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?

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker

Beatrice has always been just a little unusual. She sees the world with a different perspective—literally.

Beatrice Zinker

Beatrice does her best thinking upside down. Whether she is hanging from a tree limb, standing on her head, or swinging off the top bunk of her bed, Beatrice is happiest when her head is where her feet should be.

At the end of Second Grade, her teacher awarded her the “Best Upside Down Thinker” award.

But things have changed in Third Grade. Her teacher does “not tolerate upside down antics” in the classroom. And Beatrice’s best friend wants to play with a new student instead of be a ninja-outfit-clad spy with Beatrice!

This is a delightful chapter book that will charm readers from the first moment they meet Beatrice. Kids will root for Beatrice as she adjusts to life in a classroom with an unsympathetic teacher. They will cheer her on as she fights to win back her best friend.

The pictures on every page add to the story and give a little more insight into Beatrice’s character. In many pictures, Beatrice is hanging upside down in a tree. When she is not (or when the focus of the pictures is not on Beatrice), something in the picture often adds a little humor or a detail not found in the text.

Shelley Johannes is author and illustrator of Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker. On her website, www.shelleyjohannes.com, Ms. Johannes tells the story of the “evolution of Beatrice Zinker” in a fabulous biographical slideshow that includes many of her early sketches of Beatrice.

I received an electronic copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I am looking forward to Beatrice Zinker’s next adventure!

Have you read any great books lately?

Sticks ’N’ Stones ’N’ Dinosaur Bones

Dinosaurs make kids crazy. Usually in a good way—they are fascinated with stories about dinosaurs, they love seeing the skeletons in museums, and they can play endlessly with dino-shaped toys.

Sticks n Stones n Dinosaur Bones

Sticks ’N’ Stones ’N’ Dinosaur Bones tells the story of two adults who were crazy about dinosaurs too. O. Charles Marsh and Edward D. Cope were paleontologists in the 19th Century who became known as the Bone Hunters. They searched out bones and fossils of dinosaurs.

Professors Marsh and Cope led the “Bone Wars,” also known as the Great Dinosaur Rush, from 1877 to 1892. They each selected a location in the United States to conduct their expeditions. The searches soon turned into competitions to see whose discovery was greater, and there was increasing pressure to find bigger and better treasure.

In Sticks ’N’ Stones ’N’ Dinosaur Bones, this pressure led Professors Marsh and Cope to engage in some questionable behavior. The note at the start of the book describes them using “less-than-ethical methods,” including lying, stealing, blackmail, and even destroying fossils. They attacked each other’s reputation and pointed out (and exploited) the other’s errors.

The book is told entirely in rhyme, with a substantial amount of humor built in (dinosaurs with names like “Watchumacaurus,” “Thingamasaurus,” “NeverWas Rex,” and “Phonybalone-us”). It is a lot of fun to read while learning more about this historical time.

The end pages of the book show pictures of actual dinosaurs that Professors Marsh and Cope found and named—Stegosaurus, Triceratops, and Dimetrodon, to name just a few. During their Bone Wars, the two rivals claimed to have discovered more than 142, although today’s paleontologists accept only 52 of those species.

Author Ted Enik has been an illustrator for the Magic School Bus series, Eloise, and the Fancy Nancy I Can Read series. Sticks ’N’ Stones ’N’ Dinosaur Bones is the first in his Unhinged History series. His original art can be found on his website at www.tedenik.com.

I was fortunate to receive an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for my unbiased review.  Many thanks to Mr. Enik and Schiffer Publishing!

Have you read any great books lately?

Ban This Book

Alan Gratz’s new novel, Ban This Book, seems like the perfect choice to help celebrate Banned Books Week!ban this bookAmy Anne has a favorite book in her school library. She borrows it as often as the library rules allow. But when she tries to check it out one day, Mrs. Jones, the school librarian, tells her that she had to take it off the shelf. Some of the parents decided that it wasn’t appropriate for elementary school, and the school board agreed with them. With that, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was banned from the school library.

Mrs. Jones asks Amy Anne to attend the school board meeting to tell the board why the book is so important to her. Amy Anne agrees to go, but the meeting doesn’t go as she hoped. Instead of returning Amy Anne’s favorite book to the library, the board leaves its ban of eleven books in place.

Although Amy Anne can’t prevent the ban, she decides to take action to help students have access to the banned books. As the list of banned books continues to grow, the students’ interest in the forbidden books grows as well. Amy Anne and her friends find creative ways to circumvent the ban to satisfy this interest.

