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Middle Grade Xpress Reviews | May 2016

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More of May 2016
Xpress Reviews

Picture Books

Chapter Books



Graphic Novels

Cheverton, Mark. Invasión del mundo principal: Una aventura Minecraft. tr. from English by Elia Maqueda. 200p. (Gameknight999: Bk. 1). Rocaeditorial. Aug. 2015. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9788416306077.

Gr 3-6 –Young Minecraft enthusiasts will rejoice, as there is a new way for fans to appreciate their favorite game. This Spanish-language title chronicles Gameknight999’s adventure through the land of Minecraft. Gameknight999 likes the game but most of all enjoys tricking his fellow players. However, one day he mistakenly triggers his dad’s invention, el digitalizador (the digitizer), and blacks out. When Gameknight999 comes to, he’s able to understand pigs, cows, and chickens. He has been transported into the world of Minecraft. Now he has to struggle to survive as he encounters zombies and creepers. The writing is adequate, accessible, and interesting, though readers be warned, the first four chapters, which take place before Gameknight999 becomes a character in the game, go slowly. This is a book that is sure to pique the interest of reluctant readers, gamers, and fans of Minecraft. VERDICT This title should be available in all juvenile fiction collections serving Spanish-language readers.–Maricela Leon-Barrera, San Francisco Public Library

Durham, Paul. Rise of the Ragged Clover. illus. by Petur Antonsson. 304p. (The Luck Uglies Trilogy: Bk. 3). HarperCollins. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062271563.

Gr 5-7 –Village Drowning is suffering, and no word has come from it as Rye (Riley) O’Chanter, her little sister, and her mother hide out in Beyond the Shale, waiting and looking for Rye’s father. Harmless is more than Rye’s father; he is the chieftain of the Luck Uglies, the town’s protectors, who are threatened by the ambitious, evil Slinister. As Rye and her friends in Drowning reunite and work to save their village and families, she discovers that things are not always clear-cut and that people—including parents—can be good and bad. Fast-paced and tense, with likable characters, this is a worthy addition to the series. VERDICT Though this third installment works as a stand-alone, it’s best appreciated by readers of the previous books.–Maria B. Salvadore, formerly at District of Columbia Public Library

Gemmell, N.J. The Kensington Reptilarium. 304p. Random. Apr. 2016. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780857980502.

Gr 4-7 –Siblings Kick, Scruff, Bert, and Pin Caddy live on their own in the Australian outback with their beloved dingo, Bucket, as they wait for their father to return from his top secret World War II mission. Having scared off their guardian, the children are growing more and more feral, and their food stores are running low. Months after the end of the war, with still no sign of their father, a visitor arrives with the devastating news that their father is missing in action and they will have to go to London to live with their mysterious Uncle Basti. Reeling from the news and the jarring change of place, the ragtag siblings are left on the doorstep of their uncle’s crumbling home in war-ravaged London. What follows is a completely unexpected and wholly delightful adventure as the kids navigate the mercurial personality of their shell-shocked shut-in uncle and his Reptilarium full of mysterious hidden passages, themed rooms, and all manner of dangerous reptiles. Readers will enjoy the twisting plot and the thrilling discovery of the various nooks and crannies in the Reptilarium. Oldest sibling Kick’s breathless and exciting narration conveys trepidation, vulnerability, and a fierce love for her younger siblings. Although the ending wraps up a bit too neatly, it feels balanced by the palpable anxiety of the rest of the story. VERDICT An unpredictable but ultimately uplifting tale that will appeal to fans of adventure stories such as Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society and Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”–Kristy Pasquariello, Wellesley Free Library, MA

Holt, K.A. Red Moon Rising. 336p. ebook available. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481436267.

Gr 4-6 –As a young colonist on a nameless moon, Rae has been taught to fear and despise the Kihuut natives, who are called Cheese due to mishandling of their original name. Although efforts between her father and A’alanatka, a leader in the Kihuut community, have been ongoing, Rae and her sister are captured during an attack. Despite the trauma of being kidnapped, Rae and Temple adapt quickly to Kihuut culture and appreciate the greater freedom enjoyed by Kihuut women, although Rae often thinks of her family left behind. During her captivity, Rae learns that she was taught an incorrect version of an infamous massacre that took place between the Kihuut and the human colonists, including that the Kihuut inflicted germ warfare on the community. When the humans invade the Kihuut in revenge for the kidnappings, many Kihuut are killed or sentenced to hanging. Rae must decide whether to join her aunt as a physician’s apprentice and endure the patriarchy of her settlement, or return to the Kihuuts. The action begins immediately and remains fast-paced, at the expense of character development. Rae is an appealing and spirited protagonist who clearly struggles with her dilemma. While the theme of forced colonialism provides opportunity for discussion and is obviously based on the tragic history of white homesteaders and Native Americans, some readers may look askance at the mimicry of Native American names and mythology. VERDICT A strictly additional purchase if demand for dystopian novels is insatiable.–Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton, VA

redstarJohnson, Jaleigh. The Secrets of Solace. 288p. (World of Solace: Bk. 2). ebook available. Delacorte. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385376488.

