Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Movies, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE SWAP by Megan Shull

Last fall I watched a Disney TV movie called “The Swap” and thought, Wow, I wish I could read that as a book. Turns out it was based on a book! (Also, have I mentioned before how it’s my dream to have one of my books made into a Disney TV movie? Because, honestly, that’s the type of book I write.) Anyway, when I spotted Megan Shull’s THE SWAP at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale, I immediately threw it in my shopping cart. (Yes, a literal shopping cart.) Interestingly, the movie was aged up from middle school to high school, but I can understand why. The story is completely appropriate for middle grade readers, BUT it is not a book I’d recommend to younger kids reading up due to some of the gender-swapping content. For example, my six and eight-year-old kids watched the movie and thought it was hilarious, but my son would be freaked out reading about the boy in the girl’s body learning about a girl getting her period for the first time.

Yeah. Not ready for that talk. Moving on. Here’s the description for the book.

The Swap by Megan Shull

ELLIE spent the summer before seventh grade getting dropped by her best friend since forever. JACK spent it training in “The Cage” with his tough-as-nails brothers and hard-to-please dad. By the time middle school starts, they’re both ready for a change. And just as Jack’s thinking girls have it so easy, Ellie’s wishing she could be anyone but herself.

Then, BAM! They swap lives – and bodies!

Now Jack’s fending off mean girls at sleepover parties, while Ellie’s reigning as The Prince of Thatcher Middle School.

As their crazy weekend races on – and their feeling for each other grow – Ellie and Jack begin to wonder if maybe the best way to learn how to be yourself is to spend a little time being somebody else.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The premise – I already had a thousand scenarios of how this premise would play out in a book after I watched the movie, and it was different in the book. References to puberty aside–and really, how could that be avoided?–it’s all handled very tastefully and hilariously.

2. The voices – I have to be honest here. Half the time, I had no idea what Jack’s brothers were saying. They have their own language, but I applaud Ms. Shull. I think she actually exaggerated it for the purpose of showing how different the two characters are, but it works.

3. The character arcs – It’s hinted at in the description, so I’m not giving anything away by saying that Ellie and Jack discover themselves by being someone else. I love how they learn more about who they are inside while they’re taking a break from being themselves on the outside. It’s rare to get a glimpse of how others see you, but that’s what the magic of this story allows.

4. Ellie & Jack’s relationship – Not only do they get to know themselves, but they also get to know each other, since they’re living each others’ lives for a weekend. It was fun to watch how close they become, and how they can use that knowledge to help each other.

5. The humor – I tried to find a good example to post, but they’re all too long. Mostly the humor is situational and related to Ellie or Jack being completely confused about what’s going on in the other’s life and having to wing it. I was laughing out loud through much of the book.

I highly recommend this one, but as I said, if you have a younger MG reader, be aware there is talk of bodily functions related to puberty–for both boys and girls–in case you haven’t had those discussions yet.

Character, Giveaways, Interviews, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE Interview & Giveaway!

If you don’t know I participated in The Writer’s Voice contest in 2012, then you’re probably new around here :). But the reason I bring it up–again–is because one of the entries from that contest is now a real, live book! I had the privilege of reading Erin Petti’s THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE after the contest (although I think the title was slightly different then), and I’ve been so thrilled to watch Erin’s journey to publication. To celebrate, I’m giving away a copy to one lucky winner, but first, let me introduce you to Thelma Bee.

The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma BeeEleven-year-old Thelma Bee is never bored. In fact, she has curiosity and adventure in her blood. She spends her time running science experiments, practicing Spanish, and daydreaming about exotic landscapes. But Thelma gets more than she bargained for when a strange woman sells a jewelry box at her father’s antique shop. That night, a ghost kidnaps her father, and the only clues are the jewelry box and a word the ghost whispered in her ear: “Return.” Now it’s up to Thelma to get her dad back, and it might be harder than she thought—there’s someone wielding dark magic, and they’re coming after her next.

I asked Erin to answer questions about my five favorite things–with a little help from my eight-year-old son, who actually snatched this book and read the finished copy before me :).

1. I love Thelma’s interest in science and the use of the scientific method throughout the book. What made you decide to make this a focus for her character?

It may sound silly, but I think that Thelma kind of told me about herself. Since beginning drafting (about a hundred years ago) her voice was always strong and I knew she wanted to investigate things – this led pretty naturally into a scientific disposition. Once that groundwork was laid, her notes became a really helpful tool in telling the story!

