239 posts categorized "Late Elementary School" Feed

Black Moon Rising (The Library, Book 2): D. J. MacHale

Book: Black Moon Rising (The Library, Book 2)
Author: D. J. MacHale
Pages: 304
Age Range: 8-12

BlackMoonRisingBlack Moon Rising is the second book in D. J. MacHale's The Library series, following Curse of the Boggin. The events in Black Moon Rising begin just a week after middle schooler Marcus has become an agent of the magical Library and had his first adventure. The Library is a place out of space and time in which uncountable numbers of stories reside. The stories are written by ghosts who track mysterious events throughout the world. The agents enter into certain stories and try to help. In Black Moon Rising, Marcus is asked to travel through the Library to a Massachusetts middle school where strange mishaps have been occurring and escalating. Marcus and his two best friends, Theo and Lu, find themselves confronting witchcraft. 

The plot in Black Moon Rising is creepy and has high stakes, but moves along too quickly for the book to be overwhelmingly scary or dark. At one point Marcus is in grave peril and is accidentally rescued by troublemakers randomly lighting off fireworks. Overall, it's a nice balance for middle grade readers. MacHale touches on other middle grade / middle school issues, like bullying and parents pushing kids to sign up for more activities. None of the characterization is especially deep, but it's sufficient for one to pull for the various characters. There's a bit of diversity, though not a lot. Heres the relevant passage:

"My two best buddies don't always get along. If not for me, I doubt they'd even be friends. Annabella Lu is driven by emotion. She's a real "seat of the pants" kind of girl who always starts out in third gear. Theo McLean, on the other hand, is a thinker. An overthinking, actually. By the time he analyzes a problem and looks at every possible solution from multiple angles, it's usually the next day and nobody can remember what the problem was in the first place...

Lu is Asian American, Theo is African American, and I'm Caucasian Euro-mutt-American. Together we look like the cast of some racially diverse kids' TV show." (Page 11)

I like the way that MacHale basically acknowledges that this is surface diversity, but that at least he's trying. There are a couple of references later to how Theo feels as an African American (he opens up to connect with a shy girl in the Massachusetts school). And we hear a bit about the academic pressure that Lu's parents put on her. 

The writing style in Black Moon Rising is interesting. Most of the book is told from Marcus' first person perspective. This is interspersed with passages from the Library volume that the ghosts are writing about the story, as it occurs. This allows the author to directly share actions that occur when Marcus is busy somewhere else. Late in the book, this narration switching accelerates, and definitely helps keep readers turning the pages. The print book uses a distinctive font for the Library entries - I'm not sure how this is handled in the audio version. 

Here's one more passage, to give you a feel for Marcus' voice:

"I was in Massa-freaking-chusetts. I had stepped out of the Library and been transported to another state. Another state of mind too. It's tough enough figuring out where you belong in your own school. I was now in alien territory with no friends to rely on. I didn't belong there. At some point a teacher was bound to corner me." (Page 39)

And here's a passage from the Library book:

"Some thought the school was jinxed. Others felt it was nothing more than a run of incredibly bad luck. None could deny that a nefarious black cloud had drifted over the school, one that was producing impossible waves of serious misfortune." 

Yes, definitely distinct from Marcus' voice. 

I'll tell you something that I especially liked about Black Moon Rising. I'm a fast reader, and I read a fair number of books each year (~150). When I'm reading a series as it is published, I often find that I struggle when I start the second (and third, and so on) book, because I haven't retained enough of the plot, and I don't know what's going on. This did NOT happen with Black Moon Rising. I think this was due to a combination of factors: not too many core characters to keep track of; interesting premise around the Library and how it works; and sufficient backstory provided by the author at the start of Book 2. So, kudos to D.J. MacHale there. I will certainly keep an eye out for the next book in the series. 

In short, I think this is a must-purchase series for libraries serving middle grade and early middle school readers. Those who enjoyed the first book, Curse of the Boggin, will not be disappointed by Book 2. If anything, this is where MacHale really hits his stride, with the library setup already in place, and the chance to explore a whole new (yet ancient) supernatural phenomenon. Highly recommended, and one that I will keep for my daughter. 

