Tag Archives: middle grade

A Canine Charmer: The Metro Dogs of Moscow by Rachelle Delaney

moscowdogsI’ve been reading a whole lotta dog books lately, mostly about how to train a terrier who is smart enough to open his crate from the inside using only his lips. We are all learning in our house (admittedly, some of us faster than others). So when Rachelle Delaney’s new middle grade novel, The Metro Dogs of Moscow, snuck to the top of my TBR pile, I was powerless to resist. A mystery… starring a dog… a terrier type dog? Of course I jumped at it (a little bit like a certain naughty hound I wrangle on a daily basis).

This quick read is chipper and charming, just right for young readers who are beginning to get their feet wet with longer chapter books. Here’s the premise. JR (short for Jack Russell) travels the world with his person, George, who works as a diplomat. Sounds exciting, right? JR doesn’t see it that way. Now that they’ve landed in Moscow, JR is beginning to get tired of the roving life. He wants to stay in one place, and more than anything, he wants to go off leash for a while and really have a chance to live a little. Then one night, all it takes is an open window and just like that, JR runs off into the city, leaving his drab days in the dust. He meets The Coolest Dogs Ever, aka the Metro Dogs of Moscow. These amazing, street-smart strays show JR the sites and they also fill him in on a mystery that is affecting their crew: strays are disappearing all over the city. JR doesn’t turn back, and soon enough, he is wrapped up in an adventure he will never forget.

It’s hard to resist a book with such a motley collection of canine stars. Before you can say Kroshka Kartoshka (delish stuffed hot potatoes), JR will skip his way straight into your heart, circle around a couple of times, and lie down there to stay for a while. The opening bit, when JR experiences some inner turmoil over having done A Very Bad Thing, completely cracked me up. Any dog owner knows how it goes. Dog does A Very Bad Thing. Dog feels Really Awful. You are Very Mad at Dog. Then, before you know it, somehow, said Bad Dog is curled up with you on the couch and you are holding his rawhide chew for him so that he can enjoy more fully. How? Why? Now that is a doggy mystery.

Joking aside, Delaney must be a dog person. Her dog characters are not just cute, they are nicely differentiated and memorable. The Russian setting comes to life as the hounds tear all over the city, racing to solve the mystery before more of their friends disappear. There’s a classic feel to this story. I don’t know if it’s the shape of the story that makes it seem like a timeless adventure for children, the warm atmosphere, or the lightness Delaney imbues throughout. Whatever the magic, it really works. You could put this in the hands of just about any young reader and chances are, they’d gobble it up. It is the kind of book I would have adored when I was nine or so. I will be finding many nine year olds to read it very soon.

FYI, JR made me think of two Jack Russell’s on film. Cosmo, from the most wonderful movie, Beginners, and Uggie from The Artist. Check out their cuteness:

Also, here’s a lovely interview with Rachelle by Vikki, over at Pipdreaming.

The Metro Dogs of Moscow is published by Puffin, an imprint of Penguin Canada.

Light as a feather: Destiny, Rewritten by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

destinySometimes the second you lay eyes a book, you cannot wait to read it. That’s how I felt when I first saw Kathryn Fitzmaurice’s new middle grade novel, Destiny, Rewritten. Everything about that cover (by Erwin Madrid) speaks to my inner 11-year-old, and I’ll bet it will speak to a whole lot of actual 11-year-olds too. I mean, what’s not to love, from the point of view of a starry-eyed, fashionably cute, bookstore-loving, cat obsessed girl? Even the title font is pretty much spot on, promising a little whimsy and romance and some artsy flair. Add the soft, magic-is-about-to-happen lighting from above, and I’m sold. Bam. Done. My only complaint, post-read, is that the cute kitty does not feature in the story, which seems misleading, since he features so prominently on the front. (And clearly he has a story. I mean, look at that face!)

So it was with a heart full of expectation that I began to read about the life and adventures of eleven-year-old Emily Elizabeth Davis, who is destined to become a poet, just like Emily Dickinson, because that is who she was named after. Emily’s mother, herself a poet, and a rather flaky, destiny-loving lady, named her daughter after ED in the hopes that her daughter would grow up to be a remarkable poet as well. Too bad Emily has no talent for poetry, or any interest in it really. She would rather read romance novels, and imagine her future as a famous writer in the tradition of Danielle Steel, to whom she writes frequent letters. She hasn’t told her mom about all this… yet. Things get complicated when Emily finds out that her mother, who has kept the identity of Emily’s dad secret, reveals that she wrote his name into the special volume of Emily Dickinson’s poetry that Emily has treasured for as long as she can remember. But before Emily can find this life-changing information, the book is lost. So begins her search to find the book, find out the truth about her father, and hopefully, discover her true destiny along the way.

There’s a lot to love in this gentle story. Fitzmaurice creates a wonderfully realistic relationship between Emily and her best friend Wavey. I particularly appreciated the dialogue between the two of them. I like the way it bounces back and forth, with each one of the kids adding on to what the other one says, finishing up the other’s thoughts in that way that real friends sometimes do. You really believe in their friendship. The setting, Berkeley, California, comes across as quirky and warm. Emily writes to her author-hero, Danielle Steel, and the letters are delightful little funny and heartwarming treats scattered throughout the narrative. In fact, heartwarming is pretty much the perfect word for this whole book. I also like it when an author is successful in bringing together different narrative threads in a way that doesn’t feel contrived, but rather captures how life can surprise us with circumstances that might be destiny, or perhaps only strange coincidences.

