BREAKING THE ICE for Marvelous Middle Grade Thanksgiving

HAPPY THANKSGIVING with this bonus review!

I know very little about figure skating… Isn’t a double axle on a semi-tractor trailer and a triple salchow an20662374 exotic Hawaiian drink?

Obviously not after reading this story about the world of competitive figure skating. I actually had a student once who was in this same situation. She was absent frequently and now I know why. If your dream is to skate competitively, it takes long hours of dedicated practice for both the technical and performing piece.

Twelve-year-old Kaitlin narrates her story as she adjusts to a new rink and coach after getting dumped by her previous one for an untimely outburst. She has the technical aspects of skating (jumps, spins etc) down for the most part , but Breaking the Ice also refers to her learning how to become a great performer. It’s about following your dream despite the roadblocks put in your way. Yes, you can reach your goals.

In the background you’ll find Dance Mom types watching and pushing their daughters making you wonder whose dream it is they are pursuing. There’s also caddie competitors and a cute boy that brings peer pressure into the story. The cover won’t attract many preteen boys who aren’t into this sport, but that’s okay, there are plenty of others who will love this charming coming of age story.


FULL PLOT (From AMAZON) Figure skating is Kaitlin’s passion, but she lands on thin ice after a meltdown in this funny, touching story. Because when you fall down, you have to pick yourself up—even if it’s in front of judges and a crowd.

Kaitlin has always dreamed of being a champion figure skater, and she’s given up a lot to pursue her passion. But after she has a totally uncharacteristic tantrum at a major competition, she’s dropped by her coach and her prestigious skating club.

When no other club will have her, she’s forced to join the ridiculed and run-down Fallton Club, jokingly referred to as the “Fall Down Club.” At first Kaitlin thinks this is a complete disaster, but after meeting some of the other skaters—including a boy who happens to have the most perfect hair she’s ever seen—she realizes it might not actually be so bad.

Yet learning a whole new program right before regionals is a huge challenge, and when she realizes that all the other area skaters target Fallton for pranks, she begins to wonder if joining the Fall Down Club has any upsides.


  1. We have a book about a female sport! The shelves are filled with baseball, football, and soccer books with a male protagonist so this book is a pleasant addition.
  2. Its not just about figure skating. Peer pressure, learning from mistakes, fragile friendships, and goal setting make for a super undercurrent.
  3. Kaitlin has two supportive parents who are with her the entire ride. There’s no death, divorce, or dimwitedness (Probably not a word, but I needed one more “D”).
  4. Kaitlin makes a perfect main character. She’s sparkly in more ways than one and her problems will be familiar to many girls her age, even if they don’t skate.
  5. The coaches name is Greg. A perfect name for a coach. Actually the adults in the story from the coaches to the parents are not all one-dimensional. You often see more than one side to their personalities.

FAVORITE LINES: Saying a bunch of stupid words can’t completely tank my figure-skating career, right? But I know there are some things you just don’t say out loud in skating – at least not until you get home. It’s not like normal sports, where everyone screams insults at everyone else, and no one really cares.

AUTHOR QUOTE: (From Gail’s Author Website) I always wanted to write a skating book. I was watching the US Nationals at home, when I saw a skater receive really awful scores for her program. She and her coach put on pretend smiles, but you could see how devastated they both were. I’m sure that skater cried or yelled or something as soon as she was away from people. Then I wondered what would happen if a skater didn’t wait to let out how she really felt. What if she got upset right there in front of everyone? And that’s the premise of Breaking the Ice.


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Just click on the Comments word above. You’ll find it right under the title of this post.

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


THE DIAMOND LOOKING GLASS for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

This intriguing title comes from Dorine White, a fellow MMGM poster and author of numerous diamondcoverbooks. THE DIAMOND LOOKING GLASS is the third in the Cleopatra’s Legacy series, stories that follow magic gemstones once belonging to Cleopatra, the Last Pharaoh of Egypt.

