Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

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Bridge is an accident survivor who’s wondering why she’s still alive. Emily has new curves and an almost-boyfriend who wants a certain kind of picture. Tabitha sees through everybody’s games–or so she tells the world. The three girls are best friends with one rule: No fighting. Can it get them through seventh grade?  This year everything is different for Sherm Russo as he gets to know Bridge Barsamian. What does it mean to fall for a girl–as a friend?  On Valentine’s Day, an unnamed high school girl struggles with a betrayal. How long can she hide in plain sight?

Goodbye Stranger just wasn’t for me.  I found the multiple points of view (including a mystery narrator) and switching of time periods very confusing. It’s a slow story dealing with heavy issues, and I found myself wondering whether it would be better received by teens than middle schoolers.  Sure, the world has changed and tackling internet safety is important, but middle school sexting?  Even more alarming is the character’s lack of remorse for sending racy photos to her crush.  The story concluded without any life or moral lessons.  Overall, the fuzzy plot line and mature issues totally put me off and I quickly lost interest in the story’s outcome.

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Kristy’s Great Idea (The Baby-Sitters Club) based on the novel by Ann M. Martin by Raina Telgemeier

Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, and Stacey are best friends and founding members of The Baby-sitters Club. Whatever comes up — cranky toddlers, huge dogs, scary neighbors, prank calls — you can count on them to save the day. But baby-sitting isn’t always easy, and neither is dealing with strict parents, new families, fashion emergencies, and mysterious secrets. But no matter what, the BSC have what they need most: friendship.

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I few weeks back, I received an advanced reading copy of the new FULL COLOUR EDITION of Kristy’s Great Idea. Too bad mine (being a proof) was mostly black and white (but hey- I can imagine the awesomeness). It was totally a nostalgic read to re-live these characters’ stories. And the best part? All their issues (divorce, diabetes, etc.) are still relevant today.

As one of the most popular series ever published, it makes sense to be re-created as a graphic novel. Raina’s illustrations are spot on, and I enjoyed the change up between panel and full page drawings. If you loved the series as a kid, or introducing it for the first time, the author/illustrator combo of Kristy’s Great Idea is perfect.

The Brilliant World of Tom Gates by L.Pichon

Tom Gates is the master of excuses for late homework: dog attacks, spilt water, lightening … Tom’s exercise book is full of his doodles, cartoons and thoughts, as well as comments from his long-suffering teacher, Mr Fullerton. After gaining five merits for his ‘Camping Sucks’ holiday story, Tom’s work starts to go downhill, which is a pity, as he’s desperate to impress Amy Porter, who sits next to him …

tom gates

We are always looking for Diary of a Wimpy Kid read-alikes, and The Brilliant World of Tom Gates does not disappoint.  Winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, this book is also written in diary format and includes illustrations, drawings, and different typesetting and fonts.   Although some children may not understand some of the British terms used, Pichon includes a handy glossary to explain words like biscuits, bonkers and dodgy.

Rather than focus on his ‘merits’, Tom spends much of his time thinking about his band and doodling.  To cover this up, he comes up with clever and creative excuses for why his homework isn’t done, like a leaking pen or dog drool.   I can practically hear young readers cracking up!  Personally, I had to laugh at Tom’s reference to his grandparents as ‘the fossils’ and his grandma’s very strange food combinations like a banana on a pizza!

The one issue I had was with Tom’s treatment of Marcus. I’m not sure what Marcus ever did to deserve being constantly teased. Tom writes ‘I’m an idiot’ on Marcus’ self-portrait and embarrasses him in front of the whole school.  Tom even puts temporary tattoos on Marcus’s face when he’s sleeping.  I felt bad for Marcus, and think Pichon didn’t have to include this form of bullying to obtain laughs.

Overall, a great funny and quick read for 7-12 year olds, especially reluctant readers.  The ‘Tom Gates’ series continues with Excellent Excuses (and other good stuff).

