finds herself less lonely in a way that she never though possible.  Perhaps the most delightful piece of all is that Felicity does not need her magic to solve her family’s issues, rather it is about piecing together a mystery and solving a riddle. 

Glowing with magic, this novel is a shining read that should be savored just like an ice cream cone on a hot day.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

blossoming universe

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods

Violet feels like she just doesn’t fit into her family.  Whenever she goes anywhere with her mother and sister, people are surprised to hear that she is related to them.  They are both white and blonde while she has brown skin and brown hair.  Violet’s father died before she was born, and while her sister knows her other grandparents, Violet has never met hers.  But now Violet takes things into her own hands and starts researching her African-American grandmother who happens to be a well-known artist.  Violet convinces her mother to allow her to go to her grandmother’s new gallery show but things do not go as Violet had dreamed.  Violet just wants to put the pieces of her family into a whole where she fits seamlessly, but it may be too late for that.

It is a joy to have such a charming and positive book that speaks to biracial issues.  Woods does a great job of focusing on both the positive and negative aspects of being bi-racial and having two distinct sides of the family.  I was particularly pleased that all of the adults in the book were supportive and loving towards Violet as she explores her African-American heritage.  Woods also addresses the differences in religions in the book, something that children who come from two religious heritages will appreciate.

Violet herself is a particularly radiant protagonist.  Though she worries about fitting into her family and seeking out the other side of her family, at heart she is an optimist and approaches each event with a sense of adventure and openness.  This is a book that cheers children on to explore their own families and discover others in their world who will adore them too.

Positive, cheery and yet addressing difficult situations, this book is a pleasure to read.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.

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