Book Reviews, Lists, Discussions, and Displays

Tag: Middle-grade fiction (Page 1 of 3)

Book Review: How To Become A Planet

How to Become A Planet – Nicole Melleby – Algonquin Young Readers –  Published 25 May 2021

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Synopsis

For Pluto, summer has always started with a trip to the planetarium. It’s the launch to her favorite season, which also includes visits to the boardwalk arcade, working in her mom’s pizzeria, and her best friend Meredith’s birthday party. But this summer, none of that feels possible.

A month before the end of the school year, Pluto’s frightened mom broke down Pluto’s bedroom door. What came next were doctor’s appointments, a diagnosis of depression, and a big black hole that still sits on Pluto’s chest, making it too hard to do anything.

Pluto can’t explain to her mom why she can’t do the things she used to love. And it isn’t until Pluto’s dad threatens to make her move with him to the city—where he believes his money, in particular, could help—that Pluto becomes desperate enough to do whatever it takes to be the old Pluto again.

She develops a plan and a checklist: If she takes her medication, if she goes to the planetarium with her mom for her birthday, if she successfully finishes her summer school work with her tutor, if she goes to Meredith’s birthday party . . . if she does all the things that “normal” Pluto would do, she can stay with her mom in Jersey. But it takes a new therapist, a new tutor, and a new (and cute) friend with a checklist and plan of her own for Pluto to learn that there is no old and new Pluto. There’s just her.

My thoughts

How To Become A Planet is a novel about anxiety and depression, friendship and gender identity exploration for upper middle graders. Perfect for students just transitioning into high school and confronted with new levels of expectations, new hormones and feelings, and dealing with mental health and complicated feelings from family breakdown and changes in friendship groups.

Pluto has depression and anxiety and at the moment that’s all she really knows about herself. She struggles to get out of bed, and certainly doesn’t want to spend her summer break at her mother’s pizzeria and with a tutor so she can go to eighth grade next year. When Pluto unexpectedly makes a new friend, they each make a list of things they want to do this summer. Pluto’s list is all about returning to the girl she was before her diagnosis. For Fallon, her list is about telling her mother how she feels about having long hair and wearing dresses.

Pluto starts to develop romantic feelings for Fallon – funny feelings in her tummy and wanting to touch Fallon’s face. No labels are applied, but Pluto is supported by and identifies with her tutor who is in a homosexual relationship. Again, no labels are applied to Fallon’s desire to cut her hair short, and wear her brothers’ clothes, but these discussions and feelings are a major part of the book, giving readers something to identify with and relate to without applying labels.

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Book Review: Talking To Alaska

Talking To Alaska – Anna Woltz, Translated by Laura Watkinson – Oneworld Publications – Published 2 March 2021

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Synopsis

It only takes one day at their new school for Parker and Sven to become mortal enemies. Parker’s had a terrible summer and just wants to be invisible, while Sven is desperate to make an impression and be known as anything other than “that boy with epilepsy.”

When Parker discovers her beloved dog Alaska – who she had to give away last year – now belongs to Sven, she’s determined to steal Alaska back. Of course, that’s easier said than done…

My thoughts

I know first hand just how special Golden Retrievers are so I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful story about two young people brought together by a very special dog

Day one of the new school year. For Parker and Sven, this is a massive first day and both have plans to make a positive impact on their classmates. Parker plans to stay stay under the radar and Sven wants to make a big impression, but, within just the first few hours both have made a slightly different impact than they were imagining. Parker is upset with Sven for making her introduction a big deal and for making fun of her and Sven is upset that everyone already knows him as “the boy with epilepsy.” When Parker learns that her beloved dog Alaska, who she has to give away last year, now belongs to a Sven, she declares war and decides to return Alaska to her rightful home.

Talking To Alaska is such an important middle grade novel. It talks about things that so many young people face – starting at new schools, the transition to middle school, making friends, and dealing with unkind comments from others. It also addresses other important topics that is so refreshing to see in middle grade fiction, including recovering from trauma and invisible disabilities.

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Book Review: Enola Holmes The Case of the Missing Marquess

Enola Holmes: The Case of the Missing Marquess – Enola Holmes #1 – Nancy Springer – Philomel Books – Published 2006

 

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Synopsis

When Enola Holmes, sister to the detective Sherlock Holmes, discovers her mother has disappeared, she quickly embarks on a journey to London in search of her. But nothing can prepare her for what awaits. Because when she arrives, she finds herself involved in the kidnapping of a young marquess, fleeing murderous villains, and trying to elude her shrewd older brothers–all while attempting to piece together clues to her mother’s strange disappearance. Amid all the mayhem, will Enola be able to decode the necessary clues and find her mother?

