Monday, January 30, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: GHOST by Jason Reynolds

GHOST by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, August 2016)

Another great "sports" book. (And a middle grade finalist for this year's Cybils award.)

What It's About (via jacket copy):
RUNNING. That's all that Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But never for a track team. Nope, his game has always been ball. But when Ghost impulsively challenges an elite sprinter to a race--and wins--the Olympic medalist track coach sees he has something: crazy natural talent. thing is, Ghost has something else: a lot of anger and a past that he tries to outrun. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed and meld with the team, or will his past finally catch up to him.

Opening Lines:
Check this out. This dude named Andrew Dahl holds the world record for blowing up the most balloons... with his nose."

Five Things To Love:

  1. #WeNeedDiverseBooks is being embraced by the publishing industry, and I loved that this book is written by a black writer, and features a black male protagonist. The language and point of view was so authentic.
  2. Track and field. One of my favorite sports. I was a sprinter on my high school track team, and this took my right back to the feelings of being part of a team and of running fast.
  3. The theme. As it says on the front cover, "is Ghost running for his life, or from it?" In my opinion it could be both. His life is certainly tough, and he has been badly traumatized by a supposed loved one. Being part of the track team allows him the chance to find his way in the world.
  4. Male role models. The biggest wound in Ghost's life was caused by his father. Therefore, it is fitting that he should be fathered/mentored so well by the shop-keeper, Mr. Charles, and Coach. I loved the interactions between Ghost and these two important men in his life.
  5. Ghost's voice. As you can see from the opening lines, Ghost is humorous, engaging, and honest about what's going on in his life. His voice drives this short beauty of a novel. I was so hooked that, right after I finished it the first time, I turned once again to the first page and read it once more.
About The Author:
Jason Reynolds earned a BA in English from The University of Maryland, College Park. His novels include All American Boys (written with Brendan Kiely), The Boy in the Black Suit (both which were Coretta Scott King Honor books; When I was the Greatest, which won the 2015 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent; and As Brave As You. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: BREAKING THE ICE by Gail Nall

BREAKING THE ICE by Gail Nall (Aladdin, January 2015)

I am a big fan of middle grade sports books (I'm currently reading one--GHOST by Jason Reynolds--and writing one myself. Mine's about tennis.) I read this for the Cybils awards in 2015, and really enjoyed it!

What It's About (via Goodreads):
Kaitlin has always dreamed of being a champion figure skater, and she’s given up a lot to pursue her passion. But after having a totally uncharacteristic and decidedly NOT figure-skating-approved tantrum after getting her scores at a major competition she’s dropped by her coach and prestigious skating club.

When no other club in town will have her, she's forced to join the ridiculed and rundown Fallton Club, jokingly referred to as the Fall Down Club. At first Kaitlin thinks this is a complete disaster, but after meeting some of the other skaters, including a boy (who happens to have the most perfect hair she’s ever seen) Kaitlin thinks it might actually not be so bad.

But when she’s tasked with learning a whole new program right before Regionals and figures out that almost all the other skaters target Fallton, she thinks joining the Fall Down Club may just be the second biggest mistake she’s ever made.

Opening Lines:
"I have my fingers crossed for a gold medal.
Not where everyone can see them, of course, but hidden in the sleeve of my maroon-and-white Ridgeline Figure Skating Club jacket. If I win this competition, it'll show the judges I'm the skater to beat at Regionals in October."

Four Things To Love:

  1.  I can't say I'm a diehard skating fan, but I do like to watch competitions like the Olympics and the World Championships. I also know what a salchow, a lutz, and a toe loop are. One of the riveting things about watching skaters compete is, as in gymnastics, the mix of artistry with power. And, with every jump, you have your heart in your throat, hoping there won't be a disaster. Which is all to say that I enjoyed the subject, and I think many sports-minded readers would do too.
  2. The character of Kaitlin. Technically strong, she needs to develop her artistry. Inwardly, she can be tempestuous (though not brattily so), so we know she can do it. Her concerns--about friendship and fitting in--are appropriately middle grade too.
  3. The friendships. In her former club, Kaitlin has a friend, Ellery, who is really what I've heard called a 'frenemy.' Ellery is superficial and drops Kaitlin like a hot potato when she is forced to change clubs. In the new club, Kaitlin finds people who are more worthy of friendship (Miyu). Gail Nall did a great job depicting this most important middle grade theme. 
  4. The parents. Both Kaitlin's mom and dad are alive. (You know my feelings about MG 'orphan syndrome.')
BREAKING THE ICE was Gail Nall's middle grade debut, and it was a good one. As you can see in her bio below, she is quite prolific!

About The Author (from Goodreads bio):

Gail Nall lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family and more cats than necessary. She grew up skating, and as a teenager working at the local rink, she rented skates and made nachos (but not at the same time). She spends her early mornings writing contemporary middle grade fiction, her days writing grants for a non-profit, and her evenings reading and trying to stay up past eight o'clock. Her obsessions include hiking and camping, travel, history, and food. Gail's middle grade novels include BREAKING THE ICE and the YOU'RE INVITED series (co-written with Jen Malone), all from Aladdin/Simon & Schuster. She is also the author of the YA novel, EXIT STAGE LEFT (EpicReads Impulse/Harper). Her upcoming books include OUT OF TUNE (Aladdin/S&S, 11/8/16) and the co-authored BEST.NIGHT.EVER. (8/15/17)

CONTACT: Website  Facebook  Twitter

Monday, January 2, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THE WOLF WILDER by Katherine Rundell

US Cover
I'm back, after a hectic December, and have a treat with which to start 2017. I hope you enjoy it!

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell (Bloomsbury Children's September 2015)

What It's About (via Goodreads):
Feodora and her mother live in the snowbound woods of Russia, in a house full of food and fireplaces. Ten minutes away, in a ruined chapel, lives a pack of wolves. Feodora's mother is a wolf wilder, and Feo is a wolf wilder in training. A wolf wilder is the opposite of an animal tamer: it is a person who teaches tamed animals to fend for themselves, and to fight and to run, and to be wary of humans.

When the murderous hostility of the Russian Army threatens her very existence, Feo is left with no option but to go on the run. What follows is a story of revolution and adventure, about standing up for the things you love and fighting back. And, of course, wolves.

UK Cover

Opening Lines:

"Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there was a dark and stormy girl.
The girl was Russian, and although her hair and eyes and fingernails were dark all the time, she was stormy only when she thought it absolutely necessary. Which was fairly often.
Her name was Feodora."

Five Things to Love: 

  1. Setting. I love stories set in Russia, especially in the snow.
  2. The character of Feo. She is brave, determined, and has an incredible bond with the wolves she is wilding
  3. The wolves. They are powerful forces and, although the idea is for them to be brought back to their wildness after spending time being accoutrements to the Russian aristocracy, they are fiercely protective of their "wilder."
  4. The other children in the novel. They include a boy soldier who wants to be a ballet dancer and who defects to accompany Feo and the wolves, as well as a band of peasants, lovingly described. Their entry in the novel brings both companionship and comedy, with Feo on the run and fearing for her life.
  5. The writing style. It is written to sound almost like a fable. There are beautiful descriptions--here's an example: "The girl would have been extraordinary whatever the weather. A blood-red cloak, freshly washed, flapped behind her. Her forearms, from elbow joint to wrist, were covered in scratches and bruises, but her eyes were gold. The set of her chin suggested she might have slain a dragon before breakfast. The look in her eyes suggested she might, in fact, have eaten it."
About the Author:
Katherine Rundell was born in 1987 and grew up in Africa and Europe. In 2008 she was elected a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. Her first book, The Girl Savage, was born of her love of Zimbabwe and her own childhood there; her second, Rooftoppers, was inspired by summers working in Paris and by night-time trespassing on the rooftops of All Souls. She is currently working on her doctorate alongside an adult novel. TWITTER
She recently wrote an article in The New York Times about tightrope walking. There's also an interesting article on her published in 2014 by The (London) Daily Telegraph.

Katherine Rundell atop All Souls College, Oxford
(photo by Andrew Crowley)