Knockout by K. A. Holt

Published by Chronicle Books

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Summary:  In these sequel to House Arrest, Levi, the sickly baby from the first book, is now in 7th grade.  Timothy, his older brother and the protagonist of book one, is applying to medical school.  Levi’s health has improved, but he still has some limitations, and his mother and brother tend to be overprotective.  His divorced dad is more laid-back and encourages Levi to try a sport. When Levi has a few sessions at the boxing gym, he proves to be a natural.  He ends up lying to both parents in order to continue pursuing the sport. In addition, his tendencies to be the class clown are pushing away his best friend, Tam, who is spending a lot of time with a new girl.  A medical crisis forces Levi to be honest with his friends and family, and to look at what is most important to him and what he can do to move in a new direction. 288 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Fans of K. A. Holt’s other books, as well as Kwame Alexander’s Booked, The Crossover, and Rebound will enjoy this fast-paced sports-themed novel in verse.  

Cons:  It took me a little while to warm up to Levi and get engaged in his story.

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The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

Published by Arthur A. Levine Books

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Summary:  Candice is just trying to get through a terrible summer; she and her mother have temporarily moved to her late grandmother’s house in Lambert, South Carolina, while their home is being renovated so her newly-separated parents can sell it.  When she and her neighbor Brandon discover a letter in her grandmother’s attic, they are launched on a treasure hunt that takes them back to Lambert’s segregated past.  Scenes from the 1950’s through the 1980’s are interwoven with Candice’s and Brandon’s story so that the reader gradually learns about the mysterious James Parker who supposedly has left a fortune somewhere in Lambert.  When the two kids solve the final clue, the past meets the present and some of the wrongs from that past begin to be righted.  352 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  An amazing book that touches on racism, bullying, and homophobia without ever losing its light touch.  It also celebrates reading and puzzles, paying particular homage to The Westing Game.  Reading it, I was reminded of Holes in the way the narrative moved between the past and the present, and everything came together in the end.  Since both of those books won a Newbery Medal, why not this one as well?

Cons:  The solution to a key puzzle seemed impossibly esoteric.

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Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond by Sam Hearn (Baker Street Academy book 1)

Published by Scholastic Press

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Summary:  When John Watson is accepted at Baker Street Academy, it’s elementary that he’ll become friends with classmates Martha Hudson and Sherlock Holmes.  The three have already started palling around when their class witnesses a robbery (“flash rob”) of a valuable diamond while on a field trip. For the remainder of the story, John is trying to figure out what happened; Sherlock, of course, is always several steps ahead of him.  A return trip to the museum results in a showdown between Sherlock and his archenemy James Moriarty, and the thief is revealed, along with a few other secret identities.  In the final chapter, John’s parents are off on an extended business trip and Sherlock’s older brother has mysteriously left for awhile, so Sherlock and John move in with the Hudsons at 221B Baker Street.  More adventures?  Elementary again.  176 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Readers will find the blend of text, illustrations, and cartoon bubbles engaging, while getting a taste (in younger versions) of many of the classic Sherlock Holmes characters and settings.

Cons:  For a book targeted to younger elementary readers, there were a lot of characters to keep track of and a somewhat tangled web of a mystery.

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The Sky at Our Feet by Nadia Hashimi

Published by HarperCollins

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Summary:  Jason’s mother has told him bits and pieces of her story.  He knows his parents both grew up in Afghanistan and that his father was killed while working as a translator for the U.S. Army.  His mom came to the U.S. on a student visa, but after her husband died and Jason was born prematurely, both her passport and visa expired.  She stayed in the U.S. illegally, dropping out of school to work in a laundromat.  One day, Jason sees the police take her away from her job.  The only other family he has is “Auntie” Seema, a close friend who lives in New York City.  Jason takes a bus to try to find her, but all the stress causes him to faint when he gets to the city, and he winds up in the hospital.  There he meets a girl named Max who is about to have brain surgery for her epilepsy.  The two of them make a daring escape, traveling across the city to try to find Auntie Seema.  Along the way, they sneak into the Central Park Zoo, Max has a seizure, and Jason steals a ride on a police horse.  Their friendship helps both of them confront the difficulties each one is facing, and by the end they have found their way to what may be a bright future.  304 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Jason and Max are both sympathetic characters courageously facing difficult circumstances that seem beyond their control.  There’s plenty of action as they make their journey while trying to elude a growing number of people on the lookout for them.

