ARMSTRONG & CHARLIE for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

You know you’ve read a great book…

…because you’re sad to have it end,

…because it’s a contemporary story with heart,

…because it was set in the 1970s,

…because the theme of racial tension shows how far we haven’t progressed,

…because Armstrong & Charlie are two enduring characters,

…because it ends with a lot of ‘becauses’.

Armstrong Le Rois and Charlie Ross are just two kids trying to understand the world and themselves. They share the telling of the story in alternating narratives within each chapter. The only other voice we hear is from Mrs. Gaines and her hilarious and heartfelt school INCIDENT REPORTS.

These two sixth graders’ lives are thrown together as desegregation becomes an ever present part of the times in the 1970s. Back then (and in many school districts today) sixth grade was a part of elementary school and junior high was 7th, 8th, and 9th. For Armstrong & Charlie, it’s a year fraught with tension, fights, and understanding. For anyone reading their story, you’ll discover our differences aren’t so different. Laughter, friendship, family, and finding that first girl to kiss are embraced across all racial lines.

This is a book for all generations and one that will have staying power for years to come. Read it and embrace it.

A final caution (only because I’ve crossed this path before): MG books typically are clean of those bad words we tell our young ones not to say. Well, they say them here. This novel is  a good one for fifth grade and up, but Armstrong & Charlie contains mild language some parents may find offensive. Just saying…

PUBLICATION DATE: 2017   PAGE COUNT: 304

FULL PLOT (From AMAZON)  Charlie isn’t looking forward to sixth grade. If he starts sixth grade, chances are he’ll finish it. And when he does, he’ll grow older than the brother he recently lost. Armstrong isn’t looking forward to sixth grade, either. When his parents sign him up for Opportunity Busing to a white school in the Hollywood Hills, all he wants to know is “What time in the morning will my alarm clock have the opportunity to ring?”  When these two land at the same desk, it’s the Rules Boy next to the Rebel, a boy who lost a brother elbow-to-elbow with a boy who longs for one.
From September to June, arms will wrestle, fists will fly, and bottles will spin.  There’ll be Ho Hos spiked with hot sauce, sleepovers, boy talk about girls, and a little guidance from the stars.
Set in Los Angeles in the 1970s, Armstrong and Charlie is the hilarious, heartwarming tale of two boys from opposite worlds. Different, yet the same.

FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT: ARMSTRONG & CHARLIE by Steven B. Frank

  1. Food is an ever present reminder of the times. My favorite: The way Ho-Hos, a chocolate cake with a creamy filling, is weaved into the story.
  2. If your reading is as interrupted as mine gets, it was nice to have natural break within each chapter. The chapters are various lengths but because each is set up with multiple subheadings for Charlie and Armstrong, you can pause at the end of one of these narratives instead of at a chapter’s end.
  3. The family swear jar filled with coins reminded me of my grandfather who charged a quarter if you said a mild bad word. One dollar for a real whopper.
  4. Mr. Kahlil was a secondary character—not a family member or teacher, but a neighbor to Armstrong. Every kid needs a mentor. Mr. Kahlil provided that for Armstrong.
  5. The uncomfortable moments are handled well (and there are many—we’re talking sixth grade boys here). Racial tension, girls, dominance in playground sports, and family issues all drive the story to its satisfying end.

FAVORITE LINES:

Glazed doughnuts. Fire Stix. Razzles. Pixy Stix. Wax bottles. Bazooka gum. Tootsie Pop Drops. Space Food Sticks. Candy necklaces. Licorice strings. SweeTarts and Appleheads. On Mondays and Fridays, at exactly four in the afternoon, the Helms man drives his big yellow truck, a bakery on wheels, into Laurel Canyon. He sells fresh bread, cookies, doughnuts, and candy. And when his whistle sounds, my hand somehow finds its way into my mom’s purse.