Publisher:  Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: October 3, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


Edge of Extinction #2: Code Name Flood: Laura Martin

Book: Edge of Extinction #2: Code Name Flood
Author: Laura Martin
Pages: 352
Age Range: 8-12

EdgeOfExtinctionFloodCode Name Flood is the second book in Laura Martin's Edge of Extinction series, following The Ark Plan. Both books are sent in a post-apocalyptic world in which the reintroduction of dinosaurs (a la Jurassic Park) led to a pandemic that wiped out most of humanity. Small groups of survivors live in a set of four underground compounds, led by a power-hungry leader referred to as The Noah.

In The Ark Plan, tweens Sky and Shawn escape from North Compound, determined to follow a map left to Sky by her long-lost father. They meet up with Todd, who is part of a community of tree dwellers, as well as Ivan, Sky's dinosaur-hunter grandfather. Code Name Flood picks up as Sky, Shawn, and Todd reach the shores of Lake Michigan with the map, and the knowledge that they need to somehow get to the middle of the lake. A series of adventures follows as the kids, joined by trainee scientist Chaz, set out to do no less than save the (admittedly imperfect) world. 

These books are such fun. (Ms. Yingling likes them, too.)  A post-apocalyptic world with underground compounds, tree villages, AND dinosaurs, kids taking the lead in their own adventures, and a smattering of science (genetic engineering, habitats, technology). What more could anyone want? Sky's grandfather is a great character who helps them a bit, but is conveniently out of commission when any real adventures take place. The friendship dynamics between the kids are plausible without overwhelming the plot, and there is no romance whatsoever. And did I mention that there are dinosaurs? 

One difference between Book 1 and Book 2 is that in Code Name Flood, some of the characters are sympathetic to the dinosaurs. They accept that dinosaurs have taken over, and instead of just trying to kill them, they work to ensure a stable biome. Other characters have huge philosophical differences on this point, which adds a layer of complexity to the story (again without bogging down the plot). 

Best of all, Code Name Flood appears to wrap up Sky's story. I find the idea of a two-book series refreshing, in this day and age of seven book series with spin-offs, etc. Which is not to say that I wouldn't welcome reading more about Laura Martin's dinosaur-filled world. But the Edge of Extinction story reached a satisfactory conclusion after only two books. 

The Edge of Extinction books should be a great fit for any adventure-loving middle grade readers, particularly those who enjoy reading about dystopias or dinosaurs. Fans of the first book will not be disappointed by Code Name Flood, a worthy successor and conclusion to Sky's story. Highly recommended, and one I will be saving for my daughter to read when she is a little bit older. 

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: May 30, 2017
Source of Book: Purchased copy

© 2017 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).


The Perfect Score: Rob Buyea

Book: The Perfect Score
Author: Rob Buyea
Pages: 368
Age Range: 9-12

PerfectScoreThe Perfect Score is the latest middle grade novel by Rob Buyea (who also wrote Because of Mr. Terupt and Mr. Terupt Falls Again). Like Buyea's previous books, The Perfect Score is a multi-narrator story that highlights the impact that a caring teacher (in this case two caring teachers) can have on kids at the cusp of middle school. As the cover image and title suggest, The Perfect Score also takes on the standardized testing craze.  

The five narrators of The Perfect Score each have one or more personal issues.  Randi, a talented gymnast, is coping with relentless pressure from her overbearing single mother. Trevor, an incipient bully, is bullied by his older brother and his friends, and wants to stay away from home as much as possible. Gavin, who adores football, is unable to participate in any activities because he spends all of his time babysitting his younger sister. His struggling parents work most of the time. Gavin also has literacy issues.  Natalie, daughter of two lawyers, is a teacher's pet, ostracized by the other kids. And Scott is bright but odd (apparently on some sort of behavior spectrum), wrapped up in a quest to care for his lonely, declining grandfather. When the five kids (most of whom are not friends with one another), end up taught by returning retiree Mrs. Woods, trouble arises before their situations improve. 

Meanwhile, standardized testing (the CSA exams), looms over everything. Read-aloud time, classroom parties, and recess are taken away, as is working on anything interesting. Everything at the school is given over to exam preparation. The stakes of the exams are gradually ratcheted up, too (football eligibility, etc.). The beleaguered kids eventually take drastic action (the fact that something serious happens is telegraphed from early in the story). This, I truly hope, was over-the-top relative to what's happening in actual middle schools. 

