Book Review: Takedown

36405733If you like sports books as much as I do, you’ll like Takedown by Laura Shovan–even if you’re not a wrestling fan.

Takedown is told from the points of view of two sixth graders who are assigned as partners on their travel wrestling team: Mikayla (a.k.a. Mickey) and Lev.

Mikayla Delgado is from a wrestling family. Both of her older brothers wrestle, and she loves the sport. But it’s not easy being the only girl on the team.

Lev Sofer just missed qualifying for the Maryland state championships last year, and he’s determined to make it this year. But having a girl for a wrestling partner doesn’t seem likely to help.

The wrestling match scenes in this book are gripping, but the book is about a lot more than just sports training and competition. It’s also about Mikayla and Lev’s sometimes complicated relationships with their families and their friends at school. And it’s about their growing friendship with each other. It’s a very enjoyable read for wrestling and non-wrestling fans alike.

Book Review: Sweep

37811512If you’re looking for something to read aloud to your kids, I highly recommend Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster by Jonathan Auxier. It’s a wonderful book that will appeal to both kids and adults.

Set in Victorian London, Sweep is the story of an 11-year-old orphan named Nan. Nan was raised by a kindly sweep, who fed her story soup when there was no food and taught her to see the wonder in the world. But when she was six years old, he disappeared, leaving only his hat and a warm lump of char. Since then, she’s worked for a cruel sweep as a climber, a dirty and dangerous job. One day, she’s caught in a chimney fire, and she thinks that’s the end for her. Instead, it’s the beginning of a new adventure with her unlikely savior, a soot golem she names Charlie.

This book is a heartbreaking story about poverty, child labor, anti-Semitism, and sacrifice. It’s also a heartwarming story about friendship, love, and a life of purpose. And it’s a delightful story about Nan and Charlie’s time together in the House of One Hundred Chimneys. Larrabee and I both loved it.

Book Review: Max and the Midknights

40642963Max and the Midknights is a medieval adventure story by Lincoln Pierce, the author of the Big Nate series.

Max’s Uncle Budrick is a troubadour, who travels around singing, juggling, and playing the lute. And Max is an apprentice troubadour who dreams of being a knight.

When the evil King Gastley forces Uncle Budrick to become his court jester, it’s up to Max and a group of kids who call themselves the Midknights to save the day. To do so, they’ll have to use all their talents and face all sorts of dangers.

Like the Big Nate novels, this story is told in a combination of text and comic panels. It’s fast-paced and funny with everything you could want in a medieval adventure from swords to sorcery to dragons. Larrabee and I both liked it a lot.

 

Book Review: The Giver

8309278I don’t know why it took me twenty-five years to read The Giver by Lois Lowry. It’s so good.

It’s the story of 12-year-old Jonas, who lives in what seems like a utopian community. At the Ceremony of Twelve, when his classmates are given their Assignments, roles like Birthmother, Instructor, or Laborer, Jonas is not assigned. Instead, he is selected at the next Receiver of Memory and is apprenticed to a man who calls himself The Giver. As he learns his new role, he begins to understand that when his community suppressed its bad memories (war, poverty, pain), it also gave up good memories (color, music, strong emotion)

The Giver won the Newbery Medal in 1994, and I’ve picked it up in the bookstore or library many times since then (including when the movie version came out in 2014). It was Larrabee who finally prompted me to read it, though. His teacher recommended it, and he decided he needed to read since it has also been suggested by someone at camp last summer. So maybe it’s one of those books that needs multiple recommendations. If so, let this blog post be the one that pushes you over the edge. It’s the type of story that will linger in your thoughts.

The other books in The Giver Quartet are Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son, but they are companion books rather than sequels to Jonas’s story. Larrabee has enjoyed the second and third books. We also enjoyed the movie, although it’s no substitute for the book in this case.

Book Review: Class Action

33004194If you’re feeling overwhelmed by end-of-semester projects, Class Action by Steven B. Frank could be just the comic relief you need.

It’s the story of a 6th grader named Sam who has too much homework. When he protests, the school suspends him. So, with the help of his sister, a few friends, and his cranky neighbor (a retired lawyer), he files a class action lawsuit against the Los Angeles Board of Education claiming that homework is unconstitutional.

It’s not a particularly plausible story, but it’s a lot of fun. There’s humor in everything from Sam’s act of civil disobedience to his fundraising efforts to the courtroom scenes. Kids will learn quite a bit about the law and the justice system too.

Book Review: Nerd Camp

8611586Nerd 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).

Book Review: Nightbooks

35603805Nightbooks by J. A. White is a modern day Hansel and Gretel meets The Arabian Nights with a twist.

Alex feels like a weirdo because he writes scary stories in journals he calls his nightbooks. One night, he sneaks out in the middle of the night, determined to get rid of them once and for all. But the sound of his favorite horror movie lures him into a strange apartment, and he finds himself trapped by a real-life witch. This witch likes scary stories, and she’ll keep him alive as long as he comes up with a new one each night.

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

  • The stories Alex tells the witch. Deliciously creepy.
  • The insights into Alex’s writing process, including his spark of inspiration, his understanding of interior logic, and his tips for overcoming writer’s block.
  • The witch’s magical apartment with doors that lead back into the same room, a black light nursery for exotic plants, and an enormous library with a spiral staircase!
  • Lenore, the witch’s cat, who can make herself invisible.
  • The growing friendship between Alex and the witch’s other prisoner, Yasmin.

Blaine would have loved this book when he was younger. Larrabee found it a bit too creepy. I would recommend it to kids who crave scary books, such as Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark and Grimm, R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, or Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.