Explorer Academy: The Star Dunes

Star Dunes

It’s hard to believe the fourth book in this appealing adventure series has hit the shelves. It was less than two years ago when I featured The Nebula Secret, an exciting debut for National Geographic into the world of MG fiction.  Next came The Falcon’s Feather followed by The Double Helix.

This description from the publisher should bring you up to date:

Follow 12-year-old Cruz Coronado during his time at the prestigious Explorer Academy, where he and 23 kids from around the globe are training to become the next generation of great explorers. In addition to making new friends and attending cool classes, Cruz must also work to unlock clues to his family’s shadowy past if he is to solve the mystery of his mother’s untimely death. In this exciting follow-up toThe Double Helix, a major discovery catapults Cruz and the Explorer Academy team into the limelight and they head off to Africa.  Cruz and his fellow recruits tackle challenging missions to dispense life-saving medications to gorillas, thwart pangolin poachers and capture images of the last known cheetahs in Namibia — all the while discovering that protecting the world’s threatened species is dangerous business!  After yet another strike from Nebula, someone close to Cruz ends up on the brink of death, leaving the ship in turmoil and Cruz and his team down a major player.  The discovery of his mom’s next clue leads Cruz to a vast desert — and just when he thinks he’s run out of leads for solving the mystery of her tragic disappearance, an unlikely ally helps him pursue another piece of the ongoing puzzle. Can Cruz and his team stay one step ahead of Nebula and find the next piece of the hidden cipher?

 

Starting a series with the fourth book is usually not a good idea, but this time you wouldn’t be too lost if you began with The Star Dunes. You will miss out on the character arcs developing with previous stories, and if you do start here the pull to go back to book 1-3 will be strong. The series is captivating.

 

Cruz is now 13 and a friendship with another student is turning into a crush. It’s a small thread in the plot as the emphasis is on scientific exploration and solving the mysterious clues left behind by Cruz’s mother. There’s also someone trying to kill Cruz and another junior explorer may be involved. The 24 chapters are fast paced and exciting. The visit to the gorilla camp facing a virus was an interesting sidelight to our own current world crisis.

 

Overall, The Star Dunes is a fun read where the excitement of learning science will appeal to both girls and boys. Look for Book 5—The Tiger’s Nest— in October.

 

BOOK BIRTHDAY: March 17, 2020  PAGE COUNT: 216

 

FIVE MORE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT

49906409THE STAR DUNES by Trudi Trueit49906409

1. Colored illustrations appear throughout the book and are nicely spaced with the text. I had to go back and look at them again after finishing the story.

2. The mostly real life science presented on the pages always had me learning something new. It’s a sneaky and effective way to get kids excited about a science career.

3. The puzzles, including the mystery of who the bad explorer might be, is a great exercise for any age brain.

4. The back section is called the Truth Behind the Fiction and is look at five real explorers and the work they do. Great reading.

5. This one like the others ends rather abruptly. Most of the plot points are completed except two crucial ones which will most likely will not be solved until the final book. It serves it’s purpose as I can’t wait to see what unfolds.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR

TRUDI TRUEIT has written more than 100 books for young readers, both fiction and nonfiction. Her love of writing began in fourth grade, when she wrote, directed, and starred in her first play. She went on to be a TV news reporter and weather forecaster, but she knew her calling was in writing. Trueit is a gifted storyteller for middle-grade audiences, and her fiction novels include The Sister Solution, Stealing Popular, and the Secrets of a Lab Rat series. Her expertise in kids nonfiction encompasses books on history, weather, wildlife, and Earth science. She is the author of all the narratives for the Explorer Academy series, beginning with Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret. Trueit was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, and lives in Everett, Washington.

SCOTT PLUMBE is an award-winning illustrator, designer, and fine artist whose work appears in books and magazines, games, interpretive centers, private collections, and more. His illustrations have been featured in magazines such as Communication Arts (US), Applied Arts (CA), Creative Review (UK), and 3×3 (US).

Be sure to check out the ambitious and fun Explorer Academy website.

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

Posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

GEOMETRY IS AS EASY AS PIE

When I was in 8th grade, geometry class was a dreadful experience. The teacher filled the chalkboard with formulas scribbled from one end to the other. Her lecture started two seconds after the tardy bell and didn’t end until the dismissal bell. None of it made any sense, and I barely got out of there with a C.

