MMGM for 12/6/2021

Click any SNOWMAN below to unlock some great Middle Grade reviews and features!

(NOTE: If you are planning ahead there will be just two more MMGM’s this month on December 13, & 20.)

****************

  1. At ALWAYS in the MIDDLE I have a review of THE BOY WHO MADE EVERYONE LAUGH by Helen Rutter.
  2. Michelle Isenhoff Features THE GOLDEN GOBLET by Eloise Jarvis McGraw.
  3. Natalie Aguirre at Literary Rambles has a guest post by debut author Karen Pokras and a GIVEAWAY of her MG historical The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler.
  4. June McCrary Jacobs at Reading, Writing, and Stitch-metic features a multi-cultural holiday crafts book, Homemade Holidays: 150 Festive Crafts, Recipes, Gifts & Parties.
  5. A Big MMGM welcome to Carol Baldwin who joins us for the first time. She reviews MIGHTY INSIDE by Sundee T. Frazier.
  6. Sue Heavenrich is at Sally’s Bookshlef with a review of Explorer Academy: The Dragon’s Blood (Book 6) by Trudi Trueit.
  7. We have another first timer joining us today with author, Jennifer Bohnhoff. She has an interesting feature on how book covers often change over the years. Go check it out and say hello!
  8. Patricia Tilton at Children’s Books Heal reviews another holiday tale in A Donkey Called Mistletoe by Helen Peters
  9. Valinora Troy has a good one to share, PENCILVANIA by Stephanie Watson. And what an adorable picture she has of the cover!
  10. Rosi Hollinbeck has a review and GIVEAWAY of  The View from the Very Best House in Town by Meera Trehan. Rosie also has three special links for her writing friends.
  11. Alex Baugh at Randomly Reading has a review of Partly Cloudy by Tanita S. Davis.
  12. Karen Yingling at Mrs. Yingling Reads always has a fantastic MMGM book to share. Be sure to take a look along with her other reviews last week including JUST ROLL WITH IT.
(Make sure you put MMGM or Marvelous Middle Grade Monday in the subject line so it gets sorted accurately–and please don’t forget to say what book you’re featuring)
Thanks for spreading the middle grade love and for being a part of this awesome tradition begun by Shannon Messenger and carried on here at ALWAYS in the MIDDLE! (CLICK HERE FOR PAST MMGM POSTS)
Posted in Book Lists, Middle Grade Book Reviews | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

THE BOY WHO MADE EVERYONE LAUGH

The past, the present, and the future walked into a bar.

It was tense.

This opens the first of 32 chapters and they all start with one of Billy Plimpton’s one liners. He’s an 11-year-old soon to be 12 and he desperately wants to be normal by not stuttering any more.

Recently, I reviewed another book about a boy who stutters in THE SWAG IS IN THE SOCKS. In that story it was more of a character trait being dealt with by the appealing Xavier Moon.

In THE BOY WHO MADE EVERYONE LAUGH the central theme is how terrible stuttering can be for a middle school kid who just wants to tell jokes without messing up the punch line with his stutters.

Yes, Billy also made me laugh. His first person narration is very honest and the voice shines in every chapter. The authors inspiration came from her own son who has a stutter.

Billy’s first plan is to keep quiet at his new school so no one will notice he’s different. Despite hiding during lunch his silence doesn’t last long. Eventually an inspirational teacher, Mr. Osho, becomes a mentor. But there is also a bully who mocks and teases Billy about his difficulty talking.

The dream to become a comedian on stage in front of an audience soon ends. Billy thinks it would be a disaster even though he promised his Grandma he was going to do it for the talent show. Instead he becomes a drummer in a band so he can keep quiet. In the end Billy truly finds a way to not let his stutter define the person he will become.

The heartwarming and inspirational ending will have you smiling and maybe even letting out a cheer.

Highly recommended.

