If you like stories about math, shelter dogs, or middle school friendships, you should check out The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty. Larrabee and I both enjoyed it.
Twelve-year-old Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning when she was in 2nd grade. The damage to her brain turned her into a mathematical genius and also left her with some obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Since then, she’s been home schooled by her grandmother, and she happily spends most of her free time in an on-line math forum (where she’s known as LightningGirl).
She wants to take on-line college courses starting in the fall, but her grandmother has other plans. She’s sending Lucy to public middle school. All she asks is that Lucy try it for one year, make one friend, do one thing outside the apartment, and read one book about something other than math or economics. (Lucy notes that this year is brought to you by the number “1”).
But all that is not as easy as it sounds for Lucy. In addition to navigating English class and the middle school lunchroom, she’ll have to complete a community service project with two or three other 7th graders. It turns out, though, that her friendship with Windy and Levi and her volunteer work with the Pet Hut and a dog named Cutie Pi (π!) are the best things that could have happened to her.
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is an engaging read, with short chapters, good pacing, and plenty of funny and heart-warming parts. Highly recommend!
Masterminds is the first book in a thrilling trilogy by Gordon Korman. Larrabee loved it and insisted that I drop everything and read it.
Eli Frieden lives in Serenity, New Mexico, an isolated and idyllic town with a population of 185. Eli’s dad is the school principal and the mayor and reminds him often how lucky he is to live in a community with no crime and no poverty.
One day, his best friend suggests that they ride their bikes out of Serenity, something Eli’s never done in all his thirteen years. When they get to the town limits, though, Eli starts to feel sick. Before they know it, they’ve been rescued by the local security force (nicknamed Purple People Eaters by the kids) in a helicopter. A few days later, Eli’s friend is shipped off to live with his grandparents in Colorado, but he leaves a note where only Eli can find it: “There’s something screwy going on in that town.”
The story of what’s really going on beneath Serenity’s perfect facade is told through the point of view of five different kids. I don’t want to spoil any of the plot twists, so I’ll just say that Masterminds has a mix of action, mystery, and suspense that’s rare in middle grade books.
The other two books in the series are Criminal Destiny and Payback, and Larrabee highly recommends them too. He says the series gets better and better!
The Wishmakers by Tyler Whitesides is a very funny book about wishes and their consequences.
One day, twelve-year-old Ace opens a peanut butter jar without reading the fine print and releases a genie named Ridge. The good news: He’s now a Wishmaker and may make as many wishes as he likes. The bad news: For every wish, the Universe imposes a consequence and he has just thirty seconds to decide whether to accept. The worse news: The Universe has given him a quest, and unless he completes it in seven days, all the world’s cats and dogs will turn into zombies.
Things get even more complicated when he meets Tina and Jathon, other young Wishmakers with quests of their own that seem to conflict with his. And things get more complicated still as they make more and more wishes with consequences on top of consequences (which may last for an hour, a day, a week, or forever). For example, at one point, whenever anyone says Tina’s name, she claps, and whenever anyone claps, Ace’s shoelace comes untied. Ace also accepts a day without his left arm, a week without being able to read, and a lifetime with a green tongue. It all adds up to a fast-paced and zany adventure.
Larrabee and I both enjoyed this book and are looking forward to the sequel, The Wishbreaker. It’s coming soon!
Nerd Camp by Elissa Brent Weissman is a book that will make you smile.
Ten-year-old Gabe is excited about his summer for two reasons: (1) he’s been accepted to the Summer Center for Gifted Enrichment, a six-week sleepaway camp, and (2) his father is getting remarried, which means that he’s getting a new brother his age named Zack.
But Zack is not at all what Gabe expected in a brother. Zack is a cool ten-year-old from L.A. with a cell phone and gel in his hair. He dismisses as “nerdy” a lot of things Gabe likes (such as reading and math team). He’s jealous of Gabe’s plan to go to sleepaway camp, but Gabe doesn’t dare admit what type of camp it is.
The truth is that Gabe is looking forward to learning logical reasoning, writing poetry, and memorizing the digits of pi with his bunkmates in addition to kayaking and swimming and all that camp stuff. But Zack’s perspective makes him ask the question: “Am I a nerd who only has nerdy adventures?”
His hypothesis is “no,” but it will take a summer full of nerd camp escapades for him to prove it to himself.
This book won the Cybils Award in 2011. Larrabee and I both enjoyed it, and Larrabee’s already read the sequel, Nerd Camp 2.0.
Highly recommended for cool nerds of all ages (especially ages 8-10).
Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo is the story of Flora, a comic book reader and natural-born cynic, and Ulysses, a squirrel with superpowers as a result of a close encounter with a vacuum cleaner.
If that sounds wacky, it is. Delightfully wacky. It’s a quick and funny read told from the point of view of both girl and squirrel, and it includes comic-style illustrations by K. G. Campbell. It’s also a touching meditation on loneliness, hope, and love. Larrabee and I both liked it a lot.
This book won the Newbery Medal in 2014. As Flora would say, “Holy bagumba! Holy unanticipated occurrences!”
If you’re missing summer as much as we are, you should pick up a copy of The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell. Larrabee and I aren’t normally big fans of graphic novels, but we both enjoyed this one.
It’s a collection of short stories about a diverse group of kids who use ordinary cardboard to transform themselves and their neighborhood. The Sorceress, the Big Banshee, the Huntress, the Gargoyle, and others go on imaginative quests and navigate real world challenges during summer vacation.
The art is terrific and the stories are engaging. I wish Larrabee and I had read The Cardboard Kingdom together because it would have prompted some good discussions.
It’s back-to-school week for our family, and we’ve been getting our school supplies organized. We don’t have a magic pencil, but at least we have a terrific book about a magic pencil: All the Answers by Kate Messner.
Middle schooler Ava Anderson grabs an ordinary-looking blue pencil out of her family’s junk drawer one day so she’ll be prepared for her math class. When she doodles a question in the margin of her quiz (“What is the formula to find the circumference of a circle?”), a voice answers in her head (“Two pi R”).
With the help of her best friend Sophie, she starts to explore what you can do with a pencil that seems to have all the answers: get homework help, amaze their friends, and figure out when shoes will go on sale. They learn that the pencil can’t predict the future, though. For example, it can’t them which boy Sophie will kiss first. But it can tell them which boys have a crush on Sophie.
Ava is a worrier, and at first, she likes being able to ask questions all the time. She likes knowing what her teacher thinks or what her grandfather wants. But then she starts to worry about what will happen when the pencil can’t be sharpened anymore. And worse yet, what will she do if she finds out something she doesn’t want to know?
All the Answers is a satisfying story with both funny and sad parts. It’s about having the courage to act even when you’ve thought about everything that can go wrong. I’d recommend it for any kid, especially kids who (like Ava) get anxious about everything from tests to tryouts to field trips.