March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Book Review: Grades 5-8 Fiction

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SLJ140301W_BK-Fic58-revisedredstarAlexander, Kwame.The Crossover. 240p. Houghton Harcourt. Mar. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544107717. LC 4500437263.

Gr 6-10 –Twins Josh and Jordan are junior high basketball stars, thanks in large part to the coaching of their dad, a former professional baller who was forced to quit playing for health reasons, and the firm, but loving support of their assistant-principal mom. Josh, better known as Filthy McNasty, earned his nickname for his enviable skills on the court: “…when Filthy gets hot/He has a SLAMMERIFIC SHOT.” In this novel in verse, the brothers begin moving apart from each other for the first time. Jordan starts dating the “pulchritudinous” Miss Sweet Tea, and Josh has a tough time keeping his jealousy and feelings of abandonment in control. Alexander’s poems vary from the pulsing, aggressive beats of a basketball game (“My shot is F L O W I N G, Flying, fluttering…. ringaling and SWINGALING/Swish. Game/over”) to the more introspective musings of a child struggling into adolescence (“Sit beside JB at dinner. He moves./Tell him a joke. He doesn’t even smile….Say I’m sorry/but he won’t listen”). Despite his immaturity, Josh is a likable, funny, and authentic character. Underscoring the sports and the fraternal tension is a portrait of a family that truly loves and supports one another. Alexander has crafted a story that vibrates with energy and heart and begs to be read aloud. A slam dunk.–Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal .

redstarBrown, Skila. Caminar. 208p. Candlewick. Mar. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763665166. LC 2013946611.

Gr 6 Up –Unlike many novels in verse, which can read like conventional narratives with line breaks, Caminar contributes poetry that elevates the genre. In this story of a decimated Guatemalan village in 1981, readers will encounter a range of imagery, repetition, rhythms, and visual effects that bring to life the psychological experience of Carlos, a young boy caught in the violent clash between the government’s army and the people’s rebels. Like most small villagers, Carlos feels far removed from the conflict and is unsure which side to trust. Still, the army emerges as the clear villain after publicly hanging an innocent man and, weeks later, massacring the village while Carlos collects mushrooms in the forest. Now the boy attempts to survive on his own, stay ahead of the army, and warn his grandmother’s mountaintop community of the coming threat. Only when he meets a band of rebels does he realize the extent of the carnage he has escaped. Caminar is a good classroom choice for either social studies or English units. Unfortunately, Brown’s introductory note lacks clarity, so educators should provide some brief historical context for students. This is a much-needed addition to Latin American-themed middle grade fiction.–Denise Ryan, Middlesex Middle School, Darien, CT

redstarFoxlee, Karen. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy. 240p. Knopf. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385753548. LC 2013012236.

Gr 4-6 –This inventive and engaging fantasy, based on the story of the Snow Queen, will be a welcome addition to middle grade collections. Solidly scientific-minded Ophelia, whose mother has recently died, moves with her older sister and father to a snowy and wintry city, where her father is busy working on a museum exhibition of historical swords. Wandering through the museum, Ophelia discovers a boy who has been locked in a room for years, and who needs her help. Much to her own surprise Ophelia takes greater and greater risks in order to win his freedom, and, in the process, forges a strong connection with the memory and spirit of her mother. It is Ophelia’s sister who plays the role of Kay, bewitched by the gifts given to her by the evil Miss Kaminski, the head of the museum. Foxlee’s characters come alive immediately. While Ophelia is contemporary in her ordinariness, her courage and determination to save the people she cares about harkens back to archetypal fairy tale heroes and heroines. Foxlee skillfully reveals the story of the boy as the plot unfolds. The setting is carefully and at times spookily drawn, as Ophelia faces terrifying dangers in deserted museum corridors. The writing sparkles and the pleasing restraint of the style is happily reflected in the short length of the book. Foxlee’s fresh and imaginative take on this classic tale will be snapped up by fantasy and adventure lovers alike.–Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City

redstarJohnson, Jaleigh. The Mark of the Dragonfly. 400p. Delacorte. Mar. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385376150; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780385376457; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780385376464.