I enjoyed reading The Perfect Score. I liked the kids (most of them), and I flagged lots of passages. I particularly enjoyed multiple scenes that focus on the mesmerizing quality of Mrs. Woods' classroom read-alouds. Like this:

"It's safe to say I didn't like reading all that much, which was why I was struggling to understand how my favorite thing about sixth grade so far was the way Woods read to us. Maybe she wasn't a champion football player, but she deserved a trophy for reading aloud. She had a way of making the words come to life so I could see the whole story in my head. I'd never had anyone read to e like that, and I couldn't believe how much I'd started looking forward to it." (Gavin, page 54)

and:

"Not only was Mrs. Woods the best at reading with expression and different voices, but she knew that the way to enjoy a story was not to open the book once a week or to make kids do a gazillion reader-response questions or activities, but just to read it." (Scott, Page 82)

The Perfect Score ticks off a lot of boxes (ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, care of the elderly, bullying, testing, parental pressure, learning disabilities, family dysfunction, etc.). All of which, I must admit, felt a little bit contrived at times. I think that the book's humor will win kids over, despite the relatively overt messages. Scott is particularly delightful, with his baked good obsession and penchant for big, crazy ideas. One's heart breaks for the way the other kids exclude him and laugh at him, and the way he doesn't even seem to really realize it, but he inspires joy, too.

I'm quite sure that teachers and librarians will enjoy The Perfect Score. The anti-standardized-testing, pro-joy-of-learning message certainly resonated with me, and would make this an interesting classroom read-aloud for middle grade to middle school kids.  The ending is satisfying, and wraps up things that need to be wrapped up. And yet, I would be happy to read more about these characters (certainly the teachers) in the future. Recommended, and a must-read for fans of the Mr. Terupt books. 

Publisher: Delacorte Press (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: October 3, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


The Silver Mask (Magisterium, #4): Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Book: The Silver Mask (Magisterium #4)
Author: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Pages: 272
Age Range: 8-12

SilverMaskThe Silver Mask is the fourth book (of a planned five) in the Magisterium series, co-written by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. Stop here if you have not read the previous books, and fear spoilers. 

The Silver Mask begins with Callum in prison, the mage community having learned at the end of the previous book that he has the soul of Enemy of Death Constantine Madden. Though Call doesn't have any of Constantine's memories, and doesn't believe that he would do the things that the evil overlord did, the magical leadership isn't so sure. They keep Call locked in a cell, for everyone's protection. When he is broken out of jail, however, Call finds himself in even bigger trouble, as Constantine's mother and his former second in command, Master Joseph, have plans for him. 

I found the beginning of The Silver Mask to be a bit slow, but by the end I was reading quickly and wished that the next book was already available. I continue to like Call very much. His self-deprecating sense of humor and his determination to do the right thing (even when he is making questionable choices) are appealing. His crush on his friend Tamara is particularly disarming. In a small spoiler, I'm going to share that Tamara and Call kiss in this book. I love the subsequent quotation:

"Jealousy flared up again, even though he'd just been kissing her. After all, Jasper was Tamara's old friend and had had somehow convinced the last girl who liked Call to like him better.

The thought was like a splash of cold water. Abruptly he realized several things: (1) Kissing created a haze of stupidity that lasted for at least ten minutes; (2) now that it had worn off, he had no idea what kissing Tamara meant; and (3) he had no idea what he was supposed to do now." (Page 107)

Call gives himself mental points for anything that he does that seems Evil Overlord-ish, steering determinedly away from such activities. Here's another quote that I liked:

"Call had a feeling Alex had an Evil Overlord list, too, but his scoring went the other way. He probably gave himself a point every time he dressed all in black or menaced small children. Maybe a gold star if he did both at once." (Page 81)

That made me laugh. Anyway, I don't want to say too much about the plot, to avoid spoilers about this book, but the ending is definitely strong (and not nearly as sad as the ending of the previous book). What I really think is that those who have not read any of the books might benefit from waiting until book five comes out, and binge reading the entire series. But if you are, as I am, hooked on the story of Call and the Magisterium, I think you'll find The Silver Mask a satisfying addition to the series. Recommended!

