The Legend of Jack Riddle

What if? What if fairy tales were true stories? What if they were about children cursed by an evil witch who liked to cast a spell over one kid every generation to teach others a lesson? What if you found out you were her next target?

Jack Riddle

With these questions begin The Legend of Jack Riddle. Over his objection, Jack is sent to visit Aunt Gretel, a relative no one in his family remembered they had until she called and invited Jack to visit. He follows Aunt Gretel into the woods at night, talks his way past a goblin into a magical part of the forest, and sees her with a group of witches. After that, he can’t get home fast enough. Back to the land of cell service and wifi. Back to the land where everything makes sense.

But the things he brings home with him from Aunt Gretel’s house scare him. He soon finds himself talking with the bumbling old history teacher at his school, Professor Footnote. Professor Footnote explains the truth about fairy tales and that Jack is Gretel’s next target.

Jack is thrown into an adventure that he didn’t ask for and doesn’t want any part of. His smartphone is no use, his friends can’t help, and his parents are acting strange. He has to rely on the help of the muddled Professor and an unusually friendly cat as he embarks on a quest to save himself and generations of children to follow.

Some books are fun to read but you can easily put them aside. Other books call to you even when you are busy doing something else. The Legend of Jack Riddle falls into the latter category. Any time we had a spare moment, Alex was beside me, asking: “Riddle?” He didn’t care if we only had time for a page or two, he just wanted to see what would happen next. (And I have to admit, I was tempted a few times to read ahead after his bedtime…)

This is author H. Easson’s first novel. And what a way to start! She’d better have many more where this one came from, because she’s got two big fans in our house!

I’m grateful to Ms. Easson and Capstone for giving me the opportunity to read this book. I received an advance reader copy of The Legend of Jack Riddle in exchange for my unbiased review.

Have you read any great books lately?

Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes

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I have a secret. Like Annabelle’s Mom in Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes, I have trouble throwing things away. I frequently worry that we will need or have a use for something that others would typically just toss out. It hurts when my husband insists that we don’t need to keep a shoebox with the other 47 we have stored “just in case” the kids need one for a diorama.

So I’ve been looking forward to Mary Lambert’s Family Game Night with anticipation . . . and a little bit of fear.

Family Game Night.jpg

The newspapers fell on my sister at breakfast this morning.

A fabulous first line for a novel. It had me sucked in from that moment on. . .

I just sat there, waiting to see if today would be the day the newspapers finally fell. It was the “highs in the mid to upper 70s” pile that came crashing down. The newspapers are organized by weather report, and since it’s almost June, Mom has been adding to the “highs in the mid to upper 70s” pile every day. Lately she’s had to stand on her tiptoes in order to reach the top, and this morning—before she could even add to it—it was already swaying from side to side, back and forth. It looked like a Jenga tower right before someone loses, and today Leslie was the loser.

Annabelle Balog has just finished Seventh Grade. She flirts with boys, texts with her friends, and tries to ignore the mess at home when she is away. She also has a Five-Mile-Radius Rule—she refuses to let anyone from school come within five miles of her house. Her mother is a hoarder, and none of her friends know.

After the newspapers fall on Annabelle’s sister, their parents have a fight of monumental proportions. Her father storms out, announcing that her mother knows what he expects while he’s gone. With that, the household is turned upside-down.

While dealing with this crisis, Mary Lambert’s novel illuminates various emotions and reactions that can exist in a household where one member hoards. Annabelle is embarrassed by her mother and her home, and has reacted to the condition of the rest of the house by refusing to allow any clutter in her room (on the other extreme). She protects her own space from clutter almost religiously, having discovered that her mother will sneak items into her room while she is not home.

Annabelle’s siblings—poor younger sister Leslie, who started the book covered with mildewy newspapers, and older brother Chad—respond to their mother’s lifestyle in different ways. Leslie has nightmares about people dying in piles of clutter, and Chad spends as little time at home as possible.

Annabelle’s mother, who is faced with her husband’s ultimatum, is the character I sympathized with the most throughout the novel. Ms. Lambert adeptly shows the altered priorities of a hoarder in some of the interactions involving Mrs. Balog.

For example, when Leslie is knocked into her cereal bowl by a stack of newspapers, her mother rushes into the kitchen:

“What happened?” Her voice cut through the sound of the running water. I turned to watch Mom fly into the kitchen. It may not look like it, but Mom can really move when she wants to. “No! No, no, no,” she said, rushing to Leslie’s side. But instead of wrapping Leslie in her arms, she started gathering her newspapers.

