ADVENTURE ON NEMESIS MOUNTAIN for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I recently had the privilege of interviewing author Annie McMahon on her blog tour for the release of ADVENTURE ON NEMESIS MOUNTAIN. A few days later my luck continued as I was chosen from all blog tour hosts to receive an autographed copy.

The story is one that will hit home with many young readers. For what seems like his Adventure on Nemesis Mountainentire life, Emilio has been prey to to the teasing and put downs from his own nemesis, Hans. Now the two boys are thrown together in a survival situation after getting lost in the mountains. It’s a story about fighting back, friendship, and seeing the positive in others. The tale is full of positive messages that will stay with you long after reading. Spend some time reading it yourself, or use it as a read-aloud. You’ll also learn a thing or two about the outdoors. A great story makes for a great debut and this one has both.

PUBLICATION DATE:2014   Page Count: 119

FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Emilio would rather eat a slimy worm than miss the fifth grade field trip. Nemesis Mountain must be full of rare leaf specimens and bugs for his collection. Besides, he needs a break from the playground and Hans’s nonstop teasing. His excitement is squashed when he gets lost in the woods with his worst enemy. Alone in the forest, the two boys battle to survive the harsh wilderness, facing challenges that will change their lives forever.


  1. Emilio is not a wimp. It was refreshing to see him not just sit and take the constant taunts, but to finally have a breaking point and react.
  2. Change comes about for both characters. It’s realistic and I was smiling at The End.
  3. The scenes in the wilderness had me turning the pages as fast as I could read them. Wild animals, darkness setting in, and a scarcity of food and water brought those feelings of helplessness right to the reader as if you were alongside for the ride.
  4. There’s room for more… I liked these characters so much it would be great to see them return in a sequel.
  5. The cover is gorgeous. It only hints at what is to come with the two characters and a wilderness setting. Nice job, Dawne Dominique.


He slammed his hands on the desk, toppling the pencil holder with a clang. “I’m sick and tired of you!”


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


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I will never apologize for eavesdropping on kids conversations. I’m not talking about a wiretap, just the words that stream out of their mouths when they seem to forget there’s an adult within earshot. It’s not like I need more material for stories. Twenty years in the classroom (that’s 180 days x 6 hours x 20) gave me a ton of ideas. I still work with middle school kids on a weekly basis, specifically bright underachievers, and their dialog sounds like a text message:

Boy #1: Hey J, whats up?

Boy #2: Did you see that high school kid? He’s like big enough to be a grown man.

Boy #1: Yeah, so I heard he’s a flunky.

Boy #2: Wow. My mom would kill me if I ever flunked.


Be prepared for an abundance of “like,” “so,” and “awesome” when listening to this age group.

I also have the habit of eavesdropping in stores. Again, when a kid’s voice is loud enough to reach several aisles, I’m all ears, listening more for their pauses, along with the way their voice chimes in with wonderment and silliness. It’s the same MG voice I want to capture in my own stories that seems to have a motor all of its own.

A few days ago I was in a local Target store. It was also late in the afternoon and kids were everywhere tagging along with their parent. I needed several things, but my usual way of not having a written list was getting the better of me. My basket had five items but my mind said there were supposed to be six.

“Are you finding everything you needed?” This perky sales associate was not going to help my memory.

I went up and down aisles until reaching the chocolate aisle (wishful thinking). Coming the other way was a boy about 10-years-old and his mother. She was talking quietly into a wireless device when she suddenly stopped and handed the earpiece to her son. He spent the next several minutes in a priceless conversation overheard by at least a half dozen people. You couldn’t hear the other voice, but it was easy to fill in the blanks.

“Yeah, I’m here.” (I’m guessing one of his friends had called). The boy spun around then walked from one side of the aisle to the other. He was oblivious to anything else going on around him.

“Mom and I are getting everything for the inside, but we decided it’d be easier to let you do the outside stuff.”

This time a longer pause, but the young boy continued his trek back and forth, touching a shelf or two before changing directions.

His face soon was covered with a smile. “Sounds like a plan.”

Another pause. “Friday is going to be the best day ever.”