After reading this fun and informative title, I realized a homemade pie would have saved me back then. What the teacher never provided were hands-on applications to all the concepts. Now I have them to share with kids and teachers in one easy to read guide.

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Perfect for ages 9-12, here’s the publisher background on this title:

With scrumptious-looking photos, easy recipes, and a variety of pies to bake or just ogle, this book provides a fun and memorable approach to thinking and learning about circles, polygons, angles, parallel and perpendicular lines, tessellation, symmetry, area, volume, and more. This book will leave the reader with a taste for geometry!

The chapters are laid out with easy to follow explanations followed with how it relates to pies. The recipes alone will keep me busy for the next several months:

  • Butterscotch Pie
  • Super Simple Symmetrical Pumpkin Pie
  • Tessellating Samosa Hand Pie Appetizers
  • Crustless Quiche
  • Polygon Chicken Pot Pie
  • No Bake Chocolate Mousse Pie
  • Parallel and Perpendicular Lattice Apple Pie
  • 360-Degree Mini Berry Pies With Homemade Crust

Besides the delicious sounding treats for the palate, the true benefit of GEOMETRY IS AS EASY AS PIE is you come away with a solid understanding of an often misunderstood branch of mathematics. A pie-related set of math problems are included in the back pages along with a full glossary of terms.  Get a copy for any 4th-6th graders and they will surely be acing that upcoming Geometry class.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

KatieCoppensKatie Coppens lives in Maine with her husband and two children. She is an award winning teacher who started her career as a middle school math teacher. She has since taught all subjects in third through sixth grade, and also taught high school biology and English in Tanzania. With any grade or subject, Katie emphasizes the value of creative and critical thinking. Katie has multiple publications, including a teacher’s guide for the National Science Teaching Association entitled Creative Writing in Science: Activities That Inspire, Geology is a Piece of Cake, and The Acadia Files chapter book series. Katie also writes a column for NSTA’s Science Scope magazine called “Interdisciplinary Ideas”. For more information on her publications, please visit www.katiecoppens.com.

You can also connect with Katie on Twitter @Katie_Coppens

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

All you have to do is blog about a middle grade book on a Monday (contests, author interviews, or anything middle grade related also count). Email me the title of the book or feature and a link to your blog at gpcolo[at]gmail[dot]com
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 or author you’re featuring) You MUST email me your link by Sunday evening (11 PM Eastern Time) in order to be included in the list of links for the coming Monday.
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)
*Please note: these posts are not a reflection of my own opinions on the books featured. Each blogger is responsible for their own MMGM content and I do not pre-screen reviews ahead of time, nor do I control what books they choose. I simply assemble the list based on the links that are emailed to me.
Posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews, non fiction | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

MMGM for May 4, 2020

                       

May the Fourth be With You. Click on a May bouquet to reach a blogger’s post.

At ALWAYS in the MIDDLE I have a review of MORE THAN MARMALADE by  Rosanne Tolin, the fascinating story about the life of Michael Bond, author of the Paddington Bear books.

Natalie Aguirre at Literary Rambles has an interview with Erin Bowan and a giveaway of her MG fantasy, THE GIRL AND THE WITCH’S GARDEN. Note: due to a scheduling change the interview won’t appear until Wednesday.

June McCrary Jacobs at Reading, Writing, and Stitch-Metic has Voyager: The Third Ghost anthology by the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. Special guest is an interview with Author Sherry Ellis and an e-book giveaway.

Fourth grade teacher Sierra Dertinger is becoming a regular on MMGM and this week she features The Invisible Boy by Alyssa Hollingsworth. It releases in September.

Michelle Mason at Musings of a Young Adult Writer has a review courtesy of her fourth grader. It’s author Claribel Ortega’s debut—GHOST SQUAD.

Maria Antonia at Of Books, Photography, and Tea gives MMGM readers a look at As Simple as it Seems by Sarah Weeks, an author well known in middle grade circles.

Patricia Tilton at CHILDREN’S BOOKS HEAL shares a powerful novel, Gold Rush Girl by Avi. Pat thinks this might be Avi’s best work ever!

COMPLETELY FULL BOOKSHELF recommends White Bird: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio. It’s a graphic novel inspired  by the blockbuster novel, WONDER.

Rosi Hollinbeck features a review of MY JASPER JUNE by Laurel Snyder. Rosi also has some not to be missed links for her writing friends.