“Which pile fell?” she demanded.

Things haven’t gotten as bad at our house as they have at Annabelle’s (there are no leaning towers about to collapse on us). But I still acutely felt Mrs. Balog’s pain and discomfort at the thought of making any changes in response to her husband’s demands. I wanted to reach into the book and hug her and tell her that she would be okay.

Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes is Mary Lambert’s first novel, but hopefully we’ll see many more where this came from! You can find out more about Ms. Lambert (including whether her own mom was a hoarder) at www.maryelambert.com.

Now, I think I’ll go recycle the 14 years’ worth of law magazines I have stored in my back bedroom because I’ve been convinced “I’ll read them someday” . . .

Have you read any great books lately?

Greetings from Witness Protection – GIVEAWAY!!!

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What would it be like to leave everyone and everything you know and begin a brand-new life? Have you ever dreamed about running away and starting all over?

Greetings from Witness Protection

Foster kid Nicki Demere is given this choice when U.S. Marshals show up at her group home. Their offer: she will be placed with a family that cannot send her back. She will leave behind her juvenile record and start anew. The only catch: she has to leave immediately, without saying goodbye to any of her friends, and she will be giving up any hope that her long-lost father will come back for her.

Oh yeah, and the family she is placed with is in Witness Protection because they are hiding from one of the most notorious mob families in the country. If the mob finds them, they will undoubtedly kill them all.

One of Nicki’s biggest tasks is to make sure they remain “under the radar.” She has to stay out of trouble, but not be notable. She has to keep her grades down at a B- average (which means she needs to do her homework twice—once correctly, and then again with enough answers wrong to maintain her average). And, most of all, she has to take care of her new younger brother, who is angry about the Witness Protection situation and resents Nicki’s presence in his family.

This book came to me as part of the YA Reads Debut Authors Bash blog tour. And… it can come to you if you win this GIVEAWAY. I have a signed copy of Greetings from Witness Protection for one lucky winner!!!

Greetings from Witness Protection was so much fun to read! It was such a novel idea to have the main character living in Witness Protection—something I’ve never seen in children’s literature. Nicki still deals with the everyday problems of being in Seventh Grade—peer pressure, mean kids, boys—but then has the Witness Protection excitement layered on top.

I have two avid readers at home, but lately it has been tough to get my ten-year-old to read anything that doesn’t have “Harry Potter” or “Wimpy Kid” in the title. We were on a long drive in the car one night and he had nothing to read, so I nonchalantly said, “you could read my book, I guess,” hoping he’d pick it up. The rest of the drive was filled with comments like “ha! listen to this…” and “I wonder…” Then I had to fight him just to be able to finish the book!

Jake Burt keeps the action high throughout the book, which meant I read well into the nights turning “just one more page” or “one more chapter.” He has included a nice little twist at the end, which you’ll have to read the book to discover!

Jake Burt is a writer and a Fifth Grade teacher living in Connecticut (probably not in Witness Protection!). He can be found online at www.jburtbooks.com. There’s also an interesting discussion between Mr. Burt and Mr. Schu, the Ambassador of School Libraries for Scholastic at this fabulous blog.

DON’T FORGET TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!!!

Have you read any great books lately?

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire – GIVEAWAY!!!

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This is the second of four posts I’m doing at the end of this year as part of the Debut Authors Bash blog tour! I haven’t had a chance to read this one yet, but it’s definitely on my TBR shelf! Lucky for all of you, I am offering a GIVEAWAY for an Advanced Reader’s Copy of Susan Tan’s upcoming book, as well as an adorable crocheted rainbow unicorn (SO JEALOUS!!!).

Cilla Lee Jenkins

Since I haven’t read Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire yet, I’m going to share the official description of the book from the Goodreads page:

Cilla Lee-Jenkins is 50% Chinese, 50% Caucasian, and 100% destined for literary greatness! Introducing an irresistible new character who shares stories about a new sibling, being biracial, and her destiny as a future author extraordinaire in this middle grade novel.

