Nightbooks by J.A. White

Imprisoned by Natacha, a witch, in a New York apartment, Alex must tell her a new scary story every night in order to stay alive.

This dark middle grade read is perfect for rnightbookseaders looking for that creep factor.  Just listen to these chapter titles: “A Pair of Red Eyes”, “What Grows with No Light”, and “The Other Prisoner”. Many times, Nightbooks has been compared to Grimm’s Fairytales and Neil Gaiman stories. I’d have to agree; it definitely reminded me of a Hansel and Gretel retelling. In this book, the main character Alex (a fan of all things scary) gets trapped in a witch’s magical apartment and must read chilling stories to stay alive. These short stories (in Alex’s handwriting) were a neat addition, and were totally frightening! I still think about the short story about Mr.Boots, a boot-wearing revengeful teddy bear that kidnaps a baby. In the end, I liked the message of being true to yourself, even if it does make you a bit of an outsider.

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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.

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

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree”–people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this “wishtree” watches over the neighborhood.

You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever.

wishtree

I’m baaaaaaaack!

Although I’ve managed to read a few books in the past year (mostly parenting ones), it was this heartwarming and special middle grade read that has inspired me to return to book blogging.

This important story is narrated by an old oak tree named Red.  Throughout the years, Red has watched as many different families have moved in and out of the neighbourhood, but is suddenly puzzled when a Muslim family is treated unkindly.  Saddened by the intolerance, Red the optimist, aims to make the wish of the young Muslim girl come true.

With short chapters (51!), simple sentences, and drawings throughout, this book would keep the attention of even the most reluctant of readers.  Without a doubt, this book would also make an excellent read aloud for parents and teachers.  I’ve already recommended it to many colleagues!

In addition to the message of friendship and inclusion, it offers cool facts (who knew a bunch of hummingbirds are called a charm?), a funny sidekick (Bongo the crow), new vocabulary and wise insight.

If you don’t have a neighbourhood wishtree, visit the author’s website to make a virtual wish and check out the gallery of wishes.

When Friendship Followed me Home by Paul Griffin

A boy’s chance encounter with a scruffy dog leads to an unforgettable friendship in this deeply moving story about life, loss, and the meaning of family Ben Coffin has never felt like he fits in. A former foster kid, he keeps his head down at school to avoid bullies and spends his afternoons reading sci-fi books at the library. But that all changes when he finds a scruffy abandoned dog named Flip and befriends the librarian’s daughter, Halley. For the first time, Ben starts to feel like he belongs in his own life. Then, everything changes, and suddenly, Ben is more alone than ever. But with a little help from Halley’s magician father, Ben discovers his place in the world and learns to see his own magic through others’ eyes.

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As a huge dog lover, I knew I had to read this middle grade book. I just didn’t expect the story to be so heartbreaking AND heartwarming at the same time. There are some serious issues like abandonment, illness, and grief that could be emotional for some younger readers (heck, even I got teary eyed!) Regardless, the tone remains quite optimistic throughout. As a librarian, I loved all the public library, and librarian references, especially when former foster child Ben declares, “I think if there’s a heaven it’ll be my own private library. I walked along row after row of books and dragged my fingertips over their spines. In the twilight I felt the magic in them.” Books can be used to help individuals cope with certain emotional (and other) problems, and it’s clear that both the characters Ben and Halley use books/reading/writing as a form of bibliotherapy as they write their own sci-fi story together. The dog, Flip is an extra bonus and helps cheer up all those that meet him. Overall, a wonderful story about friendship and the true meaning of home.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

In the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for 16-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again–but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely. When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is. Why does happiness have to be so hard?

more happy

I’ve been struggling to get back into YA lately, but thankfully, More Happy Than Not has renewed my love in teen fiction. I find it hard to put into words how wonderful yet sad this story is. Readers should know there are heavy  topics (homophobia, depression, suicide) explored and scenes with potential to cause distress.  Despite this, Silvera is able to maintain a level of hopefulness for his main character, Aaron as he considers a memory-alteration procedure to forget he’s gay.  This leads to many thought provoking questions and ideas regarding sexuality.  Can erasing memories truly change who you are, and who you’re meant to be?

Along with Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, the powerful and thought-provoking, More Happy Than Not is definitely one of my favourite LGBTQ books.  It’s important authors continue to write real LGBTQ stories for youth.  I’m so happy I have some amazing stories I can connect readers to.

The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

beginning

When I found out the generic title of The Beginning of Everything, was originally Severed Heads, Broken Hearts, I was totally disappointed!  I actually read this book a few months back, and had to re-read the synopsis to remember…oh the one with the theme park decapitation!  The title of Severed Heads would have made it direct and memorable.

So while it does begin with a gruesome death, it ends up being a story about friendships in high school.  Along with that, popularity and individuality issues arise. The story is very character driven, focusing on the once popular Ezra Faulkner as he honestly and painfully explores a new life, with new friends, that help set him on a path of self- acceptance.

Although very little happens plot-wise, some readers may be able to guess the ‘big reveal’ that pieces Cassidy (Ezra’s new love interest) and Ezra together.  I thought it was an overly nice coincidence that wraps everything up. This coincidence leads to the relationship’s demise, and it’s a love or hate ending.   I thought the breakup was honest and real, but I hated the coyote scene. I thought it served absolutely no purpose.

