Monday, September 4

Top Middle-Grade Fiction of the Month

Oops, this was supposed to go up last week. But guess who just started her brand new job as an elementary school librarian?? That's right. This girl. Dream job: attained. So, yeah...I may be a littel swamped at the moment. But! I'm excited for lots of new content for the blog (for example, the decorating of my new library) and to review even more books as I share them with students. So, of course, here are some more reviews! My favorite middle-grade reads from the month...

Beyond the Doors
David Neilsen

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1101935828
Publisher: Crown Books
Date of publication: August 1, 2017
Age: Grades 4 - 7
Genre: Horror, Mystery
Format: ARC from author

Themes: family relationships, memories, nightmares & monsters, humor, doors

"When a family disaster forces the four Rothbaum children to live with their aunt Gladys, they immediately know there is something strange about their new home. The front entrance is a four-story-tall drawbridge. The only food in Aunt Gladys’s kitchen is an endless supply of Honey Nut Oat Blast Ring-a-Dings cereal. And strangest of all are the doors—there are none. Every doorway is a wide-open passageway—even the bathroom! Who lives in a house with no doors? When they discover just what Aunt Gladys has been doing with all her doors, the shocked siblings embark on an adventure that changes everything they believe about their family and the world."

This is the second book I've reviewed of Mr. Neilsen's (see Dr. Fell back here), and may I say, his writing is still so fun. It's creepy, yes, but with just the right amount of funny. I mean, how would you like it if you were stuck eating Honey Nut Oat Blast Ring-a-Dings cereal for every meal? I also enjoyed his ability to tell the story from the point of view of each of the four siblings (alternating between the four with each chapter), each with their own unique personality and depth. It made it even more interesting and, at times, totally hilarious (I mean, one of the characters is a seven-year-old girl obsessed with all things cute and fluffy). His strong writing voice, reminiscent of Lemony Snicket, is sure to please readers of all ages.

I will admit, though, that I wasn't quite as much of a fan of the story itself as I was his first. The writing, yes, but the plot... The premise of this story, while very original and unique, became a bit difficult for me to follow. The traveling through space and time and memory became very layered very quickly (think like the movie Inception) and I was a bit lost trying to follow along. I hope younger readers would not be daunted by it. Still, I would be quick to recommend it to fans of Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, and the like. And, if you can listen to the audio book, DO, because Nielsen is a very talented performer.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart
Stephanie Burgis

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-1681193434
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Date of publication: May 30, 2017
Age: Grades 3 - 7
Genre: Fantasy
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: dragons, chocolate, responsibility, failure & success

"Aventurine is a brave young dragon ready to explore the world outside of her family's mountain cave . . . if only they'd let her leave it. Her family thinks she's too young to fly on her own, but she's determined to prove them wrong by capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human.

"But when that human tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, she's transformed into a puny human without any sharp teeth, fire breath, or claws. Still, she's the fiercest creature in these mountains--and now she's found her true passion: chocolate. All she has to do is get to the human city to find herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she'll be conquering new territory in no time . . . won't she?"

Dragons and chocolate? I mean, honestly, what's not to love? And that's just the premise. Then you start reading it and it just wins you over that much faster. Burgis' character voice (in this case, it being an extremely frustrated dragon-turned-human who thinks chocolate is manna from heaven) is spot on. Aventurine is hilarious. And sassy, spunky, scared, sad, and all sorts of other "s" adjectives. She experiences a full range of emotions and wonderful development. Really, it wouldn't have been a successful story without such a strong main character; it's so well done. Kids will love it and I will definitely recommend it.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

John David Anderson

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0062338204
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Date of publication: May 2, 2017
Age: Grades 6 - 9
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Format: Library eBook

Themes: bullying, friendship, middle school, written communication

"When cell phones are banned at Branton Middle School, Frost and his friends Deedee, Wolf, and Bench come up with a new way to communicate: leaving sticky notes for each other all around the school. It catches on, and soon all the kids in school are leaving notes—though for every kind and friendly one, there is a cutting and cruel one as well.

"In the middle of this, a new girl named Rose arrives at school and sits at Frost’s lunch table. Rose is not like anyone else at Branton Middle School, and it’s clear that the close circle of friends Frost has made for himself won’t easily hold another. As the sticky-note war escalates, and the pressure to choose sides mounts, Frost soon realizes that after this year, nothing will ever be the same."

Ah, middle school. Boy, does it suck. And here is a novel that really makes you think about why that is. What I loved most about this book were the characters—each with their own quirks and talents, but overall, written in a way to be widely relatable. It was easy to put one's self into the story. I also appreciated the philosophical undertones, especially in regard to words. Because, honestly, whoever came up with "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" saying should, himself, be stoned. Words do hurt. And this story carefully examines the ramifications of all sorts of words—words said to friends, whispered behind a back, or written anonymously for all to see.

On a more critical note, however, this wasn't as perfect as I would've hoped. The ending seemed to drag, especially with a bit of a double climax (in fact, there seems to be two parallel storylines, which both had to be wrapped up). And the way Anderson kept referring to the "war" of words was a bit overly dramatic—not the metaphor, but the referencing to it and how it began, because he just kept repeating himself. Overall, it's not one that I would be quick to recommend to my elementary school students, but I can see it being a fantastic classroom study in a middle school class. Also, a definite recommendation to those who enjoyed Sticks and Stones or Goodbye Stranger.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

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