Thursday, April 16, 2015

Short Version of the Fiction Book Review

How would we summarize the books discussed in last Friday's Material's Review in just a sentence or so? Here's how.

Note that these are just the books we talked about, there were some that were mentioned but not reviewed and for everything please refer to the full lists found here.

Also note, at the event Jane identified the Dorothy Canfield Fisher books that skewed towards the younger end of the age range, and would be appropriate for some kids not yet in 4th grade. You can find that list over at an updated Dorothy Canfield Fisher post.

These books are listed in the order in which we discussed them at the event. Thank you to the panelists (left to right) Deb from Candlewick Press, and Jane, Carrie, and Helen from Bear Pond Books

Smashie McPerter & The Myster of Room 11 by N. Griffin: A search for a classroom's missing hamster in highly styled writing with a sophisticated vocabulary - for fans of Kate DiCamillo. Younger middle grade, grades 2-5. 

Cody and the Fountain of Happiness by Tricia Springstubb: A strong writer with a story similar to the Clementine books, following Cody through her summer vacation in the start of a new series. Young middle grade, grades 3-6. 

Ruby Redfort - Catch Your Death by Lauren Child: Book #3 in this kid-detective series, for kids interested in intrigues and codes. Grades 5+

Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson: The young narrator leaves the home of her guardian to live with her 19 year old brother, who is homeless. One of top books of the season, deals with serious issues of kids and homelessness. Grades 5+

Half A Man by Michael Morpurgo: In this semi-autobiographical book, a grandson, Michael, tells the story of his grandfather who was badly burned in WWII. Illustrated. Grades 5+

Vango by Timothee de Fombelle - A Bear Pond Books pick for the holiday season, good for teens and also adults, a romantic (in the classic sense) espionage escapade that one reviewer calls "steampunk without fantasy." The sequel will be published in August.

The Great War by Jim Kay: Authors were given items from WWI and wrote stories around them, a very useful classroom book. Grades 5+

Into the Grey by Celine Kiernan- Could be an adult book, a ghost story about a displaced family and a possessed twin. It's very scary. Mature teen readers.

Eden West by Pete Hautman- Dystopian fiction about an insular cult (we'll let you know when there's a book about a not-insular cult). If you liked Godless check this out. Mature teen readers.

Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowles: A story from multiple narrators, all involving the middle finger. Jo spoke at Bear Pond about writing this book last spring, see the article here. Grades 7+

Tight Rope Walkers by David Almond - A complicated coming of age story in the shipyards of northern England. For older teens, or even adults. Many starred reviews.

X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon - A novel about Malcolm X's youth by his daughter and co-writer Kekla Magoon who lives in Montpelier, what more could you want? Grades 9+

Sign of the Cat by Lynne Jonell - An "old fashioned romp" with secret princes and princesses, evil villains, and a scene where the villain eats cats that upset Carrie, but her kids (ages 9 and 11) thought she was overreacting. Grades 3-7

Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb - An isolated island where first the narrator's closest companions move away and then a mysterious geologist arrives. Strong sense of place, gently addresses topics like abandonment and alcoholism. Grades 4+

Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar - Story of a scientist who creates a replacement for oil that comes with its own ecological disasters. Carrie didn't love it, thought it was a little pat, but suspects that Louis Sachar knows his middle grade audience spot on and they will like it. Good for kids who are ready for the content, but are not necessarily strong readers.

Question of Miracles by Elana Arnold - Iris' best friend dies in a car accident, after which she moves to a new state with her family and befriends Boris - an odd kid who should have died as a baby but "miraculously" recovered. His Aunt is now petitioning for full miracle status. Rebecca Stead-esque. Ages 9-12.

Cartwheeling In Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell - By the author of Rooftoppers. A true wild child in South Africa is sent to British boarding school and has to make the best of the situation. Boys will like it if they can get past the girl-centric cover. Ages 9+

Like A River: A Civil War Novel by Kathy Canon Wiechman - A story of two young teens enlisted in the civil war - one a boy and one a girl pretending to be a boy. Told first from the boy perspective, then the girl. It's cheesy, but in an enjoyable way. It's not too graphic, so would work for younger kids. Strong author's notes and photos to go with the fiction story. Good to use in the classroom after learning about Civil War. Grade 6+

When My Heart Was Wicked by Tricia Stirling - For readers who like Raven Boys, Alice Hoffman. The narrator had an evil (both in a fairy tale evil sense and also abusive) mother who taught her wicked spells, then she was abandoned and learned good spells, then the mother reclaims her. It does have cutting. Otherwise, not much mature content. Grades 9+

Jackaby by William Ritter - Sold well at Bear Pond over the holidays. A young woman abandons society life in London and lands in colonial Massachusetts. She starts working with Jackaby, an eccentric detective with an interest in the occult. Funny, smart, will appeal to anyone who likes Sherlock. Ages 13+

Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir - Getting a lot of buzz, written by a journalist based on some of her experiences. It's a fantasy, Roman world. The protagonist couldn't save her brother when soldiers came to take him and so she joins the resistance movement. Meanwhile, the son of the woman who leads the martial rulers wants out of his life as a soldier. And you can probably guess they fall in love. It's violent but not graphic. Ages 14+

Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton- A sci-fi, fantasy book with a decent dose of realism that follows the intersecting stories of 3 teenagers in Scotland and Hong Kong. There will be a sequel. It's expected to be a top seller. Ages 14+

Return to Augie Hobble by Lane Smith - Illustrator Lane Smith's debut novel, very funny and endearing narrator Augie Hobble is working in an amusement park that's seen better days when weird things start happening. Fast moving. Pictures play an important part. Grades 3+

Unusual Poultry for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones - Narrator writes in letter form about her new life on a farm where she discovers, and cares for, magic chickens. It's not the strongest writing - a lot of set up without follow through (why are the chickens magic, for one thing) and pictures that don't add much, but kids probably won't care. Recommended because it's a more modern look at being a farm kid, not nostalgic, feels like it's 2015 not 1955. Lots of tie-in potential for classroom lessons. Grades 3-6

All the Answers by Kate Messner - Solid book with a straightforward plot, easily read and enjoyed by a wide range of reading levels. The simple set up is that the narrator finds a pencil that answers any question she writes. We had an earlier article with Kate Messner on using this book to teach writing, linked here. Grades 4 - 7

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai- A Valley Girl-ish 13 year old is sent to Vietnam for the summer with her grandmother, who hasn't returned to her home country since the war. Fresh look at rural Vietnamese life, feels current and interesting. The writing has some glitches, it could have used another edit, kids who aren't strong readers or don't feel comfortable skipping over the dull parts might get hung up on that. Ages 11 - 14 (the publisher says younger, but we're not sure why)

Good Bye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead- Three friends enter Junior High School at different stages of development, particularly in their relations with boys, and navigate staying friends. That sounds cliched, but it doesn't read that way. Rebecca Stead continues to be a great writer with unique, fully fleshed out characters. This book lacks the mystery element of her earlier books and (to be honest) probably won't appeal to boys. Some reviewers have bumped this up to YA, but we're standing strong that it's 6th - 9th grade.

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King - Wish we could recommend this. A.S. King is wonderful, the starting concept is intriguing: the narrator and her best friend drink a powdered bat and can see all the ancestry (moving backward and forward) of other people. King doesn't spend much time on the interesting bits, though, and a lot of the plot isn't plausible (even for those of us happy to go along with the premise). Read other A.S. King books! Read her next book! We feel bad being lukewarm here.

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach - Oh it has the trifecta for teenage angst - teenagers, teenagers with "labels" (as the uninspiring publisher's blurb explains), an asteroid with a 66% chance of destroying all life on earth in 10 days. What makes this book great is the writing - a debut by a super smart, funny author who will undoubtedly have many a great book over the rest of his career. Yay. Ages 14+, probably would need to be a mature 14.

My Near Death Adventures! (99% True) by Alison DeCamp - Stanley's mother brings him to his uncle's logging camp in 1895 where he really wants to learn to "be a man" like he imagines his long lost father is, but he's scared of everything. Scrapbook entries heighten the level of amusement. Strong boy narrator, strong girl character opposite him, highly entertaining. Grades 4+

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart - Debut book that will probably get a lot of attention. The set up is a boy who has cancer who runs away to climb Mt. Rainier with his dog, while his best friend who stays behind struggles with whether to tell the adults where he's gone. To an adult reader, it's pretty hokey. Kids probably won't mind. Grades 4 - 7

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt - The story of a girl who doesn't realize she has dyslexia, just feels "stupid" and uses her other strengths to hide the fact that she can't read. A new teacher helps figure out what's going on. There aren't a lot of great books about dyslexia, so this should be an excellent addition. Grades 5+

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson - Two (if not more) thumbs up. A solid girl power story about growing apart from a best friend and joining roller derby. Will be compared with Raina Telgemeier. Grades 4-7

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko - Intriguing historical fiction story about the bubonic plague in San Francisco - includes medical mystery, quarantines, social / economic / ethnic stratification, political cover ups, and vaccines. Ages 9-12

War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley- We love it. A lot. Another solid historical fiction, this time about a girl who has a club foot and has never been allowed out of the apartment by her abusive mother. She runs away when children are being evacuated from London to the countryside. Another book with a resiliency theme, not overwritten and not as bleak as it sounds. Ages 10+

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby- Summarized as "feminist magical realism", sort of a Persephone story set in an Indiana small town. For older readers, wouldn't recommend below 9th grade.

And, this just in. . . 

We didn't have a copy in time for the review, but local author Linda Urban has another chapter book en route to bookstore shelves near you (September 1st): Milo Speck Accidental Agent. There's a magic sock, there's a land of ogres, there's a plot against children everywhere, and giant turkeys. Basically, it's a funny and fun book for the 4th - 7th grade age range. Linda's previously-new book The Center of Everything is a Dorothy Canfield Fisher nominee. And Linda will be at the store doing a book signing on Saturday, May 2nd, at 11:00 am, for her other new book, a picture book: Little Red Henry.


  1. So happy to have been, at least vicariously, at Bear Pond! Thanks for a wonderful list and such thoughtful comments.

    1. If you're ever not-vicariously at Bear Pond, you'll know we had more nice things to say than what made it into the printed list! Also, that our events come with good food.