Category Archives: Middle Grades

Book Review: When You Reach Me

This is one of those books that go on the “I can’t wait to read it aloud to my Little Lucy” list.  A middle grade novel that tells a tale of friendship.  The genre is hard to pin down, part science fiction and part mystery.  The setting is 1979 in the Upper West Side of New York city and a sixth grade girl, Miranda lives in a small apartment with her single mother who has just found out that she will be a contestant on the “$20,000 Pyramid” game show.  Miranda’s neighborhood is filled with interesting characters:  her best friend Sal, who lives in her building but suddenly stops talking to her after getting punched walking home from school, Jimmy, the deli shop owner that allows Miranda and her friends to work during their lunch hour and has a piggy bank full of $2.00 bills, and the crazy man on the corner who shouts out weird words and sleeps with his head under the mailbox.  Miranda is trying to piece together some odd notes that appear asking her to do things and telling her about events that haven’t happened yet.  Meanwhile she makes some new friends along the way.  This is a highly engaging novel, with the opportunity for great discussion and children will love trying to solve the puzzle and fit each piece together as they read.  It is not surprising that this book has won a Newbery Medal.

Title:  When you reach me

Author:  Rebecca Stead

Publisher:  Wendy Lamb Books

ISBN:  978-0-385-90664-7


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Book Review: Breaking Stalin’s Nose

I must admit that while reading I had a hard time envisioning today’s youth actually wanting to read and able to relate to this middle grade book.  The story is set in 1950’s Moscow where a young, and very naive boy named Sasha, is set to become a young pioneer.  The quick pace keeps the reader involved in this brief story that spans only a few days.  While the story depicts aspects of what life must have been like, it is also heavily punctuated by absurd, cartoon-like events, such as a conversation with a talking, smoking, Stalin’s nose.  The author is an artist and his black and white illustrations really help bring the characters to life.  In addition, the most interesting part of the book is knowing far more than young Sasha who thinks that only if Stalin knew what was happening, then he would surely help those being wrongly accused.  I hope that young people prove me wrong and enjoy this book as much as the adults who have deemed it worthy of both a 2012 Newbery Honor book award and Horn Book’s Best Books for 2011.

Title:  Breaking Stalin’s nose

Author/Illustrator:  Eugene Yelchin

Publisher:  Henry Holt and Company

ISBN:  978-0-8050-9216-5


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Book Review: Inside Out and Back Again

This is actually the first book I have read that is written completely in verse.  I wasn’t sure if I would like the format, believing that there couldn’t be as much detail to draw me into the story.  I was wonderfully wrong.  This amazing story spans one year in the life of 10-year-old Ha and is drawn from the author’s own experience leaving Saigon during the Vietnam war and landing in Alabama.  Along with her mother and three brothers, Ha must flee her home and everything she knows.  They spend a long journey on a boat with little food, no bathrooms and two mats to share among the five of them.  Eventually they secure a sponsor in Alabama and Ha must learn to navigate her way in a new world.  There is so much to love about this book.  Ha is a spunky little girl who in the first two pages is angered by the cultural tradition of only allowing male feet to be the first to walk through their house after the new year so she makes sure to awaken extra early and sneaks just her big toe out of the bed she shares with her mother and presses it to the floor.  The friendship that develops between Ha and her neighbor, a retired teacher who tutors the family and welcomes them with open arms is touching while the prejudice they face from others is painful.  This is the first (hopefully not the last) book written by Thanhha Lai and the winner of the 2011 National Book award.  It is recommended for grades 4 through 8 and I think would make a wonderful read aloud due to the richness of topics and feelings to be discussed.