Publisher: Scholastic  (@Scholastic
Publication Date: October 10, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


My Life with the Liars: Caela Carter

Book: My Life with the Liars
Author: Caela Carter
Pages: 288
Age Range: 8-12

MyLifeWithTheLiars

My Life with the Liars by Caela Carter is a middle grade novel about a girl who has been rescued from a cult. Zylynn is a few days shy of her thirteenth birthday when she is removed from the compound of the Children Inside the Light by a man who tells her that he's her dad, though she can call him Louis. Zylynn, who spent her entire life inside the compound, is baffled by everything around her. She doesn't even know what a "dad" is.

As her story unfolds, the reader learns from Zylynn's first person thoughts just how poorly she's been treated, though she doesn't even fully realize it herself. Even as Louis and his sympathetic wife Charita try to help Zylynn, they have no idea how deeply damaged she is inside, and how hard she is fighting to get back Inside the Light, where she has been programmed to believe that she belongs. A deadline involving a ceremony that must be performed inside the compound by her thirteen birthday, if she is ever to return "home" adds tension to the story. 

I read this book in pretty much a single sitting. I couldn't put it down because Zylynn felt so real to me. I kept thinking things like: "This poor child. How could they do that to children?" Here she is smiling for the first time in her birth father's home:

"I feel a strange pinch in my cheeks, an ache in my jaw. I move my fingers to my lips and that when I realize it: I'm smiling too." (Chapter 10)

And here she is laughing for the first time:

"She pokes me again right above the belly button. And the strangest thing happens. It starts at that point. A little bubble, a movement of my muscles. Not indigestion or cramps. Not painful. It bounces from my belly through my windpipe and it's already out my mouth before I know what it is.

I laugh." (Chapter 16, ~70% of the way through the book)

She is stunned by simple things, like being given the choice of what t-shirt she wants to buy at Target. It's heartbreaking. 

I do think that My Life with the Liars is middle grade reader appropriate. Having read a number of young adult and adult novels about cults, there were things I was waiting, dreading to see revealed that were, happily, not. Kids will likely be baffled by the things that the leaders of the Children of the Light did to children, but I don't think it will give them nightmares. And for certain My Life with the Liars has the potential to make kids appreciate the things that they do have, from parents who hug them to the ability to choose what kind of sandwich they want for lunch.  But the reason to read it is that Zylynn is an unusual, compelling character, and her experience feels real and immediate. Highly recommended for kids and adults. 

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: March 8, 2016
Source of Book: Personal copy, purchased on Kindle after reading Kate's review at Opinionated Book Lover

© 2017 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).


The Adventurers Guild: Zack Loran Clark + Nick Eliopulos

Book: The Adventurers Guild
Author: Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos
Pages: 320
Age Range: 9-12

AdventurersGuildI accepted a review copy of The Adventurers Guild because I think it's a great title. After reading it, I do think that it's a fun book. The Adventurers Guild is set in a world in which most of civilization has fallen to various Dangers (monsters, etc.). Teenage friends Zed and Brock live in one of the few remaining safe places, a walled town called Freestone. As the story begins, Brock and Zed are preparing for the annual Guildculling, a ceremony in which teens are assigned to a profession. Both boys hope to be assigned to one of the four High Guilds, though this is a stretch for Zed who comes from poverty and is the only person in town who is half-elf. Brock, son of two Merchants, expects his path to be more smooth. However, the Guildculling offers surprises for both boys and (could this possibly be a spoiler, given the book's title) they end up in the Adventurers Guild.

The Adventurers Guild is made up of fighters who protect Freestone's citizens, and who are the only ones to ever venture outside of the city's walls. Becoming Adventurers thus exposes Zed and Brock to exciting new things, as well as unexpected dangers. Each boy has a secret, also, which complicates his situation. 

The world that Clark and Eliopulos has created is basically medieval (with guilds, hand-crafts, armored soldiers and flagons of ale), with the addition of magical characters such as elves and dwarves. Magic is certainly not ubiquitous, but it can be learned, and the elf-blooded Zed turns out to have innate abilities. Freestone is protected by magic, and part of the plot involves a quest to an abandoned druid shrine to acquire a powerful protective artifact. These things are set against a post-apocalyptic world in which the boys, traveling outside the wall, are scared the first time they see a squirrel. The occasional references to a long-gone world (like worn stone that was once a road between cities) added enjoyment to the story for me. 

