Countdown, by Deborah Wiles

Deborah Wiles
2010 by Scholastic Press
ISBN – 9780545106054
Genre – Historical Fiction
Age – Middle School
4.2 Stars

Everything is moving along in Franny’s life as normal. She goes to school, has fights with friends, and spends time with her family. Then, the threat of nuclear war. Everyone’s world is turned upside down, living in a shadow of fear. Although its face value screams out typical coming of age story, it is anything but. It is littered with speeches, newspaper articles, advertisements, songs, radio announcements and other snippets of popular culture from the time period. We follow Franny, and her quirky family as they learn to live their lives with a kind of fear no one has ever faced.

This was an excellent audio book. Each of the announcements, songs, and other interludes really make you feel as if you are immersed in the time. Franny’s story in nicely woven in between a fascinating history lesson. My hope is that after reading this, kids might have a bit of interest in learning more about the topic. I loved Franny’s family. They felt real, in the way that they all had different opinions, they were so different overall, but that did not stop them from coming together and supporting each other as a team. It seems to me that this might appeal a bit more to boys than girls (totally agree, Raina.) I was really hoping that the second book “Revolution” might be from a male point of view, but alas, it is another girl. Despite that, I am still really looking forward to listening to that one as well.

Peter and the Starcatchers, by Dave Barry

1033662Peter and the Starcatchers
Dave Barry
2004 by Hyperion Books
ISBN – 9780786854455
Genre – Fantasy
Age – Middle School
3.2 Stars

Peter and the other orphans are taken on the ship Neverland to live on an island ruled by an evil man. Little does everyone know that the ship is carrying something very special, and something that a lot of people and pirates would like to get their hands on. One of the pirates that is chasing after then is the notorious Captain Blackbeard, who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the treasure. Peter and his friends must help protect the mysterious trunk and try to stay alive while doing it.

This book is full of magic, adventure, pirates, and talking porpoises, sounds great right? For some reason, it just didn’t excite me. It seemed to drag on with too many characters, and too many story lines. I had a hard time connecting to any of them, its as if they were all spread too thin. I love the idea of the beginning of Peter’s story, and I really enjoyed the parts of the book that addressed his coming to be a lost boy. I enjoyed that part so much, that I may still pick up the next one, just to see how his character is developed. On a side note, the audio book was narrated by Jim Dale, and he is always excellent!

The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm

19156898The fourteenth Goldfish
Jennifer L. Holm
2014 by Random House Books for Young Readers
ISBN – 9780375870644
Genre – Science Fiction
Age – Middle School
2.99 Stars

Ellie does not want to leave the fifth grade, in fact she doesn’t really want life to move forward at all, and she just can’t picture growing old like her grandpa Melvin. But wait, somehow her grandpa Melvin has figured out how to be young again, and he appears as a 15 year old boy and the family tries to pass him off as Ellie’s cousin. It seems that grandpa has found his own fountain of youth, but now that he looks like a fifteen year old, he is having trouble getting back into his lab!

I thought this book was okay. Three weeks after reading it nothing really sticks out to me. The best character was Melvin by far, but how could he not be with the juxtaposition of the curmudgeonly old man in the body of a pubescent boy! Ellie was forgettable, and the lesson in the end was weak. I did really enjoy the tidbits of science. I love when novels throw in interesting and educational facts that may lead to piquing the interest in young minds. So other than that, nothing really called to me. I also read Bird as well as Countdown just before and just after this one, and as far as female coming of age tales, they both surpassed this one in my opinion.

Bird, by Crystal Chan

Crystal Chan
2014 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
ISBN – 9781442450905
Genre – Realistic Fiction
Age – Middle School
4 Stars

Jewell lives in the shadow of her brother, who died the day she was born. Her grandfather will no longer speak because he nicknamed her brother Bird. Thinking he could fl, he jumped off a cliff. Jewel is constantly trying to find the balance in between her mother’s practical nature and her father’s superstition. She is also trying to make it known that while her brother may have died, she is still very much alive and has her own needs.

The writing in this book was so lyrical that I kept reading. This is not normally my favorite type of book, but there was so much that I enjoyed. I appreciated the multicultural aspects in the book. The superstitions of Jamaica really added a fantastical element to the book. Coupled with the prose, it was really quite magical. At times I loved Jewell for being so honest with herself and everyone else, but other times I just felt that she was completely unrealistic. Jewell is strong in the way that she doesn’t give up. Even when things are hard and people are mean, she doesn’t stop trying. She is not the character that is strong in an unemotional way, she embraces her feelings, and lets them guide her through her rough times. Not only does this foster her own growth, but the growth of her friends and family as well.

Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan

22749539 (1)Echo
Pam Muñoz Ryan
2015 by Scholastic Press
ISBN – 9780439874021
Genre – Historical Fantasy
Age – Middle School
5 Stars

Three stories woven together by one fairy tale. Three beautiful stories of life, struggle, family, racism, and strength. The first, a young Jewish boy and his family struggle to live in Germany during the Rise of Hitler. The second, two orphans struggling to stay together as a family no matter what. The third, a family of farmers defending their rights for equality for themselves and their friends. Each one as heartbreaking and heartwarming as the last.

I hate to use the word magical for this book, because that is what everyone else is saying, but the thing is, that is exactly what it is. It is the kind of magic that hurts your heart, but also helps it in so many ways. After reading this book, I was in such amazement, but I was so sad that never again would I read it for the first time. The writing is fantastic, the characters are selfless, and wonderful, they are who I strive to be. They are wise beyond their years, while still carrying the innocence of childhood. The story is amazing and it is beautifully woven together. I think I could read this again and again. Seriously, READ THIS BOOK, no matter what your age.

