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.

Poetry Sunday (1/29/2017): "How the Milky Way Was Made" by Natalie Diaz

For Poetry Sunday, I am recommending "How the Milky Way Was Made" by Natalie Diaz. I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

MMGM (1/23/2017): A Corner of the Universe by Ann M. Martin

For MMGM, I am recommending A Corner of the Universe, a recipient of the Newbery Honor, by Ann M. Martin.




Here's the publisher's description:

The summer Hattie turns 12, her predictable smalltown life is turned on end when her uncle Adam returns home for the first time in over ten years. Hattie has never met him, never known about him. He's been institutionalized; his condition involves schizophrenia and autism.

Hattie, a shy girl who prefers the company of adults, takes immediately to her excitable uncle, even when the rest of the family — her parents and grandparents — have trouble dealing with his intense way of seeing the world. And Adam, too, sees that Hattie is special, and that her quiet, shy ways are not a disability.

It's hard to come up with an introductory sentence that describes just how amazing this book is. The main character, Hattie, is kind of shy and has only one friend, at least until she meets her uncle Adam. The author depicts Adam's mental illness in a realistic, yet non-insulting, way. Although you know he isn't exactly normal, he doesn't seem crazy. One of the book's major topics is being ashamed because of others, such as Adam's mother seeming somewhat horrified at her son, or another friend that Hattie makes during the summer whose mother works in a visiting carnival. Hattie is a likable main character who seems wise for her age. At the end of the book, something incredibly sad happens, but it is not relentlessly depressing. Although the book does have a somewhat adult moment and the sad occurrence mentioned previously, it is an incredibly beautiful book for everyone.

Poetry Sunday (1/22/2017): "Daylight Savings" by Jill Bialosky

For Poetry Sunday, I am recommending "Daylight Savings" by Jill Bialosky. I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

MMGM (1/16/2017): Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman

Note: If a glitch sent you here when you were looking for Natalie Aguirre's post, click here.

Firstly, the winners of the New Year's Poetry Contest and their poems have been announced! Click here to read them. Secondly, here are the results of the New Year's resolutions sidebar poll:
  • To read more books: 5
  • To stop buying books that you won't like: 1
  • To get rid of the books you don't need/want: 4
  • To find more books online as opposed to in a store: 1
  • To find more books in a store as opposed to online: 1
  • Total voters: 6
Be sure to enter in either of my sidebar polls (the top one has been reopened, and the old one is new and will close in about 2 weeks)! Finally, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I am recommending a diverse book, which is Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman.




Here's the publisher's description:

A vacant lot, rat-infested and filled with garbage, looked like no place for a garden. Especially to a neighborhood of strangers where no one seems to care. Until one day, a young girl clears a small space and digs into the hard-packed soil to plant her precious bean seeds. Suddenly, the soil holds promise: To Curtis, who believes he can win back Lateesha's heart with a harvest of tomatoes; to Virgil's dad, who sees a fortune to be made from growing lettuce; and even to Maricela, sixteen and pregnant, wishing she were dead.
Thirteen very different voices and perspectives—old, young, Haitian, Hispanic, tough, haunted, and hopeful—tell one amazing story about a garden that transforms a neighborhood.

I love this book! It is set in a neighborhood in Cleveland inhabited by people of many different ethnicities, all of whom have, in the past, been mostly separate. The book is told through the viewpoints of about 15 different characters, each having a different personality and backstory. In the unique story, the characters are changed by the garden and brought together. Each character's story is only about 5 small pages with large font, comprising the 87-page book. However, every moment is important to the story, making it feel just as complex as any longer book would. This is a great book for everyone!

Poetry Sunday (1/15/2017): THE RESULTS!

I am shocked at how many poems were entered in the New Year's Poetry Contest: 8!!! Now, it's time for: THE RESULTS!

Firstly, we have a great untitled poem from Sydney:

-------------------------------------
One year gone,
With another one come.
How the time flies by,
Too fast for some.

But we need not fear,
For there's good to come.
As we aim to adhere,
To our New Year's resolutions.
--------------------------------------

Lots of applause! I love the rhyme scheme! Next, we have "New Year Haiku" from Ames:

----------------------------------
Baking bread, rising
As is hope, love and prayers
For the glad New Year
----------------------------------

I love this poem! I've always loved poems that can distill complexity into a small format! And, last but not least, we have a poem from Voole, entitled, "Central Texas Theme:"

-----------------------------------------------------------------------
A chill on the sweat,
ending feelings.
A maize truck turning in dry pods for life.

     The big, dull lights come on,
little folks trail to turgid grips of the unready-
vital moments of horn and honk. Grey, bright nights
smelling of Alva Ann, Luling and cottonseed ham.

Spring’s hope? all gone in seeds-gone to seeds.

Juniper pods dry and bursting-clogging the sun
with hope for green life; falling, perhaps, on
me—no life here for little fairy pods breathed
like fire into wet, red caves.

          How lucky to rest, fallow and waiting for
another start—seed pods lingering in kickoff hope.

Renewal hounds the bitter wind. New life.

Heck, he’s bigger than life-he’s our town.
They stand for all of us and we sit for them.
Little seeds braving icy shots and wet ruin.
Better that crash than prospect of red seeds and
cotton snow falling in little roads. Pick up. Hands
and carry, fill it up for no pay.