The Ghost of Graylock by Dan Poblocki

Does an abandoned asylum hold the key to a frightful haunting?

Everyone’s heard the stories about Graylock Hall.

It was meant to be a place of healing – a hospital where children and teenagers with mental disorders would be cared for and perhaps even cured. But something went wrong. Several young patients died under mysterious circumstances. Eventually, the hospital was shut down, the building abandoned and left to rot deep in the woods.

As the new kid in town, Neil Cady wants to see Graylock for himself. Especially since rumor has it that the building is haunted. He’s got fresh batteries in his flashlight, a camera to document the adventure, and a new best friend watching his back.

Neil might think he’s prepared for what he’ll find in the dark and decrepit asylum. But he’s certainly not prepared for what follows him home. . . .

 

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The Ghost of Graylock
is a must read for young horror fans that have graduated from books like R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series and looking for a more frightening read. But beware! Detailed descriptions of abandoned asylums, ghosts, and a shocking murder could potentially be nightmare inducing, especially for a middle schooler.  The plot surrounds the legend of Graylock Hall and the result of four kids breaking into the abandoned asylum.  I still have visions of Eric and Wesley hiding in the closet and Rebecca’s (the ghost) shadowy figure peeking in…terrifying!  However, I liked the ‘bread crumb’ aspect of Rebecca’s clues and how she helped Neil and Bree ultimately solve the mystery of her own tragic death.  Overall, short chapters (64 to be exact) and a fast paced story will take even the most reluctant readers on a thrilling adventure, filled with twists and turns!  You may just want to sleep with a nightlight…

Other recently reviewed MG spooky titles:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Wonder by R.J Palacio

From Goodreads:

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

wonder

Inspired by all the other ‘Auggies’, Palacio wrote this Wonderful funny, contemporary, junior fiction book about a boy born with a facial deformity.

Divided into eight parts, August’s story is told by a variety of intertwining characters:  August himself, Via (his sister), Summer (his friend), Justin (Via’s boyfriend), and Miranda (Via’s old friend).  Some perspectives were a curious addition, as I didn’t feel they were completely necessary to provide insight into August’s struggles.  I was expecting to come across the bully’s (Julian) point of view, and hoping for August’s parents.  Sadly, I was disappointed.

I loved reading about August’s loving and supportive family. The dynamics are interesting, especially with the insight to Via’s feelings of neglect and the special bond with her grandmother.  Coming second to August all the time would be extremely difficult. However, being born with a facial deformity would be even more challenging. I think August’s enduring spirit and his ability to poke fun of himself is what readers will fall in love with.  Although it is classified as ‘junior fiction’, it has an important message of acceptance, fitting in, inner beauty and bullying that makes it a great read for all ages.

As the story closes, the uplifting ending was just a tad too perfect and a little unrealistic.  However, the overall warm message about courage and love really tugged my heart strings so I’m willing to let my critiques go. I know everyone has their own insecurities (often not as obvious as August’s) but it’s a nice reminder to ‘always try to be a little kinder than necessary’ to all those you come in contact with.

Starring Jules (as herself) by Beth Ain

Jules doesn’t want to ruin THE OPPORTUNITY OF A LIFETIME, and she’s willing to turn to anyone for help–even her know-it-all ex-best friend! If only that lovely new girl in class would turn out to be the new best friend of her dreams, maybe, just maybe, Jules will be ready for her close-up

starring

To be released March 2013

First, big thanks to Scholastic for the ARC of this hilarious easy chapter book. Best suited for children ages 7-10, this book has wide appeal.  Jules is one unique kid with a huge dislike of the color orange. Her mother calls her ‘wacky’ and her ex best friend describes her as ‘the anti-lip-gloss-queen-of –the-worms’.  I simply adored the character of Jules, especially her love of writing lists.  Some of her list titles include: ‘things I would change about my room’, and ‘things to do before I turn eight’.  Sigh… I wish my lists still looked like that!