My thoughts

With the announcement of the Enola Holmes movie, we decided to read the first book in the Enola Holmes series, The Case of the Missing Marquess in our Year 6 book club. Unsurprisingly, the book is much better than the movie (even considering Henry Cavill – sorry Henry). The book is full of fun disguises and clever ways that Enola learns to consider her environment, to move around undetected and to start living on her own terms.

When Enola’s mother disappears and doesn’t return, Enola is forced to inform her two older brothers – Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes. Surprised at the state of the estate and Enola herself, Mycroft decides that Enola will be sent to boarding school. Enola has other ideas and escapes, heading to London to search for her mother. But along the way, she is intrigued by the case of another “missing” person and she decides to investigate.

Despite being written in this century, the writing has an old-style feeling, and draws heavily on period language. This was a great discussion point for out book club. The book also draws attention to many of the inequities of the time.

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Book Review: The List of Things That Will Not Change

The List of Things That Will Not Change – Rebecca Stead – Wendy Lamb Books – Published 7 April 2020

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Synopsis

After her parents’ divorce, Bea’s life became different in many ways. But she can always look back at the list she keeps in her green notebook to remember the things that will stay the same. The first and most important: Mom and Dad will always love Bea, and each other.

When Dad tells Bea that he and his boyfriend, Jesse, are getting married, Bea is thrilled. Bea loves Jesse, and when he and Dad get married, she’ll finally (finally!) have what she’s always wanted–a sister. Even though she’s never met Jesse’s daughter, Sonia, Bea is sure that they’ll be “just like sisters anywhere.”

As the wedding day approaches, Bea will learn that making a new family brings questions, surprises, and joy

My thoughts

List of Things That Will Not Change is a beautiful uplifting novel about acceptance and family of all shapes and sizes. Perfect for those looking for a middle-grade novel about LGBT families, step-siblings, divorce, making mistakes and growing up.

Bea keeps a notebook that contains the List of Things That Will Not Change. Ever since her parents’ divorce she knows that some things are now different and some things will stay the same. When her Dad announces his engagement to his boyfriend, Jesse, Bea couldn’t be happier. But the best news of all is that she will be getting a sister. Meeting Sonia, Jesse’s daughter, is exciting for Bea, but Sonia has a lot of changes in her life and she isn’t exactly sure how she feels about those changes. Bea is sure she can help, but Bea is hiding her own secrets.

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Book Review: A Whale of the Wild

A Whale of the Wild – Rosanne Parry – Illustrated by Lindsay Moore – Greenwillow Books – Published 1 September 2020

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Synopsis

For Vega and her family, salmon is life. And Vega is learning to be a salmon finder, preparing for the day when she will be her family’s matriarch. But then she and her brother Deneb are separated from their pod when a devastating earthquake and tsunami render the seascape unrecognizable. Vega must use every skill she has to lead her brother back to their family. The young orcas face a shark attack, hunger, the deep ocean, and polluted waters on their journey. Will Vega become the leader she’s destined to be?

My thoughts

If you follow my blog or reviews you’ll notice that I cannot resist books about orcas. I love these amazing creatures. I hate their captivity. I have read about orcas from the perspective of scientists. I have read about orcas from the point of view of people who have worked with them in captivity. I have read about orcas from the work of researchers and historians, indigenous perspectives, artists and more. I have never read about orcas from the perspective of orcas themselves. Until now.

Vega is an orca, descendent of the wayfinding grandmother orca of her family. Vega knows that someday it will be her job to lead her family, to find food and follow the patterns and stories that have guided her family for many generations. But she doubts her right to lead, especially when decisions she makes puts her family or danger, or no matter how far they hunt, food is scarce. When she and her brother Deneb are separated from their family, Vega must do everything to protect him and find their way back to their family.

I give full credit to Rosanne Parry. She has done a fantastic job of not only researching orcas, but capturing their heart and soul. While we mere humans will never know the wonders of the orca mind and heart, I think, from what we know of orcas, Parry has expressed their love of family, their matriarchal society, the hurt, pain and grief from loss of family and food sources, their sense of fun and adventure and their amazing intelligence, especially emotional intelligence.

