Category: Middle School

The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan


The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan (InfoSoup)

I’m not really sure how to best review this work. It has a brilliant foreword by Neil Gaiman, who says, “Shaun Tan makes me want to hold these tales close, to rub them with my fingers, to feel the cracks and the creases and the edges of them.” The introduction by fairy-tale expert Jack Zipes states, “…Tan has transformed the Grimms’ tales into miraculous artworks that will move and speak for themselves.” I can only echo this sentiment, because the sculptures that Tan has created bring the Brothers Grimm stories into reality, make the solid and strange in a way that reading them doesn’t.

The sculptures are brilliant, showing aspects of familiar stories that bring new meaning to the tales but also revealing new and less familiar stories to readers and inviting them to indulge in more darkness and wonder. Turning the pages in this book is like a journey filled with gasps of disbelief and realization. New images are revealed on each page and so are the intimate hearts of the tales.

A stunning and brilliant series of sculptures with glimpses into the tales they represent. This book shows older children that the darkness of Grimm tales will still call to them. Appropriate for ages 9-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.


Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes


Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes (InfoSoup)

All Garvey seems to do is disappoint his father. His father would like him to play sports and to enjoy them too, but Garvey isn’t athletic. He’d much rather read science fiction and learn about science. Feeling bad about himself, Garvey consoles himself with food and starts to gain weight. He has one friend, who encourages him to join the school chorus. Soon Garvey is making new friends and displaying his talent. He becomes the new soloist for the chorus and his interest in music starts to build a bridge to his father via a new route.

Told in verse, this book of poetry is brief and powerful. Garvey’s situation with his father reads a organic and volatile, the desperation to connect creating even more of a distance between father and son as the failures continue. Garvey’s use of food as a solace is intelligently done, offering hope that he can find his footing again but also not seeing weight loss as the ultimate solution or weight as the real problem. Verse allows Grimes to cut right to the heart of these situations, revealing the layers of issues at play.

Garvey is a bright, funny character. He is shown as a good friend, supportive and also accepting. As Garvey begins to reach out and try new things, he is rewarded by the chorus also reaching out to him. Again, the progress is done in a natural way. Nothing is perfect and there is no magical solution here. It is hard work, talent and slow progress towards a better place.

A shining look at loneliness, bullying and the ability of music to break down barriers. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.


Ghost by Jason Reynolds


Ghost by Jason Reynolds (InfoSoup)

Ghost learned to run fast thanks to running away from his abusive father who is now in jail. Still, Ghost keeps on running to escape the memories of his final night with his father and the truth of his family. When Ghost sees a group of teens running track, he thinks that he can outrun even the fastest of them. He races alongside the track and finds himself invited to join the team. Ghost through can’t afford the gear the other kids are using and also can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble long enough to focus on running at all. When Ghost makes another mistake and steals silver track shoes from a store while he is cutting class, he finds himself with yet another secret to keep bottled up. You can’t keep running away from problems and trouble though and soon they catch up with Ghost.

From the co-author of All American Boys and author of The Boy in the Black Suit comes this first book in a series about teens and the way track and being on a team affects their lives. This is a book that shines with hope throughout, even as Ghost is making the worst of his mistakes, there is still hope there. That hope comes from Ghost’s mother and from his new coach who gives him chances but also clarifies the new expectations that Ghost has to meet. It is that structure that allows readers to hope and root for Ghost as he negotiates his complex life.

This is a book that will be enjoyed by many children, not just those who enjoy sports or track. It will speak to them about transformation in their lives, opportunities that appear, and the hard work it takes to change and to trust. It is a book about friendships that deepen over time driven by becoming a new team together. It is a book about the power of positive adults in a child’s life and the power of belief in that child or teen.

Beautifully written, this is an accessible and powerful book about running towards the life you want. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.


Snow White by Matt Phelan


Snow White by Matt Phelan (InfoSoup)

The Snow White tale is redone with a new setting and great villains in this graphic novel. Snow White’s mother dies in 1918 and she is left with her father who is the King of Wall Street. Soon after her mother’s death, her father falls for the Queen of the Follies, a performer who immediately sends Snow White away to school. When the stock market crashes, her father survives only to die suddenly. Snow White returns home to find that there is no place for her there, only to be rescued by seven small urchins on the street. Meanwhile, her stepmother takes her dire instructions from a ticker tape machine that orders her to KILL.

With all of the magnificence of the roaring 20s that then tumble into the Great Depression, this graphic novel version of the beloved tale truly rethinks the story and recreates it in a new and vivid way. Keeping true to core parts of the original story, this version has the wicked queen, a new version of the seven dwarves, the huntsman ordered to kill Snow White, and apples. Throughout there is darkness, violence and murder. Exactly what any great noir mystery needs.

