Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power

by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated Brooke Allen
First sentence:”It was a gorgeous day.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some mild adventure. It’s in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

The Lumberjanes are back! And when they find a mysterious mountain, of course they have to climb it. But what happens when they get stuck at the top?

I wanted to like this one, because I love the Lumberjanes. But. Something is missing in the translation from graphic novel to novel. The humor tried to be there, but fell flat (for me). All the characters were there, and I enjoyed interacting with them, but they were… off… which made me sad.

This one would be a good introduction to Lumberjanes, for those who don’t like graphic novels or haven’t read them yet. But, honestly? Get the graphic novels. They’re better.

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Invisible Emmie

by  Terri Liebenson
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Content: It deals with crushes and middle school awkwardness, so younger kids might not be interested. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Emmie is quiet. That’s really her defining feature. She doesn’t speak much, except to her friends. And everyone (from her friends to her parents) is always trying to get her to be more outgoing. But she’s (mostly) okay with being quiet. Until one day, when she writes a note to her crush and then drops it, where it’s picked up by another kid. All of a sudden, Emmie’s no longer invisible.

There’s a secondary story, one that involved Katie, a super popular, put together girl, that’s told in panels (as opposed to Emmie’s story, which is more narrative-driven with side illustrations). The two stories intersect near the end, and do so in an interesting way (though K didn’t like how they resolved).

It’s a good look at fitting in and making friends. I liked the way Libenson told the story (I liked how it resolved), and I felt for Emmie. It’s hard being the youngest (K should know!) and feeling overshadowed a lot. I liked how Emmie found her footing and figured out how to being to make her place in the world.

A good book.

Swing It, Sunny

by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Others in the series: Sunny Side Up
Content: There’s some teen smoking (offscreen mostly) and some difficult issues with a troubled sibling. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Picking up where Sunny Side Up left off, Sunny’s older brother has been sent away to military school. Which means things are different around the house. Quieter, sure. But also… weirder. Sunny misses Dale, misses having him around. But, when he comes home for Thanksgiving, he’s changed. And not for the better. Sunny has to figure out who this new Dale is, and how she fits in his life. If she even fits at all.

I really do love the Holm siblings, and they way the can balance the darker parts of life with humor and just plain silliness. I loved visiting the 70s (historical fiction!), with all the pop culture references. I liked Sunny’s inner conflict about Dale; it felt very real and honest. (Not that I had that problem, being the oldest in my family.) And the art fits the story. It’s not super-fantastic-amazing-blow-your-socks-off, but it suits Sunny and her family and the 1970s.

A really good sequel.

 

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by John David Anderson
First sentence: “I push my way through the buzzing mom and freeze.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some bullying and some mild swearing. It’s in the Middle Grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore, though it’s probably better for the upper end of that age range.

Eric Voss has found his “tribe”, the people in middle school that he would literally die for. There’s four of them, all of them with nicknames — Wolf, the piano prodigy whose nickname comes from Mozart; DeeDee, an Indian fantasy nerd, whose nickname comes from (you guessed it) D&D; and Bench, who gets his nickname from, well, sitting on the bench on all the sports teams he’s on. Eric himself is Frost, because he wrote an award-wining poem in 5th grade. He doesn’t mind. Frost (he goes by his nickname mostly in the book; they all do) thinks everything is good, until three things happen: 1) the school administration bans cell phones; 2) sticking post-it notes on lockers/walls/people becomes a Thing; and 3) Rose moves in and joins Frost’s “tribe”, at the invitation of Wolf and over the protestations of Bench. Then everything comes to a head, and Frost is left wondering who his real friends are.

It sounds like a simple plot, but it’s an engrossing one. I loved that Anderson caught the angst of middle school, the challenge it is to be the New Kid in the school, and the real desire to, well, fit in with everyone. I liked that the post-it phenomena when viral, and then turned negative, as many things often do. I liked that it was, ultimately, about friendship and fitting in, but there were also side issues like dealing with conflicts at home and how we perceive each other.

I’ve really liked both of  Anderson’s realistic fiction books; he’s got some chops. Definitely worth reading.

Henry Huggins

by Beverly Cleary
First sentence: ”
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Content: It’s really simply written; it could easily be a beginning chapter book these days. It’s in our classic chapter book section.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

I realized last year, when doing my kids summer book club, that part of what drew people to it was the chance to revisit books the parents loved as a kid, and to share them with their kids. So, I decided to revisit one of my favorite authors this year: Beverly Cleary.

