September 26, 2018

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 10:55 pm by suebe2

Raymie Nightingale
by Kate DiCamillo
Candlewick Press

At first, the Rancheros seem like an unlikely trio of friends.  Raymie is learning to twirl a baton to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition because more than anything she needs to get her father’s attention.  Two days ago he ran off with a dental hygienist.

Louisiana Elephante, complete with her fainting spells and swampy lungs, needs to learn to twirl so that she can win.  She and her grandmother desperately need the prize money.

Then there’s Beverly Tapinski who already twirls like a pro.  Of course, she can also pick locks and doesn’t intend to win.  Her plan is sabotage.

From visiting the retirement home to perform good deeds to breaking into the animal shelter to rescue a cat that probably isn’t there anymore, the three are soon traipsing around town getting each other into and out of a wide variety of trouble.

Admittedly, I had some troubles getting into this.  I’ve never had much interest in twirling and the whole thing was far to reminiscent of my own dance classes.  How well did they go?  I am probably among the ten clumsiest people on Earth if that tells you anything.  I’m sure my former teachers would agree – it was torture.

So the book had that against it but its Kate DiCamillo so I kept reading.  Thank goodness.

As so often happens in her books, soon I was won over by her quirky cast of characters.  My absolute favorite was Louisiana although I think her grandmother was a close second.

I’ve seen other readers comment that the characters deal with things that simply are not age appropriate for the audience.  Although everything isn’t sunshine and lollipops, none of it is extreme either which some of the comments might lead you to believe.  These are girls dealing with life including a full cast of flawed adults.

This book would  make an excellent read aloud.  Don’t be surprised when the humor draws in some of the kids who consider themselves non-readers.


August 11, 2017

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:37 am by suebe2

Beyond the Bright SeaBeyond the Bright Sea
by Lauren Wolk
Dutton Children’s Books

Twelve-year-old Crow has grown up one island over from Cuttyhunk, one of  Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Islands.  She landed on this tiny island in a battered boat when she was just a baby.

Osh rescued the tiny baby and it was only when she came into his life that he opened up to other islanders.  He too is a refugee although Crow never learns what it is he escaped.  That is in his past and the past, for some people, is best left alone.  Instead, Osh focuses on the now – fishing to feed them both, tending their garden and painting beautiful landscapes.

Miss Maggie, their friend and neighbor on Cuttyshank,  came to the islands for her own reason.  Sharp of tongue and wit, she is Crow’s  teacher because the school master won’t let Crow attend classes.

It isn’t because her skin is darker than his.  It is because everyone fears she came from a nearby island — home of a leper hospital.

Then one night Crow sees a mysterious fire on that island.  A bird sanctuary has taken the place of the leper colony.  Could the keeper be in need of help?  Crow’s curiosity may lead her to answers about who she is and where she came from but she will also be risking everything and everyone she knows and loves.

Wolk is also the author of Wolf Hollow and, like that book, Beyond the Bright Sea is an exploration of belonging and family.  It explores how our expectations can shape how we interpret the world and other people’s actions.  It is a story of love, trust and sacrifice and it is told in such a way that makes it fully accessible to middle grade audiences.

As always Wolk has done an exceptional job in pulling readers into the setting with details of island life in 1925.  The details are a part of the story without overwhelming it.

An excellent choice for the classroom or home library this is a book with depth and moral complexity.  Perfectly suitable for young readers, it trusts them to know and understand.


July 29, 2016

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 2:58 pm by suebe2

23270216The Blackthorn Key
by Kevin Sands

“Tell no one what I’ve given you.”

For an orphan, Christopher Rowe leads a pretty good life.  As an apothecary’s apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn, Christopher studies how to read recipes, blend ingredients, and how to listen. He has to listen to what ails their customers as well as the directions his master gives him.

That sounds easier than it truly is because Master Blackthorn is teaching Christopher all about codes and puzzles.  Sometimes they are in English.  Sometimes they are in Latin.  Figuring out which language it is can be half the puzzle.

