Notorious by Gordon Korman

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Summary:  Keenan’s recovering at his dad’s house on Centerlight Island after contracting TB while living with his mom and stepfather in Shanghai.  There are some pretty unique features to Centerlight: the U.S.-Canadian border that runs through the middle of it; the crumbling lighthouse; the gangsters who are rumored to have hidden treasure there; and Zarabeth, a.k.a. ZeeBee, the neighbor girl who befriends Keenan.  As the only Canadian girl her age on the island, ZeeBee doesn’t have any friends, but she does have a wild imagination. She’s sure Tommy-Gun Ferguson, the gangster who once lived in her house, buried gold somewhere on the island and she’s equally sure that her beloved dog, Barney, was murdered.  As Keenan learns more about his new home, he discovers that almost every resident had reason to want ferocious, destructive Barney dead. After a rocky start to their friendship, Keenan and ZeeBee agree to join forces and end up discovering more about Centerlight than they originally bargained for.  320 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  It would hardly be a new year without a new offering from perennial favorite Gordon Korman.  Told in his trademark alternate points of view–mostly Keenan and ZeeBee, with a few other Centerlight residents occasionally chiming in–there’s enough humor, friendship, and mystery to keep Korman’s many fans happy for another year.  Whoops, make that six months–there’s another Gordon Korman book due out in July.

Cons:  It was a bit difficult to fathom ZeeBee’s love for and her family’s patience with Barney.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Likewise, it’s not just the Newbery

Just like yesterday’s post, this list gives me an excuse to highlight more of 2019’s rich offerings, this time in the writing category.


This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

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I really enjoyed this book when it was released in early January, but then it kind of slipped off my radar screen.  I’ve seen it on a few Newbery prediction lists, though, and that or a Coretta Scott King award (or Sibert, for that matter) would be well-deserved.


Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace by Ashley Bryan

Published by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

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Although I think the appeal of this book for kids may be limited, it’s a real work of art, and I’d love to see 96-year-old Bryan recognized with a Coretta Scott King award (or, again, Newbery or Sibert).


Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya

Published by Kokila

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A book about a girl connecting with her father over welding didn’t really spark my interest (ha, ha), but I’m glad I overcame my initial resistance and read it before the end of the year.  I loved all the characters in this book, and hope it’s recognized by the Pura Belpré folks.


A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Shayla generally avoids trouble at all costs, but incidents in her community turn her into an activist.  What could be more timely at the start of 2020?  Debut author Ramée should be considered for a Coretta Scott King award.


Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

Published by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

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Another debut author and another one I had to kind of force myself to start (I’m not a huge fan of the cover, although I appreciated it more after reading the book), but this ended up being one of my favorites of 2019.  Coretta Scott King or Newbery, I hope.

Five Favorite Book Club Books

As I move into 2020 with at least 15 book clubs under my care, I’m always on the lookout for good book club books.  I like books with both strong male and female characters, some humor, and a few issues that will lead to some discussion.  I’ve already tested a few of these out, and hope to do more in the coming months.


The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin

Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers

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I didn’t love Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish (although everyone else seemed to), so my expectations weren’t super high when I listened to the audiobook.  But I enjoyed all the characters, there was lots of humor, and Caitlyn learned a lot at her unique new school.  I’ve used this with three fifth grade book clubs, and most kids have given it positive reviews.


Eventown by Corey Haydu

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

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The premise of this book, with its slightly dystopian feel, made it an easy one to book talk.  Yes, I grew weary of books about grieving children this year, but this one had an interesting take on the theme.  I’ve got my eye on it for a sixth grade book club.


Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Master storyteller Kevin Henkes tells a funny, heartbreaking, and heartwarming tale in under 200 pages.  What more can I say?


Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

Published by Disney/Hyperion

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Carlos Hernandez packed so much into this book I kind of felt like he had to break the universe to fit it all in.  Lots of humor, strong male and female characters, and some cool physics make this a book club contender for sure.


A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry

Published by Greenwillow Books

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I’ve already used this for three book clubs to great acclaim, and plan to use it for at least one more.  Animal story? Check.  Lots of great illustrations?  Check.  Based on a true story?  Check.  Check it out yourself if you haven’t already.



