Category: Middle School

The Turn of the Tide by Rosanne Parry

The Turn of the Tide by Rosanne Parry

The Turn of the Tide by Rosanne Parry

When an earthquake hits Japan, Kai tries to help his elderly grandparents escape the tsunami waves, but he is unable to get them to move fast enough. After the immediate crisis, Kai is moved from his home in Japan to the safety of Oregon to live with his cousins. His parents stayed behind in Japan to work on the nuclear power plant that was damaged in the storm. Jet is the cousin that Kai moves in with. She dreams of being the pilot of a boat on the Columbia Bar. One day she misses checking the tide though and puts her little brother in serious danger on the water. These two cousins, each wrestling with the results of their actions and the tug of their dreams, have to find a way to forgive themselves and move forward.

Parry, author of Heart of a Shepherd, has once again captured the courage of children on the page. The two protagonists are unique voices in children’s literature. Kai from Japan looks at everything in America as different and foreign. He struggles with his own role in his grandparent’s death and feels a loss of honor for leaving Japan and escaping to safety himself rather than helping rebuild. Jet is a courageous girl who struggles to make and keep friends. She is passionate about sailing and boats but also about her family. Jet doesn’t warm to people easily, and the two cousins face interpersonal issues between them that are organic and realistic.

The setting too is beautifully rendered. The Oregon coast and the Columbia River Bar add real drama and danger to the story. The ever-present weather and tides, the concerns with sailing and family honor, and the dreams of Jet herself meld together into a mix of adventure and destiny. The book has facts at the end about the Columbia River Bar Pilots and about Captain Deborah Dempsey who appears as a character in the book, the only female Columbia River Bar pilot.

Realistic and dangerous adventure in a beautiful and unique part of the United States, this book speaks to working to forgive yourself and overcoming adversity by doing the right thing. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Random House Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

The Goblin’s Puzzle by Andrew S. Chilton

The Goblins Puzzle by Andrew S Chilton

The Goblin’s Puzzle: Being the Adventures of a Boy with No Name and Two Girls Called Alice by Andrew S. Chilton (InfoSoup)

The boy had never had a name, since he had been a slave as long as he could remember. He tried to be the best slave possible, but all of the rules of slavery ran together and often contradicted one another too. When he is sent on a journey with the prince, the boy witnesses a murder and is suddenly free. Soon he finds himself in the company of a goblin who knows all of the answers about the boys’ past but is unwilling to part easily with them. The goblin agrees to answer one question a day truthfully, but goblins are tricky and can’t really be trusted. Meanwhile, Plain Alice has been mistakenly kidnapped by a dragon who meant to kidnap Princess Alice. These characters all find themselves facing issues of logic, dragons, ogres and other horrible deeds on their way to unraveling who they really are.

This novel is a cunning and complicated novel for children. It takes logic and loops it, confuses it and then shows how it actually all works out. It’s a puzzle and a delightful one. Young readers will enjoy the twists and turns, groan at the folly of some of the characters, cheer as others exceed their expectations, and those who love puzzles and logic will find a book to adore here.

The characters are well drawn and interesting. I particularly enjoyed the goblin, who twists and turns but also has a hand in making sure that things turn out right. The boy is a great protagonist, often confused and always seeing the world as new, he explores and learns as he goes. Plain Alice is a strong female protagonist, using her brains to solve problems and even charming a dragon as she does so. The entire book is woven with mystical creatures but magic does not save the day here. Instead, deep thinking and logic are the winners.

A puzzle of a book that twists and turns in the best possible way, this adventure is one for smart children who can use their wits to save themselves. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Knopf Books for Young Readers.

 

My Top Picks for Children’s Fiction in 2015

Apple and Rain Beastkeeper

Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan

Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen

The Blackthorn Key Castle Hangnail

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Cuckoo Song  The Doldrums

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon

Echo Fish In A Tree

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

George Gone Crazy in Alabama (Gaither Sisters, #3)

George by Alex Gino

Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia

Goodbye Stranger Half a Creature from the Sea: A Life in Stories

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Half a Creature from the Sea by David Almond

Listen, Slowly Lost in the Sun

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff

The Marvels Moonpenny Island

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb

A Nearer Moon The Nest

A Nearer Moon by Melanie Crowder

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

Night on Fire Orbiting Jupiter

Night on Fire by Ronald Kidd

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Red Butterfly Rules for Stealing Stars

Red Butterfly by A. L. Sonnichsen

Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu

The Sleeper and the Spindle Stella by Starlight

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

The Thing About Jellyfish The War that Saved My Life

The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The Way Home Looks Now We Are All Made of Molecules

The Way Home Looks Now by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen

The Wolf Wilder You Can't See the Elephants

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

You Can’t See the Elephants by Susan Kreller, translated by Elizabeth Gaffney

Review: Ruby Lee and Me by Shannon Hitchcock

Ruby Lee and Me by Shannon Hitchcock

Ruby Lee and Me by Shannon Hitchcock

Sarah knows that she is responsible for her little sister being hit by a car. Their entire summer has changed now with Robin in the hospital and her prognosis unclear. Sarah has moved to live with her grandparents on their remote farm, which is usually one of her favorite places but even that has changed. Her best friend, Ruby Lee, is changing too because the color of their skin has become all the more important in North Carolina as the school desegregate. When it looks like the girls will be going to school together, they struggle with their friendship under the rules of their parents and grandparents and their own high expectations. Sarah has a lot to navigate in this summer before middle school.

