‘Last Gate of the Emperor’ by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen is a creative middle grade scifi adventure

Last Gate of the Emperor

In this action-packed middle grade scifi adventure, “Last Gate of the Emperor,” by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen, a young adventurous boy with a mischievous streak a mile wide ditches school to play an augmented reality game to try to win money to make his and his uncle’s life a bit easier. He and his Uncle Moti live on Addis Prime, and they have moved often and struggled to survive on the many jobs that Uncle Moti can get. Yared doesn’t know what happened to his parents, and his uncle tells him stories about civilizations under attack and trains him in sword play and battle strategies. It’s certainly a strange life, and Yared is determined to make it better by winning big in the game.

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‘Endling: The Only’ is the magnificent conclusion to a middle grade series about truth, power, and standing up

“Endling: The Only’ by Katherine Applegate

The “Endling” series by Katherine Applegate, of which “The Only” is the conclusion, is her most powerful story yet. And that’s huge. “The One and Only Ivan” is rightly beloved by almost every student in my elementary school, and by children and adults around the world. It’s a story that grabs hearts and connects readers with the characters in a manner that becomes unforgettable. The “Endling” series will also grab hearts, and readers will absolutely connect with the narrator, Byx, a Dairne, and practically the last of her species. But readers will also learn about what happens when greed is allowed to reign supreme and when power becomes more important than humanity. It’s a story that follows one young very human-like narrator in a story that’s not only a coming-of-age story but also an allegory about our world. As with “The One and Only Ivan” and all of Applegate’s novels, we are enthralled with her brilliantly drawn characters and the plot that takes us on an emotional rollercoaster.

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‘City Spies: Golden Gate’ by James Ponti is a perfect middle grade spy story

City Spies: Golden Gate by James Ponti

“City Spies: Golden Gate” is the sequel to “City Spies,” and both middle grade action books will be loved by those who enjoy reading novels that are quick-paced, filled with interesting characters, and boast satisfying endings. This series doesn’t fail to entertain, and even readers who haven’t read the first book in the series will be able to start right in on the second book, although it’s more fun getting in on the ground floor, so to speak.

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‘The Dog Who Saved the World’ by Ross Welford is amazingly funny and simultaneously exciting

I must admit, this is the first novel by Ross Welford that I’ve read. It won’t be the last. Actually, the reason this book caught my eye was the “dog” in the title. And this dog, Mr. Mash, is the epitome of dogly dogs. He smells awful from nose (his rank breath) to tail (the gas he emits is constant and horrifying in its ability to spew outward). But he is also the epitome of dogs because he loves everyone, especially main character Georgie. Continue reading

Picture books for worriers, grumps, wolves and those in need of help

Sometimes, reading the right picture book can be just the right medicine for what ails your youngster. Here are four picture books that will ease worries, make that grumpy one smile, and illustrate that we all need friends in our lives to help us and play with us. So get out your shopping list and be ready to add some books that fit the empty spot on your bookshelf (metaphorically speaking).

“Mootilda’s Bad Mood” by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call is the story of Mootilda, who is in a terrible mood. In Rosen Schwartz’s trademark meter we see that nothing seems to be going Mootilda’s way. Her popsicle falls on the floor; while jumping rope she trips and spills a bucket of milk; she falls off her bike and does a belly flop into the pond. Worse yet, her bad mood seems to be catching. The chickens tell her, “Our stuff was pecked. Our projects wrecked. We’re feeling bleak and blue.” Mootilda replies, “Oh my, what a cow-incidence! You’re in a bad mood too?” But sometimes, misery loves company ,and having others to cow-miserate with helps. Get this one for the message, but enjoy the clever word play and Claudia Ranucci’s whimsical illustrations. (Little Bee Books)

“Brenda Is a Sheep” by Morag Hood is a picture book in which the words only tell part of the story. It’s the kind of picture book that I like to read to students first without showing them the illustrations. They get pictures in their minds from the text, and those pictures are the opposite of what is really going on in the story. They can’t believe it when they finally see the illustrations and realize that everything that they’ve been imagining is completely wrong! The text says, “These are sheep.” And there is an illustration of a dozen fluffy white sheep. The next page says, “This is also a sheep. This sheep is called Brenda. Brenda has a very nice woolly sweater.” And the illustration shows a gray wolf in an orange sweater. And while the text tells us one thing, what we actually see is that Brenda does not like eating grass or doing sheep things. She really wants to eat the sheep. So how does this book end up not being a bloody mess as Brenda butchers the sheep for dinner? Read it to find out! You’ll love the sweet ending. (Random House Children’s Books)

“Way Past Worried” by Hallee Adelman and illustrated by Sandra de la Prada is just what the title says. It’s a book about a boy who is way past worried. He is going to a friend’s birthday party, and he worries about everything. Is he wearing the right costume? Is it too small? Will he arrive late? Are the kids going to laugh at him? Kids who worry about things will appreciate knowing that they are not alone, just as Brock eventually feels better when he learns that he’s not alone. This would be a great choice for a school psychologist or social worker, or just anyone who knows a child who worries too much. (Albert Whitman & Company)

And for kids who feel that they can’t ask for help, there’s “Scout the Mighty Tugboat” by Charles Beyl. Scout, as the title indicates, is a tugboat. And she pulls everything by herself, from container ships to cruise ships. She pulls them into harbor and out to sea. But when an oil tanker is in trouble near huge dangerous rocks, Scout finds that no matter how hard she tugs and pulls, the job is too big for her alone. Sometimes, we just need some help. And with a little help from her friends, they get the oil tanker to safety. Sometimes, we all need a little help –  and that’s okay. (Albert Whitman & Company)

Please note: These reviews are based on the books provided by the publishers for review purposes.

‘The Water Bears’ by Kim Baker is a middle grade tale of belonging and dealing with PTSD

In “The Water Bears” by Kim Baker, Newt Gomez lives on an almost magical island, Murphy Island, with his family. The island had been a resort with unusual animals and a carnival atmosphere, and now a school is housed in what were the resort buildings. In the middle of the island is Gertrude Lake, where a Loch Ness-type creature named Marvelo is said to live. Newt’s father says he’s seen it, but Newt doesn’t believe it exists.

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‘Aurora Burning’ is Book 2 in the ‘Aurora Cycle’ series by YA authors Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

aurora burning

No one writes better YA sci-fi than Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. Kaufman wrote the thrilling “The Unearthed” duology with Meagan Spooner and Kristoff wrote the very unique and dystopian “The Lifelike Trilogy.”

They wowed fans with the first book in this trilogy, and in “Aurora Burning,” the sequel to “Aurora Rising,” Kaufman and Kristoff take the story to new heights. They also leave readers on a cliffhanger that’s higher and more deadly than most cliffhanger endings. So if you hate cliffhangers, you might want to wait for the third book to come out and read them one right after another. Although maybe it’s better to be like the characters in this futuristic adventure and jump right in.

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‘Of Mutts and Men’ by Spencer Quinn is the newest Chet and Bernie mystery

mutts and men

In “Of Mutts and Men,” the charming man and dog duo of Chet and Bernie are solving crimes together again, courtesy of Spencer Quinn, who writes as fabulous a dog narrative as anyone. Chet is the four-legged narrator who allows us to participate, albeit virtually, in how the two intrepid detectives solve the crime of one Wendell Nero, a hydrologist who was found with his throat cut, while working at the remote Dollhouse Canyon.

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‘The Rider’s Reign: A Rose Legacy Novel’ by Jessica Day George is a fitting ending to a lovely middle grade, horse-filled fantasy

rider's reigh

“The Rider’s Reign: A Rose Legacy Novel” is the final book in the trilogy that began with “The Rose Legacy,” the book that is also the title of the three-book series. In it we learn of a world in which some humans can communicate with horses. And any horse-loving human reading this trilogy would only wish that this was, indeed, a real thing. Talking to horses — how amazing would that be?

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‘The One and Only Bob’ by Katherine Applegate; When a dog, a gorilla, and an elephant are best friends

bob

Remember Bob, the scrawny little dog with lots of bravado who was Ivan and Ruby’s buddy in “The One and Only Ivan“? Well, author Katherine Applegate decided that Bob deserved his own story, and “The One and Only Bob” is this survivor’s tale.

First, let’s be clear about one thing: Bob is NOT a good dog. Sure, he’s loving and appreciates his two square meals a day, but don’t expect him to listen or obey commands like “sit” or “leave it.” He’s the first to say that he’s a street dog, and he’s proud of it. His opinion of Hachiko, the dog who waited at the train station for his owner for nine years? “That dog was a ninny. A numskull. A nincompoop.”

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‘Catalyst’ by Sarah Beth Durst is just the middle grade summer fantasy adventure your kids need

catalyst

Sarah Beth Durst loves fantasy, and she loves cats. In “Catalyst,” she combines those loves to create a kitten that grows and grows and grows. When almost twelve-year-old Zoe finds the tiny kitten, she knows her mother won’t let her keep it. She knows because she wasn’t able to keep any of the other animals she rescued, including the last one, a skunk.

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‘Devoted’ by Dean Koontz brings back — in spirit — a genius dog from decades ago.

devoted

The Dean Koontz book that got me hooked on him was “The Watchers,” and the dog in that book, a brilliant golden retriever, thoroughly enchanted me. In “Devoted,” Koontz creates a dog, and then a network of dogs who — maybe, he hints — descend from that highly intelligent dog. And Kipp, the loyal golden, is the kind of dog every dog lover dreams of having — a dog who understands us completely and can communicate with us freely. Continue reading