Julia’s Review of Waiting For Unicorns

Waiting for Unicorns

I’ve found another avid reader to help me review books for middle grade children.  Lily’s sister, Julia.  She is a sixth grader.  I was reading a book when I learned these sisters were eager to review books for the blog.  I almost didn’t send it because I was enjoying it so much.  As I’m writing this review, I’m trying not to read Julia’s review.  Other than her three words describing the book, which convince me I should read this book.

Waiting For Unicorns by Beth Hautala

  • Write three words to describe this book.  touching, well-written, captivating
  • What was you favorite part of the book?  Why?  My favorite part was when Talia got the necklace from her dad for her birthday.
  • Who was your favorite character?  Why?  My favorite character was Simon (aka Guitar Boy).
  • How did the book make your feel?  I felt very sympathetic for Talia because she had lost her mom and then her home, and then her dad got stuck out on the ice.
  • Did anything in the book make you happy?  If so, what? I felt happy that Talia became friends with Simon, Sura and the Birdman.
  • Did anything in the book make you sad?  If so, what?  I was sad that Talia didn’t get to see the narwhals, but also kind of happy because Sura had said, “Unicorns break your heart.”

Book Synopsis from Penguin website – “When twelve-year-old Talia—still reeling from the recent death of her mother—is forced to travel with her emotionally and physically distant whale-researcher father to the Arctic for the summer, she begins to wonder if the broken pieces inside of her will ever begin to heal. Like her jar of wishes, Talia feels bottled up and torn. Everything about life in Churchill feels foreign, including Sura, the traditional Inuit woman whom Talia must live with. But when Sura exposes her to the tradition of storytelling, she unlocks something within Talia that has long since been buried: her ability to hope, to believe again in making wishes come true.”

Lily’s Review of Fish in a Tree


I’ve found an avid reader to help me review books for middle grade children.  Lily is a fourth grader.  I gave her mom a few new library books at a PTA meeting last week.  Within days, Lily had written two reviews for me.  She emailed me her first review saying, “Thanks, I really liked the book.”  Based on the word bookworm in her email address, I anticipate she will be an active reviewer.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

  • Write three words to describe this book.  Intriguing Exciting Satisfying
  • What was you favorite part of the book?  Why?  My favorite part of the book was the end when Mr.Daniels meets Travis because Travis will start learning to read.
  • Who was your favorite character?  Why?  My favorite character was Mr.Daniels because he is funny and not like an ordinary teacher.
  • How did the book make your feel?  The book made me feel happy for Ally because she is finally getting help.
  • Did anything in the book make you happy?  If so, what?  The part of the book that made me feel happy was the part when Albert finally stands up to the boys that are mean to him.
  • Did anything in the book make you sad?  If so, what?  I didn’t like the parts where Shay and Jessica are mean to Ally.

Book Synopsis from Penguin – “Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions.  She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.”

Presidential Reads

Presidential MisadventuresThose Founding FathersThomas JeffersonDear Mr WashingtonPresident TaftiPhone George Washington


It’s Presidents Day and I planned to finish this post before the day arrived so I could post it.  I didn’t; but have decided to post it in it’s incomplete form.  These are some great books.  Trust me.

Presidential Misadventures:  Poems that Poke Fun at the Man in Charge by Bob Raczka and art by Dan E. Burr – Have you ever heard of a clerihew?  I hadn’t until I read this book.  It’s a four line poem that pokes fun at a famous person.  The first two lines rhyme and the third and fourth lines rhyme.  There’s a poem written about each of the forty-four presidents.

The Founding Fathers: Those Horse Ridin’, Fiddle Playin’, Book Readin’ Gun Totin’ Gentlemen Who Started America by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Barry Blitt

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by Maria Kalman – An exquisitely illustrated picture book describing the interests and complexities of Thomas Jefferson in simple age appropriate words.

Dear Mr. Washington by Lynn Cullen and pictures by Nancy Carpenter

President Taft is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

The Left Behinds and the iPhone That Saved George Washington by David Potter


Keenan’s Review on Masterminds by Gordon Korman

Keenan is the fifth grade son of a coworker.  He’s an avid reader.  Every week I pick his mom’s brain about the books he enjoys.  When he visited the library last weekend,  I asked if he would do a review of a recent favorite read.  He chose Masterminds by Gordon Korman.
  • Write three words to describe this book.  Action packed, mysterious, exciting.
  • What was your favorite part of the book? Why?  My favorite part was when they found they were clones.  I loved their reaction.
  • Who was your favorite character?  Why?  Eli.  He was funny and had the best reactions.
  • How did the book make you feel?  Sad, but also in a weird sort of way happy.

Summary of the book from Harper Collins website:
Eli Frieden lives in the most perfect town in the world: Serenity, New Mexico. In this idyllic place, every lawn is perfectly manicured and everyone has a pool and a tree house. Honesty and integrity are valued above all else. The thirty kids who live there never lie—they know it’s a short leap from that to the awful problems of other, less fortunate places.

Eli has never left Serenity . . . Why would he ever want to? Then one day he bikes to the edge of the city limits and something so crazy and unexpected happens, it changes everything. Eli convinces his friends to help him investigate further, and soon it becomes clear that nothing is as it seems in Serenity. The clues mount to reveal a shocking discovery, connecting their ideal crime-free community to some of the greatest criminal masterminds ever known. The kids realize they can trust no one—least of all their own parents.

Grandmother’s with Alzheimers: A Middle Grade Novel and A Picture Book

Forget Me Not


Yesterday, I wrote about a woman reading picture books to her mother suffering Alzheimer’s Disease.  Today, I’m highlighting two books about grandmother’s suffering this horrible disease. It’s a sensitive subject for me.  My grandmother went from a vibrant lady tending her garden and orchard, making homemade preserves and cooking the best country fried steak in the world to not recognizing her children or grandchildren.

Months ago Forget Me Not by Nancy Van Laan and illustrated by Stephanie Graegin arrived at the library.  I read it to ML.  Then, told her about my grandmother.  How she would make sweet tea, then forget she had added sugar.  So she added more which made it too sweet to drink.

I told her about the time Grandmommy was visiting for Christmas.  On Christmas Eve, my family attended the candlelight service at our church.  Grandmommy and I didn’t; because I was sick with the flu.  She wanted to stay home and care for me.  Every few minutes she’d pop in my room asking, “Do you need anything?” She didn’t remember she had just checked on me. It’s heartwarming to think of her concern today; but as a feverish, aching teenager I didn’t appreciate it.  When my family returned, I told them in no circumstances should Grandmommy be allowed to check on me again.  I share stories like this with ML because it’s important to talk about hard things before she experiences them.  The likelihood someone she loves will experience dementia is high.

I’ve read other picture books about grandparents with Alzheimers Disease.  Forget Me Not is the best.  In a comforting narrative it shares the realities of the disease, the fears of a child as her grandmother starts forgetting things, and how that child copes.  The pencil and ink washed illustrations evoke a feeling of love and security.


Half a Chance

I didn’t devour Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord; instead I kept coming back to it over the course of a month.  Every few weeks, I go through the library books at home and decide which ones I know I’ll never get to or finish.  Every time I saw this book in the pile, I couldn’t bring myself to return it.  It’s a beautiful story about tween friendships, family dynamics, a grandmother in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s Disease and new beginnings.  It includes one of the most important quotes I’ve read in a children’s novel.

“Oh, people will think what they think!” Grandma Lilah said.  “Don’t ever choose the people who don’t matter over the ones who do.”


Middle Grade Novel Author Crush: Katherine Rundell


In the middle grades, kids often experience their first real crush. So it’s only fitting I have a crush on a middle grade author’s books… Katherine Rundell.

I featured her book Rooftoppers last January. When Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms arrived this summer, I immediately checked it. Then, devoured it.

The short summary from the library catalog doesn’t provide any glimpse of the liveliness of this book and the quirky, lovable main character.  “Will must find her way after she’s plucked out of a wonderful life in Zimbabwe and forced to go to boarding school in England.”

After reading Rooftoppers, I knew the language would be magical.  I opened a pack of hot pink Post-it notes to mark various passages.  The quotes below describe Will’s first impressions after her arrival at a boarding school in England.

“The room smelled foul — of eggs and feet and the eternal indoors.  It was the smell of English.” p. 126

“She fell asleep with their voices jabbing at her heart, and dreamed of being chased through the bush by a pack of wolves, with sleek ponytails and rosebud pajamas.” p.129

I’ve never visited Zimbabwe, but Katherine Rundell’s vivid descriptions transported my imagination.  Having visited London and other large cities, the depiction of Will’s experience on the streets of London after running away from the boarding school were easier to form.  However, the flapdoodle of the situation required thinking about London from a different perspective.

