Monday, November 25, 2019

Midsummer's Mayhem

Midsummer's MayhemMidsummer's Mayhem
Rajani LaRocca
Yellow Jacket, 2019 352 pages
Grades 4-7

Eleven-year-old Mimi often feels overlooked as the youngest in a super-star family. She has been particularly lonely since her best friend moved away and her beloved food-critic father is traveling on business. Mimi's passion is baking and she is thrilled when a new bakery opens in her small town announcing a baking contest for kids. Mimi is determined to enter and win the contest, even as she finds the goods in the bakery sub-par and the owner and workers a bit odd. A jaunt in the woods brings a new friend, who though in town only for the summer, also loves to bake and joins Mimi in concocting some yummy treats. As Mimi's family is involved in a local production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, things start to get kooky, mirroring the events in the play. Dad returns from the trip with an insatiable appetite to the point of gluttony, two boys both fall over themselves to capture the heart of Mimi's non-assuming sister, and her brother can't stop looking in the mirror. Why is everyone acting crazy and what can Mimi do to make it stop? Finally the day of the contest arrives and Mimi must bake in front of an audience, as well as a famous celebrity chef/judge. The contest ends with unexpected results. Opening night of the play brings the action to the climax and Mimi learns the truth behind the strange summer happenings as well as behind the bakery and its workers, and the secret behind her own cooking. Mimi learns where her heart truly lies and makes a new friend in the process.

This new book is getting a lot of buzz. It falls under the category of "Magical Realism", which is currently trending, and features a diverse cast, including Mimi's family who boast Indian roots, a culture underrepresented in children's fiction. Children will enjoy this book and relate to Mimi's feelings of being the youngest and seemingly without power. Almost like watching an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, tweens will experience romantic complications through the eyes of the amused younger sister. Mimi's summer after the loss of her best friend seems long and lonely, but this fantastic adventure with a new cast of characters offers her both amusement and a sense of purpose. She finds her footing and true powers, learning that she can contribute as much as her older siblings. Cooking terms are defined in the back of the volume, as are possibly unfamiliar Indian foods. A recipe is include, inspiring want-to-be chefs to tackle the kitchen. This story may also lead readers to crack into some of Shakespeare's plays, specifically A Midsummer Night's Dream, which much of the plot of the story mimics. The action never flags and crazy plot-twists and surprises await the reader, which will keep them turning pages. An unusual story with lots of appeal, give to fans of Love, Sugar, Magic, or to anyone who loves their fantasy with a culinary twist.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Pay Attention, Carter Jones

Image result for pay attention carter jones coverPay Attention, Carter Jones
Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion, 2019 216 pages
Grades 4-7
Realistic Fiction

Carter feels like life is out of control. It is his first day of sixth grade. He will be starting middle school and nothing is right. It is pouring rain, the car won't start, Mom can't get it together, Dad is away with the military, and someone is missing. The doorbell brings a proper, yet unfamiliar man. He introduces himself as Carter's late grandfather's Butler, who has been left to the family in Grandpa's will. In quick order the Butler whips the family into shape, taking everyone to school in his giant Bentley and encouraging the four children in the family to "make good decisions and remember who they are". As time goes on the Butler makes a positive impact on the household, encouraging Mom to re-enter life and plugging the various children into healthy pursuits. Carter becomes the family dog walker at the Butler's urging and learns to become a supportive older brother, all while coming to terms with the fact that Dad may never be returning home and the truth behind the missing family member. The Butler even teaches Carter and his friend how to play Cricket, recruiting the cross country team and inviting a school-wide craze. Life will never be the same for Carter's family, but will the Butler stay forever?

Move over Mary Poppins--a new Brit is here, though this time on our side of the pond, to nurture a family and show both parents and children the best way to behave. Eclectic author for young people, Schmidt, offers a coming of age tale, incorporating realistic situations with humor and gentle morality lessons. Carter has a lot to deal with and, with the Butler's help, learns what it means to be a thoughtful and responsible individual--something that his father could stand to learn. We eventually see the sadness behind this family, though Schmidt reveals exactly what happened to cause it slowly, never giving us the whole story until page 90. I have never read a book that features the sport of Cricket and was happy to see it represented. I know my Indian families, especially, will enjoy seeing this beloved sport featured in a novel. Chapters are introduced by a rule from Cricket that fits in with what will happen in the chapter, which was fun. Do I finally understand the game? No, not at all, but sports kids won't care and will enjoy the action. The sport is not the main point of the plot and did not slow me down from loving the book. As the Butler teaches Carter how to be a responsible gentleman, he delivers the sentiment: "we are what we love". So true! Through the humor there are some truly moving bits that made me emotional. Schmidt really knows how to pack a wallop, all while making us laugh through our tears.