Gr 4-8 –In the future and on a ruined planet, orphaned Piper lives alone, making her living from mending the scraps she finds after the deadly meteor showers and dust storms that beleaguer the towns on the outskirts of civilization. She has an almost magical ability to fix things, mechanized things especially—it’s as though the objects want to be mended by Piper, and sometimes they will work only for her. One day Piper finds a young girl who is silent, amnesiac, and in terror of the man who hunts her. Marked by the tattoo of a dragonfly, the girl can’t hide until Piper spirits her away and, with the help of Gee (who can transform at will from handsome teenager to flying dragon), the stowaway girls find a safe home on steam train 401, hurtling through the hostile countryside towards King Aron’s kingdom. Johnson has brilliantly taken the dystopian genre to a level accessible to tween readers. The Mark of the Dragonfly is a fantastic and original tale of adventure and magic with steampunk elements and a little romance thrown in. The landscapes the girls pass through are imaginatively depicted and cinematically described (streets lit by glowing “night eye flowers”). Fierce battles are tempered with humor, and Piper is a heroine to fall in love with: smart, brave, kind, and mechanically inclined to boot!–Jane Barrer, United Nations International School, New York City

redstarOppel, Kenneth. The Boundless. 336p. S & S. Apr. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781442472884; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442472907. LC 2013009879.

Gr 5-8 –All aboard for an exciting tale of steam-powered automatons, a bloodthirsty sasquatch, colorful circuses, and magical paintings. Aspiring artist Will Everett knows he’s not cut out to follow in the footsteps of his railroad manager father, but his pampered life leaves little opportunity for adventure. Then he boards The Boundless, the world’s largest and most luxurious train. After acquiring the key to the railway owner’s funeral car, Will is running for his life, pursued by deadly enemies who will do anything to possess the car’s valuable contents. He is rescued by Mr. Dorian, ringmaster of the famed Zircus Dante, and an escape artist called The Miraculous Maren. These two performers, however, have their own secret agenda for helping Will. As The Boundless thunders toward its destination, Will must decide who to trust, if anyone. Along the way, Will is on the adventure of a lifetime. With its imaginative plot, cast of colorful, well-rounded characters, and nonstop action, Oppel’s latest is a delight to read from the first page right through the satisfying conclusion. Take note: This book will be popular!–Alissa J. Bach, Oxford Public Library, MI

redstarUnsworth, Tania. The One Safe Place. 304p. Algonquin. Apr. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781616203290.

Gr 5-8 –Twelve-year-old Devin’s loss of his grandfather leaves him unprepared to take care of their formerly self-sufficient farm—one of the precious few left on the face of the earth. He leaves this oasis hoping to find some willing hands to help him keep the farm going. Instead, the people he meets in the city are so devoid of morals or compassion that when Devin and his new friend, Kit, have a chance to go to the Gabriel H. Penn Home for Childhood, they seize the opportunity. It isn’t long before Devin senses that this home is a little too good to be true. Though surrounded by amusements, beautiful grounds, and plenty of food, the other children are morose, nervous, and listless. Occasionally Devin runs across a child acting in a bizarre, disoriented fashion, yet he is advised by the other children to completely ignore these episodes and never mention them again. The Administrator of this institution interviews Devin and informs him that he is gifted in ways he never understood. His five senses overlap—for instance, visually perceived objects have accompanying sounds only Devin can hear. The Administrator closes the interview with the sinister words, “I’m saving you for something special”. This book is reminiscent of Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always (HarperCollins, 1992). The suspense and dread build as the mystery gradually unfolds, but it stops short of becoming truly horrific. The conclusion is fast-paced and gripping. An original dystopian story for middle-grade readers.–Kathy Cherniavsky, Ridgefield Library, CT

redstarWoods, Brenda. The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond. 240p. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399257148.

Gr 4-6 –Violet Diamond’s father died in a car accident two months before her birth, and the 11-year-old has always felt that a piece of her was missing. As the daughter of an African American father and Caucasian mother, she is frustrated with narrow racial assumptions directed at her by those living in her predominantly white neighborhood in Seattle. After eavesdropping on an eye-opening family conversation, Violet digs around and finds out that Roxanne Diamond, the estranged paternal grandmother she’s never met, is having an art exhibition in Seattle, and the resourceful tween vows to meet her. Complex family history renders their first meeting awkward and tense, but Roxanne genuinely wants to be involved in her granddaughter’s life. Violet travels with her grandmother to Los Angeles to meet her father’s relatives and better understand her African American heritage. Violet’s charming quirks, which include nighttime wishing rituals and keeping a mental catalogue of sophisticated vocabulary words, prove endearing. In this quiet story, Woods’s admirably touches upon profound issues related to identity and race and tenderly conveys intergenerational bonds.–Lalitha Nataraj, Escondido Public Library, CA

The following titles are reviewed in this month's print issue:

Grades 5-8

Altebrando, Tara. The Battle of Darcy Lane. 208p. ebook available. Running Pr./Kids. May 2014. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9780762449484. LC 2013946377.