While researching for this post, I discovered another title by Katherine RundellThe Girl Savage.  I immediately started looking for it.  Then, discovered it’s the original title of Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms from it’s 2011 release in Great Britain.  I was not happy. I’m ready to imbibe in another of her books.

Her last post on twitter was June 28th  “And now I’m off again, to tie myself to this chair and to get this book finished.”  She better!  (I wrote this post a few weeks ago.  She’s back on twitter.  I hope that means a new book is written.)

For Bronte: Future Author/Illustrator – Two Middle Grade Books

Under The EggThe Boundless

ML and I perused her yearbook together recently.  Under each picture of the fifth graders, were their names and what they wanted to be when they grew up.  Many made me laugh, especially the one who wants to be a worker’s compensation lawyer.  To know so young the specific area of law you want to practice. . . he must know a worker’s comp lawyer.  I’ve met people halfway through law school who are still unsure.  Some even after graduation.

Several students’ answers warmed my heart and reminded me of great books to recommend to these rising middle schoolers.

Bronte wants to be an author and illustrator.  ML worships her.  We’ve seen her artwork.  I read her poetry for the Poetry Celebration.  Look out Children’s Publishing World.  I’ve seen the future and it’s talented.

The synopsis for the recommendations for Bronte are straight from the publishers’ websites.  Each book involves art.  One a mysterious painting.  The other a young man whose passion is drawing.

Under The Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald – When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she discovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. There’s just one problem: Theo’s grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she worries the painting may be stolen.

With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo’s search for answers takes her all around Manhattan, and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she’ll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time.

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel – The Boundless, the greatest train ever built, is on its maiden voyage across the country, and first-class passenger Will Everett is about to embark on the adventure of his life!

When Will ends up in possession of the key to a train car containing priceless treasures, he becomes the target of sinister figures from his past.

In order to survive, Will must join a traveling circus, enlisting the aid of Mr. Dorian, the ringmaster and leader of the troupe, and Maren, a girl his age who is an expert escape artist. With villains fast on their heels, can Will and Maren reach Will’s father and save The Boundless before someone winds up dead?

I’m working on some books for ML’s other favorite almost middle schooler.  She wants to own a restaurant.  A new book arrived at the library last week which looks promising for a future professional chef.

The Meaning of Maggie – A Middle Grade Novel


I don’t finish a lot of novels written for middle grades.  Instead, I read a few chapters because I need to have knowledge of these books for work.  If I finish one, I know it is worth sharing on the blog.  I cried while reading The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern.

When the book arrived at the library, the cover intrigued me.  Once I read the synopsis of the book and learned the author lives in Atlanta I decided to take the book home.  I grew up outside of Atlanta; so in my mind this book was set there.  Maggie’s father has to quit his job at the airport due to an illness which starts with an M.  Maggie’s clueless about the name of his illness and the reality of it’s progression.  Her mom starts working to support the family at a fancy hotel.

I grew up outside of Atlanta.  In my mind, the hotel was either the Peachtree Plaza or the Hyatt Regency with the blue bubble.  I’m thinking it was the Hyatt Regency because the book mentions the atrium.  In my childhood, I was fortunate to have a Shirley Temple and lots of pretzels at the rotating bar inside this blue bubble.  Maggie’s family was not in a position where this was a reality.  When she visited the hotel with her mom, she ate in the employee cafeteria.

Enough of my reminiscing.  This book is both heart breaking and heart warming.  Maggie is a quirky young lady who is starting middle school.  She’s excited about turning eleven because it’s one year closer to college.  Plus she received her dream birthday present… Coca-cola stock.

My favorite quote from the book is on page twenty-four.  “I’d always thought all the answers to life’s questions were in books.  I’d thought knowing where the sidewalk ended and where the red fern grew and where the wild things were could help me figure out LIFE.”

It wasn’t until I read the Acknowledgements at the end of the book, I learned the book is a fictionalized account of her family’s experience.  For more information read The Story Behind The Story  on Megan Jean Sovern’s website.

ML’s not ready for this book yet.  But when she’s older, I plan for us to read it.

What Is A Middle Grade Book?

