Monday, March 31, 2014

MMGM: Two Books with Magic

The last two middle grade books I have read just happen to have magic weaved into the story. I picked up The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop at the library, drawn in by its fun cover. A Snicker of Magic I just had to snatch up for a $3 steal through my daughter's Scholastic Book Order.

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop by Kate Saunders

Book Description (from Amazon):

Welcome to the most magical house in London. 

The family of eleven-year-old twins Oz and Lily have inherited it, together with the mysterious shop downstairs. Long ago, the shop's famous chocolate-makers, who also happen to be Oz and Lily's great uncles, were clever sorcerers. Now evil villains are hunting for the secret of their greatest recipe. The terrifying powers of this magic chocolate have the ability to destroy the world.  

Soon, Oz and Lily are swept into a thrilling battle, helped by an invisible cat, a talking rat, and the ghost of an elephant. It's up to them to stop the villains and keep the magical chocolate recipe out of harm's way. Their family and the world depends on it.

Why it is Marvelous: I enjoyed how the characters weaved together in this book, pulling from the past and tying in with the present. I enjoyed how certain relationships strengthened throughout the book, especially those you weren't expecting to, and then provided a path to clean up the all the conflict. It is a fun adventure for kids in the intended age group and I'm sure they will love how the parents are always blissfully (magically) unaware of all the adventures that are actually taking place. The fact that an immortal cat and rat are top agents in a secret government spy unit was a little far-fetched for my tastes but just fine I'm sure for elementary readers.

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

Book Description (from Amazon): Introducing an extraordinary new voice---a magical debut that will make your skin tingle, your eyes glisten . . .and your heart sing.

Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart.

But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck's about to change. A "word collector," Felicity sees words everywhere---shining above strangers, tucked into church eves, and tangled up her dog's floppy ears---but Midnight Gulch is the first place she's ever seen the word "home." And then there's Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity's never seen before, words that make Felicity's heart beat a little faster.

Felicity wants to stay in Midnight Gulch more than anything, but first, she'll need to figure out how to bring back the magic, breaking the spell that's been cast over the town . . . and her mother's broken heart.

Why it is Marvelous: I really enjoyed this book. The writing is wonderful, the way she uses words as a main part of the story as well as how she uses her own words to tell the story. Some of the fun words are "spindiddly" and "splendiferous" and "factofabulous." And here is an excerpt to show her stylish writing:

     "I never wanted to forget all the ways we were connected that day: By our shadows and sunlight. By pounding hearts and a starry maybe.
     By the nearly silent flutter of our broken wings."

Each character in this book is unique and interesting, with his or her own voice shown through actions and dialog and strengthened by the words Felicity sees floating around each person. The story of the town and how each character is connected to it draws the reader through the book from start to finish. I was racing to get to the finish line but a little sad when it ended - a sign that the author did a wonderful job! 

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) was created by Shannon Messenger. To find other bloggers participating in MMGM go to her blog for a list of li

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Update on my OLW (One Little Word) FINISH

Well, it has been a little over a month and I think I am making fairly good progress on my OLW (One Little Word - workshop with Ali Edwards). Not the greatest as I still have long spells of sitting aimlessly at my computer checking e-mail, scapbook galleries, Facebook, and then OH! did I get anymore e-mails?! Probably none that needed my attention in the 10 minutes since I last checked.

BUT, I did get some stuff done that I had been putting off for a LONG time.

1. FINISHed a scarf I started 14 months ago. It was supposed to be for a friend of mine who I have since learned is allergic to wool and can't even wear it. So, I guess I finished a scarf for myself!

2. FINISHed retouching an old torn photo for a neighbor. I had gotten stuck on the nose (where the tear was the worst) and put it to the side back in May. After resolving to FINISH the task I saw that the only way to fix it would be to find another nose which I pulled from an old photo of my mother. Yes! Where there is a will, there is a way.

3. FINISHed compiling photos of my youngest son's first year to send to my mother-in-law so she can scrap them. This is only slightly time consuming, but still takes the decision to do that task instead of my spells of sitting aimlessly at the computer!

