Book Review: BOB

Screen Shot 2018-05-04 at 9.13.21 AMBOB by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead is a charming story about an almost 11-year-old girl and a small, green creature named Bob.

When Livy goes to visit her grandmother in Australia, she finds Bob in the closet. She’d forgotten all about him, but he’s been waiting for her since she last visited five years ago. He doesn’t remember how he got there, and he’s counting on her to help him find his way home.

The story is told from both Bob’s and Livy’s point of view as they try to solve the mystery of his presence on her grandmother’s farm. I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I won’t say what kind of creature Bob actually is or where he’s from. You’ll just have to read the book!

Some of the things I liked best about this book are:

  • Bob: Every kid should have a funny, thoughtful friend like Bob. He wears Livy’s old chicken PJs with some extra feathers taped on, he likes licorice and Legos, and he reads the dictionary.
  • The Old Livy and the New Livy: Livy’s story starts like this:

“I feel bad that I can’t remember anything about Gran Nicholas’s house. On the table in her kitchen Gran has lined up three things I do not remember:
1. A green stuffed elephant in overalls.
2. A net bag full of black chess pieces.
3. A clunky old tape recorder.
‘You loved these things when you were here before,’ Gran Nicholas tells me.
But I don’t remember any of it.”

Livy’s grown up now–almost 11–different but still the same. And with Bob’s help, she rediscovers something about her fearless, fun-loving 5-year-old self.

  • The Australian setting: From the drought-stricken farm to the chicken coop to Livy’s bedroom, the setting is vivid and interesting.
  • These lines (from Bob’s point of view): “All the things I choose to put in my head are what makes me, me. I plan to choose wisely.”

BOB is a quick, easy read that would make a perfect first summer reading book. Larrabee has heard me talk about it so much that he’s been asking when he can read the book about the green creature. He recently read and enjoyed Wendy Mass’s Pi in the Sky.

Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy of this book. It was published at the beginning of the month and is available in bookstores now.

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Book Review: Soar

Screen Shot 2018-04-12 at 1.24.10 PM.pngWe’re a baseball-loving family, so I always have an eye out for books about the game. I recently made a lucky find at the library: Soar by Joan Bauer. Like its protagonist, twelve-year-old Jeremiah, this book is funny, profound, quirky, and inspiring all at the same time.

Jeremiah loves baseball. He can’t play, though, because he’s recovering from a heart transplant. He even has to get his doctor’s approval to accompany his adoptive father on a two month consulting job.

Their temporary new home, Hillcrest, Ohio, is known for its championship baseball team. But when the high school coach is embroiled in a steroids scandal, the middle school is ready to abandon its baseball team. Jeremiah doesn’t want to see the kids or the town give up on baseball, so he steps up to coach the team.

I read this book first and recommended to Larrabee. He was skeptical, but he agreed to take a chance on it and ended up a big fan.

This book is all about baseball, and yet it’s not just about baseball. Jeremiah also watches eagle cams, interacts with his dad’s robots, and befriends a neighborhood dog, among other adventures. It raises important issues, such as winning in youth sports, without being preachy. Instead, it’s a fun book about a lovable group of kids playing a great game.

Book Review: Book Scavenger

Screen Shot 2018-04-04 at 12.48.46 PMBook Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is a terrific book and code lover’s mystery. It’s exactly the type of book my Nancy Drew-reading younger self would have loved. Larrabee enjoyed it too.

Twelve-year-old Emily’s family moves all the time. Their latest move has brought them to San Francisco, home of Garrison Griswold, the creator of Book Scavenger. Book Scavenger is a game in which players hide books and then post clues in the form of puzzles, and Emily is a big fan. (Larrabee’s first comment: “Is this game real? It should be!”)

Emily stumbles across a mysterious book, a copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Gold-Bug. At first, she thinks it’s a Book Scavenger find, but it’s not listed online. When she finds typos in the story, she becomes convinced that the book contains a code that’s part of Mr. Griswold’s new game. With the help of her friend James and her older brother Matthew, she must solve the puzzles and find the hidden treasure while staying one step ahead of the bad guys.

Some of the things I liked best about this book:

  • The San Francisco setting: I recommend this book for anyone planning a trip to the City by the Bay.
  • The friendship between Emily and James: I love friendship stories!
  • The relationship between Emily and Matthew: For anyone who’s watched a younger sibling trying to figure out what’s happening to a teenage sibling, their interactions will ring true.
  • The codes: From substitution ciphers to Pigpen ciphers, this book is full of cool codes.

For readers (like us!) who can’t get enough, there is already a sequel, The Unbreakable Code. And the third book in the series, The Alcatraz Escape, is coming out next month!

 

Book Review: Wings of Fire

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Hopefully the birthday boy will take time out from reading Wings of Fire to eat some cake!

