Friday, May 30, 2014

Review of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

May's pick for Classic Middle Grade reads with The Midnight Garden was A Wrinkle in Time.  I confess this is a first time read for me.  You can follow along or join in on the discussion at and #tmgreadalong.  
a wrinkle in time readalong

Reading a Wrinkle in Time was reminiscent of reading the Phantom Tollbooth or even The Little Prince. Like the previous two books, I found that I had to take my time reading the book and really absorb the story. Although, this is a really quick read, I didn't want to miss out on all those messages layered in about family, courage, bravery, but most of all love.  I must admit that going in to A Wrinkle in Time, I really didn't entirely know what to expect.  I expected there to be science fiction, and maybe even a scary monster of some kind.  I mean the story does start out with "it was a dark and stormy night..."  (Which by the way, I really like that line).  But, somehow I was kind of let down with IT and The Black Thing, they didn't seem as scary to me as I had envisioned they would be.  So,  I'm going to say A Wrinkle in Time is a gentle introduction into science fiction and good versus evil in a non scary way.   Meg is an endearing character, even with all her insecurities about her looks and wanting to be popular, qualities that as a kid I would have easily identified with.  I also liked the relationship and closeness that she shares with Charles Wallace. The characters of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which were intriguing, they come off very angelic and at one point I thought that Charles was too, mostly because of his extraordinaire abilities.   L'Engle sure doesn't write down to her reader either and I appreciate that as well as all of the various poems that she introduces through Mrs. Who.   I really enjoyed reading A Wrinkle in Time, would my child self have enjoyed it, probably, especially for the sweet moments between Calvin and Meg.  Since Calvin's family had so many children it was easy for him to get lost in the shuffle and feel unloved, so the moments that he found comfort with Meg by holding her hand or asking her lots of questions to get to know her better were really sweet and made the story for me.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Review Nathan Hale's Hazaradous Tales: Donner Dinner Party

17290260 After reading Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood, I quickly perused my local library to find Donner Dinner Party.   I was curious to see how Hale would tackle a story about a group of American pioneers  getting stranded while traveling by wagon train to California, given that they had to resort to cannibalism to survive. The story of the Donner Party certainly is not an easy tale to tell, but it was informative while continuing to maintain  the charm of the previous Hazardous Tales. There are these two narrators (Captain Nathan Hale (the spy) and his hangman) that add all the humor to the story and kept things entertaining.  Also, because this could be a difficult subject for some readers,   I also really appreciated that Hale warns the reader and gives them an opportunity to skip ahead if they want to miss the parts that delved into cannibalism.   There is so much information packed into these graphic novels and I really felt like I had a very accurate picture of the struggles that these families went through, as well as the terrible decisions that they made along the way.   I'm looking forward to see what Nathan Hales next Hazardous Tales has to offer.    Anyone know the next title?  I can't seem to find it, but do see it won't be out until March 2015.  

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Review Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chrris Grabenstein

16054808The story begins with Kyle playing a game of  Mr. Lemoncello's, Indoor-Outdoor Scavenger Hunt with his two older brothers.  This results in Kyle getting grounded for a week, because busting a window to get into the basement and find the last piece you need to win a game isn't cool with your dad. Immediately, I felt myself getting drawn into the story, the game sounds so cool, looking for a dogs chew toy, banana peel, and solving a riddle to figure out which coins you need to find, tons of fun.  The next day at school, Kyle and his friends find out that the new library being built is having a contest for an overnight stay and a $500 gift card for any of Mr. Lemoncello games. Well, Kyle knows that he just has to win one of the twelve spots because Mr. Lemoncello is his favorite game maker.      

 Once inside the library, Kyle splits off into a team with his friend Akimi and soon Sierra and Miguel seem to join as well. I really enjoyed that Grabenstein changed the point of views from one character to the next, because it kept me following along with the puzzle clues and gave insight into who's playing fair and who isn't.  Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library is the kind of book that has a little bit of something for everyone.  It includes the Dewey decimal system, literary references and quotes like "an open book is an open mind."   I think children would enjoy reading about the Holographic librarian, big screen HD displays, IMAX theater, game room and of course solving the clues to see who can win the game if they can "find their way out of the library using only what's in the library."  Overall, it gave me the vibe of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but with way more puzzles and games.   

Monday, May 19, 2014

Review of Hope is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera

18405519From Goodreads: Ten-year-old Star Mackie lives in a trailer park with her flaky mom and her melancholy older sister, Winter, whom Star idolizes. Moving to a new town has made it difficult for Star to make friends, when her classmates tease her because of where she lives and because of her layered blue hair. But when Star starts a poetry club, she develops a love of Emily Dickinson and, through Dickinson’s poetry, learns some important lessons about herself and comes to terms with her hopes for the future.  

