Middle Grade: New Titles from Sophie Cleverly, Chris Grabenstein, & More | June 2017 Xpress Reviews (2024)

The latest crop of middle grade reads include Sophie Cleverly's latest "Ivy and Scarlet" and Chris Grabenstein's Beach Party Surf Monkey.

Ballesteros, Adriana. Zapatos rojos de charol. illus. by Marcela Lescarboura. ISBN 9786079344467.

Schuff, Nicolás & Damián Fraticelli. Ana y el plan pegajoso. illus. by mEy! ISBN 9786079344443.

Suárez, Patricia. Lily y sus tías culebras. illus. by Silvina Amaroso. ISBN 9786079344474.

ea vol: 112p. (Colección Heroínas). Uranito. Jan. 2017. pap. $4.95.

Gr 5 Up –Fun, witty heroines and scenes straight out of fairy tales and science fiction abound in these Spanish-language books from the “Colección Heroínas.” In Zapatos rojos de charol, Gema and her family are having a difficult time; Gema’s mother is considering selling a precious family heirloom—a pair of lovely red shoes. A beautiful princess named Gina has her own ties to the shoes. With the help of her new, kind friends, Gema discovers that it is important to keep going no matter what. Ana y el plan pegajoso centers on Ana and her best friend Martina, who are wondering about the new boy in school, Mark. With the help of classmate Miligrana, Martina and Ana befriend Mark, but as they begin to visit his home and learn more about his life, they realize that Mark has a few secrets that would be right at home in a sci-fi film. In Lily y sus tías culebras, Lily lives with her two horrid aunts, who take pleasure in making others miserable. Lily finds refuge in the books her father left her and dreams of one day traveling to Africa to see the elephants. Readers discover a strong heroine who despite daily hardships continues to hope for a better future. Told in short chapters and accompanied by black-and-white illustrations, these selections are sure to have young readers laughing as well as wiping away tears. The clear voices of the spirited heroines fill the tales with emotion and positive messages. VERDICT Full of fun, unexpected story lines, these Spanish-language series entries are not to be missed.–Selenia Paz, Helen Hall Library, League City, TX

Bergeson, N.R. The Magnificent Glass Globe. 225p. Month9Books. Apr. 2017. pap. $13.99. ISBN 9781945107818.

Gr 4-7 –A fantasy story about 11-year-old Mary, who yearns to travel to the Amazon rain forest. The beginning of the story is set in present-day South Carolina, where Mary Tucker, her brother Ike, and her best friend Helen play games in the museum where Mary’s and Helen’s fathers work. When Mary stumbles upon a glass globe in the museum storehouse while trying to evade a dangerous thief, she accidentally transports herself and her companions to the Amazon rain forest. What follows is a thrilling exploration of the culture of South America and the rain forest. Mary is the only character who is developed with any depth. The trio’s adventure is fast-paced and emphasizes the importance of environmental conservation. The straightforward plot moves quickly through moments of magic, intrigue, danger, and relief, with pithy lessons about the wonder of nature and cultural respect sprinkled throughout. VERDICT An additional purchase recommended for middle graders who fancy travel and readers who appreciate a strong, independent female lead.–Sara Jurek, Children’s English Library, Stuttgart, Germany

Castle, M.E. Something Stinks in Hamlet. ISBN 9781250101594.

––––. Starcrossed in Romeo and Juliet. ISBN 9781250101624.

ea vol: illus. by Daniel Jennewein. 192p. (Fakespeare). Imprint. May 2017. Tr. $13.99.