AUTHOR QUOTE (Read more at Steven’s WEBSITE:
I loved playing tennis. It gave me a special bond with my dad and, later, a solid bond with other kids my age. But sometimes when you’re pegged as the “athlete in the family,” nobody sees who else you might want to be. In my case, I was curious too about stories and science. But those identities were already taken.

I didn’t grow up to be a professional tennis player. I grew up to be a teacher. And then I grew up some more to be a writer.

It’s good to be grateful for the gifts you receive. But it can take a lifetime to unwrap the ones you already have.

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Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

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

MMGM2shannon

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ULTIMATE EXPLORER GUIDE

Exploration comes naturally to children and for many of us it continues on into adulthood. It’s what we do as humans to learn about the world around us. This new book from National Geographic KIDS is the perfect choice to keep that curiosity going, and who knows, maybe have a career as an explorer.

THE OFFICIAL OVERVIEW: National Geographic has inspired generations of explorers. Now it’s your turn! Learn what it takes to be a real-life explorer in this fun and action-packed guide to discovering the world around us. Unearth ancient mummies and lost treasures, encounter wild animals and learn how to protect their habitats, and shoot for the stars with the latest technologies in space travel. Amazing stories, fantastic photos, and hands-on-activities inspire curious kids to start discovering on land, air, and sea. Profiles feature National Geographic explorers of all kinds: paleontologists, biologists, photographers, artists, writers, activists, conservationists, and more. Kids are inspired to follow their passions into careers and introduced to the first steps to take to achieve their dream.

MY OWN OVERVIEW: Divided into three sections—LAND, SEA, and SKY—there’s much to Explore, Discover, and Create within each. Here’s what to expect:

EXPLORE: Each section begins with colorful pages to let you explore different topics. Several more are featured (11 total) like Explore Ancient Animals, Explore Underwater Life, and Explore The Sky and You. There’s also an activity to let you try out an exploration on your own. As if you needed more motivation, a HELP WANTED feature is included to let readers explore careers. You’ll long to be possibly a wildlife conservationist, an underwater archaeologist, or a chiropterologist (Don’t fret…I didn’t now either—they study bats!). An EXPLORE NOW feature offers simple actions you can take to better understand and explore a featured subject.

DISCOVER: One of my favorite parts was getting to meet real life explorers in a Q & A piece on each. Meet Jim Reed (an extreme weather photographer), Sylvia Earle (Oceanographer), or Lee Berger (Paleoanthropologist). If those aren’t to your liking, you’ll find seven more that maybe will. In ON LOCATION you will see exactly what kinds of explorations have gone on in the world. Great Barrier Reef, Deep Inside the Earth’s Crust, and Animal Migrations to name a few.

CREATE: No explorer sits and reads all day. That’s why different activities are offered throughout for eager young minds to try out on their own. A material list and numbered directions make it easy to create crafts and projects. You’ll be making your own telescope or creating your own rock collection in no time.

The book ends with a nifty career quiz in the back, giving readers insights as to what career best suits them. I discovered I should have taken a career path into wildlife conservation, journalist, or communications. Maybe being a teacher, mentor, and writer isn’t too far off.

I’m sure you will find like I did that ULTIMATE EXPLORER GUIDE is a fantastic source to get you excited about this fantastic world.

ENJOY YOUR WEEKEND!

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THE ONE GOOD THING ABOUT AMERICA for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Living in America after fleeing another country is full of challenges. Just ask Anaïs who arrives in the U.S. from Africa with her mother and younger brother. She’s full of questions about the language, food, and strange customs we Americans don’t even think twice about.

This eye opening tale is told through letters Anaïs writes to her beloved grandmother. She worries not only about her Oma, but also about Papa and an older brother who stayed behind amidst the chaos in the Congo. Her grandmother asks that Anaïs find one good thing about America to share in each of her letters. When the story begins in September she can’t come up with much, but as the school year progresses, taking us all the way to June, she finds many things to her liking.

