Book Review: Stargazing by Jen Wang

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“Moon is everything Christine isn’t.” The back cover describes this new middle grade graphic novel to a tee. When you’re young, you naturally compare yourself to the people around you, and that’s exactly what happens in this book. Christine is reluctant to meet Moon, the new girl across the street. Their parents get along and want the kids to be friends, but Moon is sort of…different…okay, weird. At school, Moon is known as “the girl who fights” – a rumor started after people ask where she came from, what is she doing here?

Soon enough, though, Christine becomes friends with Moon. As neighbors, they start with the convenience of being the same age and sharing Chinese food and culture. Moon’s interesting and fun; she loves dancing to K-Pop music and is a talented artist. The girls spend lots of time together and Christine feels like a new person around Moon – not the stuffy “do-your-homework-and-get-all-As” student of the past. But hanging around with Moon also leads to other observations, starting with stargazing. Moon says she belongs among the stars, and sees celestial beings telling her that she isn’t from Earth. (Well, that’s…interesting.)

Christine also notices that Moon sometimes “spaces out,” and this leads to events at school and at a birthday party that may be dangerous for the friendship, and for Moon’s well-being. When Moon gets into another fight, her world changes drastically. Now the fun-loving, dancing, happy Moon is not. Can Christine be the friend that Moon needs, or will the friendship end in disaster?

Why I Loved This Book: I loved Stargazing because this story is parallel to any young person’s life in school and with friends. Feeling (and being) weird, insecure, and out of this world are issues everyone faces at one point or another, and Christine and Moon’s stories are not unlike our own.

Why You Should Read Stargazing: This is an important book about friendships, families, and life issues. It’s also an easy-to-share graphic novel that friends and families can read together. Christine and Moon will help you to understand life better and hope for more dancing days to come.

My rating: ****

Recommended for ages 8 and up. Published by First Second, 2019.

Book Review: Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me (April, 2020)

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Gae Polisner’s new novel, Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me, is due in April 2020 from Wednesday Books, but you should pre-order this now.

JL Markham’s teen years seem typical, and yet this main character grabs the reader’s attention and holds on for dear life. In Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me, JL’s stories surround her butterfly habitat, her family struggles, and her relationship with Max Gordon, who she hopes will take her away from all the high school drama when he graduates and moves to California. She’s packed and ready to leave as soon as Max is. He’s sort of a roughneck with a cool ride, but he’s also intelligent and cares for JL. Right?

JL’s mother has dissociative disorder and depression, which provides a major conflict for JL — a mother who lives alternate realities, wearing revealing kimonos around the house and writing letters to a dead author (enter Jack Kerouac). Dad took another stint with his out-of-town business and left JL and Mom in the best possible position he could, financially anyway. Mom doesn’t deal well most days, but she sees Dr. Marsdan faithfully so that she might get better sooner than later. JL’s “best friend forever,” Aubrey Andersson, now has new friends, Niccole and Meghan (think “Mean Girls”), so JL wraps her energy into raising beautiful butterflies in the solace and safety of her bedroom. She even learned to fix one’s broken wing by watching a video. Butterflies are stronger than we humans think, and they provide a safe and stable environment for JL in an otherwise cruel world. As for Max, he’s invested, he’s all in, he’s there for JL every step of the way. Right?

What happens when childhood friendships end, but adult life has yet to begin? What’s next for 15-year-old JL? Will she be caged in – stuck in the past, or fly away to a bright future?

Why I Loved This Book: I loved Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me for the references to strong girls who are intelligent and can live life on their own (even if they don’t know how yet), for how the characters made me feel (reliving my own high school days), and for the twists and turns that the alternating timelines led me through. I wanted to smack JL’s friends and hug her at the same time, letting her know that life works out, eventually.

Why You Should Pre-Order Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me: You’ll want to learn more about raising butterflies (it’s fascinating!). You’ll want to scream at Aubrey. You’ll want to yell at Dad over JL’s phone. You’ll want to hug Mom and tell her everything will be okay. You’ll want to help Max see the love that is standing there, waiting for him. And you’ll want to encourage JL to live her best life, leaving her past behind. This book is remarkable. Gae Polisner has done it again. Add it to your list now, and be ready to read in 2020.

My Rating: *****

Book Review: Give and Take by Elly Swartz

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I was honored to receive an advanced reader copy of Give and Take by Elly Swartz (thank you, #booksojourn and Macmillan Publishers) and I was inspired! If you haven’t yet, pre-order this phenomenal middle grade novel. You won’t be disappointed.

About Give and Take: Maggie is a caring 12-year-old who loves her family and friends. Her daily life includes trapshooting with her friends at school (with her dad as the coach) and helping to care for Isabella, the family’s foster baby. Maggie has 2 brothers, as well, who give her a run for her money. Maggie would love to call Izzy her sister, but mom and dad made it clear that this is a temporary arrangement.

“Temporary” haunts Maggie — her grandmother recently passed, and didn’t remember her in the end. This devastates Maggie, and the thought of giving up another family member is too much. Maggie is obsessed with remembering every conversation, encounter, and memory that is important to her. Maggie doesn’t want to make the same “mistake” as her grandmother, so she collects artifacts in boxes and places them in her closet and under her bed. Even baby Izzie’s sock and pacifier sit in a new box of memories.

When Mom finds Maggie’s overwhelming secret stashes, she is more than concerned about the anxiety that has taken over her daughter’s mind. With the help of a doctor, family, and friends, Maggie must learn to cope with life’s give and take. With Izzie leaving to go to her forever family soon, it’s not going to be easy for Maggie to let go of anything.

Why I Loved Give and Take by Elly Swartz: I learned about the sport of trapshooting, child hoarding, and more about life as a foster family member. I was rooting for Maggie (and her friends) the whole time, and also got to relive a little bit of middle school (for better or worse!). This story is one that appeals to readers of all ages.

Why You Should Read Give and Take: Everyone will find something in common with Maggie, Mom, Dad, or her brothers. The family dynamics are realistic and well-written. The back matter includes information and resources that help families; I love “further reading” opportunities.

This book is an inspiring story of family, friendships, and growing up. Read Give and Take — take the story into your heart, and give the book to your friends when you’re done reading. (Due from FSG Books for Young Readers on October 15, 2019)

 

Book Review: Astro-Nuts, by Jon Scieszka

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Recommended for ages 8-12, Astro-Nuts is the newest creation by Jon Scieszka , illustrated by Steven Weinberg. In this first book in a planned trilogy, Mission One: The Plant Planet, NNASA (Not-NASA) charges four mutant animals hiding in Mt. Rushmore to travel to outer space and find other planets to support human life, since the humans have all but destroyed planet Earth. (Science concept: Climate change) In their attempt to report Plant Planet as habitable, the Astro-Nuts found that the plant citizens are ready to defend their home.

As they navigate the crazy colorful pages, readers find out much more about the science of plant life, and also increase vocabulary skills, learning words like ice caps, fossil fuels, vortex, and many more. Reporting back to Earth isn’t as easy as it seems.

Would you like a funny book that also teaches science concepts, aimed to explain deep content to children? Well, Jon Scieszka does it again — creating zany characters who ban together for exploration and learning fun. Blast off! This adventure in reading has just begun. (Due September 2019 from Chronicle Books)

Book Review: Ordinary Hazards, by Nikki Grimes

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Nikki Grimes is one of my favorite writers, gathering beautiful words in her notebooks over the years, which are now mixed with memories in Ordinary Hazards (coming 10/08/19 — thank you for providing ARCs, WordSong/Highlights).

The content is dark, yet hopeful. The words are tragic, yet inspirational. Some poems made me laugh (“Math Madness”) and more made me cry (“Reunion”). Ms. Grimes shares everything with the reader, making the reader feel her pain, believe in God, and hope for the future, all at once. The cover of the book reveals a beautiful, silvery sparkling butterfly; that’s Ms. Grimes — a cocooned child who emerges as a powerful and poetic, soulful adult.

“Words have the power to change a life, the power to save a life.” The last poem is the perfect, gripping ending to a heartfelt story of a human. Thank you, Ms. Grimes, for your words.

Book Review: The Tornado by Jake Burt

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    What does it take to avoid the school bully? Fifth grader and innovative thinker, Bell Kirby, has an elaborate plan that works, until the day Daelynn Gower, the new student with rainbow hair and crazy attire, arrives.
     Back in 4th grade, former friends, Bell and Parker Hellickson (the principal’s son), had a falling out over a hallway water fountain and a chipped tooth. After that incident, Parker became a diabolical bully and Bell became his favorite victim. In the present time, Bell created a notebook full of systems and solutions for every possible encounter, and was able to mostly avoid Parker (and Mr. Hellickson). Until now.
     When Daelynn becomes the new target, Bell must either step up and do something, or let it go and revel in the relief that Parker has finally decided to leave him alone. It seems like an easy choice, but it proves more difficult than Bell thought. Plus, Bell finds out during Creator Club that more kids have more stories to share about Parker and his “accidental antics.”
     The Tornado, by Jake Burt, is a book about bullying that is true-to-life, from the victim/bully mentality of kids all the way down to adults who say there is “zero tolerance,” but don’t act on their words. This book should be read aloud, discussed, and shared widely; it is important and timely. Put this book on your radar. Be prepared for this middle-grade must-read in October 2019.

Fourth of July and Grace Goes to Washington – Book Review

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I’m so happy to live in a country where I am able to read and write. I’m celebrating the 4th with some books and my computer.

Today I read the upcoming Grace Goes to Washington, by Kelly DiPucchio. This title is due out September 3, 2019 from Disney-Hyperion and is another friendly and fun book about Grace and her adventures. (See also, Grace for President.)

As Grace’s class prepares for a field trip to Washington, DC, Mrs. Barrington prepares the children with a lesson about the three branches of government. She leads the learning about checks and balances, asking, “Who’s in charge here?” Later, while Grace and her fellow student council members work to decide how to spend the latest fundraiser money, they find correlations between their arguments and those of the government officials who run our country. With the help of a new friend, Grace can see that keeping an open mind to new perspectives and voting are ways to get things done.

The author gives children the chance to get involved in government, even if they are not old enough to vote yet. Read the Author’s Note and list of how to be an involved citizen. Kids and adults alike will love reading and sharing Grace Goes to Washington.

Happy Fourth of July!

 

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