Now, I say she was one of my favorite authors, but in all honesty, the only books I ever read by her were the Ramona ones, which I adored. I think my brothers may have read some of the others, but I didn’t. So, I consciously picked the books I hadn’t read for this group. (I missed the Beezus and Ramona week. I am going to have to reread that one on my own time!)

Henry Huggins is living a boring life. That is, until a stray dog finds him. And then, all of a sudden, Henry’s life becomes SO much more adventuresome.

Some  thoughts:

  • It’s very dated. I could tell it was written in the 1950s, not just because of the references (like a bus ride being a nickel, etc.) but because of the attitudes. And that sometimes grated on me. (Like Henry’s disdain of the class play. Get over yourself; it’s not that bad.)
  • The kids at the book group liked it, for the most part. Mostly they liked the dog. I agree. The dog was the best part.
  • It was REALLY simple. If it came out today, it’d be put in the beginning chapter book section. I don’t know if Cleary meant it to be for the 7-9 year olds, or if children’s publishing has gotten more sophisticated. Either way, both I and the kids in the book group noticed.
  • The lack of over-arching plot was also noticeable. I liked the vignettes with Henry and Ribsy, but I also missed a plot with conflict, rather than just a series of events happening.
  • I think the ending was sad, but that’s just me.

I’m glad I took the time to read this one, even if it’s not my favorite.

Real Friends

by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
First sentence:
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Content: It’s a pretty frank look at friendship and anxiety, and there are some uncomfortable parts. That said, it’s pretty great for 4-6th graders. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

I knew, before I even read this, that this was going to be good. It’s Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, after all. It’s not that they can do no wrong, just varying shades of right.

So, even though this is Shannon’s story (of sorts) of her elementary school years, of trying to figure out friendships and make a space for her in this world, of the ups and downs of anxiety and bullying (both an older sister who was somewhat abusive and with girls at school), this is a story for everyone, really. As the oldest in the family, I found myself focusing in on the older sister character, wondering how my younger siblings saw me. The mother in me wanted to give Shannon a hug and protect her from the awful, even though I know that I can’t. And, yeah, I cried.

Part of the reason I read this (I would have anyway!) is because I had school visits (and a small author event) scheduled with Shannon and LeUyen. And at the small author luncheon, they said something interesting: how this story, maybe because it’s so specific to Shannon, is universal. LeUyen found herself in it, even though her family were Vietnamese immigrants in California and not white Mormons in Utah. And there is a lot of truth to that. Shannon also mentioned that there’s a built-in happy ending: she, obviously, has turned out okay. She is happy, she is healthy, she has friends and a successful career. And, she said, that’s a message of hope to kids: you can, in fact, make it through.

I’ve passed it on to K, who loved it. And to C, who has been going through a rough patch of her own. And I do want to give this to every 4-6th grader I know.

As an aside: Shannon and LeUyen are as fantastic and delightful as I thought they would be.  It was wonderful being able to share them with kids and adults here.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World

squirrelgirlby Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
First sentence: “Doreen Green liked her name.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher
Release date: February 7, 2017
Content: There’s a bit of violence, but it’s mostly cartoonish. There are some complicated words and it’s a bit long for younger readers, but the chapters are short and action-packed and I think reluctant readers will take to it. It will be in the Middle Grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to 6-7th graders as well.

Doreen Green was born with the abilities (and tail) of a squirrel. For her her whole life (all 14 years of it) she’s been home schooled and told to keep her abilities secret. But she and her parents have recently moved to the suburbs in New Jersey, and there are Things that need to be Done, and can only be done by a superhero. And it looks like that Dorreen, with the help of her new BFFAEAE (best fried forever and ever and ever) Ana Sofia and the local squirrel contingent, is the hero her town needs.

I have to admit that it took me a bit to get into the feel of this book. I generally like the Hales’ sense of humor, but for some reason this one felt a bit too over the top for me. But, I settled into it (also: not really the target audience), and they had me laughing by the end. (I especially liked the text conversations with Rocket Raccoon.) I liked that Doreen’s parents were basically good people, and understood the need to get out of their daughter’s way. And even though the book started out slow, it finished exciting.

A lot of fun!