12-year-old Gracie is narrating this intriguing story in the diary her mother has just given her for her recent birthday.First reviewed on Literaritea
12-year-old Gracie is narrating this intriguing story in the diary her mother has just given her for her recent birthday. Aspiring to give us the setting of her “story,” she begins by describing her town: She lives in Cliffden, Maine; Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s are all there on Rt. 1. Everything sounds like our world until:
It’s not exactly safe to be out: The dragons are on their way south again, from the northern reaches of Wales and Scotland and Ireland, to hibernate in South America.
Dragons? Yes! And Sasquatches, witches, ghosts from the underworld, and a genie. Anderson builds a marvelous alternate world that seems both ahead of, and behind, our own in terms of its history.
Gracie sees several “death omens” right at the start, setting up the central conflict of the story: her family’s desperate attempt to reach the Extraordinary World in order to escape the Cloud that has come to carry one of their own away. With help from Gracie’s grandmother (a witch), the family sets off across country in an old Winnebago with Gracie’s orphaned friend Oliver and one Sasquatch in tow.
Despite seemingly insurmountable odds, time and again, Gracie’s family perseveres in their journey. Will they find the Extraordinary World? Does it really exist? Will they outrun the Cloud who seems to keep pace with them?
This book packs an emotional punch, not least of which because the ending offers a big twist that younger readers may not see coming (this grown-up was fully prepared, but she reads a LOT of these kinds of books). I also found the ending simultaneous hopeful and hopeless.
In the end, the family does indeed find the Extraordinary World but they can’t get to it. In addition, a member of the family does die. It’s “okay” in the sense that they are resigned to it and have made peace with it. But I found this ultimately to be pretty hopeless–as if the meaning in life is just what we can make of it given the luck of the draw we end up with. Sure, family is hugely important in that scenario, and pulling together as a family unit in the face of diversity is a valuable theme. Learning to love and appreciate each other, giving each other the benefit of the doubt, and keeping the family intact even at great cost are marvelous points to ponder. But to leave it at just that seems a bit depressing. Some may argue that the Extraordinary World is a false reality for Gracie’s family and that we shouldn’t be pinning our hopes on a fantasy when we could be putting our energy into strengthening our families. But since the Extraordinary World is NOT a fantasy, it really exists–the family sees it and it has been their hope all along, and it can do nothing to help them, well, that felt a bit hopeless....more
A very fun romp in which a resourceful orphan finds herself helping rescue President Taft's niece, revealing a nefarious plot and its masterminds, andA very fun romp in which a resourceful orphan finds herself helping rescue President Taft's niece, revealing a nefarious plot and its masterminds, and befriending a newsboy in Washington, D. C. Solid characterization, great voice (the prose is quite hilarious at times), and a lovable cat-as-sidekick make this a fun read. There isn't as much depth as some of Larson's other novels.... ...more
A weak 4 stars, I confess. I found the whole construct of this book a little strange, but it hooked me anyway and I read through to the end.... As hasA weak 4 stars, I confess. I found the whole construct of this book a little strange, but it hooked me anyway and I read through to the end.... As has been said by nearly everyone, Jane Eyre + Goldilocks. Creative and inventive....more
I really liked this book, but I went into it with extra high hopes. I really, really loved The Great Wall of Lucy Wu and wanted this book to essentialI really liked this book, but I went into it with extra high hopes. I really, really loved The Great Wall of Lucy Wu and wanted this book to essentially be a boy version of that.
It is, and it isn't.
Strengths of the book: Vietnam era without hovering on much political "stuff." Kids today will totally find themselves in the kids in this book. Chinese-American dynamics are well done: you know that it's a factor in the family's experience, but it's not overdone, or even the point of the book. LOVED the development of the son and dad's relationship. Loved the ending: hopeful, but not neat and too happy, happy. Interesting treatment of depression and its effects on the loved ones around the depressed person. Beautiful picture of love from the father--even though he is totally undemonstrative. Classic middle grades themes of: accepting others and learning to understand them/where they're coming from even when they're different from you, starting to separate your identity from that of your parents, struggling with adversity on your own but still with the family safety net, etc. Baseball is the tie that binds in this book--this is not another book about a nerdy kid who loves math or loves to read. It's about a baseball loving kid, a baseball loving culture, and baseball!
