Thursday, December 18, 2014

MG Fiction: What Flowers Remember by Shannon Wiersbitzky

20906586Delia and Old Red have been friends ever since he began teaching her how to grow his families heirloom flowers.   Old Red and Delia share many stories together, making him feel more like a grandfather to her.  They even started a seed and flower selling business together, but when Old Red starts to experience difficulty in recalling peoples names and is forgetting things, Delia becomes concerned by what is happening to him.  When Old Red moves into a nursing home, Delia comes up with a plan to catalog all of his memories by collecting stories and photographs from his friends and neighbors in town.  

What Flowers Remember is a glimpse of the impact of Alzheimer's on both the person experiencing the disease and in this case also on a young friend.  Delia illustrates how Alzheimer's can be a difficult thing to understand.  The feelings of how can they forget the people and most important events in their life?  Will they be able to remember me?  It's a sad story, but one  in which Shannon Wiersbitzky draws on her own experiences to show the love and helplessness of someone close to us beginning to loose their memories.   I so enjoyed how Delia created a scrapbook or photo album about Old Red, and when they were listening to music, it reminded of some of the strategies that I used with my patients as a speech pathologist.   There were some light romantic moments between Delia and Tommy, which helped to break up some of the sadder moments.  

Favorite line:
When Tommy and Delia were standing close to one another..."It made my stomach tilt like I was on a ride at the fair.  The kind where I got off feeling sort of woozy, but all I wanted to do was to run back around and get in line so I could go all over again."

An ebook copy was provided by the publisher for consideration for the 2014 Cybils award in Middle Grade fiction.  

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

MG Fiction: Cybils snippets

At Your Service by Jen Malone

Chloe Turner has a lot in common with her favorite children's book, Eloise. They both live in a famous hotel in New York City, but Eloise was a guest and Chloe's father is an employee of the St. Michele hotel. Chloe's ambition is to be just like her father, a respected concierge for the St. Michele hotel.   Her first assignment in helping her father is to find out what will make a bratty girls birthday week the most memorable. When Chloe does a remarkable job, she is promoted to junior concierge and her next task is to show three royal guests the sights around New York City. Making sure that each person is happy turns out to be more difficult than she imagined.  To top things off the youngest princess disappears, leaving Chloe and the princesses siblings left to try an find her before the King learns she is lost.   I especially liked the adventurous journey that the children embark on through New York City's famous landmarks, restaurants and attractions.  It really gives you the feel of being in New York.  I also liked the moments shared between Chloe and Alex and felt the story was resolved in a fun way.    

Three Bird Summer by Sara St. Antoine

18339696Each summer Adam looks forward to a vacation on Three Bird Lake with his grandmother and parents.  However, this year his dad and cousins wont be coming, because his parents are divorcing.  Another change is that there is a new family next to his grandmothers cabin, one with a girl that his grandmother thinks is "cute."  Adam is kind of shy around girls and isn't sure that he and Alice will have anything in common.  She's probably just like all the other girls at home, popular and not interested in hanging out with him.   Alice turns out to be different than the girls that Adam knows, Alice speaks her mind and has a way of helping him get out and explore the island.  When Adam's grandmother begins to show signs of confusion and leaves mysterious notes in his room alluding to a hidden treasure, Adam asks Alice to help him to try and figure out where the treasure might be hidden.  There is a nice mystery surrounding who gave the treasure map to  Adam's grandmother and also some light romantic moments between Adam and Alice.  

Friday, November 28, 2014

Classic MG Readalong with The Midnight Garden: Farmer Boy

classic mg readalong farmer boy

I hadn't revisited a Laura Ingalls Wilder book since my teens, so I was very excited when I heard Farmer Boy was November's selection for the readalong.  I do have such fond memories of the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, mostly because my older sister and I shared the books with one another.   We always enjoyed picking them up at the school bookfair and adding on to the series.  To this day, I don't think we know whose book is whose.   Laura even went with me on many road trips to visit my grandparents over the holidays.  