Thursday, November 21, 2019


J.J. & Chris Grabenstein
Random House, 2019 207 pages
Grades 4-7
Realistic Fiction/School Story

When Piper's Dad is offered a position as the Choir Director at the prestigious prep school that her late mother attended, she has mixed feelings. On one hand, this is Dad's big chance, as well as an opportunity to connect with the mom she never knew. On the other hand, Piper does not want to leave her public school friends and is convinced that all of the students at Chumley will be snotty. Piper is surprised when she is befriended by a bunch of kind fellow-nerds and, although there are difficult people, begins to enjoy herself. Piper's English teacher assigns the class a writing assignment, challenging them to discover "the person they want to be", which gets her thinking. What exactly is true success? A never-before student prize is announced and gets the school buzzing. Does Piper have what it takes to win the coveted award? Maybe if she shows her true talent (astronomy) and wins the science fair she will have a chance. The science fair does not go exactly as planned and Piper decides to demonstrate her awesomeness at the school talent show. An unexpected complication forces her to decide between winning an award and winning as a friend. Which way will Piper chose?

Popular and critically acclaimed children's author, Grabenstein, teams up with his wife for an inspirational tale that will encourage kids to question their own choices. Piper feels like a fish out of water and is intimidated by the rich kids, until she gives a group of kids a chance and realizes that people are people no matter how much money they have. There is a predictably nasty queen bee, of whom Piper discovers the motivation behind her drive and meanness and offers forgiveness. In fact, Piper does not seem to have a mean bone in her body. This feels a bit unrealistic, but will serve as a great role model for readers. Our main character does exhibit fears and feelings of inadequacy, showing that she's not perfect and making her relate-able. Readers will cheer for Piper as she continues to make kind decisions and the ending may even make them choke up a bit with emotion. Piper is an amazing character who faces her fears head-on and proves to be a loyal friend. She discovers the person who she is striving to be and learns to accept her own wonderful traits and talents, even if they are different from other around her. A motivating character-driven story sure to both entertain and inspire.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher

Image result for jeremy thatcher coverJeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher
Bruce Coville
Harcourt, 1991 151 pages
Grades 3-6
The Magic Shop series #2

Sixth-grade Jeremy finds himself on an unfamiliar street and wanders into a magic shop that he never knew existed. Here the mysterious owner. Mr. Elives, reluctantly sells him an egg with cryptic instructions. Jeremy follows said instructions during the night's full moon and is rewarded when a dragon hatches out of the egg. The dragon is super cool, but how will he take care of it? Jeremy does what all good researches do-he heads to the library. Here the librarian hands him more mysterious information. Jeremy learns how to care and feed his dragon and that it is his responsibility to assign her a name. They both agree on the name Tiamat after a famous dragon from days of yore, and a friendship is born. Tiamat is able to communicate with Jeremy telepathically and they both feed off of each other's emotions. Naturally, trouble ensues as Trimat learns to navigate the world and feed his insatiable appetite. The only other person able to see Tiamat is a fellow classmate--and girl--Mary Lou. She is creative and shares Jeremy's love of reading and magic. They bond over the dragon and become friends, only the other guys make fun of him for having a (yuck!) girlfriend. How can Jeremy take care of his new charge without losing his mind and getting in more trouble?

Jeremy Thatcher has been igniting the imaginations of dragon-loving kids for over a quarter of a century and his story is still strong. Perfect for readers not quite ready for Harry Potter or Wings of Fire or looking for something more serious than the silly hijinxs of How to Train Your Dragon, this title continues to fill a need. Readers will immediately identify with Jeremy and imagine hatching a dragon of their own and solving the problems associated with this wonderful gift. Dragons are so cool and are currently trending, so this title is sure to please readers. The length and level are perfect for reluctant readers and a few interspersed pencil drawings will help them to not feel overwhelmed. Even though the book is relatively short, it contains content and will get readers thinking. Jeremy learns many lessons including what it means to be a friend, responsibility, trust, and how to let something you love free. Although part of a series, each title of the series is a completely different set of characters, linked only by a visit to the magic shop, so it does not need to be read in any order, yet will connect kids with something to read next. Still magical after all these years, readers will relish a ride with Jeremy and his dragon and imagine flights of their own.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Naked Mole Rat Saves the World

Image result for naked mole rat saves the worldNaked Mole Rat Saves the World
Karen Rivers
Algonquin, 2019 293 pages
Grades 3-7
Realistic Fiction/Magical Realism?