Gr 3-6 –What do rotten tomato fights, moats filled with venomous snakes, and secret stink bombers have in common with Shakespeare? Castle’s new series transports a group of unassuming kids into different Shakespearean tales, providing intrigue, adventure, and loads of humor. In Something Stinks, Hallie, Kyle, and Kyle’s baby brother find themselves captive in a castle surrounded by a vicious stench, only to be rescued by Hamlet. Together, they plan to overthrow Hamlet’s evil uncle and end up discovering a real ghost. In Starcrossed, Becca and Sam meet Romeo Montague, whose family members are feuding with the Capulets over stolen cheese and a dough recipe, preventing either family from making pizza. Sam and Becca must create a romantic chance meeting for Romeo and Juliet and solve the case of the missing ingredients. Both titles are lighthearted and witty introductions to classic Shakespearean tales. Curious students familiar with Shakespeare’s name will be drawn to the quirky characters and absurd stories. The fast-moving plots are enhanced by simple dialogue and language, making them perfect for reluctant readers. Students will be pulled in by Jennewein’s comic-inspired illustrations. However, it is important to note that young readers will likely fail to pick up on the amusing references to, and twists on, the original works. VERDICT A unique purchase for larger collections and where educators are looking to introduce Shakespearean tales to a younger audience.–Mary-Brook J. Townsend, Episcopal Collegiate School, Little Rock, AR

Cleverly, Sophie. The Whispers in the Walls. 288p. (Scarlet and Ivy: Bk. 2). Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky. May 2017. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781492634065.

Gr 4-6 –Twin sisters Scarlet and Ivy are reunited after Scarlet is assumed dead and Ivy follows the clues left in a secret diary to find her. The siblings are on their way back to Rookwood, their detested boarding school, and soon after they return, items begin to disappear in the middle of the night. As Scarlet and Ivy investigate this mystery, they start to learn more about the dark history of their school and realize they may be in danger. The story is told from both Scarlet’s and Ivy’s points of view in alternating chapters. The narrative relies heavily on the backstory from The Lost Twin, so plan to have the previous volume before purchasing the sequel. Compared with the first title, The Whispers in the Wall falls short. With the exception of Scarlet and Ivy, characters are not well developed. The mystery of items disappearing in the middle of the night reads like a mere plot device and doesn’t feel all that high-stakes for the characters. The mystery’s twists and turns are revealed quickly, before much suspense is developed. However, there are some moments of genuine tension. The story ends with an intriguing mystery about Scarlet and Ivy’s mother that remains unsolved, paving the way for another installment. The premise of an atmospheric mystery at an English boarding school may be enough of a pull to get students interested in reading this series, despite some minor flaws in this new book. VERDICT An additional purchase for most; likely to have readers where The Lost Twin circulates well.–Celia Dillon, The Brearley School, New York

Durst, Sarah Beth. Journey Across the Hidden Islands. 352p. Clarion. Apr. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544706798.

Gr 4-6 –Twin sisters Ji-Lin and Seika have been training for two very different roles, which they will assume on their 12th birthday. Ji-Lin has trained as a protector/warrior, and Seika is preparing to be the future ruler of the land currently led by her father, the emperor. As in any good fantasy novel, there is a dragon. In this story, the dragon is a guardian of the kingdom, to whom homage must be paid on a regular basis. When the girls are reunited after a year’s time, they must embark upon a journey to pay tribute to the kingdom’s dragon guardian. The sisters run into many obstacles and conflicts along the way. The author does a skillful job of world-building early on. Vivid descriptions and spot-on dialogue help pull readers into the action. The ancillary characters are also enjoyable and move the story forward. These include key players Alejan, a winged lion, and Kirro, a boy the sisters meet along the way. Readers will enjoy figuring out whether Kirro is friend or foe. The writing is accessible, and even reluctant readers will find the characters relatable and the tale engrossing. VERDICT An additional purchase for collections in need of fantasy for tweens.–Shannan Hicks, J.S. Clark Elementary School Library, LA

GrabenstEin, Chris. Beach Party Surf Monkey. illus. by Brooke Allen. 320p. (Welcome to Wonderland: Bk. 2). Random. May 2017. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9780553536102.

