Category Archives: Middle Grade
Professor Gargoyle: Tales From Lovecraft Middle School #1 By Charles Gilman: Book Review and Giveaway
Book: Professor Gargoyle: Tales From Lovecraft Middle School #1 by Charles Gilman, Illustrations by Eugene Smith, Quirk Books, Middle Grade series, provided for review from Quirk, Hardcover 175 pages, On Sale Now
Professor Gargoyle is the first book in Quirk’s (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) new middle grade series by Charles Gilman. The lenticular cover of the book is eye-catching, isn’t it? I think it should grab the attention of reluctant readers. Professor Gargoyle provides spine-tingling chills for the middle grade set, and is perfect for fans of R.L. Stine. I think this is a fast, fun read that all ages can enjoy this spooky time of year.
The book begins with 7th grader Robert Arthur starting his first day at Lovecraft Middle School. He’s really uneasy because due to redistricting he’s the only one of his friends attending this school. To make matters worse, he spots his old elementary school nemesis Glenn at Lovecraft. Glenn has no intentions to stop bullying Robert so his first day is off to a bad start. And, even though Lovecraft is a brand-new state-of-the-art school, why do things feel a little off there? Finding a rat in your locker certainly seems like a bad omen. Hey, was this school built on top of the Hellmouth? The school does get its name from H.P. Lovecraft, after all.
Robert loves to read so he is in for a treat with the massive and modern school library. But Robert finds a secret, dusty attic above the library that doesn’t fit in at all with the school’s contemporary aesthetic. He comes away with a two-headed rat hitch-hiking in his backpack that becomes his constant companion.
There are strange happenings going on at Lovecraft. Besides finding rats in the lockers, students are going missing. And Robert’s Science teacher Professor Goyle is acting quite bizarre and mysterious. He keeps all manner of strange animals in his classroom and has eccentric teaching methods. Robert just wants to fly under the radar at his new school but is getting pulled into these mysteries whether he likes it or not.
The book has a lot of creepy goings on and Gilman’s descriptive language of all the spiders and goo should appeal to the target audience. There are also illustrations of all the key moments to give you the full scary effect.
Even though I’m not the intended audience for this book I had a lot of fun reading it and it got me into the Halloween mood. The book should appeal to kids starting a new school or middle school, and addresses relevant topics to the age group such as bullying, gaining confidence and making friends. I’m interested in checking out the next book in the series, The Slither Sisters, in January.
The Giveaway has ended: Congrats to Mary who has won a copy of Professor Gargoyle!
Book Info: Middle Grade, Received from NetGalley, Available in HC 313 pages
Rating: 5 / 5 Stars
I started reading Wonder on a whim over the weekend and couldn’t put it down. I’d heard good things about the book for months, and liked the book trailer, but for some reason I kept finding other books to read instead. Even though I do like middle grade books, the subject matter of this one gave me pause. Anyway, the story is so engaging and uplifting, much more so than I had expected. Totally a worthwhile read and I’m so glad I finally read it.
10-year-old August Pullman was born with a severe facial abnormality. His parents home schooled him all of his life due to his frequent surgeries and medical appointments. Now, when others August’s age are starting middle school, his parents think the time may be right for August to attend school as well. Auggie is a normal kid inside, smart and funny, and loves Star Wars and videogames. But will his new classmates be able to see past his outward appearance?
Auggie is so endearing- he won me over from the very first pages. I was so scared for him to start middle school. Middle school is terrifying under the best of circumstances! And even though Auggie has seen reactions of strangers around him all his life, it’s hard to prepare yourself for this age group. I, like Auggie, hoped for the best but steeled myself for the worst. His experience has highs and lows and focuses in on a handful of students and teachers and the different ways they interact with Auggie.
There are a few kids assigned to keep an eye out for Auggie at school to show him around. Auggie is very perceptive about others and is a good judge of character- he really is a brave little guy. It’s interesting to see the world through Auggie’s eyes and then later revisit the same scenes through the eyes of his friends when the book shifts to multiple POV. I hadn’t expected the book to shift POV actually, but it does satisfy some curiosity by hearing other characters perspective. Two of Auggie’s classmates, as well as his sister, her friend, and boyfriend all take a turn at the narration. Auggie’s sister Via is a standout character, as she shares the effect her brother has had on her life.