Title:  Inside out and back again

Author:  Thanhha Lai

Publisher:  Harper

ISBN:  978-0-06-196278-3


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Book Review: Nora and the Texas Terror

Just finished the last Oregon Book Award nominee in the area of Children’s Literature!  (To read more about the Oregon Book Awards visit my review of Medio Pollito.)  A very sweet chapter book for younger readers about two very different cousins who finally find something in common to help them learn how to get along.  Nora’s life turns upside down when her cousin Ellie’s dad loses his job and their whole family comes to live with her.  Nora has to share her room, her clothes, even her desk at school with her cousin Ellie, the Texas Terror.  How can two totally opposite girls find common ground?  You’ll have to read the book to find out.  I love that this book includes multiple families living together.  As our economy continues to struggle, more and more families look to these kind of alternatives and it’s great to see that addressed in a book for younger children.  As this is written by another Oregon author, it was fun reading about places and things particular to my home state.  Find more books and information about the author at Judy Cox’s website.

Title:  Nora and the Texas terror

Author:  Judy Cox

Illustrator:  Amanda Haley

Publisher:  Holiday House

ISBN:  978-0-8234-2283-8

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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Family, Friendship, Middle Grades


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Book Review: Calvin Coconut: Hero of Hawaii

I had heard about a new series of chapter books that have become popular very quickly about a boy who lives in Hawaii named Calvin Coconut.  I was intrigued, in part because my own father grew up in Hawaii and our family loves to visit the islands.  I finally got my hands on a copy of the latest book “Calvin Coconut:  Hero of Hawaii” (I had to have it held at the library, since there are never any copies available when I am there each week).  I am happy to say that this book did not disappoint!  Calvin is a fourth grade boy going to school, hanging out with his friends and growing up in Hawaii.  A huge tropical storm has hit the island ruining their plans for his sister Darci’s birthday and as the river behind his house continues to rise something unexpected happens.  Calvin’s friend Willy is swept into the river and Calvin hops into his skiff to save him.

The author, Graham Salisbury, also grew up in Hawaii and went to the same elementary school as his character Calvin.  I absolutely love how he has included the “culture” of Hawaii throughout these books.  A few examples are, characters that speak pigeon, a visit to the Byodo-In Temple (where my grandparents are buried), and the multiracial mix of friends of the family.  This is the third book I have read this week that is a finalist in the Oregon Book Awards (Salisbury now resides in Portland – just like me!)  See my review of Medio Pollito for more information about this award.  Another book in this series, “Calvin Coconut:  Trouble Magnet,” is part of the 2011/2012 Oregon Battle of the Books for 3rd-5th grades.  I can’t wait to buy these books for my nephew!

Title:  Calvin Coconut:  Hero of Hawaii

Author:  Graham Salisbury

Illustrator:  Jacqueline Rogers

Publisher:  Wendy Lamb Books

ISBN:  978-0-385-73962-7


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Book Review: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Grace Lin spins a magical story that weaves her own versions of traditional Chinese folktales with the adventures of a poor, young, farm girl named Minli.  As Minli sets out to find the Old Man of the Moon from her father’s stories and change her family’s fortune, she encounters mystical friends such as a talking goldfish, the lucky twins and a flightless dragon.  One of the many reasons I adored this book was the wonderful message that unfolds as the reader begins to link each story along Minli’s journey.  Additionally each chapter opens with a beautiful full-color illustration by the author.  There are discussion questions included in the back of the book and the author’s website includes a wonderful book trailer and corresponding activities.  This book is recommended for grades 3-6.  It has won numerous awards including the 2010 Newbery Honor Award. A nominee for the Oregon Reader’s Choice Awards and part of 2011/2012 Oregon Battle of the Books (3rd – 5th grade).

Title:  Where the mountain meets the mon

Author/Illustrator:  Grace Lin

Publisher:  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

ISBN:  0316114278


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Book Battles

The School Library Journal has announced the 2012 contenders for the battle of the kids’ books (listed below).  So many books to read and not enough time.  My own personal goal is to read all of them!  On the local battle scene, The Oregon Association of School Libraries has their own 2011/2012 battle of the books lists divided into three grade level categories (3rd-5th, 6th-8th, 9th-12th).  Their battle is well under way and there are too many titles to list here.  Look for my review of “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” one of the titles from the 3rd-5th grade battle list.

Battle of the Kids’ Book List

Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Bootleg by Karen Blumenthal
The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright
Chime by Franny Billingsley
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
Drawing From Memory by Allen Say
The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami
Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Life:  An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

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Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Middle Grades, Young Adult


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