Happy book birthday 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.
THE SIMPLE ART OF FLYING – by Cory Leonardo
(February 12th 2019 ~ Aladdin)
Photo and Review by Kimberly ~ originally on Instagram @whatkreads
This is such a sweet, captivating story. It’s told from three very different perspectives. There’s Fritz, who is a young teen. He’s obsessed with the medical field and dreams about becoming a doctor one day. He’s also a huge animal lover and works at the local pet store. This is where he meets and cares for Alastair and his sister Aggie. They are African Grey Parrots who were born at the shop. Alastair spends a good majority of his time plotting an escape while Aggie seems to enjoy the idea of being a pet and becoming attached to a human. The final main character is my absolute favorite. Dear Mrs. Plopky is an elderly widow who is doing her best to live on her own. She decides one day that maybe she wants a companion and should adopt a bird. The story progresses and switches back and forth between these charming characters. Each provided quite a bit of humor, but also brought up important topics along the way.
Fritz is such a sweet young boy. I loved his medical field entries and the kindness he truly showed on everyone he encountered. I’m so glad the author concluded with showing us a glimpse into his future and the man he had become. Alastair cracked me up. His antics, as well as many of the other pets, were so entertaining. It’s fun to imagine that an animal can think in those terms and have conversations amongst themselves. I loved that he could taste what a story was about and was such a troublemaker. He also wrote some great poetry. Watching his journey, especially the later half, was so special. Mrs. Plopky won me over from the very first moment we met her. I loved her letters to her dearly departed husband and her menagerie of unsocial pets. She had so much fabulous wisdom to share with these characters.
This ultimately was a story about enjoying the everyday moments in life. The good along with the bad. There was a lovely quote that said, “You don’t always get everything you want in this life. But sometimes what you do get is better than you imagined, better than what you even thought possible.”
COGHEART – by Peter Bunzl
(February 12th 2019 ~ North Star Editions)
Photo and Review by Kelly ~ Originally on Instagram @kidlitunderground
COGHEART Is #steampunk+ #adventure + conspiracy theory + all the feels.
It’s 1896 in London and eleven-year-old Lily Hartman is enrolled in a snooty Victorian girls’ school learning deportment under a pseudonym. Bunzl’s London is further stratified into a social hierarchy where humans rule over “mechs” (sentient wind-up robots) and human-mech hybrids.
When Lily’s pet mech fox Malkin escapes the zeppelin attack from which her dad is presumed dead, all he wants to do is bring her the remains of a warning note. Together with newly-orphaned clockmaker’s son Robert, Lily and Malkin set out to rescue Dr. Hartman before his evil housekeeper and her hybrid henchmen can get his life’s work into the wrong hands. It may cost them their lives.
I don’t do spoiler alerts, so suffice to say the pre-climactic plot twist is MIND-BLOWINGLY cool. I think we’re supposed to see Professor Hartman as complex, flawed, and somewhat the fueler of his antagonist… except having had my specific life experiences, I cheered him on.
The climax features a satisfying zeppelin crash into Big Ben and hand-to-hand combat atop the huge clock. Also, the ending is a clear lead-in to a sequel.
It was nice to see an irritating Victorian trope tipped a bit. Specifically, spunky girl befriends resourceful boy of lower social station as adventure companion; at the adventure’s end, said peasant boy is adopted or apprenticed by someone of his social class for their lives to diverge again.
Give to: Fans of LEAGUE OF BEASTLY DREADFULS, INCORRIGIBLE CHILDREN OF ASHTON PLACE, and your kid the next time s/he says science is boring. Lily isn’t a girly-girl, and third-person narration switches enough between her and Robert that a boy probably wouldn’t catch cooties reading #COGHEART.
This book is great for introducing layered gray moral themes like when is it OK to break promises, valuing one life over another, and when does technology cross into playing God.
Caveats: Perhaps too many twists, turns, and vocabulary words for a truly reluctant reader.
SPY TOYS OUT OF CONTROL! – by Mark Powers
(February 12th 2019 ~ Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
Photo and Review by Emily ~ originally on Instagram @redpoppyreading
“Spy Toys: Out of Control” by Mark Powers and illustrated by Tim Wesson, is the second book in the Spy Toys series and written for kids ages 8-11. In the world of Spy Toys all toys made by Snaztacular Ultrafun are alive. Our heroes in this story are misfits with special powers. They are tasked with saving the world. This is a fun and wacky book that reminded me of Teen Titans Go. It’s action packed and I could imagine it as a movie as I read it.