We also get a glimpse of other immigrants—an Iraqi boy and a girl from Somali. Don’t expect a full rounded story that answers every plot point. It just isn’t possible in the 10 months covered as the subject would require many more years for a full understanding.

Honest and heartfelt, the author knows the subject well herself as a teacher of English Language Learners (ELL). This quick read will give readers a little more compassion to the plight of so many. It’s an important story for all of us to see how difficult life is for a family immigrating to another country.

PUBLICATION DATE: 2017   PAGE COUNT: 160

FULL PLOT (From HOLIDAY HOUSE) It’s hard to start at a new school . . . especially if you’re in a new country. Back home, Anaïs was the best English student in her class. Here in Crazy America she feels like she doesn’t know English at all. Nothing makes sense (chicken FINGERS?), and the kids at school have some very strange ideas about Africa. Anais misses her family . . . so she writes lots of letters to Oma, her grandmother. She tells her she misses her and hopes the war is over soon. She tells her about Halloween, snow, mac ‘n’ cheese dinners, and princess sleepovers. She tells her about the weird things Crazy Americans do, and how she just might be turning into a Crazy American herself.

FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT: THE ONE GOOD THING ABOUT AMERICA by Ruth Freeman

  1. A great choice for teachers with an ELL student in their classroom. It could be read out loud to give insights into the struggles these students face.
  2. The humor comes out as Anaïs seeks to understand. Just the phrase “cutting in line’ can bring a whole day of confusion.
  3. Hurray for ELL teachers who often stay with the same students for several years. In fact, the author notes it takes five to seven years for a child new to America to become fluent in both basic and academic English.
  4. A glossary is provided in the back with the word Anaïs hears, followed by the word she will eventually come to know. For instance: Batroom—Bathroom.
  5. A welcoming and timely story for our times.

FAVORITE LINES: 

Dear Oma,

Here is one little letter before I go to bed. It is about one more crazy thing they do here in America! Every day in school we pray like in my school at home. But we pray to the flag. Over the loud box comes voices of students and we say with them words about the God that is invisible. This is one word I know now. Invisible. Miss say it mean something we don’t see. Sometimes I think I will like to be invisible very much. They do not say Amen. They say Please Be Seated Thank You And Have a Nice Day. Many people in America say Have A Nice Day all the time. Maybe it is the crazy America way for Amen. I do not know.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR : Ruth Freeman grew up in rural Pennsylvania but now lives in Maine where she teaches students who are English language learners, including many newly arrived immigrants. She is the author of several acclaimed nonfiction picture books. One Good Thing About America is her first novel.

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Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

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

MMGM2

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New Inspiration

I have my go-to list of sites I visit for writing inspiration and help. Ones like Janice Hardy’s Fiction University and Writer’s Helping Writers  have kept me entertained and informed on ways to improve and inspire my own writing.

This year has brought me two more—both very different in what they offer.

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Descriptionari. The first thing you find on this site is a search box. Let’s say I’m writing about grief, or snow, or London. It doesn’t really matter except that I’m struggling with providing a description to a certain place, emotion, or thing. I need inspiration. I type the word and like magic a whole set of examples pop up submitted by other authors.

I read them all and the examples help get me in the mood to write my own version to be used in one of my own stories. It can take the block out of writer’s block. Give it a try.

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Ride the Pen. I first learned of this site from Rosi at THE WRITE STUFF. It’s purpose is to help writers with common problems they might be having in their stories. The author,  Alex Limburg, is rather bold and in your face (i.e. heavy duty language), but if you can get beyond that there’s a wealth of great information. A few of the recent posts:

Your Frame-Worthy Mini-Guide to ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ (With Tons of Examples)

17 Fiction Writing Experts Reveal Their Secrets to Good Story Titles

Pssst… The 6 juicy, crafty secrets to writing a character description

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Here’s a bonus for today. Not sure what’s out there for kids to read? Head on over to Brightly and their list of the 50 BEST BOOKS FOR 11-AND-12-YEAR-OLDS. I checked the list and found 29 that I had read. I’m a little behind in the Fantasy and Non-Fiction categories.