The Adventurers Guild is clearly aimed at boys, with the two viewpoint characters male and regular references to "breaking wind", spitting, and belching. There are strong female characters, though, as well as economic and other diversities that should make this book appeal to a wide range of kids. There's a minor plotline to do with one of the boys having a crush on a girl, but this is far from central to the storyline. Loyalty to friends and comrades is a much stronger theme in the book. 

The Adventurers Guild ends on something of a cliffhanger, and it's clear that Zed, Brock, and their friends will be experiencing other adventures. I expect this novel, with fighting, scary creatures, politics, and magic to be a hit with fantasy-loving middle grade readers. Recommended, and certainly one that libraries will want to purchase. 

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (@DisneyHyperion)
Publication Date: October 3, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match: Elizabeth Eulberg

Book: The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match
Author: Elizabeth Eulberg
Pages: 240
Age Range: 8-12

ShelbyHolmesMeetsThe Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match is the second book in Elizabeth Eulberg's series about Shelby Holmes, pint-sized but brilliant detective, following The Great Shelby Holmes: Girl Detective. The narrator of the books is 11-year-old John Watson, who moved recently to Harlem, and lives in the same apartment building as Shelby (where the building manager is named Mrs. Hudson, of course, and Police Inspector Lestrade is Shelby's nemesis). Shelby, as any astute reader would expect, solves mysteries large and small through her powers of deductive reasoning. Sometimes, however, her rather oversized ego does get in the way.

As The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match begins, Watson and Shelby are starting a new semester, Watson first, at the Harlem Academy of the Arts. Watson has balance making new friends with his growing loyalty to Shelby. Shelby, for her part, is showing increasing reliance on and loyalty to Watson, even as she tries to teach him to be more observant. Shelby finds a new teacher's behavior suspicious, and soon teases out a mystery to be solved. This reveals a new and unexpected rival, and real danger for Watson and Shelby.

I'm not sure how many middle grade readers will be familiar enough with the Sherlock Holmes stories to appreciate the Holmes-related details in The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match (Shelby's use of a disguises and a school called Miss Adler's, for example). I'm sure there were other details that went over my head, too, as I am far from from an expert. But I think that the Shelby Holmes books will hold up for middle grade readers anyway. 

Shelby is annoying, but her deductive reasoning is spot and, as she tries to teach Watson, informative. Watson is wholly likable, with multiple dimensions of realistic but not overdone diversity (he's black, his parents have recently divorced and he misses his dad, he's Type 1 diabetic, and he loves to write). Watson humanizes Shelby, and provides an accessible entry point into her world of mystery-solving for young readers.  Here they are, talking together:

"Shelby pointed a finget at me. "There's something off about him. He looks at me in a weird way."

WHO DOESN'T? I wanted to ask, but I bit my tongue. But seriously? I'd seen nothing but weird looks for Shelby from kids and teachers today.

"Hold on." I narrowed my eyes at her. "What exactly were you doing after school?"

Her eyes darted sideways.

Oh, she was so busted.

"Please tell me you weren't stalking our new teacher."

"It's called tailing a person of interest," she replied with a sniff." (Page 28-29, ARC)

I did find Watson's ability to make friends right away a bit unrealistic, in light of his friendship with known weird girl Shelby. But of course his much nicer personality is part of the whole point of the Watson/Holmes dynamic, so I'm prepared to let that go.

I enjoyed The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match (as I did the first book). I appreciated the characters, I didn't see all of the twists coming, and I thought that the stakes of the mystery were aimed just right for middle grade readers. I also liked Watson's relationship with his busy but concerned single mother, and I liked Watson's identify as someone who wants/needs to write. I certainly recommend this series for middle grade mystery fans, and I think that adult Holmes fans will enjoy it, too. 

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books 
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


The Daybreak Bond: Megan Frazer Blakemore

Book: The Daybreak Bond (Firefly Code #2)
Author: Megan Frazer Blakemore
Pages: 352
Age Range: 8-12

DayBreakBondThe Daybreak Bond is the sequel to Megan Frazer Blakemore's The Firefly Code (my review). Both books are about a group of children who live in a protected community in a dystopian future suburban Boston. The children are partially genetically engineered, some more than others. Narrator Mori is a "natural" in that she wasn't designed, but she has had some modifications to improve her vision. She also has had a modification that she laments, to make her less brave (so that she won't take risks).