Gr 4-6 –P.T. Wilkie and the crew from Home Sweet Motel return for a second adventure filled with drama, humor, and Hollywood flair. P.T. and his friend Gloria Ortega live in the Wonderland, a Florida beach motel run by P.T.’s grandfather Walt. The owner of the towering new hotel next door wants to buy the Wonderland. P.T. and Gloria hear about a movie being filmed in their neighborhood featuring two teen stars and YouTube performer Kevin the Monkey, and hoping to save the motel from the scheming hotel owner, they pitch the Wonderland as the perfect venue. Between P.T.’s plan and Gloria’s business skills, the pair seem to have a chance, but then they encounter a selfish star, trouble from the rival hotel owner’s daughter, and the monkey’s surfing antics, leading to humorous and dramatic outcomes. The high jinks are nonstop, and the characters are engaging, if lightly sketched. Frequent cartoons and illustrations add to the humor and exaggerated characterizations. Fans of Grabenstein’s other books, including several cowritten with James Patterson, will enjoy the humor, the fast-talking protagonist, and the escapades. VERDICT A quick, funny read, perfect for summer vacation.–Beth L. Meister, Milwaukee Jewish Day School, WI

Green, Shari. Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess. 240p. Pajama. May 2017. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9781772780338.

Gr 4-6 –Eleven-year-old Macy McMillan, who is deaf, is struggling with a few challenges: accepting her mother’s new marriage, moving to a new house, adjusting to a stepfather and six-year-old twin stepsisters, and completing a genealogy project. When Macy’s mother arranges for her to help elderly neighbor Iris pack up her belongings before moving to an assisted living facility, Macy is annoyed, then intrigued. While Macy sorts and packs boxes of books, Iris writes notes to answer Macy’s questions (Iris doesn’t know sign language) and bakes cookies to lift Macy’s spirits. Discovering interesting facts about Iris (for instance, her name translates to “Goddess of the Rainbow”) and her life story helps Macy realize that everyone makes mistakes, misjudges others, gets angry, feels alone at times, and ultimately changes “in ways you never imagined.” The genealogy project she dreads ultimately evolves into the story of the people who have impacted Macy’s life. The novel-in-verse structure is clever, engaging, and accessible. Macy’s deafness is skillfully woven into the story, adding depth and complexity to her characterization and relationships with others. Her first-person narrative appears in regular type, sign language is spaced in bold type, and written communication is in italics. With candor and angst, Macy shares her sorrow over an argument with her best friend, her desire to stop her mother from getting married, her determination not to like her stepfather, and her affection for aging Iris. VERDICT Macy’s coming-of-age anxieties, observations, and insights will resonate with middle grade readers. A strong purchase for public and school libraries.–Gerry Larson, formerly at Durham School of the Arts, NC

Krishnaswami, Uma. Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh. 288p. Lee & Low/Tu Bks. May 2017. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781600602610.

Gr 3-5 –All fifth grader Maria Singh can think about is playing baseball. She confronts many challenges in pursuit of this dream, from convincing her father to let her wear shorts to getting the city council to approve a baseball field for her neighborhood. Maria is part of a community of families in World War II–era California. Many of the fathers in this community emigrated from India and married Mexican American women. Maria begins to see how much the institutionalized racism and individual prejudice they face weigh on her parents. Characters are well developed, and relationships are richly complex. Even the local mean girl becomes sympathetic as Maria learns that she and her family are being discriminated against because of their German ancestry. Krishnaswami skillfully handles issues of racism and sexism in a realistic and age-appropriate way. Although the cultural setting is very well defined, sometimes the historical background information can feel wedged into the story. However, this is a minor flaw, and Maria’s realistic challenges and passion to play ball will keep young readers engaged. VERDICT This historical sports story will appeal to many elementary-aged students and provides a rich basis for a discussion of prejudice and the importance of standing up for one’s beliefs. Recommended.–Gesse Stark-Smith, Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR

Kurtz, Jane. Planet Jupiter. 288p. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780060564865.

