THE LOSERS CLUB for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

The newest book from Andrew Clements turns into a celebration of books. There have been MG novels about kids who hate to read (Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading), but this is about Alec, a boy who loves to read so much he has his nose in one all hours of the day. It has become a problem in class when listening or participating takes a back seat to the next chapter he’s reading.

Written in third person, the tale is set in Bald Ridge Elementary where Alec is a sixth grader. His trips to the office for “disturbing” the class with his reading have reached epic proportions. It’s time for change. Alec must keep his grades up and balance that with his love of reading.

His solution will have him forming new friends and discovering that books really do have the ability to heal. It’s an anthem for all bookworms and those of us who like realistic stories of school life.



Sixth grader Alec can’t put a good book down.

So when Principal Vance lays down the law—pay attention in class, or else—Alec takes action. He can’t lose all his reading time, so he starts a club. A club he intends to be the only member of. After all, reading isn’t a team sport, and no one would want to join something called the Losers Club, right? But as more and more kids find their way to Alec’s club—including his ex-friend turned bully and the girl Alec is maybe starting to like—Alec notices something. Real life might be messier than his favorite books, but it’s just as interesting.


  1. I smiled every time Alec mentioned or was reading a book I had read. I was rewarded even more when in the back pages I found a two and a half page checklist of all the books talked about in the story.
  2. School life as portrayed here is spot on. Kids will see themselves in many of the characters and find comfort in discovering ways to solve their own problems.
  3. Yes, another bully appears in the story but Kent shows us another to his commanding ways and its through a book that provides some much needed bibliotherapy.
  4. Thirty seven manageable chapters that would be a great read aloud in the classroom or at home.
  5. A perfect ending is hard to pull off but THE LOSER’S CLUB does it in a winning way.


She paused, then asked, “Do you know how many times you were sent to my office last year for reading instead of listening and participating in class?”

Alec was about to guess eleven—but then decided he’d better keep his mouth shut. He shook his head.

Mrs. Vance leaned forward. “Fourteen times!”


I really am interested in schools, the way schools work, and the way children spend time there and the way grownups spend time there, and so many people, so many amazingly talented, wonderful, unselfish people spend so much of their lives trying to make the school as good as it can be. And it’s an amazing challenge—it’s a political challenge, it’s a financial challenge, it’s an organizational challenge, and it’s certainly an intellectual and a pedagogical challenge, and then, of course, there are the children—who are the whole reason that the schools exist in the first place—we have the children there trying to grow up, trying to become more of who they are. It’s an amazing and complex mix of so many things happening all at once, right there in the heart of every community, every society, every nation on earth. And I’m having a great time exploring all this in some of my books.(Read more at Andrew’s author website)


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.


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PATINA by Jason Reynolds

The story continues for the CYBIL’s Middle Grade Fiction winning entry from last year, GHOST. It ended with Ghost running in his first big race. In this unique series, the baton is now passed onto Patina “Patty ” Jones, another member of the elite track team. She takes over the narration and her story is every bit as heartbreaking.

Sure, this is about running, but it’s also about the struggles children often have when their family situation bring challenges. For Patina, it’s the loss of her father, her mother’s battle with diabetes, and living with an aunt and uncle. She’s full of conflict, both in protecting her younger sister Maddy and in the new challenges facing her. This story continues the pattern of ending each book in the series with a race. Again we’ll have to wait for the results until the next young track star takes over the narration in book #3. There are plenty to choose from with 17 others on this track team.It’s not necessary to have read GHOST before reading this one, but you’ll feel cheated if you don’t.

Patina is heartfelt, gutsy, and downright true to life.



A newbie to the track team, Patina must learn to rely on her teammates as she tries to outrun her personal demons in this follow-up to the National Book Award finalist Ghost by New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds.

Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.

Patina, or Patty, runs like a flash. She runs for many reasons—to escape the taunts from the kids at the fancy-schmancy new school she’s been sent to since she and her little sister had to stop living with their mom. She runs from the reason WHY she’s not able to live with her “real” mom any more: her mom has The Sugar, and Patty is terrified that the disease that took her mom’s legs will one day take her away forever. So Patty’s also running for her mom, who can’t. But can you ever really run away from any of this? As the stress builds up, it’s building up a pretty bad attitude as well. Coach won’t tolerate bad attitude. No day, no way. And now he wants Patty to run relay…where you have to depend on other people? How’s she going to do THAT?


