Saturday, May 8, 2010

Kid Konnection -- Middle Grade Roundup

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a (hopefully) regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. Today, I am going to share with you some great middle grade books that Booking Daughter and I have recently read over the past few months!

Summary: It's Amanda's 11th birthday and she is super excited---after all, 11 is so different from 10. But from the start, everything goes wrong. The worst part of it all is that she and her best friend, Leo, with whom she's shared every birthday, are on the outs and this will be the first birthday they haven't shared together. When Amanda turns in for the night, glad to have her birthday behind her, she wakes up happy for a new day. Or is it? Her birthday seems to be repeating iself. What is going on?! And how can she fix it? Only time, friendship, and a little luck will tell... -- Scholastic

Booking Daughter and I decided a few months ago that we would have our own mini-book club where we'd take turns picking books. She, of course, got the first pick and selected 11 BIRTHDAYS by Wendy Mass. She swears that this is one of her favorite books ever! Naturally, I was very anxious to read it!

Unfortunately, 11 BIRTHDAYS book didn't quite live up to my expectations. Maybe it's because Booking Daughter set them so high, but I'm not sure. I thought it was a cute story and I can certainly see how today's tweens would like it. But it just didn't grab me like some other books out there (although the cover is adorable!)

One reason that I think Booking Daughter liked it so much was because of the premise -- it was new to her (and not so new to me!) Amanda just wants her birthday to be over with because for the first time in ten years, she is not celebrating her birthday with her best friend Leo. She can't wait until the next day, but she wakes up only to find that it's still her birthday! She keeps reliving the same day over and over again.

There were some typical tween themes that I will never get tired of discussing with my daughter including positive messages on friendships and self discovery. So on that level, I really liked it. But overall, this wasn't my favorite middle grade read. I don't know who was more disappointed -- me or Booking Daughter.

Summary: Today I moved to a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water. I'm not the only kid who lives here. There's my sister, Natalie, except she doesn't count. And there are twenty-three other kids who live on the island because their dads work as guards or cook's or doctors or electricians for the prison, like my dad does. Plus, there are a ton of murderers, rapists, hit men, con men, stickup men, embezzlers, connivers, burglars, kidnappers and maybe even an innocent man or two, though I doubt it. The convicts we have are the kind other prisons don't want. I never knew prisons could be picky, but I guess they can. You get to Alcatraz by being the worst of the worst. Unless you're me. I came here because my mother said I had to. -- Puffin

AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS by Gennifer Choldenko was the Tweeny Bookworms April selection. Unfortunately we missed the meeting because Booking Daughter was under-the-weather. I was thinking about going without her because I so wanted to talk about this novel. I absolutely loved it -- Booking Daughter didn't. Are you starting to see a pattern here?

AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS should be required reading in the schools as far as I'm concerned. I loved that the book has universal appeal to boys and girls (as well as adults and kids.) It's no wonder that it won the Newbery Award! The story is interesting and the writing is terrific, but it also touches upon some wonderful themes. And it opens the door for a few history lessons about Alcatraz, Al Capone and baseball in the process!

One of my favorite things about this book was the character of Moose -- he is so memorable. I was so touched by his story on many levels. He was forced to move to Alcatraz and start a new school which is tough enough, but he also had a sister who was autistic. Keep in mind that this novel took place in the 1930s and we didn't really have a grasp on autism. This novel brings up many important themes such as friendship, parent/child relationships, mental illness, sacrifices, and growing up!

Overall, I can't recommend AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS enough. I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series!

Summary: Bree's mom is busy with work. Her brother Reid is mad at her about his broken arm. Cassie is two years older, smokes (or says she does), and has a tattoo. The only person Bree can depend on is her old friend and playmate, Joey, who's trustworthy--but completely imaginary.

Cassie Was Here begins with Cassie talking Bree into a haircut and ends with the two of them sneaking out at night to fix up an old dollhouse. Along the way both will learn about the unpredictable ways real friendships are made, and Bree will learn to need Joey a little less. Confident, funny, true-to-life, it's a story about being 11 and wanting to be 13; about friendship, family, and generosity; and about the awkward, tender transition from pre-teen to teen. -- Roaring Brook Press

Last November, Booking Daughter and I had the honor of meeting Caroline Hickey, author of CASSIE WAS HERE, at the Lititz KidLit Festival. I purchased this novel and had it autographed at the time, and I can't really explain why it took so long for both of us to read it. It's a very cute story about Bree, a young girl who is torn between staying a girl and growing up. One summer she meets Cassie, a teenager who is much more mature; and Bree ends up learning a great deal about herself through their friendship.

Booking Daughter and I both really enjoyed this story. It's sweet and innocent and perfect for tweens. I love it that there are books out there like this one. As a mother, I also liked many of the themes in this novel including friendship, self discovery, jealousy, sibling relationships, forgiveness, and kindness -- all perfect themes for today's kids. I really appreciated that CASSIE WAS HERE brought up a lot of topics that Booking Daughter and I could further explore together!

Summary: This is the story about a secret. but it also contains a secret story. When adventurous detectives, Cass, an ever-vigilant survivalist, and Max-Ernest, a boy driven by logic, discover the Symphony of Smells, a box filled with smelly vials of colorful ingredients, they accidentally stumble upon a mystery surrounding a dead magician's diary and the hunt for immortality. Filled with word games, anagrams, and featuring a mysterious narrator, this is a book that won't stay secret for long. -- Little Brown

For May, our book club read THE NAME OF THIS BOOK IS SECRET by Pseudonymous Bosch. Booking Daughter absolutely loved it and I thought it was cute -- she hates it when I say that it was cute, "Mom! It's not a cute book!" Let's put it this way...I see the appeal for tween boys and girls. It was an entertaining story that was presented in a very unique way. I appreciated the novel on many levels, but it wasn't one of my favorite reads. Having said that, I don't think the author is trying to appeal to a 40 year old woman!

What I did love about the book is how creative it was. The story was interesting with lots of suspense and intrigue. And the characters were extremely different! I liked that the reader was able to figure out some clues (including anagrams and other word puzzles) and try to solve the mysteries.

I don't want to go so far as to say I had a problem with this, but some of the characters' behavior wasn't exactly appropriate for kids. The characters kept some secrets from their families, and even told a few white lies. I see how this behavior was kind of necessary for the story, but I did reiterate with Booking Daughter that she should not be afraid to tell adults if someone is in danger.

Overall, I do recommend this entire series for both pre-teen boys and girls. I think they are guaranteed to love it!

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!


Sandy Nawrot said...

My daughter has read 11 Birthdays and liked it too. She has also read 12 Finally, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, and Every Soul a Star, all by Wendy Mass. (Guess she is a fan!) I've not read a single one, but there must be something there that makes this author so attractive to tween girls!

bermudaonion said...

Great round-up! Al Capone Does My Shirts looks so good to me! Finally by Wendy Mass is in my TBR pile.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I love when you and BD have different impressions of books because it really adds to an understanding of them. And makes it all the more intimidating to pick out books for kids when our tastes can be so different!

April said...

I have The Name of This Book is Unknown (that's it, isn't it, lol?) It sounds like a fun read. I've also been looking at Al Copone Does My Shirts for a while. I may have to grab it the next time I do to the library!