Middle Grade Book Review ~ Calling All Minds

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Temple Grandin book reviewLast week I had the great opportunity of hearing Temple Grandin speak at our local library. She’s an absolutely amazing individual with so many experiences that she has used to influence the world around her in positive ways. (Anyone unfamiliar with her, please check out her website. But a quick run-down: she was born in 1947, is on the autism spectrum and has gone on to revolutionize autism awareness, humane livestock handling and more.) She’s recently published a children’s book and has been touring to promote it.

I wanted to include the book review with the presentation highlights and now that I’ve finished reading it here are the takeaways.

First of all, watching/hearing her speak you get a great feel for who she really is.  She’s got a no-nonsense approach to her speaking that makes her message seem all the more genuine, and she was truly passionate about it. She reiterated the idea that we (society, parents, schools) need to do away with labels. Labels get in the way of who kids really are and what they need. People like Einstein, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs were most likely on the spectrum but because they weren’t given labels that got in their way they were each able to eventually succeed. Today kids are labeled in an effort to get them what they need but it’s often the opposite that happens. The labels become their identities and those identities are limited and handicapping.

She also talked a lot about screen time and other daily habits. Kids spend so much of their day in front of screens or being told what to do that they are missing out on opportunities to explore the world around them. They need to be given exposure to arts, technical classes, music, tools, and more so they can find out what interests them and explore how to incorporate those interests into their lives. They need to be given responsibilities, taught patience and how to work (think paper routes and dog walking.) They need to be allowed to tinker and build and experiment and fail and try again. Problem solving is becoming a lost art.

She encouraged kids who are lonely or being bullied to find groups with shared interests. She encouraged the adults to make changes one home, classroom or school at a time and then start a local movement writing and sharing what happened and what worked. I think everyone left feeling optimistic about the future and how they could help.

Her enthusiasm is infectious but if you don’t have a chance to see her in person you can watch some of her TED talks, or the fantastic HBO movie based on her life, or read her book!

The book is part memoir, part science text book, part how-to manual encouraging it’s readers (geared to an upper middle grade but really anyone can benefit) to dig in, experiment and create something. She begins talking about her own experiences, her frustrations in school, her different ways of seeing things, her supportive teachers and family members that all encouraged her to invent things that made her life a little bit easier. From there she gets into the scientific background of the subject and then the hands-on how-to for the reader to experiment for themselves.  For example, in her chapter on paper she gives you a brief history of the invention and uses of paper, the printing press, typewriters, scissors, and crayons, and biographical sketches of Gutenberg, Fibonacci, Christopher Sholes (who patented the ‘typewriting machine’) and more. She’s got diagrams and photographs of the machines and processes and instructions for making your own paper, cutting paper snowflakes, growing crystals, building a kaleidoscope and making a water bomb (essentially a paper water balloon.) And that’s just chapter one!

It’s well organized, informative, fascinating and chock-full of fabulous ideas. You could easily formulate a summer school or home school science curriculum around the book and have more than enough information to keep you busy for months! And because there’s a little something for everyone (science, history, social studies etc.) you’ll be hard pressed to find a reader who won’t enjoy it. Highly recommended!

Calling All Minds book review

Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create Like an Inventor

Written by: Temple Grandin

Number of Pages: 228

Publisher: Philomel/Penguin Random House, 2018

Age Range: 8-14

Rating: 4.5/5

 

Check out this past post for another great book about Temple Grandin.

Middle Grade Book Review ~ Bob

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

I think if you asked, most adults would confess to having imaginary friends or to knowing someone who had one. But what if those imaginary friends weren’t so much imaginary as simply forgotten? Then you might have a story something like this. Olivia has traveled to her grandmother’s house in Australia for only the second time in her life. She was five when she was first there nearly 6 years ago but she can’t seem to be able to remember anything about that visit. Until she gets to her upstairs room and opens the closet to find Bob.

