Rookie of the Year

REVIEW: Rookie of the Year by Phil Bildner

Summary


Rip and Red are back with basketball on their minds. They’re ready for another round of fall basketball. But things have changed since their last season.

First, there’s a new girl in Mr. Acevedo’s class. Tiki’s family has moved a LOT. She’s quirky and has a BIG personality. And she’s amazing on the basketball court. She stirs up a lot of competitive and jealous feelings in Rip.

Second, the kids are OVER the awful changes in the school cafeteria. They miss the Lunch Bunch, an awesome group of lunch ladies who truly loved the kids and made a difference throughout the school. And they miss having something edible to buy for lunch!

Third, Red is becoming more comfortable with his classmates. He copes better with physical contact, and even starts joking with the other kids.

All of these changes come together to make a great school story starring Rip and Red.

Review


I thoroughly enjoy the kids at the center of this series. Red is endearing. I think the author does a great job of portraying him in a kind and accurate way. And I love how cued in Rip is to Red’s habits and facial expressions. It feels realistic that sometimes he responds to those cues and sometimes he doesn’t. He’s still a kid.

The adults in the book – specifically Mr. Acevedo and Rip’s mom – work hard to teach when they correct kids. They don’t talk down to the kids; their expectations are reasonably high.

This would make a great family or classroom read aloud. Rip struggles with his place on the basketball team in this, and I think there are lots of things kids can learn as they read about Rip. There’s also lots to discuss about Red’s place in the group, and making accommodations to include everyone at school. There’s also lots to discuss about how to pursue change when you have a complaint. And the author uses tons of great examples of “show, don’t tell” for kids learning to write.

Book 3, Tournament of Champions, came out earlier this summer.

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: ♥♥♥♥

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: ♥♥♥♥♥

The Hate You Give

REVIEW: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Summary


Starr feels like two different people at times. There’s the person she is at home and in her neighborhood. That’s the most genuine version. Then there’s the person she is at her mostly-white, suburban school. There she works to always speak in full sentences and complete words – no slang, always “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir.” She reigns in her feelings so she can’t be accused of ever being too angry or having too much attitude.

One night at a party in her neighborhood, shots ring out. Starr’s childhood friend, Khalil, gets her safely away from the violence and the party. But on their way home, they get pulled over by a police officer. The officer is belligerent about pulling them over; Khalil is indignant. After the officer pulls Khalil out of the car to pat him down (three times) and goes to run his license, Khalil comes back to the car to check on Starr. Three shots are fired. Khalil dies in the street in Starr’s arms.

Suddenly everything in Starr’s life changes. She questions her relationships and her two personalities. She watches as her two worlds respond to the shooting, and she wonders what, if anything, she can do for Khalil, for his family, and for her community.

Review


Wow, this was so good. It was challenging, too. It challenged me to examine my biases and assumptions. There were cultural pieces and slang that I didn’t understand (not enough to impact my understanding of the story as a whole). And the topic itself – white officer kills unarmed black teen – is timely and difficult. But so important to think about and talk about.

I loved Starr. She’s not perfect. Her friends and boyfriend challenge her choices in the midst of her double life at home and school as well as the situation with Khalil. But she’s honest. She’s 16 and wrestling with big questions about home and identity. She wonders what her responsibility is to herself, her family, and her neighborhood. And there are no easy answers.

This is terrific food for thought – and discussion. If you are looking to add some diversity to your reading life or your high school classroom library, try this book. (language, violence)

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Brightest Stars of Summer

REVIEW: The Brightest Stars of Summer by Leila Howland

Summary


Book 2 in the Silver Sisters series finds Marigold, Zinnie and Lilly headed back to Massachusetts to visit their great-aunt, Sunny, and help her get ready for her wedding.

A lot has happened in the last year since they summered with Aunt Sunny. Marigold had a part in a huge movie, but it got cut out. She found seventh grade to be harder than she expected. There are cliques to negotiate and her “stardom” doesn’t seem to make her as popular as she expected.

Zinnie has embraced her passion for writing. She had planned to go to a writer’s camp for the summer before the trip to Massachusetts came up. Without the camp, she is on her own to come up with an amazing story that will get her one of 8 precious spots in a writing group at school. She hopes her time in Massachusetts will inspire a great story.

