Saturday, October 21, 2017

MMGM (10/23/2017): Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

For MMGM, I am recommending Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate.




Here's the publisher's description:

In her first novel since winning the Newbery Medal, New York Times bestselling author Katherine Applegate delivers an unforgettable and magical story about family, friendship, and resilience.

Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There's no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He's large, he's outspoken, and he's imaginary. He has come back into Jackson's life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

Beloved author Katherine Applegate proves in unexpected ways that friends matter, whether real or imaginary.

This book is incredible! I should say now that this book is much sadder than many of the others that I have recommended recently. However, that, of course, does not diminish how touching it is. Crenshaw deftly portrays a financially troubled family, with children very aware of what their parents are not telling them. As Jackson, the narrator, both describes what is happening to his family presently and their past experience of living in their car, readers will understand, more than ever, what this family and similar ones in the real world are going through. Crenshaw, Jackson's realistic imaginary friend from the past who returns during the book, adds a touch of humor and warmth to the novel, as do Jackson's family members and friend, Marisol. Crenshaw is a book that everyone should read for its incredible depiction of real-life struggles, compelling characters, and sheer display of hope in the world.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

MMGM (10/16/2017): The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, with illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline

For MMGM, I am recommending The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (author of other books I have enjoyed, such as those here and here), with illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline.




Here's the publisher's description:

Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a china rabbit named Edward Tulane. The rabbit was very pleased with himself, and for good reason: he was owned by a girl named Abilene, who treated him with the utmost care and adored him completely.

And then, one day, he was lost.

Kate DiCamillo takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the depths of the ocean to the net of a fisherman, from the top of a garbage heap to the fireside of a hoboes' camp, from the bedside of an ailing child to the bustling streets of Memphis. And along the way, we are shown a true miracle -- that even a heart of the most breakable kind can learn to love, to lose, and to love again.

THE #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER is now available in paperback! This timeless tale by the incomparable Kate DiCamillo, complete with stunning illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline, honors the enduring power of love.

This book is simply incredible! When I first bought it, I promptly read it in 2 hours. While looking at it again for this review, I found myself sucked in and deeply touched by the end (even more so than when I first read it). The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is very fast-paced, but an incredible amount of impact is packed into each place where Edward ends up. Some places Edward enjoys, some he does not, and some he cares deeply about. One of the best parts of this book is simply how true the depictions of love and the loss of someone are. Many books try valiantly, but few convey the same amount of emotion that this book does. However, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is not so depressing that you can’t keep reading. The plot also helps pull the reader through, with an abundance of cliffhangers that will most likely force you into reading this book as quickly as I did! Everyone who reads The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane will come out of it deeply changed, making it a perfect book for any age, from young child to old adult!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

MMGM (10/9/2017): A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

For MMGM, I am recommending A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass.




Here's the publisher's description:

An award-winning book from the author of Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life and The Candymakers for fans for of Wonder and Counting by Sevens

Mia Winchell has synesthesia, the mingling of perceptions whereby a person can see sounds, smell colors, or taste shapes. Forced to reveal her condition, she must look to herself to develop an understanding and appreciation of her gift in this coming-of-age novel.

I love this book! One of the best parts of this book was getting to learn about the rare condition of synesthesia. The book is clearly well-researched, and readers will learn about synesthesia’s qualities, both good and bad. The book also has interesting characters with strengths and flaws. Although Mia makes mistakes throughout the book, she is still a good person who readers will like. The book deals with many complex themes, such as how people deal with death and how much people can care about pets. The book never slows down, with various events constantly happening that affect Mia in different ways, changing her immensely by the end of the book. Different parts of the book may show Mia’s relationship with her siblings or her friends, her dealing with synesthesia, or her dealing with the loss of her grandfather. This book is both heartbreaking and incredibly enjoyable, and every reader will love it by the end!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

No posts this week!

In the interest of enjoying the remaining few hours of my busy weekend, I will, unfortunately, not be posting anything this week. I will most likely have more posts next week (and a signed book giveaway coming up), so stay tuned!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

MMGM (9/25/2017): Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

For MMGM, I am recommending Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George.




Here's the publisher's description:

See where it all began with Jessica Day George's magical bestselling series!  

Tuesdays at Castle Glower are Princess Celie's favorite days. That's because on Tuesdays the castle adds a new room, a turret, or sometimes even an entire wing. No one ever knows what the castle will do next, and no one-other than Celie, that is-takes the time to map out the new additions. But when King and Queen Glower are ambushed and their fate is unknown, it's up to Celie, with her secret knowledge of the castle's never-ending twists and turns, to protect their home and save their kingdom.

I really enjoyed this book! One of my favorite things about it is how original its premise is. The author has taken what seem to be common elements of books, such as magic and royalty, and made a unique mash-up of them, helping to keep the plot interesting and unexpected. Of course, this is helped by the fact that the book moves quickly through many interesting events. Conspiracies are uncovered, people are trapped, and the castle's magic creates many fun twists and turns. Even as the plot rushes forward, however, the characters remain full of life and emotions, never becoming dull or caricatures of themselves. The main character, Celie, is especially likable, never becoming too much like an adult but still rising up in the face of a challenge. Although this book is part of a series, it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, so you can read it as a standalone book (I felt that the second book in the series went too slowly, but people have enjoyed the later books, so it may be worth it to read the whole series). Whether you read it by itself or along with the rest of the series, Tuesdays at the Castle is a wonderfully fun book for readers of all ages!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

MMGM (9/18/2017): The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

For MMGM, I am recommending The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.




Here's the publisher's description:

It takes a graveyard to raise a child.

Nobody Owens, known as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised by ghosts, with a guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the dead. There are adventures in the graveyard for a boy—an ancient Indigo Man, a gateway to the abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible Sleer. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, he will be in danger from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family.

The Graveyard Book, a modern classic, is the only work to ever win both the Newbery (US) and Carnegie (UK) medals. A New York Times bestseller.

I love this book! There are so many things I could talk about, but here are the major ones. Firstly, the characters are very well-rounded, with interesting backstories (some of which are initially mysteries to the reader) and personalities. Bod, even though he does make mistakes, is still a likable main character. Also, the writing of The Graveyard Book is great. It has its own personality (just like in another of Gaiman's books that I enjoyed, Coraline), making every part of the book interesting. There is enjoyable description which makes scenes vivid and often adds a sense of creepiness. Finally, the plot of the book is great. There are subplots, twists, and climactic scenes that keep the reader on the edge of their seat. All in all, The Graveyard Book is a fabulous novel that absolutely deserves both the Newbery Medal that it won and the love of readers everywhere!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

MMGM (9/11/2017): Heartbeat by Sharon Creech

For MMGM, I am recommending Heartbeat by Sharon Creech.




Here's the publisher's description:

Run run run.