Bob is a small greenish creature who looks a bit like a zombie and has been dutifully living in the closet since Livy ushered him inside six years ago and promised him she’d be right back. Now that she’s finally returned the two friends have a lot of catching up to do. Slowly things start to come back to Livy and she realizes Bob’s magic both made her forget and is now helping her to remember. But they haven’t been able to figure out just who (or what) Bob is or how to help him get back home (wherever that might be) or how to help her grandmother who is going to lose her farm because of the years long drought they’ve been experiencing. It’s not until Livy and Bob are lead to a well while searching for a neighbor boy that’s gone missing that they find all the answers.

There’s something sweetly magical about this little tale. It feels like it could be loosely based on a folktale but seems to be something original, from the minds of two award-winning authors. I’d love to know more about their process of writing this story. It’s told from both Bob’s and Livy’s points of view so perhaps each took charge of one of the characters. However it came to be its utterly charming and deserves wide readership. Check it out!

Bob book review

 

Bob

Written by: Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead

Illustrated by: Nicholas Gannon

Number of Pages: 201

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends, 2018

Age Range: 6-10

Rating: 4/5

Looking for more suggestions for books about imaginary friends? Try the brilliantly executed The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat, or Patricia Polacco’s Emma Kate.

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Middle Grade Book Review ~ Zinnia and the Bees

Summer is just around the corner which means summer reading can begin! And because you can never have too many middle grade books to read here’s a great one to get everyone started.

Zinnia Flossdrop is not having a good summer.  It all started when she was sent to detention on the last day of school for yarn bombing the school mascot with her older brother and then coming home to find that said older brother had up and left. Now her mother, Dr. Flossdrop (a dentist) has adopted a mangy dog as her latest project, refuses to discuss Adam’s disappearance, and insists Zinnia do something to make herself useful.  But she can’t. The other complication in her life is in the form of bees, a whole hive of them that have taken up residence on Zinnia’s head and it’s all she can think of. (Can you blame her?!)

Enter Birch, the nephew of Zinnia’s next-door neighbor who has come to stay for the summer and considers himself something of a naturalist. But Zinnia doesn’t want to admit she needs his help, or even speak to him at all, convinced he will betray her just like everyone else has.

Told from both Zinnia’s and the bees points of view, you get a bit of a science lesson regarding the inner workings of a hive as well as the inner workings of Zinnia’s mind. A tad unrealistic, obviously, but also a sweet little story of friendship, trusting others (and yourself) and a reminder that just like the bees we all have a part to play in making this world a bit sweeter.

Zinnia and the Bees book review

Zinnia and the Bees

Written by: Danielle Davis

Number of Pages: 232

Publisher: Capstone Young Readers, 2017

Age Range: 7-12

Rating: 3/5

What’s on your summer reading list?

Middle Grade Favorites ~ Book Reviews

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I have a great love of middle grade books. (Ok, ok, I have a great love of all books!) But seriously, middle grade books are fantastic. They make me feel super accomplished cause I can plow through them pretty quickly, but they often have great messages, heart, and depth. Here are a few I’ve particularly loved lately.

 

Mustaches for Maddie

Written by: Chad Morris and Shelly Brown

Publisher: Shadow Mountain

Number of Pages: 245

Age Range: 7-11

Rating: 3.5/5

Maddie has an overactive imagination and some trouble with the other girls in her class. As she tries to navigate the mean girl situation and figure out her feelings about boys, things get even more complicated when she learns she has a brain tumor and will have to go through surgery. Full of heart and humor readers will fall in love with Maddie and cheer for her success. Based on a true story.

 

Walking With Miss Millie

Written by: Tamara Bundy

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Number of Pages: 227

Age Range: 8-12

Rating: 4.5/5

This one is my favorite of the lot. Alice and her family have moved in with her Grandma who’s begun suffering from dementia. She is not happy to be there and even less happy to have to walk the next-door neighbor’s dog as penance for listening in on her conversation on the party line. Clarence is having none of it so Miss Millie is forced to go too and she and Alice strike up a multi-generational, inter-racial friendship that changes their whole town. This one had all the feels and made me want to hand it to everyone who keeps showing up on the news lobbing slurs and spouting intolerance.

