Just Jaime by Terri Libenson

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Image result for just jaime libenson

Image result for just jaime libenson

Summary:  It’s the last day of seventh grade, and Jaime and Maya are having some major friendship issues.  For the past few months, they’ve been hanging out with Celia and Grace, and Jaime has increasingly felt pushed away.  She starts the day determined to confront Maya about it, while Maya is planning to convey Celia’s news that Jaime is out of the group.  When Maya finally sends her text, Jaime is devastated, and seeks solace in French teacher Madame Zukosky’s classroom.  She rallies for an afternoon of field day, realizing who her true friends are, and beginning to reach out to new ones.  Readers of Terri Libenson’s other books, Invisible Emmie and Positively Izzy will recognize many of the characters, including Maya and Jaime.  The story is told in a similar format to the other two, with Jaime’s story in illustrated text and Maya’s in comic book style.  The road to the end of seventh grade is definitely a bumpy one, but both Jaime and Maya persevere to a happy ending. 247 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Terri Libenson has her finger firmly on the pulse of 12- and 13-year-olds; anyone who has survived middle school–or is in the process of doing so–will recognize many of the situations and kids.  That, combined with the graphic format, makes this a great choice for reluctant readers.

Cons:  There was a bit of a twist at the end, but not nearly as fun and surprising as the ones in the first two books.

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I Am Hermes!: Mischief-Making Messenger of the Gods by Mordicai Gerstein

Published by Holiday House

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Image result for i am hermes mordicai gerstein

Summary:  As he did with I Am Pan!, Mordicai Gerstein has collected myths featuring Pan’s father, Hermes.  Starting as a precocious baby who “wants it all!”, Hermes grows up in a single day from a round orange toddler to a lean orange messenger whose winged feet help him deliver communications to the gods.  After Zeus and the other gods and goddesses decide to retire, Hermes experiments with smoke signals, messenger pigeons, the pony express, and the U.S. mail before finding the perfect medium for communicating: the Internet!  Includes an author’s note that describes Hermes as the “most likable and happiest” of the Greek gods and tells how Gerstein came to create this book. 72 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A fun and gentle introduction to mythology that introduces many of the Greek gods and goddesses, but focuses on their wackiness without taking anything too seriously.  Kids will enjoy the graphic novel format and colorful illustrations.

Cons:  Some readers may fail to see the humor in a round orange baby wanting everything he can see who winds up being king of the Internet.

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Operatic by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler

Published by Groundwood Books

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Image result for operatic kyo maclear

Summary:  Charlie is finishing up eighth grade; Mr. K., her favorite teacher, assigns everyone in the class to perform a favorite song for the end of the year.  As Charlie tries to figure out what her song will be, she reflects on changes that have taken place during the year. Specifically, she can’t forget a boy named Luka who refused to conform to middle school expectations, and was bullied until he left school.  Both Luka and Charlie have had crushes on the same boy, Emile. As the weeks go by, Mr. K. introduces the class to different types of music. Nothing resonates with Charlie until they get to opera. She finds herself drawn to Maria Callas, and connects with some of the details of her early life and singing career.  Maria’s ability to always go her own way inspires Charlie to reach out to Luka, and she is able to help him find his way back to school. Charlie, Luka, Emile, and another friend find the courage to perform a band called Freaks of Feeling; at the end the band gives Charlie tickets to the opera as a birthday gift. 160 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  This book really captures adolescence, and the tension between conforming and being yourself.  Music fans will enjoy Charlie’s insights about how kids find connections based on the kind of music they enjoy.

Cons:  I didn’t entirely understand the whole Charlie-Emile-Luka dynamic.

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I wrote a book!

Remember the book A Wonderful Year by Nick Bruel?  Me neither.  It was the first book I reviewed on this blog on February 20, 2015, and I don’t think I’ve looked at it since.

Three days later I posted a review for The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, a book I still book talk many times a year and count among my favorite books of all times.

That’s the way it goes with reading.  Some books are just more memorable than others.