My recollection of Farmer Boy was a little hazier then the Laura series (maybe it was one of the books that my sister held on to).  But, I so loved reading about nine-year-old Almanzo again.  One of the things I was instantly struck by was Almanzo's desire to grow up so fast, wanting more responsibility and his passion to help with the colts.  Given how many chores he already had you would have thought he wanted more time to play.  I can't imagine doing all of the chores that needed to be done each day, be it milking cows, churning butter, or pitching hay.  I recall being enamored with early farmers when I was a kid and Farmer Boy is such a lovely example. I think it's why I love state fairs and took up quilting for awhile.  I loved how everyone in the Wilder family had their daily routine of chores and everyone pitched in. There is such a strong family bond and I adored how close Almanzo was with his father.  Having reread the story, it makes me appreciate my grandparents that much more.  My grandparents had a small garden where they grew carrots and other vegetables.  There was a chicken coop growing up and we all took turns feeding them and gathering eggs. Chickens can be so mean when they are hungry.  There is nothing like farm fresh eggs though.  I even recall when the pigs were slaughtered, but luckily we were kept in the house that day.  There were plum, cherry and apple trees that needed to be picked and back in my mothers time, she even had some of the same chores that Almanzo did.  So, reading Farmer Boy was like a trip down memory lane in so many ways for me.  

Oh and the food references, Farmer Boy has some of the best food references that I've read.  I was so glad to be reading those pieces over Thanksgiving, knowing that I had a wonderful meal coming up. Although, I am still trying to envision the taste of watermelon rind pickles, at least google helped with an image.   I want warm bread and butter now and pie, most defiantly must make a pie soon.  I loved all the moments featuring food, from making ice cream, to popping corn, to making butter.  I'm going to have to take a look at The Little House Cookbook.  

My favorite chapter was when Almanzo threw the brush and it left a black streak on the wallpaper. My sister's and I broke a vase when we were kids chasing each other around the house, so I could so picture Almanzo's reaction.  That feeling of terror when you knew you were going to be in big trouble.  Like Almanzo's sister who hung a strip of wallpaper over the mark to cover it up, we glued that vase back together piece by piece and our mother never said a peep about it. Although, I'm sure she knew.  Farmer Boy is wonderful story that I'm so happy to have revisited. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that there are some very beautiful illustrations too. Defiantly worth a reread if you haven't revisited it or one that you should read if you haven't.  

Thank you again to the lovely ladies at The Midnight Garden for selecting Farmer Boy this month.  You can follow along or join in the discussion at or #tmgreadalong on Twitter.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Cybils MG Fiction Reading: Bullying

Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel
Fourth graders Lucy and Becky have planned to kiss Tom and Henry behind the ball shed at recess all year.  They think the kiss will launch them into popular girl status at school.  Everything goes according to plan, Tom is even so sweet as to give Lucy a ring.  That very same night, Lucy's mom goes into labor and Lucy loses her ring.  Lucy's little sister, Molly is also born with Downs Syndrome and her parents begin to adjust to the news.  Becky calls to check in on Lucy since she missed school, but she has horrible news for her.  Becky says that Tom doesn't really like her and the other kids at school have been teasing her.  Becky promises that she will call her every night to check in with her, but they can't speak or hangout at school.  Becky makes Lucy think she is looking out for her, but she really doesn't behave very nice to her at school.  Lucy is left to sit at the only empty seats with the least popular kids.  She even begins to work with Sam, a boy who is being bullied too, on a diorama project for class learning about wolf packs.  Vrabel uses wolves to illustrate how sometimes there are alphas, sometimes there are scapegoats and how these two things relate to bullying in middle school.  

I received a review copy from Sky Pony Press for consideration for the 2014 Cybils award in Middle Grade fiction.  

Kate Walden Directs Night of the Zombie Chickens by Julie Mata

Kate loves to make movies, one day she hopes to be a film director.  Her newest project is called Night of the Zombie Chickens, starring her best friend Alyssa.  Living on a free range chicken farm, Kate has the luxury of having chickens available for filming, now all she needs is to figure out an epic final scene.  Ever since Kate moved, Alyssa has seemed distant and less interested in the project as she once was.  Alyssa has also been hanging out with Lydia, the most popular girl in school.  At first Alyssa says its because both of their parents are divorced, but when Alyssa starts taking part in some of the teasing that Lydia and her crowd direct toward her, Kate knows that she doesn't want to be friends anymore.  Kate is left to sit at "the loser's table" with Margrett and Olivia, which doesn't turn out to be as bad as she thought.  Kate thinks that Alyssa needs to see just what she has put her through, so she comes up with just the right idea. Everything goes as planned, but even the best laid plans aren't always the right thing.  Kate finds herself in the position of having to rewrite everything and fix her mistakes.  Mata gives you the feel of middle grade girls, especially when Alyssa and Lydia begin to hang out.  It's actually sad to experience the teasing that the girls and other students put Kate through.  Yet, I also felt disappointed that she chose to try and exact revenge on Alyssa, even though she kind of deserved it.    