He stops and salutes. “Aye aye Captain. I’m awaiting your arrival.”

Now he was looking down. “Love you too, Dad. Be safe.”


Great stories can come from listening to your target audience and even better, a happy holiday is in store for this military family.

Categories: Writing | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE BEAGLE for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Guilty as charged: I judged this book by its cover. Who could resist this little guy with his caramel beaglecoloring and brown eyes? His name even fits – Cadbury. This story is a debut for a new MG author. Her picture inside the book jacket looked familiar and the reason is Catherine Lloyd Burns has acted in numerous TV shows and movies.

It was a book I was ready to love, but by the last page it was more of a like than a love. Girls are the center of attention here along with a pretty hefty page count for a debut. Boys and reluctant readers will be looking for something else.

Who is it for? Tween girls who will more than likely adore its content. Yes, it’s sad but also shows a girl realistically trying to deal with the mixed-up emotions of those middle grade years. Female teachers and moms may smile and see themselves. It’s good bibliotherapy for girls who struggle with friendship, family, and loss along with understanding the world around them.

PUBLICATION DATE: 2014   Page Count: 331

FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Set in a Manhattan, this is the story of feisty eleven-year-old Veronica Morgan, who believes that a furry lemon beagle from the neighborhood pet store will be the solution to the endless worries she has about life in general and friendship in particular. This is a problem, since her bumbling psychiatrist parents won’t buy her the puppy she wants or stop meddling in her life at her challenging new school. But things never turn out the way you plan, particularly if you never stop expecting the worst to happen, and haven’t taken a chance on being a true friend yourself.


  1. I found life in this Jewish family fascinating as they struggled trying to cover both their own faith and the Christian faith around the holidays. Very eye opening.
  2. Both of Veronica’s parents are psychiatrists, providing all sorts of interesting and often very funny dinner time dialog.
  3. Yes, tears may flow as your read parts of this book, but by the end you will feel a warm glow in your heart.
  4. An all girls private school is something rarely used as a setting in children’s literature. Another eye-opening experience as I am used to the goings on in more traditional public schools.
  5. Life in Manhattan. Quirky characters become friends and that might never happen in a suburban setting. From the doorman to the pet shop employees, all of them give young Veronica a different viewpoint.


If you could reach out, there was always a hand to hold, somewhere in the world.


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


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Target Audience Honesty

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 5.06.22 PMOver the past four years I’ve written and read many middle grade book reviews. My favorite ones though appear every week in the local paper from a very reliable source: boys and girls age 10-14. That’s where I can find out what MG kids like and don’t like in literature. Compared to adults, these young journalists often have a different opinion when reviewing the newest offering on the bookshelf. Here’s proof with these sample comments from recent reviews:

  • It’s just the beginning that really bothered me and made me want to throw the book away.
  • There was some bad language that made me feel uncomfortable and was not necessary.
  • I feel that this book was a waste of time in the sense of other great books in the world.
  • This book had a lot of funny parts, but part of the book just dragged on and on and had no action.

They also aren’t shy about sharing positive comments:

  • I could not put this book down after I started reading it.
  • At times, it even left me in tears.
  • …an amazing book that has a lot of emotion and love.

These Colorado Kids review mostly books, but also take a look at current movies, theater, tourist attractions, and almost anything else young readers would be interested in. Here is the link to their MG and YA book reviews. You might find a few stocking stuffers for your young readers.

Meanwhile, I’m heading back to writing my own MG story with the advice learned from these reviews. Basically write a story that is not confusing, makes you laugh and cry, is never boring, includes some action, and has an ending with no loose parts. Whew, a tall order indeed.


Categories: Reading, Reviews, Writing | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

DANGEROUS DECEPTION for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

This was my second Peg Kehret novel having previously enjoyed RUNAWAY TWIN. I’ve got a few more to cover as this is her 49th kids book to date. Quite the prolific writer!

For the most 51+f6uZ3HfL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_part this story is written through the first person voice of 12-year-old Emmy Rushford. A few chapters shift to a third person POV when the police get involved in the story.

