Monday, October 28, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Counting by 7's

This week's book was high on my to-read list and was also nominated for a Cybil. It is a book that once you start reading, you can't put it down. It's addicting!

by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Dial 2013

From Goodreads:
Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

Why kids will love it - Willow is such a fascinating character; she doesn't behave like normal kids, so the reader never knows what she will do or say.  She is also easy to relate to in her own way and you can't help but want her to find happiness again. At the same time, the other characters are all unique, and reading how they all interact and grow right along with Willow makes for an addicting story.

What I learned as a writer - Making sure each character is well-rounded, even if they are only minor, is so important. I think that's one of the reasons this book works, each character has been well thought out and it shows.  I also learned that having a surprise at the end of a book, even if it is small, gives such a satisfying ending for the reader. 

The Cybils nominating period has ended for the year for everyone. Our list in the fiction middle grade category is impressively long. I may have to lock myself in a room for a few days to make a major dent!

Have a great week! I can't believe my next post will be in November.  Crazy!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Don't Feed the Boy

Today's feature is a book that's been on my to-read list, but was moved up as it was nominated for the Cybils. I was drawn in by the main character, Whit, and felt an emotional connection to the story, always a plus for any good book.  So, let's get right to it.

by Irene Latham and illustrations by Stephanie Graegin
Roaring Book Press 2012

From Goodreads:
No kid knows more about zoo life than Whit. That's because he sleeps, eats and even attends home-school at the Meadowbrook Zoo. It's one of the perks of having a mother who's the zoo director and a father who's the head elephant keeper. Now that he's eleven, Whit feels trapped by the rules and routine of zoo life. With so many exotic animals, it's easy to get overlooked. 

But when Whit notices a mysterious girl who visits every day to draw the birds, suddenly the zoo becomes much more interesting. Who is the Bird Girl? And why does she come by herself to the zoo? Determined to gain her trust, Whit takes the Bird Girl on his own personal tour of the zoo. He shows her his favorite animals and what happens with them behind the scenes. For Whit, having a friend his own age that he can talk to is an exciting new experience. For Stella the Bird Girl, the zoo and Whit are a necessary escape from her chaotic home life. Together they take risks in order to determine where it is they each belong. But when Stella asks Whit for an important and potentially dangerous favor, Whit discovers how complicated friendship and freedom-- can be.

Why kids will love it - The emotions of Whit and Stella are common for many tweens. Readers may understand things in their own lives better by reading how Whit and Stella deal with their own unique situations.  For kids that have grown up going to the zoo, reading about what happens behind the scenes might interest them.

What I learned as a writer - The voice of this book is perfect. The dialogue between Whit and Stella is so important to the book and so believable. I also felt the secondary characters were brought to life and developed, not just thrown in to make the story work.

Thanks for stopping by today. For those of you who also blog, if I don't stop by as much over the next month or two, it is because I have my head in a book somewhere. Over 100 books have been nominated so far in the middle grade fiction category of the Cybils. Amazing!

Have a great week!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Duke

Welcome to another Marvelous Middle Grade Monday! Today's pick is another book that I was introduced to as a Cybils judge. The same as last week's book, it is an historical fiction, although it goes back a little further to Seattle, Washington during World War II. Much of the book is based on actual fact, so it is entertaining as well as educational.

by: Kirby Larson
Scholastic Press 2013

From the jacket flap:
With World War II raging and his father fighting overseas in Europe, eleven-year-old Hobie Hanson is determined to do his part to help his family and his country, even if it means giving up his beloved German shepherd, Duke. Hoping to help end the war and bring his dad home faster, Hobie decides to donate Duke to Dogs for Defense, an organization that urges Americans to "loan" their pets to the military to act as sentries, mine sniffers, and patrol dogs. Hobie immediately regrets his decision and tries everything he can to get Duke back, even jeopardizing his friendship with the new boy at school. But when his father is taken prisoner by the Germans, Hobie realizes he must let Duke go and reach deep within himself to be brave. Will Hobie ever see Duke, or his father, again? Will life ever by the same?

Why kids will love it - Kids will relate right away to Hobie. He's a normal, every day kid who just happens to live during a traumatic time in our country's history. Not only is his dad fighting overseas, but he is talked into donating his beloved dog and sending him to fight as well. Larson does a great job showing all the emotions and issues Hobie is dealing with - sadness with his dad gone and then captured, regret over donating Duke, a bully at school that won't go away and how to be brave and support your country with all this going on in the background. I didn't know about the Dogs for Defense program (which was real) and kids can find out about this important part of the war effort. 

What I learned as a writer - In the back matter, Larson explained why she picked to write about the Dogs for Defense aspect of the war. She hadn't found any books for kids showcasing this fact of the war and saw a need.  I've heard this so many times at writing conferences - think of subject and what aspect hasn't be written about yet.  There's your marketable idea!

Thanks for stopping by today. If you've read a great book in 2013 for kids (actually anything published between October 15, 2012 and now), be sure to nominate it for a Cybil award. The nomination period closes tomorrow, October 15th, so stop by today!

Have a great week! 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Seeing Red

Thanks for stopping by today! Judging for the Cybils is in full swing, and it is exciting seeing all the great books coming in for my group to read. Today's feature is one that has been nominated and actually was just released last month. It is historical fiction, taking place in 1972 Virginia, and definitely for older middle grade readers, as Erskine doesn't sugar-coat the history of the time period.

by: Kathryn Erskine
Scholastic Press 2013

From the jacket flap:
Life will never be the same for Red Porter. He's a kid growing up around black car grease, white fence paint, and the backward attitudes of the folks who live in his hometown, Stony Gap, Virginia.

Red's daddy, his idol, has just died, leaving Red and Mama with some hard decisions and a whole lot of doubt. Should they sell the Porter family business -- a gas station, repair shop, and convenience store rolled into one, where the slogan -- "Porter's: We Fix it Right!" -- has been shouting the family's pride for as long as anyone can remember?

With Daddy gone, everything's different. Through his friendships with Thomas, Beau, Rosie, and Miss Georgia, Red starts to see there's a lot more than car motors and rusty fenders that need fixing in his world.

When Red discovers the injustices that have been happening in Stony Gap since before he was born, he's faced with unsettling questions about his family's legacy.

Why Kids Will Love It - Any middle grader who loves historical fiction will love this book. It goes into much detail and really makes the reader feel they are in the early 1970's, and girl or boy, it doesn't matter. The book is pretty fast paced and keeps the reader on their toes. Many characters seem a bit stereo-typical at first, but as their layers are revealed, they become more interesting and not always who they seem to be originally.

What I learned as a writer - The attention to detail. Erskine obviously spent a tremendous amount of time on research for this book, although after reading the back matter, she revealed that many of the characters are based on real life people and events, as well. Erskine also shows a delicacy to her writing when describing difficult, hard-to-read situations. It is tough to imagine that people in our history could act they way that they did, and I'm sure, very hard for many middle graders of today to understand. Erskine's writing helps tone down the emotion without taking anything away from it.

I hope you all have a great week! I will be busy reading, reading, reading!  For other middle grade picks, see my favorite links to the right on my website.