The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex

5976052The True Meaning of Smekday
Adam Rex
2007 by Disney-Hyperion
ISBN – 9780786849017
Genre – Science Fiction
Age – Middle School
5 Stars

Gratuity Tucci, or Tip as her friends call her has to write an essay about what Smeckday means to her. Smeckday was previously called Christmas, but is renamed to honor the invading alien race’s leader. Tip tells the story of her cross country road trip with an alien named J-Lo in order to find her mother who was previously abducted by the aliens.

Yay for this book! It is so excellent, and obviously so much better than the movie! It is funny, and on so many levels, funny for all ages. It is sweet, it focuses on family and friendship, and prejudice. It shows us that we can be friends and family with all sorts of creatures! Also, DIVERSITY!!! On top of all of this, it is well written, and well illustrated. It is just plain fun for all ages. I can’t think of a single negative thing to say. That’s pretty rare!

The Princess in Black, by SHannon Hale and Dean Hale

princessinblackThe Princess in Black
Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
2014 by Candlewick Press
ISBN – 9780763665104
Genre – Fantasy
Age – Early Elementary
3.7 Stars

Princess Magnolia was having hot chocolate with the Duchess when her monster alarm goes off. Despite the bad timing she rushes off to her secret closet, and puts on her secret outfit, and becomes the princess in black. While she is away taking care of business, the Duchess is determined to uncover her secrets. Will the Princess be able to save the world before the Duchess finds out who she really is?  This book is a great lesson that not all girls are alike. It also teaches us not to judge someone by their looks, because you never know what awesomeness is hiding in their closet. The illustrations are bright and magical. They really add to the humor of the story. This book is witty and funny, and perfect for little girls who love princesses or mischief.

Tommysaurus Rex, by Doug Tennapel

ToomysaurusTommysaurus Rex
Doug Tennapel
2013 by GRAPHIX (first published 2004)
ISBN – 9780545483834
Genre – Graphic Novel
Age – Elementary School
4 Stars

After Ely’s beloved dog Tommy is hit by a car, he goes to live with his grandfather for the summer. Soon after the local bully starts bothering him, he comes across a very friendly dinosaur. They become the best of friends and get into all sorts of trouble together. Ely and his grandpa try to convince the town that a dinosaur is worth having around. I like Tennapel’s illustrations. They seem to have a certain bit of darkness to them. He also has a common theme of bullying, and he always seems to resolve this issue in a positive manner. Ely is relatable, and so is his situation. The book manages to be funny and serious all at the same time. I thought this book was great fun. What little boy or girl wouldn’t want a giant pet dinosaur, even with all of the concerns that go along with having one?

Listen, Slowly, by Thanhha Lai

listenListen, Slowly
Thanhha Lai
2015 by HarperCollins
ISBN – 9780062229182
Genre – Realistic Fiction
Age – Middle School
3.7 Stars

Mai is looking forward to her summer at the beach with her best friend, and the boy who she has a huge crush on when she gets terrible news. She will have to spend the summer with her grandmother in Vietnam. Her grandmother has never been able to accept the disappearance of her husband during the war, and may finally have the opportunity to find out what happened to him. As much as she screams and cries it is unavoidable, and before she knows it she is in the hot and humid climate of Vietnam. She is figuring out how to make friends and survive in a completely different world, but will they ever find out what happened to her grandfather?

This book is a very sweet portrayal of a young and selfish girl, who is made to think of someone other than herself. Mai starts off spoiled and sullen about the whole trip, but eventually she realizes that some things in the world are a bigger deal than the beach, and the boy who she pines after. She does an amazing amount of growing up in such a short time! I loved the setting of Vietnam, it is obvious that the author has first hand experience. She paints a picture that makes me feel like I am there, or at the very least that makes me want to be there. She talks about the culture with such love and beauty. I thought that the lesson that friendship and family go beyond the boundaries of language was important. I loved the examples of communication that parted from our typical ways of speaking. Also, I must say, I probably wouldn’t have read this book if not for the beautiful cover, but I am glad that I did.

Alistair Grim’s Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro

OdditoriumAlistair Grim’s Odditorium
Gregory Funaro
2015 by Disney Hyperion
ISBN – 9781484700068
Genre – Fantasy
Age – Middle School
3.7 Stars

Grubb has been working as a Chimney Sweeper for a horrible man ever since the woman who cared for him died. He was abandoned at his doorstep when he was an infant, and is now about twelve years old, he doesn’t know exactly. His luck seems to be changing when he escapes from his master and catches a ride with Mr. Grim. He seems a bit worried when the carriage that he has stowed away in starts to fly, but he holds on for better or for worse. When they arrive at their destination, Grubb finds himself in a place full of mystery, magic, and wonders. Little does he know that the Odditorium, his new home, is about to be attacked, and he may be integral in helping save it!

It seems as if these kinds of books are quite plentiful recently, you know, the ones set in historical England full of magic, and wizards, and spunky little apprentices. They may be splitting the fine line of overdone, but I didn’t feel that way about this one. I liked that it was magic without your stereotypical wizard, although I am not sure what I would call Mr. Grim. I loved the setting of The Odditorium. It was such a fantastical building, with amazing creatures like fairies, and banshees, and samurais, oh my! It seems to me that with all of the insanity smashed into such a small book, it would be nothing but chaos. However, Funaro manages just fine. The characters run the gamut between bad, good, and evil, and everyone seems to find their place perfectly in the story. This is definitely a good one for fans of Harry Potter and The Magic Thief.