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Monday, June 26, 2017

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

Listen, SlowlyAll twelve-year old Mai wants to do is spend her summer on the beaches of Laguna, California, with her friends and HIM.  That's all, not much to ask.  Instead she finds herself on a plane to Vietnam along with her grandmother and father.

The reason for the trip is so her grandmother (Ba) can finally find closure after losing her husband decades before in the Vietnam War, having never been given the chance to give him a burial.  Mai's father, a doctor, will be spending a large part of his time away from them, performing surgery to repair cleft palates in the remote mountain villages of the country.  Although Mai has a fairly good grasp of the language (a fact she doesn't share with the people she meets,) she knows very little about the culture and customs of Vietnam.  She does know a lot about traditional Vietnamese food, and boy, does it sound yummy! She struggles with not being able to do things she takes for granted at home - like charging her phone or having even a little bit of privacy.

As the story unfolds, Mai reluctantly becomes acquainted with the people of her grandmother's village, her "maybe-relatives," and also makes some new friends along the way.  Throughout the story Mai is constantly fighting an internal battle between the love and respect she has for her family, and her desire to get back to California and leave Vietnam far behind.  In the end, Mai learns some very valuable lessons about herself and her family.

This book, written in first person, is very funny at times (the embroidery lesson is hilarious), but is also heartbreaking at other times.  Mai has some exciting adventures with her new friend Ut, but also must suffer through boredom, extreme heat, and the never-ending buzz of the relentless mosquitoes.

If you like learning about far-off places and their cultures, you'll probably like this realistic book.  Before you start reading Listen, Slowly, take a look at the map of  Vietnam at the very beginning.  It will help you understand the places the story takes you.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Sunny Side UpTen-year-old Sunny Lewin thought she was going to spend summer vacation with her family and her best friend at a beach house. Instead, she finds herself sent to Florida to stay with her grandpa for summer vacation. But Florida has Disney World and the beach, so it won't be so bad, right?

Her grandpa lives in a retirement community with a bunch of other old people. They're nice, but it's just not the summer she was hoping for. Thankfully, Sunny isn't the only kid around. She meets Buzz, a kid whose dad works at her grandpa's community and who is totally obsessed with comic books. The two of them set up a partnership hunting down stray golf balls and use the money they get to buy ice cream and comic books. It's fun, but Sunny is also worried about her older brother, who was acting really strange before she left. Sunny has to learn more about her family's secret, which won't be a secret for much longer.

This book is good for school age readers and deals with some difficult subjects like displaced guilt, secrets, and whether an older sibling's misbehavior is somehow the younger sibling's fault. I'd recommend this for kids who liked Sisters or who like reading books with a slightly more serious subject matter. I really liked it, and the story stuck with me long after I put it down!

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Story Thieves by James Riley

Story ThievesBethany is special.  While her mom is a normal, human person, her dad is not.  He is an unknown fictional character, that came out a book that her mom read.  That's how she got her special ability to literally touch the pages of the book and enter the physical world of the story.

Meet Owen, the world's biggest fan of fictional character, Kiel Gnomefoot. He thought his day was going to be normal until he sees his classmate, Bethany, climb out of a copy of a book with chocolate on her fingers.  When he sees that happen, he realizes that he wants to meet his favorite book character ever, Kiel Gnomefoot.  He forces Bethany to take him into the newest title, Kiel Gnomefoot and the End of Everything.  While they are inside this book, he breaks all the rules of book travel.

That's when the good and evil characters come out of the books into the real world.  Uh oh!

Kiel Gnomefoot and his fictional foe, the magister, enter the real world and start to make changes.  When the magister enters the real world, he realizes that maybe he can leave and never return.  That becomes  a fiery problem when the town suddenly has a castle and a dragon wrapped around the walls.

This book is followed by The Stolen Chapters(#2) and Secret Origins(#3).  For fans of the Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer, this is a similar story in which reality and magic interact.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Addie Bell's Shortcut to Growing Up by Jessica Brody

Mystery in Mayan MexicoAddie Bell is 12 and it's her birthday.  You'd think she'd be happy about it but not so much.  Twelve means not having a cell phone, smelly boys and the drama of 7th grade.  Her sister, Rory is sixteen, popular and beautiful.  She keeps thinking that if only she were sixteen everything would be perfect in her life.  Addie is friends with her elderly neighbor, Mrs. Toodles, who is suffering from dementia.  Mrs. Toodles gives her a decorative antique box for her birthday and tells her a story about it how it will grant a wish if you write it down and lock the wish inside the box.  Addie thinks it's an interesting story, but doesn't think it could possibly be true but she does takes the gift home with her anyways.

