Category: Middle Grade

All Summer Long by Hope Larson | Graphic Novel Review

Posted June 28, 2018 by Jana in Book Review, Graphic Novel, Middle Grade / 0 Comments

All Summer Long by Hope Larson | Graphic Novel ReviewAll Summer Long and illustrated by Hope Larson
Published by Farrar Straus & Giroux on May 1, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Realistic Fiction
Pages: 176
Format: Paperback
Source: From the Publisher
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2 Stars
A coming-of-age middle-grade graphic novel about summer and friendships, written and illustrated by the Eisner Award–winning and New York Times–bestselling Hope Larson.

Thirteen-year-old Bina has a long summer ahead of her. She and her best friend, Austin, usually do everything together, but he's off to soccer camp for a month, and he's been acting kind of weird lately anyway. So it's up to Bina to see how much fun she can have on her own. At first it's a lot of guitar playing, boredom, and bad TV, but things look up when she finds an unlikely companion in Austin's older sister, who enjoys music just as much as Bina. But then Austin comes home from camp, and he's acting even weirder than when he left. How Bina and Austin rise above their growing pains and reestablish their friendship and respect for their differences makes for a touching and funny coming-of-age story.

I’ve started developing interest in graphic novels over the last few years, which was a major surprise to me because I’ve always overlooked them. More and more have been trickling in from various publishers, and I’m really seeing the graphic novel format take off, especially for younger readers. I thought All Summer Long sounded like a fun, light read and was excited to dig in. Sadly, there just wasn’t enough substance for me and it felt much younger than I would have liked.

I enjoy coming-of-age stories, but I don’t feel like All Summer Long was a good example of one. I suppose the characters go through some changes, but they felt more like normal kid changes than coming-of-age. When a story is described as a “coming-of-age story”, you expect some major growth. Bina is 13, and she’s spending her summer alone while her best friend, Austin, is at summer camp. She spends the summer playing/listening to music, and hanging out with Austin’s older sister. She gets to babysit and go to a concert and deal with all the normal kid drama: fights, heightened emotions, and overreactions. At the end, she seemed to be pretty much the same person she was in the beginning. The story was very, very simple and the characters seemed like cardboard cutouts. There just wasn’t anything grabbing me and sucking me in.

I know I’m the wrong demographic, but I work with kids who are about this age. Actually, my kids are about a year younger and they don’t talk like these characters. They don’t use the word “bae” or say “like” every other word. I feel like the author tried to write for tweens and young teens, but without a real understanding of what those kids are like today. These kids seemed younger than mine until they said “bae”, which people my age (late 20’s, early 30’s) were already saying when these kids were toddlers. It just felt really unrealistic to me.

The illustrations were fun, but too stylized for me. The proportions were off and there were inconsistencies in the looks of the characters from page to page. Sometimes I had a hard time telling some of the secondary characters apart. It was easy to read and the boxes flowed in a nice way. I rarely read sections out of order because I didn’t know which box came first, which has happened to me in other graphic novels I’ve read.

All in all, this one just didn’t work for me. I shut the book and immediately wrote my review because I’m not even sure I’ll be able to remember it. I would choose to recommend other graphic novels over this one.


The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente | Mini Book Review

Posted August 20, 2015 by Jana in Book Review, Middle Grade / 4 Comments

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente | Mini Book ReviewThe Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making Series: Fairyland #1
Published by Feiwel and Friends on May 10, 2011
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 247
Format: eBook
Source: Bought from Amazon
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1 Stars
Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

With exquisite illustrations by acclaimed artist Ana Juan, Fairyland lives up to the sensation it created when the author first posted it online. For readers of all ages who love the charm of Alice in Wonderland and the soul of The Golden Compass, here is a reading experience unto itself: unforgettable, and so very beautiful.
 

This is one strange little book, with language I’m not sure I would have understood at age 11 or 12, which is the age I would recommend this book to. I think it’s too young for teenagers, but I don’t think I would have liked is as a tween, but I was not a fan of fairy tales at that age. I’m sure I would have liked the wyvern’s (dragon) humor and the cute illustrations at the beginning of each chapter, though. As an adult, I found myself being bogged down by purple prose (and too much of it!) and so many details that I was unable to actually keep track of what was going on.

