Sunday, October 28, 2012

Best Books for Reluctant Readers

Oh the reluctant reader.  How we as parents worry and fret over getting these kids to read a book!  I get it, not all books speak to all kids.  Some books can be intimidating when they start out with long winded chapters and verbose descriptions.  But here is the problem, kids only get better at reading by .... well reading.  So even if they read Diary of a Wimpy Kid ten times, or have memorized Captain Underpants it helps them to read these stories over and over.  Eventually they will move on, I promise - no I really do!

So if your kids are stuck with the same stories, or if they haven't quite found the right story, don't give up!  I have some fun selections this week that may inspire them.  I have even focused one of the books on girls, because lets face it, it is not only boys that sometimes have trouble catching the reading bug!

Title:        Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit

Author:     Tommy Greenwald

Target:      Grades 4-8

Series:       Yes

What this book is about:
We met Charlie Joe Jackson in his first book, Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading, were he made it his mission to never read a single book.  In this adventure, his bad grades could earn him a trip to an academic summer camp.  When he promises to get them up in an effort to avoid camp, he finds that extra credit is the only way to improve his performance enough to get straight A’s.   So now Charlie finds himself posing for portraits, participating in student government and auditioning for the school musical.  Could avoiding summer camp be worth all this?

Why I love this book:
First off I actually found the sequel better than the original, and the first book was pretty fun.  For all his faults, Charlie Joe is an endearing character, who really does want to do the right thing (as long as that right thing doesn’t involve reading a book!)  And parents, do not worry that the book sends the wrong message.  As always, the reader can easily see that reading a book, or just working harder in the first place would have made Charlie’s life a whole lot easier!

This book has some serious chuckle out loud moments, and I really like the voice Greenwald has given Charlie.  As in the first book, Charlie speaks directly to the reader and includes tips, in this case, on extra credit, which are full of wit and wisdom!

Who this book is for:
While reluctant readers will enjoy this book, my son was so excited when I brought it home he sat on the couch and read it in one afternoon!  If your kids like Diary of a Wimpy Kid this book will appeal to them, but I am happy to say that parents will also like it better.

Final thoughts:
Greenwald has three sons, so he knows how to write to boys who like funny books, and boys who may not be as inclined to read.  No extra credit needed to get your kids excited about this story!

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Extra Credit  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:        Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf

Author:    Jennifer L. Holm

Target:     Grades 5-8

Series:      Yes

What this book is about:
This story follows Ginny, a seventh grader, as she works through her mom’s new relationship after the death of her father, her older brother’s rebellion and just the basic challenges of middle school.  Can things ever get better?

Why I love this book:
Ok, this book is billed as “a year told through stuff” which is a perfect description.  There are no long winded paragraphs, no verbose descriptions, no plethora of paragraphs!  What you have in this book is an accumulation of receipts, to do lists, report cards, student essays and birthday cards.  It is amazing what our “junk” can tell us about what is really going on in our lives!

Holms does a brilliant job of capturing the angst of getting that perfect yellow sweater to the embarrassment of your little brother crashing your birthday party in his underwear, to picking out the perfect bridesmaid dress to wear to the wedding.  Twelve can be a tough age, and Holmes tackles it with aplomb!

Who this book is for:
I think most girls will be able to relate to Ginny and enjoy this book.  Reluctant readers will be pulled in by the nonconventional format of storytelling.

Final thoughts:
I can’t wait to experience Ginny’s adventures in eighth grade.  The sequel to this book Eighth Grade is Making Me Sick is just out!

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:        Knucklehead

Author:    Jon Scieszka

Target:     Grades 3 and up

Series:      No

What this book is about:
Strangely this book is an autobiography of Jon Scieszka’s childhood.  Jon is the second oldest of six boys, and this is his side of the story - growing up Scieszka.  From his lessons with the nuns at Catholic school to the family rotation of four creative Halloween costumes, Jon shares where he gets his ideas for his wildly successful books.  He also left me wondering why my family was never this funny.

Why I love it:
This book made me laugh, and I don’t mean a “ha ha” laugh, I mean crossing my legs so I won’t pee in my pants laugh!  There is no way I can do the stories justice, but let’s just say they are true to life and sometimes quite thoughtful, in spite of themselves. 

The idea of an autobiography didn’t really excite me at first, but this is a story of all the gross, funny and ridiculous things that happen to kids growing up.  I shared two of the stories at dinner the other night with my kids and we were all laughing so hard I had to run into my office and get the book.  I have not seen it since.