Ban This Book is a marvelous tale of inspiration, impressing upon middle school readers that they can make a difference, even when things seem hopeless. Through her experience responding to the banned books, Amy Anne’s self-confidence blossoms, and she learns to speak up for herself. The impact of her objection to the censorship reaches her relationships with family and friends, which all grow stronger during the book.

The Author’s Note explains that every book that the school board banned in Ban This Book has been challenged or banned in an American library at least once in the last thirty years.

The American Library Association (ALA) publishes a list of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books each year, along with the reasons for the challenges. Judy Blume made the list in 2005. Since 2000, Mark Twain has been on the list twice; J.K. Rowling has been on it three times; and Maya Angelou has been on the list four times. Well-known books that have appeared on the Top Ten list more than once since 2000 include Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.

The ALA holds Banned Books Week every year to celebrate the freedom to read. It highlights the value of free and open access to information. During Banned Books Week, the entire book community comes together in support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those that some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

The ALA has many suggestions on ways to get involved in Banned Books Week. You can also check with your local library to find out what is happening in your area!

Alan Gratz is the author of many books, including Samaurai Shortstop and the League of Seven trilogy. He can be found online at www.alangratz.com.

Have you read any great books lately?

Puppy Rescue Riddle

Animal Planet has entered the world of chapter books with an adorable series called Animal Planet Adventures. Each book focuses on a different kind of animal (so far, dolphins, farm animals, puppies, and zoo animals).

puppy rescue riddle

The third book in the series is Puppy Rescue Riddle. One Saturday, Elliot Flynn goes to a dog shelter with his older brother and two neighbor girls. The girls are excited to be there, but Elliot is afraid of dogs and doesn’t even want to pet puppies.

Driving home from the shelter, they get caught in a rainstorm that has washed out the road. Worried about the dogs’ safety, they return to the shelter and take all of the dogs and puppies with them to higher ground. But they lose a puppy in the process. Can they find her again, or will she be lost in the storm?

There are two parts to this book. There is the story of Elliot and the dogs. The writing is aimed at early readers, and it is illustrated with color pictures. The action is exciting, there are fun riddles to answer, and puppies are always a hit in stories for kids!

There are also fact pages about pets sprinkled every few pages throughout the book. These pages are full-color pictures, and they teach kids about topics such as owning pets, puppy behavior, vets, and animal shelters. The facts are fun to learn and easy to remember, so kids come away with greater knowledge on the subject and can parrot the facts back at a later time.

Catherine Nichols is one of two authors creating the Animal Planet Adventures series. Ms. Nichols wrote both Puppy Rescue Riddle and book one of the series: Dolphin Rescue. She is the author of more than 60 children’s books. Her website is www.catherinenichols.com and her blog is The Cath in the Hat.

I received an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for my unbiased review. The kids and I will be checking out the other books in the series to see what facts we can learn while reading a cute story!

Have you read any great books lately?

Kat Greene Comes Clean

Cleaning. It might be the task I hate more than anything else. So it was with great appreciation for attention to detail that I read the opening paragraph of Kat Greene Comes Clean—Kat’s mother is using an electric toothbrush to clean the kitchen floor.

Kat Greene

It didn’t take long to realize that Kat’s mom cleans more than the typical adult, though. She cleans all day, every day—literally. She washes her hands until they are red and raw. She throws away anything that she thinks is dirty or might be carrying germs. She makes Kat wipe her backpack with antibacterial wipes before she takes it into the house. She even wears—and makes Kat wear—latex gloves in the supermarket!

Kat knows something is wrong at home, but she doesn’t know what to do. She just knows that she has to keep what her mom is doing a secret. She can’t tell her dad, who has remarried. And she doesn’t want people at school to know.

Luckily, she has a best friend who she can talk to about anything. But even with her friend Halle’s support, the pressure of keeping her mother’s strange behavior a secret is taking over Kat’s life.

The problems at home do not relieve Kat from the drama of middle school. At eleven years old, Kat is also in the center of middle school crises. There are fights with friends, romantic crushes, and crazy classmates to deal with every day.

This story about a parent with an obsessive-compulsive disorder and the impact it has on her child’s life is fascinating. Kat’s confusion and struggle to find a way to help her mother is compelling, and it was impossible to put this book down.

