FRAMED! A T.O.A.S.T. MYSTERY for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I wonder if Florian Bates, the MC of this sharp new series, could help me find my keys? I 51xazp0usyl-_sy344_bo1204203200_have a feeling it would only take him a few minutes. He sees details the rest of us miss, so much so that the FBI hires him.

The story is another one that begins at the end and then goes back to explain how Florian got himself in such a mess. The story telling is crisp and fun as told in first person POV. Florian is wise beyond his years having lived all over the world. His unique way of seeing details had me doing the same in real life.

His best friend, Margaret, makes a great, strong secondary character. Her story is just as important to the story as Florian’s. You’ll enjoy the sites and sounds of Washington D.C. including a look inside the FBI headquarters and The National Gallery of Art.

Some of the twists and turns were a bit too convenient, but with this fast moving plot, readers will most likely be forgiving. I’m looking forward to more from this smart new protagonist as he takes on more cases. I raise a toast to the author! Oh, there’s my keys.


FULL PLOT (From AMAZON) Get to know the only kid on the FBI Director’s speed dial and several international criminals’ most wanted lists all because of his Theory of All Small Things in this hilarious start to a brand-new middle grade mystery series.

So you’re only halfway through your homework and the Director of the FBI keeps texting you for help…What do you do? Save your grade? Or save the country?

If you’re Florian Bates, you figure out a way to do both.

Florian is twelve years old and has just moved to Washington. He’s learning his way around using TOAST, which stands for the Theory of All Small Things. It’s a technique he invented to solve life’s little mysteries such as: where to sit on the on the first day of school, or which Chinese restaurant has the best eggrolls.

But when he teaches it to his new friend Margaret, they uncover a mystery that isn’t little. In fact, it’s HUGE, and it involves the National Gallery, the FBI, and a notorious crime syndicate known as EEL.

Can Florian decipher the clues and finish his homework in time to help the FBI solve the case?


  1. Florian and Margaret meet for the first time at the beginning of the book and are best friends by the end. It’s a realistic journey of how a friendship develops for kids.
  2. T.O.A.S.T. (Theory Of All Small Things) proves we should look at the small details rather than basing our judgement on big picture first impressions. At first it sounded like a gimmick, but it really does work.
  3. It’s a mystery with comedy throughout. Kids are always asking for both so here it is in one book.
  4. Special Agent Rivers is just the type of adult you want around your own kids. He’s protective and a great mentor.
  5. Two somewhat geeky kids make a perfect pair to carry this mystery on their shoulders. The parents are supportive but in the background most of the time. It’s a combination young readers will embrace.

FAVORITE LINE:  Judging by his glower, I was pretty sure I’d ruined everything. I could just imagine the funeral, with my FBI instructor saying, “I told him not to antagonize his captor.” And Margaret shaking her head and responding, “And I told him not to go behind the Safeway.”

AUTHOR QUOTE:  I worked a little bit in movies (nothing big or cool) but a lot in television. In fact I’ve worked as a writer and producer in television for over twenty years. I started in kids TV. I’ve written for Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and PBS. When I was with Disney Channel I was a writer on the Mickey Mouse Club and at PBS I wrote for Clifford’s Puppy Days.  (Read more at  James Ponti’s Author Web Site)


Now for even better news…  I’m celebrating the holidays with two gift giveaways. If you’re already stressed about holiday shopping, I can help. Comment today or on any of the upcoming Friday, Saturday, Sunday posts from December 5-11 and receive an entry each time. At 2 p.m. EST on Sunday, December 11th, I’ll draw two names.

One person will receive their own hardback edition of (click on any of the National Geographic titles for my previous review):

51xazp0usyl-_sy344_bo1204203200_                        scienceencyclopedia

The second name drawn will receive their own hardback edition of:

lioness                arabian

Keep these for yourself or use them as gifts for the special person in your life. The books will come to you wrapped and ready to be put under the tree. Good luck to all who enter (U.S. Residents only on this giveaway).

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



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SHAKESPEARE–Investigate the Bard’s Influence on Today’s World

For young people age 12-15, mention the name William Shakespeare and you’ll get two shakespeare_colorvery different reactions. Some can’t get enough while others find his writing confusing. This great new  title will satisfy both camps.

The format is entertaining and topical. There’s an ongoing cartoon about two kids who use a book portal to visit Shakespeare, but the main focus is on four of Shakespeare’s most famous and beloved works. Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are each given two chapters for readers to explore in a unique way.

You first learn about each story with lines from the play. This is no boring retelling of the tale, but an interactive journey with fascinating facts and insights. A second chapter then looks at how each story has impacted books and movies of present day. Also included are an INQUIRE & INVESTIGATE page giving readers a hand-on task. An example of one from Romeo and Juliet has kids creating a rap song.