Who this book is for:
Great book for boys, as they will relate to so many of the experiences.  Also a good pick for reluctant readers because the chapters range from two to five pages and are filled with old photos and mementos.

Final thoughts:
Jon is committed to getting boys reading, it is a personal mission of his, and this book will show boys just how fabulous a great story can be.

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

When Only an Early Chapter Book Will Do

I just finished reading a fabulous early chapter book, and realized that I had been remiss in posting for these readers.  As I have said before, I think the early chapter book is an area that many kids and parents struggle through.  Kids are ready for more than an early reader, but chapter books can be overwhelming.  This is a critical time to get kids excited about books - so in comes the early chapter book to the rescue!

When done well, these books can just knock my socks off, and this week I have gone barefoot!  Hope you enjoy this weeks selections and happy reading!  Don't forget to like one great book on Facebook or follow us on twitter.

Title:          Lulu Walks the Dogs

Author:      Judith Viorst

Target:       Kindergarten - Grade 2

Series:       Yes

What this book is about:
A sequel to one of my favorite books, Lulu and the Brontosaurus, this book leaves us with the new and improved Lulu, who now needs money for something she is “ALWAYS and FOREVER going to want!”  As the title would suggest, dog walking becomes the way to earn that cash.  However, (and isn’t there always a however) walking three dogs isn’t as easy as it first appears!  Will Lulu be able to accept help from Fleischman, the goody-goody, perfect boy from down the street or will the girl who always gets what she wants have to give up on her big dream?

Why I love this book:
Lulu is such a delightfully willfull and entitled character that her over the top antics simply add fun and humor to the story!  

I really enjoy the way that the author pulls herself out of the story to talk to the reader and make sure they are getting her comic turns.  She does it just enough to keep the reader on their toes and laughing.  The author also inserts several variations of the money song throughout the book, which are quite silly, and my daughter had to run out and sing each one to me!

The illustrations by Lane Smith are fabulous, especially how he has captured the personality of each dog that Lulu has to walk, or in some cases who walk her!  And of course, how can I forget a book that has a time out and overtime section, just to make the reader feel that they earned a little more of the story.

Who this book is for:
Perfect for kids just starting chapter books.  Lots of illustrations and shorter chapters.

Final thoughts:
As my daughter would say, “when is the next Lulu book?”  When, oh when, Judith Viorst?

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: Lulu Walks the Dogs  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:        Bink and Gollie: Two for One

Author:    Kate Dicamillo and Alison McGhee

Target:     Kindergarten - Grade 2

Series:     Yes

What this book is about:
Bink is short, Gollie is tall.  Bink is messy, Gollie is neat.  Bink is spunky, Gollie is reserved.  Bink and Gollie are best friends.  Welcome to the odd couple of early  chapter books.  In this book, Bink and Gollie go to the state fair and share three adventures which include the Wack a Duck booth, a talent show and a fortune teller.  What they find is affirmation of their friendship.

Why I love this book:
I must confess that I wasn’t a huge fan of their first book, however the second one is just delightful and the details in Tom Fucile’s illustrations are perfect.  There is humor in every situation, sometimes slapstick and sometimes fairly sophisticated, and Bink and Gollie are there for each other - no matter what.

Who this book is for:
Kids who want a chapter book but are not yet ready for them.  There are pictures on every page and only one or two sentences per page, but the book is divided into three stories so it feels more substantial.

Final thoughts:
Bink and Gollie are two friends you should get to know!

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: Bink and Gollie, Two for One  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:          Marty Mcguire

Author:      Kate Messner

Target:       Grades 1-3

Series:        Yes

What this book is about:
Marty likes catching frogs, digging for bugs and pretending she is Jane Goodall, saving the chimpanzees.  When her third grade teacher informs the class they will be putting on the play The Frog Prince, the last part Marty wants is that of the princess.  But, of course, that is were she is cast!  Can she overcome her aversion to glitter and make the play a success and can she make the part her own?

Why I love this book:
Just a wonderful beginning to a delightful new early reader series.  At one point when the class is learning about improvisation, they use an exercise called the Sculpture Garden.  Suffice it to say, by the end of the chapter I was laughing out loud!

I also like it when girls aren’t typecast as princesses.  Marty is her own person, and at times that is a struggle for her.  That struggle makes her character more believable and I think children will better relate to her because of it.  

