I first met Deza Malone when I read Bud, Not Buddy. When I learned that Christopher Paul Curtis had written her story, too, I couldn’t wait to read The Mighty Miss Malone (Scholastic 2012). Not only is it a fun story with memorable characters, but it also opens eyes to the challenges of the Great Depression and echoes the challenges that many children and their families face today.
Deza is smart and determined–the perfect narrator to introduce her family and share their story. At first it is a story filled with laughter. Mr. Malone constantly speaks with over-the-top alliteration. Big Brother Jimmie is always up to something–usually something that leads to trouble. Mrs. Malone is the heart of the family and the hope that draws them together no matter how far apart they are.
I laughed through much of this book as Curtis brought to life the entertainment of the Great Depression, from the Joe Louis-Max Schmelling boxing bouts to the Negro Leauge baseball games and singing at speak easies. But It only takes one bit of bad news to throw a family off track–or in this case on the tracks to a hobo camp. No matter how bad their circumstances, Deza never forgets that she is something special. Even as she clings to her promise, she learns to let go.
I enjoyed sharing bits and pieces of this story with my students throughout the day last Friday. I hope I have convinced some of them to give historical fiction a chance.
After getting busted for all his lies in Liar, Liar, Kevin is back with even grander schemes to solve his newest problem: he is Flat Broke. Now that everyone he lied to is mad at him, his income stream has dried up. His parents have suspended his allowance for a month. His Aunt Buzz isn’t speaking to him, which means no work for for her design business. He still babysits Markie, but because of his parents’ divorce, they can no longer afford to pay Kevin.
Of course, Kevin doesn’t let this stop him. After browsing through is dad’s business books, Kevin decides to go into business and become a gazillionaire before he reaches high school. He is full of money-making plans: organizing poker games for money, managing his sister’s new makeover business and Katie’s new tutoring business (Can you believe they provided these services for free?), cleaning out garages in the neighborhood, and selling snacks through the college dorms. He even has hired staff–his best friend John Paul and his new girlfriend Sam. Oh yea, there’s also Tina, the girl of his dreams that he wants to impress with his new tycoon status. What could possible go wrong?
Gary Paulsen nails Kevin’ voice with wit and humor. Kevin is endearingly confident rather than obnoxiously cocky. His heart is so obviously in the right place, it’s hard to get too mad at him when everything blows up in his face. Of course, I’m not on the receiving end of any of his schemes, just a bystander enjoying the laughs. I can’t wait to see what Kevin is up to next in the third installment.
What do you get when you combine fading magic, a dying dragon and a most unlikely heroine? If you sprinkle it all with a dose of wacky humor (and a few very odd magicians), you get Jasper Fforde’sThe Last Dragonslayer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2010).
Jennifer Strange has everything I want in a heroine: She’s a foundling (yes, that’s your classic orphan raised by the sisters in the Blessed Ladies of the Lobster). She’s very capable at running Kazam Mystical Arts Management (an employment agency/retirement home for magicians) ever since its owner disappeared months ago. She is caught up in a greater destiny than she knows, and she doesn’t know it, but she will play a major role in the coming Big Magic. Most of all, she has heart and wit.
The Ununited Kingdoms are quirky, to say the least, most of all the House of Kazam. You never know when you will walk through the Transient Moose (one of the magical residents of Kazam). Magic may be dying, but plenty of unexplained things abound. The quarkbeast may look ferocious with its mouthful of razor-sharp teeth, but it is loyal to Jennifer until the very end. Even the last dragon is not at all what I expected.
I love this book–the magic, they mystery, the humor. The best news of all is that it is just Book One. I have more adventures in the Chronicles of Kazam to look forward to, and hopefully will read much more of Jennifer Strange.
The Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger is an ever-popular reading selection for my middle school students, and I love them as much as they do. The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppet may be my favorite yet.
Dwight has returned to McQuarrie Middle School, but trouble looms on the horizon with the introduction of Fun Time. If this evil is to be eliminated, Tommy, Sara, Dwight, Harvey and the rest of the gang must form a Rebel Alliance. Will it be enough?