Mori's friend Ilana, on the other hand (SPOILER for the first book) was completely created in a lab. And now Ilana's creators have decided, because of a few glitches, to destroy her. Mori and her friends Theo, Julia, and Benji escape New Harmonie on a quest to take Julia to a scientist in Cambridge, who they believe will help. The Daybreak Bond covers the kids' journey through a perilous outside world that none of them has previously visited. 

The Daybreak Bond has lots of nods to Boston, most of which fly over the heads of Mori and her friends, but which I found entertaining. These include a boy wearing a hat with a shamrock on the back, an automated boat called "Tessie" that crossed the Charles River, and an old woman who refers to the children as "my ducklings." Mori and her friends are also quite surprised to encounter Concord children who do strange things in pronouncing, and not pronouncing, their R's. 

I especially liked how Blakemore handled the children's encounters with the kids from outside, actually. Mori and her friends have grown up protected, told that the people outside of New Harmonie are diseased, and not as bright as they are. Only gradually do they learn that the people outside of their town have strengths of their own. The interpersonal dynamics between Mori and her friends are also interesting, particularly as she confronts the fact that her taller, stronger "designed" friends seem almost compelled to protect her. She, and they, struggle throughout the books with questions of design vs. free will. 

I also liked how Mori's friend Julia calls the adults in their world on preaching one thing and doing another. Like this:

"I was thinking about the people who built Ilana. I was thinking how they all worked together on this project and when it started to go wrong, they didn't really take responsibility. They just tried to shut her down, to hide their mistakes. And that's like the exact opposite of what they teach us. When you make a mistake, you have to own it." (Page 94)

Most of the adults in The Daybreak Bond are weak and/or flawed. But the kids are multi-dimensional, with strengths and weaknesses, bonds and tensions. And with the kids on a quest through a dangerous futuristic landscape for most of the book, they are the ones who matter. 

The Daybreak Bond is a worth sequel to The Firefly Code. It has suspense and humor. But most of all, it will make kids think. It's science fiction about genetic engineering that raises big questions in an age-appropriate way, and has characters that young readers will care about. Recommended for anyone who enjoys science fiction or quest novels, and a must-read for fans of the first book. (And yes, do read the first book before reading this one.)

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books  
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


Serafina and the Splintered Heart: Robert Beatty

Book: Serafina and the Splintered Heart
Author: Robert Beatty
Pages: 368
Age Range: 9-12

SerafinaSplinteredHeartSerafina and the Splintered Heart is the third book in Robert Beatty's Serafina series (after Serafina and the Black Cloak and Serafina and the Twisted Staff). There is little that I can say about the plot of this third book that won't give something away about the plot. Suffice it to say that the book starts with heroine Serafina in peril and continues by mixing strange supernatural events with brave action. Adversaries and friends from previous books play their parts. 

Serafina and the Splintered Heart is a bit sadder than the previous books. Readers who found those books too scary or too dark may want to wait on this one. But for those who loved the first two books, as I did, Serafina and the Splintered Heart does not disappoint. It is suspenseful, creative, and occasionally profound. Serafina is a compelling character who readers will continue to root for. 

As in the previous two books, the Biltmore estate is almost a character in the story. Beatty slips in tidbits about George Vanderbilt's dreams for the estate, as well as other historical notes about the time period. A fun one is when Serafina sees an automobile for the first time, and thinks (having seen sorcery in her life) that it must be something enchanted. 

There's not much I can quote without spoilers, but here are a couple of passages, to give a feel for Beatty's ever-improving writing:

"She had always been able to see things other people could not, especially in the dark of night, but tonight there seemed to be a special magic in the forest. It felt as if she could actually see the evening flowers slowly opening their petals to the moon and the glint of starlight on the iridescent wings of the insects. She felt the caress of the air as it slipped through the branches of the trees, around her body, and against her skin. She sensed the stony firmness of the earth and rock on which she stood." (Chapter 5, ARC)

and:

"The thought of it put a twisting knot in the pit of her stomach. But the truth was, she had run out of other paths to take. Her pa had told her once that true courage wasn't because you didn't feel fear. True courage was when you were scared of something, but you did it anyway because it needed to be done.... she had to stay bold." (Chapter 19, ARC)

Serafina and the Splintered Heart is a dark, Gothic story with an intriguing, three dimensional setting, strong characters, and a sinuous plot. Fans of the first two books will definitely want to read this one. Those new to the series should, of course, start at the beginning. But if the idea of a girl with unusual powers taking on mysterious enemies in and around an enormous, famous estate piques your interest, you should certainly give the Serafina books a look. Highly recommended for kids as well as adults. 