Karen Yingling at Ms. Yingling Reads has another fantastic MMGM post. Be sure to check out today’s feature and all of her reviews the past week including WE DREAM OF SPACE.

If you would like to join in the MMGM fun and get your own spot in the parade, all you have to do is blog about a middle grade book you love on a Monday (contests, author interviews and whatnot also count–but are most definitely not required) and email me the title of the book you’re featuring and a link to your blog at gpcolo (at) gmail (dot) com
(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)
You MUST email me your link by Sunday evening (11 PM Eastern Time) in order to be included in the list of links for the coming Monday.
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)
*Please note: these posts are not a reflection of my own opinions on the books featured. Each blogger is responsible for their own MMGM content and I do not pre-screen reviews ahead of time, nor do I control what books they choose. I simply assemble the list based on the links that are emailed to me.
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

MORE THAN MARMALADE

marmalade.jpgYou may know Paddington Bear from one of the many books featuring the iconic character or perhaps from two successful featured films (Paddington in 2014 and Paddington 2 in 2017). What will most likely be new to fans is the story behind the creator of Paddington Bear, Michael Bond.

Written for middle grade, the book is also perfect for adults, especially those of us who are writers. You will get to know Michael and the important events that shaped him as a person and author. Born in 1926 he loved locomotives and had a passion for reading. His parents were there to support him with trips to the library and story telling at home.

Biographies can turn into a droll telling of facts, but author Rosanne Tolin has done just the opposite, creating captivating, dialog filled scenes. The well researched book gives us a detailed account of Michael Bond as a boy, teen, and man discovering the world and how it works.

MORE THAN MARMALADE is more than I expected. I for one am glad to have spent time reading this new book covering the 91 years Michael lived.

BOOK JACKET BLURB

Michael Bond never intended to be a children’s writer. Though an avid reader, he was by no means a model student and quit school at 14. He repaired rooftop radio transmitters during the bombing of Britain in World War II and later joined the army. He wrote about the war and more, selling stories here and there. 

One day, while searching for inspiration at his typewriter, hoping for a big story that would allow him to write full time, a stuffed bear on top of the shelf—a Christmas present for his wife—suddenly caught his eye. Bond poured his personal feelings about the events of his era—the refugee children his family had hosted in the countryside, a war-torn country in recovery, the bustling immigrant neighborhood where he lived—into the story of a little bear from Peru who tries very, very hard to do things right. The result was A Bear Called Paddington

An incredible true tale, More than Marmalade: Michael Bond and the Story of Paddington Bear is the first biography about the writer behind the beloved series. Author Rosanne Tolin reveals how world history, Bond’s life, and 1950s immigrant culture were embedded into Paddington’s creation, bringing middle-grade readers a delightful, informative, and engaging book with a timely message of acceptance.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT

marmalade

MORE THAN MARMALADE by Rosanne Tolin

  1. History comes alive, especially World War II and how it effected those living in England. Middle grade readers will be able to make parallels with our current world crisis and realize once you get past the negative, there is often a positive light.
  2. Writers often have to deal with rejection without ever knowing why. From getting a story idea to having it sold to a publisher are roadblocks Michael Bond faced. Advice from his grandfather kept him going.
  3. Black and white pictures of the time period are scattered across the pages, including the locomotive bearing Paddington’s name and a bronze statue in his honor at Paddington Station.
  4. The tough times Michael went through as a student then later on trying to balance his writing and family time are also part of the story. Life brings challenges to everyone.
  5. Although Michael Bond wrote other stories, the focus here is on Paddington. It’s the right approach as the bear was the inspiration and motivator for everything he did in life.

About the Author

An experienced and well-respected journalist, Rosanne Tolin is the creator and editor of the ALA award-winning children’s e-zine and website Imagination Café. Tolin is also the former managing editor of Guideposts for Kids magazine and the Guideposts for Kids website. She lives in Chesterton, Indiana.

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This is now one of my  favorite biographies for young readers. Do you have one you like? Feel free to comment below.

Posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews, New Release | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments

CAMP AVERAGE—Double Foul

A51OrSb7IrpL._SX350_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgfter reading the first chapter of this new sequel I was a little bit lost with so many characters. In the first ten pages I met Mackenzie (Mack), Miles, Andre, Winston, Terry, Pat, Nicole, and Makayla. Whew… how was I ever going to keep things straight?

