48HBC Update # 3

48HBC update 3I can hardly believe it’s already my last day of the 48 Hour Book Challenge.  I’ve done my reading and blogging in shorter increments than last year but so far I’ve still managed to get a lot of reading done–and been reminded how nice it is to just sink into a novel for an uninterrupted hour or more at a time.

Since my last update, I snuck in some reading time before bed last night, a little more early this morning, and then another extended period this afternoon.  And happily, I’ve also finished two more books!

gumazing gum girlLast night, I sped through The Gumazing Gum Girl: Chews Your Destiny by Rhode Montijo and throughly enjoyed its fun take on illustrated chapter books and superhero narratives.  It’s great to see some more diversity in the worlds of both early elementary fiction–especially in a format similar to popular fiction such as Babymouse and Captain Underpants.  It’s a pretty standard story with bright, fun illustrations and relatable characters–that just happens to feature a Latina heroine.  I give it a solid 3 out of 5 stars!

Then this morning I dove into Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu and wow, I can’t believe I let so much time pass before I finally read this middle grade fantasy!

breadcrumbsEven when she can’t see to fit anywhere else–not with her crumbling family or at her new school–Hazel has a place where she feels right: being beside her best friend Jack.  While other kids in 5th grade thinks it’s weird that a boy and a girl are still best friend, Hazel and Jack know that their friendship is something special–they understand each other in ways that no one else does–or could.  Then one day Jack simply stops speaking to Hazel and she feels her world and heart begin to freeze over.   But when Hazel learns that Jack might have been stolen away by a strange woman who looks like she’s made of snow, she decides that it is her duty to rescue him–no matter what strange and dangerous beings she must face in the dark, unknown woods behind their houses.

From its opening pages, Anne Ursu’s multilayered and haunting Snow Queen retelling will grab by the heart and throat and refuse to let you go until you reach its sad, hopeful conclusion.  The prose is just gorgeous and Hazel is such an excellently complicated & human protagonist.  This elegant novel has the rich insight of the best coming of age tales, the careful & resonant details about childhood, difference, and identity (especially in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity) of great realistic fiction, and the twisty enchantment of fabulous fantasy.  Finally, I personally very much enjoyed the references to classic and well-loved children’s fantasy novels throughout the novel.  It’s just awesome–you should read it right now! I want to try to write up a lengthier review after I’ve had to digest but for now I’ll just say that I am totally in love with Breadcrumbs and highly recommend it to a variety of readers.  I also think that this novel would make an excellent read-aloud for younger middle school students (and older middle school students if you had the right setting!).

5 out of 5 stars for me!

48HBC Stats Update

Hours read: 6.5 hours

Hours blogged: 2.25 hours

Books Read: 4 books + 2 short stories

Pages Read: 1,042 pages

Total Challenge Hours: 8.75 hours

 

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48HBC Update #1 : First Book Read!

48HBC update 1 graphic.jpgAlthough I technically started the challenge yesterday evening, I’m only just over 2 hours in now;  I fell asleep after only an hour of reading last night!  But I woke up and jumped right back in this morning around 7:45am over coffee and oatmeal.  And now I’ve finished my first book of the challenge: The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia.  Working with 7-12 grade students, I don’t get to catch up on the great fiction being published for the younger end of middle grade as often as I’d like.  However, whenever I can I sneak some titles in, especially over the summer.  I enjoy getting an idea about what some of my new middle school students might have encountered before they arrived in my library, occasionally discovering titles with appeal for my 7th graders, and the novels are often fabulous!

the garden of my imaan

In her first middle grade novel, Farhana Zia has crafted a sweet and appealing coming of age story focused on Aliya, an Indian-American fifth grader who deals with ordinary middle school struggles while trying to come to terms with her Muslim identity.  Like many middle schoolers, Aliya simply wants to fit in.  She wants to liked, to blend in, and to avoid her school’s bullies.  As Ramadan approaches, a new girls arrives at school.  Marwa is also Muslim (although her family is from Morocco) and she wears the hijab & responds to mocking or teasing with a calm confidence.  Between Marwa’s frustrating example and her newest Sunday school assignment to find a way to improve herself during Ramadan, Aliya begins to reconsider her desperate need to blend in and discovers that she too can be a little more fearless in the face of unkindness & a little more willing to stand out in the crowd.

