June 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Hitchcockian Mystery, Magical Footwear, and More| Grades 5-8 Fiction Reviews

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redstarEhrlich, Esther. Nest. 336p. Random/Wendy Lamb Bks. Sept. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385386074; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780385386098.

Gr 4-6 –It’s the dog days of the summer, 1972, and spirited 11-year-old Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein tries to enjoy them as best she can—but something is wrong with her mother’s leg. Chirp’s mother Hannah is a dancer and the prospect of permanent limited mobility is both heartbreaking and terrifying. A diagnosis of MS sends Hannah spiraling into a debilitating depression, and she is sent to a mental hospital. Chirp’s father, a psychiatrist, is consumed with grief and tethered to work, leaving Chirp and her older sister Rachel alone much of the time. After several months of therapy, Hannah returns home. The reunion is short-lived as she slips deeper into depression and tragically decides to end her life, leaving Chirp, Rachel, and their father to navigate their transformed familial relationship. A stunning debut, with lyrical prose and superbly developed characters, this novel is an emotional roller coaster that effectively conveys a family’s visceral tragedy. At times tear inducing, the narrative is also vibrantly alive, assisted in part by the Cape Cod setting and refreshingly unplugged 1970s. The focus on nature and the outdoors helps set the pace as the seasonal changes quietly indicate the passage of time. Sensitive readers should be aware of the tough issues that it addresses—suicide, depression, and personal loss. However, the story also offers a hopeful message. Strong readers who enjoy realistic fiction and the occasional good cry will savor Nest and reflect on it long after its conclusion.–Juliet Morefield, Multnomah County Library, OR

redstarHaskell, Merrie. The Castle Behind Thorns. 240p. HarperCollins. Jun. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062008190.

Gr 4-8 –Sand awakens inside a large fireplace, in a room where “every single thing” is broken and quickly realizes that he is in the Sundered Castle, a landmark that he has seen his whole life. Everyone in Sand’s village knows that the castle, which is surrounded by an impenetrable thorn barrier, was damaged in an earthquake and isn’t safe. As Sand begins to explore the ruins, he discovers that every object in the castle has been broken, and he begins to use his skills as an apprentice blacksmith to fix what he can. The protagonist is soon joined by Merlin the Falcon and Perrotte, the lost heir to the castle, who seems to have returned from death. Sand and Perrotte work together to repair the damage and gather the food and supplies they need to survive. They soon discover that their improvements seem to make the thorns that surround the castle disappear. Perrotte and Sand also come to understand their own and their families’ pasts as they work toward forgiveness, facing their inner and outer conflicts. The developing relationship between the two main characters is portrayed realistically; it’s often as prickly as the thorns that surround them. They both come of age as they accept themselves and those around them. Fans of Gail Carson Levine’s and Shannon Hale’s fairy tale adaptations will enjoy the adventure and mystery here.–Beth L. Meister, Milwaukee Jewish Day School, WI

redstarLevy, Dana Alison. The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher. 272p. Delacorte. Jul. 2014. spiral $15.99. ISBN 9780385376525; lib. ed. $18.99. ISBN 9780385376549; ebk. ISBN 9780385376532.

Gr 3-6 – With four brothers, a dog, a cat, school projects, soccer matches, and a grumpy neighbor, the Fletchers are your typical American family…with two dads, and siblings who are adopted kids from various ethnic backgrounds. While 12-year-old Sam ponders whether trying out for the school play will interfere with his identity as a soccer player, 10-year-old Jax negotiates changing friendships and a veteran project that involves talking to the unfriendly Vietnam vet next door. Meanwhile, Eli, also age 10, finds that his new, academically oriented school isn’t everything he expected it would be, and six-year-old Frog attempts to convince his family that his kindergarten best friend is not imaginary. Turtles and kittens are requested, camping trips are taken, and holiday celebrations (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Chanukah, and Christmas) involve minor kitchen fires, missing turkeys, and other mishaps. Through it all, Dad and Papa complain about the mischief as often as they join in themselves. Although the tone is never preachy, the brothers nevertheless learn over the course of the year that identities can expand, friendships can evolve, and making mistakes is okay. With its semi-episodic structure, laugh-out-loud humor, and mix of zaniness and love, Levy’s debut offers something truly significant: a middle-grade family story featuring gay parents and interracial families that is never about either issue. Fans of Beverly Cleary’s Quimbys, Judy Blume’s Hatchers, and, more recently, Jeanne Birdsall’s Penderwicks will fervently hope that more Fletcher misadventures are yet to come.–Jill Ratzan, I. L. Peretz Community Jewish School, Somerset, NJ

Graphic novels are now reviewed in every issue.
Where applicable, they appear at the bottom of the grade level section.

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

Grades 5-8

Anders, Lou. Frostborn. illus. by Justin Gerard. 320p. (Thrones and Bones: Bk. 1). Crown. Aug. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385387781.

Averbeck, Jim. A Hitch at the Fairmount. 416p. S. & S./Atheneum. Jun. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442494473. LC 2013028921.

Avery, Tom. My Brother’s Shadow. 176p. Random. Sept. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385384872; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780385384889; ebk. ISBN 9780385384896. LC 2013030321.

Barrows, Annie. Magic in the Mix. 224p. (The Magic Half). Bloomsbury. Sept. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781619634824; ebk. ISBN 9781619634831.

Becker, Suzy. Kate the Great: Except When She’s Not. 288p. Crown. Aug. 2014. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780385387422; lib. ed. $15.99. ISBN 9780385387439; ebk. ISBN 9780385387446. LC 2013046710.

Bernal, Estela. Can You See Me Now? 162p. Piñata Bks. 2014. pap. $10.95. ISBN 9781558857834.

Burns, Laura J. Bewitched in Oz. 256p. (Bewitched in Oz: Bk. 1). Capstone. Aug. 2014. Tr $12.95. ISBN 9781623701291. LC 2013050829.

Clifton, Lutricia. Immortal Max. 176p. Holiday House. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780823430413. LC 2013023664.

Dionne, Erin. Ollie and the Science of Treasure Hunting. 288p. (A 14-Day Mystery). Dial. Jul. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780803738720.

Dulemba, Elizabeth O. A Bird on Water Street. 247p. Little Pickle. 2014. pap. $8.99. ISBN 9781939775054.

French, Simon. My Cousin’s Keeper. 240p. Candlewick. Sept. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763662790; ebk. ISBN 9780763666743. LC 2013953539.

Galveston, Louise. By the Grace of Todd. 240p. Penguin/Razorbill. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781595146779.

Gebhart, Ryan. There Will Be Bears. 224p. Candlewick. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763665210; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780763670443. LC 2013946620.

Gephart, Donna. Death by Toilet Paper. 272p. Delacorte. Aug. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385743990; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780375991431; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780385374163.

Ghent, Natale. Millhouse. 192p. Tundra. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781770496392.

Glewwe, Eleanor. Sparkers. 336p. Viking. Sept. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780451468765; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780698150836. LC 2013038475.

Gregg, Stacy. The Princess and the Foal. 272p. Philomel. Sept. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399168871.

Hahn, Mary Downing. Where I Belong. 240p. Clarion. Sept. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544230200.

Holm, Jennifer L. The Fourteenth Goldfish. 224p. Random. Aug. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780375870644; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780375970641; ebk. ISBN 9780307974365. LC 2013035052.

Larson, Kirby. Dash. 256p. Scholastic. Aug. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545416351; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545662826. LC 2013042525.

Lawson, Jessica. The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher. illus. by Iacopo Bruno. 224p. S. & S. Jul. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481401500; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781481401555. LC 2013020560.

Lettrick, Robert. Frenzy. 288p. Disney-Hyperion. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781423185383.

Lindelauf, Benny. Nine Open Arms. tr. from Dutch by John Nieuwenhuizen. illus. by Dasha Tolstikova. 256p. glossary. illus. maps. notes. Enchanted Lion. Jun. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781592701469.

McCarthy, Jenna & Olivia Cwann. Maggie Malone and the Mostly Magical Boots. 208p. Sourcebooks. 2014. Tr $6.99. ISBN 9781402293061.

Mackey, Heather. Dreamwood. 336p. Putnam. Jun. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399250675.

Magaziner, Lauren. The Only Thing Worse Than Witches. 272p. Dial. Aug. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780803739185.

Marino, Andy. The Door. 304p. Scholastic. 2014. Tr. $17.99. ISBN 9780545551373; ebk. $17.99. ISBN 9780545551397. LC 2013032039.

Maruno, Jennifer. Totem. 168p. Dundurn. Jul. 2014. pap. $10.99. ISBN 9781459719347.

Mayo, Simon. Itch Rocks: The Further Adventures of an Element Hunter. 432p. Sterling/Splinter. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781454905103; ebk. ISBN 9781454905127. LC 2013031758.

