Friday, June 25, 2021


Author: Samantha Clark
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books (June 22, 2021)

Arrow is a fascinating novel with a broad theme of environmentalism couched in a very personal story of a boy who lives apart from other people in a lush, magical forest. As we read, we realize that most of the world has lost the equilibrium of the forest, and is a mix of barren, dry territory inhabited by the vast majority, and small oases of the wealthy who hog all the resources. Arrow must grapple with incursions from this outside world, but also learn how trust and reliance on others is the only way for the world to survive in the long run.

While that sounds heavy-handed as a description, as a novel it is far more intimate. Arrow's connection to the forest and the animals is deep and inspiring. This reminded me of Lois Lowry's The Giver with its deft blend of deep social issues and a child's processing of those issues from a very personal point of view. An excellent book that I think teachers would welcome.

I heartily recommend this.

Order Arrow on Amazon US, or find where you can order it from a local indie bookstore.

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair (MMGM review)

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair
Author: Amy Makechnie
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (hardcover June 12, 2018, paperback June 4, 2019)

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, and I have a fascinating book to recommend. Amy Makechnie's debut middle grade is difficult to categorize. Part mystery, part slice-of-life, part family dynamics, it follows the story of the eponymous Guinevere St. Clair, also known as Gwyn, as she moves from New York City to her parents' hometown of Crow, Iowa with her little sister, Bitty, and her father and mother to try to help her mother, referred to as Vienna, regain memories lost when Gwyn was four years old.

Vienna doesn't remember her daughters, or anything else that happened after she was thirteen. While this might sound like an "issue" book, and it certainly deals with a serious issue of brain injury and the impact on a family, the characters are so rich and the story so compelling, you don't feel like it is an issue book. (Not that I mind such books, but some find them too heavy.)

And oh my, those characters. Gwyn is feisty and difficult and headstrong, but also a passionate defender of her quirky friend, Micah (who I adored), and his constant companion and best friend, Jimmy. Micah's mother, Gaysie Cutter, is scary and unpredictable, but Gwyn's father firmly believes in her. When Gaysie's one friend, an older man named Wilbur, disappears, Gwyn feels compelled to solve the mystery of where he has gone or what has happened to him, and her number one suspect is Gaysie.

Hang on for the ride as Gwyn tries to find evidence and understand the complex world of adults in this close-knit but relatable rural town.

I heartily recommend this, and think you will find, as the title suggests, both the book and the characters quite unforgettable.

Order The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair on Amazon US, or find where you can order it from a local indie bookstore.

Find the rest of the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews for October 7, 2019

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Monster Catchers (MMGM review)

The Monster Catchers
Author: George Brewington
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (March 5, 2019)

It's another Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, and I have a great new book to recommend, perfect for the occasion. George Brewington's debut middle grade novel is an entertaining romp through a world where cryptids (supposedly mythological beasts) are real and Bailey Buckleby knows all about them. He should, he's the son in Buckleby & Son, the people you call when your unpleasant neighbors or uninvited visitors are non-human and an infernal nuisance.

Seventh grader Bailey is amazing with Frisbees, but he doesn't use them to goof around or play with his friends. Instead, they are his weapon-of-choice when dealing with meddlesome monsters or uppity upperclassmen. But after a strange visitor comes calling, looking to buy a certain monster of whom Bailey is especially fond, everything starts to go to pieces... including Bailey's faith that his father is 100% truthful about the family business.

Wild, exciting, and more than a little manic, this book will delight children who love the unusual and aren't entirely sure that grownups always know best. I heartily recommend this madcap adventure, and hope that Mr. Brewington has the sequel underway.

Note: Under a new policy on the blog, I am doing away with ratings. I'll simply recommend books I can recommend.

Order The Monster Catchers on Amazon US, or find where you can order it from a local indie bookstore.

Find the rest of the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews for June 10, 2019

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Nadya Skylung and the Cloudship Rescue (MMGM review)

Nadya Skylung and the Cloudship Rescue
Author: Jeff Seymour
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers (May 15, 2018)

It's another Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, and I have a wonderful new book to recommend, perfect for the occasion. Jeff Seymour's debut middle grade novel is an absolute delight, and I am already eagerly waiting for a sequel.

Nadya Skylung is a member of the crew of the Cloudship Orion, which in this richly imagined world plies its trade from city to city powered by a cloud garden. Nadya's role is to help keep the plants in the garden  happy and healthy. (Far more than just tending to them, as skylungs like Nadya communicate with the plants in a manner that is part telepathic, part empathetic, and much cooler than I can describe here.)

When pirates attack and seize most of the crew, Nadya and her friends must decide whether to follow orders and escape, or risk everything to save the only family she's ever known. 

Nadya is heroic, headstrong, and a bit of a pain in the tush, and you won't be able to stop cheering for her, even when she stumbles and falls flat on her face. A very real, and very entertaining character, but the supporting cast is equally complex and fun.

While the plot of this novel is exciting, it is the whole world that will really pull you in. I read a lot of middle grade, and love many books, but only a few worlds over the years are so compelling I want to go live there for a while. Aside from those created by J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis, I can't think of any world more enticing than Jeff Seymour's. It isn't that it feels safe or comfortable, but then Harry Potter faces lots of danger and it doesn't make me want to visit less. There is just so much texture and depth behind every tidbit you learn about the cloudships and the cities, you want to explore and learn more.