Under The EggMeaning Of Maggie

While branching out and exploring juvenile fiction, I’ve noticed the terms “middle grade novel” popping up.  It’s not a term I learned in library school; nor saw when I was a librarian prior to ML’s birth.  So I went to an expert, my colleague who is responsible for the school age books and programs to find out what that term means.  She said, “It’s books written for kids who want something more than simplistic elementary books but aren’t ready for young adult books, which often include serious issues.”  Her theory is this term came out of the tween movement.  Before this books were marketed to children or teens.  Nothing specifically marketed to the sophisticated; but not too sophisticated middle grade students

To get a better handle on what a middle grade novel is I read a few articles.  I liked An Introduction to Middle Grade and Young Adult, Part 1 – Definitions by Malinda Lo.

From time to time I will post about middle grade novels.  I’ve read three excellent ones in the past month. I already blogged about one of them. . . A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd.  The covers pictured above are two books I can’t wait to tell you about.

Ms. Shaw’s Moving to Fourth Grade – We’re Starting A Classroom Library For Her

Tomorrow is the last day of school.  The wonderful teacher ML had for kindergarten and first grade is moving to 4th grade.  When I heard the news, it made me happy.  In a few more years, ML will have a chance to have Ms. Shaw again.

Last week, Ms. Shaw asked if I would give her ideas for good books for 4th graders.  She wants to expand her personal classroom library.  Teacher’s aren’t given money for things like this.  So I decided to buy Ms. Shaw books for her fourth grade classroom.  My colleague reads a lot of juvenile fiction so I enlisted her help.  I’m pleased with the variety of books I bought.  There should be something there to tempt even the most reluctant of readers. Below is a list of the books and a summary from the publication information page.


Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer – When a twelve-year-old evil genius tries to restore his family fortune by capturing a fairy and demanding a ransom in gold, the fairies fight back with magic, technology and a particularly nasty troll.



Hatchet by Gary Paulsen – After a plane crash, thirteen-year-old Brian spends fifty-four days in the wilderness, learning to survive initially with only the aid of a hatchet given by his mother, and learning also to survive his parents’ divorce.



James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl – A young boy escapes from two wicked aunts and embarks on a series of adventures with six giant insects he meets inside a peach.  When a mysterious old man gives James some magical, tiny green things, he certainly never imagines they will grow into a giant peach.


Lemonade War

The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies – Evan and his younger sister, Jesse, react very differently to the news they will be in the same class for fourth grade and as the end of the summer approaches they battle it out through lemonade stands, each trying to be the first to earn 100 dollars.  Includes mathematical calculations and tips for running a successful lemonade stand.


Love That Dog

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech – A young student, who comes to love poetry through a personal understanding of what different famous poems mean to him, surprises himself by writing his own inspired poem.


Mysterious Benedict Society

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart – After passing a series of mind-bending tests, four children are selected to go on a secret mission that requires them to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where the only rule is that there are no rules.


Smells Like Dog

Smells Like Dog by Suzanne Selfors – When farm boy Homer Pudding’s explorer uncle dies and leaves him a droopy dog with a mysterious coin hidden on its collar, it leads him to the City where they meet Madame Le Directeur, the conniving head of the Natural History Museum, who is trying to steal the coin and take Homer’s place in a secret society of adventurers.



Savvy by Ingrid Law – Recounts the adventures of Mibs Beaumont, whose thirteenth birthday has revealed her “savvy” – a magical power unique to each member of her family – just as her father is injured in a terrible accident.


Origami Yoda

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger – Sixth-grader Tommy and his friends describe their interactions with a paper finger puppet of Yoda, worn by their weird classmate, Dwight, as they try to figure out whether or not the puppet can really predict the future.


Three Times Lucky

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage – Washed ashore as a baby in tiny Tupelo Landing, North Carolina, Mo Lobeau, now eleven, and her best friend Dale turn detective when the amnesiac Colonel, owner of a cafe and co-parent of Mo with his cook, Miss Lana, seems implicated in a murder.  (Sheila Turnage is a NC author. I was able to buy an autographed copy at my local bookstore.)


True Confessions Charlotte Doyle

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi – Thirteen-year-old Charlotte Doyle, the only passenger and the only female aboard a seedy ship on a transatlantic voyage from England to America in 1832, becomes caught up in an a feud between the murderous captain and his mutinous crew.  Accused and convicted of murder, Charlotte decides to reveal what really happened aboard the Seahawk.

I’m also going to create Ms. Shaw another list of books.  I couldn’t afford to buy her all the books I wanted.  This list will provide ideas for books she might want to purchase in the future.  I’ll post the list before school starts back in late August.