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Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Book of Wonders

The Book of Wonders is an exciting debut novel from author Jasmine Richards. The author transports the reader to an Arabian nights world packed with adventure. When thirteen-year-old Zardi and her friend, Rhidan, meet Sinbad the pirate they learn that Sinbad's mother, Sula, may know where Rhidan's family is. Rhidan with his unique silver hair, violet eyes, and magical silver amulet was found as a baby - never knowing why his parents abandoned him or where they came from. Zardi is devastated when her older sister is selected as the praisemaker - an unwed young girl kept for a season locked in a tower only to be released like an animal to be hunted down by the Sultan as part of his warped game. Zardi and Rhidan must go on a dangerous journey filled with deadly snakes, a hungry cyclops, and a metal warrior in order to release the magic djinni who may be able to save Zardi's sister before it is too late. All I can say is - "Wow" - couldn't put this one down! It is going on my 8th grade list in the fall.

Friday, May 25, 2012


L.B. Tillit's Unchained, part of the Gravel Road series, is simplistically written to appeal to reluctant readers and is filled with raw emotion. I know I won't have any problem getting my 8th graders to check this out. "I wasn't born mean." is the first sentence of the book. The story is narrated by TJ – a broken boy who is a product of his hopeless circumstances and neglectful upbringing. TJ explains why he is who he is and describes how he has slowly gotten involved with the wrong crowd on the north side of town. When his father dies suddenly, TJ is taken away from his mother and sent to live with a caring foster mom in the south side of the city. His mother cannot have him back until she is clean from drugs. Although TJ is at first resentful of his new situation with his new brothers and sisters, he quickly thrives and learns how being loved is supposed to feel. Two years pass and his mother is supposedly ready to get him back. TJ has to leave the only safe environment he has ever known. Once back in his old neighborhood, he is forced to go back to the gang who took care of him before his father’s death. Everything falls apart and TJ finds himself in the crossfire of gang activity . This book really made me think about kids who are sent back to biological parents, hopeless situations, and dangerous neighborhoods – things are beyond their control. How do they survive it? I couldn’t put this book down and the kids won’t be able to either. It is a mature book – 8th grade and up.

Chronal Engine

Greg Leitich Smith’s Chronal Engine is a must read for anyone interested in dinosaurs and time travel. Three siblings (Twins Emma & Kyle, Max – narrator of the story) are sent to live with their eccentric grandfather for the summer in Texas while their single mother travels to Mongolia for work. Their grandfather's grandfather, the man who built their grandfather's ranch house years ago, built a time machine named the Chronal Engine. Max is the only one a little excited about being there, because he loves everything about dinosaurs and the ranch is located on land known for its dinosaur history. The trio quickly become friends with a girl named Petra who lives there. Their strange grandfather gives them odd instructions one night right before having a heart attack that he knew he would have. When Emma is kidnapped, the foursome our quickly swept up in a time travel adventure through the Chronal Engine into a world of killer dinosaurs. This action-packed adventure is going on my 7th grade reading list in the fall. Another great book by Leitich Smith is Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Adventures of Beanboy

My middle school students love books that combine text and comics/illustrations together to tell a story. Lisa Harkrader’s newest chapter book, The Adventures of Beanboy, is in that format. Seventh grader Tucker MacBean is a huge comic book fan which doesn’t make him high on the popular list at school. He and his best friend, Noah, frequently visit Caveman Comics for the latest H2O comic. Things have not been so great at home for Tucker – his father lives in another city, his mother is working during the day and taking college night classes, and he is responsible for taking care of his special needs little brother, Beecher, after school. Tucker decides the answer to his family’s burdens would be to win the H2O comic contest (the prize is a college scholarship – just what his mom needs), but he needs to attend Art Club after school to be successful. Tucker is relieved when his mother tells him that she has found someone to take care of Beecher after school. Tucker is surprised to find Sam Zawicki, a girl at his school who acts like his arch enemy, is Beecher’s new babysitter. Why is Sam always so angry with everyone? Did Sam’s brother steal from their middle school cooking class like everyone believes? When Tucker stands up for what is right, he becomes even more powerful than his favorite superhero. The comic part of the story portrays Tucker’s creative imagination and how his newly created character evolves. Another good book by Harkrader is Airball: My Life in Briefs.