Gr 4-8 –Archivist apprentice Lina lives in the future world of Solace, learning to analyze the curious treasures that fall from the sky in the scrap towns on the borders. Under the absentminded guidance of Councilwoman Zara, the lonely orphaned Lina has become isolated from her fellow apprentices, spending her time eavesdropping on secret conversations and exploring forbidden tunnels. With the discovery of a hidden sentient airship named Merlin, and the assistance of Ozben (a prince who is hiding from vicious assassins), the intrepid Lina sets out to fly Ozben to alert his combatant sister to a treasonous plot to escalate the Iron War, rescuing its desperate refugees on the way. In the midst of a fierce storm, Lina pilots Merlin safely to the rescue, only to face the Solace archivists threatening to seize and imprison the living airship for research on her return. Johnson has achieved another winner in this second book in the series. Lina is a tough cookie who doesn’t give up easily, and her dangerous humanitarian mission brings her respect and friendship from unlikely places—and the delicate beginnings of romance, too. Johnson has a sure touch in writing for this age group. Lina’s terrible loneliness at the beginning of the story, her forlorn attempts to emotionally engage her disinterested caregiver, and her endearing clumsiness will strike a chord with every (misunderstood) tweenage reader. Johnson’s imaginative future world is so cleverly realized and appealing—with the soul of the airship visualized as a tiny flame, chameleons morphing between human and dragonlike form, the memory jar with its “thin pink mist” containing crucial memories unique to the person holding it, the insect lumatites gathering on Lina’s glove to light her tunnel explorations—that it almost feels as if readers are already in the movie that this series will hopefully spawn. VERDICT Highly recommended for those who have finished with Harry and are too young for Katniss.–Jane Barrer, United Nations International School, New York City

Laird, Elizabeth. The Fastest Boy in the World. 176p. Pan Macmillan. Apr. 2016. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9781447267171.

Gr 3-6 –Eleven-year-old Solomon loves to run; he always has. He fantasizes about becoming an Olympic runner and carrying the green, gold, and red flag of his beloved Ethiopia to glory. But his dreams will never come to pass, as he knows his simple life in a round hut in the tiny town of Kidame can never lead to Olympic glory. One day, Grandfather asks Solomon to accompany him on a trip to Addis Ababa, the capital city. Solomon is so excited to go, but it is a day’s walk, and he worries about Grandfather being able to make the journey. Along the 23-mile trip, Grandfather falters more than once, but they are able to make it to the big, exciting city. When Grandfather takes Solomon to meet the son of one of his most cherished friends, Solomon discovers a family secret that changes his attitude about his grandfather and his life forever. On this same day, when his grandfather falls very ill, the boy also learns a profound lesson about true friendship and the enduring love of family. Laird writes with an obvious admiration of this often unfavorably depicted country and the proud history of its people. Peppered in the narrative of Solomon is a background story, rich with the history of Ethiopia’s struggle for independence from Italy, its rule by Emperor Haile Selassie, and a true respect for the people who fought for its freedoms. VERDICT An excellent introduction to Ethiopian culture as well as a wonderfully written exploration of a boy’s love of country and sport.–Carol Connor, Cincinnati Public Schools, OH

Rasine, Birgitte. The Jaguar and the Cacao Tree. 330p. (Max and the Code of Harvests: Bk. 1). Lucitá. Mar. 2016. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781938284922; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781938284984.

Gr 5-8 –Not only is the rain forest in Guatemala full of exotic plants, animals, and insects, it has an old, mysterious magic. That magic seats itself inside an ancient cacao tree, where the stories of the past are held within the cacao pods. Up until recently, only the Mayan elders knew of the secret magic. All of that changes when a young boy named Max travels to Guatemala with his family to study the stingless bees of the Maya. The magic of the rain forest immediately casts a spell on Max. A young Mayan girl, Itzel, notices the magic surrounding Max and befriends him by sharing her customs and the history of the cacao trees. Itzel slowly begins to reveal the secrets of the rain forest, until one night the two wander deep into the forest and release a magical force. This is a unique middle grade novel that expertly blends magic, science, culture, and ecological awareness. While the writing is rich and detailed, it may go over less experienced younger readers’ heads. Max fluctuates between having authentic, typical 11-year-old boy reactions and experiencing thoughts and feelings like those of a much older person. The extensive vocabulary used makes this book an excellent resource for readers looking for a challenge. VERDICT An original concept helps propel this story forward, creating a magical world that entertains and educates.–Annalise Ammer, Henrietta Public Library, NY

Sazaklis, John. The Dangers of Dog Walking. ISBN 9781496525871; ISBN 9781496526847.

––––. Recess Is Ruined. ISBN 9781496525888; ISBN 9781496526854.

ea vol: illus. by Lee Robinson. 96p. (Billy Burger, Model Citizen). glossary. Capstone. Jan. 2016. lib. ed. $21.99. pap. $5.95.