I received a review copy from Disney/Hachette Book Group  for consideration for the 2014 Cybils award in Middle Grade fiction. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Few Cybils Middle Grade Reads

I'm frantically trying to get my reading in for the Cybils, so many of my upcoming reviews will be shorter then normal and more of a synopsis then full review.    

The Girls of Gettysburg by Bobbi Miller

21550396The Girls of Gettysburg follows three girls from May 1863 to the days following the Battle of Gettysburg.  Annie wants to follow in her brothers footsteps by heading North disguised as a boy.  She plans to join the Portsmouth Rifles of the Ninth Virginia Army by taking the place of a wealthy women's grandson.  At the same time, Grace Bryan and Tillie Pierce are in Gettysburg.  Grace is the daughter of Abraham Bryan, a free farmer who refuses to leave his property and flee from the advancing rebels.  Grace hopes to stay with her father at all cost.  Finally, there is Tillie Pierce, the daughter of a local merchant.  Tillie has a naive view of war, believing the rebels will never invade Gettysburg, their troops will never allow it.  I found the historical figures  (Tille Pierce, Miss Mary McAllister, Abraham Bryan) and documents from the Civil War era that Miller utilized provided a human or more personal touch to the story.  I especially enjoyed the introduction and authors note with further historical details about the Civil war gave me insights to facts from the Civil War that I had never known before.  A compelling story that illustrates three differing views of the war.  

I received a review copy from Holiday House for consideration for the 2014 Cybils award in Middle Grade fiction.  

Just a Drop of Water by Kerry O'Malley Cerra

20344662Jake and Sam have been friends since kindergarten, they've also been making plans to be co-captains of the cross country team since sixth grade.  But when new boy, Kirk takes his spot, Jake is devastated.  That is until the events of September 11th unfold.  Things like cross country, end up taking a backseat, when your father is out of town and your not even sure if he is OK.  Then details come out that the bombers lived in Jake's home town of Coral Springs and they even used Sam's dad's bank.   Sam's dad even ends up being detained and questioned by the FBI because the family is Muslim and they find his business card among the bombers things.  However, the most devastating thing is that Kirk's father was one of the people who was killed while working at the Pentagon.  Just a Drop of Water illustrates the aftermath of the events surrounding September 11th.  Both the  targeting of Muslims and also those that came out in support.  O'Malley Cerra provides many of the details that surrounded the events, including the initial pain people felt, worry, fear and then the growing sense of community, love of country and the appearance of American flags in peoples yards.  A difficult topic but one with wonderful messaging.  

I received a review copy from Sky Pony Press for consideration for the 2014 Cybils award in Middle Grade fiction.  

The Brilliant World of Tom Gates by Liz Pichon

9583157Tom likes to sit in the back of the classroom, it's so much easier to avoid Mr. Fullerman's beady eyes and he can read and draw his comics.   But, Mr. Fullerman switches up the desks and Tom finds himself right at the front of class next to the most annoying boy,  "Moany" Marcus and the "Brilliant" Amy Porter.  The Brilliant World of Tom Gates is a notebook style novel that follows Tom's escapades as he tries to land tickets to a concert for his favorite band Dude3,  while not getting in trouble for annoying his older sister or forgetting to turn in his homework on time.  I think the illustrations are what makes this book.  Especially those beady eyes staring down at Tom.  My adult sensibilities wished Tom would have had more consequences for some of his behavior, but the intended audience I imagine wont mind this.   

