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Archive for the ‘Middle Grade Books’ Category

Precocious nine year olds can be exasperating and when you’ve got a heart disease and a helicopter mother, you are a uni-sensor (someone who knows things before or as they happen), and a science nerd, it can be a bit much. Julian is just such a person. He, his moms and his sister, Pookie,  move from Washington, D.C. to the boondocks of Maine to open a bed and breakfast. Upon arriving they receive a notice that their elderly neighbor, Mr. X, is suing them to demolish the addition they put on the house for the B&B because it hinders his view of the ocean.

Pookie suggests Julian go over and befriend Mr. X in hopes that he change his mind, thus beginning a relationship between Julian and Mr. X, who recently lost his wife to cancer, and has been described as a lonely man with nothing to live for.

The Incredible Magic of Being by Kathryn Erskine (author of Mockingbird among other tween books) describes exactly that…the magic of being alive, the magic of the world around us, the magic that is family. Everyone in the book, Julian’s moms and sister, Julian,  and Mr. X all have issues that they must deal with. But it’s Julian’s positivity (is that a word?) that shines through and, in many instances, gets people through their issues.

Julian is a science nerd and through Julian, The Incredible Magic of Being cites many scientific facts and theories. It also has “farts”, Facts and Random Thoughts, at the end of each chapter, some of which we learn from (facts) and some of which are merely random thoughts. (Julian is a font of information and I got the feeling that he is on the autism spectrum somewhere, although that might not have been the author’s intention. Caitlin, in Mockingbird, has Asperger’s Syndrome, by the way.)

The one thing about science, according to Julian, is that whether or not you believe it in, it is there. And the fact that we don’t believe or understand it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. So, when Julian talks to his best friends in parallel universes, you’ve just got to believe. When he can sense occurrences in other locations, you just have to believe. When he describes his sister as a black hole, you’ve got to believe.

I love upbeat characters. In some ways, The Incredible Magic of Being reminds me of Soar by Joan Bauer whose main character also has a heart problem but won’t let it keep him down. I think kids will relate to Julian and his teenage sister and enjoy his thoughts and escapades. The Incredible Magic of Being is a fun, light read even though the subject sounds kind of heavy. Have fun with it and even learn something, such as what the Messier Objects are.

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SoarJoan Bauer is one of my favorite authors. But there’s something else at play here and maybe you feel it as well. There are so many middle grade and YA books that deal with issues, serious issues, so when a book comes along that really has no serious issue, a totally feel good book, you sort of feel cheated. Soar by Joan Bauer is just such a book.

Twelve year old Jeremiah has been through a lot. Abandoned in a corporate snack room as an infant, he was taken in and ultimately adopted by Walt, one of the workers. At age ten, after months of illness and waiting, Jeremiah had a heart transplant. By age twelve he had lived in four cities and is about to move to Hillcrest, OH. An avid baseball fan, Jeremiah is unable to play baseball after the transplant because he can’t really exert himself. He decides he would like to coach. Hillcrest is perfect as it is known for its excellent high school baseball program. However, upon arrival Jeremiah finds the high school baseball coach embroiled in a steroid controversy, the program suspended and the middle school program non-existent. It is going to take all of Jeremiah’s coaching skills to resurrect middle school baseball.

Joan Bauer, author of books told from a middle AlmostHomeschool girl’s perspective, most recently Almost Home, has switched genders narrating Soar in Jeremiah’s first person voice. Soar is a feel good book in all respects. The steroid controversy, which is a serious issue,  takes second place to Jeremiah walking into a new school in March, gaining the respect of the middle school baseball team and coaching them to a respectable finish with minimal adult help and supervision. How many twelve year olds can do that? Middle school is tough, no matter what you think and middle school kids don’t readily take to the ‘new kid’ especially when the year is three quarters over. And how many school principals would let a twelve year old coach the baseball team?

Bauer makes no attempt to hide Walt’s budding relationship with Jeremiah’s cardiac doctor and well as Jeremiah’s ‘friendship’ with Franny from across the street. And Franny’s grandfather just happens to be a former baseball coach, who towards the end of the season is asked to coach the team. Hmmmm!!!!

Also, when Jeremiah visits the new cardiac doctor, she immediately adjusts his medication. Would any doctor do that without consulting the previous doctor who has been treating him for two years? I would hope not and unless Walt’s crush has taken over his common sense, neither should he.

But these are questions raised by an adult reading a middle grade book. What kid would think of them?

Readers who like sports action will find little of it in Soar. Instead, they will find a boy determined to overcome the odds and that’s the reason, as is true with all Joan Bauer books, Soar belongs in every middle school book collection. Because there are kids who strive to overcome the odds against them and kids need to read about them, issues be damned. It may be sappy and it may smack of sugar, but you know what, every now and then you need your sugar fix. Soar will take care of that.