They are also hosting a fantastic giveaway of all 50 books. Deadline to enter is 1:00 PM EST APRIL 30, 2017. Click here for all the information.

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Have a Good Friday and a Happy Easter!

 

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FAMILY GAME NIGHT… for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

This is the final day of posting a review based on a middle grade kid’s recommendation. I’ll give the targeted MG audience another round of suggesting books at a later date, but right now my books to read and review pile is 12 deep.

Here’s the road road I traveled: First up was my review of eleven-year-old Carter’s choice: EDDIE RED UNDERCOVER—DOOM AT GRANT’S TOMB. Next I dived into twelve-year-old Maya’s selection FIVE DAYS OF FAMOUS. Today is all about Kaylee, a talkative twelve-year-old who at first was reluctant to read FAMILY GAME NIGHT AND OTHER CATASTROPHES. Her first words:

“I didn’t like the cover or the title, but the library lady said I might like it and I did.”

Kaylee found out library ladies are very book smart, and I’d have to agree with this choice.

Hoarding is an illness, especially when its gotten to the point of no return in Annabelle’s house. Her Mom has piles of everything imaginable in every room in the house, except for Annabelle’s bedroom. She’s on a daily watch to make sure only her stuff is in there.

It’s hard enough dealing with the emerging teen years, but keeping your life at home away from inquiring friends only adds to the tension. Annabelle is embarrassed by the mess, but doesn’t know how to get unburied with little help from her older brother or dad. They’re way of dealing with the onslaught of junk is through various means of escape.

Heartfelt and honest, this story’s first person narration will have you begging for a resolution to the piles of junk. I learned a lot about the depths hoarding can reach. This book should provide a therapeutic outlet for those dealing with this in their families along with an understanding of this illness for all readers.

Amazingly, there are splashes of humor thrown in along with a realistic view of friendships in today’s world. Thanks Kaylee for suggesting a book I might have passed over otherwise.

PUBLICATION DATE: 2017   PAGE COUNT: 256

FULL PLOT (From AMAZON)  Annabelle has a five mile rule: She must keep her friends from coming within five miles of her home. That’s because Annabelle’s mom is a hoarder. Their house is full of stuff: canned goods, broken toys, old newspapers… It’s everywhere except for Annabelle’s spotless room.

Annabelle can’t let anyone find out what her house is like. They’ll realize that her mom is crazy. They’ll make fun of her. Or feel sorry for her. Or try to help.

But when the newspaper piles come crashing down on her sister’s head one morning, it kicks off an epic fight between her parents that ends up with her dad taking off — and her fix-it-all grandmother stepping in.

As Annabelle realizes how bad things have gotten for her little sister, while trying to navigate her first crush, not to mention stay sane herself, she’s forced to come to terms with the fact that maybe she can’t keep all her secrets to herself. Maybe she can’t just throw her mom’s things out… maybe she has to let some people in.

FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT: FAMILY GAME NIGHT AND OTHER CATASTROPHIES by Mary E. Lambert

  1. The importance of family is expertly laid out. Yes, family life can be a mess, but here with three generations exposed, you’ll learn that even the most horrific problem can be cleaned up with cooperation and self discovery.
  2. This could have been another depressing MG entry. Instead, it is filled with love and hope.
  3. Annabelle’s voice is spot on for this age group. She’s in turmoil and you’re along for every part of her uncomfortable ride.
  4. The cover didn’t bother me as much as it did for Kaylee. The title though is a little misleading making you think this is a fun romp with a dysfunctional family.
  5. Annabelle’s friendship with Drew, a boy who lives nearby, is an accurate look at first crushes. Fun, exciting, and painful all rolled up into several scenes.