All the things I love about the first books are back: Kellen’s drawings, Harvey’s comments, multiple voices, and much middle school drama. This time the stakes are higher: Angleberger takes a direct hit on the push for ever-higher test scores and the resulting loss for education. I hope that students will take notice and fight back for the education they deserve like the students at McQuarrie do.
I have always loved Jane Eyre. It’s one of those books that I return to again and again, so I was thrilled when I saw that Sync YA offered this classic governness tale in its free downloads this summer. I had not heard of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood, but as soon as I heard Katherine Kellgren begin to read The Mysterious Howling, the first book in the series, I was hooked.
First of all, the narrator is witty and a bit condescending (but only in a very funny way) as she relates the story of Penelope Lumley, a new graduate of the Swanbrne Academy for Poor Bright Females. She is only the least bit daunted when she meets her three charges in her new post as governness at Ashton Place. You see, the three children–named Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia Incorrigible by their finder Lord Ashton–were found in the woods, having been raised by wolves. In no time at all, Miss Lumley has the children reciting poetry and quoting Latin, but can she have them ready to attend the Christmas party in time?
Penelope Lumley has been well-prepared for the challenge before her. She can quote the wisdom of the legendary Agathy Swanburne. (The founder of the Swanburne school was quiite pithy.) She is inspired by her favorite stories about the pony Rainbow and the tales of governnesses. (Lord Ashton is not dark and brooding, but there may be something mysterious and possibly mad hiding in the attic.) She carries a volume of poetry in her pocket to give her courage. (I knew poetry was good for something.) In addition to teaching children who bark and howl at the moon, Penelope must cope with the other residents of the household: kindly housekeeper Mrs. Clock, spoiled Lady Constance, the mysterious coachman, and imposing Lord Ashton. Someone seems to have a sinister plan in mind for the children, but just what the plan is and who is behind it remains a mystery.
I thoroughly enjoyed the audio book, but I suspect I missed out on the delightful illustrations by Jon Klassen found in the book itself. I also wish I had a print version to copy down some of my favorite quotes. As a graduate of a women’s college, I can relate to Penelope’s oft asked question, “What would a Swanburne girl do?” I also love the literary references. My favorite is on the use of hyperbole: It should be used sparingly and only by someone with the proper literary training.
Three of the six books in this series are already out, and the fourth is coming at the end of this year. While we wait for the rest of the series, check out the possibilities at The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.
Rafe Khatchadorian may have survived his first year of middle school, but seventh grade looms on the horizon. And seventh grade promises more changes for Rafe and his imaginary best friend, Leo the Silent. First, Rafe’s family moves in with Grandma Dotty in the big city. That means a new big city middle school to survive–Cathedral School of the Arts–and a new mission–Rafe Get a Life.
Just like last year, trouble follows in Rafe’s wake, no matter how hard he tries to avoid it. Trouble first shows up in new bullies and then a new friend–Matty the Freak. Along the way, Rafe tries all kinds of new experiences, from riding the subway to dropping water balloons, uh gloves.
Like the first installment, Middle School Get Me Out of Here (Little, Brown, and Company 2012) by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts is packed with snarky humor (and innocence from Rafe–Who, me?). Rafe’s illustrations of his life reveal that his imagination is much more interesting than real life. Rafe also discovers a surprising secret about his dad. That’s the only part of the book that bothered me. I’m not sure why his mom would keep the secret the truth about Rafe’s dad.
I do think that fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Origami Yoda will enjoy this combination of text, pictures, and humor. I suspect that some of my incoming seventh graders might share Rafe’s fear and trepidation of starting middle school. A little humor can go a long way to dispel some of it.
If you can’t get enough of Rafe’s adventures and attitude, and if you haven’t yet gotten his little sister’s story in Middle Schooll My Brother Is a Big, Fat Liar, you can check out Rafe’s Rants, a web series on Patterson’s website.
Even though Gary Paulsen may be best know for his survival stories (Hatchet and the rest of the books following Brian), he may be as popular in my classroom for his humor. I predict that Liar, Liar (Scholastic 2011) will be a hit in my classroom.