BOOK BIRTHDAY: August 3, 2021 PAGE COUNT: 256

Five More Things to Like About: THE BOY WHO MADE EVERYONE LAUGH by Helen Rutter

  1. There are few books on the middle grade shelves that have speech problems as the focus. The story will help those with a speech impediment see another side to their situation.
  2. Billy’s relationship with his grandmother is no joke even though she loves hearing his jokes. It’s a loving bond between two generations that will remind readers how important grandparents can be.
  3. Friendship and family are front and center for Billy. Two parents doing everything for their son and a few school friends help pave a smoother road to acceptance.
  4. The humor and tears in the story provide a nice balance. Billy’s jokes and imitations will leave you smiling but the scene in the park when Billy screams “I don’t want to be Billy Plimpton.” will have you reaching for the tissue box.
  5. The author included stuttering resources in the back pages. Even better is the understanding non-stutterers will have of the inner turmoil one with a speech impediment goes through every waking moment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Helen lives in the countryside just outside Sheffield with her comedian husband, two children and two lovely dogs, Ronnie and Billy Whizz. When she is not tapping away in her writing room, she loves walking the dogs, playing board games and reading. (For more visit Helen Ruttter’s author web site)

————————————————————-

Posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

THE SECRET OF THE MAGIC PEARL

This wonderful tale from Italy has been translated into English. Colorful illustrations appear throughout. They are nothing short of fantastic. Along with the pictures is a story about 8-year-old Hector and his love for the ocean and diving. Young readers new to middle grade will find the plot appealing. The book also makes an excellent read-aloud.

Hector’s family operates a marina that caters to anyone wanting to explore the wonders of the sea. When a dishonest man opens up a new store, he puts the competition out of business. Now the family lives inland, but better times are ahead. A first sea dive with his dad makes Hector a celebrity after he finds the legendary and valuable Pearl. His good fortune doesn’t last long but he must make things right for the good of his family and the ocean he longs for.

Hector’s first person narration takes us through 13 chapters and the voice portrayed is strong. Each chapter has a unique title all beginning with “About.” Examples include “About how a starfish helps me to be brave” and “About why I am, and always will be, a deep sea diver.”

An added bonus is a two page spread of nautical flags and another two pages picturing the parts of a diving suit.

THE SECRET OF THE MAGIC PEARL is a charming and beautiful book.

ELISA SABATINELLI is a writer living in Milan, Italy, and works at a book publisher. She has published several of her own short stories and a novel for adults. This is her first book for children.

IACOPO BRUNO is a graphic designer and award-winning illustrator of numerous books including Sergeant Reckless, by Patrica McCormick which won the Texas Bluebonnet Award. He lives and works in Milan, Italy.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Blogging about middle grade books or authors next week? Join the celebration.

Thanks for spreading the middle grade love and for being a part of this awesome tradition begun by Shannon Messenger and carried on here at ALWAYS in the MIDDLE! (CLICK HERE FOR PAST MMGM POSTS)
Posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

MMGM for 11/29/21

Click any light bulb below to turn on some great Middle Grade reviews and features!

(NOTE: If you are planning ahead there will be just three MMGM’s next month on December 6, 13, & 20.)

****************

  • At ALWAYS in the MIDDLE I have a review of THE TROUBLED GIRLS OF DRAGOMIR ACADEMY by Anne Ursu.
  • Natalie Aguirre at Literary Rambles has an interview with debut author Nancy McConnell with a GIVEAWAY of her MG fantasy Into the Lion’s Mouth.
  • Susan Uhlig is wowed by the book STARFISH by Lisa Fipps.
  • COMPLETELY FULL BOOKSHELF recommends This Is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them, and Us, edited by Katherine Locke and Nicole Melleby.
  • Sue Heavenrich is over at Archimedes Notebook with a review of a nonfiction book, Inside In: X-Rays of Nature’s Hidden World, by Jan Paul Schutten.
  • Patricia Tilton at Children’s Books Heal reviews Daughter of the Deep by Rick Riordan, an exciting new series and thrilling read for teens who love science.
  • Maria Antonia features a post about THE BEATRYCE PROPHECY by Kate DiCamillo.
  • Rosi Hollinbeck has a review of  PARADISE ON FIRE by Jewell Parker Rhodes, Rosie also has three special links for her writing friends.
  • Alex Baugh at Randomly Reading is back with us again this week with a review of Barbara Dee’s novel Violets are Blue.
  • Karen Yingling at Mrs. Yingling Reads always has a fantastic MMGM book to share. Be sure to check it out along with her other reviews last week including I KNOW YOUR SECRET.
(Make sure you put MMGM or Marvelous Middle Grade Monday in the subject line so it gets sorted accurately–and please don’t forget to say what book you’re featuring)
Thanks for spreading the middle grade love and for being a part of this awesome tradition begun by Shannon Messenger and carried on here at ALWAYS in the MIDDLE! (CLICK HERE FOR PAST MMGM POSTS)
Posted in Book Lists, Middle Grade Book Reviews | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

THE TROUBLED GIRLS OF DRAGOMIR ACADEMY

Marya Lupu is quickly finding out the kingdom of Illyria is the worst place to be a girl. It’s male dominance everywhere you look.