4. FINISHed assembling and decoupaging my advent calendar after it sitting (giving me the evil eye) for 14 months. Now I have 14 months to decide what will go in each of the little boxes during the month of December.

5. This may seem like a little thing, but I had set aside four stamps quite a while ago (see a pattern here?) with the intention of putting them together in a frame. And when I mean set aside, I put them right where we charge our phones (so I would see them and not forget about them) where they looked up at me everyday asking why I forgot about them. Who knew inanimate objects could be so judgmental? My solution was to take a picture and create a piece of digital art, which I can now print out and frame whenever the inspiration strikes again. And the four nagging stamps? In the garbage.

6. This is not a finish yet... but I picked up a pile of fabric off the floor (which was probably moved there when I needed the table in my craft room for the advent calendar project... which the cat decided felt soft enough to use instead of her litter box - yes, this is pretty gross... see what happens when you don't finish things in a timely manner?) rewashed it, and am ready to put this quilt project on my finish list for February.

7. I printed out and FINISHed slipping 180 scrapbook pages into their proper places (chronologically) in scrapbooks ranging from years 2006 to 2013.

8. FINISHed four weeks of the Project Life scrapbook album I am working on this year. The ONLY way I will finish this project is to keep up with it each week. We are in week six of 2014 (can you believe it?) and this week I will finish week five. Here is a glimpse of how I am doing the project (this is the left side of a two-page spread for week four.)

For those of you working with a word this year, happy OLWing! For those of you with resolutions to keep, good luck keeping them in the front of your mind and working them into your daily life!

Monday, February 3, 2014

MMGM: The I Survived Series by Lauren Tarshis

The I Survived Series by Lauren Tarshis.

What a great idea for a series. The author takes real life tragedies and builds a story around the event with a kid (the age of her target audience) as the protagonist in each. The stories she creates are well done with great characters. Throw in a little history lesson in each book and they are all winners. At least the three I read this past week were. My kids enjoy them too which is the best indication for success.

These are short books at around 10,000 words each, which is a great length for reluctant readers (as well as me when I am looking to finish a few books quickly!) I love that she adds in facts surrounding each tragedy at the end of the book and any personal experience she might have, for example that she was on a plane heading to NYC when the terrorist attacks occurred in 2001 (how scary!)

These are also fairly inexpensive books so I don't mind getting each new addition to the series when it pops up in my kids' Scholastic book order flyer! There are now nine books in the series.
I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912
I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916
I Survived Hurricane Katrina, 2005
I Survived the Bombing of Pearl Harbor, 1941
I Survived the San Francisco Earthquake, 1906
I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001
I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863
I Survived the Japanese Tsunami, 2011
I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944

I have also read (and enjoyed) the other two books Lauren Tarshis wrote: Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell out of a Tree and Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love. So I guess I am just a big fan of this author! Check out her website here.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) was created by Shannon Messenger. To find other bloggers participating in MMGM go to her blog for a list of links.  

Monday, January 27, 2014

MMGM: Stealing Air by Trent Reedy

Stealing Air by Trent Reedy

Book Description (from Amazon):

You can't just ask for the chance to fly . . .

When his dad announced they were moving to Iowa, Brian looked forward to making some new friends. But on his first day there he makes an enemy instead -- Frankie Heller, the meanest kid in town. Brian needs to hang out with someone cool to get back on track. . . .

Alex has always been the coolest guy around, and good with money, just like his dad. But now the family is struggling, and he needs to make some cash to keep up appearances. Then an opportunity falls in his lap . . . .

Max is a scientific genius, but his parents are always busy with their own work. Building an actual plane should get their attention -- if only he wasn't scared of heights . . .

The answer to all three boys' problems starts with Max's secret flyer. But Frankie and the laws of popularity and physics stand in their way. Can they work together in time to get their plan AND their plane off the ground?

Why it is Marvelous: My son said I should read this book so that right there is an indicator to me that it is pretty good (at least for the intended age range). This was a quick and easy read, with a fun plot and diverse characters. The three boys make an interesting mix and throughout the book they are working on their relationships with each other, needing to overcome not only how they view each other but how others view them as individuals and as a group of friends. There is enough action with a little boys figuring out girls thrown in to make this a great read for boys. 

The only issue I had with the book is that Alex gambles and takes bets from his classmates on anything from the school football game to who will win a fight. There is never any consequence to his questionable actions which is not a great message to send to the intended readers. I guess this would bring up some points to talk about with your child if you have both read the book, but I would have liked to see this issue addressed better in the book.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) was created by Shannon Messenger. To find other bloggers participating in MMGM go to her blog for a list of links.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

MMGM: Andrew Clements

I am highlighting three books by Andrew Clements today. I read Frindle last year and really enjoyed it and then breezed through two more this past week: The School Story and About Average. I just watched a video on Andrew Clements' website where he describes his books as being about "kids, and teachers and school and family." And that is exactly what these three are about, all done in clean and respectful way.

Frindle description (from Amazon): Is Nick Allen a troublemaker? He really just likes to liven things up at school -- and he's always had plenty of great ideas. When Nick learns some interesting information about how words are created, suddenly he's got the inspiration for his best plan ever...the frindle. Who says a pen has to be called a pen? Why not call it a frindle? Things begin innocently enough as Nick gets his friends to use the new word. Then other people in town start saying frindle. Soon the school is in an uproar, and Nick has become a local hero. His teacher wants Nick to put an end to all this nonsense, but the funny thing is frindle doesn't belong to Nick anymore. The new word is spreading across the country, and there's nothing Nick can do to stop it.

Why it is Marvelous: This is just a fun concept and a fun book. I think kids will enjoy rooting for Nick as he challenges his teacher with the use of his new word. I also like how the author uses the main part of the book to bring the action to a climax, and then wraps the story up with a shorter ending summarizing what has happened since the climax. The ending was really cool and showed that maybe we should have been rooting for the teacher right along with Nick!

The School Story description (from Amazon): Natalie's best friend, Zoe, is sure that the novel Natalie's written is good enough to be published. But how can a twelve-year-old girl publish a book? Natalie's mother is an editor for a big children's publisher, but Natalie doesn't want to ask for any favors. 
Then Zoe has a brilliant idea: Natalie can submit her manuscript under a pen name, with Zoe acting as her literary agent. But it's not easy for two sixth graders to put themselves over as grown-ups, even with some help from a couple of real grown-ups who are supportive but skeptical. The next best-selling school story may be in their hands -- but can Natalie and Zoe pull off their masquerade?

Why it is Marvelous: Forget about two sixth graders... what adult wouldn't want her "next best-selling school story" to get published! For this alone, the book is a fun read for any aspiring author out there. And for those who are not aspiring authors it is fun to see how Natalie and Zoe "work the system" with their well-thought-out, if not slightly sneaky, plans. Again the author builds to the climax and then gives a shorter summary of what happens next. I like this because it gives more room for detail where it matters while keeping the book fairly short for his intended audience. 

About Average description (from Amazon): Can average be amazing? The bestselling author of Frindle shows that with a little kindness, it can. Jordan Johnston is average. Not short, not tall. Not plump, not slim. Not gifted, not flunking out. Even her shoe size is average. She’s ordinary for her school, for her town, for even the whole wide world, it seems. Then Marlea Harkins, one of the most popular girls in school—and most definitely the meanest—does something unthinkable, and suddenly nice, average Jordan isn’t thinking average thoughts anymore. She wants to get Marlea back! But what’s the best way to beat a bully? Could it be with kindness?

Why it is marvelous: This is a great read for young girls struggling with self-acceptance. I didn't completely connect with the main character though as there was a lot of negative self-talk, but enjoyed how she chose to deal with the bullying and  how the character arc finished up. I think the book also shows that while not everyone will be a friend, having a few good friends is important and will keep you grounded. 

About Average was my least favorite of the three books. We are inside Jordan's head for pretty much the entire book (which takes place over only one school day) and there is very little dialog, most of which happens in flashbacks worked into her thoughts. This is a short book, at under 19,000 words, and I thought it might have been stronger with a little more showing/action over a longer period of time.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) was created by Shannon Messenger. To find other bloggers participating in MMGM go to her blog for a list of links.