Who this book is for:
Kids who are reading early chapter books with illustrations throughout but not on each page.  This book doesn’t really lend it itself to one gender so I think boys and girls can enjoy it!

Final thoughts:
Wonderful debut!  I can’t wait to read the next one in the series!

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: Marty McGuire  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blob.

Title:          Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie

Author:      Julie Sternberg

Target: Kindergarten - Grade 2

Series:        No

What this book is about: 
The story is about a young girl whose babysitter, Bibi, is moving away.  She has to deal with the loss of someone close to her, and realize that she can miss Bibi but still adapt to change.

Why I love this book: 
I love that the subject matter in this book is dealt with in a way that second graders can relate to it.  The ideas are simple and well executed so it feels that a young child would be able to understand the emotions that the main character, Eleanor is going through.

Who this book is for:
This book is wonderful for children just moving to chapter books.  The layout of pages are not overwhelming and the text is very manageable for a new reader, with pictures on every page.  

Final thoughts:
A complex topic written in a simple way.   This is really a lovely book with some depth for the younger set!

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Visit with Bob Shea

I don't usually post on specific authors, but Bob Shea visited my children's school this week, and I had such a fun time with him, that I felt compelled to share his visit!  To be frank, I was not all that familiar with his work.  However, when our local bookstore, Books Inc, offered him up and told me how funny he was, I was listening.  I am an absolute sucker for a funny author, especially one who enjoys a little sarcasm and has a clever wit.  I was not disappointed!

Bob shared his Dino vs. series with us, which is a delightful take on the challenges kids face in various situations (being quiet in the library, getting to bed, wanting to get a peak at Santa)  The twist - when kids actually do what they have been fighting not to all along, they are all the better for it.  Thankfully the books are full of energy and fun, so the message is never preachy, but kids get it and parents nod their heads in an aha moment.

Bob also read his newest book Cheetah, which will be published in January as well as a book in progress A Delicious Mystery.  It was the Delicious Mystery that took the cake for me.  Funny stuff and any author who includes a cake made out of marzipan...yes a hero in my world.  I have a small addiction problem to this German delicacy, so please forgive.  My daughter and I were quoting both these books in between giggles on the way home, so I know they resonated with her as well!

I had the chance to ask Bob a few questions after his talk and I will summarize them here.  These are not exact quotes, but simply my memory of the questions and answers, and to be fair Bob's answers were a lot funnier than my bad memory of them (sadly I was more worried about not looking stupid than getting his answers down.)  BS stands for Bob Shea and is in no way intended to be an opinion on his comments.

Me: I would love to know more about your background.  Were you an artist or author by training?

BS: I was neither.  I started as a graphic designer.

Me: Will there be more Dino vs. Books?

BS: The next book will be Dino vs. School and after that Dino vs. Mom.

Me: I hope the mom wins!

BS: Of course!

Me: Can you share with me some of the techniques you used to do the pictures in the Dino vs. series?

BS: (this is a total summary because he was far more articulate on his medium than I could ever be.  Please forgive my misrepresentations here)  I used brush strokes for Dino and then scanned them in the computer.  I then added color.  Each page represents a poster.  (He showed me pages that were pictures of wrapping paper he had taken, and even shared that the photos of his Christmas cookies in the book that were baked by him!)

Me: I love the fact that the illustrations have so much dimension and texture!

BS: (Smiled...I think in agreement!)

I loved hearing Bob read his books.  Their clever humor jumped out at me as he emphasized the nuances in the story.  Picture book writing, despite its inherent simplicity, is hard to do well, and Bob Shea just jumped on my radar screen as a tremendously clever writer.  And I must not forget the illustrations, that even in the concept book, captured my imagination.

As a side note, Bob drew Dino stickers for every one of the children who attended his presentation.  What a lovely gesture. My favorite part of the day was at pickup when I heard the kids sharing their day with Bob with their moms and dads, because getting kids excited about books is what it is all about!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Halloween Books for Kids

Ghosts and goblins and spooks ... oh my! Last year, about this time, I was thinking candy.  This year my Halloween post is leaning towards the otherworldly.  I found some wonderful books for Halloween that include a set of  eerie ghost stories,  a haunted house with some rather funny occupants, and an early reader to help kids get control of their Halloween frights!

So here is to some fun and ghoulish reading as we get closer to the most frightful holiday of all!

