Sunday, October 21, 2018

MMGM (10/22/2018): The Secrets of Eastcliff-by-the-Sea by Eileen Beha

For MMGM, I am recommending The Secrets of Eastcliff-by-the-Sea by Eileen Beha.

The Secrets of Eastcliff-by-the-Sea is told from the point of view of a sock monkey named Throckmorton. Ten years earlier, a wealthy woman named Ethel Constance Easterling sewed Throckmorton, her 49th sock money, and gave him to her new great-granddaughter, Annaliese, continuing a long-held tradition. Annaliese loved Throckmorton as a young child, but, all of a sudden, she stopped paying attention to him. But when Throckmorton's original maker sends out invitations to her 90th birthday celebration, which require that attendees bring their sock monkeys, Annaliese and Throckmorton happily reunite. Problems at Annaliese's home, Eastcliff-by-the-Sea, remain, however: she is still a lonely girl with a sad/angry father, a mother who left for reasons unknown to Annaliese, a nanny who doesn't fit in well at the home, and two siblings who are soon to be sent to boarding school, leaving Annaliese alone. In the days leading up to the big birthday celebration, Annaliese and Throckmorton learn more about what exactly is going on in the Easterling family, persevere through hardships, and prepare for the party, where several shocking events change both Annaliese and Throckmorton's lives forever. One of the best parts of The Secrets of Eastcliff-by-the-Sea is its characters. Throckmorton's third-person narration of the story does a great job of showing readers what it would be like to be a sock monkey, while Annaliese's remarkable personality allows her to keep going in her hard life, caring about others and bringing a spark of life to the world of the story. The story is rich with long-hidden family drama (which everyone loves when it isn't related to their families!), tales and traditions, and mystery. Other characters are wonderful as well, such as Annaliese's great-grandmother, whose remarkable eccentricities and wisdom make her a compelling addition to the story. Finally, the ending of the novel makes the 300-page read absolutely worth it, tying up story threads realistically and happily! The Secrets of Eastcliff-by-the-Sea is a novel unlike any other, and readers young and old will adore the novel's fabulous characters, developed world, and hopeful and uplifting themes!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

MMGM (10/8/2018): Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson

Sorry about my erratic posting schedule lately—life has become nothing short of insane! I have another graphic novel this week to recommend (they are helpful when I have almost no time to read): Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson. I hope to get back to posting more often—that may or may not be this month, but I'll try!

A few months ago, I read Greg Pattridge's review of Libenson's newer book, Positively Izzy, but I decided to read her debut graphic novel first. Invisible Emmie switches viewpoints between Emmie, an extremely quiet girl who loves to draw but hates to be around others, and Katie, an extremely popular girl who seems just about perfect. Emmie's part of the story looks like a book filled to the brim with illustrations (usually one or two per page), while Katie's storyline is drawn in traditional comic panels. The novel chronicles one day of school in which Emmie loses a silly but mortifying love note that she wrote with her friend, Brianna, and a mean student finds it and tells virtually the entire school. Katie (who shares Emmie's crush) attempts to help her, but it is ultimately up to Emmie to make the best of her situation, even if she is no longer as "invisible" as she used to be. Emmie is an excellent narrator for the majority of the story that she tells, interspersing silly doodles and visual gags with descriptions of her own anxiety and experiences. Katie may seem unrealistically perfect to the reader, but her qualities exist for a good reason (which will shock you when you learn it at the book's end!). Other characters in the book are great, too, such as Brianna, Emmie's super-smart and somewhat-bossy best friend (the same one who is a character in Positively Izzy), and some of the other students in the school, who gradually become more than just nameless faces. Finally, the art style of the novel is fun and cartoonish, and the use of dimmer, sadder colors in Emmie's portion and brighter, more vivid ones in Katie's portion helps to emphasize the two characters' different temperaments. All in all, Invisible Emmie is a fun-yet-poignant graphic novel that all readers, whether shy or not, will relate to and enjoy!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

MMGM (9/17/2018): Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

I'm back! For MMGM, I am recommending Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol.

I absolutely loved Brosgol's previous graphic novel, Anya's Ghost (see my review here), so I was extremely excited to see that she had a new one out! Be Prepared is a semi-memoir that chronicles 10-year-old Vera's experience at a Russian summer camp called ORRA. Initially, Vera is excited to find a place where she will not be the odd one because of her race and traditions, but the camp is not what she expected. Vera struggles with problems from being resented by fellow campers (whether by losing competitions or accidentally getting them in trouble) to being in a place without running water but with plenty of bitter, wild animals. However, Vera's determination (and some positives of camp, such as a friendly counselor named Natasha) help her make the best of her weeks at camp and maybe even have a little fun. I adored everything about this book, but one of my favorite parts about it was how compelling Vera herself is. Her misery makes you sympathetic toward her, but, despite making a couple of poor choices, she never dwells too much on her sadness and makes for a character you'll root for throughout the book. Another great part of the book is the art. Like Anya's Ghost, Be Prepared is drawn in a three-color style (this time green, black, and white) which gives the book as a whole a unique personality. Each drawing still manages to convey immense emotion, however, helping to draw readers in. Finally, I loved how the novel depicts what it is like to feel out of place due to factors such as race, money, age, and more. Almost every reader will relate to at least one of these themes. All in all, Be Prepared is an enormously enjoyable graphic novel that will elicit laughter, pain, joy, and awe from readers of all ages and personalities!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

MMGM (8/27/2018): The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson

For MMGM, I am recommending The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson.

This extremely short (about 130 pages) Newbery Honor book, which was first published all the way back in 1958, tells the story of a homeless man named Armand who is perfectly content with his life, in which he has given up responsibility and is free to do what he wants. However, Armand then finds a homeless single mother and her three children living under the bridge in Paris that he also lives under. He initially dislikes this family but later begins to bond with the children and take care of them while their mother works. Armand ends up trying to help the children and their mother find a home after realizing that having some responsibility in life can be worth it. This novel is fun to read, with Armand and the children's adventures helping to maintain an upbeat tone. The book's short length also works to make the book a breeze to move through! However, The Family Under the Bridge also tells an important story that can teach young children to have empathy for the homeless and not blame them for their plight, making it a valuable book that I wholeheartedly encourage everyone to read!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

MMGM (8/20/2018): The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Since school's started back up, I have very little time to write this post, so I'll keep it short! For MMGM, I am recommending The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.

Here's the publisher's description:

Gary D. Schmidt offers an unforgettable antihero in The Wednesday Wars — a wonderfully witty and compelling novel about a teenage boy's mishaps and adventures over the course of the 1967-68 school year.

Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn't like Holling — he's sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights. As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling finds Motivation — the Big M — in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself.

2008 Newbery Honor Boo

I read this book when I was in eighth grade, and I recall that, not only did I enjoy the novel, but so did the rest of my class! The Wednesday Wars takes place over the course of a single school year and chronicles narrator and protagonist Holling's experiences and mishaps. Instead of having a plot to move things along, the novel instead features many smaller storylines that discuss, amongst other things, Holling's selfish father and other family, his relationship with his teacher, or random events such as dealing with classmates or performing in plays. One of the best parts of the novel is how true it is to the era it is set in. The Vietnam War takes teachers' spouses to Vietnam, sends refugees to the school, and even prompts characters to join the anti-war movement or become hippies. The book also mentions current events relating to politics or civil rights, helping to make the book an interesting look into another time. Despite these topics, The Wednesday Wars still manages to be absolutely hilarious at times, such as when describing Holling's exaggerated struggles or other random occurrences (such as the "angry rats" mentioned in the publisher's description). The Wednesday Wars's combination of interesting plot events, hilarity, and important topics makes it a book that absolutely everyone should read!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

MMGM (8/13/2018): Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

For MMGM, I am recommending Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper.

I haven't read a book as touching and perspective-altering yet not relentlessly upsetting as Out of My Mind in a long time! The novel revolves around fifth-grader Melody Brooks, who is a genius with a photographic memory. There's just one problem: she has cerebral palsy, which makes it impossible for her to speak (she can just barely even move her hands) and traps all of her racing thoughts inside of her. Melody is particularly observant (as anyone would be if they couldn't talk) and appreciates the good parts of her life, such as her loving parents who help her with tasks as simple for others as eating and using the bathroom, her young and physically able sister Penny, and her neighbor Violet Valencia, or Mrs. V, who often takes care of her during the day, teaches her information in addition to that which she learns at school, and pushes her to succeed and not dwell in unhappiness. When Melody's special-needs class is integrated with several other classes and she gets a machine to help her talk for the first time, Melody enters the world of making friends and even participating on her school's quiz team while dealing with people's perceptions of her. Unlike many books, which are usually filled with dialogue between characters, Out of My Mind, especially before Melody gets her talking machine, is filled with Melody's own thoughts about her life. She realistically points out both the lovely and heartbreaking parts of her life, and author Sharon M. Draper makes sure to add in plenty of beautiful figurative language and vivid imagery. I also adored how richly developed every character's personality and history was, even with side characters such as Melody's special-needs or non-special-needs classmates. The ending of Out of My Mind will both break your heart and put it back together (hint: when you finish the book, flip to the beginning!), making the entire journey worth it. If you haven't read Out of My Mind, you're missing out on a book that introduces a new perspective, draws you back in again and again, and makes sure to make your heart hurt at times, but ultimately swell and grow!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

MMGM (8/6/2018): The Magic Cake Shop by Meika Hashimoto, with illustrations by Josée Masse

For MMGM, I am recommending The Magic Cake Shop by Meika Hashimoto, with illustrations by Josée Masse.

Not every book is a life-changing epitome of writing, with perfect characters and a perfect plot. The Magic Cake Shop is a bit silly, a bit ridiculous, and a bit immature (it might be best for older elementary schoolers or younger MG readers). However, if you take The Magic Cake Shop for what it is, which is a fun, extravagant ride of a novel that will appeal to your inner kid, it ends up being a delightful read that is worth the time! The Magic Cake Shop revolves around a girl named Emma who lives with two wealthy parents. Her parents are certainly not characters readers are supposed to sympathize with, being constantly obsessed with their appearances and Emma's (wanting her to get plastic surgery, for instance, or eat barely anything in order to stay thin). They send Emma to live with her exaggeratedly filthy, mean, and selfish uncle, Simon, for the summer, with her main source of solace being a nearby world-renowned bakery run by a man named Mr. Crackle. When a friend of Emma's uncle poisons the baker in order to force him to make a complex elixir, Emma helps Mr. Crackle gather ingredients and prepare the potion, learning about magic ingredients and stories about them in the process. One part of the book that I loved was just how exaggeratedly evil the villains of the story are. In a world where almost all books explore the motives and facets of every character, it is refreshingly fun to see how Emma sidesteps the almost-ridiculous levels of unpleasantness that these characters force on her. Author Meika Hashimoto also does a great job at thinking up the supernatural ingredients that Mr. Crackle uses to make desserts and the elixir, which range from gusts of wind and light from the Northern Lights to strange jumping blobs and magical berries (their Seussian names do get annoying after a while, though). What might be considered flaws of The Magic Cake Shop (its undeveloped antagonists and slight immaturity in general) I think readers will consider, as I did, part of the charm of the novel, which will be enjoyed by anyone who is a child at heart!

P.S. On Wednesday, Completely Full Bookshelf will become two years old!!! I want to thank to MMGM show runner Greg Pattridge (and his predecessor, Shannon Messenger) for helping my posts reach a broader audience, as well as my readers, for making sure that writing all of these posts has been worth it. I can't wait to see what this next year brings!