The writing style is very pretty and ornate, but too much so and the language is too advanced for the age group the book is marketed to. September’s voice is very strong and dynamic, but she does not act her age (12) because of the way she talks and the way she acts (she uses an advanced vocabulary, but at the same time is naïve enough to run away with the Green Wind). There were too many details and it was so overly stylized that I found myself spacing out and losing focus. It made me tired. I also felt that referring to September as being “Ravished” was a bit odd and sexual. Overall, I just wasn’t a fan and am not sure who I would even recommend it to because it does not fit into one specific age group.


My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George | Book Review

Posted March 31, 2014 by Jana in Book Review, Middle Grade, That Artsy Librarian / 1 Comment

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George | Book ReviewMy Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
Series: Mountain #1
Published by Puffin on 1959
Genres: Survival
Pages: 192
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought from Amazon
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5 Stars
Terribly unhappy in his family's crowded New York City apartment, Sam Gribley runs away to the solitude and danger of the mountains, where he finds a side of himself he never knew.

I read this book for my children’s literature class as part of my library and information science grad program. One of our assignments was to write a professional book review (like one that could be published in Publisher’s Weekly or Kirkus) of one of our books for the semester, and so I chose to review My Side of the Mountain!

Roughing it in the mountain wilderness never sounded so appealing! Sam Gribley, tired of his monotonous life in New York City, runs away with his parents’ permission to live a simpler life, equipped with only a few of the bare essentials. This is his account, written as though he were talking directly to the reader, of his yearlong adventure in the Catskills Mountains. He tells of his fight for survival, battles against the elements, love of nature, and wild animal friends. He describes his experiences of making fire, building a shelter, finding food, hunting animals, making clothes, and ultimately discovering what he is truly capable of. Readers are also along for the journey as Sam captures, raises, and trains a falcon named Frightful to be his constant and devoted companion. Mixed in with his exciting feats are pieces of advice he has for the reader on surviving the wilderness such as, “…the more you stroke and handle a falcon, the easier they are to train.”

Jean Craighead George has created a wonderfully timeless escape for readers, both male and female, even though the story is about the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of a young boy. The scenery leaps off the page, and the coordinating drawings and diagrams help the reader picture different contraptions Sam builds and also the wildlife of the region in which he lives. Young readers will open their imaginations to the possibilities found within the pages, and more seasoned readers might have to suspend a little disbelief while reading about some of Sam’s escapades, not to mention the fact that his parents let him go on such a dangerous adventure. In any case, Sam Gribley’s adventure will have readers tearing through the pages, and leave them dreaming of going on one of their very own someday.


A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle | Book Thoughts

Posted March 27, 2014 by Jana in Book Review, Middle Grade, That Artsy Librarian / 2 Comments

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle | Book ThoughtsA Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Series: The Time Quintet #1
Published by Square Fish on January 1, 1962
Genres: Science Fiction, Time Travel
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought from Amazon
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3 Stars
It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

"Wild nights are my glory," the unearthly stranger told them. "I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me be on my way. Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract".

Meg's father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?

A Wrinkle in Time and I, sadly, did not click. I found it to be rather boring and, at times, confusing. I read it for my children’s literature class, and am so glad I did because it gives me more credibility in the field of youth services librarianship. I’m sad I didn’t love it, though, because it’s a classic that has been well-loved for a very long time! I’ve decided to not write a formal review and instead, have chosen to post some of my thoughts that I was required to write for my class. Please feel free to chime in with your thoughts on the book!

This book focuses a lot on the battle between good and evil, which I have always enjoyed. These children are really put to the test as they participate in this battle. Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Who all represent a kind of messenger from something good, whether it be a Heavenly place or somewhere else. I think it’s up to the reader to decide what “good” comes from, which can facilitate a lot of interesting discussions.

Battles between good and evil usually bring with them Christian or other religious undertones. I can pick out a lot of Christian themes especially, including the mention of Jesus. Light and dark, Heavenly messengers, resisting temptation, and the mention of books in the Bible also show up in the story. The books of Isaiah and John are quoted. This book has been challenged before, and I can see that these themes might be the reason. At the same time, though, I’m not sure all children would pick up on them.

Children will be able to relate to homely little Meg and misunderstood Charles Wallace. I think they will also enjoy the love within this family, which is another huge theme in the story. Love conquers all. I can see that their imaginations will be stimulated, however, I don’t think I would have been a science fiction lover if I had started out with this book. I enjoyed The Giver and The Time Machine much more.