Under the Mesquite

Under the Mesquite is Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s debut novel in verse. The author drew on her own experiences as a Mexican-American adolescent who had to grow up quickly because of her family’s dire circumstances. This beautifully written story describes Lupita’s transformation from the time the family moves to the United States and her mother begins to battle cancer. Lupita, who loves to write and act, faces cruel criticism from her Hispanic friends when she works hard to do well in her high school theater arts program. Problems at school are minor compared to the ones Lupita faces at home. She makes huge sacrifices in her own life when she takes on the role of parent to her seven younger siblings when her father goes with her mother to seek treatment far from home. This emotional journey presents all the tribulations that families endure in fighting a horrible illness: financial burdens, family turmoil, and most of all the thought of losing someone you love so much. I absolutely loved this novel – can’t wait to read future books by Guadalupe Garcia McCall.


Carl Hiaasen, another favorite middle school author, went the adventure route with his newest middle grade read – Chomp. Wahoo (yes that is his real name) has been raised by an unconventional father, an experience animal wrangler named Mickey Cray. Mickey owns and protects different animals, reptiles, and birds. Wahoo has had to take on a lot of responsibility in caring for the animals because his father suffered a head injury from a mishap with a frozen iguana. When Wahoo’s mother a Chinese language teacher takes a job in China to help ease their financial burdens, Wahoo decides it is time for his Dad to get back to work. He accepts a high-paying job with a popular television reality show called Expedition Survival. The phony star, Derek Badger, is more than Wahoo bargained for. As if handling high-maintenance Derek Badger wasn’t enough, things become even more complicated when a young, abused girl named Tuna joins Wahoo and his father on their assignment. Will the trio survive the Everglades while Tuna’s gun-wielding father stays one step ahead of their every move, determined to bring his daughter home? Other great books by Hiaasen include Hoot, Flush, and Scat.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Benjamin Franklinstein Lives!

Benjamin Franklinstein Lives! by Matthew McElligott and Larry Tuxbury (illustrated by Matthew McElligott) is on the 2012-13 Texas Bluebonnet reading list. This book will definitely appeal to upper elementary - middle school students. Victor Godwin, a hardworking A-student, has been gathering statistics about the perfect Science Fair project so he can win this year's contest. His world changes drastically when a new tenant, Benjamin Franklin, moves into his apartment building. The history books say that Benjamin has been dead for 200 years, but no one knows about the Modern Order of Prometheus - a secret society from the past that worked at creating immortality for its members. When Benjamin is awakened from his "sleep", he searches for his Custodian and the reason he has been awakened at that time. Victor has the difficult responsibility of keeping Benjamin's energy levels in check and helping him find the Modern Order of Prometheus. Told in text, illustrations, historical references, and scientific details - this entertaining read will have students wanting to find out more about science and history. Readers will want to read Book 2: Benjamin Franklinstein Meets the Fright Brothers. This book will be on my 6th Grade Reading List this fall.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Curveball: The Year I Lost my Grip

Jordan Sonnenblick’s newest novel, Curveball: The Year I Lost my Grip is a touching story about athletic Peter Friedman’s challenging freshmen year of high school. After a baseball career-ending injury to his pitching arm, Peter must find a way to admit to his best friend, AJ, that baseball is no longer part of his future no matter how much AJ believes that recuperation and spring training will fix it. Peter’s talented grandfather, a professional photographer who has captured all of his baseball games with his camera, has also begun to act differently – gives Peter his beloved camera equipment, leaves sticky notes labeling everyday items and how to use them, and asks Peter not to mention his peculiar behavior to his mother. With pressure from his mother, Peter takes a photography class and ultimately meets a girl who steals his heart and unintentionally gets them assigned as photographers for the sports section of the high school yearbook. Will honoring his grandfather’s request put his grandfather in jeopardy? How will AJ take the horrible news about Peter’s future in baseball? My students and I love all of Jordan Sonnenblick’s books: Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie, Notes from the Midnight Driver, Zen and the Art of Faking It, and After Ever After. Recommend this book for 7th/8th grade and up.