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Moving from the big city of San Antonio, Texas to small town TwintuitionAura is tough, but especially on 11 year old twins Cassie and Caitlin Waters. And while everyone thinks twins are the same, that’s not the case with Cassie and Caitlin. Caitlin always sees the positive side of things while Cassie is somewhat negative. Cassie gravitates towards the ‘cool’ kids while Caitlin is more nerdy.

Things are even harder when you start out on the wrong foot, as it did with Caitlin. Chasing after her sister, she meets three kids selling pie as a fund raising project for their school. Liam is kind of dorky but OK. Megan and Lavender are part of the cool clique. But when Caitlin touches Megan, her world gets distorted. She sees a vision in which the real Megan is blurry and in the background while a new Megan is crystal clear and yelling. Once they part, all is normal but in those togetherness seconds, Caitlin appeared totally out of it. She’s immediately branded a nerd and, by association, her sister as well. So, the first day of school is particularly tough, especially for Cassie.

The problem is both sisters have been getting these visions for a while and hasn’t told the other. The more visions Caitlin gets, the clearer they are. However, neither girl knows what they mean. And this is the story of Twintuition: Double Vision, put forth by TV personalities Tia and Tamera Mowry. Twintuition is a fun read geared for the higher end of the 8-12 year girl old range. It’s got clothes and boys and make-up and school issues and cliques.  It touches on mother-daughter relationships, sister-sister relationships. Chapters alternate between Cassie and Caitlin as narrators as they try to muddle through the visions while trying to overcome their ‘nerd’ label.

If you’re looking for a light-hearted romp through sixth grade, my intuition says Twintuition.

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Tell Me by Joan Bauer is the sugary sweet story of twelve-year-old TellMeAnna McConnell’s summer at her grandmother, Mim’s, house in Virginia. Her parents are going through a trial separation and her father is staying at home in Philadelphia, her mother is off to her brother’s in New Jersey and Anna goes to her paternal grandmother.

Anna is an actress whose stellar role was as a radish in an after school production. At home she dresses up as a cranberry and dances for a local store at the mall. In Rosemont she’s recruited to dress up as a petunia for the local library. While taking a break and sitting on the library front steps, a van pulls up. An Asian woman gets out and drags a child into the library to use the rest room. The girl is dragged back out and into the van which takes off. Anna feels something wasn’t right and the girl’s big, doe-like eyes showed fear. Winnie, the librarian, also felt something was amiss. Winnie’s grandson, Brad, happens to work for Homeland Security. So goes this unlikely premise.

Rosemont, VA has the small town, east coast equivalent of the Rose Parade and Mim is the organizer. Amidst the backdrop of flowers and the parade, Tell Me tells the story of Anna’s insistence on finding the doe-eyed girl and her hopes of her parent’s reunion.

Tell Me is more of a fable with the moral blatantly displayed on every page…don’t necessarily dismiss what you see. Anna is concerned that she’s made more of the van incident than was actually there. But Winnie and Mim and her father and Brad tell her not to doubt herself.

I’m a big, big, BIG Joan Bauer fan. I’ve heard her speak and the energy and sincerity she displays are unequaled. I love her books, especially Close to Famous, Hope was Here and Rules of the Road. But even I have to say that diabetics should stay away from this one…it’s just too darn sweet. I’ve never met an Anna-like child, so good, so focused on being a radish or petunia, so insistent that something be done about the doe-eyed girl. I’ve never met adults who are soooooooooooo supportive, so indulgent of their children, so mushy.

I’m a parent and I hope that I supported my kids and I know I’ll spoil my grandkids but I’m not even sure that I want to be like Mim.

Aside from that, the plot doesn’t work for me. I’m not sure that grandma can convince Homeland Security grandson that something needs to be investigated…that human trafficking might be involved. Maybe, but maybe no.

So, it disappoints me to say that, while I liked Tell Me, it is over the top on story line, characters and sugar.

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VeryNearlyHonorableAhoy mateys!!!! Guess what today is!!! The release date of the Terror of the Soutlands.

If yer not reading the Terror of the Southlands, then yer gonna get thrown out of the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates. This is yer first warnin’.

Hilary Westfield, the Terror of the Southlands herself, hasn’t raised her sword for months and if she doesn’t do something daring like slay a sea monster or defeat a rebel pirate, she is in danger of being tossed from the VNHLP. But when she hears that Eugenie Pimm, the Enchantress has disappeared, she decides to find her, because a pirate must always help a mate. Along with her first mate, Pirate Charlie Dove and her faithful gargoyle, she makes her way to Miss Pimm’s Finishing School for Delicate Ladies, to find Miss Pimm gone. But she meets up with her old friend, Claire, who wants to help find the Enchantress and go on an adventure. So off they go, on a rousing sea-faring adventure, the likes of which should put Captain Blacktooth, the very president of this here VNHLP right about The Terror. But, nay, ’cause he’s against this adventure and skullduggery.

