Friday, December 28, 2018

Where the Watermelons Grow

Image result for where the watermelons growWhere the Watermelons Grow
Cindy Baldwin
HarperCollins, 2018 245 pages
Grades 4-7
Realistic Fiction

Twelve-year-old Della lives on a rural farm with her parents and baby-sister and her best friend right next door. She has lived in the same tight-knit community her whole life and the farm has been in the family for generations, providing a peaceful and comfy existence. All of this changes one summer when drought threatens to force the farm into foreclosure and Mom begins to act strangely--again. Della's mom suffers from Schizophrenia and her medication seems to be no longer working. Della and Dad try to hide Mom's relapse, but it becomes a secret too big to conceal and life begins to spin out of control as Mom becomes increasingly irrational. Finally, Della turns to a kind beekeeper, whose honey is said to have magical properties. Could this be the answer to all of their problems? As Della seems to drown under the pressures of the drought and Mom's condition, help comes from unexpected places and the small family realizes that they aren't alone as the community bands together to offer support.

I read this book since it is coming up on many best-of-the-year lists. It is a beautifully and carefully written book that is worthy of the praise it is receiving. I did not buy it for my library because I thought that the rural setting and quiet nature of the story would not appeal to my population of young readers. After reading the book I think that it would be enjoyed by a large cross-section of readers: if they give it a chance. It will require some hand-selling and word-of-mouth publicity to find its audience. That said, fans of the current trend of problem novels such as WonderThe Thing about Jellyfish and Mockingbird, will enjoy this title, if they crack into it. The rural North Carolina setting is fully realized and the pain of both Della and her father is strikingly felt by the reader. A touch of magical realism is introduced in the honey: is it really magical? The true magic of the novel lies in the power of community and multiple generations working together to solve a problem and support a struggling family. Children who have a family member suffering from mental illness will find comfort within these pages and those without will learn a bit about the greater world. A little gem of a book that is worth the time invested.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Miranda and Maude

Image result for miranda maudeMiranda and Maude: The Princess and the Absolutely NOT a Princess
Emma Wunsch
Jessika Von Innerebner, Illustrator
Amulet, 2018 132 pages
Grades 2-5
Realistic Fiction/Friendship
Miranda and Maude series #1

Miranda has lived her whole sheltered life as an only-child princess in a castle, raised by two doting parents and educated privately by an aging governess. Maude is being raised by her hippie father and attends public school even though she could be home-schooled, as is her brilliant little brother. Miranda begins her first public school experience with great trepidation. She is not use to other children and discovers that she is grossly behind in many subjects. Meanwhile, her seatmate, Maude, brings smelly hard-boiled eggs to school and seems to be disruptive and dirty. Even though they are both loners and in need of a friend, the two become immediate enemies and a war ensues as hurt feelings escalate. After Miranda conveniently "forgets" to give Maude the invitation to her splashy birthday party, Maude organizes a protest, encouraging the whole class to ban the party to make-up for her own wounded feelings. Both girls feel miserable for their deceitful and mean-spirited actions by the day of the party. Will the new classmates overcome their differences and pave the road to friendship?

Teen author, Wunsch, tries her hand at chapter books in this new series opener. Readers will enjoy the unlikely friendship between the princess and the tomboy who eventually learn to appreciate their differences and to benefit from the talents of the other. Kids will possibly be encouraged to give their classmates a chance that they may have preconceived notions about thanks to the lessons learned from this story. Generously illustrated, there are some pages with only text, making this book a step-up from beginner chapter books, yet perfect for kids who aren't quite ready to dive in deep. The story goes a bit over-the-top, yet readers won't mind. They will enjoy the humor, hijinks, and brushes with royalty. The characters are drawn distinctly and are wonderfully eccentric, making for an entertaining read. Even though the cover is pink and features a princess, the story will be enjoyed by boys who give it a chance. Miranda and Maude continue to embrace their own special qualities, yet learn to appreciate the uniqueness in each other as well, all while compromising and taking turns. Good lessons for all! The next series installment, Banana Pants! is set for a February 2019 release.