Hearing the different reactions to Auggie made me think about who I would be in the scenario, and I’d react in middle school if I had a classmate like him. My daughter and I had a dialogue about it, and you always hope you’d be compassionate, but it’s hard to know what is the right way to respond in the moment. The book does a great job of making you think about how to treat people fairly and with compassion. The writing is accessible and has a light touch, even though there are some heavy and distressing scenes. It is just perfect for a middle grade audience, and to read aloud for class discussion or at home. But really I think this uplifting story is appealing for all ages.
Check out the book trailer:
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio (kid-lit-reviews.com)
- Review : Wonder by R. J. Palacio (tararualibrary.wordpress.com)
- Wonder by RJ Palacio – review (guardian.co.uk)
- Valentine’s Day Kids’ Exclusive: R.J. Palacio on “Wonder” (omnivoracious.com)
- Interview with RJ Palacio, author of Wonder (telegraph.co.uk)
Audiobook Info: Middle Grade, Received for review, Audio length: 9 hours 40 minutes, read by Julia Whelan.
Rating: 4 / 5 Stars
The Grimm Legacy is a modern day fairy tale, where a little magic can help transform a Cinderella-like girl’s life. I enjoy fairy tale retellings so I was immediately intrigued with just the title of this one. Wouldn’t it be amazing to check out authentic fairy tale objects from the library? In this magical story you can, and Elizabeth’s job as a page comes with borrowing privileges. You can’t check out Snow White’s stepmother’s magic mirror with a library card however. Prepare to part with something much more valuable like your sense of humor, or the promise of your first-born. And, since someone is stealing from the priceless collection, Elizabeth must find the thief to clear her name and save herself from being the next victim.
Elizabeth is having a tough time of it – her best friend moved away and she doesn’t fit in at school. She lives with her stepmother at home and is tasked with all the chores. Elizabeth’s history teacher takes an interest in her and recommends her for the job of page at the New York Circulating Material Repository, a very unique place. There, she bonds with the other pages that show her the ropes: Anjali, pretty, sweet and smart, Marc, the star athlete from school, and Andrew the distrustful and serious one. Items keep disappearing from the Grimm Collection, and it is starting to look like an inside job. It will take borrowing more magical objects to solve the mystery. Anjali’s clever sister Jaya is also ready to help.
In The Grimm Legacy, the magic takes center stage. The Grimm objects bring the characters together and take over the plot of the book. I really liked the idea of the Grimm collection and all of the storytelling possibilities. From the sassy Magic Mirror to the Mermaid’s comb to the Table-Be-Set, I was enchanted by all of the Grimm items. The characters all show promise as well – I just wanted to learn a little more about them, especially about Elizabeth’s home life. In addition to the mystery of the Grimm thief, there is a little romance found in the story as Elizabeth falls for one of the pages.
The Grimm Legacy originally was released in 2010, but is just now available as an audiobook. Veteran narrator Julia Whelan reads the book, and she’s most recently narrated Die for Me and Partials. Whelan is good with both the female and male voices from the young siblings to the older teachers and librarians. She speaks clearly and reads with a good pace. Whelan captures the spirit of the characters and by using a distinct voice helped me to keep track of them all. I think listeners of all ages would enjoy listening to this audiobook.
The Grimm Legacy feels like the beginning of a series, and it certainly seems that there is more story to tell. But if it’s a standalone, it’s still a fun read. And with the popularity of fairy tale retellings and Once Upon a Time it’s the perfect time to rediscover this book. Looking forward to reading more from Polly Shulman.
Audiobook Info: Middle Grade, Library audiobook, Audio length: 7 hours 20 minutes, read by Emma Galvin.