While the characters can occasionally feel a little flat and the dialogue has stilted moments, The Garden of My Imaan is overall an accessible and gently amusing middle grade tale.  Aliya’s letters to Allah–obviously an homage to Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret–are a familiar but effective device.  Aliya’s narration possesses both humor and honesty and her individual growth through the course of the story is clearly portrayed without reading as preachy.  Additionally, the novel realistically portrays the contemporary U.S. as a global and multicultural society.  The story emphasizes the fact that Muslims come from many different countries and illustrates the variety within the Muslim community as well as the sense of connection shared religious traditions can initiate.  I also enjoyed seeing a multigenerational family portrayed with such humor and ease.

A solid 3.5 out of 5 stars from me!

Next, I plan to read a story or two from Diverse Energies and begin Pointe by Brandy Colbert. 

48HBC Stats Update

Hours read: 2 hours

Hours blogged: .75 hours

Books Read: 1 book

Pages Read: 225 pages

Total Challenge Hours: 2.75 hours

Let The Reading Begin! : 48HBC Starting Line

48HBC starting line graphic.jpgAnd so it begins!  I’m back from our school’s academic awards ceremony and the post-ceremony celebratory outing with colleagues. So I’m ready to get my first couple hours of reading and blogging in! I’ll be posting updates here as well as on Twitter.  To find more information and discover other bloggers participating, check out the ‘Starting Line’ post over on MotherReader’s blog.

I’m officially starting at 10:30pm and plan to get about 2 hours of reading & a few minutes of blogging in before I crash tonight.  To begin the challenge, I’m starting two new books: The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia and the short story collection, Diverse Energies edited by Tobias S. Buckell &  Joe Monti.  Happy Reading! 

diverse energies the garden of my imaan

 

Personal Best 2013: Top 2013 Published Titles

personal best 2013 iconWhew! 2013 has come to a close–and I still feel as though it just began! It’s been an exciting and eventful year, especially in reading and writing about reading! Sadly this excitement hasn’t been reflected on this blog for the last few months–balancing a busy beginning to my third year as a full-time librarian and the start of my tenure as a contributor to the amazing YALSA young adult lit blog, The Hub has proved a challenge! However, I hope to improved my balancing act in the new year. But if you’re curious to see where I’ve been focusing all my blogging energy this fall, head over there to check out my posts–and then read all the other wonderful posts written by far more brilliant librarians and writers!

As we enter the new year, many of us try to reflect on the past twelve months.  What important events shaped our lives? What milestones passed? Which resolutions did we keep–or forget?  And for some of us–what did you read? It’s been a good year for book lovers of all ages.  For 2013, I set an ambitious goal to read 150 books.  And amazingly, I actually beat my goal by over 10 books!  Even more importantly, I read a large number of really great books this year.  So I tried to gather together some of my favorites into my own personal best of 2013 list.   For this list, I limited myself to books I read in 2013 that were also published in 2013.  I’m hoping write up an additional post of less recently published titles that I read and loved this year as well.

All annotations are from WorldCat and each title links to Goodreads. 

A Creepy Double Feature

Despite hearing exciting things about her writing, I shamefully didn’t get around to reading any of Holly Black’s fiction until this year.  But it was a great year to start tuning in!  Holly Black published not one but two fabulous novels in 2013–and they were actually two of my favorite reads of the year.  Both novels illustrate Black’s ability to marry interesting–and genuinely creepy–horror fiction with multi-dimensional characters and an emotionally resonant storyline.  Additionally, each novel was excellently suited for its intended audience.

doll-bonesDoll Bones – Holly Black  Zach, Alice, and Poppy, friends from a Pennsylvania middle school who have long enjoyed acting out imaginary adventures with dolls and action figures, embark on a real-life quest to Ohio to bury a doll made from the ashes of a dead girl.

coldest girl in coldtownThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown – Holly Black   When seventeen-year-old Tana wakes up following a party in the aftermath of a violent vampire attack, she travels to Coldtown, a quarantined Massachusetts city full of vampires, with her ex-boyfriend and a mysterious vampire boy in tow.

