Monday, November 17, 2014

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald







Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (Dial Books for Young Readers, March 2014, for ages 9 to 13)

Source: Children's Book World, Haverford, PA, my favorite almost-local indie bookstore

Synopsis (from the publisher)When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she discovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. There’s just one problem: Theo’s grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she worries the painting may be stolen.

With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo’s search for answers takes her all around Manhattan, and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she’ll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time.

Why I recommend it: This is a smart, sophisticated mystery for older middle grade readers. I was utterly entranced by Theodora, by the marvelous New York City setting and characters, and by the mystery itself, which will keep you guessing. Give this to kids who enjoyed From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Chasing Vermeer and even When You Reach Me (although there's no time travel involved here, just a lesson from the past). 

Writers, study this fascinating debut novel to see how intricate a middle grade plot can be, while still entertaining the reader. I'm keeping this book because I know I'll read it over again.

For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations, see Shannon's blog.

Laura Marx Fitzgerald's website

Follow Laura on Twitter


Monday, November 10, 2014

Manhunt by Kate Messner




Manhunt by Kate Messner (hardcover, Scholastic, July 1, 2014, for ages 8 to 12)

Source: ARC from the publisher

Synopsis (from the publisher): Henry, Anna, and José head from Boston to Paris for their most dangerous mission yet: to solve the mystery of an international art heist! Shortly after they arrive, they learn that a member of the Silver Jaguar Society is working as a double agent, passing information to the criminal gang the Serpentine Princes — but who could it be? When the senior members of the Society go missing, it’s up to Henry, Anna, José, and their smug new comrade, Hem, to mount a rescue while staying hot on the trail of a missing masterpiece. Running around — and below — a foreign city filled with doppelgangers, decoys, and deceit, the three sleuths discover they’re the only hope for the Society’s survival!

Why I recommend it:  This well-researched and intriguing mystery is a fun and fast-paced read. While Messner's Capture the Flag focused on Anna, and Hide and Seek (which I haven't read yet) focused on José, Manhunt is Henry's story. And Henry is worried about his father and his new baby half-sister back home. Messner does an excellent job of filling in just enough detail from the first two books to bring you up to speed.

Reading this made me long to visit the City of Light again and especially to go to Shakespeare and Company, the famous bookstore. If you've never been to Paris, fear not! Reading this book is almost as exciting as being there. 

Have you read any books, set in real cities or towns, that made you want to visit those places?


Visit Kate Messner's website

Follow Kate on Twitter


Monday, November 3, 2014

The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham



The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham (HarperCollins, April 2014, for ages 8 to 12)

Source: purchased from B&N

Synopsis (from the publisher): Strange things are happening in Village Drowning, and a terrifying encounter has eleven-year-old Rye O'Chanter convinced that the monstrous, supposedly extinct Bog Noblins have returned. Now Rye's only hope is an exiled secret society so notorious its name can't be spoken aloud: the Luck Uglies. As Rye dives into Village Drowning's maze of secrets, rules, and lies, she'll discover the truth behind the village's legends of outlaws and beasts . . . and that it may take a villain to save them from the monsters.

Why I recommend it:  If you love fantasy adventures, this book has everything you're looking for: a spunky, engaging heroine, scary monsters, intriguing secrets. There are also plenty of late-night shenanigans with Rye and her two best friends. Add to that a mysterious new resident named Harmless and the odd way Rye's mother has been behaving, and you won't be able to stop reading. A sweeping, highly imaginative tale that will be the first book in a trilogy. Yay!

Paul Durham's website (Love that he writes in an abandoned chicken coop at the edge of a swamp!)

Follow Paul on Twitter


For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews, see the links on Shannon Messenger's blog.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Three Newbery winners

Recently, I've been trying to catch up on my Newbery reading. Having taken this test for fun, I was surprised to learn I'd only read 57 out of 93 of the medal winners (I've read far more of the honor books).

So I hustled down to my local second-hand book shop and bought what they had. Now my total's up to 60. Not bad, but nowhere near a perfect score. Naturally, I've read more of the recent winners, plus the ones from my childhood, but not as many from the decades before 1960. Still working on that.





Sounder by William H. Armstrong (originally published by HarperCollins in 1969; this paperback released 1972)

Newbery Medal Winner 1970

Synopsis (from HarperCollins)During the difficult years of the late nineteenth century South, an African-American boy and his poor family rarely have enough to eat. Each night, the boy's father takes their dog, Sounder, out to look for food and the man grows more desperate by the day. When food suddenly appears on the table one morning, it seems like a blessing. But the sheriff and his deputies are not far behind. The ever-loyal Sounder remains determined to help the family he loves as hard times bear down on them.

Why I recommend it: The writing has a lyrical and timeless quality, helped I'm sure by the simplicity of calling the characters "the  boy" and "his father" and "his mother". The only character with a name in the entire story is the dog, Sounder. 







Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska (hardcover published in 1964 by Atheneum; this paperback edition from Aladdin, 2007)


Newbery Medal Winner 1965


Synopsis (from Indiebound)Manolo was only three when his father, the great bullfighter Juan Olivar, died. But Juan is never far from Manolo's consciousness -- how could he be, with the entire town of Arcangel waiting for the day Manolo will fulfill his father's legacy?


But Manolo has a secret he dares to share with no one -- he is a coward, without afición, the love of the sport that enables a bullfighter to rise above his fear and face a raging bull. As the day when he must enter the ring approaches, Manolo finds himself questioning which requires more courage: to follow in his father's legendary footsteps or to pursue his own destiny?

Why I recommend it: Despite the dated subject matter, this is a quiet and inspiring little book about courage and facing one's fear. I totally fell in love with Manolo as a character. 






The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox (hardcover published in 1973 by Bradbury Press; this paperback edition published 2008 by Aladdin)

Newbery Medal Winner 1974

Synopsis (from Indiebound)One day, thirteen-year-old Jessie Bollier is earning pennies playing his fife on the docks of New Orleans; the next, he is kidnapped and thrown aboard a slave ship, where his job is to provide music while shackled slaves "dance" to keep their muscles strong and their bodies profitable. As the endless voyage continues, Jessie grows increasingly sickened by the greed, brutality, and inhumanity of the slave trade, but nothing prepares him for the ultimate horror he will witness before his nightmare ends -- a horror that will change his life forever.

Why I recommend it: I thought I knew a lot about slavery in the U.S., but then I read The Slave Dancer and learned a lot more. This book would be excellent for starting classroom discussions.

How many Newbery medal winners have you read?




Monday, October 20, 2014

Where's Lenny Lee????




 LENNY LEE IS 15!





Happy 15th Birthday, Lenny Lee! I really miss you and all your helpful and sunshiny posts! Here's a sunny picture just for you. It's from Lake Geneva, Switzerland. I always think of you when I see sunshine. And I always smile when I think of you. I hope you will get back to blogging soon.


Wishing you plenty of sunshine and smiles and lots of cards and presents on your 15th birthday.








Readers, if you're not familiar with Lenny's blog, Lenny's World, zip on over there and check it out. He writes about holidays and sunshine and animals and all kinds of good things.

He has lots of helpful stuff on there for writers, too, like how to write a good ending for your novel, and how to get ideas, and what to do about rejections. He writes with great insight and enthusiasm.

Lenny Lee's avatar!


For other Lenny Lee posts today, see Sharon K. Mayhew's blog.



Monday, October 13, 2014

Not that many books in the world




The boy had heard once that some people had so many books they only read each book once. But the boy was sure there were not that many books in the world.  

                                                                     ---from Sounder by William H. Armstrong



(Sounder was published in 1969 and won the 1970 Newbery medal, but the story takes place decades earlier. There still aren't enough books in the world today, especially for underprivileged children. That's where organizations like First Book come in.  In two weeks, I'll be discussing several Newbery medal-winning books I've read recently. But next week, I'm participating in something extra-special, so be sure to stop by then.)


Monday, October 6, 2014

Atlantis Rising by T.A. Barron


First, I have a winner to announce in the ACTUAL & TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER hardcover copy giveaway. According to randomizer, the winner is:


ROSI


Congratulations! And expect an email from me asking for your address. And thanks again to author Jessica Lawson for generously offering the giveaway copy.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *


Now on to day's MMGM:









Atlantis Rising by T. A. Barron (Puffin paperback, Sept 25, 2014, for ages 10 and up)

Source: review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review


Synopsis (from the publisher): In a magical land called Ellegandia, a young boy named Promi scrapes by, stealing pies, cakes and sweets to survive. But little does he know that his country is a pawn in an ages-old war between good and evil, battled both in the spirit realm and in the human world. Harboring secrets of his own, Promi teams up with a courageous girl named Atlanta and the two vow to save their land—and each other—no matter the cost. But their vow has greater repercussions than they ever could imagine—in fact, it may just bring about the creation of Atlantis, an island cut off from the rest of the world, where magic reigns supreme.


Why I recommend it: I love T.A. Barron's The Lost Years of Merlin and I've had the privilege of meeting Tom Barron (twice!), so I may be a wee bit prejudiced here, but I'm awestruck by the sheer scope of his imagination. Plenty of authors have written about the destruction of Atlantis, but only a storyteller like T.A. Barron would think of writing about its origins.

Not only is Barron a magician with words but he also shows a deep respect for our planet. His love for nature shines through in his descriptions of the forest, the flowers, and the animals. His characterization is also noteworthy. Promi's a thief who steals food, including, one day, a lemon pie. But then he sees a girl in the city who's weak from hunger and he gives her the entire pie. That girl turns out to be Atlanta, who wants to save the forest from an unknown blight, and Promi has to change his ways to help her. Writers, study this one to learn how to make characters likable.

I did find the first half of the book a little slower than the second half, but if you like your fantasy long and colorful and with plenty of both action and description, this book's for you. Fans of The False Prince will enjoy this.

T.A. Barron's website

Follow T.A. Barron on twitter


For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews, see the links on Shannon Messenger's blog