Front Desk by Kelly Yang is so good. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me want to rush out and give a copy to all the kids I know (starting with Larrabee).
Set in the early 1990s, Front Desk is the story of ten-year-old Mia Tang, who just moved to the United States from China. Her parents take a job managing a motel in Anaheim, California, and Mia often handles the front desk. The motel owner, Mr. Yao, makes life difficult for her parents, while she has to deal with his son Jason at school.
Some of the things I loved most about this book are:
Mia. Mia is a terrific narrator. She’s caring, brave, resourceful, and optimistic. Kids will root for her whether she’s helping her father wash towels in the bathtub when the washing machine breaks or navigating 5th grade as the only girl who can’t afford jeans.
Mia’s friendship with Lupe. At school, Mia bonds with Lupe, the daughter of Mexican immigrants.
Mia’s relationship with her parents. Mia’s mother and father want only the best for her but sometimes fail to understand what she’s going through.
Mia’s hotel community. Mia and her parents left their extended family behind in China, but they find a new one with Hank and the other weeklies and with the Chinese immigrants they feed and house at the hotel.
Mia’s letters. Throughout the story, Mia writes letters, including demand letters, thank you letters, and letters of recommendation. Although she’s not a native English speaker, Mia is a character who changes the world with her English words.
This book tackles tough, discussion-worthy topics, such as immigration, poverty, and racial discrimination, but it does so in the context of a story that’s engaging and accessible to kids. Highly recommend!
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.
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.
We’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.
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.
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.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is an excellent book for the upcoming holiday weekend. It’s an absorbing YA fantasy about six outcasts tasked with a seemingly impossible rescue mission.
I always love a good heist story and this one has all the elements: a diverse team with complementary talents, a complicated and ingenious plan, and a bunch of unforeseen obstacles.
Six of Crows is darker than the books I usually review on Imaginary Friends, but I didn’t hesitate to give it to Blaine. He’s always had a bloodthirsty imagination for his age, though. I’d recommend it for teens and adults, not for younger kids.
This book has multiple viewpoint characters and a complex setting. If you find yourself a little confused at the beginning, keep reading. Once you get into it, you won’t be able to put it down. Best of all, if you finish it before the long weekend is over, the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, is equally captivating.
If you like spy novels and movies as much as Blaine and I do, then you’ll enjoy Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz. It’s the first book in a series featuring 14-year-old Alex Rider, pressed into service by MI6 after the death of his uncle.
An Egyptian millionaire has promised to give tens of thousands of his company’s revolutionary new computer to schools across England. The Prime Minister is thrilled, but the offer may be too good to be true. MI6 sent Alex’s uncle to investigate, but he was killed before he could report his findings. Now Alex must go under cover to complete his uncle’s mission.
Stormbreaker is a fast-paced story and a quick read. Like a James Bond movie, though, it requires the willful suspension of disbelief. Alex’s incredible bravery, the villains’ incredible dastardliness, and the outlandish action sequences are all part of the fun. Another part of the fun is trying to figure out how Alex will use his cool teen spy gadgets (such as a Game Boy that is also a fax/photocopier, x-ray device, bug finder, and smoke bomb). And I’ve written about Chekhov’s gun before, but this book has the first Chekhov’s Portuguese man-of-war that I’ve ever seen. Pretty cool.
There are ten books in the series so far, and the 11th book is due out in October.
We have just one week of summer vacation left. Time for a few more late nights reading scary stories under a blanket…
This summer, Larrabee has discovered the Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine. They’re horror/thriller stories for kids ranging from the mildly creepy to the downright terrifying.
There are 62 books in the original series published in the 90s and dozens more in the later spinoff series. Some are still in bookstores, and you can find the rest in libraries, used bookstores, and on your brother’s shelves.