Do You Believe In Magic?

As many of my recent posts over at the Hub might indicate, I’m a big fantasy fiction reader.  It’s a genre I have followed and adored essentially my entire life.  So I’m always on the hunt for good fantasy fiction–for me and for my demanding fantasy fan students!  This year was a fairly solid year for fantasy fiction, including some fresh voices and exciting contributions from old favorites.  The first title was marketed as adult fiction but have high teen appeal; the later titles are all young adult fiction.

ocean at the end of laneThe Ocean At The End of the Lane- Neil Gaiman  It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed – within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang. 

I’m a big Neil Gaiman fan and never more so than after reading this slim but rich gem of a novel.  Ocean was absolutely one of my top reads of the year;  it’s just a perfect jewel of fantasy novel, exploring the darkness and delight of childhood imagination.

SorrowsKnotCoverSorrow’s Knot- Erin Bow  Otter is a girl of the Shadowed People, a tribe of women, and she is born to be a binder, a woman whose power it is to tie the knots that bind the dead–but she is also destined to remake her world.

This incredibly fresh fantasy novel was the last book I read in 2013–and what a way to end the year! I heard about this novel a while ago, possibly on the fabulous Diversity in YA tumblr and I was initially just excited to see an original high fantasy set in a non-European invented world–especially a world inspired by North American indigenous cultures.  I finally got around to reading the e-galley I gained through Netgalley this week and wow, am I glad I did! Bow’s prose is just gorgeous, the world unique and incredibly well-developed, the plot epic yet intimate, and the characters beautifully complex.

bitter-kingdomThe Bitter Kingdom– Rae Carson  Elisa, a fugitive in her own kingdom, faces great challenges to rescue the man she loves from her enemies, prevent a civil war, and take back her throne but as her magic grows, Elisa discovers the shocking truth about her enemy’s ultimate goal.

dream thievesThe Dream Thieves – Maggie Stiefvater  Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater are awake, magic is swirling around Blue and The Raven boys and Ronan Lynch’s ability to pull objects from his dreams is almost out of control but worst of all, the mysterious Gray Man is stalking the Lynch family, looking for something called the Greywaren.

These last two fantasy titles are both volumes in existing series by two of my favorite current YA fantasy writers.  The Bitter Kingdom concluded Rae Carson’s break out trilogy begun in The Girl of Fire and Thorns and it was a worthy finale for one of my new favorite high fantasy series.  The Dream Thieves is the second novel in Maggie Stiefvater’s exciting and elegant new Raven Boys series and it was just as thrilling to read as the opening novel–I can’t wait for the next!

The Future Is Now

the-bone-season-cover1The Bone Season– Samantha Shannon  In the mid-21st century major world cities are controlled by a formidable security force and clairvoyant underworld cell member Paige commits acts of psychic treason before being captured by an otherworldly race that would make her a part of their supernatural army.

This futuristic supernatural thriller is already set up for a massive series and possibly a film adaption–and after reading it, I understood why.  It’s definitely a complex and unusual adrenaline-rush of a novel.  The world and story straddle the line between fantasy and science fiction and its futuristic setting might lead one to slot this debut in with the many other dystopian tale filling the shelves.  However, while this novel to be as mind-blowing as hyped, I was intrigued–and I’m excited to see the series continue.

summer princeThe Summer Prince- Alaya Dawn Johnson  In a Brazil of the distant future, June Costa falls in love with Enki, a fellow artist and rebel against the strict limits of the legendary pyramid city of Palmares Três’ matriarchal government, knowing that, like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.

I was intrigued by this unusual piece of speculative fiction from the start, at first mainly from a diversity/multicultural perspective.  Then I learned that the author graduated from the school where I work–and I was extra intrigued.  It’s been a few months but I think I’m actually still mulling this one over; there’s just so much going on in here–but the more I think about it, the more I like it.  If I had time, I would love to give this the reread it deserves.  But I can say it’s an exciting book and Johnson is doing some really different and thrilling things here.

Rising From The Ashes

I grouped these next few realistic contemporary novels together because all three focus on girls and young women struggling to deal traumatic pasts and forge a fresh place in the world.  Additionally all three deal with familial relationships in complex ways.  Despite these common themes, these novels are very different but equally highly compelling.

counting by 7sCounting By 7s– Holly Goldberg Sloan Twelve-year-old genius and outsider Willow Chance must figure out how to connect with other people and find a surrogate family for herself after her parents are killed in a car accident.

all the truth that's in meAll The Truth That’s In Me- Julie Berry  Judith can’t speak. But when her close-knit community of Roswell Station is attacked by enemies, Judith is forced to choose: continue to live in silence, or recover her voice.

where the stars still shineWhere The Stars Still Shine- Trish Doller  Abducted at age five, Callie, now seventeen, has spent her life on the run but when her mother is finally arrested and she is returned to her father in small-town Florida, Callie must find a way to leave her past behind, become part of a family again, and learn that love is more than just a possibility.

Another Kind of Survival Story

I am also a lover of historical fiction and two of my recent favorite writers of historical fiction, Elizabeth C. Wein and Ruta Sepetys both published new and very exciting novels this year.  Both deal with young heroines in very different but incredibly difficult situations.  Both young women are determined to survive and each finds a sense of resilience in the unexpected connections she forges with others.

rose under fireRose Under Fire– Elizabeth C. Wein  When young American pilot Rose Justice is captured by Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp, she finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery, and friendship of her fellow prisoners.

out-of-the-easyOut of the Easy- Ruta Sepetys  Josie, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a French Quarter prostitute, is striving to escape 1950 New Orleans and enroll at prestigious Smith College when she becomes entangled in a murder investigation.

Love Is A Battlefield

eleanor & parkEleanor & Park- Rainbow Rowell  Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits–smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

Rainbow Rowell’s debut novel for teens has been both a popular and critical darling since its publication earlier this year.  And I can’t deny that I’m among its many fans.  I consumed this book in a single sitting during a train ride; I absolutely couldn’t put it down.  It’s one of those novels that reaches into your chest and grabs you by the heart.  It makes your chest ache, your stomach swoop, and your throat constrict–it packs a very special kind of emotional punch to the gut.  And while I found much to like about her second YA title this year (Fangirl), I found Eleanor and Park a bit more focused and compelling.

Learning To Listen To Your Drummer

I read a lot of really great contemporary YA fiction this year–so many, in fact, that I’ve divided them into multiple groups on this list.  Here are four strong and distinct coming of age tales with complex, lovable (if not always likable) protagonists and equally complex supporting teen and adult characters.  By chance, this group of novels also happen to share another common theme: the intense role the arts (especially music, poetry, and theatre) can play in our lives.

the lucy variationsThe Lucy Variations– Sara Zarr  Sixteen-year-old San Franciscan Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. Her chance at a career has passed, and she decides to help her ten-year-old piano prodigy brother, Gus, map out his own future, even as she explores why she enjoyed piano in the first place.

sweet revengeThe Sweet Revenge of Celia Door- Karen Finneyfrock  Fourteen-year-old Celia, hurt by her parents’ separation, the loss of her only friend, and a classmate’s cruelty, has only her poetry for solace until newcomer Drake Berlin befriends her, comes out to her, and seeks her help in connecting with the boy he left behind.

this song wil save your lifeThis Song Will Save Your Life- Leila Sales  Nearly a year after a failed suicide attempt, sixteen-year-old Elise discovers that she has the passion, and the talent, to be a disc jockey.

just one dayJust One Day- Gayle Forman Sparks fly when American good girl Allyson encounters laid-back Dutch actor Willem, so she follows him on a whirlwind trip to Paris, upending her life in just one day and prompting a year of self-discovery and the search for true love.