Five Newbery Predictions

In my post-holiday fog, I forgot to write an introduction to yesterday’s post.  I’m sure most readers figured out that I’m doing my annual end-of-they year wrap-up, and will spend the next several days posting lists of my favorite 2019 books.

In case anyone is keeping track, the last time I predicted anything correctly for the Newbery was 2016.  That year and in 2015, I predicted two books that won honors, so I’ve never hit it right for the actual medal.  So proceed with caution as you peruse this year’s list below.  This year, I’m predicting choices if Newbery committees reflect the tastes of various groups from the past.


The Line Tender by Kate Allen

Dutton Books for Young Readers

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Amazing characters, evocative writing, emotionally heart-wrenching–if the Newbery committee is anything like the one that picked Bridge to Terabithia (full disclosure: neither book is a personal favorite), this is a shoo-in for the gold.


New Kid by Jerry Craft

Published by HarperCollins

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I know that graphic novels don’t often get Newbery recognition, but I’ve seen this on enough lists to indulge myself on this one.  (If I were really following my heart and not my head, Queen of the Sea would be on this list as well).  Jerry Craft definitely has a message to deliver, but his touch is so light that he makes it  fun from start to finish.  We’ll need a committee like the one that made Roller Girl a Newbery honor book.


A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata

Published by Atheneum

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Whoever came up with this title and cover design, in my opinion, did this book a serious disservice.  While the cover didn’t draw me in, this book grabbed me right from the beginning, and taught me about an aspect of World War II and its aftermath that I wasn’t familiar with.  Looking for a committee like the one that picked Number the Stars or The War That Saved My Life.


Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Okay, I didn’t say these were my favorite books.  But I do admire the storytelling and writing of this fantasy woven from Filipino folklore.  A committee thinking along the lines of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon or The Girl Who Drank the Moon may pick this one.


Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

Published by Atheneum

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Honestly, I was (again) pretty lukewarm about this book, but with six starred reviews and a National Book Award finalist designation, I feel I’d be remiss not to include it.  Not sure what kind of committee we’d be looking for here: Maniac Magee? or Jason Reynolds’s Newbery honor book A Long Way Down?

The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

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Summary:  Fionn and his older sister Tara have been sent to the island of Arranmore to spend time with their grandfather while their mother is dealing with some mental health issues.  Tara has been to the island before and likes to lord her knowledge over Fionn; she often leaves him behind to spend time with her crush Bartley Beasley, who is searching for a secret cave.  As Fionn gets to know his grandfather, he discovers that he is the Storm Keeper, the overseer of the magic on the island. Granddad knows that his time in this role is coming to an end, and that the island is looking to find a new Storm Keeper.  As Fionn learns more about the magic, he starts to use it himself to travel through time and learn more about Arranmore’s secrets. The ending brings about the revelation of the new Storm Keeper and some healing in Fionn’s family, but there are plenty of unanswered questions to explore in book 2.  308 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A promising start to a fantasy series that ably combines magic and everyday life.  Lots of interesting characters and history have been introduced that will provide a good foundation for a sequel.

Cons:  As I was reviewing this book, I realized it was published in 2018.  Since I had to force myself to read it (generally the case with me and fantasy), this was something of a blow.  It looks like it was published in Great Britain in 2018 and in the U.S. in 2019, so that is something of a comfort to me.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.



Broken Strings by Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer

Published by Puffin Canada

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Summary:  A few months after 9/11, Shirli’s drama teacher decides to stage a production of Fiddler on the Roof.  Shirli is hoping to land the role of daughter Hodel, but instead is cast as Golde, the mother.  Disappointed, she throws herself into preparations for the show, turning to her grandfather, Zayde, to help her with props and costumes.  In his attic, she finds an old violin and a poster showing him performing with his family. Shirli knows Zayde lost his family during the Holocaust, but he has never shared the details with anyone, and has always seemed to dislike any kind of music.  When she asks him about the violin, he’s angry at first, but over the next several weeks, he slowly reveals the heartbreaking story he’s never told. When a catastrophic accident threatens to shut down the play, Zayde and Shirli are able to save it, and Zayde’s story ends up adding new layers of depth to