 

Gertie’s Leap to Greatness

Written by: Kate Beasley

Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux

Number of Pages: 250

Age Range: 8-12

Rating: 4/5

Gertie’s mom abandoned her when she was a baby and now the home she lives in across town is for sale. Gertie is determined to become the best, most awesome fifth-grader in the universe to convince her mom to stay. But the new girl in class is going to ruin everything with her seat stealing and movie star friends. Gertie is spunky and a tad awkward, like my childhood favorite Ramona Quimby. She deals with some tough stuff in a realistic and charming way. Another favorite.

Here are a few more pretty recent releases worth tracking down:

Heartwood Hotel: A True Home

Nightmares!

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls

Wishtree

The Van Gogh Deception

And if you aren’t already following me on Instagram, hop on over and check out the two other MG reads I’ve shared today.

What have you been reading recently? Tell me in the comments below!

Middle Grade Book Review ~ Just Sayin’

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

I love me a good epistolary novel. (For anyone unfamiliar with that term, it’s a book written in the form of letters, diary entries or the modern-day version generally uses emails or even text messages.) I fell in love with the form back in 3rd or 4th grade when I spent my hard-earned money at the school book fair on a copy of Dear Mr. Henshaw (which is a little tattered but still graces my bookshelves today!)

Today’s middle grade book is a rare modern setting that actually relies on letters (our poor narrator constantly bugs her mom for a cell phone to text, can’t get on her grandma’s computer to email like she’d prefer and absolutely hates to talk on the phone.) It sounds a little contrived but it works.

Cassie is living with her grandmother while her mother goes off to ‘find herself’ and recover from a broken engagement. Meanwhile, Nick and Julie are forced to move from their home to a retirement community with their grandfather while helping their father heal. The kids spend the summer writing each other letters trying to piece together what happened between their parents to ruin the family they’d all hoped to have.

Cassie and Nick are the main writers but Julie, their parents, grandma, the local preacher and even a game show host each have a chance to have their say.  There’s a bit of Parent Trap-esque scheming involved but I really appreciated that the adults weren’t absent, just distracted. The realistic portrayals of each character’s growth and progression throughout the book was another point in its favor. It’s a great introduction to the genre and a fun, feel-good tale for middle grade readers.

Just Sayin' Book Review

 

Just Sayin’

Written by: Dandi Daley Mackall

Number of Pages: 190

Age Range: 8-12

Rating: 3.5/5

 

For fans of the genre, or those looking to explore more epistolary novels these are a few of my favorites:

Picture Books

The Quiet Place

Dear Mr. Blueberry

The Jolly Postman

Meerkat Mail

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type

Middle Grade

Dear Max

When Audrey Met Alice

Trial by Journal

Diary of A Wimpy Kid

Young Adult

Life as We Knew It

Monster

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares

Book of A Thousand Days

Code Name Verity

Adult

Dear Mr. Knightley

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

84, Charing Cross Road

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Middle Grade Book Review ~ The Nameless City

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When I was growing up there were very few, if any, graphic novels available for younger readers (or at least very few mainstream ones, I don’t think I ever encountered one on all of my trips to the library.) I remember when I was a teenager my younger brother getting into comics and manga and my mother freaking out because most of them featured very scantily clad women and lots of violence. Thankfully that has changed a lot in recent years. There are now tons of graphic novels and comic style books for all age ranges featuring gorgeous artwork, complex and funny stories. Basically anything you could want in a “regular” book.

I’ve never been able to get into the manga style animation so you probably won’t ever see one of those featured here on the blog (sorry!) But I’ve come to really appreciate the beauty and genius of a graphic novel. This one I read recently made me feel as if it were a historical fiction (I kept looking for an author’s note with additional information on the time period and such.) The author was definitely influenced by ancient China but has created an original tale with engaging characters. I can’t wait to read more!

