June 14, 2019
Once and Future by Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta
Since I first read The Once and Future King by T.H. White years ago when I was a teen, I have been fascinated by the King Arthur myth, including the central character of Merlin. So when I heard that a new retelling of the mythology was being published, and the King Arthur would be a young woman, I was already sold. But the book is even more mind-blowing than you can imagine. First of all, take the genre: set in the future, it’s a sci-fi thriller, with notes of magical realism and high adventure. Then, the gender explorations are wonderful: Ari Helix, our reluctant new reincarnation of King Arthur, is a lesbian teen, a Middle Eastern immigrant of sorts. Her knights of the roundtable include such a diversity of characters, not to mention Merlin himself, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager. As one reader confided, “Readers of all sexualities, genders, orientations and melanin will find themselves represented here, and in a way that is not ‘about’ being ace or fluid or straight or whatever–that’s just one aspect of the character that is basically as mundane and routine as having brown eyes or being taller than everyone else.”
If course, there is a monumental quest at the heart of the tale: Ari and her community must defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind. Readers will be caught up in this quest, thanks to the witty writing and complex characters, not to mention the humor and compassion at the heart of the tale. Highly recommended!
June 9, 2019
The Miscalculations of Lightening Girl by Stacy McAnulty
Meet reluctant middle school student Lucy, aka Lightening Girl. Her family nickname comes from her terrifying experience being hit by a bolt of lightening–and surviving. The lightening jolt gives her a super-power of sorts: acquired math genius. Ever since, she’s been home-schooled, and now is ready for college, at least academically. But her wise grandmother who is raising her wants her to grow in other ways as well, and throws down the gauntlet: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that’s not a math textbook!). Lucy’s experience is difficult, yet fulfilling as she makes friends and discovers new interests and capabilities. But she also must deal with social issues such as mean girls, and deciding whom to trust. Her OCD rituals are sensitively handled, as well as her true love of the beauty of numbers. The dialogue of all the characters ring true, and I appreciated the details of her growing friendship with both Windy and Levi. Some intriguing twists and turns in the plot line, with heart-wrenching surprises. Highly recommended!
May 31, 2019
The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras
Last week, I reviewed The Mad Wolf’s Daughter–with enthusiasm, you’ll recall. I should have waited until I read the companion novel so I could share my recommendation for both books at the same time. The second novel picks up right where the first left off: Our heroine Dress has saved her father and brothers’ war-band, as well as the young Lord Emerick, who is being hunted by his evil uncle (who wants him dead). Drest continue to grow as a character, as do her friends Emerick and Dig, not to mention Drest’s family members. We also learn interesting information about Drest’s background (hint: her mother is still alive!)Emerick is still healing, which considerably hampers their efforts to retake the castle, and at times, even to survive. The adventure is fast-paced and exciting: Drest narrowly escapes capture by a knight who wants the 30 pounds placed upon her “wolf’s head,” which she later learns means that anyone who sees her has permission to kill her for the reward. Will Drest and the war-band be able to survive to put the rightful Lord Faintree at the head of his castle? Read on! A perfect quest tale for middle graders.
May 21, 2019
The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras
I’ve been really into historical fiction this year, reading especially the novels of the middle ages in Europe. I especially love the tales from Wales, Ireland, and Scotland and how they intersect with British history. So the new series for middle school and older readers set in medieval Scotland caught my attention. It will be a terrific fit for readers who have loved The Song of the Lioness series. Drest, the main character (and The Mad Wolf’s daughter of the title) reminds me a bit of Alanna: she is brave, kind, courageous, and loyal. We follow her on her quest to free her father and brothers from a castle prison after invading knights capture them, but leave Drest behind. Drest is feisty enough to decide she can make it to the castle and set them free, though she isn’t sure how she’ll accomplish it. On the way she picks up some very complex and interesting characters, whose different life experiences give her a chance to understand the many sides of truth. The writing is superb; I was completely wrapped up in this thrilling and surprising adventure, and look forward to the next book in the series.
May 11, 2019
Giraffe Problems By Jory John, illustrated by Lane Smith
It’s not easy being a giraffe, especially when your fellow African animals are so darn attractive. At least that’s how Edward the giraffe feels. His neck is just too. . .necky. “Everybody stares at it. This guy. That guy. Him. Her. Them. Whatever that is. Her again.” And it’s true; most of his neighbors don’t respond very kindly to his very long neck. Luckily, a wise turtle is able to convince Edward that his neck is just right for a giraffe. In a lovely fold-out page, we see Edward using his neck in a very giraffe-like manner. (And it also looks excellent in a bow tie.) Not only does the book carry a very powerful message, it is never sappy and comes alive with the author and illustrator’s well-known sly humor and wit. Highly recommended!
May 4, 2019
Just Jaime (Emmie and Friends) by Terri Libenson
Once you’re in middle school. issues of friendship are at the forefront. Books to the rescue, since you can read about other characters and their middle school dilemmas and try out different solutions, empathize with characters, and discuss with your own friends. It only works, of course, if the stories you read are true-to-life, interesting, humorous–and it doesn’t hurt if they are graphic novels. Terri Libenson has become one of our go-to middle school authors. (see our reviews: Invisible Emmie, Positively Emmie). Her latest–Just Jaime–is equally compelling; here, we share Jaime’s ups, and of course downs, with her long-time best friend Maya. If you know middle schoolers who are looking for an engrossing read, you’ll know what to recommend!
April 27, 2019
Mac Undercover: Mac B., Kid Spy #1 by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Mike Lowery
What would you do if the Queen of England called you and asked for your help on a dangerous mission? If you’re like Mac B., you’d agree–only once the Queen writes a note to his school
and another for his mom. Then, Mac flies off to England for a mysterious adventure. And of course, Mac B. is Mac Barnett and as he tells it, he was a spy for the Queen when he was a kid. Yes, Mac Barnett is the narrator and main character–as a younger version of himself. Lots of silliness and fun in this rollicking adventure. And even some true history sneaked it: like the Queen’s love of corgis, and the quite tragic history of jeans in the former USSR. I also love the illustrations, the larger print type, and the short chapters, which will all appeal to the 7-10 year-olds this book is perfect for (and the their parents/teachers/caregivers). I always appreciate Barnett’s offbeat humor, sp I can vouch for its appeal in that area as well. And good news: there are now more books in the series (three as of spring of 2019).