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December 2017

Posts from January 2018

The Van Gogh Deception: Deron Hicks

Book: The Van Gogh Deception
Author: Deron Hicks
Pages: 320
Age Range: 10-12

VanGoghDeceptionThe Van Gogh Deception by Deron Hicks is a suspenseful, smart, fast-paced mystery for middle grade readers. The story begins when a boy with amnesia is discovered one December day in the National Gallery in Washington, DC. When the boy, dubbed Art, is sent to temporary foster care, he meets Camille, a strong-willed young red-head. It turns out, however, that dangerous people are looking for Art. Soon he and Camille find themselves on the run, trying to solve the mystery of Art's past and determine whether or not a recently discovered Van Gogh is real or fake. 

Classic art, and the way it might be forged, is discussed throughout the story. There are QR codes included in the book, wherever a famous piece of art is mentioned. Readers can scan the codes to bring up a picture of each artwork. I didn't personally need that distraction after looking at one or two, but I'm sure this will be fun for many young readers. 

What makes The Van Gogh Deception fun for me is the quick-wittedness of Art and Camille, and the fast pace of their adventures. Art, though he can't remember anything about himself, knows a lot about art, and he has instincts that cause his pursuers to liken him to Jason Bourne. Camille, while lacking Art's educational background, is a firebrand and a loyal friend, a more than worthy sidekick for Art. The characters of the Camille's mother and a concerned police detective are also strong, though Hicks never lets them take over the story, or do any real rescuing. Even the bad guy is intriguing, definitely not a one-note criminal stereotype. 

I read this book so quickly that I didn't stop to flag any quotable passages. But it's unquestionably cerebral as well as action-packed, perfect for mystery fans of all ages (10 and up). 

The Van Gogh Deception belongs in libraries serving upper middle grade and middle school readers everywhere. It has a great cover, and an irresistible premise (amnesia is always compelling, as is art theft/forgery). Highly recommended, and one I will be passing on to my daughter when she is just a bit older. 

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: August 29, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2018 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: January 5: The #Cybils Shortlists, #SchoolLibraries, and Love of #Reading

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter over the past two weeks @JensBookPage. While there hasn't been a lot going on in the kidlit blogosphere over the holidays, the big news is that the Cybils shortlists were announced on New Year's Day. Other topics included: #FlexibleSeating, #GrowthMindset, book fairs, bookstores, growing bookworms, independent learners, inspiration, libraries, raising readers, recess, schools, and writing.

Top Tweet of the Week

How to Stop Killing the Love of | talks w/ |

Cybils Awards

Cybils-Logo-2017-Round-SmThe 2017 Finalists are live! High-quality, kid-friendly titles in 12 categories + more

The 2017 Middle Grade Fiction Finalists, with blurbs, from category chair

The shortlists are here! Category organizer has the elementary / middle grade speculative fiction shortlist

We are grateful to for sharing the relevant 2017 Awards Finalists with their readers

SpirithuntersCybils Finalists Are Live! | shares her panel's speculative fiction choices

Announcement! Announcement! Announcement! from | 2017 Finalists!

Reading Round-Up, Part 2 from co-blog editor and round 1 panelist

Today's featured REVIEW is nominee The Playbook, reviewed by

Today's featured REVIEW is Jr. High nominee Beastly Brains | review by

BeyondBrightSeaToday's featured REVIEW is middle grade fiction nominee Beyond the Bright Sea, review by Tara Smith

On the blog: 2017 Finalist Reactions! | So great to see this enthusiasm from + authors, illustrators + publishers

Events + Programs

The 6th National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, 2018-2019 is | News release at via

Growth Mindset

RT: @MindshiftKQED:What's the most effective way to praise girls? Compliment them for taking on difficulty, trying different strategies and sticking to it over time. Not for how smart they are.


20 Inspirational Quotes to Start off 2018 from | "Stay positive and happy" + lots more

Schools and Libraries

I love this! A School Library’s Free Bookstore Turbocharges | | librarian's former office = bookstore w/ used + donated books [Though if they could find a way to do this without "book bucks" based on AR points, I would love it more.]

Students: How a 'Quiet Revolution' Is Changing Classroom Practice - via

BookLoveHow My High School Doubled Its Circulation | | teacher + librarian enthusiasm, + more

Move Over, : Launches Book Fairs | | Parents want fewer non-book items

Guiding to Be

3 Ways to Make the Process More Authentic by

This Is Why Schools Need To Stop Taking Away Recess As A Form Of Punishment, thoughts + links from

Thoughts from On as part of encouraging flexible thinking in the

© 2018 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade: Jordan Sonnenblick

Book: The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade
Author: Jordan Sonnenblick
Pages: 208
Age Range: 9-12

SecretSheriffThe Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade is the latest middle grade novel by Jordan Sonnenblick, who has a gift for using humor to take the edge of off difficult subjects (having a sibling with cancer, e.g.). In The Secret Sheriff, Sonnenblick introduces readers to sixth grader Maverick Falconer. Maverick lives in poverty with his alcoholic mom, his dad having been killed in the line of military duty. In addition to coping with his mother's benders and her abusive boyfriend, Maverick struggles with being much shorter than average (mild implication of fetal alcohol syndrome), and with being the target of bully Bowen. Despite these challenges, or perhaps because of them, Maverick decides at the start of the school year that he's going to be a secret sheriff, looking for opportunities to help people. Things don't go as planned, however, and Maverick ends up in the vice principal's office twice on the very first day. 

Without being heavy-handed about, Sonnenblick includes plenty of details that make the challenges of Maverick's situation clear. He can't afford the $10 fee for gym clothes. The vice principal can't call his mother in because she doesn't have a car, and might not be sober. His hamster is missing a foot, a damaged animal that a kind-hearted pet shop owner gave to child who couldn't afford an unmarked pet. And lots more. Here are a couple of examples, in Maverick's voice:

"As far as I could figure it, anybody with two parents had nothing i the world to complain about. It was a little hard to be sure, though. I hadn't had a father since I was three. All I even had to remember him by was a cheap little plastic sheriff's star he had bought me at a beachside souvenir shop on the last day I had ever spent with him. I vaguely remember that I had been angry about something, and he'd gotten me the star to cheer me up." (Page 8)

"I had heard of fresh berries and cream. Fresh berries and cream sounded awesome. Fresh anything sounded awesome. We never had fresh food in our house. Or even cooked food. The only time my mom lit a stove burner was when she ran out of matches and needed to fire up a cigarette." (Page 10)

But there's humor, too. Like this:

"A massive hand tapped me on the shoulder. I whirled and literally banged into the protruding stomach of the largest man I had ever seen in my life. He had to be at least six and a half feet tall, with super-broad shoulders, that big belly, a bushy red handlebar mustache, and wild red hair. If Santa Claus had married a Viking queen, their firstborn son would have looked like this dude." (Page 21)

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade also features excellent characterization. No one is all bad or all good, though one has to look pretty hard to find the good in some of them. I especially appreciated the nuances of the vice principal (the Santa/Viking hybrid described above). Maverick has an aunt who is able to provide something of a safety net for him, but even she has her quirks. 

I think that The Secret Sheriff would be an excellent read for middle schoolers, providing a window (or mirror) into poverty and substance abuse, but also providing constructive ideas about making the world (or at least one's school) better. I'll be happy to have my daughter read this book when she's a bit older - it may make her a bit more appreciative of having two parents, and being able to afford things like new sneakers when she needs them. And if not, she'll probably still enjoy Maverick's scrapes. Recommended, and a must for middle school libraries. 

Publisher: Scholastic  (@Scholastic
Publication Date: August 29, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2018 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).