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Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Meaning of Maggie is a Delightful Book for Kids

Today I have a book that feels serious, but strangely it is also funny and uplifting.  My very selective daughter, who is not willing to tackle many books, jumped into this one immediately and didn't put it down.  I think her enthusiasm came from the refreshing voice of Maggie, who has heart, humor and an eleven year old sensibility.  So don't let the more serious topics dissuade you from sharing this book with your daughter!

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Title:       The Meaning of Maggie

Author:  Megan Sovern

Target:   Grades 4-6

Series:    No

What this book is about: 
Maggie has just turned eleven and changes are afoot.  Her father has left his job because his legs keep falling asleep (he has multiple sclerosis) and her mother has gone back to work full time.  This is Maggie’s journey as she goes through the day to day challenges of being exceptionally bright, perhaps being liked more by teachers than the other students, and coming to grips with the new family dynamics and challenges.

Why I love this book: 
Maggie just has a lovely, quirky voice that makes this book a joy to read.  She reminded me at times of Willow in the brilliant book Counting by 7’s simply because they both see the world with a different kind of humor, they are both facing tragedy and they rely on their academic prowess to see them through.  

I gave this book to my very picky reader daughter who read it in three days.  A record for her.  I think that Maggie is authentic which mean that she finds the bigger meaning in what is happening, but each day is not a revelation, it is an actual eleven year old navigating her life.  My daughter could appreciate that.  

While this book does not end in tragedy, it does not end with everything turning out alright either.  I think this speaks to the fact that kids don’t necessarily need a “happy” ending, what they need is a true ending that is supported by the story.  My daughter told me this one was sad, but she loved it anyway and Maggie’s voice keeps the story funny and upbeat.

Who this book is for: 
Wonderful story for most girls.  I think they will get lost in Maggie’s refreshing voice.

Final thoughts: 
I would have loved to “hear” the story from the voice of some of the other characters.  I was very interested in how they perceived Maggie and the family dynamics.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: The Meaning of Maggie  A portion of each purchase will support this blog at no cost to you.  Thank you for your support.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Every Day Is a Beautiful Young Adult Book

Ok, I am a little behind with this book.  It came out in 2013, but that was when I wasn't reading Young Adult books as frequently.  As my middle school target continues to read up, I have ventured more into the Young Adult genre.  This book has always been on my radar, I just hadn't had the chance to read it ... but then as I faced a 10 hour plane ride back from London, well, suddenly a window of opportunity opened up.

I am thrilled I had a chance to experience this book.  It was a can't put down read.  Some of the questions it asks are extremely thought provoking, and I can see teens gravitating towards these topics.

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Title:       Every Day

Author:  David Levithan

Target:   Grade 8 and up

Series:    No

What this book is about: 
A is sixteen and wakes up in a new body everyday.  These bodies only have one thing in common, and that is that they are the same age as A.  A awakens as a girl or boy, A can be rich or poor, sick or healthy and of any ethnicity.  A has learned to leave the bodies with no trace of A’s presence.  However, one day A meets Rhiannon and falls in love.  Suddenly A must do anything to see Rhiannon and be with her as A begins to confront the idea a whether love is blind and what responsibility A really has to the bodies A inhabits. (I want you to know how hard that was to write without using a pronoun for A!)

Why I love this book: 
Blew me away.  There were so many interesting ideas presented in this story.  First off I love the idea of walking a day in someone else's shoes.   Your empathy and understanding of drug addiction, family life, sexual orientation, kindness and cruelty are all viewed so differently through the filter of someone else's life. 

There is also the idea of whether we can love someone no matter what they look like.  A presents him/herself as a different person on the outside to Rhiannon every day, but who A is on the inside never changes.  How much does each element matter?

And finally I love the idea of the sense of responsibility we have with the truth others share with us.  In A’s case, that truth is involuntary, but everyday we get to see someone else's reality and how do we respect that?

Who this book is for: 
While there is no sexual content, A does inhabit the bodies of drug addicts and transgender kids.  These are extremely well written, but it is up to a parent how much they have discussed these topics with their children.

Book reads quickly as it is a day to day account in each new body, so most kids will easily get into this story.