  1. The cafeteria and project sessions with other girls at Patina’s school were a reminder of how much kids are influenced by the actions of others.
  2. So many times I stopped and reread a few lines that were written so beautifully… I just needed to spend an extra minute with perfection.
  3. The character arc for Patina is one that should be studied by every budding author. She transforms and it’s an enjoyable ride.
  4. This world needs more people like Patina’s aunt and uncle. They are there to help when a relative is in need. I’d welcome them as my neighbors.
  5. I never thought of running a relay as a waltz, but all runners who have to pass the baton might benefit from reading the coach’s unique tactic.

FAVORITE LINES: And as we moved through town, the numbers continued to climb as the neighborhoods changed. From mansions to weird cereal-box communities, where every house looks like a different of the one next to it. Then on to older neighborhoods like mine, where the houses are still nice, but have been around for awhile, so still made of brick. My address has three numbers, 685 Wallery Street. but Ma’s address, over in Barnaby Terrace, has four—5014. And I think Ghost’s is something like five or six. It’s like the less numbers in your bank account, the more numbers in your address.

After earning a BA in English from The University of Maryland, College Park, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where you can often find him walking the four blocks from the train to his apartment talking to himself. Well, not really talking to himself, but just repeating character names and plot lines he thought of on the train, over and over again, because he’s afraid he’ll forget it all before he gets home.

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Four kids. One ride. And an adventure that will have you flipping the pages.

Told in third person, we get to know Trevor, Cameron, Devin, and Nika as they embark on this unique ride. Each of these kids has an unusual ability. They’ll not only need these abilities but also each other when they discover this ride is even more intriguing than advertised—possibly life threatening.

The story line keeps you guessing as to just who is the antagonist in this thrilling adventure. One of the kids? Their parents? The creators of the ride? Perfect as a read-aloud the adventure and humor is a super combination to hook any middle grade reader.


FULL PLOT (From AMAZON)  CastleCorp and the famous Castleton brothers are unveiling the World’s Greatest Adventure Machine! The roller coaster is an experience like no other, and four lucky kids have won the chance to be the first to ride it.
There’s Trevor, whose latest stunt got him in trouble at school again. There’s Devin, whose father is pushing him to be the next Internet sensation. Nika’s wealthy grandfather isn’t too pleased about her participation. And Cameron, he’ll be the first to tell you, is a certified genius.
The whole world is watching. But as the kids set off on their journey, they begin to realize that there is perhaps more to their fellow contest winners than meets the eye. And the Adventure Machine? It might just have a mind of its own.
Join the contestants on their wild ride if you dare. Your adventure starts now!


  1. Each child has a unique view of the world based on their ability—or handicap as some of them believe. It’s through the understanding of each other that makes them stronger.
  2. It’s all left up to the kids to figure out this ride and the reasons for it… just like it should be in MG books.
  3. This story continues the trend of longer MG books, but the mystery keeps you going right to the end.
  4. Each rider had to wear suits and helmets to take part in the attraction. I never guessed why until is was revealed. Great part of the plot.
  5. The title and cover won me over and I’m sure many more will be picking it up based just on that. Thankfully, the story lives up to the promotion.


“You hit me.” Cameron caressed his cheek where a light pink handprint had started to form.

“I slapped you,” Nika corrected.

“What’s the difference?”

“Where I come from, when someone starts to act out of control and unreasonable, we slap them.”

“Well, where I come from when someone acts the way I did we just give them their pills.”


FRANK L. COLE lives with his wife and three children out west. When not writing books, Frank enjoys going to the movies and traveling, as well as managing Deseret Books. The World’s Greatest Adventure Machine is Frank’s ninth published book and his second with Delacorte Press. His first was The Afterlife Academy. You can learn more about his writing at or find @franklcole on Twitter.



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.


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INTO THE SHADOWLANDS—Book 2 in the Monster or Die Series

Last year I interviewed the author, Cynthia Reeg, and reviewed the first book in the series, FROM THE GRAVE. It’s all here if you need to catch up.

The story continues with some very uneasy monsters, at odds with their futures at Fiendful Fiends Academy. Frank and his nemesis Malcolm share the duties in telling this tale of misfits. Frank is a not so scary blue Frankenstein who likes to keep himself neat. Malcolm McNastee is a troll who despises Frank for bringing back Mr. McNasteee, his traitor father from Exxillium, the place where misfit monsters go to die.

There is some creepy fun and scary moments along the way, especially in the closing third of the book. It’s a set-up for book 3 which readers will anxiously anticipate. For now kids can gear up for a spooky Halloween season with an up close view of a monster school’s dark side.