Based on the author’s family history with a car accident and a sibling, this book’s real heart is the family itself. The warmth of the grandparents’ love and care during the tragedy are palpable as they feed Sarah all sorts of good homemade cooking and teach her skills in the kitchen too. Sarah discovers that she is surrounded by people who care, but even that is not enough to assuage her guilt at what has happened to her sister as well as her guilt about how she treats Ruby Lee.

As this guilt builds, it becomes almost another character in the book, unspoken and real. It traps the real Sarah beneath it, unable to speak of what she needs to say most desperately. This is an honest depiction of what it is to feel this level of responsibility and not be able to communicate that at all. The book embraces these large feelings, gives them space to come out and be revealed, and also shows how these emotions play into civil rights in a larger scale where guilt, tradition and societal expectations come together and stop forward momentum.

A powerful mix of personal story and Civil Rights history, this book shows how important change is at every level. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.

 

Review: Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakava

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova (InfoSoup)

Peppi has just started a new school when she manages to trip over her own feet in the crowded hallway. When a boy tries to help her, she panics and pushes him away when kids start to say she’s his “nerder girlfriend.” Peppi feels awful about this and buries herself in her new group of friends in the art club. Though she tries to avoid him, Jaime is everywhere. He’s assigned as her science tutor and is part of the science club, the art club’s arch rivals. Soon the two clubs are at war with one another, but Peppi is starting to be friends with Jaime. How can a budding middle school friendship survive the club apocalypse?

The story is over the top in a good way. It captures the story of Peppi, a nice artistic girl who just cannot bring herself to apologize to Jaime, even if she knows that what she did was wrong. So often protagonists are either completely socially inept or entirely extroverted, Peppi is a clear introvert but one with lots of friends and a clear social circle.

Chmakova has a style that will appeal to manga readers and anime viewers. She uses several tropes from those genres to great effect from the streaming tears on people’s faces in reaction to great dismay to the isolated images of angry leaders where they are backlit and scary. Chmakova also manages to keep her graphic novel very diverse, not only is Peppi herself diverse, but other characters who populate the story are diverse as well with a variety of racial, ethnic and abilities. It is subtly done and makes the entire book feel like a real school.

A dynamic graphic novel, this book will appeal to those in middle school and those headed there, artists and scientists alike. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu

Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu

Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu (InfoSoup)

Silly is the youngest of four sisters and the older sisters tend to leave her out of a lot, like the secret boyfriend one of the twins has and what they are doing for hours in their bedroom so quietly. Their family has moved to New Hampshire to a home that used to be used just in the summer, the house where their mother grew up. But the move is not helping their mother who is quickly declining into alcoholism and abusive behavior. It isn’t until their mother turns on Silly too that the sisters bring Silly into their secret: their closet can take them to a different world. The sisters are shocked when Silly joins them and the magic becomes much stronger. As the sisters turn more and more to the closet for relief from their lives, they have to face the darkness they discover there as well. It may just be the answer for them all.

Haydu has created a lush book based loosely on The Twelve Dancing Princesses. She embraces the darkness of family life, offering a family dancing on the edge of something terrible, avoiding the truth about what is happening to their mother and what happened in her past, a father unable to cope with reality, and children trying to hold them all together. It is against that dark backdrop that the closets glimmer and glitter, beckoning the sisters and the reader to a different place where there is wonder and magic. But escaping into that place is not reality and Haydu shows this with a daring climax that speaks volumes about facing truth and being a family.

A book filled with four sisters can be challenging. Haydu pulls it off with grace and style, offering each of the girls a distinct personality but keeping them from being stereotypical. Silly is the main character, a girl who has been left out of much that the sisters have done and feels that she has no special sister to pair with the way the twins do. Silly feels alone even in a bustling houseful of people, which speaks volumes about her family. Silly is also the one protected from much of the abuse, but she witnesses more than the others do.

This brilliant starry novel takes a dark reality and a dazzling magic and creates wonder all its own. Appropriate for ages 11-14.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: You Can’t See the Elephants by Susan Kreller

You Cant See the Elephants by Susan Kreller

You Can’t See the Elephants by Susan Kreller, translated by Elizabeth Gaffney (InfoSoup)

Mascha has been sent to spend the summer at her grandparent’s house. Their neighborhood is perfect in many ways with neat yards, gardens and neighborly gatherings. When Mascha meets Julia and Max at the playground, she is desperate for friends. There’s not a lot for a 13-year-old to do. Soon though Mascha realizes that something is wrong and then witnesses for herself Julia and Max being abused by their father. Mascha tells her grandparents and even other neighbors, but no one is willing to do anything. So Mascha decides to step in herself and stop the abuse.

This German novel has already won several international awards. The writing is haunting and beautiful. My quibble with the translation is that I wish it had maintained its German setting rather than being moved to the United States. It reads as a European book and I’m not sure the story works as well with an American setting. But that is a minor factor in such a powerhouse of a book.

First, the setting in an upper-class community focused on image rather than real warmth is a cunning choice. It reveals the thin veneer of neighborliness, the unwillingness to look deeper at what could be happening, and the ability to turn away from the ugly truth to see only the good. Mascha herself is a brilliant heroine. Facing the death of her mother and sent to stay long term with her grandparents, she is not connected to this community at all. She sees the truth, speaks the truth and then is forced to find her own solution. And what a solution it is. It is clever but flawed, a plan only a child could produce. It is entirely believable and therefore a truly riveting read.

A great book, this novel about abuse, friendship and the importance of protecting the vulnerable in our world is one of the best of the year. It is startling, provocative and timely. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.