Publisher: Disney Hyperion 
Publication Date: July 3, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


Lights, Camera, Middle School: Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Book: Lights, Camera, Middle School! (Babymouse: Tales from the Locker, Book 1)
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Illustrator: Matthew Holm
Pages: 208
Age Range: 8-12

BabymouseLockerLights, Camera, Middle School! is the first title of a new novel / notebook novel / graphic novel hybrid series by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm featuring Babymouse, now in middle school. Although Babymouse is in middle school, I think that readers of this series will begin in elementary school. My seven-year-old, who is out of town with my husband, asked me to read it to her over the phone. I declined. But I'm certain she'll read it when she can. 

Anyway, Lights, Camera, Middle School! begins as Babymouse is acclimating to middle school. She has a few friends (especially BFF Wilson) from elementary school, but she's struggling to adjust to things like the cafeteria, and the quest for popularity. She wants fame, but she also wants to be herself and to be appreciated. She still has issues with monsters in her locker, and being on time for class. When it comes time to sign up for some sort of Club, Babymouse decides on film club. She ends up the director of the student film (an epic saga), and finds the experience to be challenging but ultimately character-building. 

Here are a couple of snippets:

"If this was a monster movie, Felicia would be a Zombie. At middle school, Zombies traveled in packs and dressed the same. Instead of hunting brains, they wanted stuff: whatever was cool and "in." It could be wedge sandals or ruffled scarves or sparkly lip gloss. They just had to have it." (Page 5)

This is accompanied by a sketch of four zombies in wedge sandals moaning "STUUUFFFFFFF!!!!" and the like. 

Also:

"Chapter 2: Laws of the Jungle Cafeteria

The hardest subject in middle school wasn't science or social studies or literature. 

It was friendship.

And there was no textbook or helpful study guide. In elementary school, if kids didn't like you, they were just flat-out mean. But here, figuring out who your friends were was harder than a quadratic equation.

And I had a failing grade."

Graphic elements in the book range from full-page, multi-panel comic to full-page illustrations to small cartoon-like images included with the text (like a muffin with a face crying "ButI'm so lovable!" after the movie's star rejects muffins in favor of fresh croissants. The characters from the Babymouse graphic novels have grow up ever-so-slightly. Babymouse is taller and thinner, but otherwise looks (and acts) pretty much the way kids will expect. 

The text has plenty of dialog, short paragraphs, and bolding, along with the occasional French phrase, making it a nice transition book for kids who are not excited about reading something too text-dense. There’s a cute product placement for the Holm siblings’ Squish series (which Babymouse’s little brother Squeak enjoys). Fans of the Squish books will get a kick out of it. Although there's no interior color, there are cute heart and star symbols providing within-chapter section breaks. There are also occasional lists and other written supporting materials, in notebook novel style.

In short, you have the familiar and lovable characters from the long-running Babymouse early graphic novel series experiencing slightly more grown-up problems now that they are in middle school, and with the addition of some narrative and notebook novel-style text. If this isn't the perfect, seamless next step for fans who are ready to progress from the quick graphic novel reads, then I don't know what is.Highly recommended, and a must-purchase for libraries serving middle grade and younger middle school readers.

I wonder if we'll ever progress to reading about Babymouse in high school...  

Publisher: Random House (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: July 4, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


Emily and the Spellstone: Michael Rubens

Book: Emily and the Spellstone
Author: Michael Rubens
Pages: 288
Age Range: 9-12

EmilySpellstoneEmily and the Spellstone is a middle grade / middle school fantasy novel by Michael Rubins, one that could be the first of a series. The fantasy elements are layered over middle school angst, including bullying, and shared in an over-the-top style. 12-year-old Emily is having a tough time, after moving cross-country with her family. She misses her friends, doesn't like her new home, is ignored by her older sister and tormented by her six-year-old brother, and is bullied by mean girl Kristy. All of these problems fade into the background, however, when Emily discovers a mysterious stone device on the beach that turns out to be a powerful Stone. The Stone contains an enslaved demon-like creature who must become Emily's servant, but also attracts interest from an evil and powerful family living in another dimension. 