Maybe I should have tracked down a copy of the first book, CAMP AVERAGE, released in 2019. But no, I kept reading and a few chapters later I was feeling much better thanks to the plot staying close to Mack and learning more about the personality traits of each camper.

Camp Avalon is the real name of the camp. The ‘Average’ label is one used by the kids. The focus on Basketball is a welcome one as I find 8-12 year olds are always looking for a good basketball story.

Here’s the official blurb on CAMP AVERAGE—Double Foul:

It’s a new summer at Camp Avalon—which Mack and his friends still affectionately call Camp Average. After last season’s big baseball victory, camp director Winston wants to continue the winning streak. So he’s launched a competitive program for elite athletes—including a new group of girl campers.

When Winston enters his charges in a high-stakes basketball tournament, Mack opts out in favor of other, less competitive activities. But Mack starts to suspect he’s being played, as one by one, his favorite camp activities all get closed for repairs.

Meanwhile, Winston pits boys against girls in a twisted attempt to win. To undermine Winston’s hypercompetitive scheme once again, Mack creates a plan of his own—but it means he needs to secretly sabotage both the boys’ and girls’ teams. Will Mack match wits with Winston and save the camp from the diabolical director’s clutches once and for all? Or will Mack’s own mischief be exposed—and lose him his summer and his friends? The second Camp Average book is a fast-paced and funny addition to this all-star series.

The kids are an enjoyable lot, with a very real depiction of what occurs in the twelve-year-old mind. There’s humor and conflict both with each other and a dishonest camp counselor. The climatic end to the story is a co-ed basketball tournament. A hint at a third book is also given with a reveal on the last page.

Fast paced and enjoyable, if you’ve been to camp or have a summer stay at one planned, this is a fun look at life away from home. Now I’m going back to read the first Camp Average book. Its focus on baseball should fill the void in my world right now.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Craig Battle was the editor of OWL Magazine from 2006 to 2012. He now works as an editor at Sportsnet magazine. He has worked as a reporter, camp counselor, and basketball coach, and now adds children’s author to his resume. Originally from Lantzville, BC, he lives in Toronto.

Checkout Craig’s Tweets on Twitter!

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

All you have to do is blog about a middle grade book on a Monday (contests, author interviews, or anything middle grade related also count). Email me the title of the book or feature and a link to your blog at gpcolo[at]gmail[dot]com
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 or author you’re featuring) You MUST email me your link by Sunday evening (11 PM Eastern Time) in order to be included in the list of links for the coming Monday.
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)
*Please note: these posts are not a reflection of my own opinions on the books featured. Each blogger is responsible for their own MMGM content and I do not pre-screen reviews ahead of time, nor do I control what books they choose. I simply assemble the list based on the links that are emailed to me.

 

Posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

MMGM for April 27, 2020

                  

CLICK ON A SMILEY TO REACH A BLOGGER”S POST

At ALWAYS in the MIDDLE I have a review of ELEPHANT’S GIRL by Celesta Rimington. One of my top MG reads of the year!

Sue Heavenrich at Sally’s Bookshelf takes us high up with Into The Clouds: The Race to Climb the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain by Tod Olson.

June McCrary Jacobs at Reading, Writing, and Stitch-Metic has a retro fiction feature on ‘The Bobbsey Twins:  The Red, White & Blue Mystery’, originally released in 1971.

Fourth grade teacher Sierra Dertinger joins us with her featured review of a graphic novel, Nat Enough by Maria Scrivan.

Michelle Mason at Musings of a Young Adult Writer has another review from her sixth grade son. This week it’s THE PECULIAR by Stefan Bachmann.

Jenni Enzor gives us a lift with a feature on various “MG Comfort Reads.”

Maria Antonia at Of Books, Photography, and Tea has Shakespeare’s Spy by Gary Blackwood, a historical novel featuring Shakespeare, whose 456th birthday was April 23rd!

Patricia Tilton at CHILDREN’S BOOKS HEAL has Seed Savers: Lily, Book 2, by Sandra Smith. It is a futuristic adventure story where gardening is banned and people consume processed food.

Michael Gettel-Gilmartin at Middle Grade Mafioso has a  review of Shelley Pearsall’s latest, Things Seen From Above.

Faith Hough at Life’s An Art! is also turning things over to one of her children. Twelve-year-old daughter Lucy will be reviewing The Thief Knot, by Kate Milford.