Overall, an OK read with a good take away message for teens.  While I wasn’t super impressed, check out some of the starred reviews, The Beginning of Everything has received:

 

Starred Reviews:

“Here are teens who could easily trade barbs and double-entendres with the characters that fill John Green’s novels…subtle turns of phrase make reading and rereading this novel a delight.”  – Kirkus (Starred Review)

“This thought-provoking novel about smart kids doing interesting things will resonate with the John Green contingent, as it is tinged with sadness, high jinks, wry humor and philosophical pondering in equal measures.”  – Booklist (Starred Review)

“An engrossing romance in which tragedy brings two teens together, then threatens to tear them apart…Schneider shows remarkable skill at getting inside her narrator’s head as his life swings between disaster and recovery.”  – Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski’s strong suit. All throughout her life, she’s been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up. Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing. 

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Happy (early) Valentines Day! If you are without a date, you can always spend the night with a reliable book boyfriend.  Or, check out TSWSYL if you share in Elise’s love of music. ♥

I devoured TSWSYL in two sittings.  I was so caught up in Elise’s story that I never felt like I was reading. Immediately, I was able to connect to Elise’s real and relatable character.  Elise struggles to fit in with her classmates, and spends a summer trying to learn how to be ‘cool’.  Unfortunately, her doubts and insecurities become too much to bear and she turns to self-cutting.  Luckily, music enters her life and the story begins to change from heartbreaking to inspiring. Elise finds her true passion in being a DJ, and slowly begins to accept her true self.  My friend has a tattoo that reads, ‘music mends broken hearts’ and I think it’s definitely true in Elise’s case.   In addition to the music, an interesting cast of characters (all with their own faults) help Elise realize her potential.  Although I doubt a few hours of practice can turn anyone into an amazing DJ (especially at 16), I am willing to overlook this.

Overall, I adored this contemporary, coming of age novel. It is powerful, and emotional. Readers are reminded to discover and embrace themselves and find comfort in the power of music. Don’t forget to check out the recommended indie dance song tracks listed in the back! I’m listening to ‘Come on Eileen’ as I write this review.  TSWSYL is my favourite 2014 read, thus far.  Pick it up today!

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity . . .

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This spooky adventure story for middle graders is my first Holly Black read. I must say, that I was quite impressed because even as an adult, I still enjoyed this tale.  While the storyline revolved around the quest to rightfully bury a potentially haunted porcelain doll, there was a wonderful message  about growing up. The three amigos are twelve years old, and right on the cusp of adolescence.  The three are encouraged to stop playing with make believe, and ‘grow up’. Zack’s dad even goes as far as throwing out his beloved action figures.

Even without this heartbreaking event, Zack along with Poppy and Alice are beginning to realize on their own that their relationship is undergoing change and perhaps they are getting to old to play. However, they embark on one last quest together that involves some pretty risky moves, including: sneaking out of the house, stealing a boat and bike, and breaking into a library.  I hope impressionable young readers don’t get any ideas from these three adventurers.

I adored this book because I empathized with the characters (especially Zack after his dad tossed his action figures) and could relate to that awkward, sticky transition from childhood to adolescence. Although their hobbies and friend groups are beginning to shift, I’d like to imagine the three of them beating the odds, and remaining friends.

Additionally, I’d like to thank Black for challenging the stereotypical image of a librarian. Miss Katherine rocked pink hair and stylish shoes, and as Zack pointed out, not like any librarian he’d seen before. Not all of us keep our hair in buns and wear penny loafers, thank you very much!

In terms of graphics, the cover is brilliant. Dolls are creepy enough to begin with, but one made with human bones, filled with ashes is creepy x 100.  In their quest to bury ‘The Queen’, a handful of illustrations were a welcome addition to the text.  In the end, whether or not the doll was truly haunted, remains a mystery.  However, believing in the doll’s magic allowed the three friends for one last bonding and memorable journey to become the hero of their own story.

 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

aris

Wow. What a beautiful book.  I’m so happy its receiving recognition as one of the best LGBTQ young adult novels out there.  There is so much honesty in the characters and story that readers can’t help but become emotionally involved in Ari and Dante’s relationship.  It is truly a coming of age story of two Mexican American teens trying to find their place in the world.  Told from Ari’s perspective (and a couple of letters from Dante), readers feel Ari and Dante’s love, pain, and heartache. Although the book explores sexuality and identity, Saenz also includes important themes of family and growing up. Both Ari’s and Dante’s family’s played a huge role in their lives. It was so heart warming to read about open, accepting families with unconditional love for their sons. It’s no wonder the boys were ‘crazy’ for their parents- I would be too!

Overall, this moving book will appeal to anyone who has ever felt different. There are many mysteries in life; one of the biggest is figuring out who we are and how we fit in the world.  I think this quote from the book sums it all up nicely:

 “Somewhere toward the end of the shift we all started singing U2 songs. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Yeah, that was a good song. My theme song. But really I thought it was everybody’s theme song.”

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