Monday, October 31, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Trauma Queen

Trauma Queen by Barbara Dee (Aladdin, 2011)
Nominated for the Cybils by Danielle Smith of There's A Book (All opinions are my own and are not meant to reflect the opinions of the entire judging panel.)

The Story (from Amazon copy): Every tween girl thinks her mom is embarrassing at some point or another. But Marigold, whose mother is a performance artist, is different: She knows her mom is embarrassing. In fact, her mother’s last stunt caused such a ruckus that her family had to move. But if her mother made waves as a performance artist in their last town, the boat really starts rocking when she lands a job as the drama teacher at Marigold’s new school. Now instead of hearing rumors about her wacky artist mother, all the kids will know instantly exactly how weird her mom really is. Which leaves Marigold wondering: Is there a friendship that can survive her mother?

The Mafioso's Take: Okay, folks. I'll be blunt. If I weren't a Cybils panelist, the chances of me picking up this book and cracking open the cover would have been, well, absolutely nil. I mean, I hang out in a hive of testosterone here. The only trauma the Don cares to notice is the failure of one of his men to bust an opponent's kneecap. Roses on stages and pretty pink sweater vests? So not gangster.

Which all goes to prove that you should NEVER, EVER judge a book by its cover. People, I LOVED THIS BOOK (even though I had to read it wedged behind a copy of The Hunger Games, the Don's book of the moment.) Barbara Dee's Marigold is pitch perfect tween--from the opening scene where she's hiding out in the school bathroom in her yellow flannel monkey p.j.s because scatty Mom misread the calendar and thought it was Spirit Week/Pajama Day, to the glorious end when... Well, I don't want to spoil the ending for you. Read this book yourself to find out why it's so glorious.

I laughed. And yes, folks, I cried. So it's official: the Middle Grade Mafioso is now the Middle Grade Marshmallow.

If I didn't have a hundred other Cybils books to read, I'd scoop up any other of Barbara Dee's titles (THIS IS ME FROM NOW ON, SOLVING ZOE, and JUST ANOTHER DAY IN MY INSANELY REAL LIFE) in a heartbeat. If you want to learn more about Barbara Dee, you can visit her website here.

And now, off to read 'em and weep (some more.)

LOADS of other good MMGM love from the bloggerific bloggers on my sidebar. Also, the marvelous Natalie Aguirre is interviewing author Anna Staniszewski and giving away an ARC of MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE (which I've heard is hilarious). Click HERE for all the fun.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday--Calvin Coconut: Hero of Hawaii

Calvin Coconut: Hero of Hawaii by Graham Salisbury (Wendy Lamb Books, 2011)
This book is a Cybils nominee, nominated by Deb Nance at Readerbuzz (All opinions are my own and are not meant to reflect the opinions of the entire judging panel.)

Middle grade fiction, as my current Cybils reading marathon is showing me, runs the gamut. "Lower" MG could be read by a 2nd or 3rd grader, while the "Upper" range ("Tween") appeals to upper elementary and middle school. I tend to prefer the tween (must be my mafioso blood), but there are some wonderful tales for the younger part of the age range too.

Amazon gives Calvin Coconut: Hero of Hawaii a reading level of age 9-12, but I think it would appeal to a younger age group too.

The Story:Calvin's younger sister, Darci, is just about to turn seven, and the Coconuts (the name comes from Calvin's lounge singer father, Little Johnny Coconut, who lives on the mainland with his new wife) are planning a party. But a hurricane intervenes.

Why I liked it: Graham Salisbury does an excellent job of portraying Calvin's emotions about the storm. While the adults are fretting, Calvin is thinking "Yee-haw!" Pounding rain, lightning, and a rising river are all "awesome!" Calvin and his friends sneak into the storm, but disaster strikes and Willy is swept out to sea. There is a truly awesome, heart-pounding scene with Calvin trying to rescue his friend. (If you writers want to learn how to write a fast, action-packed scene, study this one!)

It won't give anything away (after all, the title is "Hero of Hawai'i) to reveal that Calvin is indeed heroic. And the book ends in a heartwearming way, with Darci's postponed party taking place and Calvin giving his little sister the best birthday present ever.

More about the Author: There are several other Calvin Coconut books, which I intend to read when I've done my Cybils reading. For now, you might want to get to know the author, Graham Salisbury, who lives in OREGON!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Shannon Messenger's Sparkly New Contest

Shannon's Author Photo

I have been shouting for over a week, scaring the kids and the Don's cats, at the news of Shannon Messenger's book deal. I mean, she's the reverend mother of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, which is the only reason I can think of for her ability to keep such a saintly silence about her good fortune for OVER FIVE MONTHS!!

Anyway, in honor of her news, Shannon is having a contest. Huge prizes are involved. You can read all about it, and enter it here--and see Shannon transformed into a genie to boot.

Just tell her The Don sent you.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: A Long Walk to Water

A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park (Clarion, 2011)
This book is a Cybils nominee, nominated by Amy at Hope is the Word. (All opinions are my own and are not meant to reflect the opinions of the entire judging panel.)

As it says on the front cover, this short novel is based on a true story. It is the amazing, inspiring tale of one of the "Lost Boys" of the Sudan, Salva Dut, who escaped warfare, trekked through deserts, and survived the chaos of refugee camps to eventually come to America and become the founder of the non-profit, Water for Sudan.

The novel intersperses chapters from the perspective of a young girl called Nya, who lives in South Sudan in 2008, and Salva who flees an attack on his school in 1985.

Nya's story: In order to find clean water, Nya has to walk miles twice a day. In her village, there is no school and children often sicken and die from muddy, disease-bearing water. Eventually, a man from a different tribe comes to her village and brings men and equipment to dig a well. Now, the villagers can also build a school.

That man is Salva Dut. The chapters about his struggles to survive as an 11-year-old in wartorn Southern Sudan are both horrendous and breathtakingly beautiful. Horrendous because of all the losses of life Salva encounters, but uplifting because of his indomitable spirit of survival.

Linda Sue Park writes the story in a spare, almost matter-of-fact way (although she is great at cliffhangers at the end of chapters.) I can see this as a book that could be read in classrooms to open American children's eyes to what is going on in the wider world. Of course, it would also be wonderful to read as a family as a springboard to discuss how to help others.

At several moments during the reading of A Long Walk to Water, I had tears in my eyes.

Thanks for stopping by. You can read other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews on the blogs on my sidebar. (And HUGE congratulations to Shannon Messenger who started all this Middle Grade Monday Mirth and Mayhem for her BOOK DEAL!!!!!!)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Thank you, Shannon O'Donnell

The Don is chuffed. I'm speechless (for once).


Because of all the nice things the wonderful Shannon O'Donnell said about us on her Pay-It-Forward blog entry today.

I am actually participating in the Blogfest, but over at the mothership, The Year of Writing Dangerously.

The Don has just learned about that. He's a little less chuffed now. (He's always going on about betrayal and such. Apparently he's now wondering whether Shannon O'Donnell should be the real Middle Grade Mafioso...)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Romeo and Juliet Code

First off, I have an important announcement. My inaugural post for Project Mayhem is today. Please, if you have a moment during your Marvelous Monday Meanderings, I would love it if you would pop over there to say "hi!"

And, with that out of the way, let's turn to the book of the moment, Phoebe Stone's The Romeo and Juliet Code (Scholastic/Levine 2011)
Unless you have just spent the last week and a half homesteading under a rock, you probably have heard me trumpeting about being a first round judge of the Cybils. So far, 104 realistic middle grade novels have been nominated (there's a separate category for fantasy/sci-fi) and so I and my fellow panelists have been wearing out our eyeballs reading.

One of my faves in the vast tide is The Romeo and Juliet Code. Here are the opening lines: "I was always told that my dad, Danny, loved danger. I was told that he was a bit reckless and daring. And that's just the way he pulled the car up into the sandy driveway at my grandmother's house in Maine. We could see the ocean below us crashing and pounding against the jagged rocks. Danny seemed to put the brakes on just at the edge of the cliff."

It's a great opening for a book that is about "being at the edge of a cliff." Set in 1941, the United States is just months from being sucked into the world war. The narrator, 11-year-old Felicity Bathburn Budwig, is being brought from England (her mother, Winnie, is English) to escape war-torn London. Her relatives, the eccentric Bathburn clan, have all sorts of secrets and mysteries and that is what drives the book's engine. Why is Uncle Gideon so angry at his brother Danny? Who is the mysterious Captain Derek, and why is his room off-limits in the Bathburn house. There's a strong steak of The Secret Garden in all this, and Flissy (as her grandmother nicknames her) becomes something of an expert in Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I couldn't put this book down. (As an English expat, I'm a sucker for books dealing with an English person's experience in the U.S.) Flissy is given to much generalization about the British ("British children on the whole never hide or snitch or lie...) And there is also a code that has to do with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (and I love my Shakespeare.)

My only question really is whether this book, beloved by me, would be popular with today's American teen, for whom 1941 might as well be 1541. I think the publisher must have had similar qualms, because the cover is misleading in its modernity (pink and black Converse in the 1940s? And, heavens forfend, Flissy is not the kind of girl to wear sneakers.) Nevertheless, if you have a reader who loves a good mystery, I would definitely give it a try.

I'm looking forward to reading other MMGMer's reviews. You can find their blogs on my sidebar!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Pickles--The New Vampire-Zombies?

Clouds scud over the moon. Floorboards creek as the bedroom door clicks open. Something slithers towards the bed. Bella moans in her sleep. Vinegar. Yes, the smell of vinegar assaults her nose, startling her awake. An enormous green monster rears up, fangs bared. A vampire-zombie pickle. It lunges for her throat...

Well, I don't think Vampire-Zombie Pickles are really going to catch on, but if they do I'll be right there, ready to jump on the bandwagon. As it is, at least for this week's MMGM, Pickles Abound:

We have Eric Wight's Frankie Pickle and the Mathematical Menace, Julie Sternberg's Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie, and Eli Stutz's Pickle Impossible. A veritable pickle cornucopia for you all!