That's what twelve-year-old Annie loves to do. When she's barefoot and running, she can hear her heart beating . . . thump-Thump, thump-Thump. It's a rhythm that makes sense in a year when everything's shifting: Her mother is pregnant, her grandfather is forgetful, and her best friend, Max, is always moody. Everything changes over time, just like the apple Annie's been assigned to draw. But as she watches and listens, Annie begins to understand the many rhythms of life, and how she fits within them.

I loved everything about this book! One of my favorite things about it was the writing. The main character, Annie, has a realistic voice which is both thoughtful and down-to-earth, and the writing is expressed in beautiful, rhythmic verse. Scenes are described vividly, as are the emotions contained within them (unsurprising, since Creech has written many amazing books, including Newbery Medal-winning Walk Two Moons). The book has a great plot as well, never dragging on as it jumps from one topic to another, dealing with aging, friendship, and new siblings, with added extras thrown in (such as running or drawing an apple). Heartbeat is not very long (only 180 pages of verse in large font), but each chapter is a touching moment. Everyone who is lucky enough to read this book will definitely enjoy it!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Poetry Sunday: Three poems! (no MMGM)

I have no MMGM this week, since I have had no time to read or reread a book. However, to make up for it, I am recommending three poems for Poetry Sunday! The first is "The Panther" by Rainer Maria Rilke, the second is "After Apple-Picking" by Robert Frost, and the third is poem 449 ("I died for Beauty — but was scarce . . . " by Emily Dickinson. I hope you enjoy these!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

MMGM (8/28/2017): The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd

For MMGM, I am recommending The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd.




Here's the publisher's description:

Everyone in Emma's family is special. Her ancestors include Revolutionary War spies, brilliant scientists, and famous musicians — every single one of which learned of their extraordinary destiny through a dream. For Emma, her own dream can't come soon enough. Right before her mother died, Emma promised that she'd do whatever it took to fulfill her destiny, and she doesn't want to let her mother down. But when Emma's dream finally arrives, it points her toward an impossible task: finding a legendary treasure hidden in her town's cemetery. If Emma fails, she'll let down generations of extraordinary ancestors, including her own mother. But how can she find something that's been missing for centuries and might be protected by a mysterious singing ghost? With her signature blend of lyrical writing, quirky humor, and unforgettable characters, Natalie Lloyd's The Key to Extraordinary cements her status as one of the most original voices writing for children today.

I really enjoyed this book! One of the best parts about it are the characters. Emma is a fun, likable character, and almost all of the cast is kind and cares deeply about one another. In addition, The Key to Extraordinary features a very vivid setting (a small town called Blackbird Hollow). Featuring interesting flowers and rumors of ghosts, the town and all of the places in it make the book gripping and immersive. Finally, the plot of the book is fabulous. It never drags on or moves too quickly, and it feature many different events, some of which have to do with Emma, and some with others. There is a great balance of magic and realism, many interesting discoveries, and a delightful ending. The Key to Extraordinary is an amazing book that no one will want to put down!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

No posts this week!

Since I went back to school on Monday, I had very little time to read or think, so I will not post anything this week. I should be back to normal by the upcoming weekend (but no promises)! I hope everyone has a great week!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Poetry Sunday (8/13/2017): "I Will Sing You One-O" by Robert Frost

I've been reading a lot of Robert Frost poems lately, so, for today's Poetry Sunday post, I am recommending his poem, "I Will Sing You One-O." I hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

MMGM (8/14/2017): El Deafo by Cece Bell

For MMGM, I am recommending El Deafo by Cece Bell.




Here's the publisher's description:

Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful—and very awkward—hearing aid.
The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear—sometimes things she shouldn’t—but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is. After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become “El Deafo, Listener for All.” And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she’s longed for.

Several years ago, I read El Deafo, a graphic novel and winner of a Newbery Honor, in one sitting. Years later, it had stuck with me, which is why I am recommending it today. I have so many positive things to say about it. Firstly, I love the story, which is based on the author's childhood as she navigated her life with little hearing and conspicuous hearing aids. The writing and illustrations combined paint a very vivid picture of both struggling in everyday life and of having trouble being accepted by others. Also, I love the art style of the book, which seems to depict the characters as rabbits (which one can tell by looking at the ironically large ears) and adds a touch of whimsy to the book. In fact, El Deafo is never overly sad, which makes it even more realistic, enjoyable, and powerful. Young children will enjoy the depictions of childhood and will understand the message, while older children and adults will appreciate the narration of the book, seeming to come straight from the author, and will still feel touched by the book's theme of accepting one's differences and making the best of them.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

MMGM (8/7/2017) Classic Critique: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

If you were reading this blog several months ago, you might remember that I did a post in a new style I called Classic Critique, where I list the pros and cons of a famous book. Today, I am critiquing To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (which I wholeheartedly recommend). First, however, I would like to tell you that today is the one-year anniversary of Completely Full Bookshelf! I first posted on this blog on August 7, 2016, when I recommended When You Reach Me. I would like to thank all of the authors of the books that I loved so much, and I would also like to thank all of my readers, old and new, for giving me a supportive audience to recommend books to. Now, to the review!




Pros:
  • The characters. One of the best parts of To Kill a Mockingbird is the characters. Scout is a great main character who learns as the story goes on and whose adult self looks back on her child self without either looking down on her or seeming like she hasn't changed at all. Scout's older brother, Jem, annoys Scout at times but is still a good person, and Scout's father, Atticus, is both very wise and is a unique parent. Readers will also like some of the townsfolk, such as Maudie Atkinson.
  • A plot that moves. Many classic books that I have read drag on without any thing happening. To Kill a Mockingbird is a welcome exception to that statement. No events are rushed, but none are focused on for longer than they need to be. Also, none of the plot events are boring or particularly depressing (some are sad, but they don't emphasize it).
  • The ending. The main plot point of To Kill a Mockingbird doesn't have the happiest ending. However, rather than ending with a clich├ęd message of hope (which would have been fine, but not great), one final event happens that shapes the entire end of the story and makes the reader forget all about the preceding hardships (at least in the moment).
  • The writing. To Kill a Mockingbird is simply a well-written book. No sentences are awkward, and the book has a great mix of beauty and humor. There are great metaphors (such as the one in the title) and great descriptions both of scenery and, often, of the behavior of society.
  • The messages about race and gender roles. To seal the deal, To Kill a Mockingbird has great messages as well. Some of these are about race (Atticus, a lawyer, is defending an African-American man in court, and the book discusses both how racism is wrong and how not as many people are racist as we think), and some of these are about gender roles (when Scout's aunt comes to live with her family, she is constantly appalled by Scout's behavior, which involves playing outside and wearing overalls instead of dresses). These messages add to an already great book to create one that is worthy of all of the praise it has gained over the years.