Weaknesses: some all-too-common tropes in the book (such as, bully has drunk father and lives in poor community). The gender equality angle sort of comes out of nowhere--the context totally fits, but I still felt like it wasn't what the heart of the story was about. Still musing over it. (But it's well done overall, and both boys and girls will enjoy this angle of the story)....more
And there isn't much hope offered until the very end. The book covers the standard coming-of-awareness type middle schoolThis book is sad. Really sad.
And there isn't much hope offered until the very end. The book covers the standard coming-of-awareness type middle school story but adds in the element of grief over a friend's sudden drowning and the main character's feeling that they didn't end on friendly terms. AGONIZING for a middle schooler who is also at the height of awkwardness.
This book is well written on many levels, handles the extended metaphors of jellyfish and scientific method really nicely, and has good character development. But it's just kind of downer. I'd rather hand a kid Goodbye Stranger or The Penderwicks in Spring for a book that deals with similar age-related issues and even depression...but with more hope, warmth, and humor....more
This is a great example of a "meaty" picture book biography perfect for the span of elementary and middle school grades. There is a lot of subtext andThis is a great example of a "meaty" picture book biography perfect for the span of elementary and middle school grades. There is a lot of subtext and related history that older kids will pick up on, but younger kids will still "get" the story. Some good food for discussion with any age. I think No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller was a stronger work (same author/subject), but this picture book version is a good introduction to the same family from a lens more targeted to younger kids. It feels a bit incomplete to me, but that may be just because I've already read the longer novel. Artwork is good, but it's not quite what I expected from the cover. (Cover is more defined and vibrant)....more
5 stars for writing, 3 stars for my actual enjoyment
I do not like horror in books or movies. And this book was the epitome of one of the creepiest typ5 stars for writing, 3 stars for my actual enjoyment
I do not like horror in books or movies. And this book was the epitome of one of the creepiest types of horror: no blood and guts, no vampires, etc. Just subtly, increasingly disturbing scenes in a twisted way.
FANTASTIC theme: every human life has worth, even though all humans are "messed up." In this book, there is a baby with serious problems (unnamed problems save for a congenital heart defect) and a boy with serious anxiety issues. The boy (brother) realizes that his very imperfections are what enable him to love his younger baby brother, and that a perfect baby/person would lack that crucial empathy.
Terrific writing--you will not be able to put the book down. Pacing is perfect.
But the scariness... would the book be as effective without that element? I don't know. It would be a very different book....more
Pros: Very readable, despite the lengthy discussions of health/sanitation, workers' rights, women's rights, legal processes, and other non-narrative iPros: Very readable, despite the lengthy discussions of health/sanitation, workers' rights, women's rights, legal processes, and other non-narrative intrusions. Reading level is great for intermediate/middle grade students. Mary's story is told fairly objectively, although it is clear that Bartoletti is preferencing Mary and her status as a woman against the accusations of the world at large.
Case in point: Bartoletti reminds us frequently that the investigator at the beginning had no real proof, just circumstantial evidence for his claim that Mary was infecting her employers. Yet, later in the book, Bartoletti does the same thing with the claims that the other carriers were also infecting people.
Book seems well researched and story is well told. Not sure it's the type of book young readers will pick up without a book talk encouraging them to do so (but all it took for my daughter was "want to read a book about a cook who accidentally killed people by spreading germs?").......more
This is a great read about a group of boys--one in particular--who refuse to give up in the face of difficulty. Pacing is nice and suspense builds, evThis is a great read about a group of boys--one in particular--who refuse to give up in the face of difficulty. Pacing is nice and suspense builds, even though the outcome is a historical fact. The struggles of those growing up in the Depression and in an often harsh climate put our modern complaints to utter shame. Great themes of perseverance, teamwork, and being willing to be vulnerable within a safe community. Although it says "young readers" edition, this is not a dumbed down book... just a bit shorter. So, grown-ups looking for a less lengthy/intense read than the original will enjoy it!...more
This book ripped my heart out, crumpled it up, and threw it in an icy river.
Now that you know my true feelings, let me just say: read the plot synopsThis book ripped my heart out, crumpled it up, and threw it in an icy river.
Now that you know my true feelings, let me just say: read the plot synopsis and know that this is not a book for sissies, for non-mature students (I won't say "immature"--but the students who are not ready to deal with some pretty heavy things), or for those who need grief processing time.
My biggest issue with this book is the last--the grief processing time. I'm totally fine with books that have hard endings. A Monster Calls is a great example of a book that needed a hard ending--but it was a good ending. The right ending.
And maybe Orbiting Jupiter needed a hard ending. But if so, then we, the readers, need the same grief processing that the young narrator would have needed. And we don't get that. We jump ahead more than a year to a happier time. A redemptive final chapter, but the reader needs a bit of time just as the narrator did.
That being said, this book was a stunning example of a terse, trim, evocative book. After plodding through some really long middle grades fare recently, it was a delight to be in the skillful hands of an author who could command my attention and deliver a riveting, one-sitting read and keep it under 200 pages. Kudos, Mr. Schmidt, for keeping every word in its place and eliminating all unnecessary verbiage.
But a few more words between the two final chapters wouldn't have been amiss....more
I enjoy Frank Cottrell Boyce's books a lot. They promise good natured fun, adventure, great character/relationship dynamics, and that British sense ofI enjoy Frank Cottrell Boyce's books a lot. They promise good natured fun, adventure, great character/relationship dynamics, and that British sense of humor that wins me over every time. And The Astounding Broccoli Boy delivers as usual.
Rory Rooney is a likable character: as first person narrator, his self-deprecating humor, asides to the reader, fantasies of his life comic book style, and his interpretations of various events are delightful reading. His growing relationship with the former bully is believable and endearing. Grim, as former bully, is just as believable and--as all bullies do--turns out to have some fears and weaknesses of his own.
The one character I could have done with less of is the girl that joins this desperate duo: Koko. She's believable enough as a character, but the book was a touch on the long side. Perhaps less of Koko and more of a trim story?
Cottrell Boyce adds in great diversity to his stories, and this one is no exception: Rory's parents are from Guyana and England, Grim's straight up British, and Koko is Asian. When they all turn green in the story, they are unified despite their previous "colors." Interesting twist and it works nicely.
Super hero elements, fantasy elements (turning green!), and a primarily realistic story for all its wild adventure makes this a great read, albeit a long one....more
A powerful example of what a talented author and equally talented illustrator can do with a picture book biography! First person free verse recounts F A powerful example of what a talented author and equally talented illustrator can do with a picture book biography! First person free verse recounts Fannie Lou's story from birth through the end of her life. Subheadings function almost as chapter breaks in the lengthy text. Collage illustrations MAKE the book, though. Holmes does a magnificent job here of evoking the right moods, images, and associations that Weatherford's text alludes to. Note that Hamer is consistently portrayed in sunshiny yellow--and that one her songs is "This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine."
Author's note, bibliography, timeline, source notes--end matter is full of extra information!
Note: for those reading this aloud to a student audience "cold," there is one page that includes a white person shaming Hamer with the "n" word and "bitch." In the context, this provides an excellent place in which to discuss the hatefulness of the phrase used! But be prepared....more
Picture book biographies are such great ways to "get to know" someone. e. e. cummings is an interesting fellow, to be sure, and this biography bringsPicture book biographies are such great ways to "get to know" someone. e. e. cummings is an interesting fellow, to be sure, and this biography brings him to life in a way that children will understand. Art is interesting and engaging, often including some of his poetry. There are times when the text feels like it's trying too hard (repetition of "enormous" in the beginning pages, for instance) and the general artistic style reminds me of a book that is a stronger example of this same style/subject matter: A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams. That being said, this is a solid biography and a great introduction to an interesting poet. End matter includes author's note and chronology but limited bibliographic material....more
Lynch's illustrations are a wonderful fit for the story he tells of John Howland, the Mayflower, and that harsh first winter for the Pilgrims4.5 stars
Lynch's illustrations are a wonderful fit for the story he tells of John Howland, the Mayflower, and that harsh first winter for the Pilgrims. Much more than a Thanksgiving story, this text-heavy book is a great read about early American history and the Mayflower's voyage. Lynch's text, from the perspective of young Howland himself, doesn't shy away from the Pilgrims' faith, the harshness of their experiences, or the ways in which they may have not dealt well with the Native Americans. Illustrations match the mood of the text expertly; they appear frozen in time, like a painting of the scene might appear. I was pleasantly surprised with this one because I've not felt Lynch's previous books to be this strong (his previous artwork--this is the first book he's written and illustrated).
End matter includes brief author's note and short bibliography--which includes some titles for young readers. This book would have been stronger if the distinction between historical fiction and actual history were made a bit clearer (citations for dialogue and the like).