The interesting chapter titles hint to readers what’s in store for Jules.  My favourite chapter title is ‘Take Six: Promising Playdates, Spaghetti with Peanut Butter and Other distractions’.  Her lists, actions and worries are all very realistic for a girl her age.  Although readers may not be able to relate to her wish for stardom, they will understand her friendship struggles.

The black and white drawings throughout were a fun addition.  Since this was an ARC, only a couple were included but look for more images in the published version.  Lastly, as a librarian, I applaud Ain for introducing readers to new vocabulary. Jules learns the meaning of argyle, pizzazz, snazzy, and improvise.  The learning of new words was done in a natural way and I’m sure kids will positively respond to this way of learning (like Fancy Nancy).

CHA-CHA-CHA (because it’s always a good idea).

Review: Infinity Ring- Book 1: A Mutiny in Time by James Dashner

Goodreads: Scholastic’s next multi-platform mega-event begins here! History is broken, and three kids must travel back in time to set it right!

When best friends Dak Smyth and Sera Froste stumble upon the secret of time travel — a hand-held device known as the Infinity Ring — they’re swept up in a centuries-long secret war for the fate of mankind. Recruited by the Hystorians, a secret society that dates back to Aristotle, the kids learn that history has gone disastrously off course.Now it’s up to Dak, Sera, and teenage Hystorian-in-training Riq to travel back in time to fix the Great Breaks . . . and to save Dak’s missing parents while they’re at it. First stop: Spain, 1492, where a sailor named Christopher Columbus is about to be thrown overboard in a deadly mutiny!

Historical fiction for the middle school crowd usually isn’t my thing, but there has been so much buzz about this new series that I was excited to receive it as an advanced reading copy from Scholastic.  As the first book in the multi-author collaboration, it served to lay the background story, introducing the characters and explaining the alternate universe and the importance of the infinity ring.  Some explanations and theories were hard to wrap my head around, but I found Sera’s explanation of the breaks the useful.  She explains, ‘Breaks are great big boulders that have been plopped into the time stream. The stream keeps flowing but it has to veer a little bit from it’s natural course’.  As Sera, Dak and Riq attempt to fix these breaks, readers are treated to tons of humour, adventure and action (including multiple explosions!)

Overall, I think middle graders, reluctant readers, boys and girls, and fans of The 39 Clues would LOVE this book.  Don’t forget to extend the reading experience with the online component- http://www.infinityring.com  I tried it out- tons of fun!  ‘A Mutiny in Time’ is available TOMORROW-August 28th 2012. To hold the reader’s interest, the remaining six will be spaced out and released shortly after one another.  Big thumbs up!

Review: The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers

From Goodreads: Tink Aaron-Martin has been grounded AGAIN after an adventure with her best friend Freddie Blue Anderson. To make the time pass, she decides to write an encyclopedia of her life from “Aa” (a kind of lava–okay, she cribbed that from the real encyclopedia) to “Zoo” (she’s never been to one, but her brothers belong there).

As the alphabet unfolds, so does the story of Tink’s summer: more adventures with Freddie Blue (and more experiences in being grounded); how her family was featured in a magazine about “Living with Autism,” thanks to her older brother Seb–and what happened after Seb fell apart; her growing friendship, and maybe more, with Kai, a skateboarder who made her swoon (sort of). And her own sense that maybe she belongs not under “H” for “Hideous,” or “I” for “Invisible,” but “O” for “Okay.”

Scholastic sent me some new fall releases and I immediately gravitated towards this middle school junior fiction novel about a witty pre-teen girl, Isadora. Like many girls her age, her life revolves around family, friends, and obsessing about first crushes. I remember being that age and going through similar experiences- especially feeling the confusion and hurt over the demise of a friendship.

Written in encyclopedia format, I found that sometimes the random entries (like ‘Stephen King’ or ‘Mesopotamia’) disrupted the storyline. They definitely acted as filler, as only a couple of the entries like ‘Mega Mall’ were much longer in comparison. These longer entries were used to help move along the plot and storyline. There was also use of photos (hairless cat, paella, etc.) and footnotes throughout Tink’s encyclopedia to allow for her random (yet hilarious) thoughts.