Missy Emily by Burleigh Muten

18166925Mac Jenkins is the pastor's son and lives across the street from Ned and Mattie Dickinson.  Ned and Mattie's aunt is Emily Dickinson and she lives next door to them in the town of Amherst.  Miss Emily as she is affectionately known, sends a note inviting them all to join her in her garden.  She has news and a plan.  At the hour of midnight, the circus will be arriving by train.  Miss Emily plans for them to join her in welcoming the circus to town.  This is a gentle adventure story meant for a younger reader. It tells the fantastical tale of four adventurous friends sneaking out at night and the troubles that ensue.  There is the addition of meeting the circus entertainers as well as putting on their very own production of a circus for the children's lovely neighbor Miss Emily.  Included are wonderful black and white illustrations by Matt Phelan.   

I received a review copy from Candlewick Press for consideration for the 2014 Cybils award in Middle Grade fiction.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Historical Fiction Mystery: Sherlock, Lupin and Me: The Dark Lady by Irene Adler

18906255Sherlock, Lupin and Me  by Irene Adler, is a lovely middle-grade novel about a younger version of the trio.   Irene Adler is vacationing with her mother and their butler in the small seaside resort of San Malo during the summer of 1870. Wanting for some excitement, Irene wanders off and finds Sherlock reading a book. Sherlock takes her down to the harbor where he introduces her to Lupin. The trio set sail to Ascroft Manor, a deserted home along the beach, where they spend their days playing games and putting on elaborate plays. That is until they discover a body of a man along the beach and Irene spots someone in a blue cloak watching them after they find the body. Concerned for their safety, the trio decide that they must figure out how the man died, if only to protect themselves from someone coming after them too.  

I really enjoyed Sherlock, Lupin and Me and the introduction to the younger versions of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes and master thief Arsene Lupin.  Sadly, I didn't know much about Irene Adler or Arsene Lupin before reading the story, but gained some insights into the characters. I think having Irene narrate the story worked for me somehow.   Plus, after some sleuthing of my own, I found out that Irene Adler was a ficitonal character in "A Scandal in Bohemia" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  How cool is that? Despite Irene being seen as not behaving in a way that is "appropriate for a lady,"  she maintained her head strong attitude, even putting Sherlock in his place by forcing him to use his "good manners and polite smiles." Irene does come off as disobeidient and uncontrollable, but perhaps it was because she was so very bored.  Left in the company of a mother who would rather be playing cards and a butler, without friends to entertain her, she was bound to go off looking for some excitement herself. I so enjoyed the battle of wits that Irene and Sherlock had with one another, it was quite amusing.  Throughout the story, Irene makes all these little remarks like, "I found out years later...,"   alluding to what lies ahead in the future for these three characters within the series and also as adults.  For those familiar more with the stories of Sir Conan Doyle, this probably will make more sense.  I found it added to the mystery of the future sequels and how the steadfast trio's story will progress.  I also want to find out how the author resolves the trio continuing to solve mysteries if Irene has to leave San Malo at the end of the summer.   There are so many directions that I see this story being able to go though.  I would be remiss if I didn't mention the beautiful illustrations by Iacopo Bruno.  He illustrated The Spindlers, Iron Hearted Violet, The School for Good and Evil, Jinx, and The Actual Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher, to name a few.   Overall, a wonderful introduction to Sherlock, Lupin and Irene Adler.  

I received a review copy from the publisher for consideration for the 2014 Cybils award in Middle Grade fiction.  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Historical Realistic Fiction WWII: The End of the Line by Sharon E. McKay

The End of the Line begins in Amsterdam during the Fall of 1942, a little girl and her young mother are about to get on a tram.  They have been told to search for a woman with a green hat who will take the young girl to safety.  At the same time, brothers Hans and Lars are getting ready to start their day working on the tram.  Hans is the driver and Lars collects the tickets, they never expect to cross paths.  The young girls name is Beatrix, her mother is discovered to be Jewish and is taken off the tram by Nazi soldiers.    Lars tells the soldiers that the girl is his niece.  The two elderly brothers have made Beatrix their responsibility to keep safe and hidden. The brothers aren't prepared to take care of a five year old, they never married and have no experience with children.  Desperate they turn the only place that they can, to their neighbor and deceased mothers best friend, Mrs. Vos.  Taking Beatrix into their homes places them all in great danger, for if they are discovered they all risk being sent to a prison camp like Beatrix's mother.    