Boys are watched carefully for any indications of magical potential. They are a much needed protector in this world. Older brother Luka is one of those boys. If Luka passes the test he will groomed as a sorcerer to save the country from a deadly force known as the Dread.

Meanwhile, Marya is to stay in the background as girls are treated as second class citizens where education is not a priority. Any indications of magic or disrespect in young girls will have the men in charge sending them off to Dragomir Academy. There they are trained to lead a life of service to the country’s powerful sorcerers. Cooking, cleaning, weaving, and library jobs are on the top of the list.

When testing day arrives for her brother, Marya makes a terrible mistake leading to her required entry into Dragomir Academy. It’s 100 miles from home and both parents seem pleased to be rid of their child. Marya is in a strange and unfamiliar place with newbies like her and other girls who have been at the academy for years.

What she and her classmates learn about the school is the focus. Questions about the headmaster and what is really behind all the secrecy of this place is eventually revealed. Character arcs for all take a fulfilling turn.

World building of this unfamiliar country takes time. The third person narration spreads out over 423 pages. It moves along at a gentle pace, but may not be a reluctant reader’s best choice. Although this was more of a story about getting answers, I’m hoping for a sequel to see if there is continued action on the girls part to change the future history in Marya’s world. Magic, mystery, and friendship come together is a satisfying plot.

Five more things to like about THE TROUBLED GIRLS OF DRAGOMIR ACADEMY by Anne Ursu

  1. Marya’s parents paid no attention to her, but thankfully a neighbor becomes more like a mother to her. She also has a thread of hope that her brother can become more of a brother to her.
  2. The power men yield in Illyria are no a match for girl power. What a great theme to carry out.
  3. Symbols woven into the tapestries adorning the halls of Dragomir is a perfect connection for Marya to find answers. Research is often done not in books but my observing.
  4. “Who does the story serve?” is a question brought up throughout. You’ll discover the answer by book’s end.
  5. Marya is a strong, realistic girl. She suffers through her poor choices but also displays an inner drive to not be powerless. You will like Marya a lot.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anne Ursu is the author of acclaimed novels The Lost Girl, Breadcrumbs, and The Real Boy, which was longlisted for the National Book Award. The recipient of the McKnight Fellowship in Children’s Literature, Anne is also a member of the faculty at Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She lives in Minneapolis with her family and an ever-growing number of cats. (for more check out Anne’s author web site.)

##########################

I received a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. Comments are open below!

Posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

THE WEATHER DETECTIVES

Sun, storms, and mystery in the Caribbean.

Ever since moving to New York to live with his uncle, thirteen-year-old Henry Alabaster has been involved in one foggy mystery after another. That’s because Henry’s uncle, Kelvin McCloud, is a weather detective—someone who specializes in solving stormy problems. When an anonymous letter implores Kelvin to come to the Caribbean, Henry and his uncle are swept up in their most adventurous case yet—one which will take them out to sea to investigate a strangely troubled ship and its supposedly cursed captain, Vernon Holloway.

Out on the tropical waters, Henry and his artistic friend Rachel will have to contend with the belligerent sea captain, meet colorful fellow passengers, encounter stormy seas, and confront more mystery than they can shake an umbrella at.

Can they solve the mystery of the cursed sea captain before someone gets hurt, or worse?

**********************************

Weather is a natural discussion topic in everyone’s life and you’ll learn a lot more about aspects of weather in this likeable tale. Although it is the second book in the series following “Kelvin McCloud and the Seaside Storm,” you won’t have any problem if you begin with THE WEATHER DETECTIVES.

The third person narration moves smoothly through 28 chapters. Henry and Rachel are both appealing characters and are helping solve the mystery. You’ll be changing your mind many times as to who is seeking revenge on the captain and his ship. Familiar locales in the Caribbean come to life—all being perfect locales to reveal clues.

Uncle Kelvin’s book, Scientists, Explorers, and Sleuths, helps motivate Henry and Rachel. Many sections are read and shared within the pages of the regular story. Weather fans will want more after reading about Radar, how Fahrenheit and Celsius came into existence, the quest for Antarctica, and the creation of the wind scale to name a few.

The climatic ending is less climatic due to the two teens being left behind for their own safety. Too bad they couldn’t somehow have been more involved. Despite this plot shift, the story becomes one not only about the weather, but also the importance of family.