Monday, December 17, 2018


Image result for wonderland o'connorWonderland
Barbara O'Connor
FSG, 2018 235 pages
Grades 4-6

Three narrators relate the story of an unlikely friendship and the dog who cements it, as the girls band together to help an older friend. Mavis moves-again-with her mother to a posh suburban-Alabama neighborhood, where mom will serve as the housekeeper and the two will reside above the employer’s garage. Rose is the quiet and lonely homeowner's daughter who is thrilled to have a new friend in the courageous and adventurous Mavis. Henry, out third narrator, is a stray greyhound who has run away from the nearby racetrack and is living rough in the woods. Rose's only friend before Mavis was Mr. Duffy, the elderly gatekeeper of the private community, who hasn't been himself since his dog passed away. Mavis and Rose decide that if they find Mr. Duffy a new dog he will be happy again and perform his job better, getting the uppity rich folks in the gated community off his back. The girls discover Henry and the problem appears to be solved. Only, how can they get the scared dog to trust them? And even if they are able to coax Henry to meet Mr. Duffy, will the situation be fixed? Further problems develop as Rose and Mavis' moms are not getting along and it looks as if Mavis might need to move on again. Will their friendship survive?

For girls entering fifth grade friendship is of the highest importance and so it is with Mavis and Rose, who both struggle to find and keep friends for difference reasons, both of which many children will relate. This sweet and gentle story is told with compassion and sensitivity by O'Connor, who has many thoughtful middle grade novels to her credit, including last year’s Wish. The suburban southern setting is fully realized and the contrasting characters of Mavis and Rose are carefully drawn. Mavis' mother is eccentric and interesting to read, as is Mr. Duffy, whose colorful sayings made me laugh more than once. The two mothers could not be more opposite, making the relationship that the girls share that much more special and precious. It is nice to see a story with inner-generational friendships and the bond that Rose and Mr. Duffy share is a life raft to the young girl, which is why she is so desperate to help him. Dog racing is portrayed as something that is no longer viable and O'Connor demonstrates the industry's efforts to place the dogs in proper homes. Fans of realistic fiction and "problem novels" will enjoy this book. It’s a perfect summer read, a natural for dog lovers, and a great choice for anyone who's ever been in need of a friend.

Friday, December 14, 2018

H.I.V.E: Higher Institute of Villainous Education

Image result for hive waldenH.I.V.E: Higher Institute of Villainous Education
Mark Walden
Simon & Schuster, 2007 309 pages
Grades 5-8
H.I.V.E. series #1

Thirteen-year-old Otto wakes up confused in a plane next to an equally dazed boy named Wing. They are dropped inside a volcano on a seemingly deserted island which is revealed to house a super-secret boarding school designed to train super-villains. Otto and Wing become roommates and are sent to the Alpha track to learn to be the brains behind a covert and diabolical scheme. Otto makes other new friends, as well as some enemies, all of whom exhibit some sort of special skill or talent. The new gang of friends resents being kidnapped and sent to the school against their wills and decide to escape. The problem is: the Hive Mind, an all-knowing super computer designed to control everything on the island. How will the team escape the island without being caught? The reader eventually gets to know some of Otto's backstory in an orphanage, yet who is the mysterious benefactor that is sponsoring his attendance at the school for evil and what is his parentage?

This is a super awesome book that I have been recommending to young readers for the past ten years. Needing a "slam-dunk" for my boy-heavy 5/6th grade book club, I chose this title and gave it another read. It completely holds up and is still the same hit it was ten years ago. This is a great choice for book discussion, raising questions about ethics and point of view, and can be used on many levels. Kids love superheroes and are intrigued by villains, and enjoy seeing the sympathetic side of these new recruits. The premise is original and interesting, the plot never wavers, and surprises abound, making for a rollicking read. Many books are set in boarding schools for the simple reason that is allows for children to have adventure without parents getting in the way. This is the evil-spy version of Hogwarts and it is sure to attract the same readership, as well as other kids who may not be into magic or a complicated plot. Reluctant readers will find much to enjoy as they follow Otto and his friends through their escape plans. My only question is: why hasn't this book been made into a movie?

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Love Sugar Magic

Image result for love sugar magicLove Sugar Magic: a Dash of Trouble
Anna Meriano
Walden Pond/HarperCollins, 2018 310 pages
Grades 4-7
Love Sugar Magic series #1

Leonora's family is busy at their bakery getting ready for the town's Dia de los Muertos festival and she is feeling left out. It seems like there is more to the bustle than merely preparations and Leo suspects that secrets are afoot of which she is not privy. A spy mission seems to be in order, so Leo ditches school to find out what she is missing. Imagine her surprise to discover that her mother and sisters are really brujas-or witches-and spells are being baked into the pastries. After cornering one of her older sisters Leo has the truth confirmed and further discovers that she too possesses magical abilities, though she will not be allowed to use them until she turns fifteen, which is way too long to wait. She wants to get going now! To get her feet wet, Leo bakes pig cookies that she brings to life and magically dances around the room. Now it’s time to really put her magic to work. Leo helps herself to magical materials from the bakery and weaves a love spell for her best friend’s crush-with disastrous results.

Debut author, Meriano, pens a fun book filled with sweet treats, sisters and magic in this new series start. It is refreshing to see a book featuring Latin-American characters, who are in touch with their culture, yet fully integrated into American society in a positive way. It is also nice to see a fully functional family, even if they are brujas, who support and love each other through thick and thin. The youngest of five sisters, readers will enjoy seeing the family dynamics of Leo’s loving, yet messy, bunch and feel as if they know the characters by book's end. Leo makes some poor choices throughout the story, yet sees the error of her ways and works it all out by the conclusion. Kids love magic and this is a perfect fit for readers not quite ready for Harry Potter. They will appreciate the magical realism and imagine gaining control of their own situations through magical means. Recipes from the story are offered at end of the book, bringing in another layer and pleasing novice bakers. The Cupcake Diaries meets Bewitched, this series will find a readership. I can already think of so many kids I want to recommend it to. The next series entry, A Sprinkle of Spirits, is set to be released in February, 2019.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Sanity & Tallulah

Image result for sanity tallulah coverSanity & Tallulah
Molly Brooks
Disney/Hyperion, 2018 229 pages
Grades 3-7
Graphic Novel/Science Fiction

Best Friends, Sanity and Tallulah, are super smart, have a great sense of adventure, and a penchant for trouble. The remote space station in which they call home gets turned on its ear when a science experiment gone wrong-a genetically enhanced kitten with three heads-escapes and causes power outages and chaos throughout the planet. Sanity is the scientist who does the high-level thinking and whose father is the head of the entire space station. Tallulah brings the personality and charisma to the team and, although her mother is the head engineer of the station, tends to wreak havoc whenever she starts meddling with experimentation. After the kitten gets loose and the space station is in danger of shutting down and killing them all, the girls try to locate the missing feline and correct the damage. Although complications ensue when it appears to be coming from more than one place. Could there be other evil forces at work? It is up to this power team to locate the root of the problem and save the day before it is too late.

Debut author, Molly Brooks, creates two lovable characters, embracing friendship, science, and girl-power. Sanity and Tallulah have different personalities, which helps them to work well as friends. It is a refreshing break from the currently popular heavy graphic memoirs and science fiction is a welcome change. Yes, the space station may be exploding, but in a super-hero sort of way, and at least none of the families are getting divorced and nobody is getting bullied or discriminated against. This book will serve as a fun and entertaining diversion for both science-loving and science-challenged kids. The main characters are girls, but boys will enjoy this books as well, as the adventures are universal. The illustrations are well drawn and easily scanned, shaded in grey/blue with pink accents. The action never stops, the humor never flags, and everything comes out okay by books end. Plus, there is a diverse cast of characters, an adorable kitten with three heads, and a really cool first name (Sanity) that I think I might legally change my name to. What's not to like about this book? The last page promises more adventures to come, which young readers are certain to snap up. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Night Diary

Image result for night diary coverThe Night Diary
Veera Hiranandani
Dial, 2018 258 pages
Grades 5-8
Historical Fiction

Nisha lives in India in 1947 with her twin brother, father, and grandmother. In a series of letters written in her diary to her decreased mother we see history unfold as the country achieves independence and Pakistan succeeds as an independent Muslim state. Although Nisha's mother was Muslim, her father and grandmother are Hindu and, thus, enemies of the people. First, they are not allowed to go to school or to play with the friends they have always known, but then their very safety is in jeopardy. The family escapes, leaving behind their beloved cook and a treacherous journey begins, filled with possible starvation, thirst, and desperate refugees. To further complicate matters, Nisha is painfully shy and struggles with talking out-loud, her brother is clumsy and spills their water, and grandma is frail and may not make it to the boarder. Will the small family ever reach safety? Help comes from unexpected places, hope emerges where there once was none, and surprises abound. 

Hiranandani draws from her father's experiences during India's transition from British rule, creating a book for young readers about a little know corner of world history. This is historical fiction at its best. I learned so much about historic events from a personal perspective, was exposed to various parts of Indian culture, and enjoyed an entertaining and exciting story in the process. Nisha's story will inspire children, yet since she often feels lonely and shy, they will relate to her and maybe feel encouraged to tap into their own resources. A map on the end papers shows the countries in question and offers the reader a visual of the journey the small family undertakes. A glossary in the back defines some of the Indian terms and customs seen within the book and an author's note puts the narrative into historical perspective. This is truly a middle grade novel. Because of some of the violence between the focused groups, the story could be scary for younger elementary readers. That said, there is nothing particularly inappropriate or romantic, making it fine for older elementary. My library has this book shelved in the teen section, but it could comfortably be placed in the Children's Room and about half of my library system's libraries have done just that. Kids love diary-style books and this one, if put in the hands of the target audience, will entertain as well as educate.

Monday, December 3, 2018


Image result for blended draper coverBlended
Sharon Draper
Atheneum, 2018 320 pages
Grades 4-7
Realistic Fiction

First-person narration relates the story of eleven-year-old Isabella, who feels very split down the middle. Her divorced parents share custody of her, forcing her to sit through uncomfortable exchanges with them and alternate weeks between homes. Luckily, both of her step-parents are kind and loving, but still she fantasizes about her parents reuniting. Also, being biracial makes her feel torn and she is unsure which race to identify with and often feels judged and exposed based on her skin color. Support comes from her two best friends and awesome teenage stepbrother, who always has her back. Escape comes from the piano in which she is gifted and is able to lose herself in the playing. A racial incident at school brings her uncomfortable feelings to a head and forces her to confront what she is experiencing in her own life. Finally, a terrible tragedy occurs on the way to her piano recital which brings some of these issues even closer to home and into the public eye. The silver lining is that her torn family discovers what is truly important and stops squabbling and starts loving.

Sharon Draper is one of my favorite authors. Out of My Mind makes me cry every time I read it. She knows how to get to the heart of the matter and express issues in an approachable and believable way to young people. This new title seems torn from the headlines, supporting the “Black Lives Matter” movement and shining a light on racial profiling and general racism as perceived by the American public. The Hate You Give light, this is an age appropriate title that would work well as a conversation starter at home or in the classroom. It is also an enjoyable read with a likable main character who readers will identify with. The adults are flawed, yet loving, and their worst offenses stem from loving Isabella too much. The teenage stepbrother is a little too perfect, but that is an indication of who he is as reflected in Isabella's eyes. Biracial kids will appreciate the representation, kids from sometimes hostile blended families will also relate, and the rest of the readers will grow from the experience of spending time in Isabella's shoes. I love how the power of music is a source of solace and a binding element between households. Hopefully, young readers will be encouraged to find their own passion that can be a real life-saver. The pink cover may put off male readers, but the story will grab them if they give it a chance. A timely book that will appeal to the target audience.