The End of the Line is reported to be based on real events.  It illustrates how parents during World War II were concerned for the safety of their children. Like the young mother in the story, they often sent their children to live with family, out of the country, or in this case left them in the arms of strangers. McKay shows the impact of the Nazi occupation in Holland, how people lived in fear of being accused of being Jewish, taken away to a prison camp and the loss of their basic freedom.  As the war progressed across the seasons and years, McKay delves into the economic hardships by showing how Lars and Hans try to find food, keep their home warm all while ensuring that Beatrix is safe.  Their are many dangers they face, including a young Nazi solider on the tram who Beatrix accidentally speaks Yiddish to, concerns that one of their neighbors might turn them in, and fear when a neighbor who was helping them is taken from her home.  Throughout, The End of the Line is a story about kindness, the resilience of people and a hopeful story to add to a study on World War II and the Holocaust.  I enjoyed the alternating chapters between Beatrix and her mother and then Hans and Lars.  My favorite was those that included Mrs. Vos, she possessed such inner strength and was the most courageous.  I also enjoyed that following Holland's liberation in 1945, all of the main characters futures were explained, leaving no questions unresolved.  Included at the beginning of the story is a description of "When Strangers Were Saviors," and an Afterword that provides the historical details of the war.  

I received a review copy from the publisher for free via NetGalley for consideration for the 2014 Cybils award in Middle Grade Fiction.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

MG Realistic Fiction: Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj

Abby Spencer's teacher asks the question, "what's the one thing you want most in your life?"  At first, she responds excitement, but what she really wants is to meet the father she never really knew.  She knows very little about him, other than that he lives in India.  Abby's mother told her they dated, but her dad returned to India before finding out that she was pregnant.  Abby's mom did try to contact him writing many letters, but she never was able to track him down.  After a severe allergic reaction to coconut, Abby and her mother question whether they should try to find him again even just to find out some medical information, like is he allergic to coconut too?  After some Internet searches, Abby learns her father is a famous Bollywood actor in India and he wants her to come to visit him.  Abby then ventures to India to learn more about her father and hopefully get answers to why he never contacted her or her mother.  

Through Abby the reader is able to experience traveling to a new country and a new culture.  I had the pleasure of living in Egypt for a number of years and couldn't help noticing the similarities between Bajaj's descriptions of Mumbai and my time in Egypt.  India and Egypt share a huge distinction between the wealthy and poor, and Bajaj's descriptions of Mumbai were reflective of my own experiences of the extreme contradictions I noticed while traveling around Egypt.  There are these mansion size homes with beautiful flowering trees, situated right next to homes the size of a small tool shed.   I think she also accurately captured the feel of Mumbai in the way she described the people and food that Abby experience's in the story.  Bajaj's descriptions of Tandori chicken and yogurt made me miss the Baldi bread and Koshari (a mix of lentils, rice and beans) that  I ate while in Egypt.  At the same time, Bajaj provides a wonderful story about a girl trying to learn more about her father and understand her new found heritage and the culture of India.    

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

MG Realistic Fiction: Finding Ruby Starling by Karen Rivers


Have you ever gone on Google to look up your name, just to see what shows up?  Well,  Ruth Quayle did a search looking for any images of herself online, only to find images of a girl named Ruby Starling.  Ruth lives with her family in the United States, and Ruby lives in England with her mother.  The images of Ruth and Ruby look shockingly similar, so much so that they could be twins.  Ruth reaches out to Ruby in an email to let her know that she might be her twin.  At first, Ruby thinks that Ruth is some crazy stalker, but slowly the two begin to connect and realize that what they thought was improbable might just be true.  

Finding Ruby Starling is told through a series of emails, letters, and Tumblr poems. Most of the emails are sent between Ruth and Ruby, but there are also some to and from their friends and parents.  I found this style of writing interesting but a little long in places.   I would have enjoyed things more if the ending would have included some dialogue of the two together.  It felt incomplete having them continue with emailing even after they met, somehow I was expecting some long conversations. Others, however might not mind this as much as I did.   Finding Ruby Starling has a very MG feel to it and I particularly enjoyed the British versus American slang. I especially liked Ruth's poetry and Buddhist quotes that her and her father share.  My favorite lines were when Ruth was discussing being a leaf on a river ..."not being a path, but being a river.  It means we are all the leaves being pushed along by rivers and we feel like we can't control what happens to us.  But we are also the river!  All the stuff we think and feel and hate and love and stuff is what decides if the river is a terrifying whitewater rapids or just a gentle stream that is perfect for wading where we can bob along in the sunshine, all happy and pretty and safe!"      

