Book Trailer Thursday (139)–The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

Book Trailer Thursday

First, thanks to all of you who commented last week with suggestions for Book Trailer Thursday! One of the suggestions was to feature more middle grade book trailers. Thankfully I was able to find one today!

A couple months ago I went to a local overstock store and found a copy of The Apothecary by Maile Meloy. I haven’t read it yet, but it sounds like a fun book that middle grade students would really enjoy. The trailer has elements of mystery and whimsy that I really like, too. What do you think?

The ApothecarySummary (From Goodreads):

It’s 1952 and the Scott family has just moved from Los Angeles to London. Here, fourteen-year-old Janie meets a mysterious apothecary and his son, Benjamin Burrows—a fascinating boy who’s not afraid to stand up to authority and dreams of becoming a spy. When Benjamin’s father is kidnapped, Janie and Benjamin must uncover the secrets of the apothecary’s sacred book, the Pharmacopoeia, in order to find him, all while keeping it out of the hands of their enemies—Russian spies in possession of nuclear weapons. Discovering and testing potions they never believed could exist, Janie and Benjamin embark on a dangerous race to save the apothecary and prevent impending disaster.

Audiobook Review: Doll Bones by Holly Black

Doll BonesTitle: Doll Bones

Author: Holly Black

Narrator: Nick Podehl

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster)

Release Date: May 7th, 2013

Interest: Audio narrator / #titletalk Recommendation

Source: Purchased via Audible

Summary (From Goodreads):

Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity . . .

Audio Review:

I don’t think I would have read Doll Bones if Nick Podehl wasn’t narrator; he’s one of my favorite audiobook narrators.  As usual, I enjoyed his narration and how he brought the story to life.  I will admit, however, that since I’ve listened to so many books he’s narrated I started hearing other characters instead of the ones in Doll Bones.  For instance, Zach’s dad sounds a lot like one of the dads from Swim the Fly by Don Calame.  I don’t know if there’s anything Nick Podehl can really do about that, but there it is.  Also, since this is a shorter book at 244 pages, the audio is only just over five hours long.  After finishing The Help, even though I enjoyed that immensely, it was nice to listen to a shorter audiobook.

Book Review:

Doll Bones wasn’t a book I was considering until I kept seeing it mentioned in a #titletalk chat a month or so ago.  Once I looked it up and saw that Nick Podehl narrates it I was sold.  Unfortunately, this middle grade title didn’t work for me.

I will give Holly Black some credit–she’s written a nice story of friendship and the awkward time between being a kid and moving on to being a teen.  I can see why middle grade readers will enjoy this.

Porcelain dolls creep me out, and based on what I saw on Twitter I expected this to be creepy.  It really isn’t, at least for me.  There’s so much potential for this to be scary though.  I understand that it probably shouldn’t be too scary, considering the audience, but it could have used a little more suspense.  I was hoping for something creepy like Coraline.  Now that is a spooky book, especially the graphic novel.  Doll Bones?  Not so much.  There are a few paranormal-type scenes, but they didn’t go far enough.  If they had, I probably would have enjoyed this that much more.

The pacing is off as well.  For being a shorter book, it felt long at times.  There are scenes with lots of discussion and not enough action, especially when the doll is concerned which surprised me. I would have expected those scenes to move at a faster, more suspenseful pace.  I found myself more interested in the game storyline Zach, Poppy, and Alice created than the actual story Holly Black wrote.

Now this has nothing to do with Holly Black and her writing, but I have to mention the cover.  If you don’t already know this, and I didn’t before reading the book, Doll Bones is narrated by Zach.  I never would have guessed that a book called Doll Bones with a doll on the cover was narrated by a twelve-year-old boy.  I know readers should look past covers and guy books vs. girl books, but I really can’t see a middle grade boy picking this up off the shelf and thinking “This is a book for me.”  Yet I think plenty of boys like Zach would like this book.  I’m sure there are lots of boys who want to play with their “figures” and get harassed by parents about growing up and moving on.  I’m also confident that plenty of boys are teetering between playing with “figures” and moving on to more “grown up” activities.  Reading Zach’s story might help them navigate those awkward waters better.  Unfortunately, despite how often many of us try to get kids to look past covers, many of them can’t get past it.  I hope I’m not right, but I think the cover of Doll Bones will turn away more boys than it will draw in.