After she has a big fight with her best friend, Grace, on the night of her 12th birthday, Addie writes down a wish to be 16, locks it inside the box and wakes up the next morning as a 16-year-old teenager.  All of a sudden she wears makeup, has her own car and a new best friend named Clementine.  Oh, and she is also quite popular - she has her own vlog.  However, it's not as easy being 16 as she thought (especially as she has no memory of the past four years).  She desperately misses Grace and tries to make up with her but is it too late?  Will Addie remain 16 or will she be able to turn back time and return to being twelve?

This book reminded me right away of Freaky Friday and the 11 Birthdays, which are books I have always enjoyed.  I had a hard time putting this book down.  Ms. Brody did a great job of showing what middle school and high school is really like with both the pluses and minuses.  Losing and starting new friendships is totally a reality during this age span.  People you have been friends with all your life sometimes drift away from you and you might not always like the person you have become.  It's a definite must read!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

Save Me a SeatSave Me a Seat is a great story told from two completely different points of view.  First we meet Ravi (accent on the vi) who has recently moved with his family from India to New Jersey.  It's a huge adjustment for Ravi, but he tries very hard to fit into his new culture.  In his previous school, Ravi is the star of the class.  He's smart, popular, and generally loves school.  The next character, Joe, has tried all his life to fit in, but is misunderstood by some classmates and even his well-meaning teacher, Mrs. Beam. To make matters worse, his best friend has just moved away.  What do these two boys have in common besides their school?  The class bully, Dillon. 
At first, Ravi is convinced that he and Dillon will be great friends because they are both Indian, but he doesn't see Dillon for who he really is until many mistakes have been made.  Joe is also tormented by Dillon, but tries to handle it in his own way.  After several sneaky tricks by Dillon, Ravi and Joe finally understand that what they have in common far outweighs their differences.
I really enjoyed reading Save Me a Seat.  I think the characters are very realistic and the situations they are in could happen in any school at any time.  I especially like Joe.  He's well aware of the differences between himself and some of the others, but he never lets it get the best of him.  He's kind, honest, and resilient without being a push-over.
This book offers the reader something extra to show how much Ravi and Joe have in common - a glossary of American slang as well as everyday Indian words and phrases.  It's surprising how similar they are. But wait, there's more!  Don't miss the recipes at the very end of the book.  First, Apple Crisp, an American favorite, followed by a recipe for Naan Khatais, a delicious Indian cookie.
Save Me a Seat was co-written by Gita Varadarajan, who was born in India and moved to the United States.  The other co-writer is Sarah Weeks, one of my favorite authors.  I hope you like reading Save Me a Seat.


Monday, May 22, 2017

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

The True Meaning of SmekdayFirst, Gratuity "Tip" Tucci's mom is abducted by aliens. Then, stuff gets really weird. When Tip is assigned a school essay about "The True Meaning of Smekday" (which is what Glorious Captain Smek named Christmas after the Boov took over), she decides to tell her side of the story. Tip tells how she, a Boov named J.Lo, and her temperamental cat, Pig, ended up on a cross country trip to Florida in a flying car called Slushious, trying to save Tip's mom and the Earth (aka Smekland) from yet another alien invasion.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes a funny story, books about friendship, or people interested in reading about adventures or really silly alien invasions. The movie Home is actually based on this book, so if you liked the movie, try the book!

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Monday, May 08, 2017

The Best Man by Richard Peck

The Best ManOkay, so I'm go to preface with stating that I am a huge Richard Peck fan.  I think it all started when I he visited my local library.  I loved listening to his stories and I still continue to love to read his books.

The Best Man features the life of Archer from the summer before first grade until the summer of sixth grade.  He lives in a suburb outside of Chicago with a great family unit (his grandparents live directly behind him).  His grandfather is an architect who designed the buildings in the town he lives in, including the school he attends.  Archer's dad restores classic cards and enjoys cooking and his mother is  marriage counselor.  His older sister Holly, is going through that difficult teenager stage (throughout the whole book).  He also has a loving Uncle Paul who works for the  Chicago Cubs (but they hadn't won the World Series before the book was published).

The book begins with a wedding and ends with a wedding.  In the first wedding, Archer meets his future best friend and protector, Lynette.  Every year brings different teachers, challenges and classic cars into Archer's life.  One year is extremely difficult as his grandfather has a stroke, his teacher leaves to have a baby, Lynette's mom becomes the substitute and then he has a student teacher, Mr. McLeod, who will change his life and the life of family member.  Mr. McLeod defends a student who has been attacked in the bathroom and had "gay" written on his forehead.  He reveals that he is gay which delightedly didn't make a difference to any of his students. 

The story doesn't have a lot of action but it's just a wonderful view into a life of a boy growing up in a very loving family environment with some very strong male role models.  It was so refreshing to see a family that truly cares for one another and stands by each other.  A main talking point of the book will be when Archer realizes his Uncle Paul is gay but this is not the main point of the story.   Even at the end of the story when Uncle Paul gets married, it is done in a supportive and accepting way.


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