I worried that jumping into this one without reading the first two might be a problem, but it wasn’t as this story stands on its own. There’s an enticing Paris, France setting along with some fun time travel back to Cleopatra’s darkest days. Our heroine is Claire, a spunky twelve-year-old who seeks meaning to her family’s business and a mysterious mirror she has been bestowed as the owner.

The chapters breeze by with plenty of action and the end sets up many more episodes. Seems that Cleopatra wants back all five gemstones, and Claire will have her hands full trying to find them. A great concept and yes, do judge a book by its cover… it makes you want to start reading at once.


FULL PLOT : (from AMAZON) Beauty and the Beast. The world knows it as a cartoon with dancing teacups and broomsticks. To twelve year old Claire La Fleur, it is family history, and the power behind Belle’s mirror is real. Every ten years her family gathers to see if the mirror will awaken, and for the last two hundred years it has slept.

This time, Claire’s touch awakens the magic within the diamond looking glass, a direct portal to the past and a way to communicate with Cleopatra, the last pharaoh of Egypt. The lure of power brings with it many perils, and a betrayal close to home thrusts Claire into a treacherous underworld. To protect the mirror, she travels into the Louvre museum in the dark of night, searches abandoned subway tunnels, and walks the catacombs of the dead.

Welcome to Paris, France – where danger follows in every step.


  1. I’ve never been to Paris so the setting vividly came to life with its many attractions and customs. I’d love to visit and enjoy some of their two hour lunch breaks!
  2. I suspected one of the characters had a not so good agenda, but I wasn’t sure. It took until the end to reveal if I was right. The sign of a good story teller – keeping you guessing.
  3. The visits surrounding Cleopatra’s life as a pharaoh were a welcome addition. Such a great contrast to the every day life in France.
  4. Claire takes a few too many dangerous chances, but you come to adore this kids who does things on her own to save those she loves.
  5. The secondary characters like Claire’s parents, older brother, best friend, and nemesis all have a purpose in the story and are not just filler. The relationship Claire has with her brother is quite touching.

FAVORITE LINE: Everywhere she turned, she ran into someone. It felt like a carnival. The cacophony of noises and the heady smell of perfumes stuffed up her head like a cotton ball explosion. She’d tried. She really had. But now she had to get outside, even if for just a little while.

AUTHOR QUOTE: My name is Dorine White. I graduated from Brigham Young University with a BA in Humanities. I am a member of the SCBWI and the PNWA. I write middle grade and YA fantasy. My first book, The Emerald Ring, was published in May 2013 by Cedar Fort Books. The second book, The Ruby Pendant, came out April 2014. My most recent release is a YA fantasy, The Awakening. This thrilling adventure came out in Dec. 2014 from Skyrocket Press. A newer hat of mine is working as an associate editor for Middle Shelf Magazine.

For more insights see Dorine’s web site.


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


MOONPENNY ISLAND for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I wasn’t hooked at first… another story about the friendship of two girls. WceGgDUNlCA8RPHOz66AbHHs4RI12Vqg+OoBRGBrKx2plCphEkAr3aizNSRpuGHkIoDZcS4gLRs3LNNbucM2tx5Z0rf81yX+W0g6HD2rKD1Q5iDKyCBWtzAWMsmQ+7PK I sighed and by the end of the first chapter a single string kept tugging. Read more. So I did. The string continued to wrap itself around me until I couldn’t get away… It had me.

Not sure if there’s a tween boy who would pick up and finish this book, but this quiet, sad tale with a fantastic setting is one that tween girls will enjoy immensely. Told in third person, the story keeps close to 11-year-old sixth grader, Flor, the entire way. Regardless of the audience for the story, readers will find many good themes. Those of friendship lost and gained, accepting others no matter what they look like or act, and knowing every young person fits into this world somehow. They just have to discover it. The tale is not just about two girls, but goes deeper with family, community, and life.