In honor of Larrabee’s 9th birthday, I decided to read and review the first book in the Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland: The Dragonet Prophesy.

Larrabee is a big fan of this epic dragon saga. He devoured the first eight books in the past few months, and he’s eagerly waiting for the next two. He talks all the time about the characteristics of the different types of dragons: MudWings, SeaWings, SandWings, SkyWings, IceWings, RainWings, and NightWings.

I figured I’d borrow The Dragonet Prophesy so I could see what all the fuss was about… Well, now I’m hooked. I’m still a little behind Larrabee, having only read the first five books, but I can see what he likes about them.

Clay, Tsunami, Glory, Starflight, and Sunny are the Dragonets of Destiny. These young dragons from five different tribes have been raised in a secret cave by the Talons of Peace in the hope that they will grow up to fulfill the prophesy and end the war raging in Pyrrhia. The trouble is that no one can tell them how they are meant to do it.

Three things I like about these books:

  • The dragon characters. Each book is told from the point of view of a different dragon, each of whom has a distinct personality. Larrabee often laughed out loud at the humorous banter among the dragonets.
  • The prophesy. I’ve written before about how much I like an intriguing prophesy that comes true in unexpected ways.
  • The action. These stories are action-packed as the dragonets try stay one step ahead of all the dragons who want to capture and control them. I’ll warn you, though, that these stories are not for the faint of heart. The dragons fight to the death. But kids who’ve enjoyed the Warriors or Shark Wars series will like these books too.

 

Book Review: Tumble & Blue

Screen Shot 2018-01-17 at 3.19.43 PMTumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley is a terrific story about friendship and fate.

According to legend, when a red sickle moon rises over the Okefenokee Swamp, a golden alligator will grant a great fate to one brave person. Two hundred years ago, though, two people reached the center of the swamp at the same time and split the fate. Ever since, half of their descendants have had great fates, and the other half have had terrible fates. And now it’s time for the next red moon.

Twelve-year-old Blue Montgomery has one of the terrible fates. He always loses–at everything from tiddlywinks to foot races. And now his father (a race car driver who always wins) has dumped him at his Granny Eve’s house in Murky Branch, Georgia with all of the other cursed Montgomerys hoping for a new fate.

Eleven-year-old Tumble Wilson wants to be a hero like Maximal Star–or like her older brother Jason. But her attempts at heroing don’t always work out so well, and she often ends up being the damsel in distress. After a lifetime of traveling the country in an RV, her parents have brought her to Murky Branch, Georgia for a fresh start.

Some of the things I like best about this book:

  • The friendship between Tumble and Blue. They’re not exactly “friends at first sight” and they don’t always agree, but the two of them are everything a genuine friend should be.
  • The extended Montgomery family. From the manipulative Ma Myrtle to the wise Granny Eve to all of the cousins with their crazy gifts and curses, there’s never a dull day in the Montgomery house.
  • The Georgia setting. One of my favorite details is the local restaurant that serves “Universally Adored Swamp Cakes” a.k.a. green pancakes.
  • What it has to say about talent vs. the rewards of hard work. Everyone thought Granny Eve had a talent for gardening until it became clear that she was cursed to lose her husbands. But, as she says, “Back when I thought it was all a result of magic… well, back then I didn’t enjoy gardening half as much as I do now.”

I read this book aloud to Larrabee. It’s a long, satisfying read, and we both recommend it.

Book Review: One Shadow on the Wall

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It’s rare to find a work of contemporary, realistic middle grade fiction that gives my kids a glimpse into a whole different world. Leah Henderson‘s One Shadow on the Wall is such a book.

Set in Senegal, it’s the story of Mor, an eleven-year-old orphan. He’s determined to keep the promise he made to his dying father: to take care of his two younger sisters. It won’t be easy, though. His aunt wants to take the siblings to the city and split them up. His father’s former employer doesn’t have a job for him. And a gang of older boys threatens him at every turn. Luckily, he has his sisters, his neighbors in the village, and the spirits of his parents on his side.

This book is one that rewards your patience. I read it aloud to Larrabee, and it took us several chapters to get hooked by the story. But overall, we found it to be both engaging and eventful.

Henderson paints a vivid picture of Mor’s village–the colors, the foods, the sounds. And she immerses us in Mor’s daily life, which is so different from Larrabee’s. Mor lives with his sisters and a goat in a one-room hut. He works all summer to feed his family and to save money for his sister’s school tuition. He hardly ever has time to play soccer with his friends–and when he does, they play with a ball made out of plastic bags. His nine-year sister owns just one book and has to fetch water from the well and cook the family’s meals.

While we were reading, Larrabee and I thought often of our friend Rachael who served in the Peace Corps in Senegal. We plan to lend her our copy and ask her how to pronounce all the Wolof words. And then we’ll say, “Jërëjëf (thank you)!”