Before you reach the first chapter a snappy introduction tells about Shakespeare’s past and present. A four page timeline of events in Shakespeare’s life starts it off. Next we learn about his early years and his works on stage. Did you know 2016 is the 400 year anniversary of his death? I also discovered historians found large chunks of his life where no one seems to know what he was doing.

A full glossary and resources are added at the end. Great extensions with books, websites, and a reveal of the QR codes in case you don’t have a tablet or phone to find them. An index gives further proof how easy it is to find what you need.

I’m a fan from the opening scene to the end. In the words of the Bard himself– “I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is not that strange?”
—Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing

For a closer look inside SHAKESPEARE visit Nomad Press and Amazon.


Have a great weekend. Relax, have fun with family and friends, and READ!

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GHOST for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

The title is not a late addition to the Halloween season. Instead its the nickname for the ghost-9781481450157_hrmain character, Castle Cranshaw. He’s a runner for more reasons than you’d expect. His attitude at school has created a thick file of wrong doings.

His home life does not include a father anymore, but Mom does the best job she can working and doing everything to help her son succeed.

Ghost’s transformation begins when he finds a local track team. He’s invited to join and soon finds it to be the best decision he ever made. He continues to stumble in his life’s choices, but his coach and teammates are there for him.

This book is the first in the Track series about a a fast but fiery  group of kids who have a shot at the Junior Olympics. They have much to prove to themselves and teammates before this will be remotely possible. Told in first person, you’ll feel for the rough life Ghost has had through his street wise words in a tough neighborhood.

I’m ready for the second in the series to arrive ASAP. I hope it comes as fast a Ghost runs the one hundred.


FULL PLOT (From SIMON & SCHUSTER) Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel of a brand-new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning 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.

Ghost has a crazy natural talent, but no formal training. If he can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all starting with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who blew his own shot at success by using drugs, and who is determined to keep other kids from blowing their shots at life.


  1. The characters are multi-dimensional. It’s hard enough to pull this off with the main character, but here you get this engaging cast of characters with a story of their own.
  2. Diversity arrives in two forms. Race and economic status. It was refreshing to read a story that wasn’t set in middle class America.
  3. I’ve known quite a few real life characters like Coach. He brings a sense of hope and realism to a kids life and makes him run for other reasons.
  4. The dialog is exquisite. Surprising and always in character, you’ll remember many of the passages long after reading.
  5. A fabulous story. Period.

FAVORITE LINES:  Castle Cranshaw,” I said, then quickly clarified, “But everybody calls me Ghost.” By everybody, I meant nobody except me. That was my self given nickname. Well, halfway, self given. The night me and Ma busted into Mr. Charles store, Mr. Charles looked at us like he was looking at two ghosts. Like he didn’t recognize us, probably because of how scared we both must’ve looked. So I just started calling myself that. Plus it wasn’t the only time someone had looked at me that way. As a matter of fact, this man, the coach, was looking at me the exact same was as Mr. Charles did that night, stunned, and I couldn’t tell if it was because my real name is Castle or because of my nickname.

AUTHOR QUOTE (From Jason’s Author Web site): Here’s what I know: I know there are a lot — A LOT — of young people who hate reading. I know that many of these book haters are boys. I know that many of these book-hating boys, don’t actually hate books, they hate boredom. If you are reading this, and you happen to be one of these boys, first of all, you’re reading this so my master plan is already working (muahahahahahaha) and second of all, know that I feel you. I REALLY do. Because even though I’m a writer, I hate reading boring books too. 


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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Future scientists can rejoice at this new title from Nomad Press. The 90 pages are filled with 25 projexplorepredatorsandprey_coverects, which could be used by homeschoolers, students in lower grades as an independent study, or by a teacher with his or her entire 3rd or 4th grade class.

The format is easy to follow with each chapter having a different focus:

  • Chapter 1–Hide and Seek!
  • Chapter 2–Tools of the Trade
  • Chapter 3–Eat It Up!
  • Chapter 4–Staying Safe
  • Chapter 5– Other Animal Eaters
  • Chapter 6– Living Together

Before you even begin, there’s an introduction describing the scientific method and showing young learners how to make a predator and prey journal. It will be their go to spot for recording everything learned in each investigation.

Every chapter begins with a question to help guide their explorations. Here’s an example from Chapter 5: If mosquitoes disappeared, what effect could that have on other animals and the ecosystem?

Next you read the chapter and  follow through with the projects, easily identified by their green background. The steps are laid out with easy to understand directions.

Support for learning extends to online with QR codes, where the user can use a tablet of phone to view a website or video. No problem if you don’t have access that way as the web addresses are listed in the glossary along with definitions of the scientific words used throughout the book.