Recommended for stronger readers, third grade and up. (or average middle grades readers)...more
I like that this is a title for younger readers (I’d peg it as 3rd-5th grade or so), and that means it will seem a bit simpler on the surface when comI like that this is a title for younger readers (I’d peg it as 3rd-5th grade or so), and that means it will seem a bit simpler on the surface when compared with other, more complex reads. It’s got some good emotional depth, tackles the migrant worker issue with gentleness and realism, and has great family dynamics. The dog angle is a surefire winner for this age group, too! I think the themes are excellent: friendships are unpredictable but worth sacrificing and fighting for; all people are worthwhile regardless of race; animals are cared for, but serve as ways to bring people together and enrich their lives (rather than be the absolute center/more important than humans); responsibility for others and animals involves work and hard decisions; being yourself is important, but being part of a community is, too; and parents and grandparents are important, too!...more
Clear, interesting prose filled with historical details, excerpts of letters, and information on the persecution during Durand's day. Excellent visualClear, interesting prose filled with historical details, excerpts of letters, and information on the persecution during Durand's day. Excellent visual details: photographs of the actual places in the story, solid artistic portrayals of Marie and her family, etc. Timeline of events included....more
Alec’s parents have split up—just temporarily, they say, but Alec is worried nonetheless. Mom is following her dreamFirst reviewed on Redeemed Reader
Alec’s parents have split up—just temporarily, they say, but Alec is worried nonetheless. Mom is following her dream to be an actress out in California, and Dad is the new assistant principal at Alec’s elementary school in Atlanta. This is a “worst case scenario” for the start of a new school year. To top it off, his close friend Morgan is suddenly acting more like a girl—which means “weird” to Alec. And his friend Trey is also acting a little off.
When Alec beats his older brother Antoine out for a key football position on their new team, things go from bad to worse. Alec wonders how things can possibly be more miserable. And then his grandmother shows up to “take care of them.”
Throughout this chapter book, his friends speak up to Alec about their own beliefs and how Alec’s actions are affecting others. (Trey’s dad is the Falcons football team chaplain, and Morgan’s stepdad is a pastor.) Alec begins to go to church more regularly, and in the end, he really does want to trust the Lord.
"I needed to be like Joseph and trust God. My job was to pray for my parents and trust God to help them work it out."
This is a chapter book series with a message, but the authors do a great job of mixing authentic “issues” and real life events with strong Christian themes. Alec learns to curb his quick words and reign in his thoughts. Word searches and information on the game of football will engage some reluctant readers. The end of the book includes some helpful discussion questions as well as a mini-grammar review on sentence construction. A great choice for anyone working with after school programs or in tutoring environments, this series is also a fun choice for young football lovers....more
Nancy is from Sierra Leone, orphaned, and new to school. But some of the girls who skillfully turn the Double Dutch rFirst reviewed on Redeemed Reader
Nancy is from Sierra Leone, orphaned, and new to school. But some of the girls who skillfully turn the Double Dutch ropes during each recess invite her to join them one day. Nancy finds friends and quickly learns new skills with the group. The small group of six girls is quite diverse culturally, yet they are united by their Double Dutch passion. After one of the girls sees a flyer for a state Double Dutch competition, their passion is channeled into winning.
The owners of the neighborhood convenience store agree to sponsor the girls for the competition. Hours of faithful practice plus lots of compromise and teamwork precede the big competition; do they have what it takes?
First in a series about these Double Dutch teammates, the message is stronger than the writing, but the setting and diverse group of friends will appeal to many young girls. A couple of the girls also demonstrate a strong Christian faith that sets a good example for their teammates....more
A great read that manages to feel both old-fashioned in all the right ways AND still contemporary in tone. Micah's relationship with his grandfather iA great read that manages to feel both old-fashioned in all the right ways AND still contemporary in tone. Micah's relationship with his grandfather is so well done. Jenny is a terrific foil as Micah's best friend. I figured out the grandfather's "miracle" request before the end, but I don't know that younger readers will--nor did it spoil anything for me. Micah grows immensely in this book and turns out to have some serious spunk and faith in the end. (He always had the faith; it just hadn't been tested yet....).
I think even kids who don't normally like fantasy will enjoy this one--it's not "high fantasy" with dragons/witches and the like. ...more