Priscilla “Cilla” Lee-Jenkins is on a tight deadline. Her baby sister is about to be born, and Cilla needs to become a bestselling author before her family forgets all about her. So she writes about what she knows best—herself! And Cilla has a lot to write about: How did she deal with being bald until the age of five? How did she overcome her struggles with reading? How do family traditions with Grandma and Grandpa Jenkins differ from family traditions with her Chinese grandparents, Nai Nai and Ye Ye?

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire is a novel bursting with love and humor, as told through a bright, irresistible biracial protagonist who will win your heart and make you laugh.

Sounds awesome, right???

Book Two in the Cilla Lee-Jenkins series continues the tale of Cilla’s work as an author, this time as she sets out to write “a Classic.” At the same time, it promises to tell tales of Cilla’s struggles to “be more Chinese” and of learning to share her best friend.

cilla lee jenkins 2

About the Author:

Susan Tan has worked with children’s books since the age of 14, when she was a Page in the children’s room of the Concord Public Library. She went on to study English at Williams College and earned her PhD at the University of Cambridge in Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature. While in graduate school, she began to write a children’s book of her own which became her debut novel, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire.

Cilla is based on Susan’s own experiences growing up in a mixed-race family, and deals with the questions, challenges, and many joys that navigating different racial and cultural identities can bring. A second book in the Cilla series titled Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book is A Classic is scheduled for release in 2018. Susan was the 2015 Gish Jen Emerging Writers Fellow at the Writers’ Room of Boston and currently teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

You can follow her on Twitter (@susansmtan), or on her website, www.susantanbooks.com.

DON’T FORGET TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!!! Don’t let me keep that RAINBOW unicorn!

Rainbow Unicorn

Have you read any great books lately?

Braced – GIVEAWAY!!!

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Remember Seventh Grade? Not just the fun stuff, but also the awkwardness, the self-consciousness, all that stuff that came along with puberty? Now imagine all of that with one more layer on top.

Braced

Rachel Brooks is your typical Seventh Grader. She loves soccer, she texts her friends nonstop, she is embarrassed by her parents, and she is starting to get interested in boys. She also has scoliosis.

So far, her scoliosis has simply meant doctor’s appointments twice a year with her spine doctor. Even the appointments have become pretty routine to Rachel. But this time, instead of sending her off to return again in six months, the doctor announces that the curve in her spine has gotten much worse and she will need to wear a back brace. Twenty-three hours a day for six months to a year, until her spine stops growing.

The brace is hard plastic with cushioned padding inside, and spans from Rachel’s armpits to her hips. It hurts where it rubs against her skin and creates blisters that might scar. Rachel can’t fit into any of her old clothes because of the bulk of the brace. Even with bigger clothes, Rachel is certain everyone can see the lumps and bulges of the brace.

My heart broke over and over as I read Rachel’s struggle to find peace with this new reality that she finds herself in. Alyson Gerber captured the middle grader’s self-consciousness with remarkable skill and accuracy.

I do not mean that to suggest that Braced is all about tears and sadness. To the contrary, Rachel shows astounding determination in the face of her challenge. Before her doctor determined that Rachel would need to wear a brace, Rachel was having a promising start to the year on her soccer team. So she decides that even with the brace, she will play soccer, and she and her friends work toward that goal. Her friends help pick clothes that will flatter her, and provide support as she goes to school in the brace each day.

Readers will see themselves in Rachel or gain inspiration from her. While Rachel’s situation is fairly unique, her feelings are not. Kids will recognize the feeling of being different and the certainty that everyone is looking at or talking about them. This might be because they wear a back brace, because they are in a wheelchair, or because they: wear glasses; wear braces; are too short, too tall, too fat, or too thin; or any number of other reasons why they feel insecure. No matter how large or small the reason, at this age, anything can feel insurmountable, and that is why Rachel’s story is so encouraging.

I have no idea how I missed this fabulous debut novel when it came out earlier this year! I am so glad that Ms. Gerber decided to participate in the 2017 Debut Authors Bash so that I could discover Rachel Brooks and Braced.

Ms. Gerber’s website is www.alysongerber.com. Her News page includes a description of how wearing a back brace impacted her growing up and a link to the Barnes & Noble blog, where she discusses her experience at summer camp in a back brace. Ms. Gerber includes links to websites with more information about scoliosis on her website as well as in the Author’s Note in Braced.

I am excited to be participating in this year’s Debut Authors Bash! Over the next two weeks, I will be sharing three more new novels by debut authors (either with full reviews or just some details about the books).

