Confusion is Nothing New

This week we’re reading a recent release about loss and finding oneself called Confusion is Nothing New.

The Story: Ellie just wants life to be normal, but that’s sort of hard when your dad’s just told you that the mom you never knew is dead. While she’s dealing with the consequences of a conflict with her former music teacher, Ellie must discover the truth of who her mother was. Why didn’t she ever reach out? Who was she really? Most importantly, Ellie must choose how she wants to remember the woman who not only left her, but the only parent she’s ever known. Even if her father would like to completely forget about the past, she’s got to discover the truth for herself. With her friends by her side, a good soundtrack, and perhaps a little luck, Ellie might just be able to find the truth – even if it is a little confusing.

My Thoughts: I enjoyed this read for its streamlined plot and memorable characters. Paul Acampora is a talented author, deftly weaving a story that is relatable for both adults and kids.

Parental Advisories: There are a lot of…interesting messages going on in this book. One character claims that one shouldn’t judge a female character for leaving her husband and child because their audience doesn’t judge the man who does the same. Another scene has kids explaining why the Go-Go’s were the first all-girl band in only 1982 by explaining, “Boys”. There is one swear word, though it is on the milder end of the spectrum. I’d advise reading this one yourself if you are truly concerned, though Paul Acampora never gives parents a real need to.

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Robin Hood: The One Who Looked Good in Green

Classic retellings are rather prevalent these days, especially when it comes to fairytales. What I find a little less often is retellings of classic literature amongst new children’s books. Recently, however, I found a retelling of the classic Robin Hood story by Wendy Mass that I thought was worth a review.

The Story: Before he was ever a hero to the universe of AD 2336, Robin Hood was just Robin and before she ever met him and became a heroine of her own story, Marian was just a lady of earth. When Robin finds a clue hinting at the truth of where his missing parents vanished to, he decides to follow with the help of his uncle Kent and cousin Will. Meanwhile, Marian is being sent away from Earth and all of her family to Delta-Z. There Marian and Robin might both discover the truth that lies behind their government and their entire universe as they know it. In the process, Robin and Marian might find that they are stronger than they think and have the capability to be the heroes of their own stories.

My Thoughts: This is definitely a different take on the classic tale of Robin of Loxley. Having read the original novel by Howard Pyle, it’s not often I’ve seen retellings of this story. I’ve read prequels and sequels to the medieval Robin Hood story, but this is a retelling in which the characters live in a futuristic world and the plot has less to do with the original “rob-from-the-rich-give-to-the-poor” (which is actually misrepresented in every version of Robin Hood I’ve seen/read, with perhaps the slight exception of the 1938 film). That having been said, this was a really entertaining read that you definitely cannot read passively. I will say Robin and Marian don’t meet up until a little more than halfway through the book so there is a weird disconnect for a little while when switching between POVs. Still, it’s a read that’s really fun.

Parental Advisories: The worst this book contains is some mild teen romance (think looking at each other and thinking the other has “bejeweled eyes”) and some slight boy humor.

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Easter Reads

On this holiest of holiday weeks, we’re reading through three different reads about Easter. While one of them is secular, the other two are based on the Biblical story of Jesus Christ and the miracle of his resurrection. Lets take a look!

Book 1: We’re starting off with the first book, a sweet little read from Little Golden Books called The Golden Egg Book. When a little bunny comes across an egg one day, he is unsure what lies within. Could it be a human? Could it be another bunny? Maybe it’s an elephant! Whatever it is, Bunny soon grows very sleepy and curls up next to the egg for a little nap. What comes out of the egg is a new friend for bunny and a chance to enjoy Easter day together. Little Golden Books does an excellent job with their illustrations by Leonard Weisgard and the simple text by Margaret Wise Brown. The painterly pictures are perfect for the book and will be a joy to page through with children.

Book 2: The next book on the list is That Grand Easter Day and is written by Jill Roman Lord, with illustrations by Alessia Trunfio. This story covers the events of Easter Sunday from the hours before Jesus’ resurrection to His appearance to the disciples and women at the tomb. This book is written in rhyme, which helps to create a rhythm and flow that helps make this book fun. In addition, Alessia Trunfio’s color and light-based illustrations, while simple in design, suit the writing well. She excels in creating a mood with her art and this book is no exception. This is definitely a fun read that children and parents will enjoy reading together.

Book 3: The last book (and my personal favorite) is Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus. Written and illustrated by John Hendrix, this book is a tribute to the grandeur of the Christ story and the majesty of His resurrection. Every page is colorful and bright, with unique text that jumps out at the reader, exaggerating the might of Jesus’ words. Using words from the Bible and stories carefully chosen to show the power of the Easter story, the author/illustrator tries to show in a simple picture book form just how different and amazing the Biblical story of Christ really is. This book pops out at you and grabs your attention from the first few pages. Not only will children love looking through this book, but parents will enjoy reading it on their own and to their kids.

My Thoughts: Easter is one of my favorite holidays just for the meaning and these manage to capture some of the wonder and joy that encapsulates Easter Sunday. Even the Big Little Golden Book is a read that I would highly recommend just for the story focused on new life. All of these reads are well written and illustrated and definitely worth a read this year.

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24 Hours in Nowhere

Middle grade reads always surprise me with their ability to be both humorous and also touching, discussing deeper topics through the lens of harmless adventures. 24 Hours in Nowhere manages to entertain as well as touch the deeper parts of hard life that many kids face despite their childhood.

The Story: Gus lives in nowhere. Literally. There is nothing to do in his town but race, even if he is not particularly good at it, and be bullied by local jerk, Bo. This is how one of the best bikers in town, Rossi, loses her bike, by standing up to Bo. Gus can’t let her lose her one shot at getting out of Nowhere. He himself has big dreams of leaving their small town. Instead, he devises a plan to get the bike back by trekking to the abandoned gold mine with former best friend Jessie, Bo’s minion Matthew, and Rossi herself. Together, this ragtag group of kids might discover that no matter how small their town may be, sometimes the greatest friends can come out of nowhere.

My Thoughts: I’ll be honest, I’m not always a fan of slower contemporary fiction, but 24 Hours in Nowhere surprised me with its depth. Small towns are hard; broken families even harder. Dusti Bowling manages to weave a story that is entertaining, but also is touching with its character-driven plot.

Parental Advisory: There is a little bit of middle-school violence, bullying, and crudity, but nothing majorly bad. Honestly, this is a pretty clean read, but if parents are super concerned, read through first. You might find yourself getting a little bit emotional.

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If you’re looking for a more serious middle grade take on war that deals with the issue of death, life, and violence, I’d recommend Grenade. This WWII read is excellent.

The Story: Hideki is not a boy anymore. Sure, he may still be subject to the taunting of his fellow schoolmates, but he’s leaving his childhood behind fast, especially when he is handed a grenade and told to kill any American soldiers he comes across. His orders aren’t that different from those given to Ray, a young American marine who is helping to sweep the island in preparation for the atomic bomb. He’s never killed anyone, but he’s about to find out that in war, it’s kill or be killed. Together, Hideki and Ray make up both sides of the conflict and they’re working their way across the island to each other. One way or another, this grenade is about to go off.

My Thoughts: This is a much more serious look at the fallout of war than some of the other books I’ve reviewed. Death is not hidden, glossed over, or treated with a padded glove. That having been said, this is an excellently crafted book. Alan Gratz tells a story full of characters that I both deeply sympathize with and also find myself in adversity to. The story is complex and makes the reader question the ethics of war on both sides. I highly recommend it.

Parental Advisory: This is a book that shows what happens in the fallout of war, especially a war like WWII where it seemed as if the whole world was falling down around the youth. The fact that children and young adults were so involved in the fight is also not stuffed under the rug. My advice? Read this either before or with your middle grader so that you can have deeper discussions with your child.

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Winnie’s Great War

If you’re a fan of A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh or just enjoy a good historical yarn, chances are you’ll enjoy the new book Winnie’s Great War. This charming read, based on a true story, is a sure to entertain.

The Story: Bear is very happy with Mama, living in the forest and exploring the world around her, that is, until her world is upset by Mama’s sudden absence. Suddenly, Bear must find her way alone in the world, even if that means that she has to rely on the temporary generosity of a human boy in the woods and his grandparents. And then one day she’ll never forget, Lieutenant Harry Colebourn appears and falls as ardently in love with her as she with him. With his condensed milk, stable full of friendly horses, and troop of soldiers, Bear is not just a little cub anymore – now she is Winnie, the mascot of the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade. Her humble life has changed quite a bit; after all, she’s the first bear to go to war and face danger right in the eye! The forest is a long way away now…

My Thoughts: I am a huge fan of books based on historical events and this was no exception Lindsay Mattick, Josh Greenhut, and Sophie Blackall do an incredible job of bringing this story to life. Winnie is a likable character as are all of the men who surround her. I feel particularly sorry for those who were lost in the Great War, as it was known back then. It is rather interesting to take a look at World War I, especially given the fact that I don’t know as much about the war preceding WWII.

Parental Advisory: None! This is a clean read that is also super educational (guess I’m just starting a new trend in my weekly reads!).

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Lulu the Broadway Mouse

If you’re something of a secret musical geek like me or just a plain diva, you might want to check out this new book by Broadway sweetheart Jenna Gavigan.

The Story: Lulu loves working at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre, where her mom and dad help with the backstage portions of the shows. It’s great to help, don’t get her wrong, but Lulu has greater ambitions to not just help the stars, but to be a star. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly easy when you’re a mouse. That’s right: Lulu and her family are mice, thus making any chance the talented mousling has pretty much nil. However, when a new understudy for mean girl Amanda arrives, Lulu thinks that she might actually have a shot at the limelight. Now she just needs to make sure she’s prepared.

My Thoughts: I really like this book. I mean, I really, really, like the way this book presents the theater and manages to capture the fun, the thrill, and all the magic that encompasses the stage. Being a Broadway performer isn’t just song and dance; it’s also blood, sweat, and tears, a fact that Jenny Gavigan manages to portray rather well without losing how tantalizing the lure of the stage really is.

Parental Advisory: Language is implied without really being said, so I’d leave that up to the imagination of your kids. Otherwise, this book is super clean and fun!

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Rare is the day when you can find a new children’s book that manages to capture the true courage, raw spirit, and intense fear of WWII. Still, Jennifer A. Nielsen astounds and moves with her newest book, a novel titled Resistance. Set in Nazi-occupied Poland, this is a tale that your kids deserve to read.

The Story: Chaya Lindner may seem like the perfect Aryan girl to the Germans she passes through to get into the German ghetto, but in reality, she is anything but. Being the Jewish girl that she is, Chaya’s determined to get people like her out of the worst zones, even if it means endangering herself every day. Times only get tougher as Chaya is drawn into more perilous work with a group of spies and revolutionaries whose goal is to save as many people as possible, even if it is at the expense of her own safety. As the work grows more and more dangerous, Chaya realizes that it’s not just her freedom that may be in jeopardy this time – but her life.

My Thoughts: From the very first sentence, I knew I was hooked. Jennifer A. Nielsen is an amazing authoress, crafting an amazing read that I could not put down. This is a truly wonderful book that deserves recognition for how well-put together it it. This is a thoughtful and generous look at the heroes who managed to do what they could for the people in even more danger than they were. Seriously, I cannot recommend Resistance enough. It is an amazing book that really gets one’s attention and is so diverting.

Parental Advisories: Some “mild” swearing, though the book is otherwise pretty clean, especially given the fact that this is a WWII novel. Of course, this is given a little bit of violence, though most of this is kept pretty safe for middle-grade readers.

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Gordan Korman is a well-known author for his books that cover a range of genres and subjects and one of his latest, Whatshisface is yet another example of his talent and dexterity.

The Story: Cooper Vega knows what it’s like to be get tossed from place to place. This is not the first time he’s moved and this is likely not the last time either. So he’s not exactly expecting much from Stratford, especially when he’s nicknamed “whatshisface” by the really popular and equally jerk-faced Brock. Even the girl he likes can barely remember his name the first couple of times he talks to her, so it’s not like he’s expecting much. But when his new GX-4000 starts acting super bizarre, Cooper knows something even more weird is up. When a sixteenth-century ghost named Roderick pops out of his phone, Cooper knows life at Stratford is going to become a whole lot more awkward; that is until Roderick actually starts helping him become a little bit more than the new kid. Maybe, just maybe he can become something great, something more than…oh…what’s his face?

My Thoughts: I am a pretty big fan of Gordan Korman, as his is a pretty great success story, as far as writers go. His work is relatable and entertaining and Whatshisface is no exception. With wit and humor, Korman writes characters that are great to read about. For light contemporary enjoyment with a bit of a historical twist, check this book out!

Parental Advisory: You may have a problem with mild middle school bullying, violence, and derogatory commentary, but otherwise, this is a clean read.

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Knights vs Dinosaurs

This week, we’re flipping through Knights vs Dinosaurs, a fun book that puts history into perspective in a fun way. Besides being factually correct and a great way to introduce your kids to certain concepts, it’s also just plain entertaining!

The Story: Life in Camelot is great, when it’s not so, well, boring. Sir Eric doesn’t think he can take another minute of listening to his fellow knights’ yarns, so when there is a moment of silence, he decides to make a boast and not just any boast: he says he’s slain forty dragons. It would be rather impressive, if not for the fact that Merlin has just dared Sir Eric to dispel the Terrible Lizard. It seems this is the start of another adventure, and with the companionship of Sir Bors, Sir Hector, Squire Mel, and the mysterious Black Knight, Eric might just be able to survive – if he doesn’t run into anymore dinosaurs that is.

My Thoughts: Packed with humor, loose sketches, and plenty of dinosaurs, Matt Phelan manages to tell a fun story that is as informative as it is exciting. Middle-grade readers will power through this quick-paced read with ease as the heroes battle dinos of all shapes and sizes.

Parental Advisories: Aside from some mild violence, this is a clean, straightforward read. I might say that this is also a great way to teach your kids what “dragons” really were back in the old days.

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