Title:       Princess Posey and the Monster Stew

Author:   Stephanie Greene

Target:    Kindergarten - Grade 2

Series:     Yes

What this book is about:
Just in time for Halloween, Princess Posey takes on a new challenge.  Halloween can be scary when you are in first grade - frightful costumes, creepy treats and trick or treating in the dark - as Posey discovers.  Can she find a way to overcome her fears and really enjoy the holiday? (I hate to be a spoiler but ... surprise ... she gets over her fears)

Why I love this book:
I really enjoy the Princess Posey series for girls.  It takes on some of the real issues that concern first graders, even though they may not feel as serious to an adult.  Posey is always well written and the illustrations are charming.

Who this book is for:
Girls just starting chapter books will like Posey.  Chapters are not long and although there are not pictures on every page, they are plentiful throughout the story.  

Final thoughts:
Spot on early chapter book for girls.

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: Princess Posey and the Monster Stew  A portion of each purchase goes back to support this blog.

Title:        43 Old Cemetery Road: Dying to Meet You

Author:    Kate Klise

Target:     Grades 3-5

Series:      Yes

What this book is about:
First let me say this is an epistolary novel.  This makes me sound quite intelligent, but I had no idea what that meant either.  It is simply a book written as a series of letters or documents.  That’s right, there is no traditional text, but each page contains either a letter, a newspaper clipping, a floor plan or a drawing.  

The basis of the book centers around Ignatius B. Grumply, a children’s author, who quite appropriately despises children.  In an effort to get over his writer’s block, he rents an old house, which it turns out comes with an eleven year old boy and the ghost of the original owner.

Why I love this book:
This book is just plain fun and dare I say quite puny!  Our real estate agent is Anita Sale, the book publisher is Paige Turner - you get the idea.  While I was nervous that the gimmick of the documents might get old, the author did a wonderful job in getting me invested in the characters and used the letter format quite well.

Who this book is for:
This book is a fast read.  Strong readers will complete it in one day.  It is also a good choice for reluctant readers because the format never makes the reader feel overwhelmed.

Final thoughts:
A ghost tale that delights!

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: Dying to Meet You (43 Old Cemetery Road)  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:        On the Day I Died

Author:    Candace Fleming

Target:     Grades 4 -7

Series:      No

What this book is about:
Mike is driving way too fast, when a girl suddenly appears in front of his car.  He offers her a ride, only to discover that she died fifty six years ago.  When he goes to her grave, he meets the fellow inhabitants of this Chicago cemetery, all young people who lived from the mid 1800’s to the present.  They need their stories to be heard, and so Mike listens to all the “ghosts” who recount the way they died.

Why I love this book:
First off the writing is great.  I was completely caught up in each story, and each tale of death has a tie-in to history or famous ghost stories/urban myths.  As the author says, “the best ghost stories should always include a kernel of truth.”  This is what makes the premise just believable enough to be bone chilling.

While the book will raise the hairs on the back of your neck, it is suspenseful and creepy, like a ghost story told at camp, never gory or gross.  The characters are also so well developed, despite the short vignettes of their lives.

Who this book is for:
Any kid who likes a good scare without being grossed out.

Final thoughts:
This book is fun because it’s not typical of kid’s fiction.  It really is a compilation of short stories, but tied together nicely for a unique reading experience for kids.

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Adventure Books for Kids

Ok, who is up for an adventure or should I say a trip to the unknown filled with danger and intrigue? In the books selected this week our characters are confronted with challenges, both physical and mental, and we root for them to triumph over the bad guy.

 Of course there are always one or two great chase scenes (by foot, by boat or by car) that get the action going, but in the end we love it when our hero or heroine displays the wit and humor needed to prevail.

I have some great selections this week that should get kid's pulses racing and put their imaginations into overdrive.  These are books kids won't want to put down, so be prepared for some late night reading!

Title:        Spy School

Author:    Stuart Gibbs

Target:     Grades 4-8

Series:      No

What this book is about:
Ben Ripley is thrilled and amazed when he is recruited for the C.I.A’s Academy of Espionage, a school for spies in training.  However, when he gets there he knows something is off.  Turns out he wasn’t recruited as a student but as a plant to help catch a mole in the school.  Is he up to the task or will he just be a victim in a bigger plot?

Why I love this book:
This book is a great ride and an exciting mystery.  There are surprises at every turn and the suspense is kept up until the very end when the mole is exposed.  The best review I can give it is that my son couldn’t put it down!

Ben is a well written character who manages this crazy situation with humor and tenacity.  There is a lot of great play on the James Bond concept of spies, and Ben’s goofiness just adds a refreshing humor to the story.

Who this book is for:
Kids who like action, adventure with some humor thrown in.  It is also a good mystery and I think the reader will be surprised by the whodunnit.

Final thoughts:
Great book cover, I just love it when publishers get it right!

To purchase this book, please visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: Spy School  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:        Island of Thieves

Author:    Josh Lacey

Target:     Grades 4-6

Series:      Not at the moment

What this book is about:
After Tom accidentally burns down his parents shed, his original babysitters aren’t so anxious to take him in while his parents are on a getaway to Nassau.  As result, Tom’s parents have to rely on his Uncle Harvey, not their first choice.   As soon as Tom’s parents leave, Uncle Harvey announces he is off to Peru and that Tom has the run of the place for the week.  Tom has no intention of missing an adventure in Peru and after a lot of pleading, and a little mention of calling the police, Uncle Harvey lets him come along on what proves to be the adventure of a lifetime ...... a treasure hunt involving gangsters, forged artwork, car chases and the lost journals of John Drake.

Why I love this book:
This book was a nonstop ride, full of action and adventure with some fun Indiana Jones style humor.  I have to say I read it in almost one sitting because I simply got caught up in the story and I really enjoyed the characters.  Uncle Harvey is as cool as they come, and Tom is just hanging on for dear life, but underneath it all, he realizes he likes the thrill of it all. 

The action sequences are well written and plentiful and there is just enough clever humor to take the edge off.  I also really enjoyed learning some of the history of Sir Francis Drake, his voyage around the world and his tendency to pirate from those laden down with too much fortune!

Who this book is for:
Kids who like action sprinkled with humor and a little history thrown in.

Final thoughts:
Island of Thieves was a pleasant surprise of a story.  An action book that was well written enough to appeal to both boys and girls.

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: Island of Thieves  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:        The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable

Author:    Dan Gutman

Target:     Grades 3-6

Series:      Yes

What this book is about:
Twins, Coke and Pepsi McDonald (yes those really are their names) are being pursued by people who wish to see them dead.  Turns out that being a kid genius can be hazardous to your health.  Their family has planned a cross country vacation in an RV and they must allude their assassins and crack cipher codes as they make their way across country to visit the Pez museum, the singing sand dunes and the largest ball of twine.  All this while keeping their parents in the dark!

Why I love this book:
Dan Gutman is the author of the Baseball Card Series, and he is just a great tried and true author of kid’s books.  This book is not an award winner, but it is fun ride.  I loved the cross country trip with the stops at every kitschy tourist attraction along the way.  The book actually has instructions on how kids can plug into google maps to see the route the family takes.  It will give them a much greater appreciation of geography, with fun facts along the way.  

The story is a little preposterous, but Gutman keeps it fun and never takes the premise too seriously, so it works.  

Who this book is for:
This book is especially great for kids who love maps and random trivia.

Final thoughts:
The story culminates at the House on the Rock, an actual Wisconsin tourist attraction I had the pleasure of visiting as a kid.  Sadly, my parents never had the vision to take me to the Ball of Twine!

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Favorite Books of 2012 ... continued

Well, the year keeps plugging along and so do the wonderful new children's book releases!  There are still a few I can't wait to get my hands on ... but all in good time.  This week I am going a little highbrow with some books that are potential award contenders, and while they may not be the ones kids immediately gravitate to, they are at the top of their field.

The three books you must know about this week are really as different as it gets.  The One and Only Ivan is another Newbery front runner about a silverback gorilla stuck in a zoo at the mall.  Lions of Little Rock is a historical novel that just knocked me off my feet.  It is probably the best written book of the year with shades of To Kill a Mockingbird lurking throughout.  Finally, Three Times Lucky is one of the most clever books I read, and I hope that it is able to find an audience.  I worry that it may not have the kid appeal it needs to really take off.

So if you are looking for a great kid book - that is also at the top of its field - check out this weeks post as well as my first post: Favorite Books of 2012 ... So Far.  I sense what you're thinking, it won't be too long until Favorite Books of 2012 ... The End.  I know, I can't wait either.

Title:       The One and Only Ivan

Author:   Katherine Applegate

Target:    Grades 2-5

Series:     No

What this book is about:
Ivan is a silverback gorilla living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, along with his best friend Stella, an elephant, and Bob, a stray dog.  Ivan has given up and accepted the fact he will never see outside his cage or interact his kind again.  But when a new elephant, Ruby, is brought to the Big Top Mall to boost falling attendance, Ivan makes a promise to his best friend Stella, that Ruby’s fate will not be the same as theirs.