THE CARNIVAL OF WISHES AND DREAMS – by Jenny Lundquist
(February 12th 2019 ~ Aladdin)
Photo and Review by Ellie ~ originally on @elliesinfinitebooks
❥ Remember when you were in grade school and your friends were the highlight of your day, and probably the biggest part of your life in that moment? Well this novel will be a great reminder of what used to be, it gave me that nostalgic feel..
A wonderful story of friendship, following three young girls who were best of friends, and after a major incident in their town, they drift apart. The annual Carnival is back In town, and each of the girls receives a pumpkin gram.. we all know these, those cute grams we sent to our BFFs and received in return! The pumpkin gram is the start to a memorable night.. can these girls overcome the past, and once again become the best of friends?
This all to realistic novel will have you remembering your grade school memories, and I was here for every moment.
EVENTOWN – by Corey Ann Haydu
(February 12th 2019 ~ HC/Katherine Tegen Books)
Photo and review by Amanda ~ originally on Instagram @amandasbookbasket
Corey Ann Haydu’s upcoming middle grade novel “Eventown” is nothing short of beautiful, moving, inspirational, gut-wrenching. All the feelings are felt in this book. The Lively Family makes a move to Eventown to escape their past. Everything seems–and is, in fact–perfect. But quickly, one of the Lively twins, Elodee, begins to ask unwelcome questions.
I’ve said it before, but I’m so grateful for middle grade novels that MEAN something; that will help our young readers feel and learn. This novel is that and more. It is powerful in reminding us that the best and worst parts of our lives make us. I highly recommend this incredible book.
HOW I BECAME A SPY – by Deborah Hopkinson
(February 12th 2019 ~ Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers)
Photo and Review by Katie ~ originally on Instagram @texasreadergirl
I loved this book so much! Such a charming, suspenseful, and exciting World War II middle grade novel. I was hooked from the first page and raced through the book. Bertie Bradshaw never set out to become a spy… He’s an average thirteen-year-old boy living in London during one of the darkest moments in history. He lives with his police officer father above the police station, and volunteers (with help from his dog Little Roo) as an air raid messenger. It’s in this capacity that he crosses paths with an American girl and a small red notebook, thus launching his career as a spy! Bertie, his best friend David (a Jewish refugee), and the American girl Eleanor traipse around war-torn London searching for clues about a missing French woman and trying to uncover a traitor living among them.
Bertie, Eleanor, and David are fantastic characters and very compelling young sleuths! While they all have very different personalities, each is lonely in their own way, and together they not only make a great spy team, they also help each other through some tough times. The story is sprinkled with actual historical figures and places, like Eisenhower and his famous dog Telek; author Nancy Mitford; and the famous Marks & Co. bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road, which is fun.
I really loved the writing style and tone of the book – it’s serious, of course, given the setting, but it’s not too heavy, and it’s also a very exciting mystery/adventure story. I think it’s a great way for younger readers to learn about certain aspects of the war, and I’d feel really comfortable with my 3rd grader reading it. There are also several ciphers (I learned there’s a difference between a cipher and a code!) throughout the book that the reader can solve, which is really fun! I would’ve loved that as a young reader!
Truly, this one is a winner, and I highly recommend it for historical fiction-loving young readers!
RIGHT AS RAIN – by Lindsey Stoddard
(February 12th 2019 ~ HarperCollins)
Photo and Review by Laura ~ originally on Instagram @librarianmsg
JUST LIKE JACKIE was a very special read for me in 2018 so I shamelessly begged Stoddard for a copy of her newest book, RIGHT AS RAIN. I’m so glad! This is a #heartprint read for me and one of my favorite reads of 2019 so far. It comes out February 12!
Rain is carrying a heavy burden. She is sure her beloved older brother Guthrie’s death over 350 days ago is her fault. Meanwhile, her father won’t get out of bed and her mother is trying to fix the family with a change of scenery, moving them from rural VT to the multicultural, diverse world of Washington Heights in NYC. It’s the end of the school year, but Rain has opportunities to contribute to her new community — as a friend, as a part of a 4×100 m relay team and in helping a neighbor keep her home. In giving back, it’s just possible that Rain may find herself again and help her family heal, as well.
There’s so much here — a family dealing with unbearable grief, feelings of otherness in a diverse community not (yet) her own, gentrification and change, homelessness, adjustment to urban life and more. Rain and her new classmate and track teammate, Frankie, have a complicated relationship from the start that feels authentic and is richly drawn. Every character feels like he or she is fully realized. I found myself simultaneously wanting to race through the book to find out both what happens in the present and the past (the night Guthrie dies is revealed bit by bit in flashbacks) and also wanting to slow down and enjoy the characters and the writing. Lindsey Stoddard is a new must-buy #mglit author for me. If you missed Just Like Jackie, be sure to go grab it. Both Stoddard’s works are stunning!
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