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Historical Mystery MG Fiction: Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon G. Flake

Octobia May lives in the boarding house her Aunt Shuma runs during the 1950's. Aunt Shuma is a progressive women and lets Octobia have free reign to explore the neighborhood, wear pants and gives her what they call "freedom." All the residents of the boarding house are like family to Octobia May, that is except Mr. Davenport. Octobia knows Mr. Davenport is a vampire and she is determined to prove it to everyone else. But, Octobia is also known for having an over active imagination, and everyone knows about her dreams of being a writer and solving mysteries. When a women is killed, Octobia and her friend Jonah start following Mr. Davenport around searching for clues, what they uncover is a mystery.

Octobia sees things with a child like view. She talks about “having been dead once herself”, and is overly fascinated with the idea that Mr. Davenport is a vampire. Mr. Davenport is certainly a mysterious, shady character but there really doesn't seem to be a reason for Octobia to believe he is a vampire. She also drops the idea when the plot of bank robbery and murder begins to unfold, so I'm not particularly sure why the idea was included in the overall plot. However, there were many things to love about Octobia. She is a very high spirited girl, I enjoyed her love for exploration and ventures into the graveyard by her Aunt's house. Octobia also has a wonderful imagination and perhaps Fluke wanted to illustrate her loneliness by having her create this imaginary idea of him being a vampire.  Octobia does create these imaginary servant friends, and entertains herself by talking to the graves of the Before Girls. Another aspect that stands out is Octobia's friendship with Jonah, which was very sweet. I especially enjoyed when she helped him win a bet by kissing him on the cheek. Octobia had a knack for dragging Jonah along as she followed Mr. Davenport, often getting him into such trouble with his mother. I also enjoyed that Octobia had this never take no attitude and helps her new neighbor Bessie overcome her shyness, despite Bessie's father not trusting Octobia. Overall, Unstoppable Octobia May was an enjoyable read containing lots of historical details about racism and inequality, as well as a diverse set of characters to include Holocaust survivors and a child of mixed race.

I received a review copy from the publisher for free via NetGalley for 
consideration for the 2014 Cybils award in Middle Grade Fiction.  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Shelby Bach Blog Tour: Exclusive Content from Madame Benne's Book

Shelby Bach is having a blog tour with never-before-seen content related to The Ever Afters series. So far, we've seen Lena and Chase's orientation letters, which included all the Tales that occurred within the last five generations in their family and a yummy recipe for Fey Fudge. Today, I'm very excited to be featuring a slightly singed page from Madame Benne's Book with an excerpt.  

From Madame Benne: Genius Inventor or Fey Traitor? - “Chapter 13: Her Legacy”

           Ultimately, Madame Benne's transgressions against the Fey—her own paternal
grandmother’s people—were forgotten. Most Fey who lived during that time have passed
from this world to the next, and even her remaining contemporaries have acknowledged
that she improved upon the secret magicks she stole from the Seelie court.
          Her inventions have changed forever the entire magical world, not only the
Characters she loved and the Fey she scorned. Rings of return—once an escape of last
resort due to their dangerous unpredictability—are now given to many young travelers of
magical descent so that they may have a quick return home. Magic mirrors have become
not just a standard issue in Characters' Tales but are now the main method of
communication between the monarchs of the Seelie and Unseelie courts. The Glass
Mountain Madame Benne used to capture Baba Yaga is now used on Atlantis as the only
prison able to contain The Snow Queen, the most powerful and dangerous sorceress in
         With these advancements alone, the legacy of Madame Benne is assured, but the
great tragedy is what magical items we may have lost. As we have discussed in previous
chapters, Madame Benne was a very controversial figure in her lifetime.  Even at her
death in 1203 A.D., the scope and magnitude of her inventions were far eclipsed by the
scandal of a lone individual creating new magical items outside the royal Fey guilds.
Several generations passed before her genius was recognized.  As a result, some of her advancements were willfully ignored at the end of her life.  The magical mirrors created by Madame Benne herself are still considered to have the best quality and to be the most precious, as no one has successfully recreated her formula.  The "golden apples" that keep the Canon from aging are closely guarded; without Madame Benne’s records, Characters have never successfully duplicated them.  The Glass Mountain, though rumored to have been remodeled by its current occupant, has not revealed half its secrets in the nine and half centuries since Madame Benne crafted it.
         We are not without hope however.  Legend has it that Madame Benne preserved
her knowledge in two items: her spell book—described by her contemporaries as having
a wooden cover, painted gold and marked by her symbol—passed through many hands
after it was stolen from her descendants. It was last seen in the hands of the gnome
magician, Calicaei, in the seventeenth century.  The golden harp, the first of its kind,
invented by Madame Benne for musical pleasure and relied on in later years as an
assistant, was once in the possession of the human Queen of England, Elizabeth I, also a
Character.  It famously passed from through royal and noble Character hands until it
vanished during the French Revolution. If these items can be recovered, Madame Benne's
full legacy can be restored.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Ever After Series Blog Tour Stops 