Why I love this book:
It took me two tries to get through this book.  While it is incredibly touching, I had a hard time with the slower pace of the story.  It is told entirely in Ivan’s voice and because the whole story is set in their cages in a mall it is very introspective at the start.  However, that said, it is a beautiful and heartfelt story and after the second try I got so caught up in Ivan’s plight to help Ruby that I couldn’t put it down.  So please stick with it!

It will change the way you look at animals in captivity (if you aren’t there already,) although the animals are portrayed with human characteristics so that will of course bias the reader.  

Who this book is for:
Kids who care about the plight of animals will love this books, although I must note that it does tell of the killing of Ivan’s parents, so the most sensitive of kids should probably wait until they are older to read it.  

It is written in very simple prose, with the longest chapter being about five pages and others only a few sentences long, so no child will feel overwhelmed by the scale of this book.   But really many children will come to care about Ivan and Ruby if given the chance, because the book is so well written

Final thoughts:
This story is based on a real gorilla that now lives at Zoo Atlanta.  I think kids will have a lot of fun looking up the animal on which the story is inspired.  Quick editorial note:  about three weeks after I wrote this review, the real Ivan passed away, however there is still wonderful information available about him on the Zoo Atlanta website.

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: The One and Only Ivan  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:        The Lions of Little Rock

Author:    Kristin Levine

Target:     Grades 5 and up

Series:      No

What this book is about:
Marlee is a twelve year old girl growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1958.  She is white and attends a segregated middle school. She is so shy that she finds it difficult to say the things that go on in her head, but when she befriends Liz, a new girl in the class, Liz helps her find her voice.  Liz disappears from school one day and the rumors are that she is a colored girl who has been masquerading as white.  Marlee has to decide how far she is willing to go in using her voice to maintain her friendship with Liz.

Why I love this book:
This is a beautifully written historical novel that looks at the year after the Little Rock nine when the high schools are shut down in an attempt to stop integration.  It is told through the eyes of Marlee who is such a sensitive girl, trying to understand and find her voice, while the adults around her are doing the same.  She is a character whom I immediately liked, despite her challenges.

I love one quote from the book that says “(adults) pretend the world is straightforward, simple, easy...  You’re a good person and try your best and nothing bad will happen.  But the truth is, the world (is filled) with variables and changes (it) is complicated and messy.”

This book had me questioning what I would have done, how much I would have acted or stayed silent.  And it was all done with a wonderful story that had me bought in from the first chapter.

Who this book is for:
I have targeted this book older because I think children need a certain amount of emotional maturity and empathy to truly get all the wonderful messages and nuances contained in this book.  Also, don’t be scared off by the subject matter.  I was initially hesitant, but the story is so well done that kids will be caught up immediately.

Final thoughts:
One of my favorite books of the year, however the cover just stinks.  I don’t know a single child or adult who will be drawn to this book based on the cover.  Now that I have read the book I get it, but.....I hope the paperback cover is more compelling because this is such a book worth picking up.

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: The Lions of Little Rock  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:       Three Times Lucky

Author:   Sheila Turnage

Target:    Grades 4-6

Series:     No

What this book is about:
Miss Mo LeBeau is a rising sixth grader in the small southern town of Tupelo Landing.  When a murder occurs in this small town, Mo and her best friend Dale, of the Desperado Detective Agency, help the police (despite their ardent objections) in solving this mysterious crime.

Why I love this book:
I am not sure where to begin with this one.  I was telling my husband, Mo is like Opal in Because of Winn-Dixie thrown into  Stars Hallow from the Gilmore Girls, if Stars Hallow was in the South.  Got it?  

For starters, the central diner serves whatever they feel like cooking that day, and marshmallow fluff sandwiches are not off limits.  Mo’s guardian gets a car but the "Th" has fallen off it so it is referred to as the Underbird for the rest of the book.  Mo was orphaned as a baby during a hurricane and sent downstream in a flood so she refers to her unknown mother as “upstream mother” and her guardian has named her Mosses.  The writing is just so clever that I kept being blown away by the small but delightful details in the story.

Who this book is for:
If your child liked Because of Winn-Dixie, I think they will also like Three Times Lucky.  It is a mystery and a quirky take on life.

Final thoughts:
This book is full of charm, heart and clever writing.  I so hope it finds its audience.

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: Three Times Lucky  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.