Colorful illustrations break up the text and the fun, motivating projects will be sure to entice many new learners to list science as their favorite subject.

Visit Nomad Press and Amazon to see more of this wonderful learning resource.


Have a Great Weekend! Relax, have fun , and READ!


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CLAYTON STONE SERIES for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I read both books in the fun and exciting CLAYTON STONE series back to back. What an 9780823433896enjoyable time I had following Clayton’s adventures. They stand on their own if you decide to skip the first book, but it would be a choice you’d regret.  First up– my thoughts on CLAYTON STONE, AT YOUR SERVICE (2015) where Clayton is 12, soon to be 13.

It covers the seven days Clayton is enlisted as an undercover kid to catch a mall napper. His family’s history of secretive and dangerous  operations leads him to the role. I say dangerous because his parents were both killed in the line of duty and now Clayton is living with his grandma, who’s also in the business. Clayton doesn’t always know if he’s making the right decision, but it’s spot on how an adolescent would handle such a dangerous line of work. He has to juggle both his regular school responsibilities while keeping his other life a secret.

Awesome gadgets and a fast paced story line will keep readers glued. I was anxious to jump right into the next book.

FULL PLOT (From Holiday House) Twelve-year-old Clayton Stone is shocked when a top-secret government organization recruits him as a decoy in a kidnapping sting. Instantly, he gets drawn into the dangerous world of covert operations. Clayton’s new life is full of excitement, with elaborate disguises and classified debriefings, but soon enough there’s a gun against his neck.

Clayton’s transformation from middle-school lacrosse star to Special Service agent is full of suspense, humor and heart—a thrilling undercover debut!


clayton_stone_facing_off_jkt_r-681x1024CLAYTON STONE, FACING OFF (2016) picks up just a few weeks later. How do you top his first adventure? You put Clayton in another school where he can shadow the President of the United State’s son who is acting rather strange of late. All does not start off well in this inclusive private school where students are often the offspring of famous politicians. Clayton would rather be at his old school where he played on the lacrosse team, but duty calls and he answers.

Clayton finds much more that just a president’s son to worry about. There’s the manipulative Otto, and James, a quiet boy who provides a mysterious presence. Girls won’t feel left out as Amber, a key to the first book, shows up as a student at the prestigious Sydney Brown School

The ending is a thrilling ride that will have your heart beating quicker as you flip the pages. It all works because of the heart Clayton brings to the story.  I can’t wait to see what Clayton Stone is up to next.

FULL PLOT (From Holiday House) Thirteen-year-old Clayton’s new assignment for the Special Service means adopting a new identity—indefinitely. He has to leave behind his friends and beloved lacrosse team to live as “Max Carrington,” a student at the Sydney Brown School, where the President’s son Kyle is a seventh grader. But Clayton isn’t the only new kid at school and there’s something odd about his fellow outsider, James Scott. Is James hiding something, and is he a threat to Kyle?

The chaos of undercover life keeps Clayton on his toes as he rushes from one crisis to the next, while a cutthroat school election brings out some strong personalities at Sydney Brown. To make matters worse, Clayton’s new lacrosse team is set to play Masters Academy in the in the most important game of the season. It looks like he will face off against his best friends and former teammates!


  1. You don’t see the game of lacrosse featured in MG books so its a perfect match to have this sport featured here. In my part of the world, lacrosse is hugely popular with the upper MG crowd and they’ll gravitate to Clayton for that reason alone.
  2. I don’t often rave about book covers but these are both winners.
  3. There is almost constant action from the sporting and undercover backdrop. Young readers will not have a chance to use the word “boring” because Clayton’s adventures will not allow it to happen.
  4. Plenty of conflict in Clayton’s life from his friends, Grandmother, and other adults entering his world. He also dearly misses his parents and granddad giving much depth to the storyline.
  5. My favorite character besides Clayton was his grandmother. No typecasting here, Gram is one tough lady who shows up in the most unexpected get-ups.

FAVORITE LINES:  Less than twenty four hours later, I’m in the underwear section at Macy’s. Shopping. Normally, I wouldn’t be caught dead here. Now I might be.

Caught dead, that is.

I lean over and mutter to my shoe, trying to act like bra-shopping with my fake mom is a regular day in the life of me. “Can you hear me? Over.”


 Be sure to visit Ena’s author web site and Twitter for more insights.


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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scienceencyclopediaLet’s begin with some math. SCIENCE ENCYCLOPEDIA checks in at 9.5 inches by 12 inches and is a whopping 3.8 pounds. Eye-popping fantastic is the best description I could come up with for the cover and the 304 pages inside. It would make a great gift for the teacher or science loving kid in your life.