I so loved Hope is a Ferris Wheel and well Steering Toward Normal too.    Egads, am I starting to enjoy reading contemporary stories now too?  My TBR list can't handle this, abandon all hope of ever being manageable again.  Sorrry, I digress....  10 year old Star so reminds me of one of my relatives who wore her hair spiky and loved wearing an army jacket and combat boots.  But, unlike Star, she wasn't concerned about making friends and fitting in, she forged her own path.    I can, however identify with the feelings of looking up to your big sister and everything written felt true to those feelings.   Its wonderful how Herrera incorporated poems and metaphors and writing vocabulary words into the story in a way that doesn't come off as an educational lesson but adds lovely layers to the story.  And the friends that Star makes as she begins to morph her Trailer Park Club into a Emily Dickinson Club, well they all bring something different to the table and make for a fun story.   This is another book with some thought provoking topics (I'm not going to list out these ones because well spoilers..) but Herrera presents everything with honesty and I believe stays true to the emotions. My favorite part of the book is when the club is sitting around and they each come up with a metaphor for what they think "hope" is, beautiful book.  As an added bonus the back of the book includes a reader's group guide presenting questions that reflect on the themes and various plot points. There is also a review of some of the poems from the book to have the reader think about what these poems mean to them.  I can see Hope Is A Ferris Wheel getting gobbled up by lots of school libraries and teachers who I hope will include some of the authors suggested activities into their lesson plans it's such a lovely, honest book.  I'm hanging on to this one, because I really want to re-read it again.   

My review copy was from Abrams books as a part of a giveaway offered during March MG Madness at Word Spelunking.  Hope is a Ferris Wheel was published on May 11th 2014 by Amulet Books.  

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Review Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood

18405492Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood is Book 4 in the Hazardous Tales Series by Nathan Hale and was published May 13th 2014 from Amulet Books an imprint of Abrams.  Other titles in the series include One Dead Spy, Big Bad Ironclad and Donner Dinner Party (which I already put on hold from the library).  Graphic novels seem to be pretty popular with kids, mine included. When volunteering, books about World Wars and guns seem to circulate quite frequently, so there defiantly seems like an interest in this area.  However,  when thinking about other nonfiction graphic novels, I can only think of one called Graphic Dinosaurs. Yet, I'm sure there are many others that I haven't heard of yet either.  I can say that when this arrived, I lost it for a few days and had to promise not to donate it to the school library until after my child was able to finish it.  The librarian at school is excited for me to drop this off to add to the nonfiction books they currently have.  

Hazardous Tales begins with a prologue telling the tale of Nathan Hale waiting to be hanged, when he is thrust into the books of history.  For Hale to save himself, he must to tell more tales to the hangman and a British Provost Marshall. (I believe this took place in the first book-One Dead Spy).  In Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood, Hale details the events surrounding World War I starting with the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand going all the way to the signing of the Armistice in 1918. There is lots of information provided on what caused the war, various battles, how many troops were lost by each side, all to illustrate how World War I was the beginning of a new type of war, one that was both global, brutal and involved new types of weapons (tanks, machine guns etc.).  A tough feat to under take in my opinion, and I can just imagine the amount of research that he must have done.  Yet, Hale is able to take this rather complex topic and interjects humor into it.  I loved how he used animals to represent each of the countries involved in the war. For example, France was represented by a Rooster and the Griffin, Wolf and Bear represented Austro-Hungarian Empire, Serbia and Russia.  I can see how this would be entertaining for children.  Me, I occasionally go lost because I was trying to remember who was represented by who, but Hale included some maps which brought me back to the events. At the end of the book, Hale provides quotes from people like Hemingway, Tolkien and Steinbeck, saying that he isn't the one to judge whether war is necessary or not but leaves it for people who experienced it to determine. There is also a great Bibliography listing books and illustrated comics for further reference.     

Via Nathan Hale's website, he is also an avid Lego collector and there is some awesome constructions that he made about this book.  They are really worth taking a look

My review copy was provided as a part of a giveaway hosted by and Abrams Books.  A big thank you to the both of them.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Review of The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Clarire Legrand


Victoria decided long ago that her and Lawrence were going to be best friends, and he really had no say in the matter.  That's just the kind  of person Victoria is, confident.  Every time she would come closer, he would push her away, but they have still been best friends for a very long time.  However, one day Lawrence goes missing. Victoria is the kind of person who doesn't stand for nonsense like that and something about his disappearance just doesn't sit right with her.  Especially, since everyone in town doesn't seem to be worried about it very much. Victoria starts to have an uneasy feeling and her suspicions begin to grow when she gets a note telling her to "watch out." Everything seems to be pointing toward Mrs. Cavendish's School for Boys and Girls.  

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is deliciously creepy in a Graveyard Book/Coraline kind of way.   And then Legrand puts in these passages....

"I want to speak with Mrs. Cavendish, " Victoria said, putting up her chin.  She would not act afraid. "Now."  He smiled widely, "Come."  Remember, you're Victoria Wright, she reminded herself.  Maybe in her imagination, she couldn't get to Lawrence, but real life was quite another thing; in real life, Victoria Wright always got excactly what she wanted.  Mr. Alice pushed open the door.  Something darker than shadows stretched away from him into the Home, forming a hallway with a tiny prick of light at the end.  A rush of cold gusted out past Victoria.  "Go on," Mr. Alice said, gesturing with his shovel.  "She has been waiting for you."

