Walking With Miss Millie

REVIEW: Walking with Miss Millie by Tamara Bundy

Summary


Alice does not want to be in Rainbow, Georgia. She wants to go home to Columbus, Ohio. How will her dad, who “hates” Rainbow, ever come back to them if they aren’t there?

But Alice’s grandmother is having memory issues. She needs help, so Alice and her mom and brother are in Rainbow for the foreseeable future.

Georgia in June, 1968, means hot and humid weather, “party” phone lines and racial tension. When Alice accidentally eavesdrops on her grandmother’s neighbor, Miss Millie, on the party line, she has to go apologize. That leads to daily walks with Miss Millie and her dog, Clarence. What starts as a burden becomes something Alice looks forward to as she gets to know their elderly African-American neighbor. And their talks help Alice learn some things about herself along the way.

Review


This story was perfection. The heart was present from page one. Alice is an earnest, thoughtful character. Like any good 10-year-old, she jumps to conclusions about folks at times, but she’s also teachable and honest. Miss Millie is wise. And the author does a terrific job of “showing” rather than telling how Miss Millie feels and what she thinks but doesn’t say. The entire cast of characters is fantastic, and I quickly fell in love with them.

The story centers on Alice and the move to Rainbow as well as what that move means to her relationship with her absent father. But it’s also about the evolution of race relations from the late 1800s to 1968. It’s about family and loss and faith. I cried several times in the story as the emotional pieces are pitched perfectly for the characters. I can’t recommend this highly enough!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Apartment 1986

REVIEW: Apartment 1986 by Lisa Papademetriou

Summary


Callie’s in something of a new stage of life. Her dad recently got a new job, and the family moved to NYC. Her mom’s given up her social work job to start a soap business. Callie has changed schools and is trying to find her way with a new crowd.

When Callie’s dad loses his new job, everything starts to shift again. Callie feels the need to keep up with her friends which right now means $250 for a concert ticket. But her parents are tense, and this is NOT the time to ask for that kind of money. But the money is only one issue at school. She’s also having issues with her history teacher. And if she gets one more tardy, the school will call her parents.

When Callie oversleeps one day, she decides to skip school all together (text in an excuse, avoid another tardy) and spend the day at a museum. It’s educational! She’ll go back tomorrow. But one day becomes two and then becomes a pattern. The time away from school temporarily postpones her issues there, and gives her time for a new friend, time to reconsider an old friendship, and time to gain new insights into her family. But problems rarely disappear when you avoid them.

Review


This was delightful! I loved Callie. She’s smart and earnest and a little quirky. Her friendship with Cassius is great. While she doesn’t share much with him about the things swirling in her life, he’s a sounding board for her – a safe place to think.

I loved Callie’s family, too. The family side of Callie’s story – the relationships, the things she learns about her family – was my favorite part. I discovered great layers to the characters as the story went on. I found the sections where the family talks about Callie’s uncle were really well-done.

In some ways, as I was reading, I felt the story meandered in several different directions. There’s the family stuff and the money stuff and the new vs. old friends stuff and then the Callie-centric stuff. It all holds together, though, with Callie at the center of it all, figuring out life one step at a time. Loved it!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Silver Moon of Summer

REVIEW: The Silver Moon of Summer by Leila Howland

Summary


The Silver Sisters are back in Pruett, Massachusetts to spend a couple weeks with their Aunt Sunny. Marigold (14), Zinnie (13), and Lily (7) are ready for another summer of East Coast adventures and self-discovery.

Marigold auditions for a part in a TV show shooting in Pruett. While the TV filming is making life difficult for her maybe-boyfriend, Peter, it gives Marigold a chance to make a new friend who will be at her performing arts school in the fall.

Zinnie is going to spend the summer working on her blog. She hopes the school writing assignment will help her earn the job of Editor in Chief for the school’s literary journal. But she has to find adventures around Pruett to write about.

Lily has become an animal expert over the last year. She loves her naturalist camp at Pruett, and she teaches her family all sorts of things about animals. But an even bigger job this summer is reminding her big sisters not to fight. Their fights have caused major trouble over the last two summers. Is it even possible for Marigold and Zinnie to NOT fight for two whole weeks?

Review


This is a lovely third installment for this terrific middle grade series about family and identity. The girls have grown up nicely over the three books. They each have found their own niche (acting, writing, science), but the push and pull between Marigold and Zinnie is still there. Sisters so close in age vacillate  between being best friends and needing their own space. Marigold and Zinnie seem very normal in their sisterly dynamic.