FULL PLOT (From Cynthia Reeg’s Website) In this tale of two monsters, seventh-grade troll Malcolm McNastee is on a mission to rid Uggarland of misfits, especially Frankenstein (Frank) Frightface Gordon. Much to Malcolm s horror, Frank rescued Malcolm’s disgraced dad from exile. This unspeakable act could tarnish Malcolm s true-blood troll reputation. On the other claw, Frank a neat freak who s never fit the normal monster mode must quickly reform under a new Uggarland law. If he doesn’t, he could face exile or worse. Malcolm decides to regain his good-monster standing by leading Frank and a band of misfits into the dangerous Shadowlands where many enter and few emerge unscathed. Frank and Malcolm must brave the Shadowlands perils, realizing that even if they make it out alive, their lives will never be the same.



  1. Another winning cover featuring four of the characters. Frank and his blueness has become my favorite.
  2. You can jump right into this one without having read Book 1. The backstory is sprinkled throughout. What you will miss is the character arc begun in the first book and continued here. Good stuff.
  3. Monster up or Die. Keep calm and scary on. Just two of the unique sayings in Uggarland.
  4. Themes of being true to yourself, fitting in, and friendship will for sure resonate with any middle school kid or monster.
  5. A good balance of humor and creepiness. Just what you’d expect in this wildly imaginative tale.


“They mean, why are you in our Odd Monsters Out class?” asked a sniffing Newton. He wiped his drippy eyes and nose with the bottom of his tattered shirt.

Scarlett licked her lips. ” I…um don’t like to drink blood. Milk is my beverage of choice.”

AUTHOR QUOTE (From Cynthia’s website)

I think writing is loads of fun. But I also enjoy playing tennis, hiking, reading–and hanging out with my two grandsons!

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I still remember the first time I saw the movie huddled around the television with my sisters and Mom…a bowl of popcorn within reach. It was mesmerizing to watch the tale unfold.

L. Frank Baum wrote 14 books in the series. As years passed there came plays and countless discussions of the themes in Oz. One would think everything had been covered concerning the story. Well, bust my buttons, thanks to the creative mind of WAR HORSE author Michael Morpurgo, he has rewritten the story from Toto’s viewpoint. Why didn’t I think of that?

As the story opens a much older Toto sits back and tells his version of what happened to a litter of pups including one called Tiny Toto. Accompanying the story are colorful illustrations by Emma Chichester Clark. The book would be great for any Oz loving fan and as a read aloud. It for sure will find a special place on family bookshelves everywhere.


FULL PLOT (From Harper Collins)

From master storyteller MICHAEL MORPURGO, and illustrated in stunning colour by the award-winning EMMA CHICHESTER CLARK, comes a surprising, charming and uplifting twist on The Wizard of Oz, told by a very special and unforgettable character: Dorothy’s pet dog, Toto. A perfect, collectible gift for all children (and children at heart).

“I was there,” Papa Toto said, and those magic words sent shivers down my spine. It was going to be the Wizard story. “Dorothy and me were both there.”
We were all silent, snuggled up together, waiting, waiting.
Then Papa Toto began…

When a twister descends on their Kansas farm, Toto and his owner Dorothy hide in the house – only to be plucked into the air and whisked away!

Coming down with a crash in the mysterious land of Oz, the pair meet a series of extraordinary characters: a scarecrow who believes he has no brains, a tin man without a heart, and a cowardly lion who may not be as cowardly as he thinks he is.

But Toto and Dorothy are desperate to return home – after all, home is home, and home is best! So they set off with their new friends on a journey down the yellow brick road to find the only person who might be able to help them: the Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

But what they find might surprise them. And on the way, all of them will learn that what they think they are missing might have been there, all along…

Beautifully illustrated throughout, this is an unforgettable telling of a classic story, and a must for every bookshelf.


  1. There is a perfect balance of text and illustrations. Some are full page and others break up the text but they never overwhelm each other. The lines of text are easy on the eyes, spaced apart just enough.
  2. If you’ve seen the movie and haven’t read L. Frank Baum’s books, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the additional plot twists Toto adds in.
  3. Toto is a nice dog but isn’t afraid to throw out his opinion on things. Some are hilarious.
  4. The fifteen chapters fly by in a hurry and did I ever get the looks while reading this as I  waited for a haircut. I just smiled and turned the page.
  5. A nice ending epilogue lets Tiny Toto put it all into perspective.


Lion and I padded along together ahead of the others, the best of friends, on the lookout for trouble, and behind us came the rest, arm in arm, sometimes singing as they went, Tin Woodman’s great feet clanking on the yellow brick road. There was never a happier band, except for two things—I was getting mighty fed up by this time with eating nothing but nuts, and Dorothy’s singing wasn’t getting any better either.


