Book Review: New Kid

36005510Graphic novels are wildly popular at Larrabee’s school, but he and I generally prefer regular novels. Occasionally, though, we come across a story that is best told in a graphic novel format. New Kid by Jerry Craft is that kind of story.

New Kid is about a 7th grader named Jordan Banks who likes drawing cartoons and playing video games. He hopes go to art school, but his parents insist on sending him to a fancy private school. It’s not easy being the new kid, especially since he’s one of the few kids of color and one of the few kids on financial aid in his class.

During the course of the school year, Jordan confronts racism, privilege, and unfair situations. He also tries new experiences that turn out to be not so bad (such as soccer and abstract art) and makes new friends.

Jordan is a fantastic narrator. Some of the most fun parts of the book are his cartoon commentaries on everything from his dad’s advice on handshakes to his mom’s use of a camera with actual film to the contrast between mainstream and African American book covers (“a thrilling magical tale” vs. “a gritty, urban reminder of the grit of today’s urban grittiness”).

Whether or not you’re a fan of graphic novels, put New Kid on your reading list for this fall.

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Book Review: The Next Great Paulie Fink

41081306It’s back-to-school time at our house, and I have the perfect book recommendation for the occasion: The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin. It’s thought-provoking and lots of fun. Larrabee liked it too.

Caitlyn is the new kid in the 7th grade. She’s not happy about leaving her friends in New  York behind to move to a small town in Vermont. To make matters worse, her new school has only ten other students, and most of them have known each other since kindergarten. Worst of all, she finds that she’s taken the place of the legendary Paulie Fink, who’s described as a troublemaker, master prankster, and evil genius, and is sorely missed by the rest of the class.

Caitlyn is preoccupied with the unwritten rules of fitting in, but nothing she learned in her previous school seems to apply in this unconventional crowd. Soon, the others convince her to plan and judge a reality show-style contest to name the Next Great Paulie Fink. As she finds her place in this new group, she reevaluates the way she treated other kids in the past.

There are lots of things to like about this book: the way the class’s lessons in Greek philosophy take on surprising relevance to their lives, the 7th graders’ relationships with the “minis” (kindergarteners), all the humorous Paulie stories, and, of course, the goats.

Book Review: Merci Suárez Changes Gear

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The Newbery winners are always interesting, well-written books. But, let’s face it. Some of them aren’t the type of book you’d choose to read during your last week of summer vacation.

This year’s winner–Merci Suárez Changes Gear by Meg Medina–is an exception. It’s a heart-warming and funny coming-of-age story about an 11-year-old Cuban-American girl. Larrabee and I both enjoyed it.

The story begins on Merci’s first day of sixth grade at Seaward Pines Academy, a fancy private school she attends on a scholarship. The new school year brings a lot of unwelcome changes for Merci. She misses her fifth grade homeroom teacher, she wishes she could still play sports with the boys during recess, and she feels like she’ll never figure out how to get along with Edna, the most popular girl in her class.

Things are changing at home too, where Merci lives with her extended family in three neighboring houses they call Las Casitas. Her older brother is learning to drive and applying to colleges. Merci is asked to take more responsibility for her younger twin nephews. Most importantly, her grandfather, Lolo, who has always been her companion and confidant, seems unusually forgetful lately and sometimes gets angry for no reason. Merci is worried, but no one will tell her what’s wrong.

The story alternates between Merci’s life at school and her life at home during the first half of her sixth grade year, and both parts are equally engaging. My favorite scene is one in which Merci and her classmates make a mummy for their Great Tomb Project in social studies class. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but it will make you wince and giggle.

If you just have time to read one more book this summer, I recommend this one.

 

Book Review: Spark

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Spark by Sarah Beth Durst is a delightful fantasy for middle grade readers.

Twelve-year-old Mina is a quiet girl. She lives with her boisterous family on a farm in Alorria, a land with perfect weather thanks to the storm beasts and their guardians.

Mina has always dreamed of being a storm guardian, and for the past two years, she’s been caring for a storm-beast egg. But when her egg hatches, she discovers that she’s bonded not with a gentle sun or rain beast but with a fiery lightning beast named Pixit. Despite her family’s misgivings, Mina and her beast eagerly set forth to learn their duties at lightning school.