Opening the pages for the first time, I had to smile at how far encyclopedias have come. I remember as a kid having to do a report on the moon. I went to our book shelf at home where Funk And Wagnalls 26 volumes had its home. We only had 13 of the 26 at the time since my mom would wait for the weekly grocery store promotion–a new volume each week for $1.99. Fortunately the “M’ volume was a recent addition to our collection. I found a few paragraphs along with a fuzzy black and white image of the moon.

Fast forward to today. I flipped to the handy index in the back of SCIENCE ENCYCLOPEDIA and quickly found many pages referencing the moon, including a two page full color feature, filled with colorful sections containing information and images. There’s even a LOL! joke piece and a GEEK STREAK section delving deeper into facts about the moon’s future. With all this information, any present day student doing a moon report would put mine to shame.

National Geographic found a glowing panel of experts to review the information for accuracy. Everything is arranged in two parts in a splashy, enticing format.

First up are the Physical Sciences like chemistry and physics. The sections include MATTER, FORCES AND MACHINES, ENERGY, and ELECTRONICS. Each of these are loaded with information and pictures on various sub topics. Have an interest in Organic Chemistry, Bending Light, Satellites, or Gravity? You’ll find all of them here plus dozens more. I loved the TRY THIS! feature offered throughout, letting readers do a little experiment to gain further understanding of a concept.

Part 2 is devoted to the Life Sciences. Here you will find sections on THE UNIVERSE, LIFE ON EARTH, THE HUMAN BODY, AND PLANET EARTH. Look further and there are over 50 topics covered in detail. After completing my moon mission, I continued into other areas like Ocean Invertebrates, The Brain and Nervous System, and Volcanoes. I found  this encyclopedia hard to break away from with so much information presented in a colorful way. It’s perfect for today’s visual learners.

Get this classic for your classroom or your home. It is the most comprehensive, up to date, source on Science. What a great world we live in, and National Geographic is making sure we have a thorough understanding of all its wonders.


Have a great weekend with family and friends, but be sure to find time to READ!

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THE BOY WITH 17 SENSES for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

This unusual and fun story features a boy with a neurological condition know as 51idg6STSRL._SX367_BO1,204,203,200_synesthesia. It’s estimated four percent of the population have this rare ability where two or mores senses combine. A person with synesthesia might not only hear my voice but also see it, taste it, or feel it. I had on the job learning a few years ago in my classroom when a student with synesthesia provided many interesting demonstrations.

Jaq is the boy in the story and although he lives on another planet (Yipsmix), he soon travels through a wormhole to earth. His purpose is one that brings heart and humor to the tale. There’s plenty of tension and some rather nasty critters who may have you itching while you read. Most of all you’ll enjoy a magical story which portrays a real way of thinking.


FULL PLOT (From AMAZON) Every resident of the planet Yipsmix has synesthesia—they don’t just hear sounds; they see and taste them, too. On this unusual planet, poor Jaq Rollop must save his family’s farm. To do so, Jaq is forced to sell his beloved pet and only friend. Trusting and naive, Jaq gets swindled into trading his pet for a seemingly worthless key. But then something very strange happens. The key leads Jaq through a wormhole to a terrifying and magical land full of riches, overwhelming sensations, and giants. The name of this frightening land? Earth.


  1. Wippers and freasels are the two creatures introduced from this planet. One is a pest and the other a friend. They combine to help bring a happy ending.
  2. The idea there is a planet where the inhabitants only come up to our mid-calf is a marvelous touch. Watch where you walk!
  3. A futuristic twist on Jack and the Beanstalk. Adventure with a fairy tale like quality.
  4. Jaq is an honest boy who tries his hardest to remain good and make things right. He’s a hero we should all try to be like.
  5. The 31 chapters are short enough to read out loud. You’ll also never look at chewed gum in the same way.

FAVORITE LINES:  Going though the wormhole was just as terrible as Jaq knew it would be. The pain in his head and the ripping-apart sensation were even worse this time. He landed on the soft Earth soil, unable to breathe. It felt like he’d gotten the wind knocked out of him, been trampled by a herd of gows, and then had every limb yanked to its breaking point. He hurt all over, and not just because he was covered in moaning wippers.

AUTHOR QUOTE: As a rhetorical device, writers use synesthesia when they describe one sense in terms of another. For example, when a voice is be described as “sweet as honey” we are using one sense (taste) to describe another (hearing). Colors don’t have a temperature, but we describe some as “cool,” using an adjective normally assigned to physical touch to describe something we see. When someone describes a “loud shirt,” we don’t picture a talking shirt, but one that has a vibrant, colorful pattern.  

For more about Sheila, her books, and a great video on Synesthesia visit her web site.


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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