Final thoughts: 
Just a beautifully written book that brims over with empathy, but also responsibility and kindness.  

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Every Day  A portion of each purchase will support this blog at no cost to you.  Thank you for your support.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Silly Books for Silly Kids

Kids in school - check.  Mom at computer - check.  Mom playing Candy Crush - check.  Oops, ok vacation is over, and it is time to get serious about books again.  Well lets face it, what I love most about kids books is that they don't always have to be serious.  Today I have one that is anything but profound.  It is all fun ... and isn't that just what any kid needs sometimes!

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Title: The 26-Story Treehouse

Author:Andy Griffiths

Target: Grades 2-6

Series:Yes.  

What this book is about: 
Andy and Terry are at it again, hanging out in their now 26 story treehouse (they have added 13 stories since the last book, The 13-Story Treehouse.)  The new additions include an ice cream parlor with 78 flavors (and they do name all 78), an antigravity chamber and of course, the Maze of Doom!  This story centers around how Andy and Terry met and ended up in their now ever expanding tree house.  And as you would expect, it includes a wooden headed pirate, flying cats and stinky cheese.  

Why I love this book: 
When I read these books I always think about that group story telling game where you to come up with the silliest ideas you can to keep the story going from person to person.  Well, Andy Griffiths turned that game into a very successful book.  Just when you think this story can’t get any crazier, it does, much to the delight of the reader.  Somehow he can go to the absurd without loosing the integrity of the story.  

Who this book is for: 
Filled with visuals on every page, this book is not intimidating for reluctant readers.  The silliness will draw in even the most hardened non reader, who won’t believe where the story is going to go next.

Final thoughts: 
Will a 39-story tree house be next?  Me thinks it is in the works!

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: The 26-Story Treehouse (13 Story Treehouse)  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog at no cost to you.  Thank you for your support.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Night Gardener Is a Hauntingly Good Book for Kids

Well, why not start off the new school year with one of my favorite middle grade books this year.  Normally, I am not one to love a ghost story, I am the true definition of wimpy, but this book may have just converted me to the spine tingling genre.  It has heart, fabulous writing and a mystery that needs to be solved.

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Title:       The Night Gardner

Author:  Jonathan Auxier

Target:   Grades 5 and up

Series:    No

What this book is about: 
Two orphans, Molly and Kip, travel to a home in the woods to find employment.  Nothing about this crumbling manor house seems quite right, but they are desperate for work so they ignore their fears and begin their jobs.  The large looming tree which has embedded itself around the house hold secrets, and once it gets its roots into you, it is extremely difficult to ever leave.  While they try to help the family living there, they too are tempted to fall prey to the allure of the tree.

Why I love this book: 
Without a doubt this is one of my favorite books of the year.  The writing is beautiful and while it is a good old fashioned scary story, at it’s heart it is about getting what we wish for, how what we wish for defines us and the difference between stories and lies.  Insightful lessons wrapped in a creepy and bone tingling narrative.  What could be better?

I feel as though I should write more, but just think of this as a brilliant written book which is full of  haunting stuff and it is elevated by the life lessons embedded in the story.  It is one of the books that I still remember weeks after having read it - and I read a lot.

Who this book is for: 
Great for kids who loved How to Catch a Bogle.  Set in the same Victorian  time frame with the imaginative evil that only an old fashioned setting allows us to believe is real, these books are just fun.

Final thoughts: 
My current Newbery contender.  This is a gem of a book.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: The Night Gardener  A portion of each purchase will go to support this blog at no cost to you.  Thank you for your support.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Potential Children's Book Award Winners

Sorry for my long hiatus, but I was traipsing through Norway with my family for the last few weeks.  I should have planned my blog absence better, but I was so worried about getting things ready for the trip, that everything else fell by the wayside.


I wish I could say I read a lot in Norway ... but I didn't!  Lots of boats, but not lots of books.  So please be patient with me as I ramp up now that school is almost underway.  I did, however, get some fun kids books in London, during our week there, which I have not seen in the states ... but more on those in the coming weeks.