Gr 4-6 –Jupiter has lived on the road her whole life, busking with her family as they drive in their van from town to town. But then a number of events knock Jupiter out of her orbit: the van breaks down; Jupiter’s mom decides to settle the family in Portland, OR; and a newfound adopted cousin comes to live with them. It’s all too much for Jupiter to bear, but luckily, her new cousin Edom isn’t too keen to live with them, either. Together, the girls hatch a scheme to get what they both want: home. For Edom, home is in California with her adoptive mother, who has cancer; for Jupiter, home is on the road. Naturally, the girls have a thing or two to learn about the definition of home (spoiler alert: it just might be where they are). There’s also a cast of quirky secondary characters. The story does get bogged down with all its cuteness: Dad’s cryptically clever postcards, Jupiter’s jingles and her repeated metaphors about being named after a planet, Mom’s budding romance with a family friend, just to name a few. But while the story can cross the line to Twee-ville, it manages to never loses its charm. The characters’ growth is gradual, gentle, and believable. VERDICT Readers who reach the end of the journey will likely want to follow this unconventional but supportive family and community on further adventures. A solid purchase for larger collections.–Laura Lutz, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York

Lapointe, Stéphanie. Grandfather and the Moon. tr. from French by Shelley Tanaka. illus. by Rogé. 100p. Groundwood. May 2017. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781554989614.

Gr 3 Up –In this French Canadian import, gentle and expressive drawings support delicate text that explores loss, coming-of-age, and space travel. A girl gives an elegy of sorts to her grandfather, who retreats into himself when his wife dies but is a steadfast presence in her life. The girl tries to draw him out of his shell when she randomly wins the Who Will Go to the Moon Contest and goes into space. However, she ejects herself before she reaches the moon because of space’s great emptiness (“without warning, like it had always been there just waiting for this moment, the silence came in and sat down very close to me”), and falls to Earth, where her grandfather is sleeping in his soap box–shaped car. The pencil drawings on cut paper are done in taupe, violet, brown, and gray, with mustard and red highlights, and are reminiscent of Isabelle Arsenault’s work; the few characters are rendered humorously and solemnly by turn. The unusual format is somewhat graphic novel–esque, or like a long picture book for older readers, or like an illustrated poem, similar to Dasha Tolstikova’s A Year Without Mom. Existential and cerebral, with spare text that evokes the strong bond of a grandparent/grandchild relationship and the confusing nature of being alive, this book will resonate strongly with readers open to a profound meditation on loss, family, and memory. VERDICT A gorgeous and innovative rumination on grief for collections with adventurous readers.–Lisa Nowlain, Nevada County Community Library, CA

Magnin, Joyce. Jelly Bean Summer. 272p. Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781492646723.

Gr 4-7 –The story of one girl’s search for meaning and identity during the summer of 1968. Joyce Magnin is fed up with her older sister Elaine’s bogus UFO sightings and her squealing guinea pig, Jelly Bean. Joyce’s older brother, Bud, is MIA in Vietnam, so she decides to move to the roof to get away from Elaine, Jelly Bean, and the crushing sadness in her house. From her rooftop perch, Joyce spies another rooftop dweller, Brian, who lost his brother in the war and desperately needs money for a new carburetor for his brother’s truck. Joyce sets in motion actions she can’t undo. Magnin’s semi-autobiographical novel examines grief and what it means to be a family from 11-year-old Joyce’s perspective. Readers will devour these brightly shining characters and enjoy details such as Joyce’s fearlessness, Elaine’s artistic vision, Dad’s secret project in the basem*nt, and Mom’s green thumb. A vivid historical story with heart. VERDICT The Vietnam War creates a compelling backdrop for this engaging, poignant work. Recommended for libraries that have high demand for middle grade historical fiction.–Jessica Holland, University of Kentucky, Lexington

Miller, Darcy. Roll. 224p. HarperCollins/ Harper. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062461223.

