Thursday, May 11, 2017

LEMONS by Melissa Savage Blog Tour

I'm honored to be part of the blog tour for LEMONS, Melissa Savage's refreshing MG debut novel.




Lemons by Melissa Savage (May 2, 2017, Crown Books for Young Readers, 320 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher):  Lemonade Liberty Witt’s mama always told her: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But Lem can’t possibly make lemonade out of her new life in Willow Creek, California—the Bigfoot Capital of the World—where she’s forced to live with a grandfather she’s never met after her mother passes away.

Summer seems to bring Lem lemons upon lemons as she deals with an entire new life without any of the comforts of her old home—and then she meets Tobin Sky.

Eleven years old and the CEO of Bigfoot Detectives Inc., Tobin is the sole Bigfoot investigator for their small town. After he invites Lem to be his assistant for the summer, they set out on an epic adventure to capture the elusive beast on film. But along the way, Lem and Tobin end up discovering more than they ever could have imagined. And Lem realizes that maybe she can make lemonade out of her new life after all.


Why I recommend it: The voice captivated me from Page 1. Lemonade Liberty Witt is a 10-year-old you won't soon forget. Written in first person present tense, this sometimes bittersweet, always refreshing story has an immediacy that makes you feel all the feels right alongside Lemonade.

Yes, this is one of those novels where the mother has just died. But it's so well handled, and Tobin and grandfather Charlie and even minor characters like Mrs. Dickerson are so real and likable, you'll find yourself won over, even if you normally turn down novels where a parent dies. Surprisingly, there's a great deal of humor here. Perhaps that's what charmed me, that and the rollicking search for Bigfoot. No spoilers, but the adventure is worth the ride.

In addition, short chapters and lots of dialogue make this a fast, easy read.

Favorite lines (Lemonade's first impression of her grandfather, Charlie): "He's missing the middle part of his hair, like someone divided his head up into thirds and subtracted the center." (p. 12)

Bonus: The story actually takes place in 1975, at a time when you still had to get up to turn off the TV or change the channel. I think it was a brilliant move on the author's part, because these kids have no cell phones, no computers, no distractions to keep them from going outside.



Melissa Savage
Photo credit: Jerri Parness Photography

If you missed it, here's an interview with the author on Caroline Starr Rose's blog

The blog tour continues!

May 12: YA Books Central
May 13: Cafinated Reads
May 15: Middle Grade Mafioso


Monday, May 8, 2017

THE EPIC FAIL OF ARTURO ZAMORA by Pablo Cartaya for Diversity Monday and MMGM



The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya (May 16, 2017, Viking Books for Young Readers, 256 pages, for ages 10 and up)

Synopsis (from the publisher): Save the restaurant. Save the town. Get the girl. Make Abuela proud. Can thirteen-year-old Arturo Zamora do it all or is he in for a BIG, EPIC FAIL? 

For Arturo, summertime in Miami means playing basketball until dark, sipping mango smoothies, and keeping cool under banyan trees. And maybe a few shifts as junior lunchtime dishwasher at Abuela’s restaurant. Maybe. But this summer also includes Carmen, a cute poetry enthusiast who moves into Arturo’s apartment complex and turns his stomach into a deep fryer. He almost doesn’t notice the smarmy land developer who rolls into town and threatens to change it. Arturo refuses to let his family and community go down without a fight, and as he schemes with Carmen, Arturo discovers the power of poetry and protest through untold family stories and the work of José Martí.

Why I recommend it: Fans of books about kids who still have both parents will appreciate this. It's a lively, heartwarming, and often humorous family story. You'll get to know Arturo's immediate family and his extended family. It's also quite timely (I had to smile as I read about the nasty real estate developer!).  Sometimes change is wonderful, but sometimes keeping a tradition going is more important. 

Arturo is a flawed and therefore vulnerable and realistic character, who loves his family and their restaurant more than anything. But he's also 13 and developing a huge crush on Carmen, which makes for some funny and awkward moments. Sweet.

Favorite lines:  "I was excited for a bunch of reasons. It was the Sunday before the official start of summer, and summer meant hanging out, swinging on banyan trees, looking for manatees in the canals throughout Canal Grove, eating churros (because let's be real: those deep-fried sugary sticks are all kinds of delicious), listening to music, and jumping around in Bren's bounce house. Yeah, I know I'm thirteen, but there's just something about a bounce house that makes me feel awesome." (pg. 4)

Bonus: You'll learn about José Marti and his poetry and also about the sacrifices many Cuban-Americans have made to reach this country and become citizens. 


Look for other diverse kidlit at Pragmatic Mom and The Logonauts

Look for other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts at Shannon Messenger's blog



Monday, May 1, 2017

BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA by Lauren Wolk for MMGM



Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk  (May 2, 2017, Dutton Books for Young Readers, 304 pages, for ages 9 to 13)


Synopsis (from Indiebound):  Twelve-year-old Crow has lived her entire life on a tiny, isolated piece of the starkly beautiful Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts. Abandoned and set adrift in a small boat when she was just hours old, Crow's only companions are Osh, the man who rescued and raised her, and Miss Maggie, their fierce and affectionate neighbor across the sandbar.

Crow has always been curious about the world around her, but it isn't until the night a mysterious fire appears across the water that the unspoken question of her own history forms in her heart. Soon, an unstoppable chain of events is triggered, leading Crow down a path of discovery and danger.

Why I recommend it:  It's rare that a novel is both a literary gem and a page-turning thriller.  Lauren Wolk's first MG novel, Wolf Hollow, won a Newbery honor. This book should win the Newbery medal itself. Of course, my batting average for Newbery predictions is not exactly perfect. But that's how strongly I feel about this gorgeously-written and deftly-plotted novel. It's also set in the 1920s, one of my favorite time periods. The metaphors made me gasp, the characters seemed like real islanders, and the mystery kept me guessing. Why was Crow set adrift when she was a newborn? No spoilers here! But as you read this, you'll ache and wonder along with Crow, who yearns to understand her origins. Though she's been raised by Osh, Crow doesn't look like him or like Miss Maggie or any of the folks in town. But that's not the only reason the townspeople avoid her.


Favorite lines:  "She took my chin and leaned down to look into my face, so close that I could see the green in her brown eyes, as if they were little round gardens."  (p. 42 of the arc)


Bonus:  This stunning book would be perfect for showing kids that families come in all forms. It could also convince readers who don't normally care for historical fiction that it can be just as exciting as a thriller.

Lauren Wolk's website

Follow Lauren on Twitter

For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts, see Shannon Messenger's blog.


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:


THERESA MILSTEIN


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