Milford, Kate. Greenglass House. 384p. Clarion. Aug. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544052703.

Murphy, Jill. The Worst Witch to the Rescue. illus. by Jill Murphy. 176p. ebook available. Candlewick. Aug. 2014. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780763669997. LC 2013953454.

Murray, Kirsty. The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie. 216p. Allen & Unwin. Jul. 2014. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781743317020.

Nelson, Peter. Creature Keepers and the Hijacked Hydro-Hide. illus. by Rohitash Rao. 384p. (Creature Keepers: Bk. 1). HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray. Sept. 2014. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780062236432; ebk. $8.99. ISBN 9780062236449.

Nye, Naomi Shihab. The Turtle of Oman. 320p. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Aug. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062019721; ebk. ISBN 9780062337610.

Rue, Katherine. Braving the Brontës. 208p. (Carly Keene, Literary Detective: Bk. 1). In This Together Media. Jun. 2014. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780989816632.

Shecter, Vicky Alvear. Hades Speaks! illus. by J. E. Larson. 128p. (Secrets of the Ancient Gods). Boyds Mills. Sept. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781620915981.

Smith, Clete. Magic Delivery. 288p. Disney-Hyperion. Aug. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781423165972.

Sonneborn, Scott. The Frankenstein Journals. illus. by Timothy Banks. 160p. illus. Capstone. Aug. 2014. Tr $9.95. ISBN 9781434291301.

Staniszewski, Anna. The Prank List. 224p. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. Jul. 2014. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9781402286391.

Stolarz, Laurie. Welcome to the Dark House. 368p. Disney-Hyperion. Jul. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781423181729.

Tashjian, Janet. My Life as a Joke. illus. by Jake Tashjian. 272p. (My Life: Bk. 4) Holt. 2014. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9780805098501. LC 2013046395.

Thompson, J. E. Disappearance at Hangman’s Bluff: A Felony Bay Mystery. 336p. HarperCollins/Walden Pond. Sept. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0062104496; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780062104519.

Thompson, Mary G. Evil Fairies Love Hair. illus. by Blake Henry. 320p. Clarion. Aug. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780547859033; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780544308909.

Valentino, Serena. The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty’s Prince. 256p. Disney Pr. Jul. 2014. RTE $16.99. ISBN 9781423159124; ebk. ISBN 9781423196372. LC 2013946516.

Wilson, N. D. Boys of Blur. 208p. Random. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780449816738; LC 2013023615.

Zeltser, David. Lug, Dawn of the Ice Age: How One Small Boy Saved Our Big, Dumb Species. illus. by Jan Gerardi. 192p. illus. Egmont USA. Sept. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781606845134; ebk. $15.99. ISBN 9781606845141.


Graphic Novels

Grades 5-8

Brown, Jeffrey. Star Wars: Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan! illus. by Jeffrey Brown. 176p. Scholastic. Jul. 2014. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780545621250.

Hale, Nathan. Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood: A World War I Tale. illus. by Nathan Hale. 128p. (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales). bibliog. ebook available. maps. Abrams/Amulet. 2014. Tr $12.95. ISBN 9781419708084.

Miller, Bryan Q. Space Mountain. illus. by Kelley Jones. 176p. Disney-Hyperion. 2014. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781423162292.

SMITH, Matt. Barbarian Lord. illus. by Matt Smith. 176p. Clarion. Jul. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780547859064.

Weigel, Jeff. Dragon Girl: The Secret Valley. illus. by Jeff Weigel. 192p. AMP! Comics for Kids. Jun. 2014. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781449441838. LC 2013943302.

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



  1. I’ve rewritten this comment 5 times because it keeps sounding snarky to me, but — I would sincerely like to know if you have classified books by grade level because you feel they are appropriate for kids at that maturity level. (The reason for my question? I will be teaching students grades 6-8 in a religious private school next year, and want to be very careful about the content of the books in my class library!)

    • Kiera Parrott says:

      Hi PMcHale. Good question! Our broad grade ranges are more art than science; they are not meant to be prescriptive or exclusive. Instead, we intend them to serve as a starting point for collection development. The editors, in collaboration with our librarian reviewers, select a grade range that considers both the reading difficulty level as well as content. That line between middle grade and YA can often be a bit hazy, but we do our best to offer a slightly more specific grade range within the review itself (the more specific range can be found at the very beginning of each review). That said, each reader is unique, and what would be too mature for one child may be just right for another.