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Monday, January 9, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: BREAKING THE ICE by Gail Nall

BREAKING THE ICE by Gail Nall (Aladdin, January 2015)

I am a big fan of middle grade sports books (I'm currently reading one--GHOST by Jason Reynolds--and writing one myself. Mine's about tennis.) I read this for the Cybils awards in 2015, and really enjoyed it!

What It's About (via Goodreads):
Kaitlin has always dreamed of being a champion figure skater, and she’s given up a lot to pursue her passion. But after having a totally uncharacteristic and decidedly NOT figure-skating-approved tantrum after getting her scores at a major competition she’s dropped by her coach and prestigious skating club.

When no other club in town will have her, she's forced to join the ridiculed and rundown Fallton Club, jokingly referred to as the Fall Down Club. At first Kaitlin thinks this is a complete disaster, but after meeting some of the other skaters, including a boy (who happens to have the most perfect hair she’s ever seen) Kaitlin thinks it might actually not be so bad.

But when she’s tasked with learning a whole new program right before Regionals and figures out that almost all the other skaters target Fallton, she thinks joining the Fall Down Club may just be the second biggest mistake she’s ever made.

Opening Lines:
"I have my fingers crossed for a gold medal.
Not where everyone can see them, of course, but hidden in the sleeve of my maroon-and-white Ridgeline Figure Skating Club jacket. If I win this competition, it'll show the judges I'm the skater to beat at Regionals in October."

Four Things To Love:

  1.  I can't say I'm a diehard skating fan, but I do like to watch competitions like the Olympics and the World Championships. I also know what a salchow, a lutz, and a toe loop are. One of the riveting things about watching skaters compete is, as in gymnastics, the mix of artistry with power. And, with every jump, you have your heart in your throat, hoping there won't be a disaster. Which is all to say that I enjoyed the subject, and I think many sports-minded readers would do too.
  2. The character of Kaitlin. Technically strong, she needs to develop her artistry. Inwardly, she can be tempestuous (though not brattily so), so we know she can do it. Her concerns--about friendship and fitting in--are appropriately middle grade too.
  3. The friendships. In her former club, Kaitlin has a friend, Ellery, who is really what I've heard called a 'frenemy.' Ellery is superficial and drops Kaitlin like a hot potato when she is forced to change clubs. In the new club, Kaitlin finds people who are more worthy of friendship (Miyu). Gail Nall did a great job depicting this most important middle grade theme. 
  4. The parents. Both Kaitlin's mom and dad are alive. (You know my feelings about MG 'orphan syndrome.')
BREAKING THE ICE was Gail Nall's middle grade debut, and it was a good one. As you can see in her bio below, she is quite prolific!

About The Author (from Goodreads bio):

Gail Nall lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family and more cats than necessary. She grew up skating, and as a teenager working at the local rink, she rented skates and made nachos (but not at the same time). She spends her early mornings writing contemporary middle grade fiction, her days writing grants for a non-profit, and her evenings reading and trying to stay up past eight o'clock. Her obsessions include hiking and camping, travel, history, and food. Gail's middle grade novels include BREAKING THE ICE and the YOU'RE INVITED series (co-written with Jen Malone), all from Aladdin/Simon & Schuster. She is also the author of the YA novel, EXIT STAGE LEFT (EpicReads Impulse/Harper). Her upcoming books include OUT OF TUNE (Aladdin/S&S, 11/8/16) and the co-authored BEST.NIGHT.EVER. (8/15/17)

CONTACT: Website  Facebook  Twitter

Monday, January 2, 2017

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THE WOLF WILDER by Katherine Rundell

US Cover
I'm back, after a hectic December, and have a treat with which to start 2017. I hope you enjoy it!

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell (Bloomsbury Children's September 2015)

What It's About (via Goodreads):
Feodora and her mother live in the snowbound woods of Russia, in a house full of food and fireplaces. Ten minutes away, in a ruined chapel, lives a pack of wolves. Feodora's mother is a wolf wilder, and Feo is a wolf wilder in training. A wolf wilder is the opposite of an animal tamer: it is a person who teaches tamed animals to fend for themselves, and to fight and to run, and to be wary of humans.

When the murderous hostility of the Russian Army threatens her very existence, Feo is left with no option but to go on the run. What follows is a story of revolution and adventure, about standing up for the things you love and fighting back. And, of course, wolves.