The setting of a small island in the middle of a great lake in Ohio wonderfully materializes. You visualize each part of MoonPenny Island thanks to words the author skillfully weaves. It’s a place you’d want to visit. For me I’m glad I kept reading.


FULL PLOT (From AMAZON) Moonpenny is a tiny island in a great lake. When the summer people leave and the ferries stop running, just the tried-and-true islanders are left behind. Flor and her best, her perfect friend, Sylvie, are the only eleven-year-olds for miles and miles—and Flor couldn’t be happier. But come the end of summer, unthinkable things begin to happen. Sylvie is suddenly, mysteriously, whisked away to school on the mainland. Flor’s mother leaves to take care of Flor’s sick grandmother and doesn’t come back. Her big sister has a secret, and Flor fears it’s a dangerous one.

Meanwhile, a geologist and his peculiar daughter arrive to excavate prehistoric trilobites, one of the first creatures to develop sight. Soon Flor is helping them. As her own ability to see her life on this little lump of limestone evolves, she faces truths about those she loves—and about herself—she never imagined.


  1. The characters are richly portrayed. My favorite was Jasper, the honest new kid on the island who longs for friendship but doesn’t know how it works. There’s also older sister, Cecilia; tough exterior Perry Pinch; Sylvie; Joe Hawkins; and of course Flor. They all have secrets that make moving forward in life so difficult.
  2. The one classroom for all grades was an accurate depiction of how that would play out. Being the only sixth grader is something most young people will never face.
  3.  The adults all have problems of their own that only can be speculated from a child’s perspective. We don’t learn until the end exactly what those problems are but we have a good idea. It makes the young characters that much stronger in one’s eyes.
  4. Middle grade kids think and ponder a lot. They’ll find the characters in this story doing the same. A connection made.
  5. The inclusion of Charles Darwin and his life as a scientist. Flor learns to see things differently with her visits to Jasper and Dr. Fife, her dad. Many surprising tidbits are tossed as we learn about Darwin’s life and work.

FAVORITE LINES: Lauren is a disappointed person. For one, she dreams of being a famous singer, but her voice is sandpaper, and for another, she’s been in love with Perry Pinch since third grade. Ha! Guess who Perry is in love with? Himself. The one and only.

Author Quote: I’m a writer, so looking is my business. I try to see what’s in front of me, but what’s behind and underneath too. I try to work the hardest trick of all–seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. That’s where I discover the stories most worth telling. (From Tricia’s Website)


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Just click on the Comments word above. You’ll find it right under the title of this post.

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


THE WORST CLASS TRIP EVER for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Just by the title you know you’re heading into a story filled with bad decisions and unfortunate situations. I’ve actually done this trip, though I wouldn’t call mine “Worst.” On three occasions I  co-sponsored a Washington D.C. trip for students. The planning alone would send most to a different career.

In Dave Barry’s book, 47 8th graders, 2 teachers, and 8 parent chaperones fly off to Washington D.C. on the field trip sfp-book-review-the-worst-class-trip-ever-is-a-funny-wry-pageturner-for-tweens-20150608of a lifetime. Narrated by admitted nerd, Wyatt, the amusing plot will keep you entertained. The events though are quite implausible (not to give too much of the plot away, but a student is kidnapped from his hotel room in the middle of the night and the next day not one of the ten adults notices him missing).

The lead teacher is rather brainless, the food is terrible, and Wyatt keeps the adventure moving  with his teen snarkiness and crazy scenarios. You won’t get too many insights as to what is actually happening inside our nation’s historic buildings since the focus is on this fun story and the teen wanna-be heroes. There is a not-to-scale map in the inside back cover showing the locations so you can at least get an idea concerning the layout of the land.

One thing for sure, kids won’t be bored reading this tale and it would  sure make a great movie. I sense a sequel may be in the works, too.