Book Trailer Thursday (116)–Giants Beware! by Jorge Aguirre

I love graphic novels, and when I saw my friend Beth @ A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust pin this book trailer on Pinterest, I knew I had to read it.  This trailer is so much fun, so I can only imagine how much fun the actual book is.

Giants Beware! is written by Jorge Aguirre and illustrated by Rafael Rosado.  It released on April 10th, 2012.

Giants Beware!Summary (From Goodreads):

Make way for Claudette the giant slayer in this delightful, fantastical adventure!

Claudette’s fondest wish is to slay a giant. But her village is so safe and quiet! What’s a future giant slayer to do?

With her best friend Marie (an aspiring princess), and her brother Gaston (a pastry-chef-to-be), Claudette embarks on a super-secret quest to find a giant—without parental permission. Can they find and defeat the giant before their parents find them and drag them back home?

Giants Beware! offers up a wondrous, self-contained world in the tradition of the very best of Pixar. Claudette and her friends will have you laughing out loud from page one.

Review: One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

One for the MurphysTitle: One for the Murphys

Author: Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Release Date: May 10th, 2012

Interest: Middle grade / Contemporary / Debut author

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

Twelve-year-old Carley Connors can take a lot. Growing up in Las Vegas with her fun-loving mother, she’s learned to be tough. But she never expected a betrayal that would land her in a foster care. When she’s placed with the Murphys, a lively family with three boys, she’s blindsided. Do happy families really exist? Carley knows she could never belong in their world, so she keeps her distance.

It’s easy to stay suspicious of Daniel, the brother who is almost her age and is resentful she’s there. But Mrs. Murphy makes her feel heard and seen for the first time, and the two younger boys seem determinded to work their way into her heart. Before she knows it, Carley is protected the boys from a neighbourhood bullly and even teaching Daniel how to play basketball. Then just when she’s feeling like she could truly be one of the Murphys, news from her mother shakes her world.

I can’t find the right words to review this.  One for the Murphys is a fairly short book containing 224 pages, but it made me feel SO MUCH within those pages.  Lynda Mullaly Hunt has written a stellar debut.

One of the many things I like about One for the Murphys is that although it’s middle grade, I know many of my high school students will enjoy this.  Actually, I’d love to read this aloud to them even though I know I wouldn’t be able to do it without crying.  Carley has a mature voice despite being twelve; she’s experienced more trauma and turbulence in her short life than most adults do.  She’s rough around the edges, whip smart, and has more potential than she’s aware of.  Middle school and high school students alike will be able to connect to Carley.

I can’t write this review without bringing up Mrs. Murphy.  She’s patient, kind, and has a heart of gold.  She’s the kind of mom and woman my mom is.  The way Mrs. Murphy loves and cares for and understands Carley made me think of my mom because I know my mom would be the same way.  I wish more parents, whether they’re biological or not, would be written so strongly in young adult and middle grade novels more often.

My one critique about Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s debut is that some parts of timeline and story jump quickly.  I never really had a sense of how much time had pass, despite Carley marking off the number of days she’s been with the Murphys.  After one incident, which came out of no where, it was apparently the day before Easter.  And then it was Mother’s Day.  Little details like that caught me off guard when I was reading.  They were convenient to the movement of the plot and the character development, but they would have served the story better with a little more editing.

Quite a few of my friends have already read this, so if you’re one of the apparent few who haven’t, I hope you read One for the Murphys soon.  Carley and the Murphys are going to stay with me for a long time.  I took my friends’ advice when I read this, and I hope you’ll take this same advice: make sure you have a box of tissues handy while reading.

Book Trailer Thursday (99)–Middle Grade Titles

Sometimes I get the feeling that a lot of middle school teachers/librarians follow my blog.  One of these days I should set up a poll to see how many of my readers teach or work with elementary, middle, and high school students.

I decided to feature some middle grade title book trailers.  They’re for “older” titles, but I hope you enjoy them anyway :)

Juniper BerrySummary for Juniper Berry (From Goodreads): Juniper’s parents have not been themselves lately. In fact, they have been cold, disinterested and cruel. And lonely Juniper Berry, and her equally beset friend, Giles, are determined to figure out why.