UK Cover

Opening Lines:

"Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there was a dark and stormy girl.
The girl was Russian, and although her hair and eyes and fingernails were dark all the time, she was stormy only when she thought it absolutely necessary. Which was fairly often.
Her name was Feodora."

Five Things to Love: 

  1. Setting. I love stories set in Russia, especially in the snow.
  2. The character of Feo. She is brave, determined, and has an incredible bond with the wolves she is wilding
  3. The wolves. They are powerful forces and, although the idea is for them to be brought back to their wildness after spending time being accoutrements to the Russian aristocracy, they are fiercely protective of their "wilder."
  4. The other children in the novel. They include a boy soldier who wants to be a ballet dancer and who defects to accompany Feo and the wolves, as well as a band of peasants, lovingly described. Their entry in the novel brings both companionship and comedy, with Feo on the run and fearing for her life.
  5. The writing style. It is written to sound almost like a fable. There are beautiful descriptions--here's an example: "The girl would have been extraordinary whatever the weather. A blood-red cloak, freshly washed, flapped behind her. Her forearms, from elbow joint to wrist, were covered in scratches and bruises, but her eyes were gold. The set of her chin suggested she might have slain a dragon before breakfast. The look in her eyes suggested she might, in fact, have eaten it."
About the Author:
Katherine Rundell was born in 1987 and grew up in Africa and Europe. In 2008 she was elected a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. Her first book, The Girl Savage, was born of her love of Zimbabwe and her own childhood there; her second, Rooftoppers, was inspired by summers working in Paris and by night-time trespassing on the rooftops of All Souls. She is currently working on her doctorate alongside an adult novel. TWITTER
She recently wrote an article in The New York Times about tightrope walking. There's also an interesting article on her published in 2014 by The (London) Daily Telegraph.

Katherine Rundell atop All Souls College, Oxford
(photo by Andrew Crowley)

Monday, December 5, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday -- WOOF: A Bowser and Birdie Novel by Spencer Quinn

WOOF: A Bowser and Birdie Novel by Spencer Quinn (Scholastic, April 2016)

Another one from the Oregon Battle of the Books' list. My 4th-grader is one a roll, and I'm going to interview him later to see what he thought. (For the record, I loved the humor, and it was a great one to read-aloud together.)

What It's About (from Amazon):
There's trouble brewing in the Louisiana swamp -- Bowser can smell it. Bowser is a very handsome and only slightly slobbery dog, and he can smell lots of things. Like bacon. And rawhide chews! And the sweat on humans when they're lying.

Birdie Gaux, the girl Bowser lives with, also knows something is wrong. It's not just that her grammy's stuffed prize marlin has been stolen. It's the weird rumor that the marlin is linked to a missing treasure. It's the truck that seems to be following Birdie and the bad feeling on the back of her neck.

When Birdie and Bowser start digging into the mystery, not even Bowser's powerful sniffer can smell just how menacing the threat is. And when the danger comes straight for Birdie, Bowser knows it's up to him to sic 'em.

Opening Lines:
Two humans stood outside my cage, a white-haired woman and a gum-chewing kid. Gum chewing is one of the best sounds out there, and the smell's not bad either. I liked the kid from the get-go.

What My Guy Liked About It:
"It was a good mystery which, like in all good mysteries, ended in a lot of cliff hangers. Bowser was always thinking about food, and sometimes it was hilarious.

WOOF was an interesting story about a girl and her dog discovering what happened. It was fun, as a reader, trying to figure out what would happen next."

About the Author:
Spencer Quinn is the pen name for thriller-writer Peter Abrahams. Under the Spencer Quinn name, he writes the Chet and Bernie mysteries for adults, and the Bowser and Birdie series for middle grade readers. A father of four grown-up kids, Abrahams lives on Cape Cod with his wife and two dogs, Audrey and Pearl, whom he calls "the kind of researchers writers dream of, showing up every day and working for treats." WEBSITE  TWITTER

Monday, November 28, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: UPSIDE DOWN MAGIC by Sarah Mlynowsi, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins

UPSIDE DOWN MAGIC by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins (Scholastic, September 2015)

It's been a while since I've posted! As all parents know, every day is busy--but some seasons are busier than others. My 8th-grader is currently rehearsing for the local children's theater's production of The Wizard of Oz, and my 4th-grader is playing basketball. Wow! I'm putting in the miles on the minivan.

For the past few weeks, I've put off my blog post till the last minute, and then something invariably pops up, and the last minute becomes too late. This week, with Thanksgiving, I have had a few more moments of time, so HOORAY! I get to do Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

The book I'm featuring is on the Oregon Battle of the Books list. Also, my son's 4th-grade teacher asks them to do a monthly book report. November's theme was Fantasy, so we read the book together and killed several birds with one stone. Another HOORAY!

What It's About (via Amazon):
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 . . .

Opening Lines:
"Nory Horace was trying to turn herself into a kitten.
The kitten had to be a black kitten. And it had to be completely kitten-shaped.
It was the middle of summer. Nory was hiding in her family's garage. Kitten, kitten, kitten, she thought."

Things to Like:
This is a quick read, with an appealing main character (Nory) who comes from a successful magical family--her father is the headmaster of an elite magical academy--but who is cursed with being 'wonky.' Her talent, that of Fluxer, means that she should be able to turn herself into an animal at will, as well as control herself in her animal body. Nory can do neither. Her kitten becomes a bitten, or even a dritten (dragon/kitten), and once transformed she acts more animal than human.

Comedy is a great part of this novel's appeal (imagine what happens when Nory turns into a skunkephant (skunk/elephant) when dealing with some bullies at her new school! I also enjoyed the camaraderie between the so-called outcasts, and the way they eventually come to accept their differences and see that their are strengths in their "wonkiness." (Having a lovely, affirming teacher helps.) I was a little concerned that Nory's father basically seems to ignore her once she leaves for the less prestigious school, but maybe this abandonment is address is later books in the series.

The 4th-grader gave it a thumbs up!

About the Authors:
One of the things that left me wondering was how three well-established authors could collaborate so well. There was no obvious difference in style between the chapters, so I did a little digging about their method. As Sarah Mlynowski says:
"I wrote this book with Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins, two brilliant writers who happen to be two of my closest friends. How do three people write a book together? In a nutshell: I outline, Lauren writes the first draft, and Emily edits. But we all do a lot of everything.
The best thing about working with friends is that because we love and respect each other, it's completely okay to share ridiculous ideas. In fact, it's encouraged. The best scenes come from ridiculous ideas. Our friendship gives us the freedom to jump as high as we can-and to trust that we are each other's built in net. Just in case any of the ideas are a little too upside-down."

Here are links to the respective authors' websites:
Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, Emily Jenkins.

Also: a guide for teachers to use UPSIDE DOWN MAGIC in the classroom

Here's hoping that things don't go back to being so hectic, and I'm able to be back next week. Ciao!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: JOURNEY'S END by Rachel Hawkins

Blog Tour for JOURNEY'S END by Rachel Hawkins (October 25th, 2016)

What It's About: 
The town of Journey's End may not literally be at the end of the world, but it sure feels like it to Nolie Stanhope. Spending the summer with her scientist father in the tiny Scottish village isn't exactly Nolie's idea of a good time, but she soon finds a friend: native Journey's Ender Bel McKissick.

While Nolie's father came to Journey's End to study the Boundary--a mysterious fog bank offshore--Bel's family can’t afford to consider it a threat. The McKissick’s livelihood depends on the tourists drawn by legends of a curse. Still, whether you believe in magic or science, going into the Boundary means you'll never come back.

…Unless you do. Albert Etheridge, a boy who disappeared into the Boundary in 1914, suddenly returns--without having aged a day and with no memory of the past hundred years. Then the Boundary starts creeping closer to the town, threatening to consume everyone within.

While Nolie's father wants to have the village evacuated, Bel's parents lead the charge to stay in Journey's End. Meanwhile, Albert and the girls look for ways to stop the encroaching boundary, coming across an ancient Scottish spell that requires magic, a quest, and a sacrifice.

First Lines:
"Albert Macleish woke up early on the morning he disappeared.

It had to be early is he was to leave without his mum and da noticing, so it was still murky and dim when he opened the front gate and slipped out into the quiet, rutted lane that ran past his house..."

I'm just in love with this cover! Spooky Scotland seems to be all the rage this year, Earlier this year, I reviewed Janet Fox's THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, and if you liked that I believe you will like Rachel Hawkin's JOURNEY'S END also. The friendships are strong, the fog is scary, and who doesn't feel the hairs on the back of their necks prickle when you hear the words "ancient Scottish spell that requires magic, a quest, and a sacrifice"?

About The Author:
Rachel Hawkins is the author of the Hex Hall series. She lives in Alabama.