Baldacci, David. The Finisher. 512p. Scholastic. Mar. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545652209; ebk. $17.99. ISBN 9780545652360. LC 2013951103.

Behrens, Rebecca. When Audrey Met Alice. 304p. further reading. notes. websites. Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781402286421.

Beil, Michael D. Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits. illus. by Roman Muradov. 288p. Knopf. Apr. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780385753173; lib. ed. $18.99. ISBN 9780385753180; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780385753197. LC 2013013509.

Blackwood, Gary. Curiosity. 320p. Dial. Apr. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780803739246. LC 2013013438.

Boyce, Frank Cottrell. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Over the Moon. illus. by Joe Berger. 240p. ebook available. Candlewick. Apr. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763659837. LC 2013951757.

Boyne, John. Stay Where you Are & Then Leave. illus. by Oliver Jeffers. 256p. Holt. Mar. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781627790314.

Carter, Ally. United We Spy. 293p. (Gallagher Girls Series: Bk. 6). Hyperion/Disney. 2013. RTE $17.99. ISBN 9781423165996. LC 2013014093.

Chan, Marty. Demon Gate. 261p. (The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles). Fitzhenry & Whiteside. 2013. pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781554553068.

Cremer, Andrea. The Inventor’s Secret. 384p. ebook available. Philomel. Apr. 2014. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780399159626. LC 2013018111.

d’Lacey, Chris. A Dark Inheritance. 304p. (The UFiles: Bk. 1). Scholastic. May 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545608763; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545608794. LC 2013027397.

Dance, Jennifer. Red Wolf. 251p. Dundurn. 2014. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781459708105; ebk. $8.99. ISBN 9781459708129.

Dando-Collins, Stephen. Operation Blue Dragon. 288p. (Caesar the War Dog: Bk. 2). glossary. Random Australia, dist. by IPG. 2014. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9780857980533.

Durham, Paul. The Luck Uglies. illus. by Petur Antonsson. 400p. (The Luck Uglies Trilogy: Bk. 1). HarperCollins/Harper. Apr. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062271501; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780062271525.

Elliott, L.M. Across a War-Tossed Sea. 256p. Hyperion. Apr. 2014. RTE $16.99. ISBN 9781423157557; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9781423193944.

Enderle, Dotti. Let the Specter-Detecting Begin. illus. by Howard McWilliam. 192p. (Ghost Detectors: Bk. 1). Scarletta. 2013. pap. $8.95. ISBN 9781938063282; ebk. $8.95. ISBN 9781938063299. LC 2013009115.

Engle, Margarita. Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal. 272p. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Mar. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544109414.

Flitcroft, Jean. The Chupacabra. 232p. Bk. 2. bibliog. ISBN 9781467732659; ISBN 9781467734837; ISBN 9781467734844. LC 2013024084.

––––. The Loch Ness Monster. 192p. Bk. 1. ISBN 9781467726023; ISBN 9781467734813; ISBN 9781467734820. LC 2013024083.

ea vol: (The Cryptid Files). Darby Creek. May 2014. lib. ed. $27.93. pap. $7.95. ebk. $20.95.

Gibbs, Stuart. Poached. 336p. S & S. Apr. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781442467774; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442467798. LC 2013000539.

Gill, J. Duddy. The Secret of Ferrell Savage. 192p. S & S/Atheneum. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781442460171; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442460195.

Gordon, Amy. Painting the Rainbow. 192p. chart. chron. ebook available. Holiday House. Apr. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780823425259. LC 2013020999.

Griffiths, Andy. The 26-Story Treehouse. illus. by Terry Denton. 352p. Feiwel & Friends. Apr. 2014. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9781250026910.

Hartnett, Sonya. The Children of the King. 272p. ebook available. Candlewick. Mar. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763667351. LC 2013943094.

Hood, Ann. Queen Liliuokalani: Royal Prisoner. 126p. (The Treasure Chest: Bk. 6). Grosset & Dunlap. 2013. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780448457390; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780448457291.