FAVORITE LINES: 

Complaining about parents is sort of like an Olympic Sport. But I don’t compete. The kids with real problems never do. I hear the same things at school all the time. “My mom’s such a jerk. She made me go to bed before the movie was over” or “I hate my dad. He wouldn’t let me go out because it was a school night.” But you almost never hear the other stuff. “Mom was drunk again.” Or. “Dad didn’t have the money for bail.” Or “My mom saves all her fingernail clippings in old food jars.”

Even Dad thinks that one is weird.

ABOUT Mary E. Lambert

These are a few of my favorite things: 1. Daisies 2. Calvin and Hobbes 3. Libraries 4. The color green 5. Warm chocolate chip cookies And stories. I also happen to like stories. Here’s mine… (Read more about Mary’s road to this exciting debut at her Author Website)

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Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

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

MMGM2

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FIVE DAYS OF FAMOUS

Day two of my KIDS RECOMMEND books.

The MG books I choose to review come from authors, publishers, contests, and libraries. I only post ones I can recommend. Of course the MG books I enjoy might not be the favorites of the intended audience—those 8 to 13 years of age. I asked three middle grade kids what book they were reading or had recently read. If the book was new to me I told them I’d read the same book and post a review. I was hoping for maybe one match with the titles these kids gave me with the hundreds I’ve reviewed.

Wishful thinking.

All three young readers had suggestions of books I had never read. Last Monday I reviewed eleven-year-old Carter’s choice of EDDIE RED UNDERCOVER—DOOM AT GRANT’S TOMB. Today I’ll review 12-year-old Maya’s selection, FIVE DAYS OF FAMOUS.

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This book is a contemporary fantasy about becoming famous and living to regret it. Nerdy Nick Dashaway is about to turn 13 and is obsessed with his image. He’s not popular and wants to be in the worst way. His wish comes true and he’s thrown into a parallel world where all the same family, friends, and enemies are there but now he’s the richest and most famous kid in the world.

Although Nick turns 13 during the story, his drive to kiss a girl he worships and overall worries about his perceived geekiness puts it more toward a YA slant. I never connected with Nick’s character and it might have worked better if he was turning 15. The early use of footnotes was also driving me a bit nuts, but I’m not a fan of footnotes in fiction.

The Christmas time setting was fun as was the anticipated turn around in Nick’s thinking. Being popular is a desire of many MG kids so the book will hit home with them. It was also a look at how fame may not be such a great thing after all.

THE PLOT (From AMAZON)

Seventh-grade girls like guys who are cool. And Nick Dashaway . . . is not cool.
When Nick makes a wish after the epic disaster that was the Greentree Middle School Talent Show, he doesn’t actually think it’s going to come true. But it does. Soon he has a whole new life–he’s rich, he’s popular, and girls laugh at all his jokes. He’s famous. But when he begins to miss parts of his old life, is it too late to get it back?

FIVE REASONS WHY A KID WOULD LIKE  FIVE DAYS OF FAMOUS by Alyson Noel

  1. The Christmas holiday names used for the towns (Greentree and Tinsel Hills) along with character names (Ezer, Plum, and Turtledove) gives the story a fun slant for young readers.
  2. They’ll learn to celebrate being who they want to be by accepting the gifts they already have. A good lesson for anyone.
  3. It’s an eye opening reminder about how things aren’t always greener on the other side of the fence.
  4. Plum’s a female character who is a smart girl who supports Nick in both worlds—a girl not willing to go mainstream.
  5. Shows how money can controls people’s emotions, friendships, and personality.

FAVORITE LINES

I put the hat on under the hood, pulling it so low and the scarf so high that my eyes are the only thing left uncovered. Any other day I’d seriously choose death by hypothermia over wearing one of my mom’s Christmas creations. But since I’ve pretty much reached the place known as Rock Bottom, I figure I have nothing to lose. If I’m doomed to be a Brainiac Nerd for the rest of my life, I might as well be a warm and toasty one.

AUTHOR QUOTE

It’s been a long held dream of mine to see one of my books adapted for the big or small screen, and while I’ve had 16 books optioned by Hollywood (11 of those are still currently under option and in various stages of pre-production) it hasn’t quite happened yet.

