Monday, October 31, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: When You Reach Me

by: Rebecca Stead
Published December 28th 2010 by Yearling (first published July 14th 2009)

Winner of the 2010 John Newbery Medal

I know many of you already read this book, and I can't believe I waited as long as I did to be added to the list. I wanted to share my thoughts, the first of which when I finished the book, was WOW! It's one of those books that when you finish you want to read again, now that you know the ending. Before we get to my thoughts, the publisher's description:

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know who to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a kid on the street for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then a mysterious note arrives, scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:

I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

This remarkable novel takes place in the real world but holds a fantastic puzzle at its heart. When You Reach Me is an original, and a brilliant and profound delight.

Throughout the book, Miranda enters into new relationships with various people, most importantly Annemarie, Marcus and Julia. These three new friends each teach her new things about herself: how to be a real friend; don't judge people on your first impression; and yes, people can surprise you.

I also appreciated Miranda's relationship with Richard, her mom's boyfriend. So many books portray the boyfriend/step-father in an unflattering way with lots of conflict. Here that is one relationship that appears to be safe and secure.

One fun element of the story that gives a lighter tone is the storyline of Miranda's mom's quest to be a contestant on The $20,000 Pyramid. The practicing at home with Miranda and Richard make for some fun family moments.

If you haven't read WHEN YOU REACH ME, definitely read it soon. And if you have already read it, what did you think?

Friday, October 28, 2011

PiBoIdMo Participant

So I've decided to take the plunge, I'm going to participate in PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month).  NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a bit too much of a challenge for me with work and family this year.  Maybe next year???  But, I'm putting myself out there to try PiBoIdMo and come up with 30 picture book ideas in 30 days (the month of November).  All you picture book writers out there, why don't you join me?  Lots of encourage will be available and you can also signed up for the discussion group on Facebook.  For more info, click on the participant badge displayed proudly to the right.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Picture Book Thursday: Grace for President

by: Kelly DiPucchio and LeUyen Pham
Published February 26th 2007 by Hyperion

Welcome to Thursday!  Definitely glad this week is nearing an end.  Today I'm reviewing fellow Michigander Kelly DiPucchio's marvelous book GRACE FOR PRESIDENT. First from the publisher:

"Where are the girls?"

When Grace's teacher reveals that the United States has never had a female president, Grace decides to be the first. And she immediately starts off her political career as a candidate the school's mock election. But soon, she realizes that she has entered a tough race. Her popular opponent claims to be the "best man for the job"—and seems to have captured all the male votes—while Grace concentrates on being the best person.

In this timely story, author Kelly DiPucchio not only gives readers a fun introduction to the American electoral system, but also teaches them the value of hard work, courage, and independent thought--and offers an inspiring example of how to choose our leaders.

What a fun teaching tool for the electoral system! Kelly uses simple language and a great story to explain our voting system to young children. And as an added bonus throws in the female president angle. The illustrations add even more ways to understand voting. A great book for girls and boys alike.  My sons love it!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday- How Oliver Olson Changed the World

by: Claudia Mills and Heather Maione
Published April 17th 2009 by Farrar Straus Giroux (first published 2009)

Welcome to a new week!  Today I'm reviewing a book about change.  First take a look at the blurb in Goodreads.

Oliver Olson’s teacher is always saying that one person with a big idea can change the world. But how is Oliver supposed to change the world when his parents won’t let him do anything on his own – not his class projects or even attending activities such as the space sleepover at school. Afraid he will become an outsider like ex-planet Pluto, Oliver decides to take control of his corner of the universe!

In this irresistible chapter book featuring lively illustrations, Oliver Olson learns that before you can change the world, sometimes you need to change yourself.

This is definitely a book for the younger middle grade set.  Easy to read and understand.  As the blurb stated, Oliver has a problem.  His parents, especially his mom, make all his decisions for him, and Oliver, who doesn't want to rock the boat, lets them.  He finally reaches his limit when his class at school has the opportunity to spend the night in the classroom for a space sleepover for science class. Oliver wants to participate so badly, but can't convince his parents.  With the help of his friend, Crystal, and the planet Pluto, he realizes that people and ideas can change - for the good.

Written with some hilarious scenes involving dioramas of space and family pets, this book is great for boys and girls alike.

For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday links, check out the list to the right.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Picture Book Thursday: Hot Rod Hamster

by: Cynthia Lord and Derek Anderson
Published February 1st 2010 by Scholastic Press (first published 2010)

If it wasn't for my son, I probably would never have found HOT ROD HAMSTER. He loves cars, so this book was a natural for him.  Written in rhyme, it also features call out bubbles for when the characters speak with one another. It's very interesting to see how the story flows together. Although it may sound confusing to read, by text placement, it's always easy to see what should be read first.

The character of Hamster definitely makes this book. I can see why a sequel was recently released entitled, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HAMSTER. He's so small and cute, but not afraid of anything. I also loved the rats who helped get the hot rod ready. Their antics in the background are worth a look. And I can't forget the bulldog, who acts as a father-figure to the other animals, keeping everyone safe.

I recommend this book especially for any child who has a love of cars.

As normal on Wednesday, one of my sons brought home his library books from school.  One of the books he picked out was HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HAMSTER.  So, that means an extra review from me!   The second Hamster book is also by Cynthia Lord and Derek Anderson.  Much of what makes the first book so fun remains present in this sequel.

Published May 1st 2011 by Scholastic Press

This time around it's Hamster's birthday, but he thinks everyone has forgotten.  Little does he know that his best friend, Bulldog has a surprise party planned.  What a great party!

Definitely check out these books, and enjoy the rest of your week! 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sharing an amazing contest from Shannon Messenger

If you haven't heard, Shannon Messenger is hosting a MAGICAL contest at her blog. In appreciation of her followers over the years and in celebration of her AMAZING book deal with Aladdin, she has put together one HUGE contest.  Stop over at Shannon's to get all the details....

Shannon Whitney Messenger: Wishes come true in the biggest blog contest I've ...: Whew--last week was officially one of the most surreal, crazy, amazing weeks of my life. I seriously can't thank you enough for all your com...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - The Wednesday Wars

by: Gary D. Schmidt
Published May 18th 2009 by Sandpiper (first published February 29th 2000)

Happy Monday!  I'm excited to share a Newbery Honor Book by a fellow Michigander today.  And a special thanks to Clara Gillow Clark for advising me to read THE WEDNESDAY WARS as research for my middle grade novel I'm writing. 

First from the publisher:

Holling Hoodhood is really in for it.  He's just started seventh grade with Mrs. Baker, a teacher he knows is out to get him. Why else would she make him read Shakespeare ... outside of class?

The year is 1967, and everyone has bigger things to worry about. There's Vietnam for one thing, and then there's the family business. As far as Holling's father is concerned, nothing is more important than the family business. In fact, all the Hoodhoods must be on their best behavior at all times. The success of Hoodhood and Associates depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has Mrs. Baker to contend with?

The first interesting item to note is the chapter set-up. Starting with September and ending in June, each month represents one chapter. The book flows through the school year 1967-1968.  The book is also written in first person, which lets you really feel the emotions of Holling as he faces the highs and lows of his life during seventh grade.

My favorite parts of the book are the relationship dynamics between Holling and Mrs. Baker. From Holling's point of view, Mrs. Baker is out to get him; he can't seem to do anything right. But what he doesn't realize and the reader begins to figure out as the school year progresses is how much he is learning. And not just about school subjects, but also about life. Without spoiling any important storylines, let me just say that Mrs. Baker appears to have a bigger influence on Holling's life than anyone else, including his own parents.

Many other relationships are explored: Holling and his father; Holling and his sister (who's name the reader doesn't find out until May - and ironically I didn't even realize it until her name was said out loud); Holling and his friends, Danny and Doug; and Holling and Meryl Lee, his eventual girlfriend.

One other item to note, I'm an avid baseball fan, so the book was extra cool when bits involving the Yankees were made part of the story. (Although as a Detroit Tiger fan, I really don't care for the Yankees.)

I definitely recommend THE WEDNESDAY WARS, and I plan to read the sequel which came out this year, OKAY FOR NOW, and was named a National Book Award finalist last week.  Plan to see that review in an upcoming MMGM.

And for more MMGMs, check out Shannon Messenger's blog and her listing of even more links.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pay It Forward Blogfest

Welcome!  Three blogs that I regularly follow are (in no particular order):

Shannon Whitney Messenger  But who doesn't follow her?  And if you don't, you should!  Her posts are inspiring and fun to read!  And she introduced me to Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays, which I love.

Barbara Ann Watson A new blog I found by a fellow MMGM participant.  I love Barbara's honesty and her book reviews are very helpful.

Clara Gillow Clark Clara is my instructor for my class with the Institute for Children's Literature, so I'm a little biased, but her book recommendations are wonderful.

Have fun blog hopping!  And I hope you'll stop by again.  On Mondays I review a middle grade book (Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays) and on Thursdays I review a picture book.  Other random postings can occur throughout the week.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Rollercoaster Rides

The writing life resembles a rollercoaster ride.  Full of ups and downs, high times and low times. I've noticed through reading Facebook, blogs and other areas writers peruse, that this week seems to be an up and down week for many writers.  Some are scoring huge writing contracts after years of writing and waiting.  Some have found the agents they've been searching for.  Some are having doubts because nothing seems to be happening right now.  No contacts from agents or publishers, writer's block seems to have set up camp in their brain or the story ideas just don't seem to flow.

The best thing a writer can do if they are in the valley of lows is look at those who have reached a goal or milestone and remember, "That can be me someday!"  Continue to write and continue to read, whether it is a book on craft or a book in your genre.  Cheer your fellow writers on, remembering we all need support, even in our joy. 

And the biggest way to achieve your dreams is to write and write and write!  A agent can't sign you, or a publisher can't offer you a contract, if you don't have anything to submit.  Reach for your dreams and remember that those that have didn't get there overnight.

Does this sound like good advice?  What do you think?  I would love to read your comments.

Picture Book Thursday: A Sick Day for Amos McGee

by: Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead
Published May 25th 2010 by Roaring Brook Press

Welcome to Picture Book Thursday.  Today's book, A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE, won the Caldecott Medal in 2011.  Written and illustrated by a husband and wife team, we are first introduced to Amos, a zookeeper, as he begins his day.  Before he begins his daily responsibilities, he makes sure to spend time with his animal friends: the elephant, the tortoise, the penguin, the rhinoceros and the owl.

But, one day, Amos wakes up with a cold.  His animal friends miss him at the zoo, so they decide to visit him at home.  After spending time with Amos, and helping to take care of him, Amos begins to feel much better.

I love this book, and the illustrations are so intricate, yet fun for kids. Amos and the animals show the give and take of true friendship and its importance. I definitely recommend this book.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Lemonade War

by Jacqueline Davies
Published May 4th 2009 by Sandpiper (first published April 23rd 2007)

Happy Monday!  Today's book effectively describes a male/female sibling relationship with fun and sincerity.

From the publisher:

Evan Treski is people-smart. He is good at talking to people, even grownups. His younger sister, Jessie, on the other hand, is math-smart-but not especially good at understanding people. She knows that feelings are her weakest subject. So when their lemonade war begins, there is no telling who will win-or if their fight will ever end.

The Lemonade War (who can earn $100 first from their own lemonade stand) stems from one incident in the lives of Evan and Jessie. Evan will be entering fourth grade at the end of the summer, but so will Jessie, as she is skipping third grade. Originally Evan was okay with this, but then a letter arrives in the mail stating that because of low enrollment, the two fourth grade classes are being combined. Now they will have the same teacher and be in the same classroom.

This dynamic of big brother versus little sister fuels the drama of the War. We see both sides of the story as the point of view shifts back and forth between the siblings. Miscommunication is also a big key, as Evan understands "people" and Jessie doesn't quite get relationships yet.

A fun aspect of the book has each chapter titled with a word from the business world and the definition then follows. Kids learn without realizing it. Fun business math is also thrown in as Evan and Jessie try to figure out how much they need to win THE WAR.

The Treski's are a fun set of siblings. Their relationship with their mom is also explored, as their dad is not around anymore. I recommend THE LEMONADE WAR, and I can't wait to read more about the Treski's in the sequel, THE LEMONADE CRIME.
For more MMGMs, check out Shannon Messenger's blog and her listing of even more links.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Picture Book Thursday: The Pout-Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark

by: Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna
Published August 17th 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

Since I have always loved the ocean and all its creatures, the Pout-Pout Fish is a natural choice for me for my first review during Picture Book Thursday.  Mr. Fish is a fun, lovable character and in this book a great friend.

The book begins with Ms. Clam.  She lost her pearl and Mr. Fish makes a promise to find it.  As he searches, he comes across a major obstacle to overcome - the dark.  It takes a new friend and the promise he can't break to overcome this fear.

I definitely recommend this book, and if you missed it, the original THE POUT-POUT FISH.  Another fun book with a wonderful, surprise ending.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally)

by Lisa Yee and Dan Santat
Published September 1st 2009 by Arthur A. Levine Books

Today marks my first post as part of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.  I'm very excited!  A big shout-out to Shannon Messenger, who spearheaded this idea on her blog.

First, doesn't the title just grab you?  When I first saw the title, I thought it was a typo or something.  But, the title totally fits Bobby and his personality.  For a fun look at the book here is what the publisher says:

Eight Things Bobby Ellis-Chan Didn't Mean to Do:

* Train his goldfish to do tricks

* Be embarrassed by a football player called "The Freezer"

* Hug a tree

* Get stuck to the tree

* Run for office

* Spill paint all over his best friend

* Starts a fight with his now ex-best friend

* Have that fight become an all0out boys vs. girls WAR!

Who know what will happen next?

Filled with humor and fun family situations, Bobby vs. Girls is a great read.  Bobby tries so hard to be a normal fourth grader, but with a famous father and a girl for a best friend, being a regular kid is just not in his future. 

I really loved the family dynamics in the book, a retired NFL player who is now a stay-at-home dad and a working mom.  A big sister who plays football with the boys and an annoying little sister.   Bobby does his best to forge his own path and learns some interesting and hard life lessons along the way.


For more MMGMs, check out Shannon Messenger's blog and her listing of even more links.