Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Middle Grade Monday a Day Late: Moonflower by Kacen Calendar

It has been a minute since posting and while I posted this to my school's learning platform yesterday, I didn't get around to the blog until today. Beginning-of-year craziness, I guess. 

Moonflower by Kacen Callender. 272 p. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., September, 2022. 9781338636598. (Own)

Middle Grade Monday features Moonflower by Kacen Callender. Twelve-year-old Moon is non-binary and selectively mute. In fact, they feel like an alien, not born of this world, but of the stars, where they escape to each night. When they tell their Earth mother that they don't want to be in this world any longer, she puts Moon into therapy.

This first-person narrative is a riveting, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful depiction of adolescent depression.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Middle Grade Monday: Buzzing written by Samuel Sattin and illustrated by Rye Hickman.

Buzzing written by Samuel Sattin and illustrated by Rye Hickman. 224 p. Little Brown, Ink/ Hachette Book Group, July, 2023. 9780316628419. (Review of finished purchased copy.) 

Middle Grade Monday features Buzzing written by Samuel Sattin and illustrated by Rye Hickman. Middle school student, Isaac has been recently diagnosed with OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and is seeing a therapist to try and control his impulses, such as ear tugging and negative self-talk. His thoughts constantly buzz, distracting him from school work. He takes refuge in his art and when a classmate notices how well he draws, they invite him to join their RPG, but his helicopter mother worries that fantasy games will worsen his OCD. Meanwhile, his sister feels ignored and resentful of all the attention Isaac gets.

The art reflects Isaac's outlook. The personified bees are bright yellow. School and home life are in blues and greys, but his happy times, such as when he's with his diverse group of friends are colorful. This is a relatable depiction of a mental illness that might be difficult for young people to understand. I know my students will love it. It's a terrific addition to your graphic novel collection.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Middle Grade Monday: White House Clubhouse by Sean O'Brien

White House Clubhouse by Sean O'Brien. 240 p. Norton Young Readers/ W.W. Norton & Company. October 3, 2023. 9781324152920. (Review of arc courtesy of publicist.)

Happy Labor Day Monday! I hope you are enjoying the long holiday weekend. We teachers were back on Friday and will be in school tomorrow preparing to welcome students back on Wednesday. The summer sure did fly by!

Middle Grade Monday features Whilte House Clubhouse by Sean O'Brien. It's hard enough to move house and start a new school, but when your mom has been elected president and your new house is the White House, it's even harder. Fifth grader Marissa feels self-conscious about her Secret Service guard and third grader Clara takes every opportunity to give her's a run for the money, including running to climb a tree on the grounds of the White House, where she discovers an old carving. Meanwhile, Marissa kicks a soccer ball in frustration, finds a secret passageway and gets stuck. 

Clara, ever the adventurer, pushes Marissa down the passageway and joins her. They find a secret room filled with antique toys and clothing and a document inviting them to join the White House Clubhouse. Once they sign the document, the lights go out and they find themselves transported back to 1903, when Teddy Roosevelt was president and his five children and their many pets ran roughshod over the place. President Roosevelt is about to embark on a train journey across the United States and two of his children want to come along, so they stow away along with Clara and Marissa. What ensues is a mad-cap adventure filled with hijinks, hilarity and history. It seems some greedy industrialists are intent on chopping down the redwood forests in the name of progress and the children will do everything in their power to save the redwood.

Readers who love a good adventure with cheeky characters and a bit of history will love this book. The art, which was not final is a nice addition. Young readers may not be aware that Theodore Roosevelt instituted the National Parks system one hundred and twenty years ago this year. They should find relevant parallels to present-day conservation efforts and perhaps be inspired to "dare greatly." 

About the author:
Sean O’Brien served as director of speechwriting to Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden, special assistant to President Barack Obama, and senior advisor to the Secretary of the Navy. He performed comedy with Chicago’s Second City and Annoyance theaters as well as DC’s Capital Fringe Festival while serving as a chief of staff in the US House of Representatives. He earned a BA with Honors in American Culture from Northwestern University and an MS in National Security and Strategic Studies from the US Naval War College. Sean teaches at Georgetown University in Washington DC, where he lives with his family. 

White House Clubhouse is Mr. O'Brien's debut. Many thanks to MBeatie Communications for the opportunity to review this arc. I can't wait to share it with my students. 

Please visit him online at seanobrienbooks.com

Instagram: @seanobrienbooks

Facebook: @seanobrienbooks

Twitter: @SeanOBrienBooks

Friday, August 25, 2023

#tbt: Holes by Louis Sachar

Image: Macmillan

Happy Thursday! #tbt features Holes by Louis Sachar. Holes was published in August of 1998, so it is twenty-five-years-old this month. Stanley Yelnats III's family is cursed and the curse has finally landed on him. Wrongly accused of stealing a pair of valuable sneakers, Stanley is headed to Camp Greenlake. This isn't camp. It's a juvenile detention facility. And there isn't a lake. That dried up over a hundred years ago. The juveniles detained there must did holes in the hot, Texas sun all day. They are looking for something, but they don't know what. The Warden is brutal and on a mission.

The narrative moves back and forth in time as well as between the U.S. and Latvia. The cast of characters is large and colorful and connected to each other. It's wry and funny, especially the dialogue between the boys.