But The Terror won’t be bullied because a pirate must NOT forget to be fearsome. Thar’s cannonball blasts and sword fights and rope tying and rescuing in this yarn. Thar’s pirating and disguising and magic. Thar’s grog drinkin’ and mast climbing and skullduggery galore.

So, if’n yar goin’ to be a right proper pirate, then it’s the Terror of the Southlands that should be on the night stand in yer cabin. Don’t make me give you a second warnin’. Us pirate types are short on patience and my sword hand is itchin’.

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FantasyLeagueWhoever thought I’d really like a Mike Lupica book, but I totally liked Fantasy League.

Twelve-year-old Charlie Gaines, nicknamed the “Brain”, knows everything about football. He watches the games, studies the stats and somehow sees things that others miss: how teams line up for certain plays, how the stats highlight some unique talent a player has. He’s also a master at Fantasy Football, using all the information he’s garnered.

His best friend Anna’s grandfather, Joe Warren, owns the L.A. Bulldogs, an expansion team with a history of losing. Her uncle Matt is the team’s general manager and is getting flack from the media because of the team’s lackluster performance. Anna knows almost as much about football as Charlie and they love watching games and talking football, especially how they would turn the Bulldogs around.

When Anna suggests that Charlie do weekly football podcasts, he thinks she’s lost her mind but goes along with it. Charlie’s coach in his Pop Warner league hosts an ESPN radio show and decides to broadcast a portion of Charlie’s show, giving him minor celebrity status.

At Anna’s urging Charlie suggests to Joe Warren that he draft an older quarterback who will probably be dropped by his current team. He is astonished when Warren takes this advice. Word gets out that Warren is taking suggestions from a twelve-year-old and both Charlie and Warren take considerable grief from the media. When Warren acts a second time on Charlie’s advice, the media has a field day. Will these choices prove positive for the Bulldogs?

Throughout this, Charlie is also player/assistant coach in a Pop Warner league, not confident that he is talented enough to contribute to the team’s performance.

Fantasy League by Mike Lupica is the feel good book of the year. Charlie and Anna are truly best friends. It is heartwarming to see a friendship develop between septuagenarian Warren and Charlie, whose father left when he was young. Mr. Warren becomes friend/father/grandfather rolled into one. Lupica touches on family, illness, self-confidence and more in an easy reading, enjoyable way. While the plot is predictable, the action and characters make Fantasy League a fun read. Primarily geared to boys, female sports fans might enjoy this as well.

 

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SevenStoriesUpWhile there is a necessity for realistic fiction and fantasy in young adult literature, whether it be middle grade or high school, there is also a tremendous need, in my opinion, for readable fiction that doesn’t delve into issues or take you on unimaginable flights of fantasy. While Seven Stories Up by Laurel Snyder has a touch of fantasy (time travel), it is the heartwarming story of two young girls.

I’ll start by saying that I’ve been Facebook friends with Laurel Snyder for a while, but I don’t know how I got there…probably through some other author Facebook friend. We’ve never met, but I did see her at the Kids Author Carnival at the Jefferson Market Library where she played Pictionary with a group of middle grade kids. She was lively and animated and, based on that alone, I bought Seven Stories Up. I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

It is 1987 and twelve year old Annie and her mother, Ruby, who live in Atlanta drive to Baltimore because Annie’s grandmother, Molly, is dying. Molly lives in the old hotel that her parents owned, way up on the 7th floor. Molly and Ruby have not gotten along for quite a while.

It’s late and while Ruby is in with her mother, Annie gets ready for bed. Under her pillow she finds an old sleeping mask, the elastic all stretched out and the beads falling off. She puts it on and, magic, she wakes up in her grandmother’s bed in 1937, when Molly herself was twelve.

Now we all know that when a time traveller interacts with a past time, it changes the present. But that’s not the main part of this story. The story is about two 12 year old girls becoming friends, living life and leaving an everlasting impact on each other. It’s about someone from the 1980s learning what the ’30s were actually like, while leaving a 1930s girl with a little taste of the future.

Annie and Molly are charming characters and they act like true 12 year olds…they get into mischief. Snyder’s portrayal of 1930s Baltimore is startling in many respects. She brought to mind things I hadn’t thought about and will certainly provide food for thought for readers.

So, if you want to sit back and smile while reading, Seven Stories Up might just be the means to do that.

 

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