Writer Michael Morpurgo

Michael Morpurgo is one of Great Britain’s best-loved writers for children. He has written over 100 books and won many prizes, including the Smarties Prize, the Blue Peter Book Award and the Whitbread Award. His recent bestselling novels include Pinocchio, Listen to the Moon and An Eagle in the Snow. His novel War Horse has been successfully adapted as a West End and Broadway theater play and a major film by Steven Spielberg. A former Children’s Laureate, Michael is also the co-founder, with his wife Clare, of the charity Farms for City Children. (For More visit Michael’s website)




Make a comment below if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them.

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


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The nomination period for this year’s CYBILS Awards opens on October 1st and closes October 15th. Anyone can nominate their favorites in more than ten categories from picture books to Young Adult (one nomination per category).  After you nominate it’s time to sit back and let the judges dig into the list of books. Winners are announced February 14, 2018.

I always prepare a short list to be ready just in case my first choice is already nominated. The books must have been published from October 16, 2016- October 15, 2017. Here are just a few of my favorites in the Middle Grade Fiction category I hope get nominated (In Random Order):


THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM by Kathleen Burkinshaw


THE ONLY ROAD by Alexandra Diaz


I LOVE YOU MICHAEL COLLINS by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

SUPERSTAR by Mandy Davis



CALEB and KIT by Beth Vrabel

What an impressive body of work! Get your list together and nominate your favorite. You can even use one of mine!

I learned earlier this week I’ll be returning as one of the CYBILS round 2 judges in this category. Our work does not begin until late December after the Round 1 judges finish paring down the list of close to—in all likelihood—one hundred nominated titles to a more workable 5-7. I’m looking forward to finding out which MG novels make the cut.

Have a great weekend!

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SUPERSTAR for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Autism Spectrum Disorder is an often-misunderstood condition, especially if you’ve never known someone who lives under its umbrella. The problem lies in the middle word—Spectrum. Autism may include social, communication, and behavioral challenges, but they can range from mild to severe. No two disorders are exactly alike.

SUPERSTAR is a welcome story narrated by Lester, a boy on the spectrum. His honest and heartfelt narration will have you laughing at many points and angry or sad at others. The laughter comes from Lester’s literal view of the world. Tell Lester to march down to the principal’s office and that’s exactly what he’ll do—march.

With short chapters, you’ll see the world as Lester sees it. A world that is too loud, with a schedule that unfairly changes, and where people’s reactions are confusing. Lester will try and become the superstar and the answer he comes up with is both surprising and welcome. Gives this a read and I’m sure Lester will become a superstar in your eyes like he did for me. In this time of hatred in our world, we need more books like SUPERSTAR.



Ten-year-old Lester Musselbaum loves science and space and Superman. He loves that his mom is his teacher, and he loves that they live together, just the two of them, in a little house out in the Indiana countryside. (It’s the perfect place for watching meteor showers!) But soon, everything starts changing. Lester’s mom gets a job and Lester has to go to school with other kids for the first time in his whole life. With the Superman action figure in his pocket as his only protection, he steps into the confusing world of fifth grade and begins a journey that will change his life forever.


  1. Lester’s narration. Your knowledge of autism spectrum disorder will grow immensely thanks to Lester.
  2. The addition of stars, space, and a special astronaut added to the uniqueness of the story line.
  3. Yes, there’s a bully. Seems to be a requirement in MG books.  At least with bully, Ricky, we see a character arc that flows to a satisfying conclusion.
  4. This is an underdog story where you will cheer for rather than feel sorry for the main character.
  5. The reactions of other kids and adults to Lester are realistic and true. For the teacher, Lester is another body in an already full classroom. Eventually the school rises up and discovers ways to meet his needs.


“Please, Lester? I really want to know.”

“Fine! It feels like a crazy mix of chemicals is bubbling up inside me and if I don’t do something to make the bubbles stop, they’re going to explode and blow me to bits.” I pull my knees up to my chest and bury my face in them. “Running away is the only way to make them stop.”


Before being bitten by the writing bug, Mandy was an elementary school teacher, a record store clerk, and once she even sold hamburgers on the sidewalk. When she’s not writing, Mandy can usually be found taking pictures or playing games of some sort. She also sings at least twice a day. Mandy spent her childhood and early adult life in Indiana. She currently writes, games, sings (and lives) in Minnesota with her partner Tony and their two ridiculous cats. (For more about Mandy and SUPERSTAR visit her website.)


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.


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