On a cold and rainy night Juniper follows her parents as they sneak out of the house and enter the woods. What she discovers is an underworld filled with contradictions: one that is terrifying and enticing, lorded over by a creature both sinister and seductive, who can sell you all the world’s secrets in a simple red balloon. For the first time, Juniper and Giles have a choice to make. And it will be up to them to confront their own fears in order to save the ones who couldn’t.

M.P. Kozlowsky’s debut novel is a modern-day fairy tale of terror, temptation, and ways in which it is our choices that make us who we are.

The Strange Case of Origami YodaSummary for The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (From Goodreads): IT TAKES THE WISDOM OF YODA TO SURVIVED THE SIXTH GRADE

Meet Dwight, a sixth-grade oddball. Dwight does a lot of weird things, like wearing the same T-shirt for a month or telling people to call him “Captain Dwight.” This is embarrassing, particularly for Tommy, who sits with him at lunch every day.

But Dwight does one cool thing. He makes origami. One day he makes an origami finger puppet of Yoda. And that’s when things get mysterious. Origami Yoda can predict the future and suggest the best way to deal with a tricky situation. His advice actually works, and soon most of the sixth grade is lining up with questions.

Tommy wants to know how Origami Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. Is Yoda tapping into the Force? It’s crucial that Tommy figure out the mystery before he takes Yoda’s advice about something VERY IMPORTANT that has to do with a girl.

This is Tommy’s case file of his investigation into “The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.”

The False PrinceSummary for The False Prince (From Goodreads): THE FALSE PRINCE is the thrilling first book in a brand-new trilogy filled with danger and deceit and hidden identities that will have readers rushing breathlessly to the end.

In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point — he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.

As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.

An extraordinary adventure filled with danger and action, lies and deadly truths that will have readers clinging to the edge of their seats.

Flash Reviews (17)

Title: I Am the Messenger

Author: Markus Zusak

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): Meet Ed Kennedy—underage cabdriver, pathetic cardplayer, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger. . . .

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary), until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

Winner of the 2003 Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award in Australia, I Am the Messenger is a cryptic journey filled with laughter, fists, and love.

Flash Review: I’ve been wanting to read I Am the Messenger for a while, but it hasn’t made it very far in my TBR pile until I assigned my Sophomore Seminar students to read Printz novels over the summer.  I know a couple of them chose it for their summer reading, and I’m sure a few others did as well, so I felt a little more obligated to read it this summer.  I’m glad I did.  I couldn’t finish Markus Zusak’s other book, The Book Thief, so I was wary when I started this one.  The writing style and language took some time to adjust to, especially the Australian slang and terms.  Once I got into the flow of the book I didn’t want to put it down.  I really like Ed.  He’s completely ordinary and really doesn’t have anything going for him.  I was almost surprised he accepted the challenge of the cards, but he does and it’s wonderful to watch.  The more Ed focuses on the cards and his missions, the more dynamic he becomes.  It’s no surprise to me that I Am the Messenger was a Printz finalist; it’s a wonderful, beautiful book.

Title: The One and Only Ivan

Author: Katherine Applegate

Source: Borrowed from the library

Summary (From Goodreads): Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

Flash Review: Have some tissues handy when you read The One and Only Ivan because it will most likely make you cry.  I did.  I love that Katherine Applegate from this story from Ivan’s point of view; I don’t think it could have been written any other way.  My heart was breaking within the first pages of this book.  Ivan hasn’t been around any other apes since he was taken away as a baby.  His narrative of this made me teary.  He’s not what the humans who come to see him think he is; he’s a gentle soul.  Ivan’s an artist.  Every time he described his drawings I thought about apes in the zoo and wondered if they think in a similar way.  I know that Applegate wrote this and gave Ivan human-like thoughts for the sake of the story, but it still makes me wonder.  I’ve never liked the circus and after reading this I think it’s safe to say that I’ll never go to one again.  Ivan’s cage/domain/life is tragic and sad, but there’s hope woven into the story.  Ivan, the other animals, and the reader may not always feel it, but it’s there on every page.  The One and Only Ivan is a feel-good book that I hope you’ll read.  I’m really considering reading this to my sophomores and hoping they’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

 

As always, thank you for the Flash Reviews idea, GreenBeanTeenQueen!