Holes won the 1999 Newbery as well as the National Book Award and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction. It was named to numerous state book awards lists and the New York Times Notable Books list. It was adapted for film by Disney in 2003 and is remarkable in its faithfulness to the book. It's no wonder, because Mr. Sachar wrote the screenplay! He also had a cameo in the film. Holes is one of those rare Newbery winners that is also popular with kids.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Waiting on Wednesday: The Prisoner's Throne by Holly Black

Image: LBYR

The Prisoner's Throne by Holly Black. Stolen Heir Duology, Book 2. 384 p. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, March 5, 2024. 9780316592710.

Happy Wednesday! It's the penultimate Wednesday of my summer break and I'm gearing up to return to school. I was very excited to learn about this conclusion to the Stolen Heir duology some weeks ago and now that there is a cover, an absolutely gorgeous cover, I can post. I read The Stolen Heir with my ears in late April and missed my exit home from a trip to Boston because the ending was intense! 

The synopsis for The Prisoner's Throne is very short, but fans need only know that it's coming.

Publisher synopsis: An imprisoned prince. A vengeful queen. And a battle that will determine the future of Elfhame.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Middle Grade Monday (a day late): The Probability of Everything by Sarah Everett

The Probability of Everything by Sarah Everett. 336 p. Clarion Books/ HarperCollins Publishers, June, 2023. 9780063256552. (Review of finished purchased copy.)

Happy Tuesday! I posted this book talk yesterday and forgot to crosspost it here! Summer break is turning my brain to mush! Middle Grade Monday features The Probability of Everything by Sarah Everett. I usually pick books to read (and buy for the library) based on reviews and word-of-mouth on social media, but sometimes, I just go into a book blindly. For some reason, I chose to read this without much pre-knowledge. I just kept seeing it popping up on social media. Man, did this book blindside me! This might be my favorite middle grade book of the year for the sheer ingenuity of the plot and the utterly endearing characters, especially our narrator, Kemi, who is a science nerd obsessed with probability.

I've spent the last half hour deciding whether or not to add more to this uncharacteristically short book talk and decided to leave it short. Discover it for yourself. Hand it to your readers who love sad. I usually end my book talks on my school's learning platform with, "Happy reading!" I didn't yesterday. This is not a happy read. It's a gut-punch; but it's exquisite. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Waiting on Wednesday: Spying on Spies: How Elizebeth Smith Friedman Broke the Nazis' Secret Code by Marissa Moss

Spying on Spies: How Elizebeth Smith Friedman Broke the Nazis' Secret Code by Marissa Moss. 224 p. Abrams Books for Young Readers/ Abrams, March 12, 2024. 9781419767319.

Happy Wednesday! I just looked at the calendar and noticed that students will be back in school in three Wednesdays! We teachers are back on the first for two teacher workdays bookending the Labor Day weekend. Summer break is winding down! My summer reading has contained more than the usual big books written for adults, so I am way behind for my GR goal for the year. 

Waiting on Wednesday features Spying on Spies: How Elizebeth Smith Friedman Broke the Nazis' Secret Code by Marissa Moss. I am super-excited to read this not only because I enjoy Ms. Moss' books, but also because I learned about Elizebeth Smith Friedman through a picture book! #nevertoooldforpicturebooks! Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Smith Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars by Laurie Wallmark is part of my sixth grade picture book biography unit and a popular choice among sixth grade students! I always tell students that a picture book biography can inform, but also inspire reading further. Ms. Moss' fuller length biography will be the perfect next step for students.

Her picture book biography of Allan Pinkerton, The Eye That Never Sleeps, is also popular in the unit, and I really enjoyed her biography of Lise Meitner, The Woman Who Split the Atom.

Spying on Spies isn't due out until March 12, 2024, but that leaves plenty of time to read Ms. Moss' other biographies. Here's the publisher synopsis:

One of the founders of US cryptology who would eventually become one of the world’s greatest code breakers, Elizebeth Smith Friedman (1892–1980) was a brilliant mind behind many important battles throughout the 20th century, saving many lives through her intelligence and heroism. Whip-smart and determined, Elizebeth displayed a remarkable aptitude for language and recognizing patterns from a young age. After getting her start by looking for linguistic clues to the true authorship of Shakespeare’s writings, she and her husband, William Friedman, were tasked with heading up the first government code-breaking unit in America, training teams and building their own sophisticated code systems during the lead-up to World War I.

Elizebeth’s solo career was even more impressive. She became the Treasury Department’s and Coast Guard’s first female codebreaker and created her own top-notch codebreaking unit, where she trained and led many male colleagues. During Prohibition in the 1920s, her work solving and intercepting coded messages from mobsters and criminal gangs lead to hundreds of high-profile criminal prosecutions, including members of Al Capone’s gang. Her crowning achievement came during World War II, when Elizebeth uncovered an intricate network of Nazi spies operating in South America, a feat that neither law enforcement nor intelligence agencies had been able to accomplish. Despite her unparalleled accomplishments, she was largely written out of history books and overshadowed by her husband. Only in very recent years has her name begun to receive the attention it deserves, including the US Coast Guard naming a ship in her honor and the US Senate passing a 2019 resolution to honor her life and legacy.

Back matter includes codes for kids to learn!