November 3 – Middle Grade Mafioso
November 4 – From the Mixed-Up Files
November 5 – Log Cabin Library
November 6 – Amanda K. Thompson Blog
November 7 – Novels, News, and Notes
November 8 – Green Bean Teen Queen

Shelby Bach was born in Houston, Texas and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, but while writing THE EVER AFTERS, she moved almost as many times as her main character. She came up with the idea for the series right before she left New York City, and she finished the first book, OF GIANTS AND ICE, in Montana—the second, OF WITCHES AND WIND, back in Charlotte. Driving up the West Coast to research the settings for the third book, OF SORCERY AND SNOW, Shelby fell in love with Portland, Oregon and settled there. She would love to set up a Door Trek system in her apartment to visit her family and friends around the country, but she makes due with much slower and less fictional transportation. These days, while finishing up the fourth and final book, she also works part time for a real-life afterschool program. It is strangely similar to the one where her stories are set—except the students study math instead of fairytales.



Saturday, November 1, 2014

Nickel Bay Nick by Dean Pitchford

17465440Sam has been hanging out by the Nickel Bay railroad station breaking windows, it's not the first time that he has done something that can get him in trouble. Usually, it's things that eighth graders Jaxon or Ivy suggest, like stealing his dad's car to go for a ride. But, it wasn't really stealing cause Sam only borrowed the keys from his dad and Jaxon drove. Sam has his reasons for breaking the windows, when he was three and a half his mom moved away to follow her dream of being a Nashville star, at four he had a heart transplant, and now his dad's bakery isn't doing so well and they fight all the time over his dad's new girlfriend. Yet, the reason Sam's swinging rocks on Christmas is he found a wedding picture of his mom getting remarried. All the noise he is making causes the police to investigate, and Sam is quickly running away. He ends up in his neighbor Mr. Wells yard climbing up a tree trunk, only to be startled by a dog in the window. As Sam falls, he is drags lights, the rain gutters and smashes the decorations on the porch. Mr. Wells now wants Sam to work for him paying off his debt. Initially, it is cleaning up the mess he caused, but Sam soon learns that Mr. Wells has secrets of his own. Mr. Wells has been keeping track of Sam's crimes around the neighborhood and he uses this information as leverage to have him help with a special project. Mr. Wells it turns out is the infamous Nickel Bay Nick, a good Samaritan that gives out money each year in the town, but this year Sam will have to take over that role.

Sam is a very unhappy kid who at first glance comes off very unlikeable. He dines and dashes, helps his friend steal his dad's car and commits vandalism. His attitude down right stinks. Once he meets Mr. Wells, Sam has met his match. Mr. Wells has a file with all of Sam's bad deeds in it, he even knows all about Sam's family life and he isn't afraid to blackmail him to get what he wants. He puts Sam to task to redeem himself. I especially enjoyed the training and missions that Mr. Wells chooses for Sam to complete. The more tasks that Sam completes, the more he understands about giving selflessly to those around him.  He learns that he might have misjudged his father and comes to realize the true meaning of friendship.  Nickel Bay Nick has a very engaging plot, one filled with secrets and mysteries to solve, but also plenty of action and humor.  Pitchford also includes a very nice subplot of who Mr. Wells is and how and why he became Nickel Bay Nick.    