Melissa Roske has a teacher’s guide available for Kat Greene Comes Clean on her website, www.melissaroske.com. She is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can find an interesting interview of Ms. Roske on the blog Literary Rambles.

According to the American Psychiatry Association, approximately 1.2 percent of Americans have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It affects slightly more women than men. The average age at which OCD symptoms appear is 19. People with an immediate relative who has OCD are two to five times more likely to experience OCD than those without a close relative with OCD.

The International OCD Foundation has a set of Guidelines for Family Members of people with OCD, which are designed to help strengthen relationships between individuals with OCD and their family members. If someone in your family has OCD and you are looking for help, this is a good resource to use as as starting point.

Many thanks to Ms. Roske for shedding some light on this condition and its effect on families. I received an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I look forward to reading more from this fabulous new author.

Have you read any great books lately?

Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show-and-Tell

Now that everyone is back to school, it’s time for kids to start thinking about what to bring for show-and-tell. I’ve already heard about this special classroom event from my little one—she can’t wait to bring something in to share with her new classmates!

Maggie

Unlike my daughter, Maggie feels very different about show-and-tell in this sweet story by Randi Lynn Mrvos. Maggie’s teacher, Ms. Madison, plans a “Summer vacation show-and-tell” and Maggie does not know what to bring.

Some of her friends have exciting tales to tell about their summer travels, and interesting souvenirs to show to the class. These souvenirs range from the more traditional (postcards) to the more exotic (poison dart frog). But Maggie’s family didn’t go on a trip and she thinks she has nothing to share.

The depth of Maggie’s emotions about the upcoming show-and-tell is evident in both the text and illustrations. While her friends are drawing pictures of the things they plan to bring, Maggie draws “a big fat zero.” In the accompanying picture, her eyes are downcast, her face is flooded with sadness.

Contrasted with Maggie’s misery when she thinks about show-and-tell is her joy when she is with her dog, Trooper. When her beloved pet kisses her cheek later in the evening, Maggie’s giggles almost jump off the page!

Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show-and-Tell is a wonderfully-written picture book. My little one saw the cover and begged to read it with me. She was very engaged as we read, telling Maggie what she should and should not do, expressing affection in response to pictures of Trooper, and exclaiming her surprise at certain points in the book.

Maggie’s dog, Trooper, was inspired by a real dog named Charlie. Ms. Mrvos has included “Charlie’s Story” in an author’s note, along with photographs of Charlie. I’m not going to spoil it for you—you’ll have to read Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show-and-Tell to find out why Charlie’s tale is so unique!

Ms. Mrvos has also provided a discussion guide in the back of the book. The guide not only suggests questions for children to consider, but it also introduces the concept of the simile and encourages kids to craft their own similes. There is a longer discussion guide on Ms. Mrvos’s website, www.randilynnmrvos.com.

In addition to her picture book writing, Ms. Mrvos is the editor of Kid’s Imagination Train. Kid’s Imagination Train is a free online magazine created to encourage kids to read and to learn. Kids can illustrate feature stories for the e-magazine and have their work published online. If you are interested in publishing a story in Kid’s Imagination Train, check out the post Ms. Mrvos wrote on the subject for our blog earlier this year.

Writers can also find guidance and inspiration from Ms. Mrvos at her blog, www.childrenswritersworld.blogspot.com.

Have you read any great books lately?

Best. Night. Ever.

Remember how much fun it was back in school playing the game where each person came up with a sentence of a story? This is SO much better—like a really amazing version of that story!

Best Night Ever

Seven authors came together to write this book, which tells the story of one night from seven points of view. It is the night of the middle school dance and the students of Lynnfield Middle School know it is going to be the most unforgettable night of their lives. But, like most of our experiences in middle school, it turns out far different than they had planned.

Carmen is the lead singer of the hit middle school band Heart Grenade. She was ready to become a star singing at the dance, but her parents are making her go to her cousin’s wedding instead. Life is so unfair!

Taking Carmen’s place at the front of Heart Grenade is Genevieve. She loves to sing and has a fabulous voice, but she only likes to sing in the background. She has stage fright.

The drummer of Heart Grenade, and Carmen’s best friend, is Tess. Not only does she have the performance to think about, but she has a big date too!

Ellie can’t believe she’s going to the dance with the cutest guy in school. Kevin asked her to be his date, and she knows this is going to be the most romantic night she’s ever had.

Ashlyn is stuck babysitting instead of going to the dance, just so her almost-step-sister, Ellie, can go. Well, there is that whole grounded thing too . . .  But it’s just not fair that she has to miss showing off her awesomeness to the rest of the seventh grade.