Cons:  Some of their narrow escapes seemed a little hard to believe.

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Rebound by Kwame Alexander

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  It’s the summer of 1988, and Chuck Bell is reeling from the death of his father.  His mom decides to send him to his grandparents’ in Washington, D.C. to help them both heal.  Chuck is not excited, and his grandfather’s work ethic doesn’t improve his outlook.  But his cousin Roxie, a star basketball player, starts to get him interested in the game, and before long, he’s leaving his beloved comic books behind to try to be a superhero on the court (there are several comics about Chuck throughout the book).  There’s a hint of romance for Chuck in the letters and phone calls he gets from his friend Crystal back home.  When Chuck’s other friend, Skinny, comes to D.C. for a visit, Chuck finds himself in a difficult situation with a tough older crowd, and eventually ends up in jail for unknowingly possessing marijuana.  That scare puts him on a path that readers of The Crossover will know led to a career in basketball and a love for the game that he will pass down to his sons Josh and Jordan.  416 pages: grades 5-8.

Pros:  Fans of the 2014 Newbery medalist The Crossover will not be disappointed by this novel-in-verse prequel that tells the story of 12-year-old Chuck Bell.  There’s a little fast-forwarding at the end, so readers learn of Chuck’s legacy to his two sons, as well as what happened to some of the characters from 1988.

Cons:  Middle school or elementary?  Fifth graders will definitely enjoy this, but be aware there is the who whole arrested for possession scene towards the end of the book.

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One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  Allison’s life has been in turmoil since her older brother died in a car accident, a tragedy that has led to her parents’ decision to divorce.  She moves with her mom to North Carolina, and immediately finds a new best friend, Samantha, or Sam. As the girls get closer, Allie starts to realize her feelings for Sam are more than friendship, which seems unacceptable in 1977 North Carolina.  Two gay women teachers and an understanding woman pastor help Allie to accept herself and to try to support Sam as she faces hostility in her conservative Christian home. An author’s note explains more about Allie’s experiences, including Anita Bryant’s anti-homosexual campaign of that time, and how she (the author) came to write the book.  208 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A sympathetic look at a 12-year-old girl struggling to understand her sexuality in a fairly hostile environment.  LGBQT tweens and their friends will relate to Allie’s experiences in middle school and her community.

Cons:  This felt like a book with a message, and some of the characters, like Sam’s mother and the pastor were fairly one-dimensional.

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Granted by John David Anderson

Published by Walden Pond Press

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Summary:  Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets is a fairy who has been trained to grant wishes.  Problem is, the sense of wonder in the human world is dropping off, creating a shortage of the fairy dust required to make wishes come true.  So Ophelia’s been biding her time since her training ended, fastidiously keeping up her skills until it’s her turn to visit the human world.  Her chance comes at last, and she ventures forth to retrieve a nickel a girl tossed into a fountain, wishing for a purple bicycle.  Sounds easy enough, but Ophelia’s best-laid plans are foiled at every turn, and she has to deal with airplanes, fire extinguishers, birds of prey, and a not-too-bright dog named Sam who thinks he’s her new best friend.  Ophelia’s also distracted by a boy named Gabe whose path keeps crossing hers and who seems to have a wish far more compelling than a purple bicycle.  When Ophelia is forced to choose between her original mission and Gabe’s wish, she shakes the fairy world to its very core.  Can there be a happily-ever-after ending for both fairies and humans?  336 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  John David Anderson moves away from realistic fiction to create a detailed imaginary fairy world and a funny, slightly neurotic fairy heroine.  Readers will find themselves thinking twice before pulling on a wishbone or tossing a coin into a fountain.

Cons:  The story didn’t really pick up for me until Ophelia left her fairy home and ventured into the human world.

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