The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan | Book Thoughts

Posted March 10, 2014 by Jana in Book Review, Middle Grade / 5 Comments

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan | Book ThoughtsThe Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Series: Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1
Published by Disney Hyperion on January 1, 2005
Genres: Fantasy, Mythology
Pages: 416
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought it!
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3 Stars
Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school... again. And that's the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy's Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he's angered a few of them. Zeus' master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.

Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus' stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.

(I read this book for my children’s lit class as part of my fantasy unit. I’m not really going to review it, but more discuss my thoughts on it.)

I really, really love greek mythology and I studied a lot about it in elementary school. I thought Riordan’s idea put a really fun spin on those myths. I enjoyed seeing the “familiar” faces of Zeus, Poseidon, Medusa, and others show up.

I really loved Grover, Percy’s satyr companion. He’s kind of wacky and silly, but an absolute delight to read about. I was so-so on Annabeth, Percy’s partner in crime. And honestly, I’m not really in love with Percy himself yet. Grover made the book for me. I feel like I would have liked this more as a younger child. I had a hard time relating to the characters. They acted really young, whereas some books for kids seem to have characters that span a variety of age groups.

My favorite theme of the book is a mother’s love. Percy’s mother is a wonderful sweet and caring woman, who is married to an absolute idiot. He is skummy and sleezy and abusive. He smells horrible. And Percy always wonders why such an amazing person would put up with it. It’s not until later in the book that he discovers why, and I ended up really loving the tender moment that discovery created.

Even though I had some issues with the book, I am definitely interested in continuing the series. I’m intrigued by some of the other story lines, and I’m excited to see Percy grow up a little.


Inner Child: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo | Book Thoughts

Posted March 3, 2014 by Jana in Book Review, Inner Child, Middle Grade, That Artsy Librarian / 5 Comments

Inner Child: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo | Book ThoughtsThe Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
Published by Candlewick Press on September 9, 2008
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 272
Format: eBook
Source: Bought from Amazon
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5 Stars
Welcome to the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in the darkness and covets a world filled with light. And it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who harbors a simple, impossible wish. These three characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and, ultimately, into each other's lives. What happens then? As Kate DiCamillo would say: Reader, it is your destiny to find out.

While it is a TON of work, I am so thankful that my children’s lit class is forcing me to read so many of the books I missed out on as a kid. The following is not really a review, but more of my thoughts on the book from an educational perspective.

I love how the author speaks to the reader directly, either to ask them to think about what is happening on a more psychological level, or just to explain a complicated word she has used in her story. I think this is a wonderful way to write to children, as it includes them and makes them a part of the reading experience.

There are so many beautiful messages and lessons that can be found if you really think about the symbolism of this story. I can think of so many discussions that could be built off of the quotes below:

Finding/being oneself:

Reader, you must know that an interesting fate (sometimes involving rats, sometimes not) awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform.

Despereaux stood before the Mouse Council, and he realized that he was a different mouse than he had been the last time he faced them. He had been to the dungeon and back up out of it. He knew things that they would never know; what they thought of him, he realized, did not matter, not at all.”
I particularly love this quote. It is so symbolic of our trials and tribulations changing us as we learn and grown from them.

Love:

Reader, you may ask this question; in fact, you must ask this question: Is it ridiculous for a very small, sickly, big-eared mouse to fall in love with a beautiful human princess named Pea? The answer is … yes. Of course, it’s ridiculous. Love is ridiculous. But love is also wonderful. And powerful.

Did you think that rats do not have hearts? Wrong. All living things have a heart. And the heart of any living thing can be broken.

There is a danger of loving: No matter how powerful you are, no matter how many kingdoms you rule, you cannot stop those you love from dying.

And hope is like love … a ridiculous, wonderful, powerful thing.

Reader, nothing is sweeter in this sad world than the sound of someone you love calling your name. Nothing.

Being discouraged:

Reader, do you believe that there is such a things as happily ever after? Or, like Despereaux, have you, too, begun to question the possibility of happy endings?

There is a lot of talk in the story about our actions having consequences, no matter how insignificant we think those actions are at the time.

Every action, reader, no matter how small, has a consequence.

Light and dark, and the symbolism of each: Light is thought of to be happiness and goodness. It’s music. It’s love. Dark is considered to be scary, evil, and sad.

Stories are lights. Light is precious in a world so dark.

“I think, said Roscuro, “that the meaning of life is light.”