When Ryan signed up to be part of the dance committee, he was hoping it would help move his friendship with Mariah to the next level. Will it work?

And Jade is at the dance just to get revenge.

All of these lives weave together seamlessly—even though they are not just seven different points of view, but written by seven different authors! The kids sound believably seventh grade, and range from the hopeless-romantic bookworm to the angry and sarcastic popular kid. The book is told in the first person (changing character point of view with each chapter), and there are frequent text messages and emojis throughout the book.

I received an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review, and I am so glad! I loved this book. It took me right back to my middle school dances, although I have to say we had a lot less drama at mine! I never thought about it when I was at one of those dances, but I was with a room full of people having similar, yet different, experiences—just like the seven main characters in this book.

Perhaps reading this will make it easier for middle school kids going through their own drama (at dances, or elsewhere) to realize that others are scared/excited/nervous/upset/etc. too. Or maybe they’ll just enjoy a really good book!

Best. Night. Ever. was written by Rachele Alpine, Ronni Arno, Alison Cherry, Stephanie Faris, Jen Malone, Gail Nall, and Dee Romito. A reading guide for Best. Night. Ever. is on Ms. Alpine’s, Ms. Faris’s, and Ms. Romito’s websites.

Ms. Alpine writes both middle grade and young adult novels, including Operation Pucker Up and You Throw Like a Girl. She is online at www.rachelealpine.com.

Ms. Arno’s middle grade novels include Ruby Reinvented and Molly in the Middle. She is online at www.ronniarno.com.

Ms. Cherry writes books for middle grade and young adult readers, including Willows vs. Wolverines and The Classy Crooks Club. She is online at www.alisoncherrybooks.com.

Ms. Faris writes the Piper Morgan chapter book series and middle grade novels, including 30 Days of No Gossip and 25 Roses. She is online at www.stephaniefaris.com.

Ms. Malone writes both middle grade and young adult novels. She is the co-author of the You’re Invited series, as well as novels including The Sleepover and The Art of the Swap. She is online at www.jenmalonewrites.com.

Ms. Nall writes the You’re Invited series with Ms. Malone. She is the author of middle grade and young adult novels, including Out of Tune and Breaking the Ice. She is online at www.gailnall.com.

Ms. Romito is the author of middle grade novels The BFF Bucket List and No Place Like Home. She is online at www.DeeRomito.com.

Have you read any great books lately?

Shelter

Stories about animals are a wonderful way to teach or remind children how they should treat others. My own kids’ teachers have often encouraged parents to make up and use such stories (in oral storytelling format) to help modify behaviors or work through problems. Shelter by Céline Claire is an excellent example of this teaching tool.ShelterShelter is the English translation of the French book L’abri, released last year. It teaches kindness and caring toward others—even strangers—who are in need.

This is the tale of five families of forest animals who wake one morning to learn that a storm is coming. They prepare by gathering wood and stockpiling food.

Soon, everyone is safely tucked away in their homes—except two strange bears who emerge from the fog as the wind howls.

The bears ask the different animal families for help, but are turned away at one door after another. My little one’s reaction to the way the bears were being treated was all I needed to see to know that the moral of this story was hitting home for her.

The story is very concise—just a few lines on each page—and all of the words are well within a young reader or listener’s understanding.

Qin Leng’s illustrations are beautiful. She alternates between full-page spreads to the strategic use of white space on the page to separate between the different animal homes. Ms. Leng’s choice of colors in her watercolor paintings is perfect for the story Ms. Claire is telling.

In one full-page spread, Ms. Leng expertly and effectively depicts the bears outside in the gloomy storm, knocking on an animal family’s door. The animal family is inside, refusing entry and lying to the bears. The impact on my little one was immediate—she could see the deceit, she knew the animals should be treating the bears with kindness instead of turning them away, and she spoke out for the bears.

Ms. Claire is the author of a number of children’s books, but I think Shelter is the only one that has been published in English as well as the original French. Ms. Claire’s website is http://celine.notrecabane.fr/ (but you’ll need to read French!). Follow Ms. Leng on Instagram to see some recent illustrations: https://www.instagram.com/qinillustrations/

Shelter will be released on October 3, 2017. I received an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. My daughter and I are grateful to Ms. Claire, Ms. Leng, and Kids Can Press for the opportunity to read Shelter.

Have you read any great books lately?