In addition to days spent learning, Christopher has a best friend. Tom is a baker’s apprentice, working with his hot-tempered father.  Together the two get up to all kinds of mischief even making the gunpowder they need for a small cannon.

But someone is killing apothecaries.  One by one the men are found gutted in their homes and their workshops.  Rumors fly thought out the city of London as to who is behind these killings and why they haven’t been caught.

Then one day Christopher’s kind master strikes him.  Christopher runs from the shop only to find that his master has been killed.  Christopher has to find the killer without falling victim to him while also discovering what his master was researching that attracted the killer in the first place.

This is an excellent book for young readers who love science, history or codes.  The science is chemistry but it isn’t the chemistry that we know today.  This is the chemistry of the apothecary which if often a matter of trial and error, and error can be deadly.  The setting is London in the 1600s, a time of plague, religious wars and intrigue.  The codes are many and involve both substitution codes for the letters themselves but also knowledge of the elements and the tools of the apothecary.

Warning:  Because of the codes I would not recommend listening to this as an audio book.  You want to be able to see the codes on the page, not listen to them being read, line after line.

I’ve seen some people describe this book as young adult but truly it is middle grade. Yes, with the killings and various apothecary-based accidents things can and do get ick but the emotional level of the book is pure middle grade.  That said, this is definitely a book that older readers would enjoy.

Share it with the history loving science nerd in your life. The codes alone will keep him or her puzzling as they try to figure out what is going on and who is behind it all.


May 28, 2014

Deep Dark and Dangerous by Mary Downing Hahn

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 3:18 am by suebe2

Deep Dark and Dangerous
by Mary Downing Hahn
Clarion Books

When the photograph slips out of the old mystery that she’s reading, Ali recognized her mother and her aunt although they were both children in the photo.  But the photo has been torn and all that’s left of the third girl is a bit of her arm.  Curious, Ali takes the photo to her mother.  Mom snatches the photo away and refuses to answer any questions, going to bed with a migraine.

That doesn’t surprise Ali as much as it would some people.  Her mother, a fearful woman who worries contantly, has frequent migraines.  But when her aunt comes to town and invites Ali to the lake with her for the summer, Ali’s mom melts down again.  She doesn’t want Ali at the lake and insists it is a horrible, unpleasant place.  How can her mom and her aunt have such different memories the same place?  Ali pushes to go and, with her father’s help, heads off for a summer in Maine.  She will be in charge of her preschool cousin, Emma, when her aunt is painting in preparation for a big art show.

Sure the weather is a little cloudy and chilly but Ali doesn’t get what her mother disliked so much until she meets Sissy.  The blonde girl is closer to Ali’s age of 13 than to Emma but she befriends the younger girl and starts to turn her against her older cousin.  Instead of the happy girl who loves stories, Ali is suddenly stuck watching a lying sneak.  How is it that Sissy has such a hold over her younger cousin and where does she live?  She’s always evasive when Ali asks a question about her home and manages to give Ali the slip somewhere around the old cemetery when the older girl tries to follow her.

Then someone tells Ali about a girl who disappeared the last summer that her aunt and mother spent at the lake as children. Could she be the one in the photo?  The one Ali’s mother won’t discuss and her aunt claims not to remember?

Hahn has written a horror story in the old-style sense of the word.  This isn’t a story full of blood and gore.  Instead it is a mystery full of deep, dark atmosphere.  There is obviously something wrong and the question is simple — will Ali figure out what it is before something awful happens?

This is an excellent middle grade novel and middle school readers will definitely identify with Ali who is trying to be mature and responsible but simply can’t keep all of the adults in her life happy.

This might not be the best choice for a young reader who scares easily but this story is not gory although it is spooky in the very best ghost-story tradition.  An excellent choice for a summer read.


March 27, 2014

Wake Up Missing by Kate Messner

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 1:19 am by suebe2

Wake Up Missing
by Kate Messner
Walker Books for Young Readers

Cat just wants to be the person she was before her head injury.  Besides?  Who falls out of a tree trying to watch birds and gives herself a concussion?  Cat.  That’s who.

