Happy release week to these middle grade books making their rounds through our reviewers!
Thank you to @kidlitexchange for providing the review copies of these books. All opinions are our own.
Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin
(July 3rd 2018 ~ HarperCollins)
Photo and Review by Susan, originally on Instagram @redcanoereader
I absolutely loved this middle grade book! It’s definitely one of 2018 favorites! The imagery and the sense of place shines through on every page. The reader is transported to the small, close knit, coastal North Carolina town which is full of caring people who have known each other for most of their lives. You feel the heat and humidity as they struggle to survive the drought that is threatening their livelihoods. And Baldwin’s vivid descriptions of the characters make them come alive. You feel their kindness and their eagerness to help one another. You know exactly how they look, and what their passions are. This provides a great foundation for the important story about Della and her family.
Della is twelve years old and yearns to have a “normal” mom who gives her hugs, doesn’t worry that many of her favorite foods will make her sick and isn’t a germ aphobic. However, Della’s mom suffers from schizophrenia, so Della never quite knows what to expect from Mama. Mama has been better for a few years, but Della and her daddy begin to realize, that in addition to their need to deal with the record breaking heat and drought that is threatening their farm, they must also face the fact that she is suffering a relapse; a fact they strive to keep secret from everyone, even Della’s grandparents.
My heart ached for Della as she blamed herself for Mama’s illness, wondered if she, too, would suffer from schizophrenia when she was older and tried her best to keep the family secret. She felt completely alone, even though many neighbors reached out to help.
This is such an important story. So many families are living with a similar situation, and they, like Della’s family are keeping it a secret. But as Della’s daddy tells her after her mama returns to the hospital, schizophrenia is an illness like cancer is and they shouldn’t be ashamed. Most importantly, when the secret is shared with friends and loved ones, families will learn they are surrounded by so many caring people who want to help, just as Della learned about the kindness, support and understanding that was right there for her, if she would just accept it. People who not only would give her a hug, but would help her to understand that she was not at fault, that Mama will always have her good and bad days, but that her Mama will always love her. This is a book that should be in every elementary and middle school collection, as well as in the offices of school and hospital counselors. It offers a mirror to the kids in this situation; a mirror they need so badly.
Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls by Beth McMullen
(Aladdin ~ July 3, 2018)
Photo and Review by Shawnna W. originally on Instagram @a_redhead_reads
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Power Play picks up where the first book left off – Abby, and 8th grader at a private school that just happens to train older kids as spies, has finished her first (accidental) mission and desperately wants to be trained but is still too young. When her friend Toby’s father is kidnapped and Toby has to try and get his father back, Abby and her friends help him. Their quest takes them to Paris, London and Florida and includes her former mentor, Veronica.
As a parent, I am a little concerned the kids take too much into their own hands and consistently go around adults. The only time an adult is called in is when they get caught (so for this reason, as an adult, I would give this book 3 stars). HOWEVER, if I were a kid, I would love this book. It’s fast paced, has fun locations and spy gear, and Abby is very relatable. A great follow up to the first book in the series!
Stu Truly by Dan Richards
(July 3rd 2018 ~ Yellow Jacket)
Photo and Review by Emily P. originally on Instagram @misspitlick7
This book literally had me laughing out loud MULTIPLE times!! Stuart (Stu) is a classic 7th grade boy; loves video games, junk food, and avoids girls. That is until he meets Becca. While talking with Becca, she opens up about being a vegetarian. Stu gets flustered and lies about being one as well (even though his dad owns the local butcher shop). Throughout this story, Stu tries to keep up with his lies, his homework, video games, and family dynamics.
I cannot wait to purchase this book for my classroom – it’s laugh out loud funny and totally relatable!
Life According to Og the Frog by Betty G. Birney
(July 3rd 2018 ~ G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)
Photo and Review by Jo-Ann W. originally on Instagram @mrsjwalshreads
Fans of the Humphrey series from Betty G. Birney will love this story written from Og the frog’s point of view! I have read several of the Humphrey books, and they are a big hit with my fourth graders!
Og the Frog has come to stay in Room 26, after things weren’t going so well in Room 27 with George the bullfrog. Now, Og has joined Humphrey, the cute, little, furry hamster, as a class pet. Og and Humphrey try to communicate, but Og can’t understand Humphrey’s SQUEAK-SQUEAK-SQUEAKs, while Humphrey seems intimidated by Og’s BOING-BOINGs.
Og seems to enjoy being part of Room 26. He gets regular meals, the kids love him, and there are times when he can Float. Doze. Be. Things get a little concerning when some of the children are worried about how Og came to arrive at Longfellow School. Some of the children are not happy that he was taken from his natural habitat at the marsh and wonder if he should be returned to his original home. While Og misses his friends and family at the swamp, he comes to love the “big tads” in Room 26, and even likes Humphrey. Mrs. Brisbane, the teacher, does research with the class, brings in an expert, and even has a class debate to determine the best outcome for Og the frog. WIll Og get to remain in Room 26 to continue helping his students and keep his job as a class pet? Read this adorable book to find out!
I love how each chapter begins with a memory or daydream from Og’s life in the swamp. Since I was familiar with Humphrey, and the children in Room 26, it was really neat to read things from Og’s perspective! I remember when he was brought in as a class pet, and Humphrey didn’t know what to make of Og’s “BOINGs.” As a teacher, I love the positive messages from Betty G. Birney’s books – how children can learn a lot from taking care of another species, how they learn about friendship, and how they can solve problems in meaningful ways. I also love that we can “see” things from the perspective of another species. This is another winner from Betty G. Birney!
Dreaming Dangerous by Lauren DeStefano
(July 3rd 2018 ~ Bloomsbury USA)
Review by Emily P. originally on Instagram @misspitlick7
This book reminded me a bit of Harry Potter and a bit of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It grasped my attention right off the bat and read it in a matter of H O U R S!!
Four friends who grew up in an orphanage share a special talent; they share dreams. Growing up in an orphanage full of kids with extraordinary skills sounds great, but they never have visitors, unless you count the doctors who come and monitor them every week.
While dreaming one night, Plum gets a warning, alerting her that things are not what they seem. A few days later, after another warning, one of her friends, Artem, goes missing. Plum and her friends must use their dreams, courage, and creativity to find Artem and to find the truth about their past.
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