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.
TREE OF DREAMS – by Laura Resau
(March 26th 2019 ~ Scholastic Press)
Photo and review by Holland @whatsakidtoread
A trip to our local chocolate shop @thechocolatbar was a must after reading this beautiful book about a chocolate makers adventure into the amazon. I pretty much craved good, high quality chocolate every night while reading this 😂
With an emphasis on the science and art behind chocolate making, and a focus on the pollution and destruction that is happening in the Amazon, this book takes you on a passionate adventure following two friends and their parents deep into the jungle. *
With a hint of magic and a lot of courage, the author makes you fall in love with the characters and their strength and compassion for the members of the Co-op they stay with on their visit. *
I see this book as a great read not only for a fun fictional entertainment, but also the reminder that our world is precious and we need to do what we can to preserve the beauty around us. *
FOCUSED – by Alyson Gerber
(March 26th 2019 ~ Scholastic)
Photo and review by Michele @michellegoetzl
I don’t think I have ever read a book about suffering from ADHD. If I have, it didn’t leave much of a mark on me. This book, however, is absolutely wonderful. From the first few pages I got a real sense of how Clea was feeling – the frustration, believing she was stupid and lazy, yet the inability to make changes. The only thing that she feels she can focus on is chess, but if she doesn’t keep her grades up, she can’t be on the team. Everyone keeps telling her that she just has to try harder, but why is that so hard? Alyson Gerber really managed to capture how she felt and how she would often say or do things that she really didn’t want to do. When she finally goes for a diagnoses and things get explained to her by a doctor who truly listens and doesn’t talk down to her, there is a sense of relief. ♟♟♟♟ There are many who say that we over-classify people with ADHD, but this book did a really great job of explaining that there are many different ways someone can struggle with it. There are also different solutions for everyone, but having a plan and a sense that there are people on your side can make a huge amount of difference. Clea has to learn to not be embarrassed by her diagnosis and that asking for what she needs – a quiet room to take a test, a seat away from all of the noises around her – can make all of the difference. We are also reminded that she is just a 12 year old kid (one of the hardest ages ever!) and friendships are changing and that kids can be cruel to each other. ♟♟♟♟ This is a great book for everyone! People who know someone with ADHD, those with it, and frankly, anyone who might come across someone with ADHD or who just needs a work around sometimes. Non-visible illnesses are the hardest to deal with, and many people often view them as made up. It was great to get to feel this from Clea’s point of view. While she starts off not believing in herself, in the end, we see how strong, brave, and smart she truly is.
TIN – by Padraig Kenny
(March 26th 2019 ~ Chicken House)
Photo and Review by Erika @learningonleightonlane
Pick up a copy of this book and you may think it is a Wizard of Oz inspired story. It has many similar themes, but is definitely not a yellow brick road story.
We first meet Christopher, a “proper human”, and his ragtag group of mechanical friends as they work alongside their creator, Mr. Absalom. We learn that Absalom is not a licensed engineer, and has in fact been hiding a secret – that Christopher is a mechanical, too, of a very special sort – one that has been “ensouled” and given life by Refined Propulsion. This is outlawed and Christopher is taken away by the Agency. His friends, Jack, Round Rob, Estelle, Manda, and Gripper go searching for their friend. These robots have so much life and feeling that you will find yourself empathizing and cheering them on as they battle their way to Christopher.
The motley crew of friends learn what friendships, home, and life truly mean.
I recommend for grades 6+, as the vocabulary and themes are more advanced.
RUFF VS. FLUFF – by Spencer Quinn
(March 26th 2019 ~ Scholastic Press)
New York Times bestseller Spencer Quinn returns with a laugh-out-loud series about the most epic rivalry of our time . . . Arthur the dog vs. Queenie the cat.
From the outside, Queenie the cat and Arthur the dog appear to have a lot in common. Both pets live in the charming Blackberry Hill inn. They both love their humans, twins Harmony and Bro. They both have a fondness for sausage.
But that doesn’t change the fact that they are mortal enemies.
Goofy, big-hearted Arthur loves everyone he’s ever met . . . except the snobby, scheming cat who’s devoted her life to ruining his.
Queenie is a bit choosier. And who can blame her? When you’re brilliant AND exquisitely beautiful, you can’t be expected to rub tails with commoners. Especially not slobbery dogs.
But when the twins’ beloved cousin is framed for murder, Queenie and Arthur must work together to clear his name . . . something Queenie finds even more distasteful than inexpensive caviar. Can two enemies put aside their differences long enough to solve the mystery?
Look for a review soon on #kidlitexchange!
CATWAD – by Jim Benton
(March 26th 2019 ~ Scholastic Inc.)