Friday, October 31, 2014

Animorphs The Invasion by K.A. Applegate for the Classic MG Read along with the Midnight Garden

Harriet the Spy readalong
October's pick for the Classic Middle Grade Read along with the Midnight Garden was the first three books in the Animorphs series.  You can follow along or join in the discussion at or #tmgreadalong on Twitter.  

So book One begins with The Invasion in which we are introduced to Rachel, Jake, Marco, Tobias and Cassie, with Jake providing the narration to the story (Book Two is told from Rachel's POV, but I am only going to summarize the first book). The five friends like to hangout after school and on the particular day the story begins they are getting ready to walk home.  To save time, they decide to cut through a construction site where they see lights in the sky and a spaceship lands with an alien inside.  The alien communicates with them telepathically saying he is an Andalite and is here to warn them that Earth is being invaded.  He is dying, but gives them powers to use in fighting back the invaders. These powers allow them to touch any animal, absorb its DNA and transform/"morph" into that animal.  They unfortunately are not the only ones who can morph, the leader of the aliens invading, Visser Three also has this ability. However, Visser Three's abilities are much stronger, because he has been canvasing the universe and can morph into creatures far more dangerous.  

I picked up the first two Scholastic versions of these books and each one has its own flipbook at the bottom of the page showing one of the characters morphing into an animal.  The stories are a fairly quick read averaging under 200 pages, but don't let the length fool you.  There is a lot going on within the pages and the pacing is very well done.   I like Jake's description of Cassie from book one.."Cassie is quieter than Rachel, more peaceful, like she always understands everything on some different, more mystical level."  This is a very well thought out science fiction series.  With everything from how they morph, even down to what happens to their clothing when they morph.  I also liked the detailed descriptions of the process of moving from human to animal and then the transformation back.  I enjoyed seeing what kind of animals they chose to morph into and how they used that animals abilities to help them.  The morph into a lizard was very entertaining and I also enjoyed when Rachel morphed into a cat. There was lots of humor interjected, but also lots of danger.  When Rachel tries to morph into a mouse, I really got a sense of her fear.  Plus when they start fighting the creatures and Vesser Three, it comes off very realistic.  I have to admit that I really didn't like the idea of these squirmy things that crawl into your ear and take control of your mind, it's the thing of nightmares or the Wrath of Kahn movie.  Yet, a very very appropriate read for Halloween. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Few Smaller Reviews for Cybils Middle Grade Fiction

So, I've been busily reading for the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction and I have a few nominee's to highlight...As you can see from the covers a few fit right in with #WeNeedDiverseBooks

18222727The Year of the Fortune Cookie (Anna Wang series #3) 

Anna 's former teacher, Mrs. Sylvester is going to China to pick up her adopted daughter and has invited Anna to come along. Going to China will mean that she will miss a few weeks of school, but Anna thinks that it will be the perfect time to work on her "Who Am I?" project.  While in China, Anna hopes she can visit the orphanage her sister Kaylee was adopted from and at the same time learn more about her Chinese heritage and the culture.


Cupcake Cousins by Kate Hannigan

Cousins Willow and Delia have decided that wearing pink dresses for their Aunt's wedding just won't work.  They plan to impress her with their cooking skills and get out of being flower girls.  Yet, all their efforts in the kitchen only seem to make the new caterer Mrs. Cat more upset.  When Cat has an emergency with the wedding cake, can the cousins step in to help?  Included are eight recipes to make the foods mentioned in the story.   

17845805Ava and Pip by Carol Weston

Sister's Ava and Pip are very different, Ava is sociable and likes to write in her journal,  Pip likes to keep to herself and is shy. But, Ava really looks up to her older sister.   When new girl, Bea, throws a party on the same day as Pip's birthday celebration, Ava lets out her frustration in a story she writes for a school contest. Ava never expected her entry called "Queen Bee" to be published, or that Bea would figure out that she was talking about her.  Bea confronts Ava and she is left to explain that she was upset about the birthday party mix up and that she was just trying to stick up for her sister.  Bea isn't as upset about it as everyone else and together the two come up with a plan to help Pip overcome her shyness.   The book is told in a diary format which includes palindromes, word play, and alliterations.  A detailed list of  the palindromes appearing in the book are also included.