Cons:
  • Sometimes, even people Scout's own age seem wiser than her. I doubt that everyone will agree with my cons, but I'm still writing them down anyway. During the book, Scout is not nearly as wise as those older than her when it comes to racism. However, over the course of the book, Jem, who is just a few years older than Scout, and Scout and Jem's friend Dill, who is of a similar age, are both upset over racism, while Scout isn't, really. This casts a somewhat negative light over Scout, which is jarring.
  • One particular sexist moment. One other moment in To Kill a Mockingbird bothered me as well. At one point, Atticus is explaining to Scout that women aren't allowed to serve as jurors. However, rather than condemning this practice, he condoned it, with his reason being the usual "women are fragile" lie. In addition, he also jokes that, if women served as jurors, they would constantly be interrupting. Both of these got to me. Although everyone is flawed, I have always found prejudice to be worse than many other flaws, and, with Atticus being one of the few people who isn't racist throughout the course of the book, these comments were very strange and somewhat upsetting.

Verdict:
To Kill a Mockingbird isn't perfect, but no book is. It is still an incredible story that any reader will remember for the course of their life and come out of feeling changed for the better. Although some classics are only famous for being good in their time, To Kill a Mockingbird is still better than many books published today, and it probably will be forever.

Poetry Sunday (8/6/2017): "Good Hours" by Robert Frost

Since my blog is turning one year old tomorrow, I decided to be a more responsible blogger and resume my Poetry Sunday posts. Today, I am recommending "Good Hours" by Robert Frost. I hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

MMGM (7/31/2017): Upside-Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins

For MMGM, I am recommending Upside-Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins.




Here's the publisher's description:

In a world of elite magic academies, weird and wonderful things happen when you're sent off to public school...and put in the Upside-Down Magic class. 

It's never easy when your magic goes wonky.

For Nory, this means that instead of being able to turn into a dragon or a kitten, she turns into both of them at the same time-a dritten.

For Elliott, the simple act of conjuring fire from his fingertips turns into a fully frozen failure.

For Andres, wonky magic means he's always floating in the air, bouncing off the walls, or sitting on the ceiling.

For Bax, a bad moment of magic will turn him into a . . . actually, he'd rather not talk about that.

Nory, Elliott, Andres, and Bax are just four of the students in Dunwiddle Magic School's Upside-Down Magic class. In their classroom, lessons are unconventional, students are unpredictable, and magic has a tendency to turn wonky at the worst possible moments. Because it's always amazing, the trouble a little wonky magic can cause . . .

I really enjoyed this book, seeing as how I read it in 2 days (although it is short) and have already started the first sequel (book 4 will come out this January)! The main character of the book is Nory, a girl who lives in a world where everyone has some sort of magic powers. Nory's powers, like those of many others in the book, allow her to turn into different animals, but, unlike the powers of others, these animals are usually not one animal, but a blend (such as the dragon-kitten combination, or "dritten," shown on the cover). In addition, Nory often loses control over her animal forms to pure instinct. For these reasons, Nory does not get into the private magic school run by her father, who sends her away from her family to live with her aunt and go to a public school. During the course of the book, Nory struggles with being away from her family and having trouble in her class, but she also starts to like her aunt, teacher, and classmates and learns that her powers, despite being judged and ridiculed by many, can actually be useful. All of the characters in Upside-Down Magic are fully fleshed-out (even the bullies), and the plot never drags on, instead moving quickly thanks to the book's short size. Although this book is aimed at 5th or 6th graders, who will definitely enjoy it, older readers will still love the messages and characters and want to try the sequels A.S.A.P.!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

MMGM (7/24/2017): The Wells & Wong Mystery series (Murder Is Bad Manners, etc.) by Robin Stevens

For MMGM, I am recommending the Wells & Wong Mystery series (Murder Is Bad Manners, Poison Is Not Polite, and First Class Murder) by Robin Stevens.




(Note: The cover shown is for Murder Is Bad Manners.)

Here's the publisher's description for the first book in the series, Murder Is Bad Manners:

Two friends form a detective agency—and must solve their first murder case—in this “sharp-witted debut” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) that is the first adventure in a brand-new middle grade mystery series set at a 1930s boarding school.

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are best friends at Deepdean School for Girls, and they both have a penchant for solving mysteries. In fact, outspoken Daisy is a self-described Sherlock Holmes, and she appoints wallflower Hazel as her own personal Watson when they form their own (secret!) detective agency. The only problem? They have nothing to investigate.

But that changes once Hazel discovers the body of their science teacher, Miss Bell—and the body subsequently disappears. She and Daisy are certain a murder must have taken place, and they can think of more than one person with a motive.

Determined to get to the bottom of the crime—and to prove that it happened—before the killer strikes again, Hazel and Daisy must hunt for evidence, spy on their suspects, and use all the cunning, scheming, and intuition they can muster. But will they succeed? And can their friendship stand the test?


Some books are meant to be digested slowly and carefully, while others are designed to pull the reader through at lightning-speed and get them interested. Murder Is Bad Manners and its sequels fall into the latter category. This series (which I heard about from fellow MMGMers Michael Gettel-Gilmartin and Sue Kooky) combines a well-thought-out, intriguing murder mystery with the story of two very-different best friends in 1930s Great Britain. One of the best parts of this series is the characters. The two main characters are Daisy Wells, a popular girl at her boarding school who secretly decides to become a detective, and Hazel Wong (the narrator), a girl from Hong Kong who is befriended by Daisy and dragged into being her assistant. Daisy and Hazel have very different personalities (Daisy is impulsive, while Hazel is thoughtful) and sometimes fight, but this only adds to making their friendship seem very realistic. Both characters have their own struggles, such as family relationships and, in Hazel's case, standing out because of race, and these are well-illustrated in the series, especially the later books. Another part of the series that I love is each mystery. Filled with clues, twists, and both relevant and irrelevant secrets, the mysteries will grab the attention of any reader and leave them both shocked and pleased at the end. The series uses just the right amount of foreshadowing, making it challenging, but possible, to guess the ending. Finally, the victims and suspects are very realistic and compelling as well. The books in the Wells & Wong Mystery series will be enjoyed by both child and adult alike, with just the right balance of real-world elements and dramatic mystery.
 
Note: The books in the Wells & Wong Mystery series were originally published by Penguin Random House in the United Kingdom, where it is known as the Murder Most Unladylike series. The books were then republished in the United States by Simon & Schuster. Book 4 (Jolly Foul Play) has been released in the U.K., and it will be released in the U.S. in April. Book 5 (Mistletoe and Murder) has been released in the U.K., but U.S. publication has not been announced. The same has occurred for the short story compilation Cream Buns and Crime (which contains the Deepdean Mini-Mysteries shown on Robin Stevens's website), and will most likely occur again for the untitled, but announced, book 6. A list of books is available on Robin Stevens's website, robin-stevens.co.uk.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

MMGM (7/17/2017): From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

For MMGM, I am recommending a classic: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg.




Here's the book's description:

Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away . . . so she decided to run not from somewhere but to somewhere—somewhere large, warm, comfortable, and beautiful. And that was how Claudia and her brother, Jamie, ended up living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art—and right in the middle of a mystery that made headlines.
     Forty years ago, two motion pictures, and millions of devoted fans later, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler remains a modern classic, a favorite of children and adults alike. 

(Note: This description is from my 10-year-old copy of the book. Actually, the book is turning 50 this year!)

I read this book several years ago, and, just like people did 50 years ago (it was published in 1967 and later won a Newbery Medal), loved it! There are so many things I could say about it, but I'll try to limit myself. Firstly, the format of the story is very interesting. The narrator is actually Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, as she recounts the story of Claudia and Jamie for her lawyer. Her frequent interruptions to tell him something are amusing, and her narration is enjoyable. Claudia and Jamie are spectacular characters as well, seeming like both children (which they are) and intelligent adults (which they try to act like). The setting of the story, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (as it was during the 1960s), is very vivid, and its description shows why Claudia wanted to run away there. Claudia's internal conflict is set up very well, and Claudia is shown to change, as a person, throughout the course of the book. This book (which actually allowed Konigsburg to become the only person to win a Newbery Medal and Newbery Honor in the same year) is a classic for good reason, and even children and adults who wouldn't normally enjoy such a book will find themselves sucked in and happy from beginning to end.

Friday, July 7, 2017

MMGM (7/10/2017): The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart

For MMGM, I am recommending The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart.




Here's the publisher's description:

Before there was a Mysterious Benedict Society, there was simply a boy named Nicholas Benedict. Meet the boy who started it all....

Nine-year-old Nicholas Benedict has more problems than most children his age. Not only is he an orphan with an unfortunate nose, but also he has narcolepsy, a condition that gives him terrible nightmares and makes him fall asleep at the worst possible moments. Now he's sent to a new orphanage, where he encounters vicious bullies, selfish adults, strange circumstances -- and a mystery that could change his life forever. Luckily, he has one important thing in his favor: He's a genius. 

On his quest to solve the mystery, Nicholas finds enemies around every corner, but also friends in unexpected places -- and discovers along the way that the greatest puzzle of all is himself.

As a fan of the Mysterious Benedict Society series (whose first book I recommended here), I was excited to read the series's prequel, and I'm glad I did — I liked it even more than the series, if that's possible! Just like with the main series, one of my favorite parts of The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict is the great writing, which is sometimes humorous, sometimes emotional, and always enjoyable. Nicholas, the main character, has both realistic flaws and many more good qualities, making him an extremely likable character. Two friends that he makes over the course of the book, John and Violet, are also very complex people, and even minor characters, such as some of the staff at the orphanage where Nicholas lives, have very realistic traits. The setting of the orphanage is well-described, and the plot is packed full of many different events, preventing the book from ever once becoming dull. Finally, the book tackles many interesting themes, such as bullying, family, and whether the world is actually as selfish as we think. This book is both a great insight into one of The Mysterious Benedict Society's best characters and just, overall, an extremely enjoyable read!



Sunday, July 2, 2017

No posts this week!

Due to July 4th, I will not be posting either a Poetry Sunday post (which I will do again soon!) or an MMGM review. I hope everyone has a great July 4th!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

MMGM (6/26/2017): Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker

For MMGM, I am recommending Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker.




Here's the publisher's description:

“If it wasn’t for the fused-with-Zyx thing, I suppose I would just be normal—whatever that means.”

When Felix Yz was three years old, a hyperintelligent fourth-dimensional being became fused inside him after one of his father’s science experiments went terribly wrong. The creature is friendly, but Felix—now thirteen—won’t be able to grow to adulthood while they’re still melded together. So a risky Procedure is planned to separate them . . . but it may end up killing them both instead.

This book is Felix’s secret blog, a chronicle of the days leading up to the Procedure. Some days it’s business as usual—time with his close-knit family, run-ins with a bully at school, anxiety about his crush. But life becomes more out of the ordinary with the arrival of an Estonian chess Grandmaster, the revelation of family secrets, and a train-hopping journey. When it all might be over in a few days, what matters most?

Told in an unforgettable voice full of heart and humor,
Felix Yz is a groundbreaking story about how we are all separate, but all connected too.

Before I tell you all of the ways in which I loved this book, I first want to tell you that I originally heard about this book in a review by fellow MMGMer Greg Pattridge on his blog, Always in the Middle. (If you haven't been to his blog before, I suggest you do so immediately!) I am so glad that I bought this book for so many reasons! In the book, a teacher of Felix's explains to him that he has his own writing voice, which set the bar high for me, as a reader. Luckily, I was not disappointed! The way the sentences are written and the words used, you can practically hear Felix narrating the story. As you've probably noticed if you've read the description, Felix Yz has a very unique premise. The premise only gets more unique as the book goes on, however, with many other things, including an adventure-related plot point, coming into play. Even things that might be expected are still done well, such as Felix's often-humorous interactions with Zyx that lighten up some of the more depressing scenes. Finally, one of the book's major topics is gender. From characters who love others of the same gender (including Felix) to one who changes gender often and even a minor transgender character, Felix Yz shows that not conforming to gender norms is perfectly okay and irrelevant to who you are as a person. Every reader will find something to love or relate to in Felix Yz, making it a truly amazing read for anyone!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

MMGM (6/29/2017): Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

For MMGM, I am recommending Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.




Here's the publisher's description:

“Fans of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder will appreciate this feel-good story of friendship and unconventional smarts.” —Kirkus Reviews

Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions.  She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.

The author of the beloved One for the Murphys gives readers an emotionally-charged, uplifting novel that will speak to anyone who’s ever thought there was something wrong with them because they didn’t fit in.

I really enjoyed this book! This book discusses a topic found in few books: dyslexia. The main character, Ally, has, but is not diagnosed with, dyslexia, making it hard for her to do schoolwork and even read a menu (as seen in one point in the book). As a relative of someone with dyslexia, I find the portrayal of Ally's symptoms and struggles very realistic. The book also discusses topics such as bullying (a girl named Shay relentlessly makes fun of Ally) and friendship (Ally befriends two kids, Keisha and Albert, who also deal with Shay). The characters in Fish in a Tree are fully fleshed out, from bullies and classmates to Ally's teacher, Mr. Daniels, who helps her overcome both her dyslexia and her shame because of it. In addition, the book strikes a perfect balance between happy and sad moments. All in all, Fish in a Tree is both a great description of dyslexia and an enjoyable read for anyone!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

MMGM (6/12/2017): Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

For MMGM, I am recommending Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.




Here's the description from the back of the book:

When ten-year-old India Opal Buloni moves to Naomi, Florida, with her father, she doesn't know what to expect — least of all that she'll adopt Winn-Dixie, a dog she names after the supermarket where they meet. With such an unusually friendly dog at her side, Opal soon finds herself making more than a few unusual friends. And soon, Opal and her father realize — with a little help from Winn-Dixie, of course — that while they've both tasted a bit of melancholy in their lives, they still have a whole lot to be thankful for.