Book Trailer Thursday (79)–Unwholly by Neal Shusterman & The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Unwholly by Neal Shusterman is the much anticipated sequel to the very awesome sci-fi/dystopian novel Unwind.  It just released this week and I CAN’T WAIT to read it (I haven’t bought my copy yet).  Almost every reader I know who’s read Katherine Applegate’s book The One and Only Ivan has raved about it and sang its praises.  After watching the trailer I want to read it even more than I already did.

The trailers for both books really grabbed me.  I hope my students feel the same way when they watch them!  What do you think?  Did they elicit any kind of response from you?

Summary of Unwholly (From Goodreads):

It’s finally here. The long-awaited sequel to the bestselling Unwind, which Publishers Weekly called a “gripping, brilliantly imagined futuristic thriller.”

Thanks to Connor, Lev, and Risa—and their high-profile revolt at Happy Jack Harvest Camp—people can no longer turn a blind eye to unwinding. Ridding society of troublesome teens while simltaneously providing much-needed tissues for transplant might be convenient, but its morality has finally been brought into question. However, unwinding has become big business, and there are powerful political and corporate interests that want to see it not only continue, but also expand to the unwinding of prisoners and the impoverished.

Cam is a product of unwinding; made entirely out of the parts of other unwinds, he is a teen who does not technically exist. A futuristic Frankenstein, Cam struggles with a search for identity and meaning and wonders if a rewound being can have a soul. And when the actions of a sadistic bounty hunter cause Cam’s fate to become inextricably bound with the fates of Connor, Risa, and Lev, he’ll have to question humanity itself.

Rife with action and suspense, this riveting companion to the perennially popular Unwind challenges assumptions about where life begins and ends—and what it means to live.

Summary of The One and Only Ivan (Goodreads):

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

Review: Audition & Subtraction by Amy Fellner Dominy

Title: Audition & Subtraction

Author: Amy Fellner Dominy

Publisher: Walker & Company

Release Date: September 4th, 2012

Interest: Author / Contemporary

Source: ARC received as a gift from a friend

Summary (From Goodreads):

For as long as Tatum can remember it’s been:

Tatum + Lori = Best friends

They do everything together, including a yearly clarinet/flute duet for District Honor Band auditions. But when a new boy transfers to their middle school and their band, the equation suddenly changes to:

Lori + Michael – Tatum = One happy couple

With her best friend slipping away and her parents recently separated, Tatum’s life has turned upside down. Plus her good friend Aaron thinks that they are secretly boyfriend and girlfriend, all because of one little lie Tatum told. Accepting change isn’t easy for Tatum, but just how much is she willing to give up to hold on to her friendship with Lori and life as she knows it? For Tatum, the best way to move forward may require a whole new formula . . .

Audition & Subtraction is positively adorable.  Plain and simple.  I read and adored Amy Fellner Dominy’s debut, OyMG, so I knew I wanted to read her sophomore release.  As expected, I loved it!

Audition & Subtraction will probably be categorized by most as middle grade since Tatum is in 8th grade, but I think high school students will enjoy it as well.  It is a perfect middle grade novel though.  The romance is light and sweet, and the conflicts Tatum faces are accurate for middle school and high school as well.  I really like how divorce is handled in the story.  It doesn’t overshadow the main conflict, but it does add an extra element of stress to Tatum’s life which affects her thoughts and actions.  I’ve also noticed that a number of YA novels feature absent parents or parents who are the main cause of conflict in the story.  That’s an understandable focus for YA, but it’s a breath of fresh air to read a story where the parents are really supportive.  I especially love Tatum’s mom; she’s struggling to be on her own, but she’s there for Tatum with support and great advice.

Has anyone noticed that whenever school bands are the focus, the kids are always band geeks?  I really like that Amy Fellner Dominy wrote this story without making the kids geeky.  I wasn’t in band after middle school, so I’m not overly biased about the band geek label, but it is nice to see someone stray from that stereotype.  Tatum and her friends are bright and talented.  They make some mistakes, as we all do, but they’re characters that teens and pre-teens can look up to.

I related to Tatum and how conflicted she was about what was happening to her friendship with Lori.  I remember feeling similar to Tatum when I was her age and one of my friends got a boyfriend.  It’s awkward when that happens because it’s so unfamiliar and middle school is awkward enough as it is.  Tatum’s circumstance is worse since Lori falls for Michael, Tatum’s big competition.  The strain on their friendship plays into a big conflict; Tatum needs to learn to stand on her own and not rely on others so much, especially Lori.  Dominy did a fantastic job tying these two pieces together.  The conflicts work together seamlessly, it never felt choppy or forced.  I hear about these types of fights (new boyfriends getting in the way) all the time in my classroom which is one of the reasons I think high school students will enjoy Audition & Subtraction.

Amy Fellner Dominy is a talented writer who has written a thoroughly enjoyable new novel.  I love the characters, the writing, the conflict, everything.  If you work with pre-teens or teens, make sure you get a copy of Audition & Subtraction when it releases September 4th!

Flash Reviews (16)

Title: The Demon King

Author: Cinda Williams Chima

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): Times are hard in the mountain city of Fellsmarch. Reformed thief Han Alister will do almost anything to eke out a living for for his family. The only thing of value he has is something he can’t sell – the thick silver cuffs he’s worn since birth. They’re clearly magicked – as he grows, they grow, and he’s never been able to get them off.

One day Han and his clan friend, Dancer, confront three young wizards setting fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea. Han takes an amulet from Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard, to keep him from using it against them. Soon Han learns that the amulet has an evil history – it once belonged to the Demon King, the wizard who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago. With a magical piece that powerful at stake, Han knows that the Bayars will stop at nothing to get it back.

Meanwhile, Raisa ana’Marianna, princess heir of the Fells, has her own battles to fight. She’s just returning to court after three years of freedom in the mountains – riding, hunting, and working the famous clan markets. Raisa wants to be more than an ornament in a glittering cage. She aspires to be like Hanalea – the legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world. But her mother has other plans for her – including marriage to a suitor who goes against everything the queendom stands for.

The Seven Realms tremble when the lives of Han and Raisa collide, fanning the flames of the smoldering war between clans and wizards.

Flash Review: The Demon King is one of the first high fantasies I read when I decided to read more high fantasy and I loved it!  It’s full of magic, mystery, and intrigue; it’s a page turner despite how long it is.  It’s written in third person, which isn’t always my favorite, but Cinda Williams Chima really makes it work in this series.  Just about every other chapter focuses on either Han or Raisa which I really enjoyed.  The set up made me wonder when the characters would come together and connect.  It also gave me more insight to their very different backgrounds which really adds to the world building.  I haven’t read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but based on what I know from the movies I think fans of that trilogy would like this series.  I highly recommend this series!

Title: Where Things Come Back

Author: John Corey Whaley

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): Just when seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter thinks he understands everything about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town, it all disappears. . . .

In the summer before Cullen’s senior year, a nominally-depressed birdwatcher named John Barling thinks he spots a species of woodpecker thought to be extinct since the 1940s in Lily, Arkansas. His rediscovery of the so-called Lazarus Woodpecker sparks a flurry of press and woodpecker-mania. Soon all the kids are getting woodpecker haircuts and everyone’s eating “Lazarus burgers.” But as absurd as the town’s carnival atmosphere has become, nothing is more startling than the realization that Cullen’s sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother Gabriel has suddenly and inexplicably disappeared.

While Cullen navigates his way through a summer of finding and losing love, holding his fragile family together, and muddling his way into adulthood, a young missionary in Africa, who has lost his faith, is searching for any semblance of meaning wherever he can find it. As distant as the two stories seem at the start, they are thoughtfully woven ever closer together and through masterful plotting, brought face to face in a surprising and harrowing climax.

Complex but truly extraordinary, tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, this novel finds wonder in the ordinary and emerges as ultimately hopeful. It’s about a lot more than what Cullen calls, “that damn bird.” It’s about the dream of second chances.

Flash Review: I’ve really had to think about my feelings towards Where Things Come Back since reading it a month ago.  The verdict: I simply didn’t like it.  It’s told from two points of view which seem like they don’t have much in common, but as the story progresses and comes to a close the reader makes the connection.  I understood the connection, but so much of the story before that connection muddled everything up.  There’s was too much going on which distracted from the real story.  John Corey Whaley’s writing style didn’t work for me either.  Very often Cullen would say something like, “Imagine one does such and such” and then goes off on a dream-like tangent.  It’s written in such a way that it’s hard to tell whether it’s a daydream or if any of that tangent actually happened.  I would have never chosen this for Printz consideration, let alone honor it with the Printz award.