Romance is a bigger factor in this story than in previous books as both Marigold and Zinnie hope their friendships with Peter and Max respectively can become something more this summer. This is still kept at an appropriate level (hand holding, declarations of “like,” quick kisses) for the book’s target audience.

These books are ideal summer reads – the setting is perfect – or fall reads for kids who want to relive the freedom of summer. The content is realistic, and the conflicts keep the story moving while still being “light” in tone. Great fun in store for readers of all three books in this series. (Some readers/families may raise a red flag at the use of a Ouija board by the girls in one scene.) I’ve been recommending this series to a lot of folks this year.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Mr Lemoncello's Great Library Race

REVIEW: Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race by Chris Grabenstein

Summary


Mr. Lemoncello has a new game for Kyle Keely and the other members of the Lemoncello Library board of trustees. The winners – and there will only be two of them – will get to travel to libraries across North America and share new holographic exhibits with them. The game is Mr. Lemoncello’s Fabulous Fact-Finding Frenzy.

Twenty-four kids in two-person teams will compete for five slots for the Frenzy. In the Frenzy, those players will research five historic figures who are going to be honored with special exhibits at the library. The winners will also get the first copies of Mr. Lemoncello’s newest holographic game!

While the kids are competing for fun prizes, rival game makers have come to Ohio to stir up trouble for Mr. Lemoncello. The kids will need everything they are learning about research if they have any hope of saving their library and their friend.

Review


I can’t think of a better middle grade series to hand to any and every kid you know than the Mr. Lemoncello books. When I was teaching, these books clicked with a variety of readers (including adults). This is the third installment of a book- and library-loving series that I would recommend for home, classroom and library use across the board.

This book shakes up some of the usual characters. Kyle is still front and center – and I love him. He’s a flawed character, but earnest and teachable. Fans of the series will recognize other kids in the story from previous books. But Kyle gets a new partner in puzzle-solving this time around. It’s a great way to see him grow!

The story reminded me of book two in this series and a little of the Harry Potter books in that Mr. Lemoncello is in danger but he steps back to let the kids work to save the day kind of like Dumbledore often does in Harry Potter. Mr. Lemoncello trusts the kids with his livelihood, his reputation, and his future. And the kids rise to the occasion. I thoroughly enjoyed this, especially the final conversation Kyle has a the very end of the book. So fun!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Well That Was Awkward

REVIEW: Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail

Summary


Gracie is a fairly typical 8th grader. She has a couple best friends and a larger circle of kids she hangs out with. Her parents are mostly okay, except they are overprotective. She can’t really go anywhere alone, she’s not allowed to have a pet, and she doesn’t feel like she can show anyone her true feelings. She’s smart, a reader, and she cares about charity, raising money for turtle rescues and book charities.

But things start to change in 8th grade. Gracie starts wondering about her parents and how they survived what happened to her sister. And she wonders what her role is in her family in light of her sister. Then there are the crushes. Gracie finds herself in a Cyrano DeBergerac-like role between her best friend Sienna and Gracie’s own maybe-crush AJ. And, in typical middle school fashion, there’s a stuck up mean girl and plenty of questions and doubts about physical traits and identity. When all of those pieces collide – family, friends, crushes, and mean girls, Gracie may find herself standing alone.

Review


I ADORED this! When I tried to summarize it, I realized how much is going on in this story! It’s hard to put it all together and keep it concise. But in the reading, it all hangs together perfectly!

Gracie tells the story in first person, so you get her stream-of-consciousness thinking, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Her “voice” is excellent! It has a funny, fast pace to it that really clicked for me. If this book existed when I was a teen, I would have read it over and over until it fell apart. I would have completely identified with Gracie.

I enjoyed the whole ensemble in this story. The development between Gracie and her parents is lovely and touching. I liked the evolution in the group of girls around Gracie, watching them wrestle with growing up and identity. And her other best friend, Emmett, is so cool and endearing.

This was an absolute delight! I hugged the book when I finished. I will be recommending this one often and reading it again in the future.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Legend of Shadow High

REVIEW: The Legend of Shadow High by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

Summary


Something is going on at Monster High. First, Frankie Stein and Draculaura’s presentation for school is a disaster! Then there’s a strange plopping sound like leaking pipes. And finally there’s a reference to a mysterious place called Shadow High. But no one seems to know what that is.

When Frankie and Draculaura attempt to find Shadow High on the Mapalogue, they set off an earthquake and discover a land they’ve never heard of – Ever After.