One of the best parts about Because of Winn-Dixie is the varied lineup of characters, all of whom are central to the book. Some much younger than Opal and some much older, all of them have their own voices and troubles. Even Winn-Dixie is so well described, he seems to come to life. The book has several lessons in it, such as the importance of ignoring people's past actions and focusing on their present ones, or even just the awfulness of wars. The main character, Opal, has a great voice, and her backstory of having a mother who is not dead, but has left, is refreshing. The book is a short, quick read (being much shorter than another book by DiCamillo that I recommended, Raymie Nightingale) that is very enjoyable and not too sad. Anyone who reads Because of Winn-Dixie (a Newbery Honor Book), whether child or adult, is sure to love it as much as I did!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

MMGM (6/5/2017): The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

For MMGM, I am recommending The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm.




Here's the publisher's description:

Believe in the possible . . . with this New York Times bestseller by three-time Newbery Honor winner Jennifer L. Holm. A perfect Father’s Day read about a child’s relationship with her grandfather! 

Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer. Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far? 

Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this gawky teenager really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth? 

With a lighthearted touch and plenty of humor, Jennifer Holm celebrates the wonder of science and explores fascinating questions about life and death, family and friendship, immortality . . . and possibility. Look for EXCLUSIVE NEW MATERIAL in the paperback—including Ellie’s gallery of scientists and other STEM-appropriate features.

This book is great! One thing that I love about it is its combination of life lessons (such as about the circle of life and about how scientific discoveries can change the world, for better or worse) and a story that is often funny and optimistic. The premise of the book (of someone reverting to a younger age and wanting to reveal the discovery so that people can avoid old age) is very unique and interesting, but the book is not really a science-fiction book, as opposed to a realistic story with some science-fiction thrown in. The book's main character, Ellie, is a great narrator for the story, and the way her life changes (such as by making new friends and losing old ones) is another great part of the book. The Fourteenth Goldfish is a great read with many important things to say!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

MMGM (5/29/2017): The Year of the Book, written by Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Abigail Halpin

For MMGM, I am recommending The Year of the Book, written by Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Abigail Halpin.




Here's the publisher's description:

In Chinese, peng you means friend. But in any language, all Anna knows for certain is that friendship is complicated.  

When Anna needs company, she turns to her books. Whether traveling through A Wrinkle in Time, or peering over My Side of the Mountain, books provide what real life cannot—constant companionship and insight into her changing world.  

Books, however, can’t tell Anna how to find a true friend. She’ll have to discover that on her own. In the tradition of classics like Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books and Eleanor Estes’ One Hundred Dresses, this novel subtly explores what it takes to make friends and what it means to be one.

I really enjoyed this book! Although it is aimed more towards the younger end of the middle grade spectrum, it can be appreciated by anyone of any age. One focus of the book is on friendship, as Anna makes a new friend and copes with her friend Laura's befriending of two popular kids who aren't particularly nice to anyone, including Laura. Anna's family, particularly her mother, struggles with acclimating to the United States after immigrating from China. Anna is often embarrassed by her mother's struggles with English and job cleaning apartments as she goes to college. Laura also has family struggles, as her parents often fight, and her father often breaks things and has been kicked out of the house. The Year of the Book is a very enjoyable read, and Anna, despite making many mistakes, is a likable protagonist and narrator. All in all, The Year of the Book is a great read that discusses many important topics (and has several sequels)!

Poetry Sunday (5/28/2017): "Summer Storm" by Dana Gioia

For Poetry Sunday, I am recommending "Summer Storm" by Dana Gioia. I hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

MMGM (5/22/2017): Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar

For MMGM, I am recommending Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar.




(This cover is the redesigned version for the paperback.)

Here's the publisher's description:

While her friends are spending their summers having pool parties and sleepovers, twelve-year-old Carolina — Carol — is spending hers in the New Mexico desert, helping her parents move her grandfather into a home for people with dementia. At first, Carol avoids prickly Grandpa Serge. But as the summer wears on, Carol finds herself drawn to him, fascinated by the crazy stories he tells her about a healing tree, a green-glass lake, and the bees that will bring back the rain and end a hundred years of drought. As the line between magic and reality starts to blur, Carol must decide for herself what is possible — and what it means to be true to her roots.

I really enjoyed this book. One of my favorite things about it is the amount of major topics that it discusses. Carol's family is Hispanic, and her grandfather, who suffers from dementia, tries to convince her to be proud of her heritage and ethnicity. This ties in to Grandpa Serge's home, since Carol's family is moving Serge, who suffers from dementia, out of his long-time home and into a nursing facility. One major point of the book is Carol's deciphering of her grandfather's stories as she determines whether they are real or figments of his dementia. The author describes Serge's home and its desert location extremely well, combining majesty and torture (i.e. the heat). The book, narrated by Carol, is an enjoyable read, and it is not particularly depressing, despite discussing things that are exactly that. The book's small cast of characters allows each one to shine. Finally, the ending is amazing, being extremely unexpected and both sad and enjoyable. Hour of the Bees is a unique book that will be enjoyed by nearly everyone!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

MMGM (5/15/2017): Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

For MMGM, I am recommending Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass.




(Note: The cover was redesigned when a movie based on this book was released.)

Here's the publisher's description:

Jeremy Fink has been obsessed with the meaning of life ever since a box from his father arrived at his house five years after his father was killed in a car accident. Jeremy is determined to find the missing keys that will open the box that supposedly contains the meaning of life. Jeremy and his best friend Lizzy make it their summer quest to get inside the mysterious box. But after getting into some trouble, they get stuck doing community service together, helping an antique shop owner deliver things to different parts of the city. It turns out that these deliveries aren't always ordered, the recipients react unexpectedly, some with anger, some with tears. As Jeremy and Lizzy's summer adventures continue, they begin to discover the meaning of life and themselves along with it. 

As with the first book of Wendy Mass's that I reviewed (here), I love this book! One of my favorite things about it is how uplifting it is. Even through struggles or conflict, the book is resolutely hopeful and always enjoyable to read. Another great thing about it is the characters. The main character and narrator, Jeremy, has a very unique voice that shows as he ponders life or just talks about his collection of "mutant candy," and his best friend and total opposite, Lizzy, is a great character as well. Finally, I love the unique plot of this book. Jeremy and Lizzy try to open the box from Jeremy's father by searching for the 4 keys needed to open it, and they also ask people what the meaning of life is during their community service (or even outside of it). The twist at the end is amazing, and it seals my love of this book, which everyone should read!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

MMGM (5/8/2017): Flying Lessons & Other Stories, edited by Ellen Oh

For MMGM, I am recommending Flying Lessons & Other Stories by various authors, and edited by Ellen Oh.




Flying Lessons & Other Stories is not a typical middle grade book. It is a collection of short stories from various middle-grade authors, some new and some well-known, with an emphasis on diversity. This is not shocking, considering that the book is affiliated with We Need Diverse Books (a cofounder of which, Ellen Oh, edited the book). I love this book! Each story is interesting, usually being about 20 pages, the perfect length for their plots. It is very satisfying to read short stories by some of my favorite authors, such as Grace Lin (whose books I have recommended here and here).   Several of the authors are even Newbery winners! I also love the diversity of the stories, especially since it is actually a major part of each story, as opposed to simply being a meaningless statement that does not change the story. This book is perfect for anyone, whether in school or just as a personal read, and makes a powerful statement about the importance of diversity in books.

