The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning. She doesn’t remember it, but it changed her life forever. The zap gave her genius-level math skills, and ever since, Lucy has been homeschooled. Now, at 12 years old, she’s technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test–middle school!

Lucy’s grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that’s not a math textbook!). Lucy’s not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy’s life has already been solved. Unless there’s been a miscalculation?

I read this book as an ARC from the publisher and I cannot wait until it hits our library shelves in May so I can start recommending it to kids.  Lucy and her savant brain navigate the challenges of middle school that almost all reade33004208rs can relate to: friendships, fitting in, and group projects. Her special mathematical ability (from being hit by lightning!), along with her OCD make Lucy stand out from other middle-school female protagonists.  Even though I’ve never been particularly fond of math, I enjoyed how math concepts and numbers were so integrated in the story. As an animal lover, the community improvement project was a fun addition and I too fell in love with the pup, Pi. Speaking of Pi, the book devotes a few pages to explaining the mathematical concepts featured for those interested in learning more.

You can count on (ha-ha) McAnulty for a quick yet memorable read. The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl continues to receive well deserved starred reviews and praise.  I can totally see teachers using this book in the classroom to generate discussions and encourage their own local service projects.

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Ebb & Flow by Heather Smith

…poignant story, told in free verse, of eleven-year-old Jett. Last year, Jett and his mother had moved to a new town for a fresh start after his father went to jail. But Jett soon learned that fresh starts aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. When he befriended a boy with a difficult home life, Jett found himself in a cycle of bad decisions that culminated in the betrayal of a friend – a shameful secret he still hasn’t forgiven himself for. Will a summer spent with his unconventional grandmother help Jett find his way to redemption?

ebbIt’s clear to see how Smith’s east coast roots have inspired this heartbreaking middle grade read.  It brought me back to my many visits to Nova Scotia and hunting for sea glass.

Told in poetic form, I read about Jett’s “rotten bad year” in one sitting. I admired how sparsely-worded pages were able to cover such a wide range of serious topics: bullying, incarceration, abuse, and more. There were so many beautiful passages that I had to restrain myself from dog-earring all the pages. As a librarian, I especially loved the passage:

I said,

I only read comics.

She said,

What’s a comic if it’s not a book?

Jett’s betrayal slowly unfolds and his courage and responsibility ultimately turn this sad story into one of forgiveness and hope. Ebb & Flow has such a powerful impact that it may take some readers some time to fully process the story.

From Ant to Eagle by Alex Lyttle

When 11-year-old Calvin’s younger brother, Sammy, is diagnosed with cancer, Calvin is stricken with guilt for all the times he has ignored his brother.

I never intended to read back-to-back middle grade books dealing with a child’s serious and life-threatening diagnosis. This one was recommended by my colleague who is working her way through the 2018 Silver Birch nominees and believes this is the stand out winner.

I find books basedant on real-life personal experiences are always best. Clearly, the author’s background working in the pediatric oncology unit made the novel heartbreakingly realistic. The text was difficult to read at times, as it never hid the symptoms and effects of cancer (both on the individual and loved ones). Although medical terms were included, the author did a great job at explaining them in an easy to understand way.

Overall, this emotional book is more than just cancer and sadness. There’s family, friendship and hope. After all– “The only thing worse than dying is living without hope.”

Mustaches for Maddie by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown

Inspired by the true story. Maddie is a normal twelve-year-old, but when a CT scan reveals she has a brain tumor, it will take all her imagination, courage, and support from her friends and family to meet this new challenge.

I think School Library Journal summarized the book best with “…good read-alike for fans of R.J.Palacio’s Wonder.” However, unlike Wonder, Mustaches for Maddie is based on the true story of the authors’ daughter, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  Information regarding the real Maddie’s story is included in the acknowledgements, author’s note, and letter from Maddie herself.  Like the fictional character, Maddie thinks mustaches are hilarious so you can actually send her a mustache photo using the hashtag #MustachesforMaddie.

I liked how the story included not just Maddie’smustache physical challenges but social as well.  It included family dynamics, and friendships.  The perspective of 12-year-old Maddie is completely believable- especially when she uses her imagination to make things an adventure.  She frequently uses mustaches for courage and humor to deal with life’s challenges.

Many readers will be able to relate and the heartwarming story serves as a reminder to be kind to everyone.  Most of us are battling some sort of issue, perhaps some more visible than others. To access a reader’s guide featuring discussion question and kindness/compassion activities visit http://www.mustachesformaddie.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Mustaches-for-Maddie-Readers-Guide_spreads.pdf

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