Compelling right?  You've certainly got my attention.  That isn't enough though, Legrand then has these bugs that go scuttling and crawling on Victoria's hand and across the room.  Well, my hairs on my neck stand up and then when these same bugs grace the pages of the book creeping around, I start to feel a little squirmy myself.  I do think this was a brilliant idea by the way.  Mrs. Cavendish makes for a very creepy villain and her methods of "coaching" the children are mean and cruel, but I seem to find that this is the kind of book that children would certainly enjoy within the school that I help out at.  Most of all, I really enjoyed the friendship that Lawrence and Victoria shared especially this quote when Victoria is trying to clear her head "focus on Lawrence's face, happy humming and the smell of dirt on his shoes."  A perfect book that should be read during Halloween, sets the mood for the season.   

My review copy was from the Public Library.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Review Steering Toward Normal by Rebecca Petruck

When Diggy was one month old his mom left him in a laundry basket on Pop's (everyone calls him Pop's) doorstep and went riding out of town on his tractor.  Diggy really hasn't given her another thought, until Mr. Graf shows up one day and drops Wayne on Pop's doorstep telling him that he's Wayne's dad.  Apparently the whole thing came to light when Mrs. Graf died recently.  Just in that little piece, you really get a feel for the plot, but there is so much more to it then just that.  Wayne and Diggy come at the story from two very different perspectives but they really have more in common then even they know. Wayne is the boy who losses his mom to Cancer and has a father so wrapped up in his grief that he takes to drinking and does and says really hurtful things to his son.  Diggy is the boy who's mom may still be alive but she has never sought him out.  You just want to reach out and hug these two boys.  Petruck does a wonderful job of balancing the weightiness of the plot themes (alcoholism, death of a parent, abandonment)  with humorous pranks that the boys and Pop play on each other leaving room for jealousy, fun sibling rivalry and good old fashion fighting.   Reading Steering Toward Normal was like I was visiting the State Fair back in Maryland, with a behind the scenes tour.  I enjoyed and grew a better appreciation for what it takes to raise a prize winning steer.   A wonderful story about family, loss, letting go, and well the title says it all, "Steering Toward Normal".  Included at the back of the book is information about 4-H, how ribbons are awarded at the fair, various terms and tools used with livestock and my favorite the "prank-steer guide."  Favorite line, "A door that's shut too long gets hard to open.  It's better to leave it cracked a couple of inches."  

My review copy was from Abrams books as a part of a giveaway offered during March MG Madness at Word Spelunking  Steering Toward Normal will be released on May 13th 2014 by Amulet Books

*ETA 5/14 My review copy was donated to the Public School Library (I'm hoping some 4-H's get a chance to read it).  

Monday, May 5, 2014

Review: The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell

18365279Sitting across the valley is Sundered Castle, so named because the castle was broken apart some twenty-five years ago.  Some say it was due to an earthquake, but now everyone has pretty much forgotten about the castle as it sits surrounded by thorns.  That is until Sand finds himself waking up among the cinders of the fireplace within the castle. How he got here he has no recollection of, but he soon comes to realize that everything within the castle has been broken.  Sand takes to wandering from room to room assessing the damage, until he comes to the tombs and finds the corpse of a young girl on the dirt floor. Feeling uncomfortable with her lying there, Sand decides that the only thing to do is to put her "to rights" back in her crypt and return home to his family. Yet, leaving the castle becomes impossible, for the raspberry brambles cover the entire gate and there is no way to get under, over or around them and even if you try the thorns will try and prick you which can be poisonous. Sand soon finds himself having to search for anything left among the rubble in the pantry to make into food and he uses the skills he learned from his grandfather the blacksmith to fix the things that he can.  At the same time, Perrotte wakes in the darkness of the crypt and realizes that she has died but is no longer dead and that she died under mysterious circumstances. Slowly the two find each other and they work together to mend the castle and themselves.   

I really enjoyed Haskell's twist on Sleeping Beauty.  Sand is such a determined young boy and has such a sense of right and wrong.  I love how he doesn't just brood about being in the castle all by himself and instead sets things in motion to find food for himself from the broken spices and items left in the pantry.  Even getting water becomes a huge task, but Sand uses his imagination and crafts things out of the broken items as best he can.   Perrotte initially comes off as a rude, spoiled princess even demanding that Sand call her "my lady."  She is so filled with rage and grief that she believes that she can just cut through the thorns and then her enemies.  But Perrotte's grief comes from learning that she is the last heir of the castle and finding yourself trapped within its walls becomes very overwhelming.  Plus she is trying to understand the memories and flashes she has about her past.  I so loved how Sand and Perrotte develop a wonderful caring friendship and when Perrotte drags Sand's mattress next to hers so that they both won't be alone it's a touching moment and the beginning of a beautiful strong bond between the two. Overall, there is a lovely message of forgiveness and how sometimes somethings can't be mended or we may just need to mend ourselves.  Many thanks to Harper Collins Publishing and Goodreads for this advanced reading copy.  The Castle Behind Thorns is set to be released on May 27th, 2014 by Katherine Tegen Books.  

I especially liked this starred review from Publisher's Weekly

*ETA 5/14 Review copy released to fellow book blogger (playing it forward).