FIVE DAYS OF FAMOUS has not yet been optioned, but with this new review/letter you never know, right? At the very least, an author can dream! (Read more about the letter at Alyson’s blog)

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EDDIE RED UNDERCOVER—DOOM AT GRANT’S TOMB

This week for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday kicks off a special three book set of reviews. Read on to learn why…

The MG books I review come from authors, publishers, contests, and libraries. I only post reviews of books I can recommend. Of course the MG books I enjoy might not be the favorites of the intended audience—those 8 to 13 years of age. It was time to let them make the choice.

I asked three middle grade kids what book they were reading or had recently read. If the book was new to me I would then read the same book and post a review. I was hoping for maybe one match with the titles these kids gave me. I mean—come on—I’ve reviewed hundreds of books and read hundred more. One common book was almost a given.

Wishful thinking.

All three young readers had suggestions of books I had never read. Today’s book was recommended by eleven-year-old Carter—EDDIE RED UNDERCOVER-DOOM AT GRANT’S TOMB.

At least I wasn’t totally in the dark with this selection. I’d heard of the Eddie Red series when it began a few years ago with #1 MYSTERY ON MUSEUM MILE. The next year came #2 MYSTERY IN MAYAN MEXICO. And this brings us to #3 DOOM AT GRANT’S TOMB. Carter assured me I’d have no problem with what was going on in this third installment, despite it being the first for me. He was right.

Fast paced with enduring characters, especially the main one—Eddie Red (A code name for when he’s working with the police department). Eddie is an African-American 7th grader with a photographic memory. He can draw anything he sees down to the most minute detail. It’s because of this that he is contracted to work for the police on big cases. He does  his work in a surveillance van, far from the bad guys. Supposedly. Eddie has a tendency to sneak off to find his own answers. Joined by his best friend Jonah, the two create many exciting scenes.

I’ll be going back to read the first two novels. Eddie hooked me right in and thank you Carter for a great recommendation.

PUBLISHED: 2016 PAGE COUNT: 208

THE PLOT (From AMAZON)

Eddie Red, the NYPD’s youngest crime-solving hero, smells trouble. Could he be the target of the elusive art thief Lars Heinrich, whose last robbery he ruined? If so, why won’t the police let Eddie help on the case? What are they hiding from him?

In the thrilling third installment of the Eddie Red Undercover series, Eddie will need some luck of the Irish as he races against the clock (and bombs and runaway subway cars) to stop what could be one of the greatest heists in history.

FIVE REASONS WHY A KID WOULD LIKE  EDDIE RED UNDERCOVER—DOOM AT GRANT’S TOMB by Marcia Wells

  1. The whole idea you’d be working undercover for the police would top the cool charts.
  2. It’s faced pace, tension filled, and loads of fun.
  3. Full page pictures are scattered throughout depicting Eddie’s drawings. They are done by a very talented, Marcos Calo. See some of his work here.
  4. Mystery and puzzles are the focus and in the back of the book is a special chapter on How to Become A Cryptographer.
  5. Eddie’s first person narrative is spot on for a seventh grader. He’ll quickly seem like an old friend.

FAVORITE LINES

The door opens. A familiar heavy-set figure with bushy eyebrows and sagging jowls is standing in the doorway. His dark eyes sweep the room until they settle on me. His nose wrinkles as if he smells bad cheese.

And my seventh grade year is officially ruined.

AUTHOR BIO
(From Marcia’s Author Website)

Marcia Wells has a Master’s degree in Spanish literature and has taught writing, Spanish, and math to middle and high school students for the past fifteen years.

When she’s not visiting relatives in New York City and planning new adventures for Eddie Red, she’s at home with her kids, husband, and other farm animals in Vermont.

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I’ll have the next two reviews for my Kid Recommends posts next Friday and Monday. Stop by again to see if you are reading what actual MG kids are reading.

Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

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

MMGM2

 

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