I am going to start off the week with some potential award winners.  These two books are not for every kid.  They are written in verse to begin with, which can be liberating or confusing, depending on your child.  I found them amazing, but my kids were lukewarm, showing that sometimes the best written books are not the ones that kids will gravitate towards.  However, I think that if I had read them aloud with the kids, they would have been riveted.  Investing some time with these is worth it.

Also, both books feature main characters of color.  What a delight to see stories where the main character is not a white boy.  Kids need a variety of characters as they see books as a reflection of their own experiences and feelings.  It is lovely to put a range of faces to the stories kids read.

So here are two books that I think we will be hearing more about as award season draws near.  They are beautifully written and I encourage you to nudge your kids to read them or read them aloud, because the experience is worth it.

Title:       The Crossover

Author:  Kwame Alexander

Target:   Grades 5-8

Series:    No

What this book is about: 
Told in verse, this book is about twin brothers who are in middle school. They are basketball stars, but with a father who used to play professional basketball, this is no surprise.  Their mother, however, is the assistant principal, so academics are equally important in this household.  The family dynamics, the relationship between the brothers and the action on the court dominate this story.

Why I love this book: 
A book told in verse can be an unusual delivery choice for a story.  Kids are not typically drawn to poetry, so a whole story can be a harder sell.  But this story is told in a more rap/jazz verse so the flow does not feel rhyming, the imagery is fresh and the story moves along well.

This book absolutely surprised me in the best way.  While I didn’t always understand all the basketball references (it is not our family sport … we are really slow) I still felt the suspense of the games as they worked towards a state championship.  The family relationships and the brothers struggles were touching.  

I always enjoy when stories feature characters with different ethnicities without making this central to the story.  In this book the characters are African American, but their family and struggles were that of a family of any ethnicity.

Who this book is for: 
This is the hardest part for me.  This book has the excitement of basketball which is great for sports loving kids, but it is also a tender story of family, so kids have to be able to handle the “touchy feely” parts as well.   The verse component can be a perceived challenge for some kids, but the story itself reads quickly in this formal, so it is actually a great vehicle for reluctant readers who will not be intimidated by the size of the text or the length of the chapters.

Final thoughts: 
The Crossover is a wonderful book that combines a love of basketball with strong family dynamics and a moving story.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: The Crossover  A portion of each purchase goes back to support this blog at no cost to you.  Thank you for your support.



Title:       Brown Girl Dreaming

Author:  Jacqueline Woodson

Target:   Grades 5-8

Series:    No

What this book is about:  
Told in verse, this book is about the life of the author growing up.  It shares her experiences of being a black child in the South, the memories of living with her grandparents and the challenges of living in New York with her mother and three siblings.  Fundamentally it is about her family, but on another level it is about finding her voice in a world full of challenges.

Why I love this book: 
Ok, I don’t like to get too esoteric in these reviews, but this is why I love this book done in verse.  Every chapter is like a vibrant photograph that stands alone and tells it’s own story.  You put the photographs in a book and they connect and chronicle your voyage.  Unlike a book written in prose, in this book each chapter can stand alone, a little vignette, and shares an intimate moment with you.  This is a beautiful book of snapshots that still weave together to create a lovely journey.

If I have one criticism, and this is me being nit picky because really I could never write anything as beautiful as this, it is that the ending kind of falls off instead of coming to a soft rest.  That I think is the function of the story being a series of moments about her life which then lacks a more significant conclusion.

Who this book is for: 
This is a hard one.  I actually think this book read aloud is probably the best way to enjoy it.  There are not many kids who will take the time to savor the language in this story so reading it aloud gives you and them a chance to take in the picture she has written for you.  However, if you have a particularly observant child or one who likes quieter books, this would be a good fit. 

Also, if you have a desire to share what it was like for a young black child to grow up in the 60’s and 70’s this book hits the mark.


Final thoughts: 
Many thanks to Emily Scheinman of Banana Seed for lending me her advanced copy.  This story is a thoughtful and touching look at the life of Jacqueline Woodson growing up and it was a treat to get an early peak at her words.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Brown Girl Dreaming  A portion of each purchase goes back to this blog at no cost to you.  Thank you for your support.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Kate the Great Is a New Entrant to the Illustrated Novel Category

I had the opportunity to be given an advanced copy of a new illustrated novel coming out next month.  Too often I think publishers target these books towards boys, because they tend to be classified as reluctant readers.  However, I know so many parents who struggle with their daughters, trying to get them reading.