Just two complaints. First, sometimes Emily’s language did not ring true for an eleven-year-old. It came off as too adult in places. I’ve listened to many an eleven-year-old, and there were moments when Emily’s way of speaking / thinking seemed far too adult to be convincing. This was occasionally distracting. Also, while I get that Emily’s mom was meant to be flaky, she came off a little one-dimensional and hard to believe a lot of the time. I found her unsympathetic overall, almost like she was toying with her daughter’s emotions by being such a slave to the notion of everything being destined. I found it hard to think that a mother would treat her daughter’s desire to know her father with such a lack of seriousness and respect, almost as if it was a kind of game.

Destiny, Rewritten is an Indiebound Kid’s Pick for Spring, and I can see why. Pick it up and you’ll be delighted you did.

Destiny, Rewritten is published by Katherine Tegen Books.

Penguin’s Middle Grade Halloween Costume Tour & Giveaway

I’m not normally a giveaway girl, but I couldn’t resist jumping in on this fun tour from Penguin. All week long, at various cool blogs (*tooting own horn*), you’ll find not only some of the best middle grade reads from Penguin, but also fun Halloween costume suggestions for book lover. We’re only one week away from Trick or Treat, so it’s the right time for a little inspiration, don’t you think?

Step into some creepy stories this Halloween and become your favorite middle grade character…from the ghoulish undead to mischievous pirates, the costumes are endless. Today, we’re featuring:

Deadweather and Sunrise: The Chronicles of Egg, Book 1 by Geoff Rodkey, a stunning middle-grade debut full of heart, humor, and nonstop action.

It’s tough to be thirteen, especially when somebody’s trying to kill you.

Not that Egg’s life was ever easy, growing up on sweaty, pirate-infested Deadweather Island with no company except an incompetent tutor and a pair of unusually violent siblings who hate his guts. But when Egg’s father hustles their family off on a mysterious errand to fabulously wealthy Sunrise Island, then disappears with the siblings in a freak accident, Egg finds himself a long-term guest at the mansion of the glamorous Pembroke family and their beautiful, sharp-tongued daughter Millicent. Finally, life seems perfect. Until someone tries to throw him off a cliff.

Suddenly, Egg’s running for his life in a bewildering world of cutthroat pirates, villainous businessmen, and strange Native legends. The only people who can help him sort out the mystery of why he’s been marked for death are Millicent and a one-handed, possibly deranged cabin boy. Come along for the ride. You’ll be glad you did.

The Costume:

Impersonate a pirate like Egg this Halloween! With these easy costume ideas, no one will dare try to pillage your candy haul!

1. Grab some old clothing and sew or glue patches onto your pants and elbows.

2. Using eyeliner or face paint, create a “five o’clock shadow” by rubbing it on your chin and cheeks. Pirates don’t have time to shave!

3. Get a big piece of black construction paper and search “Make your own paper pirate hat” on the internet to complete your outfit.

4. Grab a toy parrot, a toy sword, or make a treasure map like the one on http://chroniclesofegg.com/ so you can navigate the treacherous Trick-or-Treat waters safely!

You can purcase the Chronicles of Egg here: Indiebound or Amazon.

And you should check out the other stops on the tour, for more book and costume recommendations:

Mon 10.22 MundieKids IN A GLASS GRIMMLY
Tues 10.23 Green Bean Teen Queen GUSTAV GLOOM
Wed 10.24 Charlotte’s Library UNDEAD ED
Thurs 10.25 Shelf Elf CHRONICLES OF EGG
Fri 10.26 Bookalicious CREATURE FROM THE 7TH GRADE
Mon 10.29 Book Chic WEREWORLD
Tues 10.30 Books Together BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE

Now… the giveaway! Thanks to Penguin, I’m happy to giveaway a set consisting of each of the books featured throughout the tour, to one lucky winner!

Wereworld
In a Glass Grimmly
The Creature from the 7th Grade
Books of Elsewhere
Gustav Gloom and the People Takers
Undead Ed
Deadweather and Sunrise: Chronicles of Egg

Leave a comment below, including your Halloween costume plan for this year, or perhaps your favourite spooky read for the season, and the winner will be selected on October 31st.

The One and Only Ivan

Often, the longer a book sits in my TBR pile, the less likely I am to read it. It gets forgotten, or it loses its initial appeal. Then there are the books in the pile that you look at and you think, “Oh, yeah! I still really want to read that one. I’ve got to get to it.” And months pass. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, somehow ended up stuck for ages in TBR status, and reading it has made me wonder what other miracle books might be in that pile, because I think this book is one miraculous book.

The One and Only Ivan is the story of a gorilla who lives in a cement and metal “domain” in the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. He’s been there for 27 years. There’s a jungle scene painted on one wall of his cage and people pay to see him, though not as many as when he was young. Ivan is alone in his domain, but he has friends: Stella the elephant, and Bob, a stray dog who forages for scraps in the Mall trash. There’s also Julia, the daughter of the man who cleans the mall at night. She likes to draw the animals, and talk to them. Ivan is an artist too. He paints what he sees in his cage, mostly apple cores and banana peels. He wishes he could draw something that doesn’t yet exist, that he only imagines, but he’s not unhappy with his ordinary pictures. As the mall starts losing money, the owner, Mack, brings a baby elephant to be part of the show and hopefully to drum up business. Ruby’s arrival signals a change in Ivan. He promises Stella that he will protect Ruby no matter what and find a way to get Ruby to a safe place. It will take all of his courage, creativity, and hope, to make good on that promise.

And FYI, you will be needing tissues.

Applegate’s prose has a pared down quality that brings it close to poetry. The directness and simplicity of the language fits with how you might imagine a gorilla to think and perceive the world. Each short chapter is perfectly shaped for great emotional impact. It’s not often you find a book that will not intimidate a less confident reader but that still has such rich themes and gorgeous writing. I’d feel confident putting this one in the hands of a child who is more reluctant as well as an avid reader. It will prompt thinking and discussion about the issues connected to humans’ use of animals for profit, but also inter-species understanding, and compassion. The gentle sweetness of Patricia Castelao’s spot illustrations enhance the reading experience. Can you say perfect read aloud? Teachers everywhere, take note. You want this one.

Here’s a Q&A with Katherine Applegate, and you should take a look at the website for the book where there’s some extra information for curious readers and for teachers to bring into the classroom.

The One and Only Ivan is published by Harper, an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.

Junonia

Kevin Henkes’ Junonia has been on my list for ages, and when my eye chanced upon it at the bookstore last week it felt like fate. Right now, at the end of a turning point summer in our house, might be the perfect moment to read it. Before I get to the story, I have to mention that as an object, this is such a pretty book. You just want to hold it and gaze at it. It has weight, the right paper, a striking cover, simple and evocative illustrations to open each chapter. It’s just an elegant package. It begs to be adorned with a shimmery ribbon and placed in the hands of a turning-ten birthday girl.

Junonia opens as only child, Alice Rice, returns to the beach cottage where she and her parents have always spent her birthday. This is an important year because she will be turning double digits: 10. She wants everything – the beach, her party, the whole summer – to be perfect. But when special friends don’t return, and her Aunt Kate brings along a new boyfriend and his difficult daughter Mallory, it seems that nothing is going to be right, let alone perfect. Woven into this is Alice’s wish to find a rare junonia shell for her collection. For the first time, she feels disappointment creeping into her beloved beach vacation.

This is a quintessential “summer that everything changed” middle grade novel, but it is graceful and remarkable because it is so understated. Henkes conveys Alice’s emotions with beautiful subtlety and truth. There are lovely poetic details throughout, particularly in his descriptions of the natural world. Kids will certainly appreciate and connect with Alice’s devotion to tradition and her disappointment and difficulty when what she loves and expects becomes something new. This is a book about simple pleasures and feeling safe and loved in your family, no matter how small it might be.

Junonia is a delicate work of art, and, like its namesake, it leaves you feeling lucky to have found it.

Junonia is published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette

I’d say that The Penderwicks might be the perfect fictional family to spend a little time with when the real world feels crappy and overwhelming. There’s something about Birdsall’s blend of sweet sisterly affection, family melodrama, gentle humour, and happy endings, that can make a girl feel hopeful again. Sure, some might say that these books stretch belief because they seem too good to be true, perhaps a little precious in places, but you know what, sometimes everyone needs a little too good to be true. Sign me up.

This third book in the series follows most of the Penderwick family as they head to Point Mouette for a summer vacation. Rosalind is visiting a friend in New Jersey, and Mr. Penderwick is off on his honeymoon, so Skye must take on the role of the Oldest Available Penderwick, much to her distress. In preparation, she makes a huge list of things to remember in order to take the best possible care of her littlest sister, Batty. Of course, this list gets destroyed, leaving Skye to struggle along and figure out how to be responsible by herself. All three of the sisters come into their own through their new experiences. Growing up is bumpy, but it’s all so much nicer when you have sisters you can depend on.

As with the past Penderwick stories, the adventures here are the kinds of adventures that real kids have, not very big, but seeming to be big to those involved. I like that aspect of Birdsall’s writing very much. She is incredibly successful at making what is important and exciting and challenging for kids come across as important and exciting enough to propel her plot forward and keep the reader invested. It’s also wonderful how this author succeeds in crafting each of the sisters as fully their own person, three-dimensional, with unique traits and voice without making any of them seem forced or hard to believe or over-written.

Yes, there is a pretty big coincidence at the heart of this story, but you know what, I’m okay with that, and I think that old and new Penderwick fans will be too. Ms. Birdsall writes with such grace, creating a wonderfully classic world in these books, that somehow I think I could believe in just about anything she put on the page.

Perfect for wrapping you up in warmth when life gets tough, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette will make you feel good about life, the universe, and everything.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette is published by Knopf.