Kevin has it all figured out. Why tell the truth when a little lie–or two or three or ten–can make everyone’s life a little easier. After all, it’s not easy being the youngest of three kids in a family that might be unraveling. It’s not easy convincing Tina that he would be her perfect boyfriend. It’s not long before all his lies have grown out of control and Kevin must face the unthinkable–telling the truth.
Despite his chronic lying, I like Kevin. He is actually a good student and proud of it. Even when he plans to skip class to pursue Tina, he makes up all the work he missed and even does extra work to get back into his teachers’ good graces. His heart is in the right place even when his schemes have unintended consequences. And when Kevin is confronted with those consequences, he doesn’t run or hide from them. He takes them on and owns up to his role. As a result, he is going to be quite busy in the near future: debating the city council, completing extra projects, babysitting the neighbor boy, writing sports stories for the paper, painting sets for the school drama, and joining the wrestling team
My only regret is that I don’t have the next books in this series on deck to read next.
Donovan Curtis reminds me of many of my students. He acts first and thinks later, if at all. His latest trouble starts when he is walking across the school grounds swinging a big stick. There in front of him is the statue of Atlas holding the world on his shoulders. What would you do? Donovan takes a whack with that stick right at Atlas’s butt. It is sticking out like an engraved invitation. What Donovan doesn’t know is that the single bolt holding the globe to Atlas is nearly rusted through. The impact is enough to send the globe rolling down the hill straight toward the double glass doors of the school gym–where the biggest game of the year is being played.
The resulting comedy of errors leaves Donovan with an invitation to attend the Academy forr gifted students rather than the punishment he expects. It doesn’t take long for Donovan to realize that is is in way over his head, but he is determined to hide out at the Academy for as long as he can. Even though he is studying harder than ever, he’s barely passsing. His only contribution to the robotics team is to print off pictures to decorate it and control the joystick. His classmates and teachers quickly figure out he doesn’t belong, but they like having him around for some reason.
Like many of Gordan Korman’s novels, Ungifted (Harper Collins 2012) is told from multiple viewpoints. In addition, we hear from Superintendent Schultz, who accidentally sends Donovan to the Academy; Mr. Osborne, the robotics teacher who questions Donovan’s placement; Chloe, the gifted student who longs for a “normal” middle school experience; Noah, the genius who discovers the wonder of YouTube thanks to Donovan. Some of the characters may be a little stereotypical (seriously, not all gifted students are socially inept), but I thought this was a fun read.
I have lots of readers (myself included) who loved Geoff Herbach’s debut novel Stupid Fast. They will be glad to know that I have finally read the next installment, Nothing Special (Sourcebooks Fire 2012), and will share it in my classroom as soon as my daughter finishes reading it.
Felton Reinstein is back, and he’s still fast and insecure. Knowing that college recruiters and coaches are watching him run track or play football gets him off his game, and so do mysterious emails from Detective Randy Stone. While trying to survive day-to-day without the presence of Aleah (who wanted to take a break while she plays piano in Germany), Felton comes to the realization (thrown in his face by his former best friend) that he is a narcissist. Is there any hope for a cure?
I liked the more complex structure of this text that shows the different journeys Felton takes to arrive at a new place in his life. The entire novel is written as a letter to Aleah. He describes his current journey to Florida that includes missed flights, unplanned layovers, and finally multiple transfers on a Greyhound bus. He also reflects back on his first journey to Florida the summer before where he thought he was searching for his missing little brother. Instead, as these two journeys weave together, Felton might just discover himself.
Just as in Stupid Fast, Felton’s voice funny, insecure, engaging, and absolutely honest. I can’t wait to hear what you think about it. And for the true Felton Reinstein fans, there’s a third book coming soon. Look for I’m with Stupid to hear more of Felton’s story.
Do I have a book for you, dear reader. You know who you are–those of you who still insist that books will give you hives. You are going to love Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald. Not only will he inspire you with the great lengths he will go to to avoid reading at all costs, he also lets you in on his secrets with tips scattered throughout the book. Don’t worry. Most of the chapters are short (Tip #1).
But rather than listen to me go on about how funny this book is, check out this book trailer:
I’m also participating in a discussion with Tommy Greenwald over on GoodReads. He’s just as funny as the book. I definitely want to add Charlie’s next adventure to my towering pile of books.