Mothman’s Curse by Christine Hayes, pictures by James K. Hindle

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Summary: While their father is running a sale at the family auction house, Josie and Fox discover an old Polaroid camera. Trying it out, they discover a ghostly man appears in all the photos they take.   They buy the camera, and it turns out to be the first in a series of events that spins out of control. The old man in the photos has a connection to Mothman, a red-eyed monster who has appeared in different towns for the last 100 years right before a huge disaster. Now he’s come to Josie and Fox’s town, and they only have a few days to break his curse before disaster strikes. Grades 3-6.

Pros: Plenty of kids love creepy stories, and this story has plenty of creepiness. It will definitely give some shivers, yet isn’t scary enough to be disturbing to most middle grade readers.

Cons: The ghost in the picture has committed suicide, which may be a bit disturbing to some readers.

Rufus the Writer by Elizabeth Bram, illustrated by Chuck Grosnink

Published by Schwartz and Wade

Summary: One summer day, Rufus has an inspiration—instead of a lemonade stand, he’ll have a story stand. He sets up a table with a sign, puts on his best clothes, and is in business. Before long, his friends start to come by and ask him to play, but he keeps telling them he has to write stories. He writes a story about the color orange for his friends who like red and yellow, a story about a new kitten for his friend whose cat just has kittens, and a special birthday story for his little sister. At the end of the day, his friends return with gifts for Rufus, which they give them in exchange for their stories. Grades K-3.

Pros: A celebration of creativity. This would be a great book to introduce the joy of writing to a primary grade classroom.

Cons: At first I thought Rufus’s stories were kind of silly. But a second reading made me realize they are actually very realistic to what a young boy would write.

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

Published by Yen Press

Summary: New girl Peppi accidentally bumps into nerdy kid Jaime on her first day of school, and he ends up getting made fun of as a result. For weeks, she agonizes over how best to apologize to him. In the meantime, she finds new friends in the school art club. The art club’s big rival is the science club, and wouldn’t you know it, Jaime is the star of the science club. The principal, in one of those clueless educational administrator moves, pits the art club against the science club in a competition for table space at the annual school club fair. War clouds gather on the middle school horizon until Peppi and Jaime are able to resolve their differences and come up with a solution that allows the two clubs to work together peaceably. Grades 4-7.

Pros: Awkward will happily share shelf space with graphic novels Smile, El Deafo, and Roller Girl. The art is near perfect and the story line impeccably captures the agonizing awkwardness of adolescence. Svetlana Chmakova uses several pages at the end to show the design process of creating characters and settings.

Cons: There are a couple incidences of mildly PG language.

Big Top Burning: The True Story of an Arsonist, a Missing Girl, and the Greatest Show on Earth by Laura A. Woollett

Published by Chicago Review Press 

Summary: On July 6, 1944, the big top of Ringling Brothers Circus caught fire and burned to the ground in ten minutes. 167 people died, including 59 children under the age of ten. This carefully researched book tells the story of many of the people who were at the circus that day and what happened to them when the fire broke out. It also looks at two questions that arose in the aftermath of the tragedy: did a troubled 15-year-old circus employee named Robert Segee set the fire? And who was Little Miss 1565, a little girl whose body was recovered from the fire but who was not identified by any relatives? In the years since the fire, Little Miss 1565 has been almost definitely identified as Eleanor Cook, but the cause of the fire remains classified as “Undetermined”. Grades 5-8.

Pros: This is a meticulously researched book, with 18 pages of notes and citations. It’s also a well-written, gripping account, both of the fire, and the detective work that continued on the case for decades.

Cons: 59 kids dying in a fire at the circus?  Probably not a subject for everyone.

Dory and the Real True Friend by Abby Hanlon

Published by Dial Books for Young Readers

Summary: Dory is back in this follow up to last year’s Dory Fantasmagory. She’s getting ready for her first day of her school; older siblings Violet and Luke warn her to leave her imaginary friends at home and focus on the real kids. She listens to their advice—sort of—and decides that a girl named Rosabelle would make a good best friend. Not only is Rosabelle a princess, but she lives in a castle and rides a dragon. Of course, Luke and Violet assume Rosabelle is another figment of Dory’s imagination, but Dory persists and she and Rosabelle combine their imaginations to create a grand finale of epic proportions. In the end, Dory introduces her amazed brother and sister to the human Rosabelle. Grades 1-3.

Pros: I didn’t quite jump on the Dory bandwagon with the first book, but this one pretty much won me over. Junie B. Jones fans will get a good chuckle out of Dory’s first forays into school and friendship. The plentiful illustrations add a great deal to the fun.

Cons: Some readers might find Dory a bit too weird.

Wrap-Up Wednesday: Making a Difference

Can one person make the world a better place?  Read one of these books to see the answer is a resounding yes!

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls.  Published by Random House.

Growing up in Ghana with only one leg that worked, Emmanuel refused to believe he couldn’t do what all the other kids could do.  He learned to walk to school, play soccer, and ride a bike.  Eventually he rode that bike from one end of Ghana to the other to raise awareness about disabled people.  His work led to the passage of the Ghanaian Persons With Disabilities Act in 2006.

The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle by Jude Isabella, illustrated by Simone Shin.  Published by Kids Can Press.

Even a simple act like donating your old bicycle can help people thousands of miles away.  Follow the story of this bike, donated by an American boy, as it travels to Burkina Faso for multiple reincarnations.

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery.  Published by Dial Books.

The youngest person on the Selma march, Lynda Blackmon Lowery wanted to show Governor George Wallace her injuries from the beating she received at the Bloody Sunday protest on March 7, 1965.  “You have a voice, too,” she tells readers.  “And with determination, you can be a history maker, just like me.”

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of Gambia by Miranda Paul, illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon.  Published by Millbrook Press.

When Isatou Ceesay first encountered a plastic grocery bag in her Gambian village, she thought it was a light, strong alternative to the baskets she usually carried.  Years later, the bags were choking the goats who ate them and attracting mosquitoes as they festered in the trash.  Isatou got the idea to crochet the plastic into purses she and other women could sell to make money for improvements in their village.

Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins

Published by Chronicle Books 

Summary: It’s the classic battle, cake versus cyclops. In this quirky story, a rude cake never says please, thank you, or I’m sorry. One night, while resisting his parents’ demands to go to bed, he’s plucked from his house by a giant cyclops. It looks like the end for this cranky confection, but it turns out that the cyclops just wants him for a hat. Furthermore, unlike the pouting pastry, the cyclops and its friends are models of polite behavior. The cake eventually gets the hang of things, and asks to please be returned to bed. The final page shows the contrite cupcake at last sharing and generally being a model of politeness for his friends.  Ages 3-8.

Pros: A decidedly original take on manners. This will elicit some giggles for sure.

Cons: It took me a second to recognize the flying saucer-shaped protagonist as a cake.