Coming from a community that has experienced several horrid child abduction cases in recent years, I cringed at the choices Emmy made. If a child wants to know what not to do when confronting a stranger, it’s all right here. As is whose car you should not be riding in and when not telling an adult is a bad thing.

The story is suspenseful and doesn’t take long to read. I’m only recommending this one in hopes it will make a child think twice before making any of Emmy’s decisions. (One added note: Change the cover. Much too dark for my tastes.)

PUBLICATION DATE:2014   Page Count: 191

FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Peg Kehret includes humor, animal rescue, and heart-pounding suspense in this story about good intentions gone wrong. Sixth-grader Emmy Rushford decides to provide food for a needy family, but the project turns perilous when Emmy must deal with a car crash, a cat thrown into a Dumpster, and a belligerent neighbor. Then she discovers an apartment full of stolen goods. Her courageous efforts to help hungry children, rescue the cat, and break up a ring of thieves soon put her life at risk.


  1. Emmy is a very compassionate girl and truly cares about others. It’s a great lesson in remembering there is always someone in need of help.
  2. The actions of the police and mother were very believable. This means the author did her research.
  3. When Emmy’s poor choices catch up to her, the page turning suspense is at its highest. You know the writing is spot on when your stomach is twisted into a knot.
  4. I always read every word in a novel including any after story notes. In this book Peg Kehret has included the standard ‘Acknowledgements’ page with this one line that shows what writers must do to make their words real: To Chelsea Kehret for allowing me to tie her to a chair so that I could describe her efforts to get free.
  5. Emmy has some strong thoughts about obesity and kids. It was nice to see her act positively and make some changes.


Most of all, I thought how it would feel to have no food except what strangers brought to the door.


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


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THE ROOKIE BOOKIE for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

You know where this story is headed when young Mitch Sloan starts taking bets for football games in the halls61NAqO7mYxL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ of Jonasburg Middle School. Yes, it’s not long before the adults in that building shut down his business forever. Too bad since he’s good with numbers and has a great business sense. His slightly off beat parents seem to have neither as they work to make ends meet in their art studio. His brother is equally number challenged and more into  playing on the high school football team.

The charm of this story happens when Mitch stops being a bookie. He’s lost the friendship of Jamie (I. Do. Not. Have. A. Crush. On. Her.), other kids in school despise him, and the trust of his parents may be gone forever. He takes his love of numbers and odds, using them in a positive way in hopes of winning back the support he lost.

The story is told in Mitch’s own spot on 12-year-old voice and though not laugh out loud funny, the way he pursues life had me smiling. It moves along at a fast pace and is not really a sports book, more about a kid who likes sports. It’s an unusual collaboration between two authors who grew up together, both with a passion for sports. I enjoyed it thoroughly.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  New kid Mitch Sloan wants to fit in, but his nerdy love of statistics and making money isn’t winning him any friends in his sports-loving town–until he finds the perfect way to attain instant popularity. But running a football betting ring at school eventually turns sour, and Mitch loses the only real friend he’s made. He’ll have to win her back by using his brainpower for good and helping the school football team achieve victory–if they’ll listen to the advice of a former bookie!


  1. Math, especially statistics, can be a difficult task to weave into an MG book. The authors have succeeded in an interesting and understandable way.
  2. It’s also unusual to find behavioral science in a children’s book, and here even adults might learn a thing or two about the way we approach purchasing and advertising.
  3. The entire story sounds very possible, unlike a few others I’ve read this year that have you saying “No way that could have happened.”
  4. I enjoyed the all too true to life situation where Mitch is the polar opposite of his brother and parents. He’s better at analyzing sports than playing them and his business sense is off the charts compared to his parents.
  5. The way this one ends, I smell a sequel. I’ll be the first one in line to read it.


All of a sudden I saw Jamie in a dress with one of those strange little bouquets of flowers tied to her wrist, and me in a suit. Like I even own a suit. It was a very disturbing image…


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


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A Reluctant Choice: Goodbye to R.A.