I found the fantasy elements of Emily and the Spellstone to be creative and tween-friendly.  The Stone is basically a magical cell phone, filled with apths that Emily could control, if she could understand them. There's a Librarian who understands magic (though she's not able to be a huge amount of help), and a surprisingly good-natured demonic creature. There are clone versions of Emily and her brother that are cooperative to the point of worrying everyone around them. It's all in good fun.

I could relate to Emily as an extremely reluctant heroine. Here's a snippet that tells you everything you need to know about her personality:

"Adventure, she had learned, was an adult code word that actually meant "disruption and discomfort and change," none of which Emily was partial to. Last year in school the students had had to create personal profiles. Under hobbies Emily put hibernating and collecting rocks. Hibernating because Emily's idea of an ideal evening was to wrap herself up in a cozy blanket and read a book (preferably one without too much adventure.) Collecting rocks because she had a vague affection for geology: it was for the most part stable and slow-moving and trustworthy and comforting." (Page 3)

I also quite liked Angela, the only person at her new school to befriend Emily:

"She was quiet, observant, serious. The sort of student of whom other students might say, Oh, right, her. What was her name again?" (Page 50) 

Rubens' understanding of middle school social dynamics seems apt, if hopefully slightly exaggerated. Similarly with Emily's relationship with her clueless parents and annoying siblings. Like this:

"Her sister sat in the third row of the minivan and listened to music, occasionally singing out loud in her off-key voice. Dougie sat next to Emily in the second row, sometimes poking her in the ribs to wake her up and once dipping his finger into his yogurt shake and then sticking his finger in her eat, until she screamed at him and her parents scolded her and ordered her to sit in the back row with Hilary." (Page 77)

In terms of the fantasy elements of the book, I especially appreciated the role of the library and the librarian. There's a secret bookshelf that is only noticed by kids (like Angela) who read a lot. I am certain that my 10-year-old self would have been looking for that bookshelf after reading Emily and the Spellstone

In truth, the voice of Emily and the Spellstone was a little over the top for me personally. But I think that for tweens the book provides a very nice blend of middle school concerns and epic fantasy adventure. Emily is a likable heroine who manages to grow in strength without changing her core personality as the book progresses. I think this one is well worth a look for elementary and middle school libraries. 

Publisher: Clarion Books (@HMHKids) 
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls: Beth McMullen

Book: Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls
Author: Beth McMullen
Pages: 304
Age Range: 9-13

MrsSmithSpySchoolMrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls, by Beth McMullen, features an elite boarding school that is actually a cover for a hidden spy agency with female teen agents. Who could resist that? Not I. Narrator Abigail knows none of this when her mother strong-arms her into attending Smith School for Children, but she finds out soon enough when a late-night escapade and an escape attempt go awry. As the story progresses she learns self-defense moves from a mean girl super-agent, is sent to California as bait for a trap, is kidnapped (more than once), and escapes again to undertake a quest of her own. There are cool (if slightly glitchy) gadgets, unexpected bad guys, and loyal friends. Fans of Kiki Strike will definitely want to give Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls a look. I believe it may also work for fans of the Gallagher Girls series, though Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls is aimed more at middle grade than YA readers. 

What made Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls work for me was not so much the strong girl looking to be a spy premise (though that was certainly the hook), but rather Abigail's understated yet snarky voice. I'm not supposed to quote from the ARC, but she uses phrases like "smartphone blackjack", and she keeps her snarkiest responses to herself (shared in italics, to differentiate from regular dialog). There's a little more of a "trappings of rich kids" vibe than I personally love, but I suppose that's hard to avoid when setting a book in an elite boarding school. And it's certainly more plausible that rich kids would be able to skip about the country for adventures than otherwise. 

Abigail is a goofier, more realistic, more female version of young James Bond. She has a crush on a boy who likes someone else, but it's all very PG, and not especially "girly". I see no reason why boys wouldn't enjoy this book just as much as girls would. Beth McMullen takes a bit of time in Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls to set the stage for the further adventures of Abigail and her crew. Hopefully other books will be forthcoming soon, because this is going to be a fun series, sure to please middle grade fans of spy/adventure stories. 

Publisher: Aladdin (@SimonKids)
Publication Date: July 4, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the author

© 2017 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).