A Reluctant Reader No More

Nathan is a real kid with a real problem – he hates to read. I first started working with him almost three years ago when he was in fifth grade. He wouldn’t pick up a book unless forced to by his parents or teachers. It was a different story with videos. He went through those like dessert.

Nathan will be a ninth grader in August – New teachers, new setting, but without the same troubles in reading. Yes, there has been a breakthrough with Nathan.

To educators everywhere… Don’t give up on those frustrating kids even when there are no more techniques or answers in your bag of tricks.

I’d like to say I found the magic potion to turn Nathan around, but he found it all by himself. Perhaps he had tired of my “you’re going to love this book” spiel. I kept telling his parents that some day Nathan would get a love of reading. It just took longer than most.

During my first year with Nathan, parents had his eyes tested to make sure there wasn’t a tracking problem (none), had a full battery of tests completed (Hi IQ with a non-verbal strength.) I kept digging trying to find the book that he might finish:  Diary of a Wimpy Kid diary type books, animal stories, mysteries, Choose your own Adventure, and books on tape he could follow along with his text copy. Week after week there would be a new try and nothing worked. He’d read a chapter or two and then toss the book aside.

This week I was revisiting humor books with him. He lives in my neighborhood and this almost 15-year-old sat there with a smug look on his face as we read passages of a book I won’t name. I’m sure others would be laughing out loud at its content. We didn’t get far before he stopped reading.

“Hold on a second,” he said. “Mom, where’s my backpack?”

I pointed two feet away from his own feet at a dark fully loaded backpack sitting on the floor. Yes, he’s rather scattered in his thoughts and he’s a teenager. Enough said.

“Is that yours?” I asked.

“Oh yeah. Thanks. I wanted to show you this book I’m reading.”

That was supposed to be my line. I might have fallen on the floor at this point if I hadn’t been gripping the table in front of me. So he reaches in and pulls this book out. I clutched my chest when I saw the book mark positioned two-thirds into this story. He’d discovered something he likes. Fortunately it’s a series and may connect him to other books written in the same way or numerous others by the same author.

I asked immediately… “Why this book?”

“Because the lines have space between them and the font is cool. Plus there’s videos you have to watch to make sense of the story.”

Perfect. It’s one I missed sharing but Nathan found. Of course this post would not be complete unless I shared this book title with you in hopes it might skeleton-creek-3-the-crossbonesinspire one of your reluctant readers. It’s Patrick Carman’s Skeleton Creek series, all written in journal format.

America, we have a new reader.

WAITING FOR UNICORNS for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

A quiet story that makes a loud noise. This would be perfect therapy for the child who has lost a parent. It’s told from a still grieving unicorns12-year-old girl’s point of view (turns 13 during the second half of the book). Her mother passed away due to cancer. Tal’s summer in Churchill, a town on the west shore of Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba, Canada, is the perfect place for her to heal and find that wishes do come true.

The cover is a beautiful mix of color, but you have to look carefully for clues to the story. The title in a jar. A unicorn like Narwhal,a medium sized toothed whale surfacing in the Arctic. And the Northern lights. The story is equally beautiful, though not for everyone.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  When twelve-year-old Talia—still reeling from the recent death of her mother—is forced to travel with her emotionally and physically distant whale-researcher father to the Arctic for the summer, she begins to wonder if the broken pieces inside of her will ever begin to heal. Like her jar of wishes, Talia feels bottled up and torn. Everything about life in Churchill feels foreign, including Sura, the traditional Inuit woman whom Talia must live with. But when Sura exposes her to the tradition of storytelling, she unlocks something within Talia that has long since been buried: her ability to hope, to believe again in making wishes come true.


