Monday, April 17, 2017

ME AND MARVIN GARDENS by Amy Sarig King for Earth Month

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King (January 31, 2017, Arthur A. Levine Books, 256 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from Indiebound):  Obe Devlin has problems. His family's farmland has been taken over by developers. His best friend Tommy abandoned him for the development kids. And he keeps getting nosebleeds, because of that thing he doesn't like to talk about. So Obe hangs out at the creek by his home, in the last wild patch left, picking up trash and looking for animal tracks. One day, he sees a creature that looks kind of like a large dog. And as he watches it, he realizes it eats plastic. Only plastic. Water bottles, shopping bags... No one has seen a creature like this before, because there's never been a creature like this before. The animal--Marvin Gardens--becomes Obe's best friend and biggest secret. But to keep him safe from the developers and Tommy and his friends, Obe must make a decision that might change everything.

Why I recommend it:  I've read every weird and amazing YA novel A.S. King has written. So I was thrilled when I learned A.S. King (also known as Amy Sarig King) had finally written a novel for the middle grade reader. And what an extraordinary novel it is. The writing is spare and the voice is spot-on. I love the way each Obe-centered chapter begins. (Examples -- Chapter 1: "There were mosquitoes."  Chapter 3:"There was a mess." Chapter 9: "There were questions.") Interspersed with Obe's short present-day chapters are even shorter chapters titled "One Hundred Years Ago", where we learn more about Obe's ancestors and how the Devlin land was lost.

Obe is a likable character, filled with righteous anger over the development of his family's land. Marvin Gardens is undoubtedly the most unusual animal you'll ever encounter in MG fiction. And in case you're wondering -- yes, Obe names him for the Monopoly property. In fact, Monopoly plays an important part, and small illustrations of vintage Monopoly pieces decorate the beginning of each chapter.

If you've ever played Monopoly, you know it's a ruthless game of acquiring properties and building on them. It's easy to guess that Amy King hates the way developments have taken over once-beautiful and once-productive farmland, not just her own family's land in Pennsylvania (see the About the Author page) but all over our country. And she must feel the same way I do about global warming and pollution. This book is the perfect read for "Earth Month" -- which Obe's favorite teacher insists we should have instead of just one day.

Favorite lines:  "Upstream were two finished housing developments and across the tree line was a flattened dirt wasteland scattered with construction equipment that looked like monsters in the falling light. The developer bought the last of the Devlin fields six months ago and planted more house seeds. Soon, more houses would grow." (from p. 10 of the hardcover)

Bonus: Besides the environment (certainly a timely and important theme), this book explores bullying, friendship, and family relationships.

A.S. King's official hideout

Follow her on Twitter

Monday, April 10, 2017

CATCHING A STORY FISH by Janice N. Harrington for Poetry Month and Diversity Monday

Sorry for my absence but I've been dealing with family issues and health issues, as well as working on revisions for the Advanced Novels in Verse workshop I'll be attending at Highlights in June.

Welcome to another Diversity Monday. It's also Poetry Month, so I'm celebrating both at once with this lovely book. Thanks to a librarian friend from the 2016 Novels in Verse Workshop for introducing me to this one.

Catching a Storyfish by Janice N. Harrington (September 2016, Wordsong, 224 pages, ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Keet knows the only good thing about moving away from her Alabama home is that she'll live near her beloved grandfather. When Keet starts school, it's even worse than she expected, as the kids tease her about her southern accent. Now Keet, who can "talk the whiskers off a catfish," doesn't want to open her mouth. Slowly, though, while fishing with her grandfather, she learns the art of listening. Gradually, she makes her first new friend. But just as she's beginning to settle in, her grandfather has a stroke, and even though he's still nearby, he suddenly feels ever-so-far-away. Keet is determined to reel him back to her by telling him stories; in the process she finds her voice and her grandfather again. This lyrical and deeply emotional novel-in-verse celebrates the power of story and of finding one's individual voice.

Why I recommend it: This is gorgeous. A warm and moving celebration of poetry, words, and voice. There's a compelling story here, told with plenty of humor and compassion, as Keet adjusts to her new life. But the book is also a word-feast, using many different forms of poetry. Concrete poetry, haiku, haibun, narrative poems, and even the difficult-to-write forms of pantoum (repeats the second and fourth line of each quatrain as the first and third line of the next) and contrapuntal, which can be read in three ways (the left column one poem, the right column another poem and when read together, left to right, there's a third poem!). A poetry glossary at the back explains it all.

Favorite lines (from JUST THE RIGHT SPOT, p. 39):   

                            Grandpa knows my tongue
                            is wiggly as a wiggle-worm
                            and quick as a mosquito
                            so wherever we look, he says, "Shhhhh.
                            Shhhh. The fish will hear you."

Bonus: Perfect for classroom lessons on different forms of poetry.

Monday, March 13, 2017

MOTOR GIRLS for Women's History Month

Motor Girls: How Women Took the Wheel and Drove Boldly Into the Twentieth Century by Sue Macy (February 7, 2017, National Geographic Children's Books, 96 pages, for ages 10 and up)

Synopsis (from the publisher): Come along for a joy ride in this enthralling tribute to the daring women - Motor Girls, as they were called at the turn of the century - who got behind the wheel of the first cars and paved the way for change. The automobile has always symbolized freedom, and in this book we meet the first generation of female motorists who drove cars for fun, profit, and to make a statement about the evolving role of women. From the advent of the auto in the 1890s to the 1920s when the breaking down of barriers for women was in full swing, readers will be delighted to see historical photos, art, and artifacts and to discover the many ways these progressive females influenced fashion, the economy, politics, and the world around them.

Why I recommend it:  I need to read more nonfiction, so when National Geographic offered me a free review copy, I gladly accepted (and I will donate it to my local library). I learned so much from reading this slim and yet entertaining book. It's chock-full of fascinating tidbits from automotive history, and the history of women's rights. Includes dozens of old photos, reproductions of original newspaper articles, and full-page bios of amazing women like Alice Ramsey, the first woman to drive across the United States in (can you believe it?) 1909! And A'Lelia Walker (daughter of self-made millionaire Madam C.J. Walker) who drove wounded soldiers in World War I as one of the members of the only Colored Women's Motor Corps.

Sue Macy has done her research. This is a delightful book. And a painless way to absorb a little history and learn about some pioneering women. I would have been happier if the cover had more kid-appeal, though.  I found the photo on the back cover more interesting.

Favorite lines:  (from p. 90) Requirement for Girl Scout Automobiling Merit Badge, 1916

1) Must pass an examination equal to that required to obtain a permit or license to operate an automobile in her community.

2) Know how to start a motor and be able to do it and be able to explain necessary precautions.

3) Know how to extinguish burning oil or gasoline.

(Yeah. Isn't that last one a kicker?)

Bonus: This is a must-have for libraries.

Sue Macy's website

Monday, March 6, 2017

TWO NAOMIS by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick for Diversity Monday and MMGM

First, I have a winner to announce. According to randomizer, the winner of the hardcover copy of THE UNCOMMONERS #1: THE CROOKED SIXPENCE by Jennifer Bell is:


Congratulations! Expect an email from me asking for your mailing address.

*   *   *

And now for another Diversity Monday!

Two Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich & Audrey Vernick (September 2016, Balzer & Bray, 208 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Other than their first names, Naomi Marie and Naomi Edith are sure they have nothing in common, and they wouldn't mind keeping it that way.

Naomi Marie starts clubs at the library and adores being a big sister. Naomi Edith loves quiet Saturdays and hanging with her best friend in her backyard. And while Naomi Marie's father lives a few blocks away, Naomi Edith wonders how she's supposed to get through each day a whole country apart from her mother.

When Naomi Marie's mom and Naomi Edith's dad get serious about dating, each girl tries to cling to the life she knows and loves. Then their parents push them into attending a class together, where they might just have to find a way to work with each other--and maybe even join forces to find new ways to define family.

Why I recommend it: This is a warm-hearted, uplifting, and funny story about blended families, told in alternating POVs by the two Naomis. They're both jump-off-the-page real and honest and likable. I love that their differences are about which subject they like in school or which bakery in Brooklyn they prefer, or the fact that they simply don't want to get to know each other because they each already have a best friend. I like that the story isn't about race. It's about ten-year-old kids coping with divorce and blended families. It's about two girls who may even find they have something wonderful in common.

I knew this book would be funny and honest because I've had the privilege of attending a workshop, given by these two awesome authors, about humor in MG novels. It was a few years ago, at a New Jersey SCBWI conference, and the best thing about it was how their friendship came shining through. Oh, and the laughs were real.

Olugbemisola ("Bemi") from her website
Audrey from her website

Favorite lines:  I thought I'd give each girl a chance, so here's Naomi Marie, from p. 4. "Ms. Starr sparkles again, which must be something they teach in librarian school, because Momma is like that too, especially these days whenever she talks about Tom. She's almost as excited about Tom as she is about Poem in Your Pocket Day."

And here's Naomi E, from p. 12. "In the back corner, where the sun shines for most of the day in the summer, I have my own garden. Last summer I grew strawberries and tomatoes. I loved picking them when every last bit of green faded away and they were the perfect shade of ready-to-eat red. When they're ripe, you almost don't have to pull--they practically drop into your hand."

Bonus: All of the parents are likable people too. Often in MG novels the adults come off as mean or distant, or the divorce is someone's "fault". Not so here. I wanted to hug every one of the characters in this book, kids and grownups alike.

Olugbemisola's website

Follow Olugbemisola on Twitter

Audrey's website

Follow Audrey on Twitter

Monday, February 27, 2017

THE ONLY ROAD by Alexandra Diaz for Diversity Monday

Welcome to another Diversity Monday:

The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz (Oct 4, 2016, Simon & Schuster, 320 pages, for ages 9 to 13)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Jaime is sitting on his bed drawing when he hears a scream. Instantly, he knows: Miguel, his cousin and best friend, is dead. Everyone in Jaime's small town in Guatemala knows someone who has been killed by the Alphas, a powerful gang that's known for violence and drug trafficking. Anyone who refuses to work for them is hurt or killed--like Miguel. With Miguel gone, Jaime fears that he is next. There's only one choice: accompanied by his cousin Angela, Jaime must flee his home to live with his older brother in New Mexico.

Inspired by true events, The Only Road is an individual story of a boy who feels that leaving his home and risking everything is his only chance for a better life. It is a story of fear and bravery, love and loss, strangers becoming family, and one boy's treacherous and life-changing journey.

Why I recommend it: With mentions of a politician planning to build a wall, and the urgency of the two cousins' need to find safety in the United States, you can't get more timely than this. A lovely and at times harrowing book, The Only Road won a Pura Belpré honor for 2016, and it definitely deserves it. This is an important story, about fear and friendship and survival, that humanizes current issues. The characters are so real they seem like children you know. The sense of urgency keeps you turning the pages, while the sensory details draw you in and let you experience what the children are going through in the small dusty villages in Guatemala and Mexico.

You may read a lot in the news about Mexicans coming here illegally, but from reading books like this (and Libertad by Alma Fullerton -- reviewed here) you'll realize it's more often desperate refugees from Central America who are trying to flee to freedom through Mexico to the U.S. And it's not just kids from Guatemala. Jaime and Angela meet other refugee kids from Honduras and El Salvador, and all of them are trying to go north. They know if they stay, they'll be forced to join a gang or be killed for not joining the gang. This book is an impassioned plea for mercy for immigrant kids.

Here's a link to a recent New York Times article on this very subject.

Favorite lines:  (from p. 30) A mini-banquet of desayuno chapin had been laid out, like those American turkey feasts they showed in movies, "tanks geeveen" or something. Eggs from the chickens out back, Abuela's corn tortillas, black beans, fried plantains, sliced avocadoes and mangos, pork salchichas, and a steaming mug of hot chocolate...

Bonus: An excellent discussion-starter for classroom units on immigration and current politics.

Alexandra Diaz's website

Follow her on Twitter

Monday, February 20, 2017


First, I have a giveaway winner to announce, from Feb 6th. According to randomizer, the winner of the hardcover of JASPER AND THE RIDDLE OF RILEY'S MINE by Caroline Starr Rose (plus, a journal!) is:


Congratulations! Expect an email from me asking for your mailing address.

*   *   *

Now on to today's MMGM (visit Shannon's blog for other MMGM posts).  And another giveaway!

The Uncommoners, Book One: The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell (January 31, 2017, Crown Books for Young Readers, 320 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): When their grandmother Sylvie is rushed to the hospital, Ivy Sparrow and her annoying big brother Seb cannot imagine what adventure lies in store. Soon their house is ransacked by unknown intruders, and a very strange policeman turns up on the scene, determined to apprehend them . . . with a toilet brush. Ivy and Seb make their escape only to find themselves in a completely uncommon world, a secret underground city called Lundinor where ordinary objects have amazing powers. There are belts that enable the wearer to fly, yo-yos that turn into weapons, buttons with healing properties, and other enchanted objects capable of very unusual feats.

But the forces of evil are closing in fast, and when Ivy and Seb learn that their family is connected to one of the greatest uncommon treasures of all time, they must race to unearth the treasure and get to the bottom of a family secret . . . before it's too late.

Why I recommend it:  This book is adorable! An absorbing and imaginative fantasy/adventure, which provides a lovely escape from the real world. I was impressed by Bell's world-building and the details of the plot. Ivy is a likable character, and there's more than enough intrigue. You'll find yourself eager to accompany Ivy and Seb (along with their new friend, a thief named Valian), on their adventure.

Harry Potter fans may recognize the influence (maps that show were someone is, commoners being called not muggles but "muckers") but it didn't bother me. In fact, it made me smile. This could easily become a favorite new series for middle grade readers.

Favorite lines: (from p. 28 of the arc)  The rapid fire of hoofbeats sounded on the other side of the hedgerow. A wild neigh followed the clatter of something loud and heavy, and then Officer Smokehart came tearing along toward them. He moved impossibly fast, his arms pumping as his black cloak mushroomed up behind him.

Bonus: It's illustrated! Delightful drawings by Karl James Mountford are sprinkled throughout (final art not seen in arc).

Jennifer Bell's website

Follow Jennifer on Twitter

Giveaway details: The publisher has generously offered one hardcover copy for a giveaway. This giveaway is open to US mailing addresses only (so sorry!) and will end on Sunday, March 5, 2017 at 10 pm EST, with the winner to be announced Monday March 6. To enter you must be a follower of this blog and you must comment on this post. Good luck!

Monday, February 13, 2017

MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON by Linda Williams Jackson for Diversity Monday and Black History Month

Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson (January 3, 2017, HMH Books for Young Readers, 312 pages, for ages 10 and up)

Synopsis (from the publisher): It's Mississippi in the summer of 1955, and thirteen-year-old Rose Lee Carter can't wait to move north, following in the footsteps of her mama and her aunt. But for now, she's living with Ma Pearl and Papa, her grandparents, who are sharecroppers on a cotton plantation. Though she's heard bits and pieces about the civil rights movement, Rose is more interested in leaving the South than in changing it.

Then, one town over, a fourteen-year-old African American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. When the killers are unjustly acquitted, Rose realizes that the South needs a change but she doesn't know if she should be part of the movement.

Why I recommend it: Oh, there is so much to recommend here: an honest young-teen voice, authentic dialogue, memorable characters, and descriptions so fine you can just see the house Rose lives in, taste the butter beans, and feel the summer heat. After only a few pages, I felt as if Rose was a real 13-year-old, telling me her story. This is one of those novels you don't read so much as you inhabit, and you may find yourself walking around in Rose's shoes for a few days, justifiably angry at the terrible events of 1955. Even though this is historical fiction, it's absolutely relevant today, considering the state of the union.

Favorite lines: "The sun beat down on me like I owed it money from six years back. Sweat dripped in my eyes so bad that I couldn't tell cotton from weeds..."

Bonus: An excellent discussion-starter for classroom units about the Civil Rights movement. Plus, there's a sequel, A Sky Full of Stars, coming in January 2018!

Linda's website

Follow Linda on Twitter: @LindaWJackson

Read this moving guest post by Linda on Caroline Starr Rose's blog.

In honor of Black History Month, what's your favorite historical novel about the Civil Rights movement?