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Monday, November 12, 2018

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart

By looking at the cover of this book, you'd think that Lily and Dunkin is a story of friendship, and you'd be right - up to a point.  Eighth graders Tim and Norbert meet each other in a very unusual way, and after many, many Pop Tarts and donuts and a tree named Bob, they find out that they are more alike than they are different. Sounds kind of simple and fun, right? Wrong. The story is much more complicated than that. Tim and Norbert do become friends, but not until they both travel very complicated and sometimes difficult to understand paths.  

Biologically, Tim is a boy, but he's known since early childhood that he's actually a girl in a boy's body.  So, from now on, we'll use Tim's preferred name: Lily.  Lily has it rough at school and at home.  At school, a group of boys constantly harass, humiliate, and even physically abuse Lily. School becomes a nightmare for her. At home, Lily's mother and sister understand and support Lily's situation, but Lily's father has a difficult time coming to terms with it.  Although he loves Lily very much and doesn't mean to hurt her, it is devastating to Lily to not have the support of her father.

Norbert has just moved to Florida from New Jersey after a change in the family dynamic, and is having a hard time trying to fit in to his new school and neighborhood.  He and his mother are now living with his grandmother, and the adjustment is hard for him because neither his father nor his best friend Phineas are there. His mom finally lets Norbert manage his own medications for his bipolar disorder which goes well until Norbert meets some new kids at school. We'll call Norbert "Dunkin" from now on, a nickname Lily gives him because of his love of Dunkin' Donut coffee and jelly filled donuts.

Lily and Dunkin's journey to finally becoming friends is very long, emotional, and sometimes even scary.  There were several heartbreaking scenes that made me want to cry, but there were also some uplifting scenes of bravery that made me want to jump up and cheer.

The topics covered in this story are very grown-up, and might make some people uncomfortable, but they are handled in a gentle and direct way. The author's notes at the end of the book give some very interesting insights about how this story came to be written, and are definitely worth reading.  I would highly recommend Lily and Dunkin to kids from 5th to 8th grade.  

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Monday, November 05, 2018

The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye

The Ordinary PrincessOnce upon a time, in the faraway kingdom of Phantasmorania, there lived a king and a queen who had six beautiful, blue eyed and golden haired daughters named after assorted gems. One day, the queen announced that she was going to have a seventh daughter. Because she wanted to really celebrate the birth of her seventh child, the queen insisted on inviting all of the local fairies to the christening.

The fairies gave the seventh princess the standard blessings (charm, wit, grace, courage, etc.) until a very crabby old fairy who had gotten stuck in a traffic jam finally made it to the party. She was utterly unimpressed with self-important monarchs who didn't regulate traffic patterns during large state occasions, and bestowed the blessing she felt would make the princess happier than all the other gifts combined: she told the princess that she would be ordinary.

Over the years, Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne (now called Amy, a much more ordinary name) remained... ordinary. Her beautiful golden locks faded to a mousy brown, she developed a tendency to freckle, and she didn't really see what difference it made because she had other things to think about. Princess Amy would rather climb trees and swim in the river than create delicate embroidery or gently throw a golden ball back and forth with her sisters. She enjoyed her life but wished to see more of the world. And then one day, Princess Amy decided that she did not want to marry a handsome but boring prince, so she climbed out the wisteria vine on her window and went off to find an adventure.

This is a shorter book, but it is an awful lot of fun! I would recommend it for fans of princesses, especially nontraditional and adventuring princesses found in books like Dealing with Dragons, Hamster Princess, or The Princess in Black. Princess Amy is likable and resourceful, and it is so nice to read a book in which the main female character is not beautiful but also not bothered by that fact at all. Princess Amy's ordinariness makes her happy, and her outlook on the world will delight anyone who occasionally wants to run away to the woods.

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Monday, October 29, 2018

Eleanor Roosevelt: Fighter for Justice by Ilene Cooper

Eleanor RooseveltI have always been a fan of Eleanor Roosevelt, so when I saw new biography on our shelf, I knew I had to read it.  I was not disappointed and learned many new things about her.

While born to a wealthy and prominent family, Eleanor did not have a good childhood.  Her mother gave her a nickname of "Granny" because of her looks, which caused Eleanor shame.  In her father's eyes, his "little Nell," was his favorite and it was through him that Eleanor learned to help those less fortunate than herself.  Eleanor lost both parents at a young age and was raised by her grandmother, who did not provide much emotional support to her or her brothers.  The book tells of her education abroad, how she worked to provide opportunities and safer living conditions for immigrants in her early years before she married Franklin.

I never realized how controlling Franklin's mother was, and it made life uncomfortable for Eleanor.  However the two agreed upon the Civil Rights movement and often were a united front on the subject with Franklin.  Eleanor became Franklin's ears and eyes after he was stricken with polio.  She was definitely one of his most trusted advisers and she gained the respect of many of the men in Washington, D.C. for her views, which during that time period was hard to do.  She was a woman before her time who fought for the underdog.  Even after Franklin's death, President Truman appointed Eleanor to the newly formed United Nations, a position mainly held by men.  Eleanor Roosevelt was a strong female figure and a role model for young women, even in today's modern time.

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Monday, October 22, 2018

Creature of the Pines by Adam Gidwitz

Creature of the PinesElliot Eisner is at a new school, again.  Ugh!  Finding a seat on the bus is pure torture until he meets a girl, Uchenna, his first friend.  Uchenna is unlike any other girl he knows.  Not only has she started school in the middle of the year, she makes up silly songs about anything such as old ladies and raisins.

On his first day, Elliot has a field trip to the Pine Barrens in New Jersey.  Before the trip, the kids meet Professor Fauna, a social studies teacher with knowledge of rare animals.  He is their unusual and slightly scary guide who also believes in unicorns.  Elliot and Uchenna are strongly warned that the woods are dangerous.  The odd professor makes it clear that they could be hurt if they do not listen to him.  It can't be true, right?

Well, there are dangerous things in the woods.  Uchenna and Elliot know that there might be bears, bobcats, and coyotes.  Instead, they find a supposedly mythical creature called a Jersey Devil that was caught in a trap.  When they free the tiny winged deer-like creature and feed it, the animal follows them into the bus.  In one quick move, Uchenna opens her backpack and lets the extra special animal hide inside.

As they walk home from school, Jersey, named for his home in New Jersey, escapes Uchenna's backpack and runs towards the most dangerous place for any unique creature, the Schmokes factory.  Animals who enter the dreaded Schmokes factory do not come out.  With Professor Fauna's help, can the kids help this one of a kind creature get to safety?

This is the first title in the "Unicorn Rescue Society" series.  For fans of the animals both real and imagined, this book offers a fun set of characters and a fast paced plot for readers in grades 2 to 4.  Readers might like the sequel, The Basque Dragon in which Elliot and Uchenna help Professor Fauna rescue a herensuge, a special kind of dragon, from the dreaded Schmoke brothers, Edmund and Milton.

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Monday, October 15, 2018

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King

Me and Marvin GardensYou’re walking along a creek, picking up trash that has washed up onto the bank that other people have thoughtlessly thrown into the water. Suddenly, you see an animal like no other you’ve ever seen, not even in a book.

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King.

Life hasn’t exactly been going well for Obe. His former best friend is now bullying him, he suffers from chronic nosebleeds, his parents are becoming more and more unreasonable, the beautiful fields around his once rural home are being developed into new neighborhoods, and he’s not doing well in math class.On top of all this, he’s learning stories about his family history that his mom seems to be ashamed of.

Then he meets the creature, who he names Marvin Gardens. (You’ll have to read the story to find out why he chose such an unusual name.) Marvin Gardens is a mystery to Obe. He has a very peculiar diet, and very stinky poop, but most of all he seems to be a brand new never-before-seen species.

Obe spends much of the book thinking about what to do about his discovery. He knows that Marvin Gardens could be a very important part of cleaning up the environment, and his discovery could change the world, but he’s scared for Marvin’s safely. In the end he makes a very important decision.

Although the characters in the book are in 6th grade, Me and Marvin Gardens is a book that children from 4 to 6th grade will enjoy.

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Monday, October 08, 2018

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Be PreparedVera, who moved to America from Moscow when she was five, doesn't fit in very well with the other girls in her class. Maybe it's because she's poorer than they are, or maybe it's because she's just not American enough. Vera dreams of going away to summer camp just like her school friends, but all of the camps are too expensive. Then, one day, she learns about a Russian Orthodox camp from one of the girls at her church, and it sounds great! She can go camping like her American friends, but everyone will be Russian, like her! Maybe she will finally fit in.

However, while Vera can speak Russian, she can't read it... and all the guide books are written in Russian. And camping is outside, with lots of bugs and outhouses. And she's sharing a tent with older girls who are mean to her, and she doesn't know anyone, and the boys are mean, and maybe this camping thing isn't as easy as she thought it would be. Will Vera make new friends? How will she survive the summer when she can't even play capture the flag right?

Perfect for fans of Drama or Roller Girl, this middle grade graphic novel captures the feelings of not fitting in no matter where you pitch your tent.

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Monday, October 01, 2018

Once Upon a Princess by Christine Marciniak

Once Upon a PrincessI have been into princess books lately.  I'm not sure why.  Maybe because the ones I have read recently are set in modern times.  I really liked this book and I think anyone who enjoys "The Princess Diaries" or "From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess" series by Megan Cabot will love it too.

This is a story of twelve-year-old Princess Fredericka Elisabetta Teresa von Boden don Mohr of Colsteinburg, or you can just call her Princess Fritzi for short.  Fritzi's father, King Frederick, has just recently been crowned king with the passing of his father.  Fritzi gets to attend her first royal ball but the glory of the event quickly fades as she is awakened in the middle of the night to flee her home due to a coup being attempted to remove the royal family from power.  Fritzi finds herself on a plane to Boston, MA, with her mother, sister and a bodyguard and they are forced to pretend to be "normal" people while her father stays behind to handle the unrest in the country.

Fritzi has a lot of spunk and determination to get her family back together.  You'll love how Fritzi handles herself in an American middle school.  It's great!  She takes matters into her own hands to try to solve the HUGE problem of saving her country using social media.  Fritzi makes short videos to  the people of Colsteinburg to share a more human side of the royal family in order to gain their support.  She immediately starts trending and the images of the royals becomes more positive.

I'm not going to give away any more of the plot because I really want you to read this book.  This is a well written story full of tension, adventure and heart.  I'll let you decide if the ending is a happy one or not.

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