  1. A perfect portrayal of how new experiences and new friends can help heal past tragedies.
  2. After reading the novel I actually wanted to visit this desolate, harsh location in the Arctic. This feeling came from the way the writer’s words brought the landscape to life.
  3. If you are looking for character growth in a story, this is the one to read. Both Talia, her father, and a young friend find growth in their own way, but it’s with the help of each other that they get there.
  4. Although this surrounds a heavy topic of loss, the weight is never great. It’s told in a hopeful way.
  5. Secondary characters were there for a purpose, rather than filling pages. Birdman and his grandson, Simon, were two of my favorite non-main characters to ever grace the pages of an MG novel.

FAVORITE LINES: My chest ached from the strain of a million held-back tears, but I fought to keep them in. And in the early spring darkness, when the purple and green aurora borealis washed against the arctic sky and the still, frozen surface of Hudson Bay, I remembered Mom’s stories.

QUOTE FROM AUTHOR: “I just love writing—getting wrapped and tangled up in beautiful words. There is nothing quite like the high of losing yourself in a good story, whether you are reading it or writing it.” SOURCE


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.



The annual Academy Awards are announced this Sunday evening. Like most years I’m woefully behind seeing only three of the best picture nominated films so far. I’ll still watch the award show, but I’m always more fascinated with the screenplay awards. This is where writers are recognized.

There are two categories. One for material written directly for the screen and the other for writing adapted from another source. This would typically be a novel, play, or short story, though like one of this year’s nominees (Whiplash) can also be based on a short film.

As is the norm, the nominees in this adapted category are far from anything close to middle grade writing. When the award show drags on, my thoughts will be on MG books I’d hope someday get a chance to hit the big screen. It may be a long shot for many of these but you never know.

And the envelope please…







How about you? What book would you nominate to become a movie?

WEST OF THE MOON for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I have been on a contemporary MG binge this year so I took a break for this novel set in the mid 19th century. Filled with Norwegian history and westofmoonfolklore, it also contains some frightening scenes. I won’t provide any spoilers but it would be best to leave this one for upper MG readers.

Folktales are the driving force that make this story interesting and well told. The author notes and glossary are an added bonus and perhaps the place to start would be to read these so you’d have a better understanding of the story elements. Told in a first person POV, it is divided into three parts: THE GOAT FARM; FLIGHT; THE COLUMBUS.

Boys will not be lining up for a copy of this one, but girls who are avid readers might enjoy its depiction of life during that time. It’s harsh and it makes you thankful to live in the modern day world.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  In West of the Moon, award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Margi Preus expertly weaves original fiction with myth and folktale to tell the story of Astri, a young Norwegian girl desperate to join her father in America.
After being separated from her sister and sold to a cruel goat farmer, Astri makes a daring escape. She quickly retrieves her little sister, and, armed with a troll treasure, a book of spells and curses, and a possibly magic hairbrush, they set off for America. With a mysterious companion in tow and the malevolent “goatman” in pursuit, the girls head over the Norwegian mountains, through field and forest, and in and out of folktales and dreams as they steadily make their way east of the sun and west of the moon.


  1. The folktales the MC knows so well are woven into her own story. She plays out each line like it will surely come true. Sadly, many of them do.
  2. It skillfully demonstrates how normal people can be brought to do terrible things. In the end it shows how forgiveness of yourself and others is the essential part of moving forward.
  3. I often find reading MG is a repeat experience – same themes told in a different way. I never got that feeling with this title. Surprising and enriching, the tale is one that would probably appeal to adult readers more than their children.
  4. The bond between Astri and her younger sister, Greta, is touching and one that will have you hoping your own children would have the same relationship.
  5. The immigrant’s trunk. The contents inside were required to make the long journey across the Atlantic. Apparently these trunks are still tucked away in many Eastern U.S. homes and museums.

FAVORITE LINES: Uncle comes and tucks a wisp of hair behind my ear, almost tenderly. “I’m sorry, Astri,” he says. “It can’t be helped.” That’s all there is for a good-bye, and then out the door I go.

QUOTE FROM AUTHOR: “The story relies heavily on the Norwegian folk and fairy tales my father used to tell in Norwegian (translating into English for us kids as he went along).”


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.



Cybils-Logo-2014-NominatedYes, the entire list is here, from book apps and picture books through YA and non-fiction. It’s an impressive collection of literature. What’s even more exciting is the book ALWAYS in the MIDDLE nominated for the MG Fiction Award has won! Jacket+Nickel+Bay+Nick

Congratulations to Dean Pitchford and his memorable NICKEL BAY NICK.

(Here’s my original review)

I let my own copy get away to another reader so I’ll be out searching for another to put on my shelf. Of course, I’ll be re-reading the great story, too. It puts a smile on my face as does this honor for the book.


Read widely to become a better writer.

That advice has never been a problem for me. I’m reading all the time. It’s when I’m focused on writing where reading becomes even more important.  I’ve written stories in a first person and third person POV. More often than not I’ll be stuck on revisions, trying to make the page come to life. I discovered my own cure and it works. Read books in the same POV. I’ll sit back and read a chapter from one of these gifted writers and I immediately return to my own writing and find it flows much better.

Here’s my list of MG titles that motivate me. Even if you don’t write for this age group, read a few pages and be inspired.


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ELVIS AND THE UNDERDOGS for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

…Or in longer words ELVIS AND THE UNDERDOGS – SECRETS, SECRET SERVICE, AND ROOM SERVICE. Yes, that’s got to be the longest title Elvisfor a sequel or any other book this year.  I came across the first book in this series a year ago (ELVIS AND THE UNDERDOGS) and almost didn’t read it because I’m not a fan of stories with a talking dog. I pushed forth anyway and enjoyed the tale with its fun set of human characters, and yes, the perceptive wit of Elvis, the 200  pound Newfoundland.  I had intended to review Elvis but never got that far. I’m happy the void is removed with today’s review of the longer titled book 2.

You won’t have to worry if you missed the first book. All the important details from that story are told on the book jacket and in the first few chapters. All the characters return for another wild adventure. The series seems more appealing to new MG readers perhaps in that 8-10 age group.

You’ll grimace at how implausible all of this is but by the last page you won’t be able to get the smile off your face.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon): It’s been months since Benji’s former safety dog, Elvis, was whisked away by the Secret Service, but Benji still misses him terribly. Luckily, because Elvis is now the president’s dog, there are plenty of pictures and videos of him online.

While watching the footage of the president’s speech on the White House lawn, Benji and his friends Alexander and Taisy see Elvis thumping his tail repeatedly. Is he trying to tell Benji something? The kids realize it’s actually a code! And Elvis needs their help.

And so begins another madcap adventure in which these underdog best friends will have to find a way to travel to DC, find out the truth behind Elvis’s distress signals, and uncover state secrets without getting caught . . . or they may have to say good-bye to Elvis for good.


  1. The climax of the story takes place inside the White House. A very cool setting for the plot points to come to a happy conclusion.
  2. If you like plenty of slapstick with your humor look no further than the scenes in the White House kitchen.
  3. Our protagonist, Benji, is an enduring character with lots of personality. He’s been sick for most of his life and needs a service dog like Elvis to keep him out of harms way. This adds much of the heart present in the story.
  4. Despite the length of this one, it is not filled with pictures, but those that appear at the beginning of each chapter are appropriate and sometimes funny in their own right. Congrats to Kelly Light, the illustrator, for keeping the theme of the story in her drawings.
  5. This would make a great read-aloud and be especially good for kids having an unwanted stay in a hospital. I spent a week in one when I was in fifth grade and Elvis and the Underdogs would have made that time much more pleasurable.


Have you ever heard the expression “small kid, big personality”? No? Well, that’s not surprising, because I just made it up.


My first dog was a mixed breed named Julie. (Hey, I’m also against giving dogs human-y names, but don’t blame me. I was six years old!) Julie apparently ran away and joined the circus after she had a run-in with the gas meter guy. Or so I was told. Again, I was six. I didn’t ask questions.


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.