FULL PLOT (From AMAZON) In this hilarious novel, written in the voice of eighth-grader Wyatt Palmer, Dave Barry takes us on a class trip to Washington, DC. Wyatt, his best friend, Matt, and a few kids from Culver Middle School find themselves in a heap of trouble-not just with their teachers, who have long lost patience with them-but from several mysterious men they first meet on their flight to the nation’s capital. In a fast-paced adventure with the monuments as a backdrop, the kids try to stay out of danger and out of the doghouse while trying to save the president from attack-or maybe not.


  1. The voice is authentic. Dave must be hanging around 8th graders because he nailed their dialog on every page.
  2. A strong female character. Wyatt puts it best:  Suzana “is basically a Navy SEAL disguised as a hot eighth-grade girl.”
  3. Another great read-aloud. It’s one of those stories that will hit home for the target audience (9-12 years old), but likely not as much for Dave Barry’s older fans of his past columns or books.
  4. Wyatt’s thoughts on the culinary delights he avoids each day are hilarious. He must have eaten at different places than I ever did.
  5. No enormous family problems. Yea! After reading so many books with a downer type feel, it was nice to sit back and enjoy this amusing ride.

FAVORITE LINES: My mom hugged me really hard and told me she loved me very much, and she was going to miss me, and if I did anything stupid in Washington she would kill me.

DAVE BARRY ANSWERS QUESTIONS FROM TEENS: What message would you like to send to the teenagers of America? (Answer: Your hats are backward.)
For more visit Dave’s web site


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Just click on the Comments word above. You’ll find it right under the title of this post.

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


Reading is a Tough Sell for Kids in Today’s World

I always encourage parents to squeeze out time for their children to read something they enjoy. Reading for pleasure will not only make them better readers, but also propel them into adulthood as lovers of stories.

A new report by Common Sense Media shows what a difficult goal that is in our always-on world. Their scholarly study (MEDIA USE BY TWEENS AND TEENS) surveyed 2600 tweens (8-12 years) and teens (13-18). The full research report can be seen on their web site after sharing your email address.

The small slice I focused on was a comparison in enjoyment of four types of media use: Video games, Social media, Music, and Reading. The latter was defined as time spent reading “for your own enjoyment” and not for homework or a school assignment. The results are eye opening though for many of us not surprising:

Enjoy this activity a lot (tweens)     Enjoy this activity a lot (teens)

Video Games  (M=71%; F=34%)                       (M=62%; F= 20%)

Social Media   (M=7%; F=18%)                         (M=29%; F= 44%)

Music              (M=45%; F=64%)                       (M=66%; F= 80%)

Reading          (M=33%; F=50%)                       (M=19%; F= 41%)

There is a significant drop in the reading category from tweens to teens, whereas the opposite happens with Social Media and Music. The drop in the boy’s reading  from 1 out of 3 enjoying reading a lot to less than 1 out of 5 is especially troublesome.

The answer to why this happens is apparent from these two short videos from Common Sense Media.

Parents, teachers, and writers are up against a force that is not going to go away.

What do you think?

EPIC ZERO for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

If you have someone in your household or school in the 8-14 age group, you may be familiar with the Nickelodeon comedy called The Thundermans. It’s about a family of action heroes – two parents and five children who each have their own super power. On the big screen you’ll find another super family with The Incredibles and the planned Incredibles 2 movie franchise.

EPIC ZERO has a similar premise but it reaches a much more dramatic level. Twelve-year-old Elliott, older 26088116sister, Grace, and a mom and dad, make up this super powered family. Well almost… Elliott is the only one who doesn’t have a super power. He’s just a zero. The family lives deep in outer space, but their crime fighting and schooling occur right here on Earth with other Freedom Force members.

Elliott narrates the story with charm, several amusing moments, and always questioning his place in this family and beyond. It’s an enjoyable read with many exciting moments and a welcome sequel is in the works.



Elliott Harkness wants nothing more than to join his family as part of the Freedom Force, the world’s greatest super-hero team. There’s only one problem, he’s a “Zero,” that’s super-speak for powerless. Frequently abandoned by his crime-fighting family, teased by his older super-sister, and picked on at school, Elliott is miserably ordinary in his heroically extraordinary family.