Things are strange at Ever After High. There are earthquakes, strange old women in the school, whispers of something call “Shadow High,” and Maddie has gone missing. Maybe the Evil Queen is up to something! But surely not. She’s in mirror prison. Isn’t she?

When Draculaura and Frankie meet Apple White and Raven Queen, there’s lot of screaming (monsters!) and disbelief (fairy tales!). But the only way they can figure out the mysteries of Shadow High will be to work together.

Review


Once upon a time, I read the first two books in the Ever After High series. I loved them! They were fun and fit in with my love of fractured fairy tales. I moved away from the series after the Wonderland story line grew (Wonderland is just not my style) and when the author changed. Now, Shannon Hale is back, this time drawing characters from Monster High into the Ever After High world.

The fun, quirky things from Every After High – the creative language (“hexcellent” and “pin-the-horn-on-the-unicorn”) and narrator commentary, etc. – are back. So the structure of this book felt familiar. As an adult, I find that sometimes these cute little plays on words can get old, but my students adored them.

I loved seeing the Ever After High characters again. Raven has always been my favorite. The new Monster High characters were a neutral piece for me. I didn’t dislike them or like them. They added a “diversity” layer to the story as both pairs of girls had to get past their prejudices. But Monster High is not a franchise I am familiar with, so I have no previous contact with these characters and their stories.

The overall story of the book was interesting. Not what I was expecting. There was a lot  about the structure and process of reading and books – about the separation of readers and story, the “fourth wall,” and the role of narrators, etc.. It was a clever idea, but it didn’t click for me.

There’s an excellent twist to the structure towards the end of the book. That redeemed the reading experience for me. I literally sat up taller in my chair, and hunched over the book to see how the structure change would play out. It was a fun twist that fit with what was happening in the story – it wasn’t just tossed in randomly.

I think this book will click for fans of the original Ever After High books and fans of Monster High as well as kids who love both.

Thanks to Little, Brown books for an ARC of this story for review purposes.

Rating: ♥♥♥

Golden Nutmeg

REVIEW: The Golden Nutmeg by Christopher Tozier

Summary


Revel Harrison loves soccer. Video games or school he could take or leave, but he eats, sleeps and breathes soccer.

His team, the Fighting Pomelos, isn’t very good. They have moments of brilliance, but their coach is a volunteer who doesn’t know a lot about technique. He doesn’t really even know the names of the kids on the team.

But Revel has potential. His friends know it. So does the coach. The local travel team is even scouting him. But travel teams are expensive. There’s the uniform and specific equipment and all sorts of fees. On a regular day, that would be a lot of money. But Revel’s mom just lost her job. And then his dad loses his job, too. Maybe it would be better if Revel just stuck with the Pomelos. Maybe soccer isn’t all Revel thought it was.

Review


I received a copy of this book from the author along with a review request. In return, I promised an honest review of the book.

This story is very heavy on soccer details. In 165 pages, there are five games and several practices. I think this would appeal to kids who love soccer and play it a lot. They’ll understand the different positions and game rules and maybe be able to picture the action. Kids who don’t play soccer may have a harder time engaging with this book.

The story around the games felt thin to me. There were things going on with Revel’s parents and then another plot point with a guy on the soccer team. I didn’t feel those parts got the same attention as the soccer games. Since I am not big on soccer, it was harder for me to enjoy the story without a more balanced treatment of the different plot points.

In the hands of the right reader, this could be a great story. I was not that reader. In a school setting, I might have had luck finding an audience for this, but it would not have had wide-spread appeal for my students. My rating for this one is based on finding readers who love soccer like the main character does. For a more general audience, my rating would have to be a little lower.  This seems to be marketed as more of a middle grade story, but I feel this would be a better fit for a younger reader who needs a simpler story line or perhaps an older elementary student who struggles to stick with a longer, more intricate plot.

Rating: ♥♥♥

Real Friends

REVIEW: Real Friends by Shannon Hale

Summary


Shannon Hale shares stories of her elementary school years, mostly focused on school friendships in this graphic novel memoir. Girls’ friendships in those years can be fraught with cliques, and girls can get caught up in the ebb and flow of in-crowds and outcasts. Shannon shares experiences from both sides of that continuum. She also faced backlash at home from an older sister who was also struggling with social relationships and friend issues.

Review


This is a lovely graphic novel memoir along the lines of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile or Cece Bell’s El Deafo. If I was still teaching, I would want to have multiple copies of this one because my students would keep this in circulation all year.