Nameless City Book Review

The Nameless City

Written and Illustrated by: Faith Erin Hicks

Number of Pages: 240

Age Range: 8-12

Rating: 3.5/5

The Nameless City changes names each time a new conqueror takes control. The occupants of the city choose to keep their heads down and stay out of trouble as much as possible and call themselves Nameless rather than acknowledging the latest power, which never seems to last very long. Kaidu is from the Dao clan, the current occupiers of the city and Rat is a cynical, street smart native. The two meet and become reluctant friends, learning to respect each other’s ways and helping to change the fate of the nation.

There’s intrigue, perseverance, battles and bullying, friendship–pretty much anything a tween boy could ask for (or girl for that matter!) When I worked at the library I loved handing graphic novels to reluctant readers. They’re perfect with their minimal text and lots of pictures but that doesn’t make them any less valuable as books. There’s still a lot going on. Plus they’re just plain fun!

If you’re already an aficionado I’d love to hear your favorites in the comments. I definitely haven’t read them all! And if you’ve never read a graphic novel, I’ll challenge you to pick one up in the next couple of weeks. Give it a read and let me know what you think!

Happy Reading!

Picture Book Review ~ Yellow Favorites Part 3

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I have a few last lovely yellow covers to share today. One is a newer release while the other two are older favorites (one reaching as far back as my own childhood…yep, that old!)

Windows Book Review

Windows

Written by: Julia Denos

Illustrated by: E.B. Goodale

Number of Pages: 32

Age Range: 4-8

Rating: 5/5

A boy and his dog take an evening walk through their neighborhood at dusk observing all the goings on. As the sky darkens the lights come on in the windows of shops, houses, and apartment buildings giving us (and the boy) a glimpse of what is happening inside. The details in the highlighted windows encourage discovery and re-reading while the neighborhood has both urban and suburban appeal. It’s a beautifully executed reminder to slow down and look around you, to appreciate the small moments and remember that those around us are more like us than they are different.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate Book Review

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Written by: Jacqueline Kelley

Number of Pages: 344 

Age Range: 8-12

Rating: 5/5

We’re going back a few years to 2010 for this Newbery honor favorite. Eleven-year-old Calpurnia is facing the turn of the century and all that the new modern future will bring. Unfortunately she is expected to become a traditional Texas lady learning handiwork, cooking and all that goes with it. But she’d much rather spend time with her cantankerous grandfather studying bugs, digging in the mud and learning about Darwin and his groundbreaking (and controversial) theory of evolution. Callie, her family, and the whole community experience some unexpected events and go through some growing pains before they come to an understanding about what the future means for them all.

Callie is spunky and endearing and while this volume doesn’t solidify everything for Callie, there is a second installment that continues her story. I thoroughly enjoyed getting lost in both of them.

Hooper Humperdink Book ReviewHooper Humperdink….Not Him!

Written by: Theo LeSieg

Illustrated by: Charles E. Martin (It’s been reissued with new illustrations by Scott Nash (of Flat Stanley fame) as you’ll see if you click on the link above.)

Number of Pages: 48

Age Range: 5-9

Rating: 3/5

We’re going back even farther, all the way to 1976 for this early reader. Dr. Seuss wrote various volumes under another nom de plume which haven’t quite gained the same notoriety but there are a few gems among them. (This isn’t necessarily one of them, though it is a nostalgic favorite!) 🙂

The main character is having a party and inviting everyone but Hooper Humperdink. He lists everyone from A to Z (literally) and details all the fun things that will be happening. The reader can see the look of disappointment on Hooper’s face throughout the telling and when the narrator has a change of heart at the end we’re rewarded with an eager smile from both Hooper and his faithful pup. It’s a great discussion prompt for including others or feeling left out.

Well, I hope you’ve all managed to stay warm wherever you may be. And if I’ve missed any of your favorite yellow covered volumes (which I’m sure I have, there must be millions out there!) please share them in the comments below.  Happy reading!

Middle Grade Book Review ~ The Wonderling

The Wonderling Book Review

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The Wonderling

Written by: Mira Bartok

Number of Pages: 450

Age Range: 8-12

Rating: 4/5

This was such an unexpected delight! I went into it with zero expectations and was thoroughly entranced. Bartok has created a magical world reminiscent of a slightly steampunk Victorian society filled with villains and mysteries and peopled with all sorts of creatures from humans to regular animals to groundlings. Our main character, 13 (later known as Arthur and then the Wonderling) is a groundling, a hybrid creature part human and part animal (Arthur is part human and part fox.) He’s also an orphan living in The Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures, run by the evil Miss Carbuncle.