All of that changes when a mysterious new girl comes to town. She believes Elliott is far from ordinary. In fact, she thinks Elliott is the only one capable of capturing a strange and powerful orb that crash-landed on Earth before it falls into the wrong hands. To succeed, Elliott will have to do more than just find the orb. He’ll have to fend off menacing supervillains, face globe-conquering aliens, and figure out who’s truly on his side. But when Elliott realizes he’s the planet’s last hope, will he find the power within himself to be the epic hero he’s always wanted to be? Or, will he always be just an Epic Zero?


  1. Scattered throughout the book are full page color profiles of the superheroes and villains. Fun to read about their physical and mental characteristics that make them super – whether it be for good or evil.
  2. Young people with an irritating older sibling will sympathize with Elliott and his older sister. It was nice to see change in their relationship as the story progressed.
  3. There’s a family dog who disappears. Not in the run away sense, but Dog-Gone can make himself invisible. He’ll do what you want but only if you bribe him with treats. A fun change of pace from the other superpowers.
  4. If you are a bit overwhelmed by the super powers, a good place to learn more is the addition at the end of the book. There’s a full glossary of all the Meta Power Classifications and Profile Characteristics. A great resource to prepare yourself for what lies ahead.
  5. The messages put forth in EPIC ZERO are perfect as they center on family, loyalty, and never giving up. We each have special talents that sometimes take a little longer to surface.


See, I know my life probably sounds glamorous and all, but trust me, it’s not. Living with a bunch of do-gooders comes with some major drawbacks. At the top of the list is the fact that while superheroes are really great at the big things – like thwarting the forces of evil – they really stink at the little things.

Like, for example, remembering their kid’s birthday.


“While Epic Zero certainly features crime-fighting adventure, at its heart is a story about growing up and searching for your place in the world. The reader reaction to Epic Zero has been so positive that I’ve locked myself in my new Fortress of Solitude (also known as my office) to pen a sequel, entitled Epic Chaos.”

For more insights see R.L.Ullman’s web site.


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Just click on the Comments word above. You’ll find it right under the title of this post.

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


What Makes A Good Story?

I first came across this question when I began my first classroom teaching job. The FullSizeRenderteacher I replaced left several copies of  a short manual for kids: What Makes A Good Story? (Unfortunately out of print). Inside are 13 short stories and a discussion of what truly make good stories. It motivates students to write better with the techniques explored.

Fast forward more than a few years and here I am writing my own stories and preparing to be a round 2 CYBILS judge in the middle grade fiction category. Last time I checked there were 108 nominees to be read by round 1 judges. My part doesn’t come in until January after they have whittled the list down to the top 5-7 best.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the question posed above and started to look through my notes. These are my own scribbles going back to my college writing classes, conferences attended, tons of books on how to write, and the numerous blogs providing helpful hints. My notes were scattered far and wide so I started a file to compile the list in one location. So… what does make a good story?

  • Conflict. There are seven kinds as noted in this linked article. You don’t have to use them all, but a story without conflict turns into a real yawner.
  • Characters you love or hate. There’s nothing better than feeling a part of the character’s emotions, decision making, along with their successes, failures and changes. This comes about by writing through the MC’s actions, words, thoughts, and opinions.
  • A theme or themes surfaces. The story should have meaning or make you think in a different way.
  • Using an effective point of view for your story.
  • Setting becomes vivid in a reader’s mind through the use of  the five senses.
  • A story that causes emotions from its readers. That could be tears, laughter, or sometimes both at the same time. Reactions are what hook readers.
  • A satisfying ending whether it be happy or sad.

All of this depends on the words a writer skillfully puts together to create the overall effect.

Now, what makes a great story? For me it’s the book or movie you’ve already read or watched and look forward to repeating the experience. I hope the CYBILS winner for 2015 will be that kind of story.