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Book Review: Catch A Falling Star

Catch A Falling Star – Meg McKinlay – Walker Books Australia – Published 1 March 2019

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Synopsis

It’s 1979 and the sky is falling. Skylab, that is. Somewhere high above Frankie Avery, one of the world’s first space stations is tumbling to Earth. And rushing back with it are old memories. Things 12 year old Frankie thought she had forgotten. Things her mum won’t talk about, and which her little brother Newt never knew. Only … did he? Because as Skylab circles closer, Newt starts acting strangely. And while the world watches the sky, Frankie keeps her own eyes on Newt. Because if anyone’s going to keep him safe, it’s her. But maybe this is something bigger than splinters and spiders and sleepwalking. Maybe a space station isn’t the only thing heading for calamity.

My thoughts

Catch A Falling Star is a beautiful middle-grade novel about family, grief and growing up. Authentic Australian setting, a compelling mix of historic events and astrology, and characters who are easy to love.

Now, don’t hurt me, but do I put this under historical fiction? It is set in Australia in 1979. While the author takes some liberties with timing and of course a fictional family and characters, the story is based around the true events of the falling of Skylab. An open timeline of when exactly it was going to fall left the world guessing about when and where it would come down. Media went crazy, people were worried about being hit and this is all brought into the story.

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Book Review: The Dog Runner

The Dog Runner – Bren MacDibble – Allen and Unwin Children’s – Published 4 February 2019

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Synopsis

Ella and her brother Emery are alone in a city that’s starving to death. If they are going to survive, they must get away, upcountry, to find Emery’s mum. But how can two kids travel such big distances across a dry, barren, and dangerous landscape? Well, when you’ve got five big doggos and a dry-land dogsled, the answer is you go mushing. But when Emery is injured, Ella must find a way to navigate them through rough terrain, and even rougher encounters with desperate people…

My thoughts

What a superb, beautifully written book. Thought-provoking and action filled, The Dog Runner is an Australian, middle grade novel that is dystopian fiction at its finest. This will be sure to please teen readers and make for a fantastic class novel.

I loved every page of this book. I was a little worried about the dogs. As a dog lover, I don’t usually read books about dogs – I can’t handle any injuries or death. I am very happy to say (any maybe it’s a spoiler, but I think it’s important to share) that aside from a small injury none of the dogs are harmed or die. This book has a dog-happy ending. Can’t say the same for some kangaroos, snakes, possums or other small creatures. For those who don’t like hunting or animal deaths, there are quite a few descriptions of killing and preparing animals for food. It’s done with care, but with details.

MacDibble presents a society and world in which grass crops have all failed and animal farming has been destroyed. People in the cities and suburbs are fighting for food, waiting for deliveries from the government that aren’t coming. People are looting and rioting and gangs are roaming.

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Book Review: The January Stars

The January Stars – Kate Constable – Allen & Unwin – Published 31 March 2020

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Synopsis

When twelve-year old Clancy and her fourteen-year-old sister, Tash, visit their Pa at his aged-care facility, they have no idea that the three of them will soon set out on an intrepid adventure.

Along the way there are many challenges for Tash and Clancy to overcome and in the process, they discover their own resourcefulness and resilience and demonstrate their heartfelt love for their grandfather.

My thoughts

A delightful Australian middle-grade fiction, The January Stars combines a heist (sort of) with a magical (maybe?) journey across Melbourne, that results in a extraordinary story about family, listening and the stars.

When 12-year-old Clancy’s parents leave on an emergency family trip to New Zealand, she and her older sister Tash convince their parents they will be fine to stay with their aunt. But when their aunt also leaves on a trip, the girls find themselves alone. They decide to visit their grandfather in his aged-care facility and thanks to a slight incident with a cat, an open door, runaway residents and an angry nurse, the girls find themselves on the run with their Pa. The girls must pool their resources and shelve their constant fighting if they are going to outrun the growing amount of adults that seem to be chasing them, including an irate real estate agent and the police.

I was totally hooked by the idea of a story in which two young girls steal their grandfather from a nursing home. It was utterly delightful from start to finish. Clancy and Tash manage to accidentally break their Pa out and he couldn’t be happier. After suffering a stroke, Godfrey can’t speak much and relies on a wheelchair to get around but he is plenty able to communicate his happiness to run away with the girls. They start by visiting their old family home and venture from there as various adults challenge them.

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Book Review: Brave Like That

Brave Like That – Lindsey Stoddard – HarperCollins – Published June 2 2020

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Synopsis

Cyrus Olson’s dad is a hero—Northfield’s former football star and now one of their finest firefighters. Everyone expects Cyrus to follow in his dad’s record-breaking footsteps, and he wishes they were right—except he’s never been brave like that. But this year, with the help of a stray dog, a few new friends, a little bit of rhythm, and a lot of nerve, he may just discover that actually…he is.

