243 posts categorized "Late Elementary School" Feed

Ellie, Engineer: Jackson Pearce

Book: Ellie, Engineer
Author: Jackson Pearce
Illustrator: Tuesday Mourning
Pages: 192
Age Range: 8-12

EllieEngineerEllie, Engineer is an early middle grade novel by Jackson Pearce, lightly illustrated by Tuesday Mourning, about a girl named Ellie Bell who loves to design and build things. She's a more grown up (~10 years old), more confident version of Rosie Revere, Engineer. Ellie has turned the playhouse portion of her backyard playset into a workshop. She walks around wearing a tool belt. Her prize possession is a small drill. Her best friend, Kit, also likes to build things, though Kit is more interested in things like staying clean and attending beauty pageants than Ellie is. 

Ellie, Engineer begins with Ellie furious because the neighborhood boys refuse to let her play soccer, because she is a girl. She builds a water balloon launcher and uses it to wreak a successful revenge. However, when Kit's birthday present (a French-braiding machine) goes awry, Ellie finds herself needing a to build a new present in secret and on short notice. Her ambitious plans to build a dog house (for the dog that the eavesdropping girls believe that Kit is getting) require help. And that means that Ellie has to reach out to other kids, including one of the dreaded neighborhood boys. 

As a woman who studied engineering in college and graduate school, I, of course, found Ellie irresistible. I liked her parents' free range attitude towards her pursuits, and I liked that even though she was into building things she also liked to wear things like fluffy purple skirts. I loved that she built a balloon launcher, and that she was able to seek out help where her own strengths were not a match (like in decorating the inside of the dog house). I loved this:

"The drill was one of her favorite tools because it was the only electric tool she was allowed to use without her mom and dad watching. She'd written Ellie Bell's Drill across the side in purple paint pen, then drawn some flowers and some dragons, which had mostly rubbed off by now since she used it so much." (Chapter One)

The combination of wanting to build things, but also wanting to decorate a drill with flowers and dragons, felt realistic to me. Contrived, maybe, a tiny bit, but I'll give it a pass because I think that readers will like it. 

I also liked the illustrations, consisting largely of Ellie's designs, drawn on graph paper. Oh, how I loved graph paper when I was young, all through school. The sketch of the balloon launcher, made out of a spare yard sign, two brooms, exercise bands and a funnel, was delightful, especially little instructions like "SOAK BOYS!".

I was not quite as keen on the friendship dynamics of the book. When Ellie started telling unnecessary lies (because of what she thought other people would think about her co-conspirators), I gave a little sigh. The conflicts were resolved rather easily in the end for my taste, though I do think that the book is appropriate to kids in the target age range. I'm interested to test it out on my seven year old daughter. I did laugh out loud at this bit:

"Ellie frowned. This was turning into a big project, with so many people wanting to help. Plus, she wasn't so sure she trusted the neighborhood boys when they were all together like this. Boys, as far as she could tell, were sort of like rabbits. One was fine and maybe even interesting to play with, but a whole bunch of them would just be a lot of jumping and running and smelling." (Chapter Six)

This last quote does suggest a rather direct targeting of Ellie, Engineer toward girls, though I would think that boys would find Ellie's projects interesting, too. 

Parents who want to encourage their girls to be interested in STEM fields should certainly pick up a copy of Ellie, Engineer for their daughters. It's a shame this is releasing in January, instead of in time for Christmas. It would also be a good addition to elementary school library collections. The back matter suggests that this book is the first of a new series, so I expect that we'll see Ellie and her friends in future books. Recommended and entertaining!

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
Source of Book: Advanced 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).


Polaris: Michael Northrop

Book: Polaris
Author: Michael Northrop
Pages: 288
Age Range: 9-12

PolarisPolaris by Michael Northrop is historical science fiction, both creepy and suspenseful. In the 1830's, somewhere off the coast of Brazil, a ship (the Polaris) awaits the return of a boat that has gone ashore to explore. When the boat returns, however, part of the crew is missing, and one returning crew member is infected. Following mutiny and abandonment by crew members, a collection of six boys is left to handle the ship, and the mysterious danger that now lurks below decks. 

This story of young kids striving to sail a ship on their own would have been a compelling survival story in any event. The addition of a frightening creature that lurks below decks ratchets up the suspense. Northrop juggles the different personalities of the six young crew members skillfully. There is conflict between them, but they do eventually form a team, fighting a common enemy. The perspective of Polaris shifts between several of the quite different personalities, particularly those of Owen, chief cabin boy and nephew of the ship's one-time captain, and Henry, apprentice to the ship's botanist. Owen is strong and relatively skilled for his age, but, well, not terribly clever. Henry is an extremely poor sailor, but quite clever. As any reader will expect, the strengths of each boy come into play as the story progresses. 

Polaris conveys many details of old-time ships, from rigging to navigation to food to maintenance. Young readers interested in Columbus' voyage will definitely want to give Polaris a look. The supernatural elements have a Michael Crichton-like feel, with a basis in science. Any kid looking for science-based science fiction will also want to check out Polaris. While the science fiction elements give Polaris  a different feel from some of Northop's other books, there's no question that Polaris is a compelling and suspenseful read. Recommended, and well worth a look for libraries serving elementary and middle school readers. 

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: October 31, 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).


