It’s been a long time since I dived into a Middle Grade book. The last time was probably seven year...moreReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog:
It’s been a long time since I dived into a Middle Grade book. The last time was probably seven years ago when I was in my backyard starting the Harry Potter series. Years and years after it had first been released because I didn’t think I could get into it. Was I ever wrong. As most of us know, Harry Potter is the quintessential good vs. evil, love vs. hate type series. With friendships and magical powers even I could appreciate. Everything about it is so diligently detail oriented, and that was part of the reason I adored the series so much and felt so attached to the characters. All the elements of a well-planned out, well-cared for story were there.
While The Storm Makers was reminiscent of the Harry Potter series for me (basically because Simon was almost like “the chosen one”, the good vs. evil theme, and for its more fantastical elements), the writing style and the basic plot line brought me back to some classics of my own middle grade reading experiences. Specifically, A Wrinkle and Time and From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, where two siblings embark on some sort of adventure and are forced to come together and overcome odds in some way. The big difference in The Storm Makers is Jennifer E. Smith’s simple yet gorgeous way of writing. I have to admit that was one of my biggest fears. Would her style remain intact even though she was writing for a younger audience? And it does. It really does. She has such a quiet, down-to-earth way of explaining the thoughts of her characters… it’s so exclusively her. (Seriously, Jennifer can do no wrong in my eyes.)
The idea of a group individuals having the power to control the weather is fascinating, and I really liked the way it was presented here especially since Simon isn’t particularly talented at any one thing and Ruby is more book smart of the two. There’s a certain shift in jealously that would provide for some interesting discussions in a class, or even with parents who are reading this book with their children. I loved there were so many elements of the story that could be used to teach children something but not in a way that was banging them over the head with lessons about the world. When the villain of the story comes into play and his own actions are fully known, there is just an overflow of subjects that can be brought up and fully discussed. As a person who absolutely loved the literature portion of any of my grades, I could just imagine the amazing projects that could come out of a book like this one.
A word of warning: The Storm Makers starts a little slow. It probably took about a hundred pages or so before I was fully invested in it. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m not used to reading this type of grade level or just because it’s typical in a book that needs to introduce so much, especially if it is to become a series. (I’m not sure if this is going to happen but it definitely could.) There’s a lot to set up when it comes to creating an involved world like this one, but I think patience pays off in the end. Readers will grow to relate to (or care for) either Ruby or Simon (or both) and the supporting characters carry their own depth in many entertaining (and heartbreaking) ways. I’m interested to see if and when the story continues…(less)
I read Jo Knowles’ Jumping Off Swings a few months ago, and while I found it an engrossing read, I was u...moreReview first posted on: Rather Be Reading Blog
I read Jo Knowles’ Jumping Off Swings a few months ago, and while I found it an engrossing read, I was unhappy with the lack of character development and therefore, the lack of connection I had with the characters.
I’m happy to say I had the exact opposite reaction to See You at Harry’s. In fact, based on the bright cover with the empty glass of ice cream, I was expecting to read something a little bit lighter than my usual (internet predators, abuse, death) and instead was completely turned around by the events of the book.
Warning: you will cry.
Knowles presents us with a hardworking family. Dad owns a restaurant, Mom helps out but tends to get stressed easily, and older sis Sarah – on her “gap year” — works at the restaurant. That leaves three more kids: Fern, our main character, and her two brothers, Holden (older) and Charlie (three). All the kids are named after literary characters (a detail I loved) and Fern feels a lot of pressure to live up to hers. Fern was one of the main human characters in Charlotte’s Web and this Fern believes it’s her mission in life to be a good, dependable friend to everyone.
She’s starting to realize just how difficult this role is. Especially in her family. She feels a bit ignored, jealous of her cute younger brother that everyone loves, and upset with her dad for spending more time at his restaurant than seeing what is going on at home. Then there is her brother Holden, with whom she has a special connection. This isn’t a spoiler: he is gay, has always known that he is gay, and finally is ready to say that much to his family. In fact, he also starts dating for the first time.
For a book that is written for 5th grade and up, I thought this was an unbelievably brave move by Knowles and I completely appreciated her focusing on a character going through this kind of change, where he is bullied and feels unsupported. And also how a family comes to terms with the announcement.