School is full of challenges for a shy, calm girl like Mina, though. The other students are so reckless and confident, and she worries that she’ll never fit in. Just as she’s starting to find her place, she accidentally crosses the border during a thunderstorm and learns that the Alorrians’ control of the weather has disastrous consequences for the outsiders. But what can one girl and her storm beast do to right this wrong?

Larrabee and I love books with lovable non-human characters like Bob (Bob), Charlie (Sweep), Squorp (The Menagerie), or Inkling (Inkling). And Pixit is one of our new favorites! His irresistible combination of innocence, wisdom, and humor made us smile.

Mina is a terrific heroine too. This is not a book about a quiet girl who learns to speak up. Rather, it’s a book about a quiet girl who learns that she can be a leader in her own quiet way.

Book Review: Recruit

31618483._SX318_If you’re looking for an action-packed summer read, check out Chris Bradford’s Bodyguard books. Larrabee discovered the first one, Recruit, on the first day of summer vacation and has since binge-read the whole series.

In the first book, 14-year-old British kickboxing champion, Connor Reeves, is recruited into a top-secret squad of teen bodyguards trained to protect young celebrities. After some intense training, he travels to Washington, DC for his first mission: to guard the President’s high-spirited daughter.

Kids who like the Alex Rider series will like this one too. Both series are fast-paced and have a similar mix of action and suspense. Like the Alex Rider series, the Bodyguard books contain some violence and so are appropriate for older (grades 5+) readers.

You should be warned that the publisher has republished each of the original four books in two parts, so you’ll need to get the books two at a time. (Larrabee and I learned this the hard way.) Recruit ends with a major cliffhanger, and the rest of the story is in the second book, Hostage.

One of the coolest things about these books are all the fascinating details about the way bodyguards assess threats and counter dangers to their principal. After reading them, you’ll find yourself walking around in Code Yellow.

 

 

Book Review: Changeling

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Tinn and Cole Burton, the main characters of William Ritter’s Changeling, are twins. They look identical in every respect, and they get into all the same mischief. But only one of them is a human boy. The other is a goblin changeling. And neither knows which one he is.

Then, just before their 13th birthday, the twins find a note in their favorite climbing tree. The note instructs the changeling to return alone to the goblin horde the next day or else magic in the Wild Wood will die, the horde will die, and he will die.

Tinn and Cole are not entirely sure the note is real, but they can’t take the chance that one of them might die if they do nothing. So they decide to follow the map enclosed with the note into the Wild Wood and across the swamp known as the Oddmire to find out who they really are. Along the way, they meet strange creatures and face many dangers.

Changeling is a fast-paced fantasy adventure. It has a fairy tale-like feel that reminded me of The Girl Who Drank the Moon. My favorite thing about the book was how Tinn and Cole wrestle with the uncertainty about which one of them is a goblin and what that will mean for the other one and for their relationship.

This book is the first in a new series (The Oddmire). Some series openers have frustrating cliffhanger endings, but I’m pleased to report that this book does not fall into that trap. It provides a couple of tantalizing clues about the next book, of course, but it resolves the main story questions raised in this one in a satisfying way.

Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book. Its expected publication date is July 16.

To Night Owl from Dogfish

Meg Wolitzer children's book - The Night Owl From DogfishI watched The Parent Trap over and over when I was a little girl. I loved the story of two identical twins raised apart who meet at summer camp and scheme to reunite their divorced parents.

To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer caught my attention because its premise sounded like The Parent Trap in reverse. Two twelve-year-old girls, Avery and Bett, are being raised by single, gay dads on opposite sides of the country. When their dads meet at a conference and fall in love, they decide to send the girls to the same summer camp. But Bett finds out and emails Avery. The two agree that they don’t want to meet at camp, and they don’t want their families to change.

The story is told entirely in letters (mostly emails) over the next year and a half. I’m not always a fan of epistolary novels, but this one works because the two girls have such distinct personalities and writing styles. Avery (a.k.a. Night Owl) is an intense New Yorker who worries about a lot of things. Bett (a.k.a. Dogfish) is an outdoorsy and fearless Californian. It’s fun to see the story unfold through their different viewpoints.