As each of the older sisters wrestles with her identity, with crushes, and with the relationship with the other, the Silver Sisters are in for a summer of growing and changing.

Review


I liked this one ever more than I liked book 1, The Forget-Me-Not Summer. The girls are older and are digging deeper into their identity – a theme I love in books for kids. Marigold decides to be the opposite of who she really is, and in the process learns new things about herself.

Zinnie wrestles with who she is as a writer. Her natural style doesn’t seem to fit the kind of writing done by the writing group. So she also tries to be something she is not. She learns things about herself as a writer along the way.

The girls hit some really rough moments in their relationship as sisters. In the end, their healing and reconciliation comes in part when they accept themselves for who they are and use their gifts to make things right.

Terrific story! Great series! Book 3, The Silver Moon of Summer released in June.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥½

Addie Bell's Shortcut to Growing Up

REVIEW: Addie Bell’s Shortcut to Growing Up by Jessica Brody

Summary


Addie is celebrating her 12th birthday, but she is so over being a kid. She hates being short and freckled. She wants to be 16 – boys, makeup, dances. She wants all the glamour of high school. So when her elderly neighbor gives her a box that’s supposed to grant wishes, Addie wishes to be 16. And the next day, she is.

At 16, Adeline is tall and lovely. She wears makeup and drives. She has a new best friend and a popular YouTube vlog. Sixteen is everything Addie wanted. Except….

Adeline/Addie doesn’t remember the last four years! She doesn’t know why Grace isn’t her friend anymore. She doesn’t know HOW to drive the car she has, what to feed her own dog, or any of the French words her teacher uses in class. While she got everything she thought she wanted, Addie’s not so sure her shortcut to 16 was the right idea after all.

 

Review


I really connected with Addie. At 12, she longs for the freedoms and privileges her older sister enjoys but which are out of her reach. As a 12-year-old in a 16-year-old’s life, the shiny appeal of those freedoms and privileges wears off when Addie sees what she has given up to get there.

I love that the author kept Addie’s 12-year-old self so clear in the high school world. The driving scene and the coffee scene were two of my favorite parts. And the sections on nostalgia and shortcuts are great messages for the reader.

This was comically painful and lovely at the same time. This could easily be the plot of a Disney movie, complete with awkward, embarrassing moments that make kids laugh and adults cringe. This book would be great for fans of All the Answers and other be-careful-what-you-wish-for stories.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥½

The Good, the Bad and the Guardians

REVIEW: Batgirl at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee

Summary


After helping with the major attack in book 2 (Supergirl at Super Hero High), Batgirl earns a place at Super Hero High. Even though she has no super powers, she is welcomed into the school community with mostly open arms. Her teachers adore her. Only one shows any resistance to her placement there – Commissioner Gordon. Her father.

Barbara/Batgirl is determined to secure her place at Super Hero High and fulfill her dream of fighting crime. Her father is equally determined to keep her home and keep her safe.

Is there any way both of them can be happy?

Review


My favorite book in this series so far! I fell in love with Barbara Gordon’s character when I read the Supergirl book in this series. I was thrilled to see that she was going to get her own story next. And the book lived up to my hopes.

Batgirl is appealing to me because she doesn’t have traditional superpowers. She’s brilliant, and she uses her intellect to create gadgets for herself and tech solutions for everyone else.

One of the things I like about this series is that the core of each book is about each girl establishing her own identity and/or overcoming some issue (confidence, loneliness, etc.) to start developing into the hero she has potential to be. Yes, there’s a villain and a plot to foil and a battle to wage and win. But those things only facilitate the character development going on. In Batgirl’s case, she is dealing with identity issues like the rest. In her case, they center around competing as a non-superpowered individual, individuating from her dad while still keeping a relationship him, over-committing, and letting herself be part of a  team. I loved every minute of the process for Batgirl!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥½

Katana gets the next book in the series this summer!

