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



Monday, October 9, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: POPPY by Avi

POPPY by Avi (Harper Trophy, 1995)

The date of publication makes it a classic, although I'd not heard of the series until this book was listed for this year's Oregon Battle of the Books. There are six books in the "Poppy series" and this is the second one.

What It's About (from the back cover):
"At the very edge of Dimwood Forest stands an old charred oak. A great horned owl, Mr. Ocax, waits there. With his piercing gaze, he surveys the lands he calls his own, watching for the creatures he considers his subjects. None dares disobey him, until the night a courageous deer mouse named Poppy boldly defies him, only to find herself in terrible danger. To lead her family to a better life, will Poppy battle Mr. Ocax to the end?

Opening Lines:
"A thin crescent moon, high in the sky, shed faint white light over Dimwood Forest. Stars glowed. Breezes full of ripe summer fragrance floated over nearby meadow and hill. Dimwood itself, veiled in darkness, lay utterly still.

At the very edge of this forest stood an old charred oak on which sat a great horned owl. The owl's name was Mr. Ocax, and he looked like death himself."

My Thoughts:
What an ominous start! (The sort of start the Don likes very much!) Mr. Ocax is a terrifying villain, and the novel continues with the owl preying on two mice, Poppy and Ragweed. I have to say that the opening scenes would be hard for a tender-hearted child reader!

I have been reading a number of animal stories lately, and have to say that a cast of animal characters gives an author latitude, particularly in creating villains. A human villain deserves some complexity (and a villain is never really a villain to him/herself.) Mr. Ocax, on the other hand, is pretty unrelentingly evil.

I read this aloud with my 5th-grader, and it was a grand read-aloud. There's a lot of dialogue and many opportunities to unleash one's inner actor and do different voices. I particularly enjoyed doing the pompous father, Lugwort, and the loquacious porcupine, Ereth. (And Ereth has his own book later in the series.) I would certainly read another in this series. High on the enjoyment level!

Thoughts from my 5th-grader:
Poppy was adventurous and quite thrilling. There wasn't a lot of comedy. Poppy was brave and Mr. Ocax was horrifying. My favorite character was George the cat.


About the Author:
Avi is one of the greats. You can learn more about him on his website. His explanation about how he came about to write the Poppy books is interesting.

Avi's photo by Katherine Warde

Monday, September 25, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: ELLRAY JAKES, THE RECESS KING by Sally Warner

ELLRAY JAKES, THE RECESS KING! by Sally Warner (Puffin Books, 2015)

What It's About (from the back cover):
EllRay is down to one-and-a-half best friends, and his little sister, Alfie, suggests that he needs new friends! Or a spare, at least. For emergencies. So EllRay decides to audition other boys for the role of New best Friend.

EllRay's class is brimming with possibilities, but no one seems to share his exact interests. He isn't worried, though--he can fix that once he gets to know them. And the only way to get to know them is to come up with fun things to do at recess. When he's the Recess King, evceryone will want to be his friend!

Opening Lines:
"What's so great about going to the grand opening of the park tomorrow?" I ask my sister Alfie, as I make a snow angel on her fluffy bedroom rug. "So they fixed it up a little. It will still be the same old boring place."
My name is EllRay Jakes, and I am eight years old. I know this kind of stuff."

Things I Liked:
This is the eighth book in the EllRay series, and it made me want to read the others. Sally Warner really impresses by how skilfully she captures the thoughts and voice of a third-grader. Also, there's the usual "boys against the girls" motif, with each faction thinking the other comes from another planet. 

There's humor aplenty. You just know that EllRay's schemes are going to come a cropper, and the kid who read the book with me (we take turns reading the pages)--who also happens to be my youngest and who somehow or other is now in 5th grade (doesn't time fly!)--really enjoyed the whole toilet paper zombie episode. 

EllRay's family is intact, which by now you know is one of my "hoorays" for middle grade. No more dead parents, please. And he has a little sister, Alfie, with whom he has very realistic conflicts. EllRay Jakes, the Recess King! is a quick and clever read, and I recommend it. (So apparently, does the Oregon Battle of the Books, as it is on this year's list. My son and I plan to read all the titles together, so you may see many "OBOB" reviews in the coming weeks!)

Things 5th-grader--man of few words--liked:

"I liked that it was a school story. I liked that Ellray was funny."

About the Author (excerpted from her About the Author page):
Sally Warner is the author of more than forty books, including two works of historical fiction. However, Sally spent the first part of her working life in the visual arts. She was an art education teacher (Pasadena City College) and exhibiting artist.

Sally’s first three books – about creativity – were for adults. And then, as she puts it, “I worked my way up to writing for children.” Sally has written three series to date for young readers: the Lily series, the Emma series, and the EllRay series. Coming soon (2016 – 2018) is a series about Alfie Jakes, EllRay’s little sister!

In addition, Sally has written many “stand-alone” novels for middle readers, and older readers as well. These include “Sort of Forever” (Knopf), “How to be a Real Person (in Just One Day)” (Knopf), “A Long Time Ago Today” (Viking), and “This Isn’t About the Money” (Viking).

Sally’s books have been published in many foreign countries, including Italy, France, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, and several countries in South America.

Sally Warner's Website is HERE, and there's a fine interview with her by author Deborah Kalb HERE. (Sally Warner loves Beatrix Potter!)

Sally Warner's author's photo from Penguin Random House author's page

Monday, August 28, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: WEIRD BUT TRUE! DAILY PLANNER from National Geographic Kids


Friends, the mafiosi are back! Summer sped by (hope it did for you too!), with my travels to the mountains of Washington State, and various visits from family. Now the kids are days away from heading back to school--and every mafioso worth his salt is ready for fall: the sounds of leaves gently falling, or the leaves of books gently turning, or the Don going crazy because no one is paying attention to his campaign to rename "middle grade" to "top grade." Oh well, it keeps him out of trouble.

With school on the horizon, what better gift to give one's top grade student but a Weird But True! Daily Planner from our friends at National Geographic Kids. Open it, and you're at once struck by weirdness on its "Belongs To" page, where alongside one's name, one is asked for "weird nickname" and "spirit animal." Then, there's the question sure to start a thousand sniffs: "What do you smell like right now?"

Here's what National Geographic says about the planner on its website:

Prepare to be amazed each day with weird-but-true facts that will impress your friends and stump your parents. Turn the page and record your school work, keep track of activities, and plan your social life, all while learning wild and wacky things about the world around you.

Fun prompts invite you to celebrate weirdness. Plus there are homework help sections and tons of space to write or doodle your daily schedule any way you wish. With beautiful full-color artwork and engaging information and activities, this is the must-have planner. It's a great way to stand out from the crowd."

Yeah, bet you didn't know that the Aztec of Mexico wore popcorn as jewelry, or that sheep burps contribute to global warming! This is a planner that will make you think, laugh, and embrace the weird.

I also received a copy of National Geographic Kids United States Atlas (5th Edition). I have always been an atlas junkie, and this one rocks! Split into geographic regions, it is brilliantly designed, with lots of color and fun facts. As I told my 5th-grader: in 5th grade you have to do a project on an American state. This atlas is going to give you one giant leg up on the competition. (Okay, I admit it, for a mafioso every thing's a competition.)




I'm looking forward to catching up with everyone--visiting blogs old and new. Let me know in the comments what you've been up to this summer, and what you're looking forward to in the fall. Ciao!