Photo and Review by Kelly @kidlitunderground
Brainy Catwad hates everything and his dumb roommate//best friend Blurmp (named after a fart) loves everything. 🚽
CATWAD’s episodic collection of vignettes are Garfield or possibly Ren &Stimpy meets one of those early 00’s Demotivators posters.** If you’re looking for complex plot twist and “all the feels”, this isn’t the book for you, but it’s a funny, light read. 💀
We road trip with Catwad and Blurmp to El Stinko Hotel, contemplate the origin story of superhero Dog Poo Man, and watch Blurmp mistake mosquitoes for fairy unicorns while Catwad gets squashed by a rainbow. 🌈
Ending with a climax of sorts where Catwad tries to smile and instead flips his whole body inside out. Spoiler alert: He rights himself, and fortunately returns to his cynical, misanthropic (misfelinic?) ways.
Caveats: This is a light read, and Benton’s sarcastic subversive humor (which this reporter personally LOVES) may not resonate with everybody. This particular book will appeal more to the masses than to the niche fringe of ARC reviewers. 😠
Catwad is more nuanced and less evil than Happy Bunny… not sure if that’s a good thing or not.
THE MIGHTY HEART OF SUNNY ST. JAMES – by Ashely Herring Blake
(March 26th 2019 ~ Little, Brown)
Photo and Review by Laura @librarianmsg
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5 stars for The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James, which is the most beautiful #mglit lesbian love story I have ever read. 🌈 Author Ashley Herring Blake gets all the warm, fuzzy first-love feelings perfectly right here and I was dying for Quinn and Sunny to kiss for pretty much the entire book. I was also completely caught up in the drama of Sunny’s birth mom, Lena, coming to town. Finally, Sunny’s free verse poetry that she uses to explore her issues and identity is a really nice touch that makes this book shine even more. Simply put, this book sucked me in and spit me back out an emotional mess. But that’s okay! That’s actually my favorite thing about reading and why I like reading emotional books the best. .
Summary: Sunny St. James lives with her adoptive mom, Kate, has a new heart and now she wants a new life, too. Her goals are to do awesome things, make a new friend and kiss a boy. Things seem to be on the right track when she quickly meets a new friend, Quinn, and the two start a “Kissing Quest.” But things get more complicated when Sunny’s birth mom, who abandoned her as a child, comes back into the picture. Not to mention the fact that Sunny is pretty sure she doesn’t actually want to kiss a boy…maybe she wants to kiss someone else. Sunny explores her issues and her identity through free verse poetry and also begins to confide in her birth mom, Lena.
A few things about this gorgeous cover, as well, which will pair beautifully with @ashleyhblake‘s first #mglit book, Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World. I love all the swirling blues of the ocean. I love the creatures hiding in the swirling blues of the ocean, too. See the mermaid on the right side? Sunny thinks of her mom as a mythical mermaid before she meets her… Even the girls seated on the beach are exactly right from their hair color (Quinn has blue hair at the start of the book) down to their skin color (Quinn Rios Rivera identifies as Latina). SO GORGEOUS. I can’t think of another #mglit author who has covers as beautiful and detailed.
CAN YOU CRACK THE CODE? – by Ella Schwartz
(March 26th 2019 ~ Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
Photo and Review by Michelle @mleonardwrites
What do you do if you need to pass a super-secret note to a friend, but want to make sure that no one else can read it? You make up your own code, of course – something only the two of you can decipher. CAN YOU CRACK THE CODE? will help you up your game in the encryption world while you uncover the fascinating history and current state of ciphers and cryptography. Filled with examples and encrypted messages, this book will be of HIGH interest for ages 8+.
Not only is the book filled with codes to figure out as you read, but it’s also brimming with resources to start you on your journey of becoming an encryption specialist and a hacker. The jargon of the industry is well-explained and the historical perspectives are fascinating! I couldn’t stop myself from reading passages out loud to my family, and though I’m so busy I barely had time to read the book, I want to research the Voynich Manuscript, join Google’s crew of white hat hackers, decode the message found in 2012 with the corpse of a WW2 carrier pigeon, solve the CIA’s Mysterious Kryptos Sculpture, read the Beale papers…In other words, I was completely INSPIRED, and I’m sure kids will be too. 🔒
It’s really difficult to get a perfect nonfiction voice for middle graders. I know because I’ve spent a lot of time on this myself for a book I’m working on, but congrats to Ella Schwartz because she NAILED it. 💻
WARNING: Librarians, you need multiple copies of this one for your shelves because it’s going to be in high demand.
Highly recommended for all curious kids!
THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS – by Gail Shepherd
(March 26th 2019 ~ Kathy Dawson Books / Penguin)
Photo and review by Hallie @bookloaner
Set in 1985, The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins is a story about family, history, and how they intertwine. Lyndie is a voracious reader with an interest in local history and learning. She’s a library aficionado who combs through rolls and rolls of microfilm to learn more about the past. She loves her friends and her parents, but she hates that her whole family is living with her grandparents now. Her father, who has been struggling with PTSD after returning from the Vietnam War, has lost his job and resorted to drinking in secret to cope. Lyndie is angry–angry that her parents can’t take care of her, angry that her grandmother has strict rules, angry that her classmates don’t understand her. This novel doesn’t shy away from the hard truths about living with someone who has PTSD. Lyndie learns a lot about coping methods and realizes she is hiding behind her anger to avoid feeling other emotions about her father. Though today’s kids probably don’t have a parent who is a Vietnam War veteran, this book will resonate with readers who struggle with their parents for different reasons. Lyndie yearns to get back to a normal life when her mother wasn’t depressed and her father wasn’t drinking. She just wants everything to be okay. This is a heart wrenching middle grade novel that features themes of new beginnings and forgiveness that readers will love. It’s a must buy for middle school libraries and classrooms.
BECAUSE OF THE RABBIT – by Cynthia Lord
(March 26th 2019 ~ Scholastic Press)
Photo and Review by Melissa @mllittleauthor
Before I start this review, let me get a mini rant off my chest. I was homeschooled. PreK-12th grade, baby. And while it might sound dumb, I got frustrated growing up, because I never found myself represented in kid’s literature. Even in that rare book with a homeschooled character, the plot revolved around the character starting “real school” for the first time. There was never a kid who was just homeschooled. A kid like me.
So even though I’m years separated from my homeschool education now, I still get a little disappointed when a book is about a character leaving homeschooling behind. Such is the case with Because of the Rabbit. So that’s how I approached this book. With a twinge of disappointment.
But you know what? I stopped caring. I quite frankly adored this book.
I think this is my new favorite #KidLitExchange book. And it even portrayed homeschooling quite realistically (I would know). When Emma says of entering public school, “Now when people asked me ‘Where do you go to school?’ the answer would be just a name, not a conversation”—I felt that deeply.
But now let’s shove homeschooling aside. I really, really love this book. THIS is how you perfectly balance a school story with a family story. It was an expert blend of both, and I loved the realistically changing dynamic between Emma and her brother, Owen. Jack is adorable and I would do anything for that boy. What a great friend. Emma was so cute, too. One of my favorite first-person narrators I’ve read recently. I felt for her and thoroughly enjoyed her excitement and discovery as she figured out her first days of school. (I, to this day, am intensely curious as to what goes on within the walls of a school.) This is one I highly recommend grabbing once it hits shelves.
THE TRAGICAL TALE OF BIRDIE BLOOM – by Temre Beltz
(March 26th 2019 ~ HarperCollins)
Photo and Review by Kate @kateteaching7and8
The Tragical Tale of Birdie Bloom by Temre Beltz and published by @harpercollinsch is a fun, whimsical, and not so tragical story of magic and friendship. Birdie is a nine-year-old orphan living with seventeen other orphans at Foulweather’s Home for the Tragical in the word of Wanderly. Wanderly is ruled by the “by the book.” This means that your endings are already pre-determined. Tragicals will die horrible deaths, Triumphants will live happily ever after, and wicked witches can only perform curses and dastardly deeds. Books and words have power in Wanderly which is one reason why Tragicals aren’t allowed to have books. Birdie, however, finds a book that teaches her about friendship and leads her to try to create a friendship (actually, Agnes prefers Barely Foul Foe, or BFF) with a wicked witch (that’s Agnes). This attempted friendship causes multiple characters to re-evaluate who they are and what they are capable of.
This book was fun and engaging. The theme of friendship is well-developed and clear enough for a younger reader to understand. One of my favorite things about the book is that the narrator is the book. There are several delightful and witty footnotes (from the book’s perspective) that give insight not only into the characters of the book, but also into books and readers. This book does read a little young and I would recommend it for grades 5-8.
OVER THE MOON – by Natalie Lloyd
(March 26th 2019 ~ Scholastic)
Twelve-year-old Mallie’s prospects are grim. In her mining town, Coal Top, boys leave school at 12 to work in the mines, and girls leave to work as servants for the rich people. Mallie can’t stomach the idea of that kind of life, but what choice does she have? Especially when her family is counting on her wages to survive.
All that changes when Mallie is recruited for a dangerous competition in which daring (and ideally, orphaned children) train flying horses to battle the monsters that lurk beneath Coal Top. If she wins, she’ll earn a fortune for her struggling family. If she fails . . . her family will have one less mouth to feed.
But the situation proves even more sinister than Mallie realizes, and in addition to fighting for her life, she finds herself uncovering a dangerous mystery at the heart of Coal Top’s struggles-a mystery that the charismatic ringleader Mortimer Good will do anything to protect.
Look for a review soon on #kidlitexchange!
You can also follow our tags on Instagram and Twitter to see all of our reviews: