Monday, January 15, 2018

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: I SURVIVED: THE ERUPTION OF MOUNT. ST. HELENS, 1980 by Lauren Tarshis

I SURVIVED THE ERUPTION OF MOUNT ST. HELENS, 1980 by Lauren Tarshis

I've never read any of the "I Survived" series before, but this one is listed for the 3rd-5th grade Oregon Battle of the Books, so my 5th-grader and I read it together. It was great!

What It's About:
The mountain exploded with the power of ten million tons of dynamite...

Eleven-year-old Jessie Marlowe has grown up with the beautiful Mount St. Helens always in the background.  She's hiked its winding trails, dived into its cold lakes, and fished for trout in its streams.  Just looking at Mount St. Helens out her window made Jess feel calm, like it was watching over her somehow.  Of course, she knew the mountain was a volcano... but not the active kind, not a volcano that could destroy and kill!


Then Mount St. Helens explodes with unimaginable fury.  Jess suddenly finds herself in the middle of the deadliest and most destructive volcanic event in U.S. history.  Ash and rock are spewing everywhere.  Can Jess escape in time?

Opening Lines:
"For more than 100 years, Mount St. Helens had been quiet, a beautiful mountain surrounded by forests. Hikers climbed its winding trails. Skiers raced down its snowy slopes. Children splashed in its crystal clear lakes.
Except this peaceful mountain was not a mountain.
It was a dangerous volcano..."
What I Liked:
This is a short and gripping tale. Jessie and her two best friends, twins Eddie and Sam, are like a trio of musketeers--"all for one and one for all." Jess's dad died in a car crash 2 years before, and the twins have been lifesavers for her.

They live near Mt. St. Helens (only 50 miles from where I live) and have a great time in the forest. But the mountain starts to show signs of eruption, and the three of them are caught in the blast.

Tarshis writes really great adventure tales. Short sentences and visual details spur the story along, and I admit I got a bit misty-eyed wondering if the trio would actually survive.

This would be a great book for the so-called "reluctant reader," and Lauren Tarshis admits that the fact that her three sons were not great readers was the impulse to beginning the series in the first place. She thought she'd write three books, and this one is #14!

Thoughts from the 5th-grader:
It was a very entertaining book. However, sometimes things happened which were "convenient" for the characters. For example, they just happen to run into this volcano expert, and Jess just happens to see a helicopter after the eruption and saves her friends. (This didn't bother the Mafioso. I guess I am just better able to suspend disbelief.)

About the Author (in her own words):
"I live in Connecticut with my husband and four children.  My parents, mother-in-law, my brother and sister-in-law and three nieces all live right around us. This makes me very happy.

When I’m not with my family, or working on Storyworks, a great magazine for kids, or writing, I like to be with my friends. I met my two best friends when I was 11 years old, and I still talk to one or the other almost every single day.

As I get older, I try harder and harder to learn new things. Learning to write a novel for young people was a process that took many, many years. This year I learned how to create this web site (which was really fun). I also learned to bake perfect chocolate chip cookies (the secret: put the dough in the fridge for an hour or so before you bake them). And I learned how to hike in the wildneress. My first time, my friend and I got lost and a mysterious old man appeared from nowhere to help us. Otherwise we might still be there. We learned our lesson (bring a compass and good maps.)


I’m still thinking about what to learn next year."  WEBSITE


It's so great to be back in the blogging swing of things. I have been reading nonfiction and adult fiction recently, but my 5th-grader and I are still reading for OBOB, so stay tuned for more middle grade in the year to come. Happy 2018, everyone.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THIS IS OUR CONSTITUTION by Khizr Khan

THIS IS OUR CONSTITUTION: Discover America with a Gold Star Father by Khizr Khan (Knopf 2017)

Khizr Khan burst onto the national stage at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. With his wife Ghazala standing next to him, he told the story of their son, Captain Humayun Khan, who died at age 27 in Iraq in 2004. Captain Khan took the brunt of a suicide bomber and saved his men by doing so. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star medal and a Purple Heart.

During his speech, Mr. Khan drew a copy of the US Constitution from his jacket pocket and addressing the Republican party's presidential nominee famously asked. “Have you even read the United States Constitution?" To rousing applause, he concluded: "I will gladly lend you my copy.”

(Sales of the pocket constitution spiked after this speech.)

Mr. Khan is a lawyer. As a young man, he and his family immigrated to the US from Pakistan. He marveled at the freedoms and the system of government of his new home. Now, in this book, which in my opinion should be required reading for every citizen, he explains the history behind the Constitution  and details all the parts of it. He also visits important legal cases. At the end of the book, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the other amendments are printed in full.

Opening Lines:
Our nation has always looked toward the future. History matters, of course, but the founding documents of the United States are more than history lessons. They point the way forward to a more free, more peaceful, and more just nation. They challenge each generation to build a better United States.

My Thoughts:
I became a citizen in 2008, and wish I had read this book while studying for my citizenship test. (If truth be told, because I had to study for that test, I seem to know a lot more about civics and government than my natural born American friends.)

The book is very well-organized. It's target audience is middle schoolers, and it does a great job of keeping them interested in what, potentially, could be a dry subject. Along with the easy to comprehend text, there are illustrations, photographs, and many speech bubbles throughout the pages, where Mr. Khan often contrasts the United States and the rule of law with his experiences growing up in an undemocratic Pakistan.

I will definitely share this book with my current 5th grader. Democracy flourishes only when there is an educated and engaged citizenry.

About the Author:
Khizr Khan was born in 1950, the eldest of ten children in rural Pakistan. He moved to the United States, with his wife Ghazala, in 1980. The couple became United States citizens and raised their three sons in Silver Springs, Maryland. Mr. Khan holds an LLM from Harvard Law School. He and his wife now live in Charottesville, Virginia.


This will be my last post for 2017. The Don and I wish all our readers a happy holiday season, and look forward to reviewing many more wonderful middle grade books in 2018. Buon Natale!

Monday, December 11, 2017

CHILDREN OF REFUGE by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, September, 2017)

What It's About, via Goodreads: 
After Edwy is smuggled off to Refuge City to stay with his brother and sister, Rosi, Bobo, and Cana are stuck alone—and in danger—in Cursed Town in the thrilling follow-up to Children of Exile from New York Times bestselling author, Margaret Peterson Haddix.

It’s been barely a day since Edwy left Fredtown to be with his parents and, already, he is being sent away. He’s smuggled off to boarding school in Refuge City, where he will be with his brother and sister, who don’t even like him very much. The boarding school is nothing like the school that he knew, there’s no one around looking up to him now, and he’s still not allowed to ask questions!


Alone and confused, Edwy seeks out other children brought back from Fredtown and soon discovers that Rosi and the others—still stuck in Cursed Town—might be in danger. Can Edwy find his way back to his friends before it’s too late?

Opening Lines:
Nobody had told me that my parents’ neighborhood was built on top of a secret tunnel up from the creek. So when the man dragged me into an innocuous-looking hole—and kept going and going and going—I instantly wanted to know more. We passed sputtering torches that seemed to throw off more shadows than light. The stench of the man’s hand seemed to grow nastier and nastier. But we were deep underground before he finally eased his hand off my mouth and nose and jaw and I could manage more than grunts.

My Thoughts:
This moves at a cracking pace. Haddix is a master of chapter endings, which propel the reader into the next chapter, and the next.

I was unaware, when I started reading, that this was book 2 of a trilogy, but found that it stood well on its own. Haddix creates an unsympathetic trio in the Watanaboneset siblings, but as the novel progresses we begin to understand the reasons why they behave like they do. Edwy, the youngest, has a bad attitude, but is redeemed by his desire to help his friend, Rosi.

The novel ends with a cliffhanger, and I am definitely primed for book three. (But first, I really should read book 1!) A good, quick read for those who like dystopian novels, with a flavor of sci-fi.

About the Author (from Amazon):
Margaret Peterson Haddix is the author of many critically and popularly acclaimed YA and middle grade novels, including the Children of Exile series, The Missing series, the Under Their Skin series, and the Shadow Children series. A graduate of Miami University (of Ohio), she worked for several years as a reporter for The Indianapolis News. She also taught at the Danville (Illinois) Area Community College. She lives with her family in Columbus, Ohio. Visit her at HaddixBooks.com. 


Monday, November 20, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: LUCY AND ANDY NEANDERTHAL:THE STONE COLD AGE by Jeffrey Brown

LUCY AND ANDY NEANDERTHAL:THE STONE COLD AGE by Jeffrey Brown (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2017)

What It's About (from Goodreads):
Neanderthal siblings Lucy and Andy are back to their paleo pranks. This time, they have to put up with more than just each other the cave is feeling awfully cramped since the humans moved in. They re in the Ice Age, and legroom comes at a real premium!

Jeffrey Brown skillfully blends humor and history with paleontologist sections: Timeline of Key Discoveries, Ice Age Fact vs. Fiction, Silly Cavemen Myths, and more.

My Thoughts:
One of the things I have started doing this year is being a Reading Friend at the local elementary school, where my son is in 5th grade. I have two 4th grade reading buddies. My job is to be just that-- a friend to kids who, for whatever reason, struggle with reading. One of my buddies likes The Magic Tree House series, and the other one is a big fan of graphic novels. (We read and guffawed at Dav Pilkey's Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties.)

The mafioso, father of three boys, has read his share of Magic Tree House, as well as Captain Underpants and Wimpy Kid--but my kids have now outgrown the newer graphic novels series, such as Lucy and Andy Neanderthal and Jedi Academy (also by Jeffrey Brown). But my graphic novel-loving reading friend is also into dinosaurs, so maybe he can be persuaded to take on Lucy and Andy Neanderthal after we're done with Dog Man. I'll keep you posted.

The Stone Cold Age is the second book in the Lucy and Andy Neanderthal series, and it was a ton of fun. Andy, despite being a neanderthal, often acts like a modern kid with attitude. The humans and the neanderthals get on like a couple of sitcom families, and the book is a real page turner. My favorite part, because I'm a swot, was all the facts about neanderthals and ice ages and fossils sprinkled through the pages. It was a fun way to learn about life 40,000 years ago!

About the Author:
Jeffrey Brown lives in Chicago with his wife and two sons. He teaches at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. WEBSITE


Monday, November 13, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: EDDIE RED UNDERCOVER: MYSTERY ON MUSEUM MILE by Marcia Wells

EDDIE RED UNDERCOVER: MYSTERY ON MUSEUM MILE by Marcia Wells (HMH Books for Young Readers, April 1, 2014)

What It's About:
Sixth-grader Edmund Xavier Lonnrot, code-name “Eddie Red,” has a photographic memory and a prodigious talent for drawing anything he sees. When the NYPD is stumped by a mastermind art thief, Eddie becomes their secret weapon to solve the case, drawing Eddie deeper into New York’s famous Museum Mile and closer to a dangerous criminal group known as the Picasso Gang. Can Eddie help catch the thieves in time, or will his first big case be his last?

First Lines:
"State your name."
"Eddie Red."
The officer looks up at me and frowns. "State your real name. For the police report." He jabs a meaty finger at the paperwork in front of him.
"Edmund Lonnrot," I reply, making sure to keep my voice steady despite my wobbly insides. Worst Night Ever.

Things I Liked:

  1. Eddie's voice. You can tell that Marcia Wells has spent a lot of time among the target age group. The way Eddie talks is pitch perfect. (And everything is über this or that or something or other!)
  2. Best Friend. Eddie's best friend is Jonah Schwartz, and the two of them are a hoot. Jonah has ADHD, but is brilliant once his meds kick in. It's Jonah that uses chess moves to crack the Picasso Gangs' plan!
  3. Humor. There's a lot of funny stuff, from the incident that gave Mr. Pee his name, to the idea that Eddie will dress as a girl scout selling cookies to gain entrance to the apartments of potential art collectors (thank you, Jonah Schwartz, for that brilliant idea.)
  4. Eddie's Family. You know how I like it in middle grade novels when moms and dads are alive and involved in their kids' lives. Put a check next to Eddie's parents for that.
  5. Diversity. Eddie's black. #WeNeedDiverseBooks
Eddie Red Undercover: mystery on Museum Mile is on the Oregon Battle of the Books list for 3-5th grade. (I think that vocabulary-wise it works best for the upper part of this age range. My son and I had a great time reading it aloud together. My son particularly enjoyed doing Detective Bovano's accent.)

There are two other books in the Eddie Red series. Check them out here.


About the Author:
Marcia Wells has a Master’s degree in Spanish literature and has taught writing, Spanish and math to middle and high school students for the past fifteen years.


When she’s not visiting relatives in New York City and planning new adventures for Eddie Red, she’s at home with her kids, husband, and other farm animals in Vermont.

P.S. If you want to know even more about Marcia Wells, there's a neat interview with her on Marieke's blog, Presents of Love. Ciao!


Monday, November 6, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

THE STARS BENEATH OUR FEET by David Barclay Moore (Knopf Books for Young Readers, September 2017)

Happy Monday, everyone! I'm sorry to do an Alice Through the Looking Glass kind of thing, but I'm over at my group blog, PROJECT MAYHEM, today featuring this splendid book.

So, if you don't mind some jumping about in the blogosphere this morning, please join me over at PROJECT MAYHEM today.

I'll be back with the mafiosi in a week or two!

Ciao and cheers!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: MY BRIGADISTA YEAR by Katherine Paterson

MY BRIGADISTA YEAR by Katherine Paterson (Candlewick, October 2017) Yes, that Katherine Paterson, who wrote Bridge to Terabithia! Candlewick sent me an ARC of her latest, set in Cuba in 1961. Of course, as always, the Don and I are committed to giving an honest review, no strings attached.
What It's About: 
When thirteen-year-old Lora tells her parents that she wants to join Premier Castro's army of young literacy teachers, her mother screeches to high heaven, and her father roars like a lion. Lora has barely been outside of Havana -- why would she throw away her life in a remote shack with no electricity, sleeping on a hammock in somebody's kitchen? But Lora is stubborn: didn't her parents teach her to share what she has with someone in need? Surprisingly, Lora's abuela takes her side, even as she makes Lora promise to come home if things get too hard. But how will Lora know for sure when that time has come? Shining light on a little-known moment in history, Katherine Paterson traces a young teen's coming-of-age journey from a sheltered life to a singular mission: teaching fellow Cubans of all ages to read and write, while helping with the work of their daily lives and sharing the dangers posed by counterrevolutionaries hiding in the hills nearby. Inspired by true accounts, the novel includes an author's note and a timeline of Cuban history.

Opening Lines:
"Ai-ee!" In all my thirteen years, I hadn't heard a screech like that since the time I accidentally stepped on the cat's tail. But now it was my own mama's voice, shrieking to high heaven."

My Thoughts:
I am totally into stories told in different cultures and different time periods and it's Katherine Paterson, people!!! (I admit to sobbing during Bridge to Terabithia.) This story is not as heartbreaking (what could be, right?) but there are certainly moments of peril and times when you'll get a lump in the throat.

Lora is an idealist, and the opportunity to be a brigadista--teaching the campesinos to read and write--is not one she can pass up. I loved the relationships that developed between her and the family she was living with, as well as the very honest way she expressed her fears.

There is violence off the page--several people on both sides are killed. It was obviously a very troubled time for Cuba. 

I have seen comments on Facebook denigrating the book as pro-Communist. (The anti-Cuban government lobby in the U.S. is very strong.) In Katherine Patterson's defense, I would have to say that she has chosen a period when idealism was at its height after the corruption of the Bautista regime. She mentions in an author's note that there were abuses by Castro. What comes through strongly is a young person's perspective to do good in the world by helping others.

About the Author:
Katherine Paterson is the author of more than 30 books, including 16 novels for children and young people. She has twice won the Newbery Medal, for Bridge to Terabithia in 1978 and Jacob Have I Loved in 1981. The Master Puppeteer won the National Book Award in 1977 and The Great Gilly Hopkins won the National Book Award in 1979 and was also a Newbery Honor Book. For the body of her work she received the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1998, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2006, and in 2000 was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress.

She is a vice-president of the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance and is a member of the board of trustees for Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is also a honorary lifetime member of the International Board of Books for Young People and an Alida Cutts lifetime member of the US section, USBBY. She is the 2010-2011 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

The Patersons have four grown children and seven grandchildren. Katherine currently resides in Vermont with her faithful dog, Pixie. WEBSITE  FACEBOOK