‘Closer to Nowhere’ by Ellen Hopkins is a beautiful story that will break your heart and then fill it with love

Prolific author Ellen Hopkins is known for her young adult books that deal with tough subjects — especially drugs and the horrendous damage they can do to families and the lives of those who are caught in their tantalizing web. With her first middle grade novel, Hopkins hits a home run.

This is a story that, like her other books, is written in verse. It’s written from a dual point of view. We meet and get to know both Hannah and Cal, cousins whose mothers are identical twins, but whose lives couldn’t be more different. When we first meet them, Cal has lived with Hannah and her parents for a little over a year. It’s been a tough year for all. Continue reading

Three wonderful nonfiction picture books about dogs and cats and shelter animals

With COVID-19, many families have adopted needy shelter pets. But there are still many, many animals in shelters across the country who are in need of a loving home. These three picture books will not only share why it’s rewarding to rescue a pet but also share how to train your new dog or cat, thanks to National Geographic Kids’ two training books for kids. Continue reading

‘Brave Like That’ by Lindsey Stoddard is an ultra-significant read for middle grade kids

brave like that

Sometimes a powerful and emotionally rich book like “Brave Like That” by Lindsey Stoddard comes along that I wish everyone would read. A thoughtful book that could change the world – really. And in this book, the lessons Cyrus, the main character, learns are ones that he recognizes could change the world.

“Brave Like That” is a difficult book to review. There’s so much packed into this treasure of a story that it’s difficult to include all the messages and themes. Cyrus is the son of a firefighter, and his Dad was a star football player in their small town. Since he’s been a little kid, everyone thought he’d follow in his dad’s footsteps. Cyrus was adopted by his dad after being left at the fire station when he was an infant. On the night of his eleventh birthday, celebrated at the fire station, a stray dog shows up, and Cyrus is convinced that fate expects him to keep the dog, just as his father kept him. But Cyrus’s father has other ideas.

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‘War Stories’ by Gordon Korman is a middle grade novel about war and war games

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Gordon Korman’s books are among the most popular novels for middle grade readers. Kids love them. His “Swindle” series is addictive, and his stand alone novels like “Restart” and “Slacker” are thoughtful and humorous at the same time. “War Stories,” his newest middle grade novel, is thoughtful, but necessarily less humorous; it delves into a much more serious topic — war.

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‘ICK! Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses’ by Melissa Stewart will astonish kids and adults alike

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“ICK! Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses” by Melissa Stewart is a book that will astonish adults and delight children who never realized all the myriad synonyms for the word “poop.” This non-fiction magazine-type book published by National Geographic Kids is filled with glorious photos and ample information about animals whose personal habits will make many of us blanch. Really.

The Table of Contents divides the information into three parts: Disgusting Dinners, Disgusting Dwellings, and Disgusting Defenses. There is also an introduction and conclusion, with a glossary and an index. For a classroom teacher, having a book that will intrigue and entertain children and that includes all these important nonfiction text features is priceless.

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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

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“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

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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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‘The Deceivers’ by Margaret Peterson Haddix is the second in the ‘Greystone Secrets’ series

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Margaret Peterson Haddix is truly the queen of series writing. It’s tough to write a second book in a series that has more than two books. You can’t write the ending, but there needs to be some kind of closure, and yet you have to make sure that the readers are involved enough to want to know what’s going to happen next. Haddix manages it all brilliantly.

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

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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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‘A Guard Dog Named Honey’ by Denise Gosliner Orenstein is a sweet summer story of determination, friendship, and a big slobbery dog

guard dog honey

I started the middle grade story “A Guard Dog Named Honey” by Denise Gosliner Orenstein predisposed to dislike it. I don’t usually approach books with that attitude, of course, but this one is about a girl who wants to sell a dog for profit in order to raise the bail money to get her brother out of jail. I’m all about the dogs, and if her brother was in jail, I reasoned, no dog should suffer because of his stupidity.

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Five nonfiction picture books about animals that are perfect to welcome Spring

Spring is here and it’s time to enjoy the outdoors — while safely keeping social distance, of course. And for those shut inside on rainy, gloomy days, what could be more enjoyable than reading about animals in nature while at the same time learning fascinating and important facts about the world around us? These five picture books are perfect for reading and will become favorites at bedtime. Continue reading