Although sometimes fluffy, the book also includes deeper issues like: being bi-racial, bullying, autism, and social pressures. I think Rivers did a great job at ensuring that Tink acted age-appropriate when dealing with those issues.  From the beginning to the end, Tink’s character grew and matured.  I was rooting for her the entire book, so her transformation was truly satisfying to read.

Pick up this touching and hilarious book September 2012. If you don’t take my word for it, Meg Cabot endorses the book too, declaring: ‘What every girl will be reading this year!’

PS-For all those still wondering what ‘quince’ is… it’s an Asian fruit tree.

Review: Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi, she’s a terrible singer. Instead she’s the set designer for the stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen, and when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!

Release date: September 2012

What a quick, fun read about middle school romance. It brought me back to my middle school days, including the awkward arms-length dances (p.105)!  I could definitely relate to the main character’s crush crazy ways, and over-analyzing every detail of the relationship.

Same sex crushes were also explored in the book; including an illustration of two boys kissing.    Throughout, the controversial topic was presented without any judgement and never made out to be more than it was. With the popularity of shows like Glee, I think younger people are increasingly becoming more comfortable and accepting of homosexuality. Therefore, I’m glad that Telgemeier included it in the book, while at the same time, making the text appropriate for the targeted reader age group.

As a graphic novel, the drawings rocked. Based on a play production, it was fitting that the story was divided into acts and even included an intermission.   I appreciated that Telgemeier included a variety of different body types and cultures throughout the book.  I also loved Callie’s facial expressions, as it was obvious when she was frustrated, happy, annoyed, disgusted, etc.

Overall, I find graphic novels are often targeted at boys.  So, I’m happy I’ve learned of another graphic novel that would appeal to young girls and their crush crazy ways. At the same time, I wouldn’t hesitate to offer this one to someone questioning their sexual identity either.

The Detention Club by David Yoo

Lately I’ve been getting lots of requests for book recommendations for reluctant readers and pre-teen boys. So, when I received a preview box of books from Library Bound Inc (thanks Helen!) I immediately picked up an ARC of ‘The Detention Club’ by David Yoo.

The story follows sixth-grader Peter Lee, and his best friend Drew as they attempt to regain their popularity they once had in elementary school. Within a couple of days at Fenwick Middle, the boys quickly realize that being great collectors of stuff (especially mica) doesn’t make them popular anymore and that the popularity game has changed.  Peter and Drew become so obsessed with fitting in that their school grades begin to slide. As a result, Peter is given detention, but learns that serving detention may actually help him to network with the right people to re-establish their presence in the social ladder. 

I really enjoyed this book for several reasons:

-Relatable. Popularity in middle/high school is a huge part of life. Most students can relate to the longing Peter and Drew have to be in considered the ‘in crowd’. Yoo is also able to incorporate other issues within the novel, including family drama and sibling rivalry with Peter’s over-achieving, eighth-grade sister, Sunny.

-Hilarious. When Peter’s plan of taking digital photos of the blackboard (instead of taking notes) backfires, he blames his dad for buying a terrible camera that takes grainy photos.  Also, the creative ideas the boys come up with to increase their popularity had me laughing out loud. 

-Surprising. There is a school thief that is determined to steal everyone’s most prized possessions.  The kids in detention think the thief is Peter (after all, he does fit all the criteria).  When the true identity of the thief is revealed, prepare to be surprised! 

-Loved the characters. I wish I had a best friend like Drew. He is funny without trying to be. He reminds readers to embrace the inner loser in all of us.

Although most kids would do anything to get out of detention, I would love to join Fenwick Middle’s detention club! Well… maybe if it’s just for one day to get a sweet drawing of a unicorn.

<<—I just wish the cover was different.

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