Acclaimed author Jennifer L. Holm and her brother Matthew Holm have created a board book series titled “My First Comics” with the goal of introducing very young children to the language of feelings. The format is that of a comic book, and the text is simple, with lots of onomatopoeia. The colors are bright, and the characters repeat in the different books in the series.
Just like the first book in the series by Jessica Cluess, “A Shadow Bright and Burning,” the second book, “A Poison Dark and Drowning” grabs the reader from the first few pages. As in the first book, this middle book in the trilogy continues to showcase Cluess’s ability to combine just enough description, just the right dialogue, and plenty of plot to keep the pages turning quickly as the reader anxiously races to the end.
In many series, there are so many characters that when the second book is released a year later, readers must reread the first book to familiarize themselves again with who everyone is. That’s not the case here. The various sorcerers, the friends, the Ancient monsters — they all are mentioned with enough detail to enable readers to jump right into this book.
“The Losers Club” is by the prolific and talented Andrew Clements. He is the author of tens of beloved middle grade books, including the wonderful and famous “Frindle.”
With “The Losers Club,” Clements creates a main character who loves reading above all else. At least that’s what the reader learns at the beginning of the book. But as with all good literature — and Andrew Clements writes nothing if not good literature — Alec Spencer, the protagonist, is much more than he appears to be at first glance.
In spite of the title, “The Unicorn in the Barn” by Jacqueline K. Ogburn appears to be a realistic middle grade fiction book until the reader encounters the unicorn in the barn. Eric Harper lives on his family’s farm, and he’s still bitter that they had to sell his grandmother’s house, the ancestral family home, when his grandmother had to enter a nursing home.
From the title page where the word “fractioned” is substituted for the more-common “fractured” to describe the fairy tale story, the reader knows that “Twinderella” by Corey Rosen Schwartz is not your garden variety fairy tale.
There are two red-headed girls running down the steps leaving behind one glass slipper. And as the readers learn, Cinderella had a twin sister, Tinderella, who shared her miserable life. And because there were two of them, everything they had to do and everything they had was divided in half.
Alan Gratz writes some gritty stories, like “Code of Honor” and “Prisoner B-3087.” With “Ban This Book,” Gratz takes the reader into a different kind of war — the war against censorship. The story comes right out of real life. Parents, because of their religious, political, or moral beliefs, demand that certain books be removed from school library shelves.
J.K. Rowling, Louis Sachar, Jean Craighead George, Mary Downing Hahn, Peg Kehret, Mildred Taylor, Shel Silverstein, Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, Dav Pilkey, and the list goes on and on. Esteemed, respected authors and wonderful literature, banned from schools and libraries because of narrow-minded thinking. Gratz exposes middle grade readers to the injustice inherent in this kind of thinking, and simultaneouly introduces them to the First Amendment of our Constitution in this beautifully written story.
For the past month, residents of Libertyville, Illinois, or anyone driving up Milwaukee Avenue in Libertyville, have been struck by an unusual sight. In front of a few car dealerships, including Napleton Cadillac, workers are on strike. The strike has been going on for a relatively long time.
When Erwin Weil owned the Cadillac dealership in this Northern Chicago suburb, he was quoted as saying, “You get what you pay for” about the ads that he appeared in. In the ad, Weil said, “I’ll make it worth your Weil.”
“The Alice Network” by Kate Quinn is a beautifully written novel that combines several genres and does credit to them all. It’s about women spies, about romance, about determination, and occasionally about men who wouldn’t believe them just because they were women.
The story alternates between the times of the two World Wars. In 1915, the reader meets Eve Gardiner, an intelligent young woman with a stutter, who because of her language ability — she speaks English, French and German — is recruited to be a spy for England. She is sent to France to work in the restaurant of a collaborator, an amoral man of fine taste who owns an equally fine restaurant frequented by the German officers.
The story of “Rabbit” is a gritty account of a childhood that is something out of a nightmare. Yet the book is also full of inspiration and hope. It’s depressing but at the same time filled with humor. Patricia Williams’ story is certainly one filled with extremes.
The author’s life began with a mother who was ill-equipped to care for five children. Her childhood was filled with alcohol, drugs, and abuse — physical, sexual and emotional. By the age of 15, she was the mother of two children. Her nickname for her whole young life was “Rabbit.” The fact that she managed to turn her life around is a testament to her fortitude, her determination, and surprisingly, her sense of humor.
With “The Wolf Keepers,” author Elise Broach seems to have included all the go-to themes that teachers and librarians love to see in a middle grade book. One of the main characters is biracial and temporarily homeless. The setting is a fictional zoo in Northern California near Muir Woods; the book is filled with information about the naturalist John Muir. And the story includes a group of wolves, one of whom makes a strong connection to one of the main characters in a manner that does not seem at all contrived.
“How to Change a Life” by Stacey Ballis is not just a lovely beach read; it’s filled with yummy food ideas and also some more serious topics. For example, when is a friend not really a friend? What happens when you lose touch with a friend and then find it’s too late to renew the friendship?
Ballis’ writing is lovely. It’s apparent that she is an experienced author. She does a nice job balancing description, dialogue, and plot. When Eloise, almost forty, meets up with her two best friends from high school, her life changes. They reunite and decide to pursue some of the dreams that they haven’t fulfilled in the past twenty years. They make it a bet, and they have to accomplish it before their 40th birthday.
Reading “The Good Daughter” by Karin Slaughter is like finding a nugget of gold after slogging through acres of mud. It’s that good.
Slaughter’s narrative grabs the reader from the first few pages. The story revolves around two sisters, Charlotte and Samantha (Charlie and Sam). Almost immediately, the reader learns about the horrible tragedy that tears apart their family, resulting in the death of their mother. Their family will never again be the same, and neither will Sam and Charlie’s relationship.