The orphans there are governed by fierce rules (no talking, no singing) and forced to work in the factory on the orphanage grounds. Life is pretty dreary until he makes friends with Trinket, a bird who has seen the outside world and begins to show Arthur how powerful hope can be. The two unknowingly start a resistance movement and embark on an adventure to find Arthur’s home outside the walls and tumble into Miss Carbuncle’s nefarious plans to abolish music forever.

I was constantly reminded of The Secret of Nimh (which I haven’t read in forever so that could be a completely unfounded comparison) and The Tale of Despereaux as I read, and there are many references to King Arthur. There’s definitely grand adventure and loads of heart in this fantastically satisfying tale. This is Bartok’s first book for young readers and I’m hoping it won’t be her last!

Middle Grade Book Review ~ Saving Marty

Saving Marty Book Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

Saving Marty

Written by: Paul Griffin

Number of Pages: 195

Age Range: 8-12

Rating: 5/5

There are books that grab you by the lapels and shake you until your soul falls back into place, particularly when you didn’t know your soul was out of place to begin with. I admit, it may have just been my mood that day but this book, my goodness!

Marty was the runt of the litter. And just like another literary runt, he’s more than just a pig. Marty doesn’t befriend a spider, but he does think he’s a dog and consequently gets his owner Lorenzo into a bit of trouble, and also out of some trouble as well.

Eleven-year-old Lorenzo wants nothing more than to be a hero like his father who died in the war. His best friend Paloma is the only thing that makes life bearable until Marty comes into his life. The three are inseparable and spend their time singing songs Paloma has written (Renzo accompanying her on his father’s guitar), trying to avoid the town bullies who have it out for Marty, and hanging out with Renzo’s grandpa.

But then Paloma wins a songwriting contest and a scholarship to an arts school in another town. Marty causes a dangerous accident and is doomed to be sent away as well. And then Renzo learns a truth about his father he doesn’t know if he’ll ever be able to process.

This book had all the feels and then some. Renzo is the best kind of underdog, perfectly lovable and heart-breakingly sweet. The story is timeless. The text is punctuated with hand-written copies of Paloma’s songs and letters to and from Renzo’s dad. If you like stories filled with honesty and hope, put this on your to read list!

 

Middle Grade Book Review ~ The Stars Beneath Our Feet

 

The Stars Beneath Our Feet Book Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

The Stars Beneath Our Feet

Written by: David Barclay Moore

Number of Pages: 294

Age Range: 10-14

Rating: 4/5

Lolly’s having a hard time dealing with his older brother Jermaine’s death.  The only thing that seems to help is building his Lego city in the bedroom they used to share. When his mother’s girlfriend brings home two large bags full of Legos from her job his city and obsession grow bigger than their apartment in the NYC projects can hold. An adviser in the after school program invites him to use a spare storage room and the city takes on a life of its own, even helping Lolly become an internet sensation practically overnight.

Meanwhile, Lolly and his best friend Vega are also on the verge of making a life-altering decision. In their neighborhood, once you reach a certain age it’s expected that you’ll join a crew or gang. They’ve each been jumped by a couple of older kids and also approached by some of Jermaine’s friends who’ve offered protection and retaliation. Lolly spends more and more time absorbed with his city while Vega takes a different approach and their friendship suffers. Things reach a critical point when Vega gets a gun from his cousin, Frito. Will he convince Lolly to confront the crew with him or will they find a way to step outside of the expected path and do something different with their lives?

One of the best things about books is their ability to show you a world unlike your own and this one definitely fits the bill. I had a hard time reading it because it broke my heart knowing that there are kids who actually have to make decisions like this every day. An author’s note explains his use of African American vernacular throughout the book and the role of language throughout cities in America. I would definitely recommend this, especially as a class read aloud. The discussions will be priceless.