Book Review: Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 4.42.17 PMClayton Byrd Goes Underground is the latest book from the talented Rita Williams-Garcia. It’s about music and grief and family.

Clayton Byrd loves to spend time with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd. He especially loves to play his blues harp in Washington Square Park with Cool Papa and the Bluesmen.

When his grandfather dies unexpectedly, Clayton does not know how to deal with his loss. He’s in trouble at school and at odds with his mother (who is still angry at Cool Papa). So Clayton runs away to join the Bluesmen. But on the subway, he encounters a hip hop group and ends up in even more trouble.

I enjoyed this one more than Larrabee did. He liked the character of Clayton, but he says he prefers books with “fewer sad parts and more action.”


Book Review: Amina’s Voice

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 11.33.03 AMAmina’s Voice by Hena Khan is a sweet story about a Pakistani-American girl growing up in Milwaukee.

Amina Khokar is in middle school now, and it seems like everything is changing. At school, her best friend is talking about changing her name from Soojin to Susan. Worse yet, she’s befriended Emily, a girl who used to tease them. At home, her high school-age brother is clashing with their parents just when they’re preparing to welcome her conservative uncle from Pakistan for a long visit.

Amina loves to sing, but only her family and best friend know about her talent. The thought of performing a solo brings back memories of her stage fright during her second grade play. And she’s positively dreading the Quran recitation competition hosted by her mosque. When the mosque is vandalized, though, she must find her voice in order to help her community.

Amina’s Voice is about friendship and family, faith and forgiveness.

Book Review: At the Bottom of the World

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 1.54.27 PMIf you and your kids love science, I’m sure you’re familiar with Bill Nye the Science Guy. But did you know that he and Gregory Mone are writing a series of science adventure books for middle grade readers?

The first book is called Jack and the Geniuses: At the Bottom of the World and takes place in Antarctica. Larrabee and I both enjoyed the mix of mystery, adventure, humor, and real science and technology facts.

Twelve-year-old Jack lives with his genius foster siblings, Ava (age 12), who designs drones and speaks multiple languages, and Matt (age 15), a math whiz. A chance encounter leads the three to an internship in the lab of Dr. Hank Witherspoon and a trip with him to Antartica to judge an invention contest. When they arrive, though, they find that one of the scientists is missing along with all of her research.

We liked that the book includes a science experiment relating to density (a concept that’s key to the plot).

Larrabee and I are looking forward to the second book in the series, Jack and the Geniuses: In the Deep Blue Sea, set in Hawaii.

Paws-itively Zany


Dav Pilkey was in Santa Cruz today as part of his Supa-Epic Tour o’ Fun!

Larrabee and I both enjoyed his latest book, Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties. It’s a comic book about Dogman, a cop with a dog’s head, Petey, an evil cat, and Lil’ Petey, his stubbornly good clone. It has a nice message and an appealingly zany style. Larrabee’s only complaint was that it was too short. He flew through it in one sitting, chuckling all the way.

Pilkey, who has written dozens of books, is best known for his Captain Underpants series. But our family favorites are Kat Kong, a pun-filled picture book in which a giant cat goes on a rampage through the streets of Mousopolis, and Dragon’s Fat Cat, an adorable book for beginning readers about a dragon who adopts a cat.

I hope Pilkey’s visit will inspire Larrabee to draw more comic books and that someday he’ll get to tell a group of kids about his very first comic: Ocelot vs. Cloud.

Book Review: Unidentified Suburban Object

Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 12.09.27 PMUnidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung is a fish-out-of-water story with a twist.

Seventh grader Chloe Cho is the only Asian student in her school. It drives her crazy when the other kids thinks that she gets good grades and plays the violin well just because she’s Korean.

The other thing that drives her crazy is her parents’ reluctance to talk about Korea. She’s curious about her heritage: she and her best friend make mandu (Korean dumplings), she buys a hanbok (Korean dress), and she listens to K-pop. But her parents always claim that their memories are too painful to discuss.

Things begin to change when Mrs. Lee arrives at Chloe’s school. She Korean-American, she teaches Social Studies, and she assigns Chloe to be the South Korean delegate to the class’s Model United Nations. But delving into her family history leads Chloe to some unexpected discoveries about who she really is.

I can’t say more because I don’t want to provide any spoilers. Suffice it to say that this book is not quite what you expect, but it is good fun.

Book Review: The Westing Game

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 1.35.57 PMI just finished reading Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game with Larrabee. This book won the Newbery Medal in 1979, and I remember liking it as a child (although I found that I’d largely forgotten the plot). Now, apparently, it’s a “modern classic.”

Sixteen residents of Sunset Towers are summoned to a nearby mansion for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. The will turns out to be a puzzle. The heirs are placed on teams of two and given clues. The ones who figure out who killed Mr. Westing will inherit his $200 million fortune.

This book was an challenging read aloud choice for us with its large cast of (mostly adult) characters and twisty mystery plot. We enjoyed it, though. I doubt if Larrabee would have liked reading this one on his own, but together we were able to keep the heirs straight, and we had fun trying (and mostly failing) to guess the answer to the will’s puzzle.

Remembering 9/11

Monday will be the 16th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. All adults remember that Tuesday. Where they were when they heard the news. How they felt. What they did.

But kids can’t remember, of course. Mine weren’t even born yet. For them, 9/11 is history. Not all that different from Pearl Harbor or Gettysburg or the Alamo.

Fiction is a great way for kids to learn about other times and places. Novels about the recent past are rare, though.

Luckily for today’s kids, there are two new middle grade novels that address the events of September 11 and the impact they had on the people of the United States.  These novels fittingly manage to be both sad and hopeful.

Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 11.54.33 AMTowers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes is a contemporary novel, set in Brooklyn fifteen years after 9/11.

Dèja has just moved into a homeless shelter with her sick father, her overworked mother, and her two younger siblings. The 5th grade teacher in her new school assigns a project relating to September 11.

Although she’s lived in New York her whole life, Dèja knows nothing about 9/11, and she wonders why she should care about something that happened before she was born. With the help of her new friends, Ben and Sabeen, she learns how those events still affect her country, her city, and her family.

Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 12.03.50 PM

Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin is an historical novel set during September 9-11, 2001 and September 11, 2002.

It focuses on four middle schoolers of different genders, races and religions: Will in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Aimee in Los Angeles, California, Sergio in Brooklyn, New York, and Naheed in Columbus, Ohio.

It’s the story of these four individual kids and the challenges they’re facing before the events of 9/11. It’s about the ways their lives intersect in unexpected ways. And it’s about the difference between “before” and “after”.