Poetry Sunday (5/7/2017): "The Waking" by Theodore Roethke

For Poetry Sunday, I am recommending "The Waking" by Theodore Roethke. I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

MMGM (5/1/2017): All the Answers by Kate Messner

For MMGM, I am recommending All the Answers by Kate Messner.




Here's the publisher's description:

What if your pencil had all the answers? Would you ace every test? Would you know what your teachers were thinking? When Ava Anderson finds a scratched up pencil, she doodles like she would with any other pencil. But when she writes a question in the margin of her math quiz, she hears a clear answer in a voice no one else seems to hear. 

With the help of her friend Sophie, Ava figures out that the pencil will answer factual questions only--those with definite right or wrong answers--but won't predict the future. Ava and Sophie discover all kinds of uses for the pencil, and Ava's confidence grows with each answer. But it's getting shorter with every sharpening, and when the pencil reveals a scary truth about Ava's family, she realizes that sometimes the bravest people are the ones who live without all the answers . . .

This book has become one of my all-time favorites. I love the premise, the characters, and the fun (and horrible) revelations, but most of all, I love this book's depiction of anxiety. As someone who has anxiety, I can relate to how the main character, Ava, often worries, whether about her family or her safety on a particularly nerve-wracking school field trip. Ava's worries and how she is sometimes trapped in them, nearing full-blown panic, or overcoming them, finally convincing herself to do things, is so realistic that it seems just like a vivid memory. I love how Ava's relationship with the pencil is both good, allowing Ava to help others, such as at her grandfather's nursing home, and bad, allowing Ava to answer her worries, some of which are true, making her worry more in anticipation and dread. Finally, I love how this book manages many complex topics, as well as many smaller ones, to create an incredibly realistic depiction of life and of a person with anxiety. (Even despite the magic pencil!) This book is amazingly written and so enjoyable to read, whether through the true-to-life sad parts or the truly uplifting happy ones.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

MMGM (4/24/2017): Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

For MMGM, I am recommending Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol.




Here's the publisher's description:

Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn't kidding about the "forever" part . . . 
Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who's been dead for a century. 
Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya's normal life might actually be worse. She's embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she's pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend—even a ghost—is just what she needs. 
Or so she thinks. 
Spooky, sardonic, and secretly sincere, Anya's Ghost is a wonderfully entertaining debut graphic novel from author/artist Vera Brosgol.

I really enjoyed this graphic novel! It is a very quick read (I read it in about an hour), as well as a very fun one. The main character, Anya, has a family who has only lived in America for several years, having come from Russia. Anya smokes in an attempt to seem cool, and she isn't a good student. Just a few pages in, Anya falls down a well, where she meets the ghost of someone who died in the well. Anya and the ghost become fast friends, at least until they have a falling out and Anya discovers something shocking about the ghost. Although Anya makes many mistakes, she is a likable character, and she is very realistic. I also enjoyed the book's theme, which is mainly about how we perceive people as having better lives than we do, when that may not be true. Finally, I love the art style of this book, which is drawn mainly in black and white, although the black has more of a purple look to it. All in all, Anya's Ghost is an entertaining, thoughtful, and just-creepy-enough read!

Poetry Sunday (4/23/2017): "Rain" by Mary Oliver

If you've ever read my early Poetry Sunday posts, you might be aware that I often recommended Mary Oliver poems. Today, however, I finally get to recommend my favorite, which I don't think was legally available online until now: "Rain" by Mary Oliver. I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

MMGM (4/10/2017): Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

For today's MMGM, I am recommending Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead (author of When You Reach Me).





(If you are confused by this cover, it is the redesigned version, not the original.)

Here's the publisher's description:

This brilliant, New York Times bestselling novel from the author of the Newbery Medal winner When You Reach Me explores multiple perspectives on the bonds and limits of friendship. 

Long ago, best friends Bridge, Emily, and Tab made a pact: no fighting. But it’s the start of seventh grade, and everything is changing. Emily’s new curves are attracting attention, and Tab is suddenly a member of the Human Rights Club. And then there’s Bridge. She’s started wearing cat ears and is the only one who’s still tempted to draw funny cartoons on her homework.  

It’s also the beginning of seventh grade for Sherm Russo. He wonders: what does it mean to fall for a girl—as a friend?  

By the time Valentine’s Day approaches, the girls have begun to question the bonds—and the limits—of friendship. Can they grow up without growing apart? 

I do love books that are timeless, but sometimes, a book has to be specific to a certain time. That is the case with Goodbye Stranger, which deals with complex problems in a well-written way. The book features several different stories and points of view, all of which, in some way, relate to friendship. The book has a great balance of humor and touching moments. However, above all else, the best part of this book is a major plot point involving Bridge's friend, Em (short for Emily). Em and a boy she knows start exchanging pictures, some of which are of their bodies, and Em's leaks into the school. Goodbye Stranger manages to discuss every major topic that could relate to this, such as who is at fault, how exactly bad this was, etc. This review doesn't do the book justice, but Goodbye Stranger's combination of discussing something important and current and of being an overall great book makes this a great book for any older middle-grader. (And just FYI, I love this book even more than When You Reach Me, if that helps sell you on it!)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

MMGM (4/3/2017) Classic Critique: The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

For MMGM, I am doing something a little different. As you might have noticed, all of my past MMGM posts have been recommendations, with little to no criticism. However, I have noticed that, for all the good books out there, some classics (i.e. those we are forced to read) aren't as good as many lesser-known books. Since I recently had to read a book for a school project, I have decided to review it while it's fresh in my memory. Therefore, I am reviewing The Red Pony by John Steinbeck, using the classic pros-and-cons style.




Pros:
  • Enjoyable style and voice. The Red Pony, originally written in 1945, revolves around a boy named Jody growing up on a ranch in what seems to be the 1920s. Steinbeck's narration of the four short stories comprising the book is enjoyable to read, featuring heavy use of figurative language and a distinct style and voice (the author's voice, not the main character's) that is omniscient, switching between several characters thoughts and feelings.
  • Interesting characters. Steinbeck crafts an interesting cast for the book. Jody is a somewhat strange boy (often noticing what shoes his father is wearing based on their sound, for instance) who rarely talks, while his father is often mean and distant, trying to seem tough, but often internally realizing his mistakes, only to immediately make them again out of shame.
  • Reasonable length. Unlike so many other books of its time, The Red Pony has 100 pages of material formed into a book that is exactly 100 pages. After reading so many 600-page classics, a shorter one is refreshing.
Cons:
  • Everything is gruesome. There are 5 parts of the book (all of which involve animals) that are described in a way that could traumatize anyone (e.g. cutting open a horse's windpipe, beating a buzzard to death with a rock). This is far too many, and Steinbeck's skill at description is actually problematic here, making it challenging to get through many parts of The Red Pony.
  • Everything is depressing. So much of this book is sad, from the fate of the titular character to the feelings of many characters (such as Jody's grandfather, who always tells the same stories from the past over and over, much to the dismay of Jody's father). Since the book is so short, there are very few happy or hopeful moments, making the book drag on, despite its short length.
  • Everything is misspelled. When character's names are misspelled as "Judy" and "Billly," it is slightly concerning (especially on a copy printed 50 years later—why hasn't it been spellchecked?)