The Good, the Bad and the Guardians

REVIEW: Going Geek by Charlotte Huang

Summary


Skylar is about to start her senior year at her prestigious East Coast boarding school. But already things aren’t going like she planned. Her parents are having money troubles. So instead of interning at her mom’s movie production company over the summer break, Skylar had to work at their club – as a waitress. Then her school says there’s been a housing shake up and she loses her prime spot in the best dorm with all of her friends. Then when everyone finds out about how she really spent her summer, and that she kept it all secret from them, she loses what little normalcy she has left. This was not how her senior year was supposed to go!

Review


Books (and Hallmark Channel movies)  tend to work in one of two ways. Either things start out great, hit a major snag near the three-quarters point and then resolve or everything falls apart at the start and the character has to claw his or her way back. This book fits the second scenario. Bit by bit, Skylar loses everything that was important to her. She loses her identity. And you cringe as you read it because it is painful.

But things slowly start to change. Skylar gives her new situation a chance. She opens up to new people. She discovers some things about herself. And it’s an immensely satisfying journey! I really loved Skylar’s new community – and the person she becomes when she opens herself up to them. If the author decides to write a sequel, I would totally read it! (Some language)

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

The Good, the Bad and the Guardians

REVIEW: Upside Down Magic: Showing Off

Summary


Nory and the Upside Down Magic (UDM) kids are back, still working to control their “wonky” talents. This time, not only are they practicing their magic in the classroom, but they also need to come up with an act for the annual variety show.

Pepper is learning that not only can she control her magic (scaring animals) for short bursts, but she can also use it to help people with pest problems. This discovery helps her make an unexpected friend.

Nory finds out the school variety show means her dad and her siblings are going to come to her school.Maybe if she can turn herself into an impressive and complicated animal, her dad will finally accept her and be proud of her.

Review


I am a sucker for any book that expertly looks at the concept of identity. And this series does that! Each of the kids in the UDM class is working out his/her individual issues with magic. Identity is impacted by how their families and peers respond to their differences – and also by how the kids feel about themselves. The authors address these complex concepts in terrific age-appropriate ways.

I have talked with some parents in the past who are reluctant to have their kids read books with magic. I get where they are coming from, and I’m glad they are engaged with what their kids are reading! With this series – like many other favorites of mine, the magic is a plot device.  It puts the kids in an unusual setting. It gives them out-of-the-ordinary problems to solve. I think that helps readers put themselves in the story more easily. They don’t know ANYONE who can turn themselves into a kitten, much less a kid who tries and gets it wrong. But they can imagine! What would it be like to do something amazing like that? How would it feel to get it wrong over and over? How would it feel to have your parent turn you away because you couldn’t get it right?

The books in this series (this is the third) are fairly short. They would make for terrific read-alouds at home or in the classroom. And I can only imagine how great the discussion could be afterwards as readers/listeners talk about identity, about failure, and about family. If you love this series, check out the other books by these three great authors – Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

The Good, the Bad and the Guardians

REVIEW: Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes

Summary


A novel in verse. Garvey is a smart, bookish kid. He loves reading and music. His dad wants him to be athletic, but his sister is the sporty one. Garvey longs for his father to see him – value him – love him – for who he is.

Novel in Verse

Review


I love this book for a few very specific reasons. First, I love Garvey. I love his insight into the dynamic with his dad. I love how he begins to love himself as he is. I love how he tries something new and finds that he has a gift.

Second, I love Garvey’s friends. They love him for who he is. They encourage him to be himself. When he tries to address his weight issues in a healthy way, they support him and stand beside him.

Third, I love a story that deals well with the issue of identity. I think identity is such a huge part of growing up. Kids wonder who they are supposed to be. They try on different identities to see which ones fit. They have pressure from outside forces as well as their internal struggle. And stories that look at identity creatively and that reflect the struggle in authentic and hopeful ways, are a treasure to kids – and to the adults who love them and want to help them on the journey.

Finally, I love the way the author conveys so much story, so much emotion, in so few words. This is a short book. It’s a fast read. The story flows so well you don’t really notice the poetry/format after awhile. But when you do notice it, you’re amazed by all the author can convey while following the rules of the form she chose.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

If you are interested in other novels in verse, try The Crossover by Kwame Alexander and Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai