Friday, July 31, 2015

Masterminds by Gordon Korman

Imagine, for the first thirteen years of your life you’ve lived in the small town of Serenity, New Mexico.  The town has been voted #1 for Quality of Life for fourteen years in a row.  Honesty and integrity are the highest values in town. There are only a total of thirty kids in town. Everyone learns the usual subjects in school, as well courses like Contentment and Mediation.  The main sport is water polo. Homes are spacious and have swimming pools. The town has no crime, no unemployment; all parents have good jobs with many working in the only industry in town, the plastics factory.  Sounds like a perfect life?  Maybe. At least that’s what Eli, Amber, Tori, Hector and Malik used to think. Then Eli tries to bike outside the city limits and becomes terribly sick.  His best friend mysterious leaves town.  But worst of all, the adults in town start acting weird.  Even his own father seems to be hiding something.  Eli fears the worst, could his father actually be lying to him?

Masterminds in the first novel in a new series by author Gordon Korman.  It has all the elements of a blockbuster novel for middle grade readers!  The town of Serenity at first seems like a utopian society, something along the lines of the town in The Giver.  But Masterminds takes place in the present, not the future.  So while at times the genre may seem like science fiction, it has an eerie quality of possibly being realistic fiction. Could this story actually happen?  Do scientists have all the technology they need?  The questions the story poses will make for some interesting conversations.
The story quickly becomes so shocking and unexpected that readers will find it difficult to put the book down. This will be a must read series for many, including me!

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord

Lily has her hands full this summer, helping her grandparents run the family store and taking care of her beloved dog Lucky who is slowly becoming more and more blind.  But Lily has a plan.  There’s an operation that just might save Lucky’s sight, the only problem is it costs a lot of money.  Lily, with the help of Pépère (her grandfather), is painting and selling bee houses to help raise the money.  Lily has plenty of time to work on the bee houses since her best friend Hannah has become boy crazy. Then one day Lucky gets loose and runs through the nearby blueberry fields.  It’s here that Lily meets Salma, a migrant worker in town with her family to help with the blueberry harvest. Lily has seen migrant workers before at the store, but has never known one personally.  Could the girls become friends?  Or are their differences too great?

I’ve read many books by Cynthia Lord including both Rules and Half a Chance.  While I enjoyed both those books, this is my favorite!  Lily and Salma are engaging characters. I liked how both girls helped each other, but also how the character of Hannah (the “boy crazy” best friend) evolved in the story.  I learned a lot about blueberries and the blueberry business in Maine, something I knew little about before reading this book.  Now when I see blueberries in the store, I have a new appreciation for where they came from and how they got to the store.  I also connected to the story of Lucky the dog.  I have always had pets and I understand how they become a part of the family.  I felt Lily’s desperation to help Lucky and enjoyed the final solution!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Rediscovering Favorites....

Sammy Keyes and the Skeleton Man  
by Wendelin Van Draanen

Every summer I usually get so caught up with discovering and reading new middle grade fiction in preparation for September’s Mock Newbery Club launch, that I have little time to read anything else.  This summer I’m trying to be different.  Sure, I’m still reading every wonderful new book I can get my hands on, but since my recent foray into the Series of Unfortunate Events novels, I’m taking another look at some of the “golden oldies” that I may have missed out on when I as busty raising my own three boys.  As I wrote about earlier, I remember my children being excited every time a new Series of Unfortunate Events book was released. But I never had a chance to read any of the books, there were not too many free moments between taking care of the boys, going back to school, studying, and working various part time jobs.  Reading anything for fun was a luxury.  What I did make time for was reading out loud to the boys.  This is something I will forever be grateful that I did, as I do believe it helped to foster their love of reading and helped them to become the successful young men they are today.

The Sammy Keyes series is another group of books that I remember seeing in the library when the boys were little.  I think one or more of the boys may have even read a few of the books.  I’m embarrassed now to admit that another reason I may not have picked up the books back then was because of the covers. I don’t like scary books (can’t sleep at night if I read them), so seeing skeletons and mummies on the front cover of a book just might have scared me off.  Happily, I rediscovered Sammy Keyes about a year ago when I was searching for engaging mysteries for the sixth graders I teach. After reading the first book in the series, Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief, I immediately fell under Sammy’s spell.

Sammy Keyes and the Skeleton Man is the second book in the series.  While you do not need to have read the first book to read this one, the main characters are all there with a few interesting additions such as the Bush Man, Skeleton Man and a new friend for Sammy, Dot.  It doesn’t take long for Sammy to become embroiled in another mystery when she and her friends discover that the neighborhood recluse has been robbed on Halloween.  After calling the police for help, Officer Borsch warned Sammy to “stay out of it”, but in true Sammy-style she just can’t help getting involved. Meanwhile, Sammy’s nemesis, Heather, has a whole new devious plan to take down Sammy and make her the laughingstock of the school.  Heather just might get away with it if Sammy can’t prove to others what Heather’s up to.