Verdict:
This book has many good qualities, but, in my opinion, its unrelenting sadness severely lowers its ranking. However, it could
always be worse, and, for an old book, it is relatively enjoyable, featuring great writing (I can understand why it is a classic). I know many of you will probably disagree with me, but I still hope you enjoyed reading this review!

Poetry Sunday (4/2/2017): THREE POEMS!

For Poetry Sunday, I am recommending 3 different poems! They are "Afterwards" by Thomas Hardy, "The Oven Bird" by Robert Frost, and "Keeping Things Whole" by Mark Strand. I hope you enjoy these!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

MMGM (3/27/2017): The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli

For MMGM, I am recommending The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli.




Here's the publisher's description (copied from the back of the book):

Robin has grown up the son of a nobleman. He knows he must serve the king by becoming a knight. But Robin's destiny is changed suddenly when he falls ill and loses the use of his legs.
     A monk named Brother Luke rescues Robin and takes him to the hospice of St. Mark's. There Robin learns woodcarving and—much harder—strength and patience. When danger threatens the great castle of Lindsay, Robin discovers there are more ways to serve a king than riding into battle. As Brother Luke says, "Thou hast only to follow the wall long enough and there will be a door in it."

Originally published in 1949, this book is set even earlier (the 1300s). Unlike some historical fiction, however, this book is short (about 120 pages) and to the point. The majority of the book revolves around Robin as he tries to regain function in his legs and also learns skills such as woodwork and writing, with the monk who found him alone and with no ability to move. The story has an especially current message, which is that even those who are disabled are still beneficial to the world and to others. This is reinforced by the end of the story, in which Robin helps save a castle by discovering useful information. Unlike many Newbery books, this one is relaxing and calm, with no particularly sad moments. This is one of my favorite historical fiction novels of all time!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

MMGM (3/20/2017): Rules by Cynthia Lord

For MMGM, I am recommending Rules by Cynthia Lord.




The main character of Rules (a Newbery Honor book) is Catherine, a 12-year-old girl whose younger brother, David, has autism. Catherine is often conflicted between trying to help her brother in the world and wishing that he could behave around others. In the story, set in summer, Catherine makes two friends, a girl named Kristi who moves in next door, and a wheelchair-ridden boy named Jason who cannot speak and must use cards with words written on them. All of these events culminate in Catherine's struggle between embarrassment and protectiveness, or between her and her brother. Catherine is a great narrator for the story, staying strong and likable as she deals with issues in her life. Kristi and Jason are great characters as well, and Catherine's conflicts as part of friendship with them are relatable to anyone who's ever had friends. Although an important part of this book is autism, unlike many other books about the subject, this one is not very sad, making it a particularly enjoyable read for any kid, class, or adult.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

MMGM (3/13/2017): The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

For MMGM, I am recommending The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.




One of the most tragic yet overlooked problems in our world is child abuse, and, although The War that Saved My Life is set during World War II, this is simply the front for a saddening yet ultimately hopeful (and amazing) story. The main character, Ada, was born with a clubfoot (which is basically a disfigured foot). However, her mother never had the foot fixed, and she instead treated Ada as disabled, never letting her out of their apartment and often beating her or locking her in the "cabinet." Ada and her little brother, Jamie, end up leaving when their home of London is deemed unsafe and likely to be bombed, and they are given to a woman named Susan Smith, sharing the children's last name. This seems symbolic of the bond that soon forms, as Susan, although never having children or wanting to, grows to love the children, just as they begin to love her. Ada soon discovers what the world is like, and she is also conflicted, feeling at first like she is worthless because of her foot, which is what her mother ingrained in her, showing how abused kids cannot just easily decide that their parents are wrong. Ada eventually begins to become happier, learning to ride a horse and befriending several kids. Susan has her own problems as well, dealing with the loss of her best friend, roommate, and only real ally in the world. This book is so amazing that this review does not do it justice. Whether being read by a kid, a class, or an adult, it is incredibly touching, certainly deserving the Newbery Honor it has won.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

MMGM (3/6/2017): Where I Live by Eileen Spinelli

For MMGM, I am recommending Where I Live by Eileen Spinelli, with illustrations by Matt Phelan.




Here's the publisher's description:

Diana loves where she lives. She loves the astronomy charts on her walls and the fact that she can wave to her best friend, Rose, from her very own window. And best of all, a wren has recently made its home right by her front door! When her family is forced to move, Diana wonders if she'll ever find that same grounded and happy feeling again.
This gentle and ultimately redeeming story in poems is about those secure and fulfilling friendships that happen naturally and easily when you live right next door, and the struggles of losing the comfort of a familiar place. Matt Phelan’s warm and expressive illustrations perfectly complement Eileen Spinelli’s tenderhearted and unique tale that reminds us that sometimes a little uprooting and change is necessary for growth.

This book is aimed towards the younger end of middle grade, but it discusses topics, such as moving, that everyone has to deal with. As the story shows just how much Diana loves her home, it also shows well how she handles moving into the home of her aging grandfather. Diana is a unique character with a great voice, written in verse. Diana writes poetry, which seems to make up the story and allows her to work through her feelings. The story never drags on, and it uses just enough words to convey its point, making it somewhat short. The story has a happy ending, showing that moving won't always be as horrible as it first seems. This book is great for anyone, regardless of age!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

MMGM (2/27/2017): The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, with illustrations by Louis Slobodkin

For MMGM, I am recommending The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, with illustrations by Louis Slobodkin.




Here's the publisher's description:

Eleanor Estes’s The Hundred Dresses won a Newbery Honor in 1945 and has never been out of print since. At the heart of the story is Wanda Petronski, a Polish girl in a Connecticut school who is ridiculed by her classmates for wearing the same faded blue dress every day. Wanda claims she has one hundred dresses at home, but everyone knows she doesn’t and bullies her mercilessly. The class feels terrible when Wanda is pulled out of the school, but by that time it’s too late for apologies. Maddie, one of Wanda’s classmates, ultimately decides that she is "never going to stand by and say nothing again." This powerful, timeless story has been reissued with a new letter from the author’s daughter Helena Estes, and with the Caldecott artist Louis Slobodkin’s original artwork in beautifully restored color.