Most Likely To Encourage Snacking While Reading

relishRelish: My Life In the Kitchen- Lucy Knisley  Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by her obsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe– many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy’s original inventions.

Graphic memoirs seems to be on the rise and I couldn’t be happier, especially if they’re as delicious as Relish!  As an amateur baker & cook (and a passionate eater), I found Lucy Knisley’s memoir to be a totally delightful reading experience and the perfect blend of popular sub-genres, food memoirs and graphic nonfiction.

A Girl On Fire

i am malala I Am Malala- Malala Yousafzai & Christina Lamb  When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. On Tuesday October 9, 2012, she almost paid the ultimate price.

Living in DC is consistently interesting in unexpected ways but it can be especially exciting for a reader.  We have a wealth of great libraries, universities, and bookstores bringing in great authors and speakers constantly.  I was lucky enough to snag a ticket earlier this fall to hear Malala Yousafzai and her father speak at a event hosted by our wonderful independent bookstore Politics and Prose.  It was an inspiring and fascinating evening and I found the book equally compelling.

Then And Now

twoboyskissingcoverTwo Boys Kissing– David Levithan  A chorus of men who died of AIDS observes and yearns to help a cross-section of today’s gay teens who navigate new love, long-term relationships, coming out, self-acceptance, and more in a society that has changed in many ways.

I’m an unabashedly huge David Levithan fan.  I waited in a significant line at the American Library Association conference this summer to grab an advanced readers’ copy of his newest novel and I was not disappointed.  I know that others have found the unusual narration choices and the large cast of characters distracting or difficult to connect with as a reader.  And while I completely understand this concerns, I found the book very emotionally compelling and I found that the unusual narration (especially the Greek chorus of men who died of AIDS) fascinating and quite poetic (in a classic Levithan fashion). It also feels like an appropriate spiritual successor to Levithan’s debut Boy Meets Boy, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this past year.

For a quite different but also delightfully fresh LGBTQ-themed coming of age tale, I also very much liked Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg this year.

Let’s Hear It For The Boy!

This list has been a little female-heavy in its protagonists, a bit inevitable when working at a girls’ school.  But this year was a great year for male characters, especially in middle grade fiction.  I read a few wonderful novels with lovable, unconventional heroes with a lot of heart.  I especially enjoyed seeing young male-identified characters who don’t fit neatly into masculine stereotypes.  Nate in Tim Federle’s delightful debut also happens to be one of those incredibly funny narrators who can make me giggle and snort out loud when reading on public transportation.

better-nate-than-everBetter Nate Than Ever- Tim Federle  An eighth-grader who dreams of performing in a Broadway musical concocts a plan to run away to New York and audition for the role of Elliot in the musical version of “E.T.”

Texting The Underworld by Ellen Booream and Doll Bones by Holly Black also feature complex, brave boys who break many masculine stereotypes (and some equally complex, brave girls!).

No Words Needed

Journey_by_Aaron_BeckerJourney- Aaron Becker  Using a red marker, a young girl draws a door on her bedroom wall and through it enters another world where she experiences many adventures, including being captured by an evil emperor.

While I absolutely love my job working with middle and high schoolers, I sometimes miss my time working with infants, toddlers, and younger elementary kids.  I miss creating storytimes and singing silly song.  But I especially miss the chance to keep up with picture books.  However, I managed to check out at least one of the new standouts this year and if you only look at one picture book this year, make it Aaron Becker’s Journey.  Picture book creation is a unique art and wordless picture books are a special subset.  This is a gorgeous, delightful narrative told entirely in Becker’s beautiful paintings.  As a believer in the power of art and imagination, I found this book especially lovely.    

So those were a few of my favorite 2013 books.  I have a whole other list of favorite reads that don’t fit the ‘published in 2013’ rule and yet another list of 2013 books that I didn’t get a chance to read yet.  But those will have to wait for another post or two later this week.

Which books made your personal 2013 best lists?