While illustrated/diary type novels are certainly not only for the reluctant reader, they tend to appeal to children who are overwhelmed by more traditional fare.  However, good illustrated novels are engaging for strong readers as well, because they provide another type of reading experience.  Kids need variety in their reading choices if we want them to continue loving books!

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Title:       Kate the Great Except When She’s Not


Author:  Suzy Becker

Target:   Grades 3-5

Series:   Not at this time

What this book is about: 
Kate is in fifth grade and contending with the usual stuff: band, Junior Guides, sleepover parties.  The bulk of the story centers around her friendship with Nora, a shy/loner girl in her class who Kate’s parents have asked her to befriend.  She begins by looking at Nora as the project she has to endure, but as time goes on she is able to crack through the veneer and develop a nice friendship with her, although not without some bumps in the road.

Why I love this book: 
This is a nice entrant for girls in the illustrated novel category.  Too often we think of boys as being the target audience for these type of stories, so it is nice to see Kate join the ranks of the Popularity Papers and Ellie McDoodle.  While this book is not quite as strong as the other two series, there is certainly room for Kate to grow and it offers a nice alternative to girls who have read the others.

I like that Kate is focused on the things fifth grade girls really think about and avoids the trap of being too “insightful.”  This is what will make it work for kids.  I found my second reading of the story much more enjoyable than the first, which also meant that the flow was a little off at times, but again, these are small fixes and I think the foundation of the book is a good one.  I will be interested to see the next book in the series.

The copy I had of this book was an electronic version, so I am unsure of how the graphics will look on a hard copy of the story.  I found myself often having to enlarge the illustrations on my Kindle app, but that may or may not be a problem with the hard copy.

Who this book is for:  
Well I thought it was great for my daughter Kate who is entering 5th grade.  Nice book for more reluctant readers.

Final thoughts: 
Thank you publishers for more diary/illustrated novels that focus on female characters!

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: Kate the Great, Except When She's Not  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog at no cost to you.  Thank you for your support.


Monday, July 21, 2014

A Book Full of Fun and Games for Kids

I had the chance to recommend The Gollywhopper Games a few years back, but it was one of those stand alone books that was not part of a series.  So imagine my surprise when I saw a new version of the Gollywhopper Games at the library a few weeks back, with the promise of even more sequels.

I anxiously took it home and before I had a chance to turn to the first page, my son had hijacked the book.  Happily it was returned to me the very next morning because he read it straight through the evening.  That my friends is always the best recommendation I can give a story.

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Title:       The Gollywhopper Games: The New Champion

Author:  Jody Feldman

Target:   Grade 3-7

Series:    Yes

What this book is about: 
In this sequel to the wildly popular Gollywhopper Games, the Gollywhopper Toy Co. is at it again.  They are sponsoring another contest where kids have to solve a myriad of puzzles in order to win the $1 million grand prize.  Cameron and his brother Spencer are each competing for the prize, but can they make it through the number problems, alphabet codes and obstacle courses in enough time to be in contention for the big prize?

Why I love this book:  
First off, what is not to love about a contest in a toy factory.  This second book focused even more on the puzzles and riddles and was not burdened with setting up the premise for the story.  

A lot of the fun for kids is finding out the challenges and seeing if they can figure them out, although I will warn you, the puzzles are tough.  While the characters are fairly formulaic, the setting is quite fun and the story moves at a good pace.

Who this book is for: 
Kids should read the first book Gollywhopper Games before this one.  There are references to the previous story and the winners of the first contest are revealed in this book.  This book is for kids who like puzzles with some action thrown in.

Final thoughts: 
Action and brainteasers to keep kids guessing.  What is not to love?  Also, the new covers strongly remind me of Candy Crush, perhaps a sign of the times.

To purchase this book:
Click on the following link to connect to Amazon: The Gollywhopper Games: The New Champion  A portion of each purchase goes back to support this blog at no cost to you.  Thank you for your support.