For every Queen Bee clique leader in school, there are 3-10 girls who feel the rush of acceptance and the sting of being shunned that cycles in these circles. Even though Shannon’s story is anchored in the late 70s and early 80s pop culture (Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman, Michael Jackson, Chicago 17), the friend experiences – and some sibling experiences – span generations.

The art work is beautiful and will grab the attention of graphic novel fans. Also, the end notes explain some of the story factors – anxiety and minor OCD behaviors – as well as sharing a little of the “epilogue” that is Shannon’s life today.

This book can give readers a sense of hope and feeling of being understood. They will hopefully glean that they are not alone in the struggle. Perfect for school and home libraries.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Greetings from Witness Protection

REVIEW: Greetings from Witness Protection by Jake Burt

Summary


Charlotte Trevor is in 7th grade, oldest child of Harriet and Jonathan Trevor, big sister to Jackson. She’s an average student. She plays on the basketball team at school, but they’ve never won a game. She has a handful of good friends, but she tries to blend into the background.

That’s because Charlotte Trevor doesn’t exist.

None of the Trevors really do. Harriet and Jonathan and Jackson are in Witness Protection because Harriet testified against her mob family. Charlotte’s real name is Nikki. She’s been in foster care and out-of-home placements for years after her grandmother died. But the US Marshals think Nikki is book smart and street smart enough to pose as part of this family so they can become a family of four if anyone’s trying to find them.

But the rules for secrecy and safety are strict. And Nikki’s past is no joke. There’s a lot for her to overcome if she’s going to pull this off. Everyone’s lives depend on her getting this right.

Review


I have loved the idea of this book since I first heard the premise. But the actual execution of the story exceeded my expectations. There’s lots of humor and lots of heart to this story. I loved it from start to finish.

Nikki/Charlotte is a fantastic character. When you consider all she does to stay under the radar at her new school, you get the idea that she is wicked smart. She has some unhealthy coping mechanisms from her past, but her past doesn’t make her angry or keep her from making attachments to others. She’s confident and wise. She uses her past to help in her new “assignment” with the Marshals.

The story holds together so well. There’s the witness protection piece, the piece that focuses on Nikki’s past, and then the present piece of a 13-year-old girl (who comes off a little older) trying to negotiate a new family and a new middle school. I was thrilled with how it all clicked into place. I recommend this book highly!

Many thanks to the folks at Feiwel & Friends and Netgalley for providing an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review. It was a treat to read this book!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

The Perfect Score

REVIEW: The Perfect Score by Rob Buyea

Summary


As their sixth grade year begins, these five kids have a lot going on:

  • Gavin loves football but isn’t so hot on school. His dad dropped out to take over the family business, so Gavin thinks that is his destiny, too, unless football gives him another choice.
  • Randi’s whole life is about gymnastics. And early on she enjoyed that. But now she’s practicing 6 days a week, including three hours on school nights. But she’s somehow supposed to keep her grades up, too. And her mom wants her to ace the CSAs (state standardized tests) so she can be placed in the highest levels in 7th grade.
  • Natalie is the teacher’s pet of the class. She’s never really had friends before but things may be starting to change this year. Once she has friends, what is Natalie willing to do for them?
  • Scott is crazy smart but also something of a naive goof ball. He doesn’t realize some of the guys in his class aren’t teasing him because they like him. They are mocking him.
  • Trevor doesn’t care about much more than cutting up with his friends at school and steering clear of his older brother and his crew at home. Those guys have always told Trevor he was a mistake. And Trevor has started to believe them.

In the middle of these individual stories, there’s the larger story of a class of 6th graders, their teachers/administrators, and the state standardized tests. As the kids lose more and more of what has made the year special to make space for test prep, they become more and more desperate to ace the test and put it behind them. Whatever it takes.

Review


Wow, this was FANTASTIC! I loved all the kids – well, the punkish one won me over in the end. Their concerns and actions felt genuine. I cared about them from the first page. The adults were fantastic, too – not perfect by any means. But they felt real, and they were trying to do the right things (even when they failed to).

I loved the author’s previous series about another teacher, Mr. Terupt, and his students. But because it’s so special, I worried that this wouldn’t live up to it. My worry was unnecessary. This was a delight to read from start to finish. Buyea does an awesome job with this format of a handful of kids telling the story. Each has a distinct voice and style. It’s great. There’s so much more nuance to the story than just the test at the center of the plot. Every part of it worked for me. I was thrilled to hear that he’s already been working on a sequel.

Many thanks to Delacorte books and Netgalley for an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