Things were bad enough before she fell out of the tree.  Nothing had been said, but she knew she was loosing her best friend who now liked soccer better than camping.  She didn’t need to be told.

But now she has headaches all the time.  Even when she tries to go to school she often has to come home sick.  Not only is Cat falling behind in school, but she’s a total clutz.  Yes, even worse.  She just gets dizzy and tips over.   She can’t focus when she tries to read and clay, which she used to turn into a variety of lifelike birds, is just a cold lump in her hand.

Then her mother hears about a brain injury clinic in Florida.  They help gets just like Cat but they take only a few patients at a time and Cat would have to stay there without her parents.  Still, it would be worth it if she could just be the girl she was before.

At the clinic, she meets sporty Sarah, a hockey player who fell at a game, football playing Quentin whose inability to do math could cost him a scholarship, and Ben, who was thrown from his horse.  As they begin treatments, they are all getting better, no one faster than Ben.  But then, when she’s trying to get a look into an osprey’s nest, Cat overhears a phone call.  One of her fellow patients has a terrible brain tumor from the treatments.  The doctors have decided not to tell anyone because it would jeapordize their program which suddenly sounds altogether sinister.

To find out what is going on, they have to gain access to the computer and make their way through the gator infested Everglades.

As they struggle to help each other, Cat realizes that, with each even she experiences, she is moving farther and farther from the girl she used to be, but that’s okay.  As long as she’s the one making the decisions.

As always, Messner’s book is a combination of cutting edge science and a great story.  This time the science involves both head injuries and gene therapy.  As always, the bad guys are a bunch of misguided adults who start out doing things for all the right reasons but don’t realize who will disappear in the process.

As edgy as this sounds, it is solidly middle grade.  There are some hints at romance but it is of the hand-holding variety and the danger is more often an ominous feeling than true danger.  Not that the bad guys don’t do bad things, but the majority of it occurs off camera.  The one bit of on-screen violence occurs when the bad guy is dealt with in an icky, Everglades kind of way.

An excellent choice for a young reader who wants action, adventure and science but isn’t ready for a young adult or adult novel.


April 4, 2013

Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:50 am by suebe2

Alchemy and Meggy Swann
by Karen Cushman
AR 5.6

Meggy doesn’t know why she’s been brought to the crowded, filthy streets of London.  Her father did send for her, but she’s never met him, not once in her entire life.  Why would he send for her now?

When she does meet him, it doesn’t go particularly well.  He’s expecting his new assistant to be a son and a son who can stride through the streets of London.  Not only is Meggy a girl, she is a girl who must lean on two sticks to walk.  Meggy’s strange waddling gait attracts enough attention that in her home village she was forced to stay out of sight lest the offend customers at the ale house run by her mother.

Fortunately, she has Roger, her father’s former assistant.  Roger teaches her how to navigate London’s sometimes crowded always filthy streets.  Meggy learns that there are places she cannot go on her own where a man wouldn’t think twice about stealing from her and even knocking her down.

But Meggy also learns that there are people who appreciate her quick wit and sharp tongue.  Before long, she’s made friends with the cooper across the street and a nearby printer.  Both of them sometimes use her help and always have a kind word.  Slowly, even her father seems to warm up a bit and he begins to let her help with his work — the quest to turn other metals into gold.

Unfortunately, making gold takes funds and to do this sometimes an alchemist has to take on morrally questionable jobs.   Meggy knows that she must warn his target but how does a poor, crippled girl gain the ear of a Baron?

This is another book with some amazing twists and turns in the plot.  You’ll have to read it for yourself to find out anything more because I refuse to give away all of Cushman’s secrets.

As always, Cushman has done an amazing amount of research in pulling together this tale.  Meggy is a sharp witted and sharp tongued heroine who holds her own in a world that has little sympathy for the weak or incapable but fortunately she also has help.