If you have enjoyed Phelan’s previous graphic novels, he continues his use of watercolor in this book. Done in grays, blacks, blues and shot with touches of red, the art has a painterly feel to it that is unusual in graphic novels. There is a lovely roughness to the framing of the panels, giving the entire book a natural and organic feel.

A brilliant retelling of a classic tale, this dark story is a striking and brilliant departure. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

March: Book 3 by John Lewis


March: Book 3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (InfoSoup)

This is the final book in this amazing graphic novel trilogy. Congressman John Lewis concludes his story of the Civil Rights marches, providing real context to the Black Lives Matter movement of today. This book begins with the bombing of the church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four young girls. It shows the fight for the ability to vote in Alabama for African Americans who were forced to take tests or just ignored as they tried to register to vote. The book culminates with the march in Selma and the violence that accompanied it and most importantly the changes it created.

I can’t say enough good things about this series. It brings critical Civil Rights history directly to teens in a format that is engaging. There is no way to turn away from the violence of the response of those in power as blood flows in the images on the pages. It makes it all the more powerful that the marches stayed nonviolent and focused on pacifism. Lewis himself voices again and again how much pressure there was at times in the movement to react more violently and how that was managed by himself and others. It is a testament to people willing to put their own bodies and lives at risk for progress.

The illustrations are riveting. Done in black and white, they effectively play darkness and light against one another, adding to the drama of the situations they depict. At times they are haunting and blaze with tragedy. The opening scenes of the Birmingham church are filled with tension and sadness that make it difficult to turn the pages and witness what happens.

These are the books our teens need right now. Every public library should have this series, no matter what races are represented in your community. This is our shared history and one that we cannot deny or turn away from. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from library copy.



Moo by Sharon Creech


Moo by Sharon Creech (InfoSoup)

Reena and her little brother, Luke, move to the Maine countryside with their parents. At first they spend their summer riding their bikes around the area, loving the freedom that comes with it. But then their parents “volunteer” both of them to help out on a neighbor’s farm. Mrs. Falala is unusual to say the least. She has all sorts of animals on the farm, including a pig, a cat and a snake, but the one that she needs Reena’s help with most is Zora, a grumpy cow. Slowly, Reena gains Zora’s trust and starts to understand what she needs to be happier. Just as slowly, Luke begins to bond with Mrs. Falala as he works on his drawings alongside her. As these new friendships emerge, new opportunities arise to form connections, learn from one another, and delight in the antics of one ornery cow.

Creech uses a glorious blend of prose and poetry in this novel. The poetry takes concrete form at times but usually is free verse and flows in the way summer days do. The prose reads like poetry at times, blending the two formats even more closely together. The rural Maine setting comes alive in the book, the children experiencing it with great delight that readers will share. Creech captures the emotions of a major move and the wonders and fears of being from the city and landing firmly in farm country.

This is a book with plenty of large characters. Mrs. Falala is a wonderful character, isolated and lonely, she is by turns prickly and warm, a conundrum that also makes perfect sense. From her use of music to express emotion to her willingness to learn to draw, she is an older character with plenty to still learn and even more to share. Then there is Zora, the cow, a creature with more than enough attitude and chutzpah to carry the novel. She is very much an animal version of her owner, though she tends to use hooves and head butts to show her feelings.

A rich narrative and plenty of amazing characters, this novel in prose and verse enchants as it demonstrates the importance of connections and community. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.


Unbound by Ann E. Burg

Unbound by Ann E Burg

Unbound by Ann E. Burg (InfoSoup)

This novel-in-verse tells the story of Grace, a girl living as a slave on a plantation. Grace is selected to start work in the Big House, leaving her mother, stepfather and two little brothers behind. Grace is warned by everyone that she has to keep her eyes down and her opinions to herself, not even allowing them to show on her face or in her eyes. But Grace realizes that things are very unfair on the plantation where some people work in the fields from dawn to dusk and white people aren’t even expected to dress themselves. Grace finds it impossible to keep these thoughts deep inside her, and puts her family at risk. So they all flee to try to find freedom, heading deep into the Great Dismal Swamp where the men and dogs hunting them can’t track them.

The author of All the Broken Pieces returns with another verse novel just as stunning as her previous ones. Here she shares a piece of history that many don’t know about, slaves who found freedom by living deep in the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia and North Carolina. The entire book is fraught with dangers from whippings and punishments as a slave to the dangers of reaching possible freedom to the real dangers of the swamp itself.

Told in verse, the poems are in Grace’s voice and it rings with authenticity but also a righteous anger at what is being done to people because of the color of their skin. Readers hearing Grace’s voice will understand her situation and spirit on a deep level. That is the power of poetry, to cut past exposition right to the heart of the person speaking. Burg does this with a simplicity that adds to that power, cutting right through to the core.

Beautifully written, this powerful story tells of the importance of freedom for all people. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.