Multicultural Middle School: Girls In The Middle (Contemporary Fiction)

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 6.09.38 PMSince beginning my job about 2 years ago, I’ve had the privilege to become increasingly involved in the DC-Metro area’s multicultural and equity education work.   Last summer I attended Georgetown Day School’s fabulous Equity Collaborative as part of our school’s team. Since then, I’ve explored how I as a librarian can support our school’s efforts to become a more inclusive and equitable community.

Also, while I work with students in 7-12 grades, I spend a large amount of my time in the middle school (7th & 8th grades for us).  Accordingly, I’ve been working with middle school faculty on a variety of multicultural  initiatives.  In the process, I continue to discover a growing wealth of resources related to multicultural education and equity work with middle schoolers and I decided to begin a reoccurring feature here to share some of my favorites.

In this first edition, I want to share two fairly recent contemporary fiction novels that deal explicitly and sensitively with issues of friendship, family life, ethnic and racial identity, mental health, social class, and middle school social dynamics.  I originally read these two novels while hunting for a single book to be read by our whole middle school community (students and teachers) over the summer.  While that plan didn’t pan out for this summer, I’m still hopeful that we might make it happen next summer–potentially with one of these great novels!  They are excellent examples of multicultural children’s and young adult literature;  both tell stories about the lived experience of a diverse community of people, exploring how that wide-ranging diversity actually feels for the individuals involved.

camo girlCamo Girl by Kekla Magoon

Ella and Z have been friends for years–outsiders connected by their ‘weirdness’ and shared experiences of loss.  Since Z focuses primarily on living out his elaborate knight fantasy, he’s relatively unbothered by their outsider status.  But Ella still  longs to belong–or at least escape the daily bullying.  When new boy Bailey seeks Ella out as the only other black kid at school, she’s faced with a choice: become friends with popular Bailey and find acceptance or stay loyal to Z, her only friend for so long?  Then Ella realizes that Z’s unusual behavior might be growing into a real problem–one too big for the two of them to handle.

whole story of half a girlThe Whole Story of Half A Girl by Veera Hiranandani

When Sonia’s father loses his job, the event starts a chain reaction of changes in their family, throwing her contented and dependable life completely off balance.  Suddenly Sonia must leave her small, warm, and diverse private school and start 6th grade at a public school.  While missing her old friends and trying to navigate the unfamiliar social landscape at her new school, Sonia must also deal with the confusing financial and emotional implications of her father’s unemployment as they reverberate through her family.

While Ella and Sonia come from different ethnic, racial, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds, they both experience the pain of being an outsider among their peers and the confusion of shifting friendships and unfamiliar family conflicts.  Each deals with the intense experience of changing relationships with old friends and the disorienting process of making new friends amid the game of middle school politics.  Ella must make difficult decisions about the limits of her loyalty to Z.   Can she remain friends with him while also making new friends–especially among the group of kids who’ve bullied them both for years? Should she keep Z’s secrets–even when they might be hurting him? Meanwhile Sonia struggles to retain connections with her longtime friends while also navigating the unfamiliar dynamics of her new, larger school where friendships seem much more complicated than they ever were in her former tiny, tight knit community.

Additionally, their experiences of alienation are intertwined with their development of personal identities, especially their racial and ethnic identities.  These novels explicitly talk about race, ethnicity, religion, and social class without become simplistic, single-issue stories.  It’s refreshing and significant.  Sonia, who is half Indian and half Jewish American, notices that at her larger new school, black and white kids seems to sit in different groups at lunch and she wonders where she fits.  When she goes to church with a new friend, Sonia begins to ask questions about her own Jewishness: is she really Jewish if she doesn’t follow religious practices or participate in the Jewish community?  Which is she more: Jewish or Indian?  Ella initially notices Bailey because he is the only other black student at their school.  As their friendship develops, Ella and Bailey discover they have even more common than they imagined but there’s no question that Bailey’s role as Ella’s first friend and peer of color is significant.

Ella & Sonia’s first-person narrations are perceptive and authentic.  Sonia’s anger and frustration at her parents when told she will have to change schools is realistic and sympathetic; Ella’s need to belong and conflicted feelings about her friendship with Z will easily resonate with readers.

These novels are well written with strongly developed, sympathetic characters and rich, evocative language.  And while they are sure to attract many individual readers, both Camo Girl and The Whole Story of Half A Girl would work particularly well as book clubs or community reads for 5-8th grade students (and their teachers!).

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

three times luckyEleven years ago, a hurricane blew through the small town of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina.  However, the storm brought with it more than the usual high speed winds and raging tides: during this particular hurricane a baby girl lashed to a broken signboard washed ashore.  But since her unusual entrance, Moses ‘Mo’ LeBeau has lived a fairly uneventful life under the care of the eccentric Colonel–who has no memory before the night Mo washed ashore– and the dramatic Miss Lana in their cafe.  However, when murder and a visit from a out of town lawman disrupt the predictable pattern of life in Tupelo Landing, Mo and her best friend Dale are on the case.  However, her amateur detecting will push Mo to investigate the mysteries of her past –and to join in a deadly race to discover the truth in time to save her family.    

As I wrote when I sped through this novel during the 48 Hour Book Challenge last month, Three Times Lucky is a perfect example of a middle grade gem!

The story is a balanced combination of exciting mystery, quirky small town tale, and a classic search for identity.  I’m always on the look out for new mysteries–especially mysteries with smart, young investigators like Mo.   And while this might be a little on the young side for my older middle schoolers demanding new mysteries, I would definitely hand it off to a few of my incoming seventh graders this fall and highly recommend it for fifth and sixth graders.   And while the traditional mystery (a highly thrilling combination murder-kidnapping-robbery caper) is full of satisfying twists and turns, it is Mo’s determination to solve the mystery of her past and identity that makes this novel stand out. The two investigations intertwine and overlap in exciting and surprising ways before leading to shared, satisfying conclusions.

Of course, a mystery with such focus on the protagonist’s personal journey could not succeed without a compelling lead character and Mo LeBeau fulfills that requirement with ease.  I absolutely adored Mo from the very first page; she is a whip-smart, hilarious, and incredibly sympathetic narrator & protagonist.  Her voice is fresh and authentic, capable of making you burst into laughter one moment and become choked up with emotion the next.  Additionally, the supporting cast of characters could easily have become flat stereotypes of the traditional ‘quirky Southern townspeople’ but Turnage carefully reveals their human complexity as events unfold.

Overall, Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage is an utter delight to read and in Mo LeBeau, Turnage has created a character that will live in readers’ memories and hearts for years to come.

5/5 STARS for excellent character development, a strong & unique narrative voice, and an engaging plot!

48HBC Update #4: Day 2!

48hbc_newWow! Day 2 is underway and I want to put out a quick update before I head out for my Sunday morning activities.  Since my last update, I’ve finished another book and started an audiobook.

0-545-21511-0 The Romeo And Juliet Code – Phoebe Stone

I added this middle grade novel to my TBR pile as part of my goal to read more younger middle grade novels, especially those currently popular with student in our Lower School (grades 4-6) library.  Sadly, this particular novel didn’t work for me.  I like the historical setting, the codes & code-breaking, several sweet romances, and family secrets.  And I completely understand the story’s appeal to its population–a light romance, a bit of historical espionage, and a mystery to solve.  However, Felicity’s voice just didn’t work for me.  Occasionally her tone became a little prissy or sanctimonious–which didn’t match her bold and mischievous actions.  And certain repeated phrases and statement gave the impression that she was trying a too hard sound British–rather than sounding genuinely British.  So for me, I’m going to just give this one 2.5/5 stars.  But I’m interested to hear other’s thoughts about it!

However, I also started an audiobook of Holly Black’s new Doll Bones and so far am finding it utterly delightful!  I plan to start reading The Cadet of Tildor by Alex Lidell next!

Challenge Update:

Hours Read: 9.5 hours (+ .75 hour listening to Doll Bones)

Hours Blogged:  2.5 hours

Social Networking: .5 hours

48HBC Hours Current Total: 12.5 hours

Books Read: 4.25 books (+ first 2 chapters of Doll Bones)

Pages Read: 1,521 pages ( + first 2 chapters of Doll Bones)