Who Killed Darius Drake?: Rodman Philbrick

Book: Who Killed Darius Drake?
Author: Rodman Philbrick
Pages: 192
Age Range: 8-12

DariusDrakeWho Killed Darius Drake? by Rodman Philbrick is a rare realistic middle grade mystery that involves a potential murder. Narrator Arthur Bash (aka Bash Man) is a misunderstood bully who hires himself out for candy bars. When orphaned genius geek Darius Drake hires Arthur to help with a quest, the two become incongruous friends. With a bit of help from Arthur's wealthy, put-together stepsister, the boys end up involved with multiple ex-cons, searching for a long-missing diamond necklace. 

Arthur is a great character, with a much more sensitive soul than anyone seeing his large body and scowling face would imagine. Here are a couple of quotes to show you his personality:

"I knew about the home (for orphans)--everybody does, all the kids--but this is my first time inside it. No surprise, the place creeps me out a little. Not because it's spooky or scary, nothing like that. It's actually kind of cheerful, in a sad-but-trying way. But it made me think, what if it was me? What if both my parents died and nobody wanted me? Like that." (Chapter Three)

"The air smells of leather and old books. I must be some kind of weirdo, because to me that's a good smell." (Chapter Nine)

"Silence. If only I could melt into the flood, or turn invisible, or maybe go deaf. Because hearing them talk around each other is like getting poked with a sharp stick. It hurts in familiar places, even though I'm not an orphan like Darius, or a felon like Winston Brooks..." (Chapter Nineteen)

Darius is also interesting. He's bright and prickly and socially awkward, and determined to figure things out using inductive reasoning. His awkwardness around the attractive Deirdre is disarming. The way he gradually comes to appreciate Arthur for more than his bulk feels realistic. 

The plot of Who Killed Darius Drake? is suspenseful and fast-paced. There's an old-fashioned feel to the book, with the boys doing library research and scrolling through microfiche, despite the presence of modern trappings like a GoPro camera. This is either because the seeds of the mystery lie in the past or because of Philbrick's writing style. Some modern details aside, Who Killed Darius Drake? feels like a book that I would have gobbled down when I was ten years old. I do expect it to be a hit with today's kids, too. 

Any kid (or adult) who enjoys quest-type mysteries, with clues gradually revealed through research, will enjoy Who Killed Darius Drake? Although this is clearly a standalone novel, I personally would be more than happy to run across Arthur, Darius, and Deirdre again in the future. Recommended!

Publisher: The Blue Sky Press (@Scholastic
Publication Date: September 26, 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).


One Mixed-Up Night: Catherine Newman

Book: One Mixed-Up Night
Author: Catherine Newman
Pages: 208
Age Range: 8-12

OneMixedUpNightAs a long-time fan of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, I found the premise of Catherine Newman's One Mixed-Up Night irresistible. Two friends sneak off and spend a night creating their own adventures in an Ikea store. What I found when I read the book was that Newman absolutely captures the fun of being somewhere cool that one is not supposed to be, while also making the book about something more substantive (grief). 

Frankie (a girl) basically comes up with the scheme as a way to try to shake up her best friend, Walter, after Walter suffers a loss. As Frankie tells readers in the very first paragraph, these are not bad kids getting into trouble. Rather, these are "dorky geeks" who are more than a bit obsessed with Ikea, and are in need of a serious distraction. While the plot of One Mixed-Up Night requires some suspension of disbelief for the adult reader, I think that middle grade readers will have no trouble at all. What kid wouldn't want to spend the night in a huge store full of furniture and other cool things, able to jump on couches and have pillow rights and race shopping carts, with no adult supervision?  

Here's Frankie's description of Walter:

"He's hard to describe, Walter, because he's kind of bubbling over with energy, but then he's also so chill. And some people assume he's going to be good at sports because he's black--or his mom is, so technically he's mixed race--and he's um, not good at sports. One of our favorite things (it's still magneted to Walter's refrigerator) is this end-of-year report he got from our gym teacher when we were in first grade. We loved this teacher, who wrote on Walter's report: "Walter is one of the finest students I have had the pleasure of teaching. He's a model of sportsmanship, good nature, and serious effort. That said, his athletic abilities will continue to develop as he works on the following:"--we especially love that colon--"Running. Jumping. Throwing balls. Catching balls. Passing. Receiving. Strength. Coordination. Balance." (Page 21)

Meanwhile, Frankie is working on carving out a modicum of independence from her "pretty great", but very involved, parents. Like this:

"And now, in sixth grade? I was starting to realize that I didn't have to (tell her mother everything). That I could have this private part of my life inside my own head, and I could share it or not. And if I didn't, nobody would even know about it. It was kind of strange--like discovering that there was a hole in the floor underneath your bed, filled with jewels and gold coins, and you could just go ahead and not mention it to anybody." (Page 24)

What a great depiction of starting to grow up! One more, then you can go read this yourself:

"Do you know how you can just feel completely strange in the world sometimes? Like everyone's one way and you're another? Or like there's some translator chip that someone forgot to program you with, and other kids joke about stuff and you don't know what they're talking about? (Page 71)

Again, pitch-perfect, without being overly introspective. 

One Mixed-Up Night is a super-fun book about two kids who scheme to spend the night in an Ikea store. But it's much more than that, too. It's about growing up, being loyal to a friend, coping with grief, and taking responsibility. And yes, it's about the cool kitchen items that you can find in an Ikea store, and what you might pack for a sleepover. This is a book that definitely belongs in all libraries serving middle grade readers. Highly recommended, and one of my favorite new releases of the year. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: September 5, 2017
Source of Book: Purchased it.

© 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).


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).