Title: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Author: Tom Angleberger

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): In this funny, uncannily wise portrait of the dynamics of a sixth-grade class and of the greatness that sometimes comes in unlikely packages, Dwight, a loser, talks to his classmates via an origami finger puppet of Yoda. If that weren’t strange enough, the puppet is uncannily wise and prescient. Origami Yoda predicts the date of a pop quiz, guesses who stole the classroom Shakespeare bust, and saves a classmate from popularity-crushing embarrassment with some well-timed advice. Dwight’s classmate Tommy wonders how Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. With contributions from his puzzled classmates, he assembles the case file that forms this novel.

Flash Review: There are a number of struggling readers in my building, so I’ve been trying harder to read more middle grade books to see if offering those helps those students in need.  I have to admit that reading The Strange Case of Origami Yoda was a stretch for me since it’s so young in focus, but I really enjoyed it.  Reading a book that’s so entirely focused on middle school was fun and a nice change of pace.  The humor is spot on for middle school students, but I know my high school students will appreciate it as well (I did).  I also have quite a few Stars Wars fans who I’m sure will enjoy Origami Yoda and his predictions.  It’s a really cute book and the added illustrations are a nice touch.

As always, thank you for the Flash Reviews idea, GreenBeanTeenQueen!

Review: Small Medium at Large by Joanne Levy

Title: Small Medium at Large

Author: Joanne Levy

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Release Date: July 3rd, 2012

Interest: Positive Reviews / Debut Author / Middle Grade

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): After she’s hit by lightning at a wedding, twelve-year-old Lilah Bloom develops a new talent: she can hear dead people. Among them, there’s her overopinionated Bubby Dora; a prissy fashion designer; and an approval-seeking clown who livens up a séance. With Bubby Dora leading the way, these and other sweetly imperfect ghosts haunt Lilah through seventh grade, and help her face her one big fear: talking to—and possibly going to the seventh-grade dance with—her crush, Andrew Finkel.

In all honesty, I’m really picky about middle grade novels.  I don’t know if it’s just that I’m a high school English teacher and therefore more interested in young adult novels, or what, but I don’t always like middle grade novels.  I have a really difficult time connecting with them and enjoying them, so when I find one that I like I want to spread the word all over the place.  I didn’t just like Small Medium at Large by Joanne Levy, I loved it.

Small Medium at Large released this week and positive reviews have been all over Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads, so on an impulse I decided to get a copy.  It’s a short book, at only 208 pages, but it has the perfect blend of realistic situations, supernatural elements, and humor that amounts to one positively adorable and enjoyable book.  I’m not always sure what’s “okay” for middle grade readers, but I feel secure recommending Joanne Levy’s debut to 5th graders and above because it’s a clean book and the themes in the story aren’t too complex.  The characters aren’t doing anything questionable or using foul language.  There are discussions about “boobs” and kissing but that’s as far as it goes.  Considering I was reading Caroline B. Cooney books and the like in 5th grade, I think this one is okay (not that her books are bad, but there were some “big” issues in her books).

Lilah Bloom is such a cute character.  She ends up with the ability to hear ghosts after being struck by lightning and is pretty level-headed about the whole thing.  The first ghost she encounters is Bubby Dora, her grandmother who passed away four years ago.  I love her interactions with Bubby because Bubby acts as both an authority figure and a helpful friend.  The way she and Lilah spoke to each other made me think of what it would be like if I could talk again with my grandma who passed away when I was six; I think many of our interactions would be the same.  The ghosts, in general, are really amusing and bring out Lilah’s character.  Lilah is a very believable sixth grader simply trying to fit in, but now trying to do that with the ability to talk to ghosts.  She worries about boys, bras, and bullies.  Lilah also wants to help her dad get back into the dating scene; those scenes are some of the cutest.

I like that even though Small Medium at Large might be considered supernatural since Lilah is communicating with ghosts, it mostly reads as realistic fiction.  Lilah is experiencing many of the same things an average 12 year old experiences, only she has ghosts helping her out at times.  She has a close group of friends, she struggles in school sometimes, she’s dealing with a bully, and she’s crushing on a boy.

What really sets this book apart is its execution.  Joanne Levy really makes Lilah stand out and come alive on the page, along with all of the supporting characters.  There wasn’t a dull moment in the book.  Small Medium at Large is my favorite book of the summer so far, and I really hope you read it.

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