I listened to this one as an audio book and this would be a great family “read” for a car trip.  With both strong boy and girl characters, this book will appeal to readers of either gender although the appeal for girls will be more obvious.   History lovers, thespians and those with an eye for science will all find something to love in this particular story.



April 30, 2012

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:25 am by suebe2

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
by Jacqueline Kelly
Henry Holt
AR 5.3

Calpurnia is a bit of a tomboy and its no wonder.  She’s one of seven children and the only girl.  Not that she’s into what we consider tomboy activities, but she isn’t a girly girl and this a big deal.  Why?  Because it is 1899 and the Tate’s are a well-to-do Texas cotton growing family.  There are expectations.

For the most part, Calpurnia’s tom boy interests come through in her relationship with her grandfather.  Grandfather no longer runs the farm, having handed that over to Daddy, but spends his time in scientific pursuits.  He is a naturalists who walks the countryside for hours every day, observing everything from the local deer to the smallest micro-organisms in the water.  His ambition is to find a new species.

Having made a few observations of her own, Calpurnia needs help to take her knowledge any farther and the only person she can turn to is Grandfather, but none of the children know him particularly well and he, in turn, can only distinguish Calpurnia from the crowd.  Not only does he answer her questions, she is soon trailing him and helping him collect specimen from insects to plant life.  Upon closer examination at home, one plant seems to have an unusual leaf pattern.  Is this vetch a new species?  To be sure, they need to find a second specimen but Callie failed to note the location.  Can she find it again?

Even as Callie discovers the wonders of her grandfather’s scientific mind and the world around her, the twelve year old discovers just how narrow her world may become.  As the only daughter, she is the focus of her mother’s ambitions from “coming out” in society to cooking and the other womanly arts.

To her credit, Jacqueline Kelly doesn’t make things easy for Callie.  Her mother is horrified by Callie’s lack of skill in cooking and sewing and blocks some of the girl’s time with Grandfather.  But her oldest brother, knowing that his own plans don’t coincide with what his parents want for him, agrees to support her even if neither one of them know what this might entail.

Kelly doesn’t limit herself to exploring society’s expectations of Callie but also shows the struggle that one of her brother’s has with what is expected of a farm boy.

I don’t want to give away any more of the plot but suffice it to say that this book really pulled me in.  The character’s voice is strong and compelling — she’s a curious girl who wants more out of life.

Boy readers who are interested in nature and science will find something to like in this character although they may be put off by the cover which shows Callie’s cut paper silhouette against a colored background.  True to her time, the cover (which I actually like) is attractive but doesn’t hint at the fire in this character’s heart.



January 18, 2011

Kid vs. Squid by Greg van Eekhout

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 6:10 pm by suebe2

Kid vs. Squid

by Greg van Eekhout

Bloomsbury Books, 2010

AR 5.0

Thatcher Hill can’t believe his rotten luck.  His parents are in Asia, touring squirt gun factories, but Thatcher couldn’t go because he’d been exposed to a kangaroo rat virus and can’t leave the country.  Instead, he has so spend the summer with his weird Uncle Griswald at a seaside museum.  There, his chores include watering the plants, feeding Sinbad (the cat) and dusting the shrunken heads.

The museum houses a collection of odd-ball items like an octopus in tennis shoes, a tiny headless “mermaid” that looks like it was created from half a monkey.

But that’s not all that’s strange in Los Huesos.  One day the boardwalk community is a ghost town, and the next it is full of people, both tourists and oddly pushy workers.

Then someone breaks into the museum and steals the “What’s-It” — a box with a window that may or may not have a head inside.  That’s when things really start to get weird.

Soon Thatcher is running the board walk with a princess from Atlantis (the thief) and a hard core detective (the only other ‘normal’ kid who lives on the board walk), trying to catch a witch and stop a curse before they can be captured by giant lobster men, a squid with human eyes, or the kelp men.

This book is seriously laugh-out-loud funny, from the array of twisted creatures to the dialog.   Description comes on the fly as Thatcher and his friends tear across the land scape or down cluttered hallways, just enough to get you from one action packed scene to another.  For character description, you’ll have to rely on what they do and what they say because no time is spent on narrative in this fast moving story.

With three main characters (one boy and two girls) this story has a certain appeal to both boys and girls but the humor is a bit gross at times so if you have a squeamish kid on your hands you might want to pick another book (hint:  the What’s-It is actually a head in a box although she’s still alive even if she’s not kicking).

Every kid who has seen this book in my car or on the coffee table has commented on it and my son has requested that I not turn it back in until he’s had a chance to read it.  Why not see if it can get someone in your house to start turning pages?


July 9, 2010

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 10:40 pm by suebe2

Howl’s Moving Castle (AR 5 .4 )

by Diana Wynne Jones

Meek and dutiful, Sophie quietly takes her place as an apprentice in the family hat shop after Papa’s death.  The work is tedious, but Sophie has to do her part and all three daughters have been apprenticed out by Sophie’s well-meaning step-mother.  Besides, Sophie has a talent for hat making, a talent that seems almost magical.

But magic is something the people of her town fear.  Nearby is the Witch of the Waste, the subject of late night tales and fireside whispers.

Then a massive black castle floats into view.  Soon the town is abuzz with talk of Wizard Howl, a fierce sorcerer who robs young women of their hearts.

With the castle looming over the town, Howl is a much more immediate threat until the Witch shows up in the shop and turns Sophie into an old woman.

In a panic, Sophie flees the only home she’s ever known and, as night falls, barges into the only shelter in sight — the floating castle.  There she becomes Howl’s housekeeper who is more vain than fierce.  Still, for a man with so many short comings, he occasionally seems amazingly kind in his own mysterious way.

A hapless apprentice,

A scary scare crow,

A crafty fire demon,

and a dog who sometimes turns into a man come to people Sophie’s life even as she struggles to shake off the enchantment.

As an old woman, Sophie becomes fierce and strong, although Howl still accuses her of being too kind.  She also has a tendency to make short sighted decisions with disastrous though humorous results.   As she strives to sort things back out, she must decide who is more than they appear to be and which of the people in her life can be trusted, all before it is too late.

A fabulous fantasy adventure, Howl’s Moving Castle makes an excellent read for tweens who adore fantasy, feisty, strong-willed characters and humor.  For, at times deeply serious, at other times the book leaves you rolling with laughter, especially when Howl is under the weather.

It isn’t necessary to read these books (Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Air, and The House of Many Ways) in order, but it will certainly shed light on the characters of Sophie and Howl when they appear in The House of Many Ways.

This middle grade novel would also be suitable for advanced readers for, although love is a strong theme, it isn’t acted upon in anything but a romantic sense.


June 7, 2010

Stranded by Douglas E. Richards

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 9:59 pm by suebe2

by Douglas E. Richards
Stranded was a very good book!!
It is the third book in the thrilling Prometheus Project series.
The main characters were, as usual, Ryan and Regan Resnick.  The plot for this book is great —  Ryan and Regan discover the fourth dimension and use that knowledge to break  through a force field.  This enables Ryan to get back to Earth and get help for the stranded study expedition.  They are stuck on Isis, a planet trillions of light years from Earth.
The expedition was  stranded on Isis when scientist Michelle Cooper set a diversion up then made a break for it,  blocking they’re escape.  Yet, she is innocent.  Why?  Excuse me, this is a book review not a book! Go read it and find out!  I don’t want to spoil the whole plot for you.  Seriously.  I bet you’re reading this paragraph even though you were told it was a spoiler.
This book is good for all kids ages nine and older, (especally if you like science!  It is also good for adults.   You’ll love the action but some of the science, about the 4th dimension, is really hard to understand.  The author does a really good job explaining it but this is the kind of science they talk about in college!
Happy reading!!
(Guest Reviewer)
Son of SueBE (11 years-old.  I had a birthday!)

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