That is, Pea was aware suddenly of how fragile her heart was, how much darkness was inside it, fighting, always, with the light. She did not like the rat. She would never like the rat, but she knew what she must do to save her own heart.

The world is dark and light is precious. Come closer, dear reader. You must trust me. I am telling you a story.

Basically, I loved The Tale of Despereaux. Despereaux is adorable, and when he fell in love with the princess I just melted. I feel like this book has a lot for everyone. Girls will love this royal story, filled with a castle and a princess and love. Boys will love the brave Despereaux and his journey to the dungeons to save the princess. Parents will love this because of all the hidden messages they can share with their children, as there are quite a few teaching moments. Some of these lessons are simply beautiful, and are a nice reminder for kids and adults alike.


From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg | Book Thoughts

Posted February 5, 2014 by Jana in Book Review, Inner Child, Middle Grade, That Artsy Librarian / 14 Comments

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg | Book ThoughtsFrom the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers on 1967
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 162
Format: eBook
Source: Bought from Amazon
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4 Stars
When Claudia decided to run away, she planned very carefully. She would be gone just long enough to teach her parents a lesson in Claudia appreciation. And she would go in comfort-she would live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She saved her money, and she invited her brother Jamie to go, mostly because be was a miser and would have money.

Claudia was a good organizer and Jamie bad some ideas, too; so the two took up residence at the museum right on schedule. But once the fun of settling in was over, Claudia had two unexpected problems: She felt just the same, and she wanted to feel different; and she found a statue at the Museum so beautiful she could not go home until she bad discovered its maker, a question that baffled the experts, too.

I’m grateful to be in a class that forces me to read all the books I missed out on when I hated reading as a child! Since this book is so widely known and loved, I figured I would just list out some of my thoughts on it instead of actually review it. These thoughts come from my required reading notes for class, so they are a bit more professional than my usual fangirl reviews. I will state outright, though, that I really enjoyed this book!

– I feel like many children will be able to relate to Claudia, the main girl in the story. She is 12 years old, the oldest child, the only girl in her family, and she feels under-appreciated. She has big dreams to do something important and be noticed. I know how hard it is to be the oldest child, and I think children will be able to empathize with her.

– Claudia is also very analytical and practical. She has a plan. She chooses to bring her brother, James, because he is levelheaded and has the most money. I love that Claudia is a thinker, and works through all possible outcomes. She’s also very mature and mild-mannered for her age. She really is a wonderful example.

– I love that James is so tight with his money, even though he can take it a bit too far and drive Claudia crazy, as she is used to nice things. This idea of the value of money is a very common theme across the entire book.

– Education is emphasized as being very important. Even though Claudia and Jamie have run away and are kind of on vacation, Claudia wants them to learn everything there is to learn about the museum. They study different exhibits together and join school group field trips. Claudia is also concerned about keeping up with current events, and wants to buy a newspaper. James is curious, and asks the tour guide questions about the exhibits. The children also go to the library to research Michelangelo’s life and work, in order to solve the mystery behind the angel statue. I really like that art is the focus, as art education is not offered as much in schools as it used to be.

– The mystery aspect of the story will appeal to many children. Claudia and James decide to try and discover whether or not Michelangelo carved the mysterious angel statue. As they find more and more clues, readers will anticipate and speculate the ending. The book also encourages reader participation, prompting them to make their own guesses.

– There are some funny moments that I’m sure kids will enjoy, like when James tries to communicate telepathically with Claudia.

– I thought it was incredibly sweet that when Sunday rolled around, Claudia was concerned about their spirituality. They end up going to a chapel in the Middle Ages exhibit to say their prayers. I found this to be a wonderful example of children doing the right thing, and think parents would appreciate this little scene.

All in all, this was a very sweet book. I loved the setting, as the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of my favorite places ever. I loved the relationship between the two children, and how they stick together and really bond. I loved their quirky little personalities, their values, curiosity, their maturity, and their consciences. I loved that they wanted so badly to make an important contribution to the art world. I really enjoyed the traditional language used, and you can tell this book was written during a different time. I will definitely be recommending this book to young readers, or readers who are young at heart. It was such a fun adventure!

 

ClassyLibrarian1

This book was read for my Children’s Literature class as part of my Master’s in Library and Information Science program. It is also not a conventional book review, as the books is already so well-loved and well-known by so many people, that I would rather share my thoughts instead of review it.

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