Rating: 4.5 / 5 Stars
Armchair Audies Category: Children’s Titles Ages 8-12
Countdown takes place in 1962 and is the story of 11-year-old Franny Chapman. Franny is a middle child living near Andrews Air Force base, and she often feels overlooked. She loves to read aloud, but her teacher never seems to pick her to read for the class. She’s fighting with her friend Margie, her uncle is losing his grip on reality, and her sister is mysteriously absent for long periods of time. And as if it’s not hard enough being 11 already, the Cuban Missile Crisis has everyone in a panic, and Franny fears for her life.
The book Countdown is a documentary novel, and the printed book is scrapbook-like and includes important visual references from 1962 to enhance the reading experience. The audiobook experience is just as rich, however, and includes snippets of speeches, “duck and cover” instructions, presidential biographies, the sound of a typewriter, radio dial, bomb explosions and more. It really feels like you are there in 1962, with all the cultural references of the time. It is one of the more unique and entertaining audiobook experiences I’ve had.
It’s easy to identify with Franny and understand her worries about the world. Even though the book takes place 50 years ago and times have changed a lot, some things are still the same. Friendship conflicts still exist, and fears about the future. Franny is a sweet, sensitive girl who loves Nancy Drew mysteries, and playing her sister Jo Ellen’s 45’s, and is excited to attend her first boy-girl party. The author captures the feeling of that age very well, and made me remember my own time in fifth grade, and I was a worrier like Franny so could definitely relate to that.
One of my favorite YA audiobook narrators, Emma Galvin, reads the audiobook. Her voice works well for a variety of different stories, and again she shines with her performance here. She is believable as the voice of Franny, and gets to the heart of the character. Galvin conveys Franny’s kind and earnest nature and her voice is suited for the time frame. The character differentiations are subtle yet distinct, from Franny’s mother to her Uncle Otts, to her crush Chris. Even without the added bells and whistles found in the audiobook, her performance stands out.
Countdown is the first book in the Sixties trilogy, but it is a complete and satisfying story on it’s own. This book is a lot of fun, educational, and entertaining for both kids and adults. Though it’s meant for a middle grade audience, I think anyone who enjoys historical fiction or contemporary YA would enjoy this book. I recommend listening to the audio format to hear the sound effects and bonus historical material to get a feel for the era.
I listened to this audiobook as a participant in the Armchair Audies. My goal is to listen to all 5 of the middle grade audiobooks nominated for the Audie award, and you can see all the nominees here.
The Audies, sponsored by the Audio Publisher’s Association, are like the Oscar’s for audiobooks, and recognize distinction in several categories. Jennifer at Literate Housewife is hosting The Armchair Audies, and the idea is to divide up the listening responsibilities so that all of the APA nominees are covered between all interested bloggers. It would be near impossible for any one person to listen to all of the 28 categories, but 1 category per blogger is much more manageable. The Audies award gala is held in New York City on June 5, and we will see how our predictions line up with the winners chosen.
My chosen category is Middle Grade, aka Children’s Titles Ages 8-12. I was tempted by the Teen, Multi-Voiced, and Narrated by the Author categories but realistically can only pick one and Middle Grade won out. This is a great opportunity to expand my horizons in this area and I’ve had my eye on a few of the titles.
The five nominees for Children’s Titles Ages 8-12 are:
Countdown by Deborah Wiles. Narrated by Emma Galvin. Published by Listening Library.
The Hidden Gallery: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood. Narrated by Katherine Kellgren. Published by Harper Audio.
A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz. Narrated by Johnny Heller. Published by Recorded Books.
The Flint Heart by Katherine Paterson, John Paterson. Narrated by Ralph Lister. Published by Brilliance Audio.
Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson. Narrated by Debbie Allen. Published by Harper Audio.
If you’d like to participate in The Armchair Audies head over to Literate Housewife to select a category and get listening. I’m off to see if the library has these titles so I can get started!
- Announcing the Armchair Audies (literatehousewife.com)
Genre: Middle Grade / Young Adult Science Fiction Manga
Format/pages/source: Trade paperback 192 pages, received for review
Series: Book 1 of a trilogy
Rating: 3 / 5 Stars
Buy the book: Amazon
More Reviews: Goodreads
I haven’t read too much Manga, or even read Ender’s Game, but this space adventure sounded like something new and entertaining to try. Laddertop is a collaborative book by Orson Scott Card and his daughter Emily Janice Card, and they conceived of the kids-in-space idea during San Diego Comic-Con one year. It’s quick, entertaining and different, and made me interested to read more science fiction books like this, and Ender’s Game.
The story took me a little while to get into at first as I was trying to get my bearings with the artistic style. There are a lot of details to notice in the artwork and you have to pay close attention to get the most out of the story. The story is about two eleven year old middle school girls, Robbi and Azure, who are interested in attending the exclusive Laddertop Academy, a school located in space.
Azure and Robbi are best friends and total opposites. Azure has an over the top personality and is excited about every aspect of Laddertop Academy, while Robbi can take it or leave it, though she does seem to be well suited for it. The story moves at a breakneck pace while the situation is being established and all the characters are introduced. I suspect we will learn more in depth info about the characters in future books. Azure really cracked me up with her bold personality.
The background on Laddertop Academy is that aliens known as Givers came to Earth and created four giant towers that are the ladders leading to space stations that bring power to Earth. They aliens took off and now children are charged with the task of tower maintenance and it has become a very desirable job. There are all kinds of tests that the kids must pass in order to go into space, and this process is shrouded in mystery.
The space training includes many details you may be wondering about space travel, including transport and the cool space chairs you ride in, and even bathroom logistics. I did get a little dizzy reading about the weightlessness portion of the journey.
I read Laddertop in one sitting and thought it did a pretty good job of setting up the series. I’m interested in learning more about the candidate selection process and the Scan test symbols, and about the alien Givers in future installments. This should be a fun series for middle grade readers.
- Laddertop (Excerpt) (tor.com)
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Format: Audiobook received for review: 4 hours, 17 minutes, read by Dwayne Clark. Also available in hardcover, 272 pages.
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
More Reviews: Goodreads
Buy the Audiobook: Audible
Read an Excerpt: EW’s Shelf Life
Playground is Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s debut young adult novel about teen bullying. He explores this topical issue by sharing some of his own experiences in this fictionalized story. He hopes to reach out to kids to show how bullies are created and that there is hope to overcome it. As a parent, I’m very interested in this topic and was curious to read a story written from the bully’s perspective as a fresh change of pace.
The story is narrated by thirteen-year-old Butterball, nicknamed because of his weight, who lives with his over-worked mother post-split in a Long Island suburb. His father remains in the city where he seems to have more time for his girlfriends than for him. Butterball gets in trouble at school for hitting a kid, his only friend, with D batteries wrapped inside a sock. After that incident, he must attend weekly sessions with a psychologist to get to the bottom of his behavioral issues. The details of what set Butterball off are revealed through the weekly sessions with Liz.
Butterball is a sympathetic character that I think many teens will relate to. After his parent’s split he has to start again in a new neighborhood and school where he is the outsider. The only time he does get respect and positive attention from his peers is when he attacks a fellow student. Even his father seems to like the new bullying ways of his son. The dialogue is realistic and edgy with an uncondescending tone that gets the message across. The language is explicit at times but appropriate to the story and since it is not toned down it is more relatable to the intended audience.
There are many issues presented in the book that go hand in hand with the bullying behavior such as divorce, consumerism, diet and more. I thought these issues were handled with sensitivity and not in a preachy way. It’s interesting to see the circumstances that lead to Butterball’s acting out and it made me more sympathetic to those who exhibit the same behavior. The therapy session storytelling device works well and gives a healing quality to the story.
Dwayne Clark effectively handles the narration and kept the audiobook entertaining throughout. The reading is very lively and the character voices are distinct and believable. At only four hours long, the audiobook is the perfect length for the story and the time flies by.
With bullying now such an epidemic, I appreciate what 50 Cent set out to do with this story. With understanding and respect for the target audience, the thoughtful story has a hopeful tone that may inspire others like Butterball. Recommended for middle schooler’s, parents and educators looking for insight into the mind of a bully.
- WATCH: 50 Cent On Today Show, ‘I Was Actually Bullying’ (huffingtonpost.com)
- 50 Cent to release young adult book about bullying (csmonitor.com)