Gr 4-6 –Soon-to-be sixth grader Lauren Hall has a lot going on. His dad, a former cross-country coach, is very excited that Ren (as he likes to be called) plans on joining the school’s cross-country team in the fall, but as Ren begins training, he’s not so sure running is his thing. Ever since Ren and his family moved into his grandparents’ old house, he’s finding it harder and harder to keep in touch with his old neighbor and best friend, Aiden. And this summer, Aiden is starting to hang out with the cool kids. One morning while he’s out running, Ren sees a flock of birds acting in the strangest manner and meets a girl who just moved nearby. Her name is Sutton, and she is training a kit of Birmingham Roller Pigeons. As the summer progresses, Ren sorts through his familial and friendship issues, coming out a bit wiser in the end. VERDICT This character-driven, light coming-of-age story will appeal to fans of realistic fiction. Kids with an interest in animals will find the pigeons fascinating.–Matthew Forster, Big Words, Clarkston, MI

Tracy, Kristen. Totally Crushed. 224p. (Project [Un]Popular: Bk. 2). Delacorte. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780553510522.

Gr 5-8 –“Yearbooks last forever. They are one of the few things you will keep until the day you die.” This second installment in Tracy’s “Project (Un)Popular” series revolves around the school yearbook, a first-period class and yearlong project that (according to the narrative) will outlast unfortunate videos gone viral, unflattering selfies, and unkind comments on PopRat, the current hot social media platform. The action picks up days after the previous novel leaves off. It’s October, and already sixth graders 12-year-old Perry and her best friend, Venice, have survived a revenge prank gone wrong and a week of detention. As junior photographer for the yearbook, Perry is called on to shoot all of the faculty and student photos, and highlights of the school Halloween party. Her current life goal is to make even the “nerdiest nerd who ever tripped down our school’s hallway” look good in the yearbook. While Perry occasionally muses about accepting people for who they are and following her own path, these sentiments are drowned out by her near constant whining, judgmental comments, and utterly self-absorbed thoughts about everything and everyone around her. Perry’s teachers, parents, and older sister are supportive but only vaguely sketched characters. The “crush” mentioned in the title is one-sided until the last few pages, setting the stage for more from Perry and her crew. The highs and lows of middle school communication in the digital age are better explored in Rebecca Stead’s Goodbye, Stranger and Rachel Vail’s Well, That Was Awkward. VERDICT Purchase only where the first volume was, well, popular.–Jennifer Costa, Cambridge Public Library, MA

van de Vendel, Edward. Sam in Winter. tr. from Dutch by David Colmer. illus. by Philip Hopman. 153p. Eerdmans. Apr. 2017. Tr $13. ISBN 9780802854872.

Gr 3-6– A boy named Kix has a strong connection to a dog named Sam. Sam is an outside dog, and although he sometimes disappears for a day or two, he always comes back. He can chase away a pack of coyotes with a single bark or stop traffic simply by lying down. Sam does not like to be inside, even when it’s really cold. He came to Kix’s family because his original owner got so upset over the loss of his farm that he tried to hurt Sam. After being with Kix for a while, Sam disappears one day and is gone so long that everyone believes he is dead. However, Kix knows Sam is still alive and convinces his grandfather to go with him to look for the dog at his former owner’s farm. This is a simply written novel in the long tradition of stories about a boy and his dog. The book is based on the author’s own experiences. Though the story is set over the course of one year, the slow pacing at times makes it feel as if the narrative spans several years. There are some swear words, which makes the content more appropriate for middle school readers, despite a plot that would otherwise be suitable for elementary-aged kids. VERDICT An interesting tale about a human/dog bond, but the mature language makes the intended audience questionable.–Debbie Tanner, S D Spady Montessori Elementary, FL

Middle Grade: New Titles from Sophie Cleverly, Chris Grabenstein, & More | June 2017 Xpress Reviews (2024)
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