But I guess we'll have to rely on Mr. Seymour. I hope we get to see more of Nadya and her friends, and learn more about this fantastical (and fantastic) world.

A real gem, I predict this will go on to be a favorite cherished book by middle grade boys and girls. It has that staying power which as a kid would have made me visit and re-read again and again.

Five stars!

Order Nadya Skylung and the Cloudship Rescue on Amazon US, or find where you can order it from a local indie bookstore.

Find the rest of the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews for May 28, 2018

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Meet Yasmin! (review)

Meet Yasmin!
Author: Saadia Faruqi
Illustrator: Hatem Aly
Publisher: Picture Window Books (August 1, 2018)
ARC courtesy of NetGalley.

I've been waiting for a while to get a chance to read Saadia Faruqi's upcoming chapter book, Meet Yasmin!, and I was lucky enough to get an advanced reader copy from NetGalley.

Oh my gosh, this is such a delightful book, and Yasmin is such a fun and engaging second grader, she absolutely deserves that exclamation point in the title. Yasmin's family is Pakistani (as is the author), so the text is sprinkled with a few words in Urdu that kids will find easy to learn and fun to use. She is perfectly relatable, prone to worry and inspiration at a moment's notice, and her family is warm and supportive and everything you could hope for.

Hatem Aly's illustrations are an absolute delight, and he brings such life and energy to Yasmin and her family and classmates, you'll feel like you're right there with them as she goes through mini-adventures as an explorer, painter, builder and fashionista.

Teachers will love the age-appropriate study guide, with a glossary, recipe, facts about Pakistan, and more.

A wonderful, spirited book with a heroine I hope we meet many times again. Perfect for boys and girls in early elementary school.

Five stars!

Pre-order Meet Yasmin! on Amazon US, or find where you can pre-order it from a local indie bookstore.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Mad Wolf's Daughter (MMGM review)

The Mad Wolf's Daughter
Author: Diane Magras
Kathy Dawson Books (March 6, 2018)

This is the second week in a row participating in Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, and as I mentioned last week, the second debut middle grade novel that launches a series I know may will loved and look forward to. You can read other MMGM picks linked at Greg Pattridge's MMGM page.

A Scottish medieval adventure about the youngest in a war-band who must free her family from a castle prison after knights attack her home--with all the excitement of Ranger's Apprentice and perfect for fans of heroines like Alanna from The Song of the Lioness series.

One dark night, Drest's sheltered life on a remote Scottish headland is shattered when invading knights capture her family, but leave Drest behind. Her father, the Mad Wolf of the North, and her beloved brothers are a fearsome war-band, but now Drest is the only one who can save them. So she starts off on a wild rescue attempt, taking a wounded invader along as a hostage.

I cannot say enough wonderful things about this book, and especially about Drest, the heroine who won't give up until she saves her family, even if her family may turn out to be less than the stellar ideal she has in her head.

This book transports the reader back to medieval Scotland when girls were not expected to be as strong and brave as their brothers, and certainly not expected to become legends. I really like that Drest is as strong-willed and determined as she is without being unrealistic, and both her quest and her dealings with her captive and others show the power of both her spirit and her belief in what is right.

One of my favorite characters is Tig, a friend and ally Drest meets on the way. More than anything else, Tig believes in Drest, and helps her believe in herself.

A simply wonderful middle grade adventure with a simply terrific heroine, I can't wait read the sequel. (For those who worry, this book stands alone very well, but you'll want to spend more time with Drest and her world.)

I strongly recommend this for kids and anybody who loves an exciting adventure.

Five stars!

Buy The Mad Wolf's Daughter on Amazon US,

or find where you can buy it in a local indie bookstore.

Find the rest of the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews for April 16th

Or you can read my last week's MMGM review of The Serpent's Secret.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

My Brother Bernadette (review)

My Brother Bernadette
Author: Jacqueline Wilson
Egmont UK; Reprint edition (February 7, 2011)

Sara always gets lumbered with looking after her little brother Bernard, and summer project at the local school is no different. There’s so much to do—football, judo, trampolining, model car making, computer games, and drama. But all Bernard wants to do is clothes design. Soon all the kids, led by Big Dan, are calling Bernard "Bernadette" and shoving him around. Sara wants to help but is worried she may make it worse. But "Bernadette" is a little boy with big ideas, and he has a plan up his very nicely designed sleeve.

The story is mostly fun, and the characters are good, and the illustrations are friendly, but the story arc doesn't quite live up to the promise. I went looking for a book like this purposefully, which makes it more disappointing that it wasn't as good as I hoped. In my opinion, there are not enough books which question gendered activities (e.g., boys liking to design clothes). While this book does handle that, it winds up with a disappointing ending in that it features a comeuppance which kind of depends on those same gendered expectations.

I recommend this for kids and parents who are looking for stories which challenge gender preferences for toys and activities, but I do wish it were a stronger story arc.

Three stars.

My Brother Bernadette on Amazon US