Rosi Hollinbeck features a review and GIVEAWAY of Sylvie by Sylvie Kantorovitz. Rosi also has some not to be missed links for her writing friends.

A GARDEN OF BOOKS shares her review of Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows By Ryan Calejo.

Elizabeth Van Tassel at Thorn & Vine returns to the MMGM family with a review of The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine.

Karen Yingling at Ms. Yingling Reads has another fantastic MMGM post. Be sure to check out today’s feature and all of her reviews the past week including GOLDIE VANCE.

If you would like to join in the MMGM fun and get your own spot in the parade, all you have to do is blog about a middle grade book you love on a Monday (contests, author interviews and whatnot also count–but are most definitely not required) and email me the title of the book you’re featuring and a link to your blog at gpcolo (at) gmail (dot) com
(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)
You MUST email me your link by Sunday evening (11 PM Eastern Time) in order to be included in the list of links for the coming Monday.
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)
*Please note: these posts are not a reflection of my own opinions on the books featured. Each blogger is responsible for their own MMGM content and I do not pre-screen reviews ahead of time, nor do I control what books they choose. I simply assemble the list based on the links that are emailed to me.
Posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews, MMGM Links | 4 Comments

Elephant’s Girl

Tornadoes, a girl with a mysterious past, ghostly visits, and of course elephants combine to bring the most engaging and heartwarming middle grade story of 2020. Elephant’s Girl had me from the beginning thenelephants girl.jpg blew me away with its satisfying ending.

Set in an Omaha, Nebraska zoo, Lexington Willow’s first person narration is honest and emotional. She’s pictured on the cover with Nyah, the elephant who saved Lex from a tornado seven years ago  Now, supposed 12-year-old Lex is trying to figure out where she came from and why her unknown parents were never found.

She lives with Roger at the zoo, the compassionate engineer of the the zoo’s train who serves as her guardian. He’s like a father but has never pursued adoption. The ghost is someone who plays a vital role in bringing understanding to Lex’s confusing past. The mystery unfolds with the help of Lex’s only friend, a baseball loving boy named Fisher who also lives at the zoo.

Magical and page turning, this is a story I’ll be reading again when I need a lift.

BOOK BIRTHDAY: MAY 19, 2020   PAGE COUNT: 336

THE OFFICIAL BLURB

An elephant never forgets, but Lexington Willow can’t remember what happened before a tornado swept her away when she was a toddler. All she knows is that it landed her near an enclosure in a Nebraska zoo; and there an elephant named Nyah protected her from the storm. With no trace of her birth family, Lex grew up at the zoo with Nyah and her elephant family; her foster father, Roger; her best friend, Fisher; and the wind whispering in her ear.

Now that she’s twelve, Lex is finally old enough to help with the elephants. But during their first training session, Nyah sends her a telepathic image of the woods outside the zoo. Despite the wind’s protests, Lex decides to investigate Nyah’s message and gets wrapped up in an adventure involving ghosts, lost treasure, and a puzzle that might be the key to finding her family. As she hunts for answers, Lex must summon the courage to leave the secure borders of her zoo to discover who she really is–and why the tornado brought her here all those years ago.

di48R8RLTFIVE MORE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT di48R8RLT

ELEPHANT’S GIRL by Celesta Rimington

  1. The friendship between Lex and Fisher was special. Good friends go out of their way to understand each other and none more so than these two.
  2. I was able to forget what’s going on in our real world and immerse myself in a plot worthy of anyone’s time—both children and adults.
  3. Even though magical realism surrounds the story, it’s the contemporary issues that will firmly grasp readers—Loneliness, animal rights, friendship and love. A coming of age story like none other.
  4. Details of life in a zoo serve as the perfect backdrop. Animals really are special.
  5. Not to be missed are the author’s end of book notes. Here you will learn more about the fascinating world of elephant behavior.

AUTHOR QUOTE (From GOODREADS)

Hi, everyone! I’m the author of The Elephant’s Girl. Thank you for visiting! I wrote this magical book for every kid who has ever felt alone and every kid who wants a good friendship story. It’s for girls and boys and elephants. It’s for kids who’d love the power to talk to the wind and for anyone who enjoys animals, adventure, and a hint of magic. The characters (including the elephant!) were so fun to write and are as real to me as if they told me this story themselves. I hope you enjoy living in their world for a while. This book is for everyone who has ever battled a storm. Face down the wind, my friends!

Find out more about Celesta Rimington on her website.

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

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