Life tends to be confusing and sometimes overwhelming for kit. Her name begins with a lower case "k", because her mom claims that she looked like a small naked mole rat upon birth and was too tiny for a capital letter. Kit also suffers from a condition known as Alopecia, leaving her bald, and an agoraphobic mother with numerous fears of her own, which she shares with her offspring. After kit watches her best friend Clem get hurt on national television in an acrobatic accident, the stress causes kit to turn into a naked mole rat, who scurries around the small apartment until she has her emotions under control. After the accident Clem is not the same. She goes goth and becomes obsessed with a dead grandfather who joined Jim Jones' cult. Clem's brother Jorge feels guilty about dropping Clem and isn't quite right either. Finally, former friend Jackson has become moody and mean. Will the group every find their way back to friendship? Meanwhile, chapters in Clem's voice narrate her feelings and experiences and we see her side of the tale. A school talent show, a rescue dog, and a local robber bring the kids back together and apologies are made, hurts are forgiven and relationships are mended.

This is an interesting book. The cover makes it appear to be frothy and funny, but, although there are humorous moments, this is a deceptively deep book. All of the characters suffer from troubles and poor kit could really use some help. Her mother is clearly mentally ill and though she tries to "keep it together", she is often unsuccessful to the point of sharing her neurosis with her daughter and putting her in dangerous situations. Kit is one of those kids who is put in the unfortunate position of being the grown-up and taking care of her parent, instead of the other way around. It is hard to tell if kit really is morphing into a naked mole rat or if this is a coping mechanism that is her brain's way of trying to get control of certain scary situations. It was never made clear to me if the transformation was really happening (no one else witnesses it), so therefore I am not truly positive that there is magic at work. All of the characters are interesting and developed. Their friendship finds resolution a bit too quickly and easily at the end of the story, yet readers will be satisfied at the happy and hopeful ending. For some reason it took me a long time to get through this book and I'm not quite sure why. Kids who enjoy unusual and quirky books will be best served by this title.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Not If I Can Help It

Not If I Can Help It
Carolyn Mackler
Scholastic, 2019 240 pages
Grades 3-5
Realistic Fiction

Willa has lived her life with Sensory Processing Disorder and now in fifth grade is finally getting it under control. Life in her New York City apartment is predictable, as are weekends upstate with Mom and her stepfather. This is threatened as changes rock her world and shatter her control. First Dad starts to date her best friend Ruby's mother. Next middle school is looming and Willa will have to adjust to a whole new environment. Finally, her long-time babysitter is moving and Dad's relationship is leveling up. Willa may lose her room, which is her safe space. Through an understanding occupational therapist, a supportive family, and her friendship with Ruby Willa begins to weather the changes and regain some comfort and security. The promise of a dog of her own keeps Willa moving forward, until something happens to put a hold on her dream. Will this be the final straw for Willa? As the school year draws to a close and elementary school graduation arrives at long last, Willa learns what really is important and that sometimes, even with her differences, she can compromise and make accommodations for those she loves.

Teen author, Carolyn Mackler, turns to middle grade in this new book about a rarely discussed condition. Kids will be instantly drawn to this book with a giant gummy bear on the cover. It will appeal to both genders and is targeted to the Wonder audience. It is the first book for young people that I have read about Sensory Processing Disorder and it helped me to understand what life is like for these affected kids by spending some time in Willa's shoes. Although Willa may act unexpectedly and certain things bother her that typical sensory folks wouldn't notice, she is a terrific friend and has similar hopes and fears as everyone else. Ruby turns out to have her own troubles, demonstrating to readers that everyone is burdened with something and we all have to be understanding of others and kind to ourselves. The adjustment to a blended family will resonate with a lot of young readers, as will the frustration of important decisions not being the hands of kids who must live with the consequences. Willa has an amazingly supportive family without even one tricky adult, which seems a bit unrealistic to me, yet will make readers feel secure. She is learning to navigate her world and relationships and shows much growth as the novel progresses. Readers who aren't quite ready for A Mango Shaped Space will enjoy this story about a non-traditional thinker and fellow animal lover.