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.
Lions and Liars by Kate Beasley is a story about a boy who discovers who he really is by pretending to be someone else.
Nothing is going Frederick Frederickson’s way. He thought by the time he got to 5th grade, he’d be one of those kids that other kids want to hang out with. Instead, he feels like just as much of a loser as ever. To make matters worse, his family’s cruise vacation has been cancelled because of a hurricane.
Then, he accidentally ends up all by himself in a boat. After floating down the river all night, he finds himself at a boys’ camp. Instead of asking the counselors to help him get home, he sees his chance to get a fresh start and assumes the identity of a missing camper. At first, he likes his new life as Dash Blackwood. But soon he gets more adventure than he bargained for. The camp, as it turns out, is a disciplinary camp, and the hurricane is heading right towards it.
This book is a good end-of-summer read. It has humor and heart. Larrabee and I both enjoyed it.
How Oscar Indigo Broke the Universe (And Put It Back Together Again) by David Teague is a light-hearted fantasy about a boy who isn’t very good at baseball and a watch that can stop time.
Oscar Indigo has more team spirit than anyone else on the East Mt. Etna Wildcats, but he’s never gotten a hit. Then, in the final inning of the championship game, the team’s best player is injured and Oscar is the only player left on the bench. The coach puts him in to hit with two outs, a runner on first base, and his team trailing by one run.
The situation seems hopeless, but Oscar has a special watch in his pocket. When he’s down to his last strike, he uses the watch to freeze the time while he places his ball just over the outfield fence. The Wildcats win and Oscar is a hero.
But it turns out that hitting the game-winning home run is not as satisfying when you know it’s fake. And, to make matters worse, the universe is now out of whack. Oscar will need to figure out a way to give the universe its 19 seconds back and beat the West Mt. Etna Yankees fair and square if he wants to fix what he’s broken.
Larrabee and I both enjoyed this one. It’s a good read for the boys–and girls–of summer.
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor has been called “the Nigerian Harry Potter.” That’s how I convinced Larrabee to read it, but the comparison doesn’t really capture what I liked most about this fantasy that draws from Nigerian folklore.
Twelve-year-old Sunny Nwazue is an American-born albino living with her parents and older brothers in Aba, Nigeria. The other kids at school bully her and call her a “stupid pale-faced akata witch” (which is extremely rude).
Then, she learns that she is a Leopard Person with magical abilities. Among the Leopards, being an albino, which she’s always considered a weakness, is a rare gift. As she’s initiated into this new world, she discovers that she and her three friends must stop the evil Black Hat Otokoto and the masquerade Ekwensu.
I loved the magical world of this book with its chittim (money that falls from the sky when you gain knowledge), juju knives, and spirit faces.
Although Larrabee read and enjoyed this book, I would recommend it mainly for kids 12 and older. It might be too intense for younger ones.
This book is the first in a series. The sequel, Akata Warrior, is already available, and a third book is planned.
Eleven-year-old Luke Parker is an expert on comic books and superheroes. That’s why it’s SO unfair that Zorbon the Decider chooses his older brother Zack to save two universes from the threat of Nemesis AND gives him six superpowers. Now Zack is Star Guy, and Luke is still just Luke.
It turns out that being a superhero’s younger brother is complicated, especially when the girl next door, Lara Lee, is intent on uncovering Star Guy’s secret identity. Things get even worse when Zack loses his powers and gets kidnapped by an unknown villain. It’s up to Luke, his friend Serge, and Lara to save him.
My Brother Is a Superhero by David Solomons is a clever, funny, fast-paced adventure. Some of the things I liked best about this book:
- The relationship between Luke and Zack: Luke keeps a list of all the things he can’t stand about his big brother. (Zack’s calling him “child” is #47). But he’s also fiercely loyal to him.
- Luke’s commentary on things: Luke is the narrator of the story, and he has an interesting way of looking at the world. For example, he describes Lara as “wild and fearless, rushing headlong into danger like a video game character who knows that even if she slips off the edge of the cliff, it’ll be OK because she’ll respawn, good as new.”
- The saving the two worlds part: I don’t want to give any spoilers, but anyone who likes superhero movies will enjoy the action scenes.
Larrabee’s Aunt Kay and Uncle Christian gave him this book. I have to say, it’s a perfect gift for a younger brother. He read it months ago and loved it. I’m just now reviewing it because he left it in his cubby until the last day of school…
There are three more books in the series so far. Larrabee has read the second one, My Gym Teacher Is an Alien Overlord, and recommends it too. And the next two are on his summer reading list.