Rachel Hawkins' Tumblr photo
Other stops on the Blog Tour:
10/24: The Reading Nook 
10/25: Buttermybooks 
10/27: Novel Novice 
10/28: In Wonderland 
11/2: YA Bibliophile 
11/4: The Book Wars 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The STAT series by Amar'e Stoudamire

My youngest son is a basketball fiend, and last year (when he was in 3rd grade) he found this series in his school library. We've spent many an evening reading through the series. If you have a sports-loving kid, be sure to check these out!

What They're About
Based on NBA-star Amar'e Stoudamire's life, these books trace the success of young Amar'e (a.k.a STAT, the name given him by his father, and which is an abbreviation of "Standing Tall and Talented") on his middle school basketball team. STAT has two close friends, Deuce and Mike, who also love to play basketball--but Amar'e's talent takes him to another level, causing a rift. However, by the third book, the friends realize Amar'e's talent really is something else, and become his biggest supporters as he joins the school team and has to deal with some hostile 8th-graders.

There are five books in the series now. The first on e was published by Scholastic in 2012. Amar'e Stoudamire actually writes very well, and the books are well-structured and enjoyable. Other subjects dealt with include divorce (Amar'e's parents live in separate states,) and balancing school work with sport.

About the Author:
Born and raised in Lake Wales, Florida, Amar'e Stoudamire was a stand-out high school player, who went straight from high school to the NBA when he was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 2002. During his career, he played for the New York Knicks, the Dallas Mavericks, and the Miami Heat. He currently plays for Hapoel Jerusalem.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


ADDISON COOKE AND THE TREASURE OF THE INCAS by Jonathan W. Stokes (Philomel, October 11th, 2016)

This is hot off the presses--and I'm part of a select blogging group who are featuring it this week. Other participants are:

Monday, 10/10 | Novel Novice
Tuesday, 10/11 | Ms. Yingling Reads
Wednesday, 10/12 | Middle Grade Mafioso
Thursday, 10/13 | The Reading Nook
Friday, 10/14 Stories & Sweeties

What It's About (via Goodreads):
Smooth-talking, refined twelve-year-old Addison Cooke loves a grand adventure, especially one that involves using his vast knowledge of history and archaeology, learned from his aunt and uncle, both world-famous researchers. If that adventure includes an expertly-knotted Windsor tie and an Arnold Palmer on the rocks, all the better.

Luckily for Addison, adventure has a way of finding the Cookes. After Addison's uncle unearths the first ancient Incan clue needed to find a vast trove of lost treasure, he is kidnapped by members of a shadowy organization intent on stealing the riches. An expert in Incan history, Addison's uncle is the bandits' key to deciphering the ancient clues and looting the treasure. . . unless Addison and his friends can outsmart the kidnappers and decipher the clues first. So it's off to Peru (business class, no less), across the Amazon, and all the way to Machu Picchu in a race for riches and history.

First Lines:
Addison Cooke sat cross-legged in the school library, engrossed in an Incan history book. Under the spell of a decent read, Addison could forget meals, forget sleep, and even forget to go to class."

Here's The Scoop:
This is a helter-skelter ride of a novel, with chase after chase. (I keep thinking, as I was reading, what a great movie it would be.) There are evil archaeologists complete with a gang of Russian henchmen; Ecuadorian gangsters; and caimans--South American alligators--just dying to take a bite out of you. There are spills and scrapes aplenty, and the '86-ers' (named after the street they live on in New York City) are up to the challenge. Jonathan Stokes does a great job of bringing his kid characters to life, giving each of them recognizable quirks. Addison comes across as a bit of an English gentleman from bygone days, and is quick on his feet. Molly, his sister, is a speedy sportswoman. Eddie is a bit nervous, but is invaluable for his Spanish skills, and Raj is a highly decorated Boy Scout and survival camp veteran with a brown belt in karate.

The plot hinges on deciphering the three keys that will lead to the hidden Incan treasure (which is based on a legend.) I enjoyed the setting and getting to learn some details of Incan history at the time of the conquistadores. This is a fun, fun read that really hits the middle grade adventure sweet-spot. (Oh, and the cover's tremendous too!)

About The Author:
Jonathan Stokes is a screenwriter living in Los Angeles. He has written on assignment for Fox, Paramount, Universal, Warner Brothers, New Line, and Sony. He is the author of several upcoming kids' books being published by Penguin Random House. Jonathan is a street taco aficionado, an urban explorer, and koala enthusiast. WEBSITE  TWITTER