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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dance like your life depends on it: Spin the Sky March 17, 2017

Spin the Sky, by Jill MacKenzie, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1510706866

Recommended for readers 14+

Eighteen year-old Magnolia Woodson and her older sister, Rose, have to live with the sins of their drug addict mother, who abandoned them after a tragedy a year before. Living in a small clamming town in Oregon, everyone knows who they are and what happened; the only folks who seem to think differently are Magnolia’s childhood best friend, George, and his mother, who’s taken care of the girls whenever their mother fell short. To change the way the town sees Magnolia and her sister, she decides she need to win the reality dance show, Live to Dance. She and George head to Portland to audition, but they make it! Now the real work begins: will the competition be too much for Mags? Will her friendship with George survive the stress of the show, and will she be able to live in the fishbowl that is reality television, especially with a secret she doesn’t want made public?

Spin the Sky has a strong premise that isn’t afraid to tackle some hot-button topics like drug addiction, sexuality, abortion, and miscarriage. Some of your more conservative readers may shy away from this one; steer them toward books like Sophie Flack’s Bunheads, Lorri Hewett’s Dancer, or Sarah Rubin’s Someday Dancer. Magnolia is a tough character to crack: she’s consumed with what other people think of her, and obsesses over winning the competition, seemingly just so that the town will accept her and her sister. She has a complicated love-hate relationship with her mother (understandably), and she has an unrequited crush on George, who she thinks is gay – and is really upset when it seems that isn’t the case. The other contestants all have their own issues that the author briefly touches on throughout the novel.

If you have readers who love reading about dance and are interested in reality television, Spin the Sky is a good backup for your shelves.

 

Fun with Phonics: Phoebe Sounds It Out March 9, 2017

Phoebe Sounds It Out, by Julie Zwillich, (Apr. 2017, Owl Kids), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-77147-164-0

Recommended for readers 3-7

Phoebe’s teacher announces that the children are going to learn to write their names today. All they have to do is sound it out. Phoebe doesn’t quite agree. First of all, Mama sewed her name on her school bag, and she’s convinced that she made a mistake: Phoebe’s name begins with a P, but that’s not the sound her name makes! She dawdles as the teacher encourages the class to sound it out, and finally, she gives it a shot. Her encouraging teacher tells her that it’s a great start – she did sound it out, after all!

I enjoyed so much about this book. I love that there’s a child of color main character and the diversity reflected in the classroom. One of the two teachers is also a person of color, and there is diversity in the classroom, including a classmate in a wheelchair. I enjoyed Phoebe’s thought process while the rest of the class works on their assignment: she fidgets, she goofs off, she “borrows” a letter from a classmate’s name to jazz up her name as she sounded it out. Kids will recognize themselves in Phoebe.

I’ve seen comments questioning whether a teacher would let Phoebe’s misspelling stand. I tend to say yes, especially for this first attempt. The point of the story is to sound out a word, and Phoebe does just that. When my older kids were in elementary school, the practice for teachers was not to correct spelling errors on similar assignments; the kids were expected to catch on eventually, and they did, through vocabulary words, spelling tests, and reading and being read to.

Denise Holmes’ art is rendered in ink and colored using Photoshop, and it’s very cute. There are bright colors and fun patterns, and sweet touches, like the children’s pictures on their cubby spaces and the handwritten children’s work.

This book presents a fun chance for a similar Sound It Out activity, complete with glitter glue to finish up your kids’ work. Let them sound out their names, or other fun words around them.

Julie Zwillich is a television personality with shows on Food Network Canada. You can see more of Denise Holmes’ illustration at her website.

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Fairy Tale Reform School’s seeing some changes in Tricked March 6, 2017

Tricked, by Jen Calonita, (March 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $15.99, ISBN: 9781492637950

Recommended for ages 8-13

Gilly and friends return in Tricked, the third installment of Fairy Tale Reform School, but things are very, very different now. Gilly’s in school to be a cobbler, like her dad, but she really isn’t into it. Her sister, Anna, is falling in with a bad crowd: Hansel and Gretel are jerks, causing trouble all over town. They go too far with one prank that lands the three of them in – you guessed it – Fairy Tale Reform School, but the school has been through some big changes: Flora, Cinderella’s formerly wicked stepmother, is no longer headmistress; instead, the master dealmaker, Rumpelstiltskin, is in charge now, and the classes seem to encourage the kids to be more villain than hero. Gilly, Jax, and Maxine need to get back on the inside to find out what’s going on in those hallowed halls, get to the bottom of Rump’s treachery, and save Anna while Gilly’s at it: if Anna even wants to be saved.

I’ve been a Fairy Tale Reform School fan from the beginning, and Tricked is every bit as good as the first two. I love the way Jen also manages to address some of the very real things going on in the news today through FTRS, with a trickster who excels in the art of the deal (ahem) pulling the strings and making everyone in that school either blindly follow him or disappear. When things came together for me as I read, I realized how brilliant Tricked is in every respect, and I admire Jen Calonita for taking such a timely message on and communicating it to the kids who need to understand that when something doesn’t seem normal, it really isn’t.

There are strong subplots, addressing the frustration of being in a sibling’s shadow, making your own dreams happen versus living up to others’ expectations.

Tricked is all-around fun reading with big messages for young readers.

 

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.

 

 

Blog Tour Stop: The Blood Guard concludes at The Blazing Bridge February 28, 2017

blazing-bridgeThe Blazing Bridge (The Blood Guard, Book 3), by Carter Roy, (Feb. 2017, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781477827178

Recommended for ages 9-13

In the third book in Carter Roy’s Blood Guard series, Ronan Truelove is doing his best to protect his best friend, Greta, from his evil father and the awful Bend Sinister thugs. Greta is a Pure – one of 36 pure souls on the planet – and the Bend Sinister have their own horrible plans in store for her, and for the rest of the Pure, if they get their hands on her. With the unkillable Blood Guard agent Jack Dawkins, their hacker friend, Sammy, and a taxi driver named Diz, the group races around New York to foil the Bend Sinister and keep the world safe, but Ronan’s father is closing in.

This is the first Blood Guard book I’ve read, and I’ll be picking up the first two books – The Blood Guard and The Glass Gauntlet – to catch up on this series. Told as a first person narrative, Ronan is a likable kid who’s trying to reconcile the fact that his father is an evil creep who tried to kill him and his mother by burning the family house down, comprehend the fact that his mom (and, because of circumstances, he) is Blood Guard, and his best friend is one of a handful of Pure souls in the world. He’s funny and wry, determined, and brave. Jack Dawkins is James Bond meets Captain Jack Harkness (where are my Doctor Who and Torchwood bretheren?); a secret agent that can fight with any weapon and who can’t die. The story is fast-paced and action packed, with a fight on the New York City subway system that readers will love.

While you don’t need to have read the first two Blood Guard books to enjoy The Blazing Bridge, readers will really get the full background and enjoy the series more if they do. Booktalk and display this series with other adventure novels, including the Nick and Tesla series by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hocksmith, The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari, and Michael Grant’s Magnificent 12 series.

carter-roy-photo-bw_credit-jdz-photographyCarter Roy has painted houses and worked on construction sites, waited tables and driven delivery trucks, been a stagehand for rock bands and a videographer on a cruise ship, and worked as a line cook in a kitchen, a projectionist in a movie theater, and a rhetoric teacher at a university. He has been a reference librarian and a bookseller, edited hundreds of books for major publishers, and written award-winning short stories that have appeared in a half-dozen journals and anthologies. His first two books were The Blood Guard and The Glass Gauntlet. He lives with his wife and daughter in New York City and can be found at www.carterroybooks.com or on Twitter @CarterRoyBooks.

 

 

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Paranormals address conservation in Earning My Spots February 22, 2017

earning-spotsEarning My Spots, by Mark Eastburn, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781510707788

Recommended for ages 10+

Sam isn’t having the easiest time in his rural Vermont school. He’s bullied, he’s not terribly popular, and he’s tired of eating roadkill for dinner. Before you call the authorities: he’s also a were-hyena. Looked upon as the scavengers of the animal world (that Lion King movie did his kind no favors, either), the werewolves at school are jerks that constantly gang up on him. The day a new kid, Manny, shows up and sets off Sam’s “shape-shifter sense”, he defends Manny from the wolves and discovers that Manny and his  mom are were-jaguars, and that she’s brought them to Vermont in search of a great hunter. That night, Sam’s family is attacked by were-harpies who take his family, sending Sam and Manny on a quest that will take them to Louisiana and South America, where Sam will meet more hyenas and learn about his true heritage, and discover a plot to overthrow the no-tails – that’s you and me, folks – that are destroying their planet and encroaching on their lands.

Earning My Spots is an interesting and unexpected take on human impact on wildlife and the environment. It’s a paranormal middle grade story that carries a deeper message; using shifter were-animals, we get the a side of the story we don’t usually hear, because shifters can speak for animals and humans alike.

There were ups and downs for me while reading this one. I really liked learning about the hyena heritage – the whole time spent in Louisiana was the highlight of the story for me. Other facets of the narrative, like Sam’s seeming obsession with his and other animals’ bite force (pressure behind their bite) and detailed descriptions of marking his territory, dragged down the flow of the story for me.

If you’ve got paranormal fiction readers, this may draw them in and give them an awareness of environmental conservation. For me, it’s an additional purchase for when my current paranormal collection needs refreshing.