As for the major turning point, I was not expecting for things to go down the way they did. At all. I had a few guesses along the way but I was wrong. Utterly and completely. What occurs is actually quite similar to something that happened during my freshman year of college, and one that continues to frighten me to no end. I don’t want to go any further but it forces this family to evaluate their roles in their own unit and work to be there for one another when life turns upside down.
It was extremely painful to read, but I think Knowles handled this storyline particularly well and I was reminded of some of the more serious reads from my elementary/middle school years (i.e. Bridge to Terabithia by Katharine Paterson). There are a lot of characters, and many different emotions being depicted and even though Fern at times feels more self-aware for someone at age 12, it felt carefully authentic. (I’m sure the topics could have been explored with more depth if for an older age bracket.)
Whether See You at Harry’s is read at home or in a classroom, it is sure to bring up important and relevant discussion. At any age, we can relate to huge changes in the family, finding a balance when it comes to work and home, and struggling through our own personal roles in a family. Knowles has written a fast-paced yet heartbreaking and refreshing novel that covers all the bases.(less)
I am absolutely giddy in love with Raina Telgemeier’s work.
Drama is the first graphic novel I’ve ever read and while it only took me about an hour to get through it, I couldn’t stop going back and smiling over the details in these colorful scenes and how perfectly Raina has been able to capture the middle school experience.
And for the theater lovers, finally: a book that celebrates those dear people who work on the stage crew, the kookiness that ensues, the intertwining love stories, budget constraints and trying to actually get people to the shows. (Plus the book was divided in Acts with an Intermission – such a cute set up.)
Callie is a theater dork in a way that I geek out over theater and books and Disney. She cannot contain her love of the performing arts and I love that about her. She doesn’t give a crap what other people think and good for her. Embrace what you love, Callie, and don’t let that go. She also falls for boys pretty easily and gee, don’t we all remember being like that in 8th grade? If it wasn’t one boy it was another. Raina’s creation of Callie’s wide eyes in particular scenes brought such comedy to the page. It was only one of the many small details that made such an impact. (I also loved the attention paid to Callie’s bedroom. You can learn so much more about a character’s background without reading words.)
Raina also does a great job of integrating a crew of multi-cultural kids (I came from a very diverse middle school so this was great to see) and also blending in a variety of characters with different sexual preferences. As I read more and more books that include LGBT characters, I am so inclined to hug these writers who are so keen on depicting TRUE life.
I can only describe Drama as a total delight. It has surprising depth but doesn’t weigh down the flow of the story or even the lighter moments. There are so many details to look at and take in when it comes to this novel, and I could see myself flipping through it again and again and always finding something new to love. The awesome illustrations and bright colors paired with a sweet story make Drama a highlight in anyone’s book pile.(less)
It’s been awhile since I read a kid’s chapter book, and what better than to tap into my love of all thing...moreReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading
It’s been awhile since I read a kid’s chapter book, and what better than to tap into my love of all things Disney and fantastical? The Never Girls are three best friends with the addition of Mia’s little sister, Gabby, who are magically transported to the land of many talented fairies on an ordinary afternoon.
It’s sweet, cute, and a quick read and will certainly be enjoyable for the new reader or even to take along and read to the little fairies in your life. I was both delighted and surprised by some of the humor — humans are called Clumsies and the various fairy rules, talents (like a harvest talent?) and creative way of saying things by shunning some human language (they don’t use the words “cute” and “sorry”).
Don’t think this pixie dust-filled day is without some shake up. One of the girls (unknowingly) teams up with Vidia, the “fast flying” fairy who is kind of a trickster, and a little more adventure is added into the mix. While it’s sometimes a little hard to tell the girls apart (although one of them does wear glasses!), I’m hoping that will be cleared up as the series continues. (My gosh, Thorpe certainly got Tink’s pouty personality down though!)
In a Blink definitely made me smile, and I know I would have loved this series when I was a youngster! (Now I’m even more inclined to see the first Pixie Hollow movie! Did you know Mae Whitman from Parenthood is the voice of Tink?)(less)
It’s official. Jessica Darling has joined the ranks of two of my lifelong favorite middle grade book...moreReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog
It’s official. Jessica Darling has joined the ranks of two of my lifelong favorite middle grade book heroines: Anastasia Krupnik (Lois Lowry) and Alice McKinley (Phyllis Naylor Reynolds). I have read and re-read the quirky books about Anastasia and Alice’s lives so many times; they are two literary characters that I feel I know so so well. And now Jessica Darling? It’s like a dream come true.
