Mom Read It

If the kids are reading it, chances are I have, too.

Historical middle-grade fiction: Snakes and Stones March 20, 2017

Snakes and Stones, by Lisa Fowler, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 978-1-5107-1031-3

Recommended for readers 9-12

The year is 1921, and Chestnut Hill, a 12 year old girl, travels with her father and 7 year-old triplet siblings (also named after nuts) across the American south, putting on medicine shows so her daddy can sell his elixir. Daddy’s a snake oil merchant, and Chestnut is sick and tired of living in a cramped wagon, wearing clothes to rags, and going to bed with a rumbling stomach. She’s mad at Daddy from stealing her and her siblings away from their Mama, who must be out of her mind with grief right now. Even when the Hill family meets up with Abraham, a friend of her father’s, who tells her that there’s a lot Chestnut doesn’t know about her Daddy, she refuses to believe it and decides to take matters into her own hands, setting off a chain of events that will change her and her family.

I was happy to see a middle grade historical fiction piece take place in the early ’20s – it’s an interesting time that hasn’t seen a lot of middle grade storytelling just yet. Lisa Fowler has several strong characters here, most notably, Chestnut, who narrates the story. Her father is a seeming ne’er do well, a con man with a heart of gold, who just doesn’t know how to take care of his family; Abraham, an African-American character, allows for a look at the everyday racism and segregation in the South. Readers may get tired of Chestnut’s firm belief that her father’s the bad guy, especially when there’s clearly more to the story that Abraham knows but won’t discuss. While Abraham is a potentially strong character to highlight the racial issues in the Southern U.S., readers may be put off by the way his speech is written, which can be construed as negative stereotyping rather than striving for historical accuracy.

Overall, it’s a story that means well but gets caught up in melodrama and possibly troubling characterization.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Myth of the Minotaur? That’s BULL. March 7, 2017

Bull, by David Elliott, (March 2017, HMH Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 9780544610606

Recommended for ages 13+

You may know the myth of Theseus, the Minotaur, and the Labryinth, but I guarantee you’ve never read it like this. Told in verse, with each character’s voice using its own poetric form, from sonnets and stanzas to split couplets.  Poseidon acts as a kind of narrator, boastful and smug, laying out the lay of the land for readers: how Minos wouldn’t sacrifice a bull to him, so he decided to take it out on his wife and son. We have Minos, who’s not winning any father of the year awards; poor, insane Queen Pasiphae, who loves her baby boy and loses her mind when he’s taken from her; Ariadne, Minos’ daughter who just wants to take her brother, Asterion – the Minotaur – away from the hell he’s living, Daedalus, the engineer of the labyrinth, and last but never least, Asterion, the voice of the Minotaur himself.

There are inevitable Hamilton comparisons to be made, and this is a good thing: it’s a modern, compulsively readable, update of the classic myth, full of dark humor, angst, and betrayal. Elliott fleshes out the story by giving his take on the characters’ internal dialogue; most notably, Asterion’s growing despair and rage, also depicted by the progressively darker pages on which his dialogue runs. I’d love to see this staged, and I’m sure many, many high school and college students will, too.

Bull received (well-deserved) starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus. Language and situations may give some more conservative readers pause, but it is a Greek myth, after all.

Author David Elliott’s webpage has more information about the author and his books, plus information about author visits. There is also a link to Mr. Elliott’s Pinterest page, where readers can find more links to information about the players in Bull and their mythology.

 

From California Girl to Cemetery Girl: Sydney MacKenzie Knocks ‘Em Dead March 3, 2017

25446348Sydney MacKenzie Knocks ‘Em Dead, by Cindy Callaghan, (March 2017, Aladdin Books), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1481465694

Recommended for readers 9-13

California almost-in crowder Sydney MacKenzie just got the worst news: her father sold his failing sporting goods retail business, and they’re moving to Buttermilk River Cove, Delaware: population 800. Her dad’s inherited the Lay to Rest cemetery, and they’ll be living in a Victorian house on the cemetery grounds. As if! Desperate to be the cool girl, Sydney tries putting on her best California Girl airs, but the Delaware kids are remarkably unimpressed – but they are impressed by her new digs. Movie-obsessed Sydney starts out making up a creepy history of the house, but quickly discovers that her house has some real history of its own, and sets out, with the help of her new friends, to investigate.

I just didn’t love this one. I’ve liked Cindy Callaghan’s Lost in…” series, which is light and fun, but that vibe didn’t translate as well for me here. Sydney comes off as a largely vapid social climber, even as the kids around her try to teach her that it’s not about what’s on the surface. An Underground Railroad subplot feels awkwardly attached to the book to give it more depth. It’s a quick, easy read that tween girls will likely check out for the fun cover and title, but for me, this one’s an additional purchase. I’d rather add another “Lost in…” set to my collection.

 

Things aren’t right in The Spill Zone…

spillzone_1Spill Zone, by Scott Westerfeld/Alex Puvilland, (May 2017, First Second), $22.99, ISBN: 9781596439368

Recommended for ages 12+

Something happened three years ago in the upstate New York city of Poughkeepsie. Now known as The Spill Zone, it’s forbidden to enter – things are different there now. There’s danger in the Spill Zone; things that just shouldn’t be. Addison and Lexa are sisters who lost their parents that night. Lexa, the younger sister, hasn’t spoken since, preferring instead to quietly communicate with her doll. Is that conversation in her head? Who knows? Addison provides for herself and her sister by sneaking into the Spill Zone at night to take photos of the bizarre images in the Zone, often risking personal safety to get the most disturbing shots. Collectors offer big money for these shots, but one collector in particular gets in touch with Addison and offers her a deal she can’t possibly turn down: a million dollars, but she has to go into the Zone hospital where her parents died.