One of the more popular series in the early days of my classroom was THE CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE books. CYOA_JourneyUndertheSea_1024x1024Boys especially gravitated to the decision making that occurred at the end of a chapter – If you want to risk death go to page 30. If you prefer to tell your parents skip ahead to p. 41. I made that one up, but you get the idea. The thought of not having to read an entire book or reread it for a different experience was appealing to many. I had several students reading every path to the end, often exceeding 40 different ways.

cyoa013185 of the original series were published in the 80’s and 90’s, reportedly selling 250 million copies. New titles continue to be published today. No small feat. The series is even credited for the strategy used today by many video games, putting the user in a role and forcing them to make decisions at critical junctures.

There have been numerous writers of the books, but the original publisher and frequent author, R.A. Montgomery passed away earlier this month. His final title released just this past September was GUS vs. THE ROBOT KING. RobotKing cover.indd

Thanks, R.A., for creating interest in reading for many reluctant readers. May your next adventure be as fun as your last.

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THE SECRET OF THE KEY for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

This is the fourth and final novel in Marianne Malone’s Sixty-Eight Rooms Adventures. I had read the first in 2010 and never found the time to revisit Ruthie and Jack’s magical time travel stories in books two and three. I took the chance on this one 9780307977212_p0_v1_s260x420hoping I hadn’t missed too much. Thankfully, I was updated throughout the pages as to what occurred since my last visit.

The series would appeal mostly to history loving readers. You experience many famous places and events from the past. It’s adventurous but not at a break-neck speed, so probably not the best for a read-aloud. The author went to great lengths to ensure authenticity of the real world and people. Her quote in the Acknowledgements should be a great reminder to all writers:

Writing is a lot like gardening; seeds germinate, flowers bloom, weeds grow, and great effort is necessary.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Chicago sixth graders Ruthie and Jack think they’ve learned everything about the magic of the Art Institute’s Thorne Rooms. But the magic starts to act strangely when Ruthie and Jack discover two rings that are out of place—and out of time—and a portal that shouldn’t be open but somehow is. Ruthie and Jack follow the clues to seventeenth-century England and the Brownlow house, where they meet the Brownlow’s governess, Rebecca. But Rebecca has a few secrets of her own—and she might even be in the wrong century! Can Ruthie and Jack discover the truth about Rebecca’s mysterious past, or will they end up stuck in the wrong century themselves? Their quest for answers takes them from 1930s New York City and San Francisco to turn-of-the-century China. The only one who can truly answer their questions may be the woman who started it all: the room’s creator, Narcissa Thorne. But to talk to Mrs. Thorne, they’ll have to go back in time and find her!

Unlock the magic . . . in the exciting conclusion to the Sixty-Eight Rooms Adventures!


  1. Greg Call’s wonderful full page illustrations scattered throughout the book. The black and white sketches serve as a portrait to the time period or event being explored.
  2. I visited the actual Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago several years ago. These are the 68 rooms this series explores. How fun it has been to experience them again in this book and learn a bit more about their creator, Narcissa Thorne.
  3. I’ve read many time travel books, but this has one of the more unique methods for traveling back in time. Made you wish it was really possible.
  4. Like all good series, this one has a nice conclusion that tied up all the events that took place. Made me nod and smile at the same time.
  5. The historical snippets like Winston Churchill’s speech, the 1939 World’s Fair, China’s Boxer Rebellion, and King Tut exhibit happen all too quick. Hopefully an interested reader will find the author notes and resources in the back of the book to acquire deeper information. Most interesting!


She reached out toward the door but it was slipping away from her faster than she could react, shrinking to a tiny dot before disappearing completely.


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


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Character Development

What better way to find an MC for a new story than placing an ad. The response has been overwhelming with applications flooding my inbox. I’ve narrowed it down to the final four applicants.

WANTED: An MC for my latest story. Must be an underachiever and willing to go on an adventure – one that may change you forever. Apply on the  form below. Good luck!

APPLICANT 1: Austin Havner. Male. 12 years old.

Highly gifted. Bored with school. Understands the work, but there is something internally offensive about doing the work.

Positive Characteristics: “None that I can think of. I’m pretty much a failure.”

Other Thoughts: “Maybe I’m crazy – no one else feels that way – something must be wrong with me.”


APPLICANT 2: Luisa Duran. Female. 11 years old.