This book has been published since 1944, but it is just as current today. It has a timeless message about poverty and bullying. One of the main characters, Maddie, is friends with one of the bullies, but she never stands up for Wanda and feels awful about it later. Part of the reason the story's message is delivered so well is that it is not tainted by an incredibly happy ending. Wanda ends up moving away due to the bullying, and her classmates find out too late what the hundred dresses are and how much Wanda actually liked her classmates. However, the end is satisfying, and it allows the story to be much more powerful. Another great thing about this book is its length, which, although short, is perfectly long for the story. The illustrations also set a sort of happy mood, preventing the book from being too sad. With its amazing message (which helped it win a Newbery Honor in 1945), The Hundred Dresses is still a classic, and it is perfect for kids to read by themselves or for reading in class. (It may even help some kids become nicer!)

Poetry Sunday (2/26/2017): "[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]" by E.E. Cummings

For Poetry Sunday, I am recommending "[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]" by E.E. Cummings. I don't usually talk about the poem, but its uniqueness (strange formatting and no capital letters) gives it a perfect flow. Also, the title is in brackets because it is simply the first line of the poem, which has no official title. I hope you enjoy the poem!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

MMGM (2/20/2017): The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, with illustrations by Jules Feiffer

For MMGM, I am recommending The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, with illustrations by Jules Feiffer.




Here's the publisher's description:

Hailed as “a classic. . . . humorous, full of warmth and real invention” (The New Yorker), this beloved story--first published more than fifty ago--introduces readers to Milo and his adventures in the Lands Beyond. 

For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different. Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason! Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams. . . .

This book is one of my favorites of all time! It is a very unique book, set in a world that makes things often literal and humorous. For example, in a a kingdom of words, when the main character, Milo, asks for a light meal, the meal brought to him is a ray of light. Although the book is advanced for some readers, those who understand it will love it. In fact, the humor is there for one main purpose, which is to emphasize that, often, things that may seem boring are interesting (such as those related to learning), which Milo comes to realize. This book is very old, having first been published in 1961 (56 years ago), but it is still just as interesting. There is no plot twist, and the strange world is just that, which makes for an enjoyable, light read (although the book is not, in fact, simply a ray of light). All in all, this book is great for everyone, and, as kids read it, they may find themselves asking about things they had never thought about before.

Poetry Sunday (2/19/2017): "Otherwise" by Jane Kenyon

For Poetry Sunday, I am recommending "Otherwise" by Jane Kenyon. I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

MMGM (2/13/2017): The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech

Firstly, here are the results from the poll which ended a few weeks ago:

How many books do you want to read this year?
  • 1-25: 0 votes
  • 26-50: 1 vote
  • 51-75: 1 vote
  • 76-100: 0 votes
  • 101-125: 1 vote
  • 126-150: 0 votes
  • 151 or above: 2 votes
 Next, for today's MMGM, I am recommending The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech.




Here's the publisher's description:

In a tiny village high in the Swiss Alps, life for one angel has been the same, well, for as long as she (or he?) can remember. Until Zola arrives, a determined American girl who wears three skirts all at once. For neighbors who have been longtime enemies, children who have been lost, and villagers who have been sleepily living their lives: hold on. Zola and the angel are about to collide. Figs start flying, dogs start arfing, and the whole village begins to WAKE UP. Zola is a girl with a mission. And our angel has been without one—till now.

I started this book yesterday and finished it today (it is only 136 pages). I love it! One of the best things about this book is the angel's distinctive voice. She/he often mixes up words with others (but it isn't confusing) or combines them (which the author has an anecdote about here under the "Tidbits" on the side). This voice creates a character you can imagine in your head and allows for an interesting story. Both the angel and Zola are great characters, with the angel's combination of calm and agitation contrasting (or, if not, creating arguments) with Zola's energy. The book's setting is beautiful and creates a great story you can imagine in your head, with beautiful mountains and nature, as well as the villagers, mainly older people who stayed behind when their kids left (such as Signora Divino, who the angel often watches over, in a sense). One major conflict in the book is a group of homeless children who are not legally allowed in the country (creating great parallels to today). Zola, with the help of the angel, helps the kids, adding more depth to the story. This is a beautiful book that should be recognized and read by everyone!

Poetry Sunday (2/12/2017): "The Apology" by Lee Upton

For Poetry Sunday, I am recommending "The Apology" by Lee Upton. I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

MMGM (2/6/2017): My Life in Pink & Green by Lisa Greenwald

For MMGM, I am recommending My Life in Pink & Green by Lisa Greenwald.




Here's the publisher's description:

Twelve-year-old Lucy Desberg is a natural problem-solver. At her family’s struggling pharmacy, she has a line of makeover customers for every school dance and bat mitzvah. But all the makeup tips in the world won’t help save the business. If only she could find a way to make it the center of town again—a place where people want to spend time, like in the old days. Lucy dreams up a solution that could resuscitate the family business and help the environment, too. But will Lucy’s family stop fighting long enough to listen to a seventh-grader?

Sometimes you just need a book that has substance, but isn't depressing. This is one of them! The main character, Lucy, lives with her mother and grandmother, who run a dying pharmacy. One of the themes in the book (and its sequels) is how adults often treat kids as being unable to do much. In the book, Lucy figures out a solution and tries to make it possible, with only the help of her college-age sister. Other themes in the book include the use of makeup to gain confidence and the importance of keeping the earth healthy. Although this book may seem to have many loose ends, they are tied together masterfully. The main character, Lucy, is very likable, being kind, motivated, and realistic. To distract from the main conflict, Lucy also has to deal with her friends and a new crush. This book is a great read that anyone will enjoy!

Poetry Sunday (2/5/2017): Double Recommendation!

For Poetry Sunday, I am recommending TWO POEMS! The first is "The Sadness of Clothes" by Emily Fragos, and the second is "Self-Portrait on the Street of an Unnamed Foreign City" by Jennifer Grotz. I hope you enjoy them!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

MMGM (1/30/2017): A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

For MMGM, I am recommending the classic A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin.




Here's the publisher's description:

Originally published in 1968, Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea marks the first of the six now beloved Earthsea titles. Ged was the greatest sorcerer in Earthsea, but in his youth he was the reckless Sparrowhawk. In his hunger for power and knowledge, he tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tumultuous tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death's threshold to restore the balance.

This book is 48 years old, but it seems both easy to read, unlike other classics, and completely different from every other fantasy book today (which is not a bad thing). It tells the story of a boy named Ged who, in his youth, accidentally released what is referred to as the shadow into the world as a result of trying to prove his power by summoning a spirit. In trying to fix the mess, Ged, who is an adult for most of the book, ends up becoming much more likable, as he quickly realizes his mistake.The book's writing is amazing, sounding very poetic and great for reading aloud or to one's self. One interesting aspect of the book is true names, which are the names of people or things in an old language known as the Old Speech. Wizards use these names to gain power over what they are naming, but Ged does not know the name of the shadow. The end of the book is both genius and foreshadowed throughout the book. Although the book is short, with few characters, it only makes those words and characters who are there matter more. This book is an amazing classic of literature that should be read by everyone.