Cobbler and tobacco, milk for the biggest of the big—
leave the house and hope dies-streamers kill it.
Open streamer cars sending gulps through closed thoughts.
Little pin holes whistling. Rush, rush. Acorns stocking
in little oak hotels, dry and bitter, filled with hope.
Pom Pom sadness.

          Blessed bitter Amarillo wind. No time for holy
soles-zip in the plaid-belly scratch like
a thousand raven lice. My teeth are radios

          I’ll take the jolts; I’ll face New Mexico and
hold on. Life is coming. Dessau sweat again-no chill
there, just another chance-round we go, round we go
Holding on for life.
I’ll open too then and try once more.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------

I love this poem! I like the descriptive language! All of you should expect 2 emails, one telling you that you're a winner (this will come from Completely Full Bookshelf) and another with your eGift card (this will come from Barnes & Noble). Be sure to check your spam emails if you do not receive your eGift card. Thanks to everyone who entered, and one more round of applause to the winners!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Poetry Sunday (1/8/2016): "Birches" by Robert Frost

For Poetry Sunday, I am recommending "Birches" by Robert Frost. Here is the link. I hope you enjoy it!

Also, be sure to enter the extended New year's Poetry Contest. Click here to enter.

MMGM (1/9/2016): Dumpling Days by Grace Lin

Firstly, I am extending the deadline for the New Year's Poetry Contest for one week! Remember that, if your poem is good enough, you will win a $20 Barnes & Noble eGift card, which you can use in store or on your Nook! Click here to enter. Secondly, for MMGM, I am recommending Dumpling Days by Grace Lin.




Here's the publisher's description:

Pacy is back! The beloved heroine of The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat has returned in a brand new story. This summer, Pacy's family is going to Taiwan for an entire month to visit family and prepare for their grandmother's 60th birthday celebration. Pacy's parents have signed her up for a Chinese painting class, and at first she's excited. This is a new way to explore her art talent! But everything about the trip is harder than she thought it would be--she looks like everyone else but can't speak the language, she has trouble following the art teacher's instructions, and it's difficult to make friends in her class. At least the dumplings are delicious...

As the month passes by, Pacy eats chicken feet (by accident!), gets blessed by a fortune teller, searches for her true identity, and grows closer to those who matter most.

I have recommended another book by Grace Lin in the past, When the Sea Turned to Silver. Although this book is the third in a series, it, for the most part, makes sense by itself, and is easily the best of all three great books, which are based on the author's real life. One great part of this book is getting to learn about the culture of Taiwan and how different it is from the United States. Much of the culture is expressed either through short anecdotes, which are very interesting, or through events in the story. The main character, Pacy, often feels out of place in Taiwan or, in the case of her art class, feels less talented than others. However, by the end of the book, Pacy ends up enjoying Taiwan. This book is great for anyone who is interested in other cultures!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

MMGM (1/2/2016): Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin

Firstly, I am holding a New Year's Poetry Contest, where you can enter your own poem(s) about the new year (with reasonable restrictions) for the chance to win a prize! Click here to enter. Secondly, for MMGM, I am recommending Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin.




Here's the publisher's description:

Newbery-winning Rules meets Counting by 7s in this affecting story of a girl’s devotion to her brother and what it means to be home
 
When eleven-year-old Thyme Owens’ little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush, and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours, and days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

With equal parts heart and humor, Melanie Conklin’s debut is a courageous and charming story of love and family—and what it means to be counted.


This is one of my favorite books! Firstly, although this book is mainly about Thyme's family's struggle with Val's cancer, the book is not overly depressing. It is, in fact, uplifting! However, it does have many conflicts, such as Thyme's guilt about wanting to leave New York (not helped by the fact that she has somewhat of a plan to return to California, at least for a short time). Thyme's school life is also enjoyable to read about, as she makes friends and deals with a fight between two classmates she has met. The book's characters have strong backstories and personalities, such as Mr. Lipinsky, Thyme's neighbor, who is often grouchy, mostly due to having lost his wife, but who later befriends Thyme. Although this book is sad at many times, it is happy enough to be a great read!

Since it is New Year's, I would like to thank everyone who has allowed this blog to prosper, such as my 5 e-mail subscribers (it may not seem like many, but having any subscribers is amazing!), those who comment on my posts (94 comments have been posted this year!), and those who write awesome books and poems that I can recommend!

Poetry Sunday (1/1/2016): New Year's Poetry Contest

It's New Year's, which means I'm trying something new: the New Year's Poetry Contest! This is a contest which allows you to write your own poem about the new year and possibly have it posted next week in a new post! If yours is posted, you'll even win a prize!  Here's how it works:
  • The three poems which I deem best will be posted next week along with the poets' nicknames (if given).
  • If your poem is selected to be posted next week, you will win a $20 eGift card to Barnes & Noble.
  • Your poems must be about the new year or about New Year's celebrations.
  • YOUR POEMS MUST NOT DISCUSS OR HINT AT POLITICAL OPINIONS IN ORDER TO BE CONSIDERED.
  • YOUR POEMS MUST BE APPROPRIATE FOR ALL AGES.
  • To enter, use the Google Form below.
  • Nicknames are not required. Your nickname is simply a way for your poem to be identified if I select it.
  • Email addresses are required (but they will not be publicized and will be deleted after the contest ends) in order for me to send your e-gift card to.
  • The deadline for the contest is (in central daylight time/CDT) 12:00 A.M. (midnight) on January 8 January 15, 2017.
Please enter a poem below!

Update: The contest has ended! Click here for the results.