So when I realized that I’ve published almost 1,400 reviews, I decided it was time to do some weeding.  In a week or so, I’m going to take down the reviews from 2015 and 2016.  In preparation for this,  I’ve gone through all the books I’ve written about and picked out the ones I feel have stood the test of time.

I’ve compiled them into a book called Hit the Books: The Best of Kids Book A Day, 2015-2018.  There are about 150 books included; each entry has the summary I wrote on my blog and why it was included on the list.  They’re divided into eight sections: picture books, early readers, early chapter books, middle grade fiction, graphic novels, poetry, biography, and nonfiction.

I also put together ten lists of “Read-Alikes” from the books I’ve reviewed on the blog.  So if you have a fan of Diary of A Wimpy Kid or Raina Telgemeier, you can get some ideas for other books they might want to try.

Let me know if you find this book helpful.  Who knows, I may put together a second edition in another year or two!

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Rocket to the Moon by Don Brown

Published by Harry N. Abrams

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Image result for rocket to the moon don brown

Summary:  Rodman Law, an early 20th-century stuntman, narrates the story of America’s space exploration.  Starting with a quick history of rockets, the narrative goes into more details with Werner von Braun, Robert Goddard, and the dawn of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. space race.  About half of the book is devoted to the Apollo missions, with the bulk of that describing Apollo 11 and the historic moonwalk by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. It ends with Apollo 17, the final mission to reach the moon.  Includes a timeline, notes, and a lengthy bibliography. 136 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Don’t be fooled by the graphic novel format, and Rodman Law’s light tone–there is lots of information here, and the extensive back matter provides plenty of additional research avenues.

Cons:  While this is billed as book 1 of a series called Big Ideas That Changed the World, I couldn’t find any information on any more upcoming books.

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Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel by Rey Terciero, illustrated by Bre Indigo

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Image result for meg jo beth amy graphic novel

Summary:  If the names Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are familiar to you, you will recognize this as a modern-day retelling of the just-turned-150 book Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  In this version, the Marches are a blended family, with a black father of Meg, a white mother of Jo, and biracial daughters Beth and Amy who share both parents.  In the opening scenes, the four girls are trying to survive a Christmas without presents while their military father is overseas. Mom (you may know her as Marmee) helps them get some perspective by serving meals in a soup kitchen; on the way home, they meet their wealthy neighbor and his grandson Laurie. There are some plot modifications from the original (a few spoiler alerts): Jo comes out as gay; Beth gets leukemia and almost dies (whew!); Meg breaks up with Brooks and decides to pursue a career as a lawyer.  The theme of family love is still strong, though, and sustains all four girls as they make their way through a tumultuous year.  256 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  As a big fan of the original novel, I enjoyed seeing how Terciero stayed true to the essence of the story while realistically updating just about everything.  Even those who haven’t read Alcott’s work will enjoy the story and the touching relationship among all the family members.

Cons:  Meg and Jo’s letters to their father at the beginning of the story, designed to get the reader up to speed on the family’s history, came across as awkward and sounding like their father had lost his memory or something.

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New Kid by Jerry Craft

Published by HarperCollins

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Image result for new kid jerry craft

Summary:  Jordan Banks’ true love is art, and he’d love to be starting seventh grade at an art school, but his parents have a different idea.  They’ve enrolled him in Riverdale Academy Day School, an exclusive, mostly white private school where Jordan is one of the few students of color.  The story follows him from his first day to his last, as he tries to strike a balance between his new friends at Riverdale and old friends from his Washington Heights neighborhood.  Jordan is a smart and observant kid, and the story reflects his observations about the assumptions made about him and other African American and Latinx kids. He also has some of his own beliefs challenged about some of his white classmates.  By the end of the year, he’s feeling more comfortable at school, has kept his connections back home, and is ready for another year at Riverdale, the story of which we can hope will be told in a sequel. 256 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Jerry Craft tackles racism head-on, but with a light enough touch to make an entertaining and engaging story with a likable protagonist. I feel confident in predicting that this will fly off whatever library shelves it is placed on.  Put it in the hands of fans of realistic graphic novel authors like Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, and Jennifer Holm.

Cons:  There were a lot of characters to keep track of, which somehow is always more difficult for me in a graphic novel.  

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