Saturday, January 15, 2011

Kid Konnection: Middle Grade Round-Up

Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. If you are a regular follower of my blog, then you know that I love middle grade fiction. Today, I'm going to share with you some books for tweens that I have read over the past few weeks -- three terrific ones and one that was just okay for me. Since I am talking about so many books today, I am going to try to keep my reviews a little shorter than normal!

Summary: It’s the start of fifth grade for seven kids at Snow Hill School. There’s . . . Jessica, the new girl, smart and perceptive, who’s having a hard time fitting in; Alexia, a bully, your friend one second, your enemy the next; Peter, class prankster and troublemaker; Luke, the brain; Danielle, who never stands up for herself; shy Anna, whose home situation makes her an outcast; and Jeffrey, who hates school.

Only Mr. Terupt, their new and energetic teacher, seems to know how to deal with them all. He makes the classroom a fun place, even if he doesn’t let them get away with much . . . until the snowy winter day when an accident changes everything—and everyone. -- Delacorte Press

I so loved BECAUSE OF MR. TERUPT by Rob Buyea! Truly, truly it is one of the best middle grade books that I've read in awhile. It made me laugh, it made my cry (more than a few times), and it especially made me think. I should probably just end my review here and tell everyone that they must read it!

But.... you know I can't just say a few words about a book that I loved! BECAUSE OF MR. TERUPT tells the story of seven fifth grade kids and their teacher Mr. Terupt. The story alternates with chapters in each of the kids' voices as they tell how their lives have changed since Mr. Terupt became their teacher. The tension builds throughout the story as the reader realizes that something terrible is going to happen to a member of the class.

Mr. Buyea managed to capture the essence of fifth grade students perfectly, and I really thought he did a tremendous job with each of their voices. All of the kids were complex and had issues in their lives, and I appreciated this because it made all of the kids seem real. I think young readers will recognize themselves in at least one of the characters, or at the very least, recognize one of their classmates. And I'd certainly hope that after reading BECAUSE OF MR. TERUPT, they might look at their classmates a little differently -- with more compassion and understanding.

I think every kid that reads this book will wish they had a Mr. Terupt in their life. He is one of those special people who manages to bring out the best in people just by being himself. Even when Mr. Terupt wasn't with the children anymore, they still managed to learn valuable lessons about not only themselves, but others. Some of the lessons that Mr. Terupt's class (and the readers of this novel) learned include tolerance, acceptance, self-confidence, and forgiveness of yourself and others.

BECAUSE OF MR. TERUPT is a very special novel. I definitely shed my fair share of tears while reading it even prior to the accident. But rest assured, that they book does have a happy ending -- just the way Mr. Terupt wants his stories to end.

Highly recommended! Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this wonderful novel.

Summary: In this funny, uncannily wise portrait of the dynamics of a sixth-grade class and of the greatness that sometimes comes in unlikely packages, Dwight, a loser, talks to his classmates via an origami finger puppet of Yoda. If that weren’t strange enough, the puppet is uncannily wise and prescient. Origami Yoda predicts the date of a pop quiz, guesses who stole the classroom Shakespeare bust, and saves a classmate from popularity-crushing embarrassment with some well-timed advice. Dwight’s classmate Tommy wonders how Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. With contributions from his puzzled classmates, he assembles the case file that forms this novel. -- Amulet

THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA by Tom Angleberger is one of those books that I wish every tween would read. I really can't rave enough about how much I loved this book! THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA is original, funny, and filled with some great messages -- just what I look for in middle grade fiction. Plus, there are directions in the back of the book for making your very own Origami Yoda!

There are so many wonderful things about this novel that I hardly know where to begin. When Dwight, one of the most unpopular/strange boys in the class, begins predicting the future and answering questions with the help of his Origami Yoda, Tommy begins an investigation into the mystery surrounding Origami Yoda. The book reads like a case file with contributions from Dwight and Tommy's classmates.  In addition, there are adorable (and very funny!) cartoon sketches as well as other graphical images such as detention slips and school posters.

I couldn't put this book down. It was extremely entertaining and hysterical, but it also had some wonderful messages about life. Children will definitely see themselves and their friends in many of the characters in this book; and they will also take away some lessons about confidence, trust, loyalty, and friendship. These middle school years are tough and filled with changes -- both physically and mentally; and books like THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA will certainly help ease the way for today's kids!

Summary: When a book of unexplainable occurances brings Petra Andalee & Calder Pillay together, strange things start to happen. Before they know it, the two find themselves at the center of an international art scandal. As Petra & Calder are drawn clue by clue into a mysterious labyrinth they must draw on their powers of intuition, their skills at problem solving, and their knowledge of Vermeer. Can they decipher a crime that has left even the FBI baffled? -- Scholastic

CHASING VERMEER by Blue Balliett was a very fun and exciting book for both middle grade boys and girls, and both Booking Daughter and I really liked it. The book combines elements of mystery, suspense, puzzles, art, and even friendship. It's really an extremely original book and one that is guaranteed to keep even reluctant readers' attention!

Kids will love the mystery and the puzzle aspects of this story, and I'm pretty sure that they will relate to Petra and Calder. However, I think the real beauty of this novel is how CHASING VERMEER gets readers to think outside the box. This novel makes children (and adults!) think about the meaning of art, while also making them questions coincidences and connections.

I absolutely adored CHASING VERMEER and its very unique premise. However, I also loved how it featured two kids who were considered a little different from their classmates. Petra and Calder were extremely bright and intuitive, and they developed a beautiful friendship with each other that made both of them feel better about themselves. In addition to causing the kids to look at their world differently, CHASING VERMEER also focuses on the importance of self-love as well as the value of special relationships.

Fans of THE WESTING GAME and THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER (two of my favorites from childhood) will enjoy this story!

Summary: "So how smart are you?" said a man's voice abruptly. And loudly. "Because now... it's starting."

A creepy phone call. An old, yellowed postcard. A bizarre magazine story. And a strange group of funeral-goers who seem to follow their every move-all contain clues that will send Jason and Dia on an adventure to uncover extraordinary family secrets.

Award-winning author Tony Abbott weaves an intriguing and entertaining mystery of adventure, friendship and family. -- Little, Brown

I don't want to say that THE POSTCARD by Tony Abbott didn't have some merits, but overall, I was disappointed with the book. I had such high hopes when I read the description and I knew that the author was an award winner; however, I just felt like the book didn't work for me on a few levels.

One thing that I did appreciate about the story, though, was the mystery within the mystery aspect of the story. I thought the premise of the book -- having the characters find a mystery magazine story that tied into the mystery they were setting out to solve -- was extremely creative; however, I also found that it got a bit confusing for me towards the end of the book. It might have been the author's intent, but I had a hard time differentiating the truth from the fiction in both stories.

I also had some problems with the character development. I really didn't feel as if I ever got a handle on Jason or Dia, and I definitely disliked Jason's parents. As a result, I couldn't relate to any of the people in this book and I think that stood in the way of me caring about the mystery. In addition, I thought the author touched on some topics that were a little "mature" for tweens. I don't mean that the book was inappropriate in any way, but the parents' relationship (or lack thereof) as well as the grandmother's fake marriage and the father's alcohol problems were a little too sophisticated for my tween daughter.

Overall, THE POSTCARD was a fun book to read -- I didn't hate it. However, it wasn't one of my favorites either. 

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!


bermudaonion said...

Oh my goodness, Because of Mr. Terupt sounds like a must read book! I'm wondering if the author based it on a teacher he had as a kid.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I'm going to have to report some of these books to our school librarian. I just read a review of Origami Yoda at Anna's blog, and I've got my sights set on that for my son.

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

Because of Mr. Terupt sounds wonderful -- I love the books that make me laugh and cry :)

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I too saw about the Yoda book on Anna's blog. It looks great!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

We love the Blue Balliet books! My older daughter wrote the author a letter 6 or so years ago (snail mail), and was thrilled when she got a note back :)

Both MR. TERUPT and ORIGAMI YODA sound like books my middle children (and I?) would like.

Laura at Library of Clean Reads said...

Wow, all these books sound great! I love books that highlight good teachers because I see the difference good teachers have made in my kids' lives. And my son absolutely loves origami. It's his newest hobby. He makes all kinds of puppets and then plays with them. What a great imaginary world. Will definitely need to check these books out. Thanks!

Shelly B said...

I gave Because of Mr. Terupt away to a friend's daughter before I read it...guess I will have to ask to borrow it!

LitLass said...

We're not quite at this level yet, but I'm going to have to remember these for when my 7-year-old is ready.

Easepod said...

And check out Blue Balliet's new website at Lots of info on the real world locales she uses for her books, including her new one--The Danger. box.