Jacobs, Jordan. Samantha Sutton and the Winter of the Warrior Queen. 368p. maps. Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky. 2014. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9781402275630.

Johnson, Varian. The Great Greene Heist. 240p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. May 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545525527; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545525541. LC 2013029145.

Kerr, Philip. The Winter Horses. 224p. Knopf. Mar. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385755436; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780385755443; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780385755450. LC 2013035978.

Kozlowsky, M. P. The Dyerville Tales. 336p. HarperCollins/Walden Pond. May 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780061998713; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780062312648.

Lamana, Julie T. Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere. 320p. Chronicle. Apr. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781452124568. LC 2013003262.

Littlewood, Kathryn. Bite-Sized Magic: A Bliss Novel. 432p. (Bliss Series: Bk. 3). HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062084262.

Loftin, Nikki. Nightingale’s Nest. 256p. Penguin/Razorbill. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781595145468.

McAlpine, Gordon. Once Upon a Midnight Eerie. illus. by Sam Zuppardi. 192p. (The Misadventures of Edgar & Allan Poe: Bk. 2). Viking. Apr. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780670784936.

MacLachlan, Patricia. Fly Away. 128p. S & S/McElderry. Apr. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781442495838; ebk. ISBN 9781442460102. LC 2012040995.

McMann, Lisa. Island of Fire. 451p. (The Unwanteds: Bk. 3). S & S/Aladdin. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442458451; ebk. $11.76. ISBN 9781442458475. LC 2012031939.

Mata, Julie. Night of the Zombie Chickens. 288p. (Kate Walden Directs Series). Hyperion. May 2014. RTE $16.99. ISBN 9781423194590; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9781423195894.

Meloy, Colin. Wildwood Imperium. illus. by Carson Ellis. 608p. (The Wildwood Chronicles: Bk. 3). HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062024749. LC 2013953784.

Messenger, Shannon. Exile. 576p. (Keeper of the Lost Cities: Bk. 2). S & S/Aladdin. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781442445963; ebk. $12.99. ISBN 9781442445987.

Molinari, Laurice. The Ether: Vero Rising. Bk. 1. 368p. Zonderkidz. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780310735557.

Mull, Brandon. Sky Raiders. 432p. (Five Kingdoms Series: Bk.1). S & S/Aladdin. Mar. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442497009; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442497023.

Pelletier, Cathie. The Summer Experiment. 288p. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. Apr. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781402285783.

Schindler, Holly. The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky. 240p. Dial. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780803737259. LC 2013009134.

Schmidt, Tiffany. Bright Before Sunrise. 304p. Walker. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780802735003.

Shusterman, Neal & Eric Elfman. Tesla’s Attic. 256p. (The Accelerati Trilogy: Bk. 1). Hyperion. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781423148036. LC 2012039773.

Smith, Jennifer E. The Geography of You and Me. 352p. Little, Brown/Poppy. Apr. 2014. Tr $18. ISBN 9780316254779; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780316254748.

Snicket, Lemony. 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy. illus. by Lisa Brown. 32p. McSweeney’s McMullens. 2014. Tr $16.50. ISBN 9781938073786.

Starmer, Aaron. The Riverman. 320p. Farrar. Mar. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780374363093.

Treskillard, Robert. Merlin’s Shadow. 432p. (Merlin Spiral: Bk. 2). Blink. 2013. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780310735083.

Trevayne, Emma. Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times. 320p. S & S. May 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481404808; ebk. ISBN 9781442498808. LC 2013019389.

Vincent, Bruno. Grisly Tales from Tumblewater. illus. by Jo Coates. 398p. Pan Macmillan. 2013. pap. $8.99. ISBN 9780330479516.

Webb, Holly. Rose and the Lost Princess. 265p. Trafalgar Square. Apr. 2014. pap. $8.99. ISBN 9781402285844.

Weston, Carol. Ava and Pip. 208p. Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky. Mar. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781402288708.

Williams, Marcia. Lizzy Bennet’s Diary: Inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. illus. by Marcia Williams. 112p. Candlewick. Apr. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763670306. LC 2013944006.


Intricate clockwork machinery, ingenious automatons, daring heroes, roguish villains, and fantastic voyages can all be found in this bevy of new novels with steampunk elements.

Read the full review: Blackwood, p. 134; Chan, p. 136; Johnson, p. 141; Oppel, p. 146; Trevayne, p. 149.

This article was published in School Library Journal's March 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.