Perfectionist. School doesn’t interest her since she can never be as perfect as her older sisters.

Positive Characteristics: “I’m organized and push myself harder than my friends.”

Other Thoughts: “My work is never perfect so I don’t turn it in. Mistakes are humiliating and horrible. Once I find perfection, everything will change.”


APPLICANT 3: Micah Kidd-Gilman. Male. 11 years old.

Visual learner. Words just don’t work in his head. Prefers movement. Does not do well in a sit and listen classroom. His two moms refuse to medicate him despite the behavior phone calls from school.

Positive Characteristics: “I can build anything, including a rubber band/paper clip exploding trap for anyone who tries to put their hand in my locker.”

Other Thoughts: “I keep seeing my teacher’s head explode. I mean, it’s not real but it seems like it is. She’s that mad. Her head has been exploding a lot lately.”


APPLICANT 4: Rachel Burns. Female. 11 years old.

Has been in six different foster homes in five years. Doesn’t even know why she was removed from her real parents home in the first place. Has no energy to concentrate on school.

Positive Characteristics: “I don’t think I have any. Never really thought about it.”

Other Thoughts: “I’m going to run. I can’t get hurt anymore.”


Yes, it would be nice to have your potential characters fill out an application, but in the end the writer must do the groundwork. For this story that meant researching underachievement, thinking about kids I work with who are like this, and developing character traits for each. I have stacks of books, papers, and thoughts on every applicant, though filling out an application for each of them helped organize the process.

Who did I choose to be the MC of my next story? All four of course, and the fireworks in bringing these characters together are just beginning. It’s going to be a fun ride for THE MOHAVE DROPOUTS.


Categories: Writing | Tags: , | 5 Comments

POACHED for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

This is the second book in a series about 12-year-old Teddy Fitzroy who lives with his parents in a Texas zoo. I had not read the 41wiDplNXQL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_first book (BELLY UP), but Teddy fills you in along the way as to what happened in that first adventure. As the cute cover hints, this is about Teddy being accused of stealing the zoo’s prized koala, on loan from Australia. It’s a bumpy ride as Teddy sneaks around trying to uncover the real thief.

Although I loved the story, a few things made me pause. First we have another in what seems like an endless number of books with a bully. Maybe its just me, but I’m getting rather tired of the bully theme.

My other point is less troublesome, but as Teddy narrated the story I caught him saying words I don’t even think I used in college: effusive, inexplicable, transgression, and alliteration to name a few. I’ve never heard any 12-year-old use those words.

Other than that, Teddy is a convincing preteen with not only a crime on his hands, but all the other pressures of  being a middle grade student. It’s enjoyable to read, though probably not for the reluctant reader with its long chapters and overall length.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  School troublemaker Vance Jessup thinks Teddy Fitzroy’s home at FunJungle, a state-of-the-art zoo and theme park, is the perfect place for a cruel prank. Vance bullies Teddy into his scheme, but the plan goes terribly awry.

Teddy sneaks into the koala exhibit to hide out until the chaos dies down. But when the koala goes missing, Teddy is the only person caught on camera entering and exiting the exhibit.

Teddy didn’t commit the crime—but if he can’t find the real culprit, he’ll be sent to juvie as a convicted koala-napper.


  1. You’ll learn about koalas and other animals as the tale unfolds. I feel like I could work at a zoo now. Well, maybe with a bit more training.
  2. It’s a solid mystery that had me guessing right to the end. I changed my mind several times as to who stole the koala.
  3. Great read-aloud for a classroom or those nighttime moments before bed.
  4. It’s nice to have a book with two loving parents in the background. Teddy will need both to solve the mystery. For once in my recent reading I’m not hearing about a single parent family, an orphan, or an adopted child trying to adjust.
  5. All the plot points are neatly tied up by page 329. Of course there is room for more future Fun Jungle adventures and I’d welcome a third if the author chooses to go that route.


(Note: I don’t normally choose the very first line in a book as my favorite, but this one is a classic.)

I would never have been accused of stealing the koala if Vance Jessup hadn’t made me drop a human arm in the shark tank.


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


Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , , | 13 Comments

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