A fun, engaging read.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Erb grew up under the blue skies of North Carolina. While getting his Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science at Rutgers University, he experienced the remnants of Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, which brought wind, rain, and flooding to New Jersey (Sandy also brought a multi-day power outage!). Currently, Michael is an Assistant Research Professor at Northern Arizona University, where he helps uncover clues about Earth’s past climate. As a scientist and author, he confronts mysteries both in his research and in fascinating books.

*****************************

I received a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. Comments are welcome below.

***************************

Blogging about middle grade books or authors next week? Join the celebration.

Thanks for spreading the middle grade love and for being a part of this awesome tradition begun by Shannon Messenger and carried on here at ALWAYS in the MIDDLE! (CLICK HERE FOR PAST MMGM POSTS)
Posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

WORLD ATLAS

When opening up an atlas you expect maps like you do here in the sixth edition of National Geographic Kids World Atlas—Both a physical and political color coded map for seven regions. More than 120 total.

But what makes this rise above all the rest are the extras. Here are my top five:

  1. The the 200 plus photographs bring you closer to what makes each country unique. They are both colorful and memorable.
  2. Before the maps sections begin there are 55 pages of background information on Understanding Maps, Planet Earth, and details on features that effect the physical and political world. Great stuff. It’s like a separate book!
  3. Each region has a handy basic list of stats. No need to go searching for this often sought after information.
  4. A Back of the Book feature adds even more value. Images of each countries flag, a glossary, and loads of Geo facts and Figures. A perfect topping to the journey you’ve taken.
  5. The 20 page index. A quick way to find what you need. Easy to use and includes even the most obscure places on Earth. Need info on Taldyqorghan, Kazakhstan? No problem: Page 115 and there use the cross reference ‘C6’ to find it on the map.

What makes this a great purchase for any middle grade student is National Geographic Kids World Atlas will get used over and over. The price is also a bargain: less than $20 for the hardback or under $15 for the lighter paperback version.

Bring the world a little closer with this beautifully laid out volume.

Posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews, non fiction | Tagged | 1 Comment

MMGM for 11/22/21

HAPPY THANKSGIVING! Here’s an extra course for your meal with some great Middle Grade reviews and features. Be sure to check each one out by clicking on a turkey.

At ALWAYS in the MIDDLE I have a review of THE SWAG IS IN THE SOCKS by Kelly J. Baptist.

June McCrary Jacobs at Reading, Writing, and Stitch-metic features a biography, John Muir:  My Life With Nature.

Valinora Troy joins us today with a review of Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom. She also has a GIVEAWAY of her six favorite MG reads this year. Details on the giveaway are here.

Patricia Tilton at Children’s Books Heal reviews Sona Sharma, Very Best Big Sister? by Chitra Soundar. It is a chapter book that features the Hindu baby-naming tradition.

Maria Antonia is raving about THE GENIUS UNDER THE TABLE by Eugene Yelchin. One of Maria’s favorite books of the year.

Rosi Hollinbeck has a review of  SAY IT OUT LOUD by Allison Varnes, possibly her favorite this year. (The debate can begin: Rosie’s choice or Maria’s?) Rosie also has three special links for her writing friends.

Karen Yingling at Mrs. Yingling Reads always has a fantastic MMGM book to share. Be sure to check it out along with her other reviews last week including THE ICE HOUSE.

Posted in Book Lists, Middle Grade Book Reviews | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

THE SWAG IS IN THE SOCKS

Xavier Moon is not one to steal the show. He’s perfectly content to play video games and sit at his bedroom window watching the neighborhood talk outside.
 
But for Xavier’s twelfth birthday, he receives a pair of funky socks and a challenge from his great-uncle, Frankie Bell, saying it’s time to swag out and speak up. First on the list: get into the legendary Scepter League. Xavier’s grandfather, great-uncle, and father were all invited to join the elite boys’ after-school club that admits only the most suave and confident young men. Xavier has never had the courage to apply before, but his wild socks are getting him some big attention, so maybe it’s time to come out of the shadows and follow in his family’s footsteps. Or maybe Xavier will march down a new path altogether.

(From PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE)

Xavier Moon, Great name and an equally great narrator in this compelling contemporary story. Xavier’s current situation is not the best to achieve his dream of joining the elite Scepter League. Both parents are in jail and he and an older sister live with their great aunt. Xavier also stutters and it got a lot worse after his parents were sent away.