2. The illustrations are fantastic. How did you determine THELMA BEE would be an illustrated book?

I love the illustrations, too, thank you! I had no idea that the book would be illustrated. Even after I signed with Mighty Media and had conversations about the direction of the book – it was a real surprise to me when I saw the care that they took integrating all the internal drawings. Kris Aro McLeod is a gifted artist and I feel so lucky that we got to work on this together!

3. The supporting cast of characters—from Alexander to Izzy to Eugene—is so strong. Did you plan out each of these characters in advance, or did they come to you as you were writing?

In my outline, I planned most of the characters, but Menkin was a surprise to me. She just showed up in one scene as I was drafting and became an important part of the story.

4. I love the setting. It’s so spooky and well drawn! How did you research the area, and/or is it familiar to you?

Thank you! The town of Riverfish, MA, is based on the town of Maynard, MA, where I lived when I began drafting. Thelma’s house on the river was my house on the river! The area around Maynard, Lincoln, and Concord, MA, is rich in woodlands and history. It was a giant inspiration!

5. The ending is satisfying and yet leaves the story open for more. Do you have additional adventures in mind for Thelma? My eight-year-old particularly wants to know the answer to this question!

First, a big-huge thank you to your 8-year-old for reading! This is so new to me still and I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to imagine a kid connecting with my characters. And yes! More Thelma on the way. A draft of book two is with the publisher right now, and we should be hearing more about Thelma’s adventures very soon! The problems get a little bigger, Thelma learns more about who she is, and RVPS might even get some new members!

That’s great news about additional Thelma Bee adventures!

Now on to the giveaway. I will send a copy of THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE to one lucky winner. North America only please. To enter, click on the link below or leave a comment. I’ll choose a winner next Monday, Oct. 17.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Whether you win or not, I hope you all check out THELMA BEE!

 

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE SLEEPOVER by Jen Malone

I’ve had THE SLEEPOVER since the NESCBWI Conference this spring, when I finally got to meet Jen Malone in person. I’ve reviewed several of her books and even interviewed Jen for her debut, AT YOUR SERVICE. (Also see my reviews for YOU’RE INVITED and WANDERLOST.) I planned to jump right into this book as well, but I took it along on our family lake vacation in June, and when my kids saw the cover, they demanded I read it aloud to them. As you can imagine, doing a book as a read-aloud doesn’t happen every day or even every week with everything else going on in life, so we just finished it last week. Anyway, here is the cover that so excited them. You can see why they had to know what it was about, right?

The Sleepover by Jen MaloneIn this tween version of the movie The Hangover, Meghan, Paige, and Anna Marie are super excited for the Best. Night. Ever. The sleepover they’re planning can be nothing short of EPIC. There will be junk food, there will be crazy-scary horror movies, and there will be karaoke smack-downs. Not even the last minute addition of Anna Marie’s socially awkward, soon-to-be-stepsister Veronica can dampen their spirits.

But nothing prepares them for the scene that greets them when they awaken the next morning: the basement is a mega disaster zone, Meghan’s left eyebrow has been shaved off, her “pillow” is the prized-possession hoodie of the class rebel who lives next door, and–heavenly heckweasels!–what is the deal with the slew of tiny ducklings in the bathtub!?

Worst of all, Anna Marie is missing. As in completely and totally gone-zo. Now the remaining girls have to piece together what exactly happened the night before, in the hopes it will lead them to their missing friend before the parents arrive for pick-ups. If she’s not waiting safe and sound when that doorbell rings, heads will roll and their social life as they know it will cease to exist. Trouble is, none of them can remember anything of the prior evening past that hypnotism trick performed by the two-bit magician Veronica arranged in an effort to impress the other girls.

The clock is ticking, the clues are weird and weirder, and one thing is certain: last night got a lot wilder than karaoke and make-your-own-sundae.

So, I tried to get my kids to help me write the review, but when I asked them what they loved best, they were basically giving away the whole story. My attempts to guide them back to more general points unfortunately annoyed my eight-year-old so much he refused to tell me his favorite things anymore, so I’ll just tell you the things I think we all loved best :).

1. The pranks – You can tell from what they found in the morning that the pranks they got up to overnight involved ducklings, shaving off Meghan’s eyebrow (yikes!!), and then there’s a whole thing with a hedgehog … Suffice it to say we couldn’t stop laughing.

2. The mission – Their efforts to figure out what happened the night before and why they can’t remember what happened the night before are as hilarious as the actual events. I love how this provides the forward momentum for the story.

3. The crush – Meghan’s crush on Jake is the most adorable thing ever. And I love how it’s just sweet and confusing and exactly right for her age. Oh, and there’s one scene that’s so excruciating my son was hiding his face on the couch and howling.

4. Veronica – I think Veronica might be one of my favorite characters ever. She completely owns her wackiness, and every time she spoke, I waited for something brilliant to come out. Like this:

Veronica blushes and sticks out her chest a little. “I completed the Junior Hardy Boys Detective Certification Course.”

Um, oooooookayyyyyyy.

“Well, since I don’t know how to respond to that, I’m just going to move on,” Paige says, gripping the banister. “Okay, so let’s be superquiet, girls. Stick together and do not make a noise.”

“I also take ninja lessons,” Veronica whispers when we reach the top stair.

And then there was the squirrel. Believe me, it’s hilarious!

5. The villain – Who caused all of this mayhem? Well, I’m not going to tell you, but I thought the resolution was brilliant. In fact, my son listed what happened in the last five pages as one of his favorite things about the book. Too bad it’s one of those spoilers :).

Go read this book! You will be laughing–and cringing–throughout. And as you should be able to tell from my review, my son found it just as entertaining as my daughter.

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE SEVENTH WISH by Kate Messner

If you’re part of the kidlit community, perhaps you’ve heard about author Kate Messner being uninvited from a school because of the content of her latest book, THE SEVENTH WISH, which addresses the story of a young girl whose older sister becomes addicted to heroin. If not, you can read about it here (there’s also an update at the bottom). As a parent, I understand the desire to shield your child from what may seem like a far-off reality. But as someone who’s already had to explain addiction to my six and eight-year-old in at least basic terms because they’ve seen the consequences of it, I understand the importance of a book like THE SEVENTH WISH. Am I going to give it to my children  now? Of course not. But with the right preparation and discussion, and when they’re old enough, yes. This book is entirely appropriate both to show kids why they should avoid addictive substances and to help a child close to an addict.

The Seventh Wish by Kate MessnerWhen Charlie Brennan goes ice fishing on her town’s cold winter lake, she’s hoping the perch she reels in will help pay for a fancy Irish dancing solo dress. But when Charlie’s first catch of the day offers her a wish in exchange for its freedom, her world turns upside down.

Charlie catches the fish again and again, but each time, her wishes go terribly and hilariously wrong. Just when things are finally starting to turn around, a family crisis with her older sister forces Charlie to accept the fact that some of the toughest challenges in life can’t be fixed by wishing.

 

Instead of my usual five things I loved most about the book, I’m going to do five reasons you should read this book.

1. Charlie’s honesty – Even before her sister’s addiction surfaces, Charlie feels secondary in her family, and she struggles with her own reactions to that. I loved how honest she was about herself and where she fit into everything. She’s angry with Abby, even while her heart is breaking. My heart was breaking, too.

2. The theme – It says it right there in the description, so I don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything by sharing it. You can’t wish away your problems. Every time Charlie makes a wish, it gets twisted up somehow. I especially like the wish about the boy, but I won’t spoil that.

3. The truths – Some of this goes along with the honesty, but there was a particular passage toward the end that really hit home for me.

Instead of showing those videos with the greasy-haired people in D.A.R.E. classes, they should show kids like Abby. Soccer forwards and calculus students, student council presidents and homecoming queens and big sisters. They should show those people lying to their families and sitting ashamed in the hospital, tugging on their sleeves to hide the marks on their arms, struggling to breathe, crying when they have to tell the truth. That because they broke a promise they made in fifth grade, nothing can ever be the same.

Wow. On another note, there’s a teacher in Maine who received an advanced copy of the book last October and worked with her school’s D.A.R.E. officer to create a program using the book. Her post about it and the video at the end of the kids speaking to their future selves is so powerful.

4. Charlie’s friends – I love how unique each of them is. Drew with his gross facts. Catherine with her flour baby. Dasha with her coding. Charlie has a solid group of friends to support and distract her.

5. The dancing and the fishing – Yes, these are two completely different things, but they end up being tied together for Charlie. She needs money to buy her Irish dancing dress, so she goes out ice fishing with Drew and his grandma to earn more and becomes a rather proficient fisherman. Well, then there’s that magic fish … The point is, there’s more to the story than what happens with Abby.

I hope more schools will find ways to incorporate THE SEVENTH WISH and other books like it. Addiction is an important topic, and more kids are affected by it–even at an early age–than they may realize. Yes, educators should be cautious about what they give kids to read at what age. I’m all for that. But if you pair a book like this with a curriculum discussing the topic, it would be so beneficial.

Ok, I’m going to step off my soapbox now. Have you read THE SEVENTH WISH? What are your thoughts?

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: COUNTING THYME by Melanie Conklin

I’ve been anxiously awaiting Melanie Conklin’s COUNTING THYME for what seems like forever. We’ve been Twitter friends for years, and she even read a partial of one of my manuscripts once (thanks again, Melanie!), after which she recommended I read THE BURNING SKY by Sherry Thomas. Love the whole series! In any case, COUNTING THYME completely lived up to my expectations, and I’m thrilled to review it for MMGM.

Counting Thyme by Melanie ConklinWhen eleven-year-old Thyme Owen’s little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours and the days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The title – Yes, there’s a reason her name is Thyme, and it’s explained. But this title has multiple meanings and I love the play on words. It’s just perfect on so many levels.

2. Thyme’s family – I loved every member of this family, from Thyme’s mom trying to hold everyone–including herself–together, her dad maintaining some fun where possible, her sister acting out, and her brother surviving. And where did that leave Thyme? That central question invested me from page one.

3. The friendships – There were multiple friendship stories happening within the book: Thyme and her best friend back home, Thyme and the girls at school, Thyme and the boy at school, Thyme observing the friendship between the girls at school. I liked how Thyme had to sort out these friendships and discover how she fit into each one.

4. The sound production team – How cool that Thyme found a project in the midst of everything else she was going through. I enjoyed reading about her experiments finding everyday objects that would make the desired sounds for the play. It was an interesting subplot that also fit very well into the overall story as she had to decide where this Thyme project fit into her family.

5. Mrs. Ravelli and Mr. Lipinsky – I loved both of these characters. They were polar opposites, and yet they both played critical roles in helping Thyme adjust to life in New York and giving her purpose. Plus, they’re both extremely well-written characters. I’d really like to try that cake Mrs. Ravelli baked for the Owens …

If you haven’t read COUNTING THYME yet, I suggest you do so. I have a feeling this one will be getting some award attention.

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: STORY THIEVES: THE STOLEN CHAPTERS by James Riley

Before I get started with my MMGM post–yay!–there’s still time to enter my giveaway for signed paperbacks of MarcyKate Connolly’s MONSTROUS and Trisha Leaver’s THE SECRETS WE KEEP. Visit my 4th blogiversary post for details. Fun statistic: many of my most popular posts are MMGM reviews!

A few weeks ago I posted about The Joy of Reading Alongside Your Child. I mentioned that when my son and I both finished reading STORY THIEVES: THE STOLEN CHAPTERS, I might let him help me review the book. It’s a little hard to nail down what an eight-year-old loved so much about a book, but I managed to pull his five favorite things out of him. First, though, I’d better give the description. If you haven’t read the first book, this description includes spoilers, so STOP NOW.

Still reading? Okay …

Story Thieves: The Stolen Chapters by James RileyOwen Conners would never jump into a mystery. There are too many hidden clues, twists that make no sense, and an ending you never see coming. Mysteries are just not Owen’s thing. So how exactly did he end up in one with his memory erased? And that’s far from the only question.

How did Kiel Gnomenfoot, boy magician, lose all of his magic? Where’s Bethany, their half-fictional friend? And who’s the annoying guy wearing the question mark mask and Sherlock Holmes hat, taunting Owen and Kiel that Bethany is in grave danger?

Bethany is trapped in a hidden room that’s slowly filling with water, and she can’t escape until her friends find her. But is she imprisoned by more than just chains and a locked door? What’s she hiding from Owen and Kiel?

Maybe some mysteries just shouldn’t be solved…

Here are the five things my son loved most–and you’re going to notice a trend :).

1. Moira – Moira is a new character in this book, and she’s a hilarious criminal genius who has awesome plans and says the funniest things. My son and I agreed on this one, especially her names for Kiel and Owen.

