Monday, September 30, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: DOLL BONES by Holly Black

DOLL BONES by Holly Black (Margaret K. McElderry, 2013)

What It's About: (via Goodreads):
Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity . . .

Opening Lines: "Poppy set down one of the mermaid dolls close to the stretch of asphalt road that represented the Blackest Sea. They were old--bought from Goodwill--with big shiny heads, different-colored tails, and frizzy hair."

What I Liked: Shameful admission time, but I haven't yet read The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony diTerlizzi. So, I don't know how this stand-alone novel compares. What I do know is that I am spooked by dolls.  (When I was young, I watched a movie that had a hideous doll that came to life. The famous line I remember was : "Rosa doesn't like you. She will punish you." Avid Googling has failed to turn up the name of this movie, so perhaps I was just possessed...) Thus, having a potentially haunted china doll causing all sorts of problems for Zach, Poppy, and Alice ratcheted the creep factor up nicely.

And it is creepy. The effect, I believe, is a result of the narrative voice--Zach's POV, but quite distant, allowing the narrative voice to say things like: "He wasn't sure how much time had passed when he finally stopped crying. It was a beautiful day--crisp, the way early fall days can be warm but have an occasional chill wind. The sky overhead was as blue as spilled ink from a pen. Leaves shivered above him." The narrative voice overlays the character's senses, making such lyrical descriptions possible.

Talking about descriptions--this is definitely one of Holly Black's strengths. She does a marvelous job portraying the dying heart of East Liverpool, and her passages about sailing make you feel like you own a boat yourself.

The story also has to do with testing friendships, and with children being on the cusp of growing up--and realizing they're growing up. As Poppy says: "I hate that you're going to leave me behind. I hate that everyone calls it growing up, but it seems like dying. It feels like each of you is being possessed and I'm next."

For kids that like creepiness in their stories, this one's a definite keeper!

About the Author (From Goodreads bio): 
Holly Black is a best-selling author of contemporary fantasy novels for kids, teens, and adults. She is the author of the Modern Faerie Tale series (TitheValiant, and Ironside), The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), and The Good Neighbors graphic novels (with Ted Naifeh) The Poison Eaters and Other Stories, a collection of short fiction, and The Curse Worker series (White CatRed Glove, and Black Heart). She is also the co-editor of three anthologies, Geektastic (with Cecil Castellucci), Zombies vs. Unicorns (with Justine Larbalestier), and Welcome to Bordertown(with Ellen Kushner). Her most recent works are the middle grade novel, Doll Bones, and the dark fantasy stand-alone, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.

She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Theo, in a house with a secret library.

Follow Holly Black on Twitter!

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Fiendishly Difficult Middle Grade Mafioso Quizathon: Your Chance to Prove Yourself a Middle Grade Master!

Are you a Middle Grade master? If so, you may be tempted to take my fiendish quiz.

Here are the rules: You have from now till Monday September 30th, 11:59 PM PST to take the quiz and send me the certificate of your results. (Correction: Actually, you don't have to send me the certificate. The Quiz program allows me to see your results! So, just send me an e-mail to, subject line I TOOK THE QUIZ, or leave a comment on the blog). One attempt per entrant, please!

The prize: a $25 gift certificate to a brick and mortar bookstore of your choice (including Barnes and Noble).

Extra prize: For every person you refer to take the quiz (and who mentions your referral in the comments), you will receive the chance of an extra $5, up to a grand total of $50. (i.e. refer 3 people (3 x $5) and, if you win, you would collect $40.

I'm hoping this will work and not have any glitches--this is the first time I've used the ProProf quiz maker. If there are snafus, the quiz will have to be taken down and reworked. But the Don and I are very confident! Good luck, and may the Middle Grade Knowledge be with you!

P.S. After you rock the quiz, head to Project Mayhem to congratulate our three new Mayhemmers!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: MY ROTTEN LIFE by David Lubar

MY ROTTEN LIFE by David Lubar (Starscape, 2009)

I have to start by saying that I follow David Lubar on both Facebook and Twitter and he is unfailingly witty and wise, as well as a veritable pun-meister. He is also very prolific!

What It's About: Ten-year-old Nathan Abercrombie is having a really bad day. First, Shawna Lanchester, the prettiest girl in his class, doesn't invite him to her party. Then he gets picked last in gym class. Things couldn't get any worse... until he gest doused with an experimental serum that turns him into a half-dead zombie!

Nathan soon discovers that being half-dead isn't all bad. He doesn't need any sleep, so he can stay up all night and play games online. He doesn't feel any pain, so there's no need to worry about Rodney the bully anymore. Still, Nathan would rather be human. Will he find a cure? Or will Nathan be half-dead forever?

Opening Lines: "It's no fun having your heart ripped from your body, slammed to the floor, and stomped into a puddle of quivering red mush. It's even less fun when it happens three times in one afternoon."

What I liked about it: The cover is an absolute winner. And the pacing never flags. By the end of chapter three, Nathan's already been doused by the Hurt-Be-Gone potion that will turn him into a zombie. And this version of a zombie is a winner: Nathan leads his school to victory by doing two hundred and thirty nine chin-ups, and then he shows what an amazing gamer he is (after all, zombies don't have to sleep, so Nathan can hone his gaming skills all night long.) It's a classic, rip-roaring middle grade novel that will have you in stitches--and rooting for the zombie.

About the Author:  David Lubar has written a ton of books, including several others in the Nathan Abercrombie series. He lives in Pennsylvania. You can find all sorts of information on his books, his life, and his views on humor at his website.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

O Happy Day! (Cybils Mark 3)

I teased you yesterday about some big news--and now I'm finally able to reveal it. I will be a Cybils Middle Grade panelist/judge for the third straight year!

For those of you who usually pay no heed to my ravings, the Cybils stands for Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards. 2013 marks the 8th year of the awards and, as usual, the Cybils are trying to honor books that combine literary merit with kid appeal. In other words, our winners are books like Origami Yoda, which is well-written and fun but isn't going to win the Newbery.

In 2011 I was a first round panelist, which meant I had to read over a hundred books. Brain Death ensued. Last year, I decided that being a round two judge and having to read only seven books in five weeks was more my speed. Fortunately, I was chosen to be a round two judge for this year too.

What I like most about the Cybils is the introduction it gives me to a huge crop of fun middle grade books, as well as an introduction to other book bloggers. We have great chats as we decide on our choices/winners, and so I'm always excited when the judging lists are published and I recognize old friends. This year, the first round for middle grade contains good pals like Deb A. Marshall, Jennifer Rumberger, and Jennifer Donovan. Our fearless leader (also a first round panelist) is the great Karen Yingling, whom I hold in the highest esteem.

As yet, I don't know the other second rounders, but I can bet they'll all turn out to be super-duper. The one thing that links us all, from our different backgrounds and experiences, is our LOVE for children's literature.


(Here's the full list)

2013 Middle Grade Fiction Judges

First Round

Second Round

Monday, September 16, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: PENELOPE CRUMB by Shawn K. Stout

PENELOPE CRUMB by Shawn K. Stout (Philomel 2012)

Opening Lines: "Miss Stunkel's art class is my All-Time Favorite. Don't get me wrong, the rest of fourth grade is all right, I guess. But for me, drawing is like wiggling my toes in the ocean. It just feels good."

What It's About (from jacket copy): There are some things that Penelope Crumb knows for certain:  Onions are the worst vegetable because they look like worms when they get all fried up. Miss Stunkel's Friday lizard pin is the best one of the week because it has rubies for eyes. And when a person is Graveyard Dead, they can never, ever come back back to life. Except... what if that person is your grandpa Felix? And what if you discover that you have his very same nose--one that happens to be EXTREMELY BIG?

When all of these things happen to Penelope Crumb, she knows just what to do: become a nose detective to find her long-lost grandfather and make her family whole again. But finding him isn't that easy, and Penelope has to sneak around, lie an eensy-weensy bit, and break about a gazillion of her mother's rules, risking the Very Biggest Punishment of Her Life. Is Grandpa Felix worth it? Penelope is pretty sure he will be--if she can ever find him, that is...

What I Liked:  I defy anyone not to fall in love with Penelope Crumb. She is one spunky fourth-grader, with a voice and a world view all her own. She just knows her older brother has been turned into an alien and renamed Terrible (his real name is Terrence.) She also knows that looks have descriptions all their own and in capital letters, especially if they come from Mom ( Mom "gives me a face that says, You Probably Aren't Going to Like What I'm About to Tell You.") Best of all, she wears her "colossal" nose as a badge of pride. After all, it's a link to her grandfather who (for reasons never spelled out) has been ignoring the family ever since Penelope's dad died.

Shawn K. Stout writes with appealing verve and with great insight into what it's like being a fourth-grade girl. I eagerly followed Penelope through the twists and turns of the narrative. The most delightful thing is that, throughout the novel, Penelope was the highly verbal engine of her own fate. I would highly recommend this novel [and hey, I've just found out there are sequels, (Penelope Crumb Never Forgets and Penelope Crumb Finds Her Luck) now both making their way to the top of my huge TBR list] to readers age 9-12.

About the Author: Shawn K. Stout's other novels are about Fiona Finkelstein, (but have been recently retitled.) She received her MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and lives with her family in Frederick, Maryland. She is represented by Sarah Davies of the Greenhouse Agency.

Find out more about Shawn K. Stout on her website here!

Finally, a big fat, happy September-back-to-school month from us at Middle Grade Mafioso. Lots more time for me and the Don to kibbitz and discuss media strategy now that the kiddos take the armor-plated limousine to school. I've got a whole bunch of book reviews I've been piling up, plus some exciting news to share tomorrow (though unfortunately not of the "I'm being published" kind, though we can but dream.) So pop on back on the morrow and find out my news. Thanks for reading!