And… most exciting of all… there are giveaways for most of these books! Not just here on 2 Cooks Crafting Books, but at many of the other bloggers’ sites as well! So check out #17DABash on Twitter to find other debut authors featured this month (and maybe snag some of their books!).

Ms. Gerber is giving away a copy of her book, Braced. This giveaway is open to winners from the US and international locations.

DON’T FORGET TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!!!

The Dragon With A Chocolate Heart

It’s almost a week after Halloween—is anyone sick of chocolate yet? Well, I can assure you that none of the chocolate you’ve been sneaking out of your kids’ Halloween stash is as delicious or as life-changing as the chocolate in Stephanie Burgis’ new book!

Dragon with a Chocolate Heart

Aventurine longs to leave her dragon family’s cave and explore the world. She is dismayed when her mother tells her that she must wait another thirty years for her scales to harden to a protective shell before she can venture outside. Feeling claustrophobic, and ready to prove that she is capable of taking care of herself, Aventurine waits until the adults are asleep and leaves the cave.

After hours of unsuccessful hunting, Aventurine finds a human singing by a fire in the forest. Prepared to strike and bring her prey home to share with the other dragons, Aventurine pauses when she smells the most delightful scent wafting up from a pot. The human prepares hot chocolate for Aventurine, but enchants it with a spell that turns Aventurine into a human around twelve years old.

Unable to return to her cave in human form, Aventurine travels to the nearest city. Once in Drachenburg, Aventurine searches for her place in her new human world.

Aventurine discovers there is much more to chocolate than simple hot chocolate, she learns about friendship and family, she finds there are humans who fit the stereotypes that her family described for her and there are those who do not, and, most of all, Aventurine discovers her passion.

This is a fun tale that weaves together the excitement of dragons, the thrill of solving a challenge that will help others, and the lessons of persistence, friendship, and loyalty. It has something for everyone, and keeps the reader wanting “just one more chapter.”

Stephanie Burgis is the author of many books and short stories, both for children and adults. Her other middle grade books tell the story of Kat Stephenson in a trilogy (plus a novella). One of the characters from The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart will appear in Ms. Burgis’ next middle grade book, The Girl with the Dragon Heart, coming in 2018. You can find Ms. Burgis online at her website and blog at www.stephanieburgis.com.

Have you read any great books lately?

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street

We have more ghosts this week! (It is almost Halloween, after all!)

Peculiar Incident on Shady Street

Tessa Woodward and her family have just moved from Florida into a spooky old home on Shady Street. Tessa is depressed about the move—it’s cold in Chicago, there’s no ocean, and she had to leave her best friend behind.

Strange things begin happening on their first night in the new house. Tessa is sure she heard crying in the hallway. The next morning, she finds a strange mark in her sketchpad. When she goes into the bathroom, the lights dim and the door won’t open.

Things get weirder and weirder at the house. Flowers in a painting on the wall appear to wilt. Someone—or something—continues to draw in Tessa’s sketchpad. The crying keeps Tessa up every night. Soon, Tessa is afraid to be in her new home.

Tessa makes some friends who decide to help her get to the bottom of what is haunting her home. Through research at the library and a trip to the local cemetery, they try to track down the truth behind the mysterious noises and incidents.

This creepy ghost tale might keep kids up at night—definitely a middle grade read! But a fantastic one for those who are ready for it!

Author Lindsay Currie is a big fan of ghost legends. Her website, www.lindsaycurrie.com, has links to five places that MIGHT be haunted. For readers who share Ms. Currie’s interest in ghost tales, they can explore the websites of the haunted locations and tell Ms. Currie what they think about the places. Ms. Currie will send those readers bookmarks and postcards to celebrate their bravery!

I received an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. Many thanks to Ms. Currie and Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing for the chance to read this fabulous book!

Have you read any great books lately?

Amanda in New Mexico – Ghosts in the Wind – PLUS GIVEAWAY!!!

Today, I’m thrilled to be joined by Darlene Foster, author of a series about a traveling twelve-year-old named Amanda.

In book six of the Amanda Travels series, Amanda in New Mexico – Ghosts in the Wind, the book follows Amanda and her class on a school trip from Calgary to New Mexico. Their exploration of different parts around Taos, New Mexico, is interrupted by a ghost. Ms. Foster’s description of the New Mexico geography, architecture, and artifacts is truly amazing! Ms. Foster brings New Mexico to life for readers as she details Amanda’s travels. 

Amanda in New Mexico

Welcome, Darlene!

Thank you so much for inviting me to be a guest on your blog, Elizabeth.

You asked me what drew me to Amanda as my main character. The wonderful thing about being a writer is that you can create any character, place and situation you want. You are totally in control. Well almost, sometimes your characters take over the story. I know Amanda does.

Amanda Jane Ross seemed to pop into my head and wouldn´t go away. She is a spunky young girl whose love for travel takes her around the world to many interesting places where she meets intriguing people, learns a lot about the culture and always has an adventure. She is curious, brave and cares about other people, which sometimes gets her in trouble. I would have loved to be able to travel all over the world when I was her age.  I guess you could say Amanda is the twelve-year-old girl I would have liked to be.

My books are inspired by my travels. I have been to all the places Amanda goes to. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to travel as a young person, I have explored much of this amazing planet as an adult. Every time I visit a new place, I feel like a child experiencing something awesome.  I try to incorporate these thoughts and feelings into my stories which is why I like telling the stories from a tween’s point of view. My books feature places I myself have found fascinating such as the United Arab Emirates, Spain, England, Alberta, Germany, Austria and Hungary. In recently released book six, Amanda in New Mexico – Ghosts in the Wind, Amanda visits the enchanting state of New Mexico. I spent some time in this state a couple of years ago and immediately knew it would be the perfect setting for an Amanda adventure.

The character of Amanda tags along with me everywhere I go now. I am constantly thinking about what she would like about the place and the adventures she could have. I take lots of pictures and keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas. I have often said in my out loud voice, “Amanda would just love this!” My husband has got used to having my imaginary friend with us.

Where is Amanda planning to go to next? She is scheduled to visit Holland, a remarkable place with brilliant tulips fields, charming windmills, wooden shoes and many bicycles. While visiting the sites of Holland, she learns more about World War II and attempts to find out what happened to a great-uncle who went missing in action in that country many years ago.

The more Amanda travels, the more she learns about the world and herself. To me, that is what travel is all about. My wish is that my books will encourage readers of all ages to explore new places.

I have a question for you and your readers, if you could travel with any fictional character, which one would you chose and why?

Awesome question, Darlene! Can’t wait to see who folks say they would want to travel with (and why)!

Darlene is offering an amazing Amanda in New Mexico GIVEAWAY for U.S. and Canadian residents (if the winner is from a location outside those two countries, he or she will win digital copies of the full series)!

A little more about Darlene:

Brought up on a ranch in southern Alberta, Darlene Foster dreamt of travelling the world and meeting interesting people. With a desire to write since she was twelve, her short stories have won a number of awards. She is the author of the exciting Amanda Travels series featuring spunky twelve-year-old Amanda Ross who loves to travel to unique places. Her books include: Amanda in Arabia – The Perfume Flask, Amanda in Spain – The Girl in The Painting, Amanda in England – The Missing Novel, Amanda in Alberta – The Writing on the Stone, Amanda on The Danube – The Sounds of Music and Amanda in New Mexico – Ghosts in the Wind. Readers of all ages enjoy travelling with Amanda as she unravels one mystery after another. Darlene, her husband and their dog, Dot, divide their time between the west coast of Canada and Orihuela Costa, in Spain. She was encouraged by her parents to follow her dreams and believes everyone is capable of making their dreams come true.

You can follow Darlene on her website, on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter!

DON’T FORGET TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!!!

Monster Or Die 2: Into the Shadowlands

Let’s get into the Halloween mood with a monster story! Into the Shadowlands is a fun middle grade adventure involving ogres, trolls, frankenstein monsters, and so much more!

Monster or Die.jpg

Monster or Die is a series set in Uggarland—a world full of monsters set apart from humankind. In Uggarland, there are Monsters, and then there are OMOs, or Odd Monsters Out.

The OMOs don’t act as monsters are expected to behave. Among the many OMOs in Uggarland are sixth graders Frank, the frankenstein who has blue skin and likes his clothes to be crisp and his hair neatly combed; Oliver, the mummy who prefers to be unwrapped; Vanya, the ogre who prefers sparkly, pretty outfits and things; and Stan and Dan, the two-headed gargoyle who likes humor over scaring people.