Gr 3-5 –Trouble seems to find Billy Burger, a boy with an active imagination, a love of food, and a fondness for the phrase Say what? In Recess Is Ruined, rain prevents Billy and his friends from going outside, so they play in the empty library. Their antics cause havoc, and Billy looks like the main culprit. Billy has to be a model citizen just like his grandfather to make up for the mess he’s in. He comes up with the idea of a book drive, which ends up being so successful that his teacher announces a Billy Burger Book Drive Week. In The Dangers of Dog Walking, Billy retaliates when the school bully ruins the boys’ science project, and he gets suspended from school for fighting. When Billy is reminded of his grandfather’s work on behalf of the community, he decides to be a model citizen, too, by volunteering at the animal shelter. In both of the short, episodic chapter books, which have a heavy emphasis on correct behavior and the importance of being an upstanding citizen, Billy is redeemed and all is well. Each book includes questions at the end, along with a glossary and brief biography of a real-life model citizen. The stories have stilted dialogue and static plots. Stick with “EllRay Jakes” titles instead. VERDICT Didactic and formulaic, these chapter books are not recommended.–Ramarie Beaver, Plano Public Library System, TX

Turnbull, Samantha. Bella’s Backyard Bullies. ISBN 9781743319857.

––––. Emily’s Tiara Trouble. ISBN 9781743319840.

ea vol: illus. by Sarah Davis. 144p. (The Anti-Princess Club). Allen & Unwin. Apr. 2016. pap. $7.99.

Gr 3-5 –An Australian import from a debut author about four 10-year-old best friends. A diverse group of girls (Emily the mathematician, Bella the architect, Grace the jock, and Chloe the scientist) are determined to turn the princess stereotype on its head. In Emily’s Tiara Trouble, the girls form the Anti-Princess Club, whose motto is “We Don’t Need Rescuing,” and begin to develop missions that support their goals. These missions are established with each girl in mind and completed within each book of the series. In Bella’s Backyard Bullies, the Anti-Princess Club develops a huge Internet following and becomes the target of bullies. While the girls go after the bullies who destroy their clubhouse, they display bullying tendencies as they do so, which confuses the message for young readers. Australian slang and spellings make this series difficult to read at times but not prohibitively so. Though there is a need for powerful female characters, this series doesn’t quite hit the mark, highlighting power through righteousness rather than unity. VERDICT A little more balance is necessary to make this a successful series. Look elsewhere.–Lisa Nabel, Dayton Metro Library, OH

Wilson, N.D. Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle. illus. by Forrest Dickison. 336p. ebook available. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062327260.

Gr 5-8 –Sam Miracle has always been different. An orphan who lives in a group home, he often blanks out and finds himself in vivid dreams that seem almost real. Sam is also disabled; his arms were shattered in an accident he cannot remember, and though they are healed, they are immobile and painful at times. He soon discovers he is part of a small group of people who can walk through time and that he has lived the same life over and over—dashing around time trying to live long enough to stop an evil outlaw who wants to end the world. Now the time of the final conflict approaches, and with the help of another foster kid, a girl named Glory, and his companion through time, Father Tiempo, Sam sets out to meet his destiny. There’s tons of action and adventure in this book, most of which is set in the old West, but though Wilson tries, he does not successfully manage all the time threads. Younger readers will most likely be confused by the constant, intricate time line shifting as well as the small details of Sam’s past adventures, which are revealed too slowly. Other major hindrances are the problematic elements of stereotypical wise Native American elders and Sam’s disabled arms being cured through magic. VERDICT Though some action scenes are satisfying, overall this time-twisting tale takes too long to sort itself out. Recommended only in libraries where the author’s previous works are very popular.–Angie Manfredi, Los Alamos County Library System, NM

Yee, Lisa. Wonder Woman at Super Hero High. 240p. (DC Super Hero Girls). Random. Mar. 2016. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9781101940594; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781101940617.

Gr 4-6 –Following in the footsteps of “Monster High” and “Ever After High,” this first installment in the series is paired with TV specials, online content, and merchandise, including action figures. Teenage Wonder Woman leaves Paradise Island to attend Super Hero High, one of the top schools for budding young superheroes, in Metropolis. She makes new friends, including Bumblebee and Hawkgirl; develops her first crush; and works toward excellence in classes such as Weaponomics and Flyers’ Ed. But not everything is smooth going at Super Hero High. Wonder Woman’s most embarrassing moments are being shared with the world through videos captured by her roommate, Harley Quinn. Even worse, someone is leaving mean notes for Wonder Woman to get her to leave school. While this story is filled with superheroes, it will appeal more to fans of lighthearted school drama stories than those looking for action. The humor sometimes falls flat, and savvy readers will uncover the mystery bully long before the reveal, but with its fast pace, chapters that end on cliff-hangers, and high-interest characters, this is a good choice for reluctant readers or those looking for a fun, quick read. Readers familiar with superhero characters will enjoy seeing some recognizable names, but the story remains accessible for those new to DC’s superhero universe. VERDICT Sure to have wide appeal, this book is a solid option to balance collections saturated with male superheroes.–Jenna Friebel, Deerfield Public Library, IL

This article was published in School Library Journal's May 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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