It’s always a little nerve-wracking when an author decides to revisit a popular literary icon (yay!) and transport them back in time a little bit. But Megan McCafferty can legit do no wrong so I’m not sure if I was ever that worried. Maybe I was just concerned I would become Darling obsessed all over again and never read another new book until I got through the whole series.
(Truth: so hard not to pick up my copy of Sloppy Firsts, which I’m pretty sure has been winking at me since last week.)
Not only is the IT List totally funny, honest, and SO Jessica, but it does a few things that I love. As a middle grade book, it will introduce new kiddies to this series. And for all of us who have been dying since finishing Perfect Fifths and daydreaming about what’s going on with our favorite girl, we get the opportunity to learn more about the pre-high school Jessica and totally fall in love with her all over again.
Middle school was not the happiest time of my life so I could totally relate to how nervous Jessica was about starting seventh grade. The clothes, the friends, the lunch table antics, wood shop, staying true to her sister’s sparkling high school reputation. The pressure! The exclamation points!! AND THE CAPS LETTERS. (Amazing additions, let me tell you.) McCafferty does a great job of balancing several parts of Jessica’s life: she wants attention from her sister and will follow through with the IT List if that’s what it takes to get it and what about the best friend who becomes the popular one?
Jessica continues to be spunky, hilarious, super smart, and a very thorough thinker. (As she says, it’s totally her hobby.) It was hard not to speed through The IT List because it had such a confident rhythm. McCafferty’s writing is strong and she never forgoes Jessica’s voice and intelligence level even though it is being marketed as middle grade. It definitely has a timeless quality for the any-age reader. (Plus there is a Muppet reference and talk of Seaside Heights — two bonuses for me!)
Listen carefully and do what I say: buy this book and love this book. Because Jessica Darling is so back. (Even though a character like her never leaves us in the first place.)
You may not know it yet but you are probably a lot like Sunday. In most ways. Maybe you’re not smack...moreReview originally posted on Rather Be Reading Blog
You may not know it yet but you are probably a lot like Sunday. In most ways. Maybe you’re not smack dab in the middle of six kids in a family but even if you have another sibling, I’m sure your parents or relatives have mixed up your names. Or like me, with three older successful cousins, you can feel inferior sometimes. But I’ll go out on a limb and say you probably fit the bookish part of her. The girl who is so well-read (classics too!) at “almost 12″, she believes the library is magical, and she knows what it’s like to get lost in a story and its characters.
Seriously, Sunday is so enthusiastic about books you will fall in love with reading all over again.
In A Summer of Sundays, Sunday and her family are off to Alma for the summer. Her dad is helping to rebuild the library, her mom is chief organizer of the project, and the rest of their kids will make themselves at home for a few weeks. Sunday takes advantage of the new setting to seek out some circumstance that will help her stand out from her siblings once and for all. When she finds an unpublished manuscript in the library, her plan is to uncover the identity of the writer and make a splash with her discovery. She reluctantly divulges her find to new friend, Jude, who becomes her partner-in-crime and sometimes a voice of reason when Sunday gets a little too into things. (These two are too cute.)
As Sunday and Jude investigate within the town, we are introduced to some lovely supporting characters from Ms. Bodnar at the crepe shop and Mr. Castor, the misbehaving dog under the ownership of Muzzy and Phil. It was really wonderful to see how welcoming the small town was, and how easily Sunday’s family and the residents became friends and helped each other out. Eland really excels at the tiny details that allow each of these characters to feel so unique. (Even “off camera” with Sunday’s grandfather who always called Sunday his favorite day of the week.)
I can’t help but love Ben Folger, though. He’s the grumpy old neighbor that everyone is scared of and is connected to all these creepy rumors. Jude is scared to death of him, but Sunday’s interest is peaked. He’s just like a character in a few of her books! Maybe she can get him reconnected in society! I really liked watching this unconventional friendship unfold, and how Ben slowly reintroduced himself to a town that he has always loved (for many reasons). His own backstory is so romantic, and was truly a highlight of A Summer of Sundays for me.
There is so much to adore about this novel: Sunday’s curiosity to her insecurities with her place in the family, her older sister’s terrible driving lessons (who does not remember those times?!), loving (though busy) parents, and watching the process of a library go from an empty building to one where people can find joy in it again. And the allusion to To Kill a Mockingbird and Harper Lee? Such a brilliant bonus.(less)