Life is difficult for the OMOs. Uggarland rules require them to purge themselves of their misfit ways and become more monsterly (“monster or die!”), or they will be exiled to a horribly sunny and warm island to live out the rest of their days.

Malcolm the troll is a classic Monster. He hates the OMOs, or misfits, as he calls them. So he is shocked to discover that his father, who he believed died a hero’s death four years ago, was actually living a life of exile with the misfits.

Malcolm already loathed the misfit Frank. But when Malcolm learns the truth about his father and Frank is there to see it, Malcolm decides both his father and Frank must be destroyed.

This is a wonderfully fresh book of middle-grade self-discovery and acceptance. It addresses differences in others and finding the best in people. It explores themes of the marginalization and exclusion of minority groups, and calls to mind the forced conformity and assimilation to European ways found in the Native American boarding schools of the early 20th Century.

The language in this book is entertaining. There are many monster words (such as the “slybrary” and exclamations like “snotfargle extremo!”) to keep readers entertained. The characters’ names all make kids chuckle (e.g., Mr. McNastee). And there is plenty of action to keep the story moving.

Ms. Reeg is a former librarian and author of both middle grade and picture books. She has many suggestions for games, crafts, and puzzles for kids available on her website, www.cynthiareeg.com. For parents and teachers, Ms. Reeg offers a number of resources, including grammar games, study guides, and book lists.

I didn’t read the first Monster or Die book, but that didn’t impair my ability to read and enjoy this one. I received an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

Have you read any great books lately?

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

I heard the opening paragraphs of this book at the SCBWI Midsouth conference this past weekend, and as soon as the session ended, I ran out to the “bookstore” Parnassus had set up in the hotel lobby and bought a copy. It took every ounce of my self-control to keep from reading further while the conference continued around me.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

The best introduction I can give to this book is the one I received:

When I was little, a kid pointed at me on the playground and shouted, “Her arms fell off!” then ran away screaming in terror to his mom, who had to cuddle him on her lap and rub his head for like ten minutes to get him to calm down. I think, up until then, I hadn’t thought about the idea that my arms must have actually fallen off at some point in my life. I had never really thought about not having arms at all.

My missing arms weren’t an issue for me or my parents. I never once heard either of them say, “Oh, no, Aven can’t possibly do that because that’s only for armed people,” or “Poor Aven is so helpless without arms,” or “Maybe Aven can do that one day, you know, if she ever grows some arms.” They always said things like, “You’ll have to do this differently from other people, but you can manage,” and “I know this is challenging. Keep trying,” and “You’re capable of anything, Aven.”

I had never realized just how different I was until the day that horrible kid shouted about my arms having fallen off. For the first time I found myself aware of my total armlessness, and I guess I felt like I was sort of naked all of a sudden. So I, too, ran to my mom, and she scooped me up and carried me away from the park, allowing my tears and snot to soak her shirt.

Yeah, wow. Just let that sink in for a minute . . .

So, Aven is a thirteen-year-old girl who was born without arms. Her parents are awesome, telling her things like “having arms was totally overrated” and pondering whether there are arm-removal services that they can use. But just after Eighth Grade starts, Aven’s parents move her from her comfortable life in Kansas to Arizona.

Aven tells her tale in the same sassy, sarcastic voice evident in those first paragraphs. She confronts the stares of her classmates with bravery and strength (far more than I remember having in Eighth Grade!). Although many of the kids at her school can’t see past her missing arms, she eventually meets some wonderful friends who have some quirks of their own.

Alex was drawn into this book as quickly as I was. He made me share one of Aven’s tales of how she lost her arms (in a forest fire in Tanzania) to Dad—who has now placed a ban on me reading to the kids in restaurants, since he says I get too excited and the rest of the restaurant patrons didn’t want to hear about arms burned to a crisp, like bacon, while they were eating.

This is a must-read for everyone. It has the potential to open readers’ eyes to their own actions around people who have differences, and to help change those actions for the better. Aven and her friends can guide middle graders who are in the midst of feeling that no one understands them toward accepting and loving themselves. And it’s so important to have well-written books with characters with disabilities available for kids to read.

This is Dusti Bowling’s first book, and I hope we see many, many more from her. Ms. Bowling offers a discussion guide for Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus on her website, www.dustibowling.com.

Have you read any great books lately?