His outlook on who he wants to be gets a jolt upon receiving the eye-opening birthday letter from his free-spirited great uncle, Frankie Bell. A line like “Far as I can see, you got nothin’, other than the fact you a wire-mouth, stutter. boy with jailbird parents.” sure gets Xavier’s attention. Uncle Frankie is a musician who travels around to gigs and along with more advice in the letter is a pair of socks—navy blue with red and yellow polka dots.

Soon after come more letters and more socks. Xavier is finally convinced to wear the socks and things begin to change. Adults and kids are noticing him in a whole new way. A special teacher helps with stuttering strategies and Frankie’s advice seems to be working. But is any of this really helping him get picked for the Scepter League? A sewing class and a family tragedy lead Xavier to discover more about himself than ever expected—and it’s more than the swag in his socks.

Upbeat and worthy of all the praise coming its way. A memorable and important addition to the MG shelves.

BOOK BIRTHDAY: NOVEMBER 2, 2021 PAGE COUNT: 240

FIVE MORE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT THE SWAG IS IN THE SOCKS by Kelly J Baptist

  1. Xavier has a large support group and it’s an important piece for any kid. From his older sister and cranky Aunt Kat to his friends at school. They pave the way for the eventual visit from Uncle Frankie Bell. A climatic but perfect way to bring this story to a close.
  2. Stuttering is not the focus of the story. It’s something Xavier is dealing with but in the end this is all about family and how he finds his own way of expression.
  3. Moonie is Xavier’s nickname, but no matter what he’s called this kid will become a favorite for anyone reading his story. A positive character who shines in every chapter.
  4. Not all plot points are solved by the end but it works. Xavier continues to stutter and his parents are still in jail. Despite this, I got the feeling the future is going to be great for Xavier.
  5. Perfect subtle messages about finding your passion and always moving forward.

SOME THOUGHT FROM AUTHOR KELLY J BAPTIST

I have been writing since…well, since I learned how to write!  I started with notes and letters to my parents, then poems and short stories. When I was about eight or nine, my mother took us to see a small-town production of the play A Raisin In The Sun. This was a transformative moment for me because I was captivated by seeing the written word come to life on stage. As soon as we got home, I started writing my own copy-cat version of the play…still have that copy today! 

(For more about Kelly be sure to visit her author web site.)

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

COMMENTS ARE WELCOME BELOW!

Posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

ESCAPE BOOK—THE MUSEUM HEIST

The fourth books in this fun, imaginative series is perfect for grades 4-6. It has elements of the original CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE books where you don’t read the pages in order. I carefully followed each clue and eventually solved the case. Here’s the official background from Andrew McMeel Publishing:

What started as a typical family vacation takes a turn for the worse when you and your grandfather, a security guard at the local museum, find yourselves at the center of a serious scandal. It turns out that one of the museum’s masterpieces was stolen on the same night you and your grandfather were taking an after-hours tour—since you were the only two people there, you’re the prime suspects! To prove your innocence, you must now find the stolen masterpiece by observing, analyzing, and investigating like a real detective! Are you ready for an adventure?

The museum was a perfect choice as the setting with different rooms to explore. You’ll find a handy Detective Handbook in the last part of the book where taking notes is the key to success. As you progress a smart cat named Professor Whiskers throws in hints to help with your journey.

Illustrations also have clues and are colorfully spread out through the 96 pages. Great for reluctant readers or anyone else looking for a fun reading experience. It would also work well on trips or when Mother Nature decides it’s best to stay inside on a Saturday. You can read the series in any order:

ESCAPE BOOK— The Museum Heist

ESCAPE BOOK—Madame Mortell’s Haunted House

ESCAPE BOOK—Mystery Island

ESCAPE BOOK—The Cursed Temple

ABOUT THE AUTHOR for THE MUSEUM HEIST and MYSTERY ISLAND

Stéphane Anquetil is an old-school geek. He started playing video games when he was twelve on something called a Videopac G7200. The Choose Your Own Adventure books were an important part of his adolescence, as were text-based adventure games—the real ones, like where you had to write, “Talk cat,” to talk to a cat. After rediscovering a love of board games and writing, today he’s become an author of clever tales equally inspired by historical archives, secret codes, and strange mysteries.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Blogging about middle grade books or authors next week? Join the celebration.

Thanks for spreading the middle grade love and for being a part of this awesome tradition begun by Shannon Messenger and carried on here at ALWAYS in the MIDDLE! (CLICK HERE FOR PAST MMGM POSTS)

Posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment