August 29, 2018

Breakout by Kate Messner

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:13 am by suebe2

by Kate Messner

“Welcome to the Adirondacks!”  The sign on the grocery store welcomes visitors and residents alike and it fits how Nora Tucker thinks of her home town, Wolf Creek.  It is a friendly, welcoming place except for when it isn’t.

School is almost out for the summer when Elidee Jones joins the class.  Everyone is working on their contributions for the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule and prepping for the mile-long run that is part of track and field day at the school. Nora is ready to win that race and uphold family tradition.  But Elidee is fast, faster than Nora.

As if having Elidee threaten her plans wasn’t enough, two inmates break out of the prison where Nora’s father works as warden.  The escape brings in the media and everyone is questioning how things are run. How could this have happened? Whose to blame?

With two felons on the lose, the community is thrown into turmoil.  Kids aren’t allowed to play outside, Nora’s dad is never home because he’s always at the prison and Elidee and her mom can’t visit the prison where her brother Troy is an inmate.  Visits are suspended and the prisoners are being kept in their cells.

That’s it on the plot folks because you are going to want to explore this for yourself.  I don’t want to give away the plot!

Messner tells the story through letters, interviews and recorded conversations, all things that have been turned over for the time capsule.  Unfortunately, the prions break makes residents questions everything and everyone.  And that’s one of the things that I loved about this book.  It asks who society sees as “good” vs who is sees as “bad.”  It also questions why we are willing to let “good” people get by with abusing “bad” people.

Cleary, the book is also a call for social justice. It openly questions the racial make up of our prisons, both the guards and the prisoners.

But it would also be an excellent tool for bringing poetry into the classroom. Much of Elidee’s part of the story is told through poems as she emulates the styles of Nikki Grimes, Jacqueline Woodson and more.

This is simply a book that should be in every classroom, every school library and every home book shelf.  It is just that relevent.



September 6, 2017

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:43 pm by suebe2

rump the true story of rumplestiltskinRump:
The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin
by Liesl Shurtliff
Knopf Books for Young Readers

When your name sets up your destiny, you want a good name, a great name, a name that makes people take notice.  In a good way.

Unfortunately, Rump’s mother was very sick when he was born.  She whispered his name to the newborn child but Rump was all anyone heard.  So Rump he became.

Do I really need to explain why this is a bad name to have?  No, I didn’t think so.

But life was okay.  Rump’s grandmother loved him dearly.  And he had one friend – a girl named Red, a name as fiery as his temper and only a little better than his own.  But food is scarce and if you don’t find gold in the mines your family will go hungry.

Rump has to feed his grandmother.  She’s simply too weak to survive the winter.  So in spite of her warning he gets out his mother’s spinning wheel.  He doesn’t know how.  He doesn’t know why, but he can spin straw into gold.  With gold, he can keep the only family he knows alive.

But with each whir of the wheel, Rump spins himself deeper into the curse.

A have to admit that it took me a little while to get into this one.  But once I did?  I was captured in a rumple, a tangle of threads, that wouldn’t let me go.

Spinning straw into gold may seem like a blessing but it is truly a curse and Rump knows that he needs help to break it.  He leaves behind his village and sets off in search of the town where his mother grew up.  Surely someone who knew her will be able to help him out.

Shurtliff has spun a story that is part fairy tale and fantasy and part mystery and tale of discovery.  With each fact Rump finds about his mother, he learns something about himself.  With each person he meets, he learns about the world he lives in. He learns about the difference between fact and fear.  He learns about friendship and trust.

Although this story involves a character who traipse across the country side, it is comfortably middle grade.  Young readers who enjoy fractured fairy tales but are ready for something beyond the realm of the picture book, this book is a must.


October 14, 2016

The Best Man by Richard Peck

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 3:49 pm by suebe2

Tthe-best-manhe Best Man
by Richard Peck
Dial Books for Young Readers

I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive when I picked up Peck’s latest offering.  I’m a sucker for his historic fiction.  I absolutely love it.  Somehow I had consistently missed his contemporary novels.  What can I say?  It means I can be a bit narrow in my focus.  Still, I requested it at the library and eagerly sat down to read it Wednesday night.  I was only a chapter in when my husband turned off the light.  But I picked it up Thursday morning and read all the way through to the back cover.  It is that good.

Archer is a lucky kid and he knows it.  Yes, he has to put up with bullies — including the one that pulled a knife on him in the first grade.  And he’s had his share of heartache like when his grandpa had a stroke.  But he’s also got a lot of great people in his life.  The three men he looks up to most are:

  • His Grandpa, a great architect who walks him to school.
  • His Dad who restores antique cars and let’s Archer help.
  • His Uncle Paul whose just great.

Then he meets role model #4 and things start to get interesting.  Mr. McLeod is movie star handsome but when he shows up to his first day at work (student teaching) in full camo since he’s on his way to the National Guard for the weekend, the secretary panics.  Soon the school is on full lock down because of . . . a uniform.

Mr. McLeod is the most interesting not-quite-a-teacher that Archer has ever had and soon he’s seeing more and more of the man.  He and Uncle Paul seem to have struck up a friendship.  Finally Uncle Paul points out to Archer that he (Uncle Paul) is gay.  Archer’s a little surprised because he really isn’t the most observant guy ever. Still, Uncle Paul is Uncle Paul and if Mr. McLeod is what’s good for Uncle Paul, that’s good enough for Archer.

Before the book is over, it is obvious that these men are all helping Archer become the Best Man he can be.

As is always the case with Pecks books, he peppers them with amazingly funny and eccentric characters.  There’s Archer’s best friend Lynnette, whose unapologetically herself both before and after fat camp, and temporally wheel-chair bound Hilary who has personality to spare.

Young readers who enjoy getting to know the characters in their books and a good laugh will love Peck’s book. But it isn’t all laughter.  There are difficult moments and tears but  there is also laughter and love and hope.  I absolutely loved Archer in part because he can be so clueless.  He’s the perfect character for any kid who has been surprised by a family announcement or a revelation from his best friend.

But if your young reader doesn’t get anything done until the book is read, don’t blame me.  You were warned it could happen.


September 2, 2016

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 1:40 am by suebe2

some kind of happinessSome Kind of Happiness
by Claire Legrand
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

There are all kinds of things that Finley Hart doesn’t want to discuss. Fortunately, Finley is a compulsive list maker (hello, my friend!) so you don’t have to go too far to discover what these things are:

• Her parents, who are having problems. (But they pretend like they’re not.)
• Being sent to her grandparents’ house for the summer.
• Never having met said grandparents.
• Her blue days—when life feels overwhelming, and it’s hard to keep her head up. (This happens a lot.)

Finley can’t believe it is really happening.  She’s always known that somewhere her father had a family but she’s also known that they aren’t something you talk about.  Try and Dad shuts you down.  So she’s understandably a bit apprehensive when her parents announce that they have problems to work out and are taking her to spend the summer with her father’s family.

For a kid with undiagnosed depression and anxiety this is a big deal.  A huge deal. An earth shattering deal.

Finley deals with it the same way she deals with everything.  She retreats into her journal.  But where her parents were busy with their careers, her cousins try to be understanding but they want to get to know her.  Soon she connects with fellow 11-year-old Gretchen and pulls her into the world of the Everwood.

But is isn’t just Finley who changes.  As Finley notices some odd things and starts to ask questions, she pulls the cousins into this questioning mode.  Soon they are hanging out with the Bailey boys, a trio of brothers that the cousins know only as reputed trouble makers.  But Finley sees something else and starts to ask why the Bailey family has this reputation.

I’m not going to write any more about the plot because there is too much that I don’t want to give away.  This is an excellent book, unless you can’t stand it.  A writing buddy demanded that I read it.  It was, in her words, the ultimate bummer book with mental illness, cancer, divorce, hidden crimes and more.  It was just too much.

My take?  Wow.  Legrand has worked in mental illness, cancer, divorce, hidden crimes and more.  It is just too much but in an amazing way. This isn’t a book you are going to feel half way about.

What did I love?

Legrand has given young readers an accurate portrayal of a peer dealing with mental illness.  That’s a huge deal.

This is also an accurate portrayal of what happens when a family is divided by secrets.  Another huge deal.

But it is also a story of love and bravery and doing the right thing.  It is a hopeful take on the idea that even the most broken among us can make connections with others and find a way to move forward.  It is a powerful message for young readers who may need a bit of a hope in a world gone grey with depression, divorce or anxiety.

Wow.  Just wow.


May 18, 2015

The Graham Cracker Plot by Shelley Tougas

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:14 am by suebe2

The Graham Cracker Plot
by Shelley Tougas
Roaring Brook Press

Judge Henry told Daisy to write everything that she thinks and feels about her attempt to break The Chemist out of Club-Fed (prison). Mom thinks Daisy should be able to have it done it just a few nights but not-quite-twelve year old Daisy (she refuses to go by Aurora Dawn) has been keeping things in and she has a lot to say.

But she’s sure of one thing above all else – the whole thing is her friend Graham’s fault. After all, the break out was his idea.

Life isn’t easy when your dad is a resident of Club-Fed. But Daisy gets to see him once a month and reassures herself with the fact that the one-time college turned minimum security prison isn’t all that bad.  There aren’t any serious criminals there and she’s sure The Chemist is innocent.

Then one Saturday she finds him with half his face swollen and a missing tooth.  Apparently he had a disagreement with some of his fellow prisoners.  Daisy is so upset that she ignores the “no touching” rule and climbs into his lap.  This earns her a six-month ban and a belly full of anger.  This anger feeds into the plan to spring the Chemist from Club-Fed.

As an adult reader I immediately realized that the Chemist didn’t accidentally set the house on fire doing a science experiment.  He was most likely cooking up some product for sale and distribution.  Daisy finds this out late in the took.  She’s also realized that Graham is often a better friend to her than she is to him and that Judge Henry may be strict but he knows a thing or two about truth and about people and even about her.

This book covers a lot of touch topics but it is still solidly middle grade.  The author moves the story along quickly and Daisy’s sassy, energetic voice keeps things from going to the dark side.

Don’t hold this book back from your young reader because it deals with these topics.  They will love it for the same reason that they love The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  They’ll love it because Tougas is willing to tell them tough truths about the world.


March 19, 2015

Playing with Fire by Bruce Hale

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 1:11 am by suebe2

Playing with Fire
by Bruce Hale
Disney/Hyperion Books

I’m a huge spy movie/novel fan so getting me to pick this one up was pretty easy.  It doesn’t hurt that it is written by Bruce Hale.  His sense of humor is tops and always keeps me laughing.  Yes, his target audience is the middle grade boy and that tells you all you need to know about what I find funny.

The book opens with Max Segredo standing on the lawn as fire trucks try to put out the fire.  His latest foster home has just gone up in flames.  Yes, his file claims he’s a pyro but he didn’t start the fire.  Not that that keeps anyone from blaming him.

Bouncing from one bad foster situation to another is a drag but its better than juvenile hall.  When his case worker picks him up, Max hopes juvie won’t be his next destination.  At least that’s what he hopes until they pull up in front of the grim, uninviting facade of the Merry Sunshine Orphanage.  Doors with multiple locks.  Security systems and an armed welcoming committee.  Max isn’t sure what he’s gotten into but he’s sure he needs to find a way out.

Max isn’t sure what is up at the orphanage.  Classes are far from normal.  Instead of reading or math, he has lock picking, surveillance and code breaking.  In code breaking, he deciphers the note someone has placed in his bag.  YOUR FATHER IS ALIVE.  Max may not be an orphan after all.

The action in this book is nonstop as Max and the other kids learn the skills they will need to become top-notch spies.  The toughest part isn’t lock picking or scaling walls but figuring out who is on your side.  Is it true that there are no good guys or bad guys but simply shades of grey?  Max ultimately has to decide just how important his friends are and how much he can forgive.

The themes in this book (loyalty and family) run deep but the story itself is fast-paced and full of irreverent humor.  With a host of characters, this book will appeal to a variety of readers.  It is listed for grades 3 to 7.  Younger readers won’t be put off by the hint of romance but these is “onscreen” violence and one death.  That said, it is not graphic or gory.  It is a fast read but has enough sub-plots and twists and turns to occupy a more advanced reader.

This is book one in a new series — School for S.P.I.E.S.  Fortunately book #2 is already out and I have it on request at the library.


August 1, 2014

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:38 am by suebe2

The Fourteenth Goldfish
by Jennifer Holm
Random House

When Ellie is in preschool, her teacher gives each child in the class a gold fish.  The explanation that she gives the parents is simple.  Goldfish don’t last very long and owning one will teach your child about life and death and loss.  To her amazement, Goldie lives for 7 years until one morning Ellie finds her fishing floating bellie up in its bowl.

Not only is this the day that Ellie finds her fish floating, it is also the day that she discovers that her mother has been replacing dead fish with live fish for 7 long years.  Goldie the First only lived for 2 weeks.  This was Goldie Unlucky 13.

Ellie is waiting for her mother to get home when she gets the news.  Mom might be a while.  She’s at the police station getting Ellie’s grandfather.  Ellie can’t imagine what kind of trouble her grandfather might have caused.  After all, he’s old.  What she isn’t expecting is her mother to return home with a thirteen year-old boy, a thirteen-year old boy who seems vaguely familiar, has out of control curly hair  just like hers and dresses like an old man.

Apparently, her grandfather’s lastest science experiment was a success.  Based on the regenerative properities of a certain jelly fish, he is once again a teenager and was caught entering his own labs.

As a teen, he is forced to attend middle school, a fate he bemoans.  Ellie finds herself drawn to him as he teachers her about the scientific method and the scientists who plied it to unlock the secrets of the universe and a world of possibilities.

While definitely science fiction, this book contains healthy doses of truth in both the realities of middle school (old frienships wane, while new are born) as well as the importance of love, family and being true to each other.  Ellie also learns that there are two sides to every story, including stories of scientific discover and the “good” of any invention.

This book may be a quick read, but it isn’t all light and air.  It will make you think and pop back into your mind as you read about the latest and greatest finds, guarenteed to improve the world and solve all our problems.





July 10, 2014

A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:33 am by suebe2

A Hitch at the Fairmont
by Jim Averbeck
Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Dazed and lost, Jack just goes through the motions at his mother’s memorial service.  Without a body to bury, all that he has of her there is a photo provided by her acting troupe. Where’s the aunt whose taking custody of him?  Jack expected her to show up at the service but she’s late, pulling up in a convertible with two wooden cases in the back.  Everything that belonged to him and his mother has been sorted and boxed up without any input from Jack who is wedged between these boxes in the back seat for the ride back to San Francisco.

Thus begins Jack’s new life.  Hateful Aunt Edith barely squeezes him into her life at the posh Fairmont Hotel.  She doesn’t even upgrade to a suite with a second bed.  He sleeps on the too-small sofa and takes care of her pet chinchilla, a weasly disagreeable creature named Muffin.  He does his best to do whatever task she gives him but can’t answer the question that she puts to him again and again — did his mother ever give him a string of numbers with no explanation.

One day Jack recognizes one of their “neighbors” in the hotel, a stocky, serious man named Alfred Hitchcock.  He’s in town scouting locations for a new movie and doesn’t really want to get involved when Jack discovers his aunt missing and a ransom note written in chocolates on the bed.   Finally, Jack convinces Hitchcock that he needs the director’s expertise in mystery, murder and mayhem to figure out what is going on before he is an orphan all over again.

Will they figure out what is going on before Jack becomes not just an orphan but a victim?

Although young readers may not know who Hitchcock is when they start reading the book, knowledge of his movies isn’t essential to the plot of the book.  That said, it is interesting to recognize the movie titles used as chapter titles and the locations Hitchcock is scouting.

Through his author’s note, Averbeck makes it clear that the public knew one Alfred Hitchcock, mysterious, dark and brouding, while his family and coworkers often found themselves confronted by his practical jokes and sense of humor.  Averbeck does a great job in bringing both of these figures onto the page to create a Hitchcock that middle grade readers can both identify with and adore.

The mystery is a fast-paced adventure, worthy of any Hitchcock novel and Jack a solid Hitchcock hero as his world is turned upside down even as he struggles to define his place in it.

This book is a bit meatier than your typical beach read but it is an excellent choice both for young mystery lovers and older Alfred Hitchcock fans.





July 30, 2012

See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:42 am by suebe2

See You at Harry’s
by Jo Knowles
Candlewick Press
AR 3.6

Have you ever started a novel thinking that your main character was going to be dealing with Problem X only to have Problem Y come galloping to the forefront?  That’s basically what happened with See You at Harry’s.

Fern feels invisible.   Sometimes it really bothers here — like when her three-year-old brother hogs all of Mom’s attention.  But sometimes invisibility is a good thing especially when Dad is cooking up a new idea to publicize Harry’s, the family restaurant.

From an ad featuring horrible t-shirts and her lisping little brother to his messy-faced image on the side of the restaurant’s delivery truck, Fern is sure her Dad’s ideas are designed to embarrass.  At times like that, invisibility is almost okay.

But then she starts riding the bus to school with her older brother.  She and Holden are super close and she doesn’t get it when he tells her not to sit next to him on the bus.  “Act like you don’t even know me.”  Fern can’t figure out what is going on until she watches two boys flick cuff her brother’s ears and make kissing noises at him.   Holden isn’t exactly out of the closet but Fern can’t figure out why the bus driver doesn’t do a thing.  When the boys decide to pick on her, Fern takes matters into her own hands and punches one of them in the nose.

But this isn’t a book about bullying or being gay.  It’s a book about being who you are, accepting your strengths and your weaknesses and managing to love and respect yourself in spite of all that baggage.

I’m hesitant to say much more about the plot because what happens is just to horrible and a huge surprise.

That said, this is a truly amazing book.  Sad, yes.  But amazing.

In spite of the low reading level (AR 3.6) this is not a grade school book.  There isn’t any on-screen sex and there really isn’t even any explicit talk about sex but there is a lot that is implied.  It doesn’t happen but various characters worry about what might happen or what could happen.

This is definitely a must read.  There is so much about tragedy, fitting in, accepting yourself, accepting others and knowing that we all have limits.  Thank you to Jo Knowles — so many of these scenes had to be really hard to write but she had the guts to put down the story that had to be told.  I just hope you have the guts to share it.


February 6, 2012

The Seventh Level by Jody Feldman

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:40 am by suebe2

The Seventh Level
by Jody Feldman

Travis Raines has a knack for getting into trouble.  Its not like he’s a bad kid or anything — he’d never do anything to hurt anyone else.  But he’s an active, strong minded 7th grader and when he sees something that needs doing, he does it.

When someone throw his best friend’s autographed ball cap out the window and it gets caught on a nail?  Naturally, Travis heads up to the roof and knocks the cap free.  Its just his rotten luck that the assistant principal shows up.

Now she’s keeping an eye on him and that’s bad because she isn’t the only one watching Travis.  A secret school society, known as the Legend, has issued Travis a series of challenges.  Pass them and he’s in.  But how can he hang a banner, drop things in an unused locker and dig up some plantings without getting in trouble?  Slowly but surely Travis starts to wonder if the Legend isn’t the only one dropping challenges off for him to complete.  And what if some of these challenges lead to  nothing but trouble?

This is an excellent book for anyone who loves a good puzzle.  Some of them are numeric.  Others are word based.  But all in all they are great fun and a huge challenge.  I managed to figure out all but one.

Then there’s the mystery.  Who’s in the Legend?  And if the Legend isn’t issuing all of the challenges, who is behind the others?  As Travis unravels this one, he learns that people aren’t always who you think they are.  You have to know the story behind the story.

This book is a great boy book — lots of action and suspense.  But with a strong female character, and all of those great puzzles, this is also a book that go-get-’em girls would love.

Feldman has done it again.  Pick up this book and puzzle through it with the tween in your life.


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