Lauded as “remarkable” by the New York Times Book Review, Lindsey Stoddard’s heartfelt stories continue to garner critical acclaim, and her latest novel will have fans new and old rooting for Cyrus and Parker’s special bond and the courage it helps them both to find.

My thoughts

Brave Like That is the same kind of feel-good, heartwarming, uplifting book as Wonder. Brave Like That is utterly delightful to read and I can’t wait to share this with our middle-grade readers.

Cyrus knows very well the story of the night he was found on the steps of the firehouse. He knows how his father had every intention of finding him a new home but decided to keep him. Cyrus has grown up in that firehouse, just as much a part of the fire crew as his dad and the other firefighters. When he discovers a dog, which he names Parker, on the steps of the firehouse, on the eve of his own discovery, he knows that dog belongs with him. He just doesn’t know how to convince his dad, nor how to tell him that he doesn’t actually like football and he would never be brave enough to actually be a fireman. With football season just starting, a new student in school who is being bullied, changes in his friendship group, and the ultimate desire to fight for Parker, Cyrus will have to discover if he can be the kind of brave that stands up for what is right.

I adored everything about this book. It is so easy to read, the story just unfolds and I didn’t want to put it down. There are so many important messages in this book and while they are pretty clearly outlined by Cyrus, the book doesn’t feel self-righteous. Cyrus learns a lot in the book and I was cheering him on every step of the way.

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Book Review: A Galaxy of Sea Stars

A Galaxy of Sea Stars – Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo – Farrar, Straus and Giroux – Published 4 February 2020

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Synopsis

At a time when everything in her small town of Seaside, Rhode Island, seems like it’s changing, eleven-year-old Izzy Vitale wants things to stay the same. She wants her dad to start acting like he did before he was deployed to Afghanistan, she wants her mom to move back to the marina where they live, but most of all, she wants best friends – Piper and Zelda (dubbed the Sea Star Posse by their kindergarten teacher) – to stay best friends as they begin sixth grade at the regional middle school.

Then, Izzy’s father invites his former Army interpreter from Afghanistan and his whole family – including eleven-year-old Sitara — to move into the upstairs apartment at the marina. Izzy doesn’t know what to make of Sitara with her hijab and refusal to eat cafeteria food. She does know that her constant presence has become like a rogue wave disrupting the normally easy flow of the Sea Star Posse. But as Izzy gets to know Sitara, she can’t help but admire her self-confidence and pride in her Muslim faith. Little by little, Izzy begins to realize there exists a world much larger than her safe but insulated harbor in Seaside.

When hate messages start showing up at the girls school and at the marina, Izzy and Sitara team up to discover the source of the vandalism. But what Izzy ultimately learns, will force her to make a choice: remain silent and betray Sitara or speak up for what she knows is right – even if it means losing the Sea Star Posse forever.

My thoughts

A Galaxy of Sea Stars is middle grade fiction at its finest. These young girls are just discovering their independence but with these changes come challenges to long-held friendship, discovering things you never knew, looking at life differently and learning to look past your own experiences to consider the feelings of others.

Izzy and her two best friends are the Sea Stars, best friends since they were little. With a new school to navigate and new classes, Izzy is determined to keep the group together. When Izzy’s father invites the interpreter he worked with in Afghanistan and his family to move in, Izzy is worried. Why isn’t her mother moving back home and what will the Sea Stars say about Sitara, who is Izzy’s age and isn’t scared of standing out or explaining about her beliefs?

Izzy is an authentic young teen. She is struggling to balance what she knows and feels is right with trying desperately to hold onto what is comfortable and known in her life. She is right on the cusp of growing up – sometime sounding like a mature teen and other times reverting back to more childish displays of emotion (and sadly, even as an adult I could totally relate to these meltdowns). Growing up is hard, especially when navigating changes in schools, friendship and family circumstances. It’s something so many young people face today, especially family breakdown. Izzy wants her family to go back to the way it was and doesn’t understand why her mother can’t just come home. She also struggles to come to terms with the changes she has seen in her father since he has come back from serving in Afghanistan. These two points aren’t explored in too much depth, the focus of the story remains on other things, but Izzy does come to accept her mother’s choice, she loves and accepts her fathers, and her parents work harder at explaining things to Izzy and making her more comfortable with the new living arrangements.

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