 

Vampires on the Run in Maine? Quinnie Boyd’s on the case! March 2, 2017

Filed under: Fiction,Fiction,Middle Grade,Realistic Fiction,Tween Reads,Uncategorized — Rosemary Kiladitis @ 2:47 pm
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vampires-on-the-runVampires on the Run: A Quinnie Boyd Mystery, by C.M. Surrisi, (March 2017, Carolrhoda Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781512411508

Recommended for readers 8-12

The second outing for teen sleuth Quinnie Boyd, Vampires on the Run returns readers to the fictional town of Maiden Rock, Maine. This time, Quinnie meets her friend’s aunt and uncle, Ceil and Edgar, who are celebrated writers of a vampire series. They dress in all black, don’t venture out in the sunlight, and are very, very pale. When weirdness starts happening around Maiden Rock, Quinnie’s mental wheels start turning and she recruits Dominic, a new kid in town, to help her get to the bottom of the mystery.

Vampires on the Run is loaded with fun whodunit clues to keep readers guessing. You don’t need to read the first Quinnie Boyd book, The Maypop Kidnapping, to enjoy this newest book; there’s enough exposition to fill readers in. I liked Quinnie, her supportive yet firm parents, her friends, and the inhabitants of Maiden Rock. CM Surrisi spends a lot of time setting up the reader: so much that you kind of know the twist is coming, but it’s a good one.

Vampires on the Run is a fun, cozy mystery for middle graders with a strong cast of likable characters. Mystery readers and fiction fans will enjoy it.

 

 

Can you escape Monsterville? March 1, 2017

monstervilleMonsterville: A Lissa Black Production, by Sarah S. Reida, (Sept. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781510707337

Recommended for readers 9-13

Jumanji meets Goosebumps in this fun and unexpectedly touching novel. Lissa Black is not happy with her family’s decision to move out of their Manhattan apartment to a house in Freeburg, Pennsylvania, inherited when her great-aunt passes away. She’s away from her friends, her school, and the conveniences of living in New York City; she’s only got the neighbor kid, Adam, who’s set on making her appreciate life outside of the city, and this weird game, Monsterville, that she found in her aunt’s basement. Just as Lissa is set on languishing in the wilds of PA, she discovers a sad, shape-shifting goblin she calls Blue, who’s escaped from Down Under. Blue’s so sad that Lissa and Adam feed him and check in on him, but when Lissa discovers he can shape-shift, she decides to make a documentary starring Blue. But an interview with the goblin uncovers secrets that put Lissa’s family at risk. When her little sister is kidnapped and taken Down Under on Halloween, Lissa and Adam have to go in after her, and the Monsterville game is their only hope of making it back.

Lissa is hard to like at first: she’s a great older sister, but largely self-centered and snobbish at the novel’s outset. As the story progresses, and the urgency not only of Blue’s situation, but her sister’s, hits home, though, Lissa rises to the occasion and grows into a strong female character that I was rooting for. I liked her supportive, loving family and I really liked the glimpse we got of her mysterious aunt. I think a Monsterville prequel is in order, to tell her story! There was great world-building Up Above and Down Below, with Adam acting as Lissa’s – and the reader’s – guide to rural life, and the Monsterville game laying out Down Below for us before we even get there. I ended up loving this book and can’t wait to booktalk this. A film glossary at the end introduces readers to film terms, most of which show up in Monsterville – Lissa is a filmmaker, after all.

Challenge your readers to make up their own version of Monsterville! What monsters would inhabit their Down Under? What would counteract the monsters and help humans escape? This could be a great summer reading group program, just saying…

Monsterville is Sarah S. Reida’s debut novel. Find teacher resources at LissaBlackProductions.com, which also links to Sarah’s author blog and appearances.

 

 

Detective Gordon and Buffy the Mouse are on the case February 28, 2017

detgordon_acaseinanycase_cover_lrDetective Gordon: A Case in Any Case, by Ulf Nilsson/Illustrated by Gitte Spee, (Mar. 2017, Gecko Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781776571086

Recommended for readers 6-8

Swedish author Ulf Nilsson’s third Detective Gordon series pairs the toad detective with his mouse sidekick for a very important case and a little bit of a misunderstanding. Detective Gordon has taken a break – he may have retired – and Buffy is holding down the fort in his absence, until she has to call him out of retirement when two schoolchildren go missing. Buffy has her own way of doing things, and Detective Gordon has his own way of doing things; the friends have a misunderstanding, but put aside their differences to work on what’s important. After the case is solved, they resolve their own differences.

This was my first Detective Gordon book. You don’t need to have read the previous books; readers can jump right in and follow the Detective and Buffy’s adventure. It’s a great next step for Frog and Toad readers, with a similarly tender pace and narration. Nilsson creates an adventurous subplot for the two missing kindergarten children, who want to create the steps that bring one of their favorite storybooks to life; he also explores themes of friendship, conflict resolution, teamwork, and talking things over. Gitte Spee’s soft colors and gentle characters will attract readers who love a good animal tale. This makes a good read-aloud selection, too, with many discussion topics to introduce to the kids in your classroom, library, and home.

Detective Gordon: A Case in Any Case received a starred review from School Library Journal.