Book reviews of YA lit and more

As a middle school librarian and hopeful reader of Missouri's high school award books (Gateway nominees), I am reading and reviewing as many young adult and middle grade novels as I can while working on my own writing for this age group.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Annexed- Sharon Dogar

This book is an absolute must to be paired up with reading The Diary of Anne Frank.  It is the story of the Franks and Van Pels time in hiding and beyond from Peter's point of view.  It is every bit as compelling as the original diary and alternates between Peter being at the death camp and his memories of being in hiding with Anne and her family.  I was just as disturbed at the ending of this book as I was the first time I read Anne's diary.  The story is so haunting- they get so close to making it, yet only Otto Frank (Anne's father) makes it.  There are a few references to Peter being afraid he will die or not get out of hiding before he can be with a girl, but other than that it is middle school appropriate.

Monday, August 22, 2011

forever- maggie stiefvater

Finally I was able to get the last book in this trilogy from my local library.  I have to say it is as beautifully written as Shiver and Linger.  I enjoyed how the author ended the series.  It was a relatively happy, or maybe satisfying is a better word, ending with Grace and Sam.  Cole and Isabel both become more likable characters to me in this final book.  I also appreciated knowing this would definitely be the final book instead of it morphing from a trilogy to a series, which seems popular now.  There are quite a few sexual inuendos between Sam and Grace that makes me hesitant to add it to a middle school collection, but high school would be fine.  I think 8th graders could handle it, but not 6th.  Maggie Stiefvater also did a nice job of putting some information about Minnesota and wolves in the author's note at the end.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Million-Dollar Throw- Mike Lupica

I have to admit I have been recommending Mike Lupica's books to boys for years, but this is the first one I have actually read.  Terrible, I know.  But now I don't feel so bad because this is a great book for boys (and maybe some girls as well).  Nate plays quarterback for his 8th school football team.  He has an amazing arm, and hopes to be like his hero, Tom Brady, when he grows up.  It is his love for Tom Brady that leads him to buy the autographed football for sale at a sports store that is having a drawing to give one person a shot at throwing a football through a target during half time of a Patriot's game.  The prize is of course one million dollars.  At this point it doesn't seem much different than Dan Gutman's "million dollar" books (which I do like and so do kids), but then the character of Nate is further developed.  His parents are struggling since his dad lost his job, his best friend Abby has an eye disease that is going to leave her blind soon, and he is in a quarterback slump.  You can't help but feel for this character and root for the happy ending.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Mudville- Kurtis Scaletta

I must admit up front that I am not a huge baseball fan, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It has been raining in Moundville (aka Mudville) for years.  Twenty-two years to be exact.  Ever since the big game between Moundville and Sinister Bend was postponed due to weather.  Is Moundville cursed due to an old Indian legend, or is it just statisically odd that it's been raining for decades?  Roy McGuire loves baseball, but has to spend his time helping dig ditches in the mud to help his dad's business.  That is until Sturgis moves in.  Sturgis is also Roy's age and taken in as a foster child.  Next thing everyone knows it has stopped raining, the baseball fields have been rebuilt, and a big rematch between Sinister Bend (with Sturgis as pitcher) and Moundville (with Roy as captain and catcher).  The game is exciting and there is a twist at the end that made me smile.  Definitely a book to suggest to baseball fans!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Potato Chip Puzzles- Eric Berlin

My first comment about this book is thank goodness there is an answer key provided at the end of the book.  I am not the greatest at solving puzzles and I like to just have the answer, so I don't get too frustrated.  I'm sure some kids are like me and will look at the answers quickly, but I have other students that don't ever want you to tell them the answer because they love to figure it out.  This book is a mystery about a group of kids trying to solve 6 puzzles set out by a potato chip company owner.  The prize is $50,000 for their school, and their teacher chaperones are almost more competitive about the contest than the kids.  There are tons of puzzles along the way for readers to solve, as well as the mystery of who is trying to sabotage the groups' puzzle solving.  I would like to share this book with an entire class because the puzzle solving aspect is so much fun.  There is also a website ( that has even more fun puzzles.  The other book about Winston is The Puzzling World of Winston Breen.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Love, Aubrey- Suzanne LaFleur

This book will be perfect for my elementary and middle school girls that are always looking for sad books.  Yes, believe it or not I have a group that request this genre.  There has been an accident in Aubrey's life and it has turned everything in her life upside-down.  She finds herself living on her own until her grandmother discovers she's alone and comes to take her to Vermont.  Aubrey lives with her grandmother there as she deals with the accident and the aftermath.  Writing letters to her younger sister's imaginary friend is how she deals with her feelings about life.  Aubrey is a character you just want to hug and make everything better.  She is strong and does come out stronger in the end.

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z- Kate Messner

Gianna is one of my favorite characters in a middle grades reader I've found in a long time.  She is not your typical girl.  She is a star cross country runner, but struggles with school deadlines.  Her best friend, Zig, is quite the opposite.  He is very organized and saves Gianna many times when it comes to homework and projects.  She is currently struggling with a leaf project she left until the last minute, and to make matters worse if she doesn't get it turned in on time she will lose her spot to go to cross country sectionals.  Her arch rival, Bianca, will be glad to take her place.  In the midst of her school problems she begins to notice that her grandmother's forgetfulness is getting worse.  This is a wonderful story about a young girl dealing with family and school issues that I think most kids would relate to.  I plan to read this one out loud to my fifth graders this year.

Captain Nobody- Dean Pitchford

The next few books are a break from the young adult literature and are more middle grade novels.  This one happens to be on Missouri's state award nominee list this year, and I plan to read it to my fourth grade classes later this year.  Newt Newman feels like a nobody.  His older brother, Chris, is a football star and very popular in high school, while Newt is a nothing fourth grader.  This all begins to change though when Chris is knocked into a coma during an important footbal game.  Newt's two friend decide to take his mind off his brother by having him come up with a unique, one-of-a-kind Halloween costume.  As a result of that night Newt becomes Captain Nobody.  This identity not only helps him deal with his nothingness and his brother's coma, but leads to some interesting escapades around town.  This book is light-hearted and fun.  I know my fourth graders will enjoy it.  He has also written The Big One-Oh, which the kids love.

The Shifter- Janice Hardy

This is book one of a series called the Healing Wars.  Nya and her younger sister, Tali, are both orphaned Takers in their society; they have the ability to take people's pain and heal their injuries with just a touch.  Tali is part of the Takers that become Healers, but Nya is different.  She is unable to push the pain into the pynvium (metal that stores the pain); however, she can shift it to other people.  None of this seems too big of a problem until Healers begin mysteriously disappearing, including Tali.  Nya has to make some decisions on how far she will take her ability in order to get her sister back.  This is not my favorite genre of literature, but I will say I enjoyed Nya as a character.  She is likable and strong.  I am not dying to read the second book (Blue Fire), but I may have some kids that like it.  There is a letter from the author in the back of the book, which is interesting and some extra tidbits.  I always wonder if kids actually read this extra stuff or not.