“Wake up!” the girl said. “I think I lost you there. Did you faint? You fainted, didn’t you. You stared at me for a second, then looked like you had to go to the bathroom. Kind of like a koala, weirdly. Is this normal for you?”

Kiel put a hand up to his cheek, which throbbed where she’d slapped him. “Not even a little bit.”

“Then follow the plan, my magical koala.”

Or, for Owen:

Something grabbed him from behind and yanked him backward. “Whoa there, killer,” the girl in black said. “Going somewhere? You’re not an owl, Owen. Mostly you look more like an adorable panda who’s always sad. Sad Panda.”

Owen tried to answer, but he couldn’t get a word out, or catch his breath even. “I … I …”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got you, SP,” the girl said, putting an arm around him.

She’s completely crazy and wonderful at the same time!

2. Characters in general – Per my son: They’re all great people and they’re fun. Side note: he tried to get me to talk about the character he didn’t like, but it would have been a spoiler, so I nixed it :).

3. Kiel – He’s awesome at fighting, always takes a chance, and never gives up. These were my son’s words exactly, and I can’t argue with him listing Kiel as one of his five favorite things about the book, since he was one of my favorites about the original STORY THIEVES!

(See what I mean about a trend? His first three favorites were all character-related.)

4. The books – My son loved the books they jumped into, like Doomsday on Argon VI, a fictional book Mr. Riley created for Bethany to leap into (if you think this is confusing, wait until you read THE STOLEN CHAPTERS!). He also liked that they didn’t know they were stuck in–oh wait, he’s giving something away with that, so never mind :).

5. Their really great plan – He loved how they thought ahead of what the villain might do. I also don’t want to give anything away here, so I’ll just say that as usual, Mr. Riley is a master at inserting so many twists you find yourself paging back through to figure out how he did that, but sure enough, he planted everything so well it’s astounding. I was pretty proud of my son because there was one thing he caught that I didn’t :).

So those are the five things my son loved best about THE STOLEN CHAPTERS. I think he chose pretty well. I bet we’ll be sharing some reviews again in the future as we read more books together. If there are others you know he’d like based on this one, please pass along those suggestions!

 

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S by Lee Gjertson Malone

I’m back with another MMGM! I have to say the cover of this one caught my attention when it kept popping up in my Twitter feed, so I clicked on it to read the description, and then I had to get my hands on the actual book. I’m so glad I did.

The Last Boy at St. Edith's by Lee Gjertson MaloneSeventh grader Jeremy Miner has a girl problem. Or, more accurately, a girls problem. Four hundred and seventy-five of them. That’s how many girls attend his school, St. Edith’s Academy.

Jeremy is the only boy left after the school’s brief experiment in coeducation. And he needs to get out. His mom won’t let him transfer, so Jeremy takes matters into his own hands: He’s going to get expelled.

Together with his best friend, Claudia, Jeremy unleashes a series of hilarious pranks in hopes that he’ll get kicked out with minimum damage to his permanent record. But when his stunts start to backfire, Jeremy has to decide whom he’s willing to knock down on his way out the door.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The friendships – Really, you could say the theme of this book is friendship and figuring out what it means to Jeremy. He has two girl best friends, one of whom he takes for granted, and even when he meets another boy, he doesn’t really get that they’re friends. Jeremy learns how to navigate those friendships during the course of the story.

2. The crush – The description of Jeremy’s crush and how he can’t even explain why this girl is different from the hundreds of other girls who surround him is so spot on. The moment he met her was one of my favorites in the book, and watching him stumble through his interactions with her was just priceless.

3. The pranks – I also loved not so much the pranks themselves but Jeremy’s yo-yoing emotions as he and Claudia performed them. At heart, he’s a good kid and doesn’t want to get in trouble, even when he thinks he needs to in order to achieve his goal of getting kicked out of St. Edith’s. But the prank where they get post-its and … well, I won’t spoil it :).

4. Jeremy’s character arc – So the prank discussion leads to Jeremy’s growth. I loved how experiencing the pranks led him to figure out what was really important to him in a number of areas. Did he really want to get kicked out? What was more important, getting credit or staying safe? He had to answer these questions and more and come out stronger.

5. The stakes – I have to say the stakes surprised me several times. I thought the pranks wouldn’t be a big deal and then–bam!–things were much worse than anticipated. Well done, Ms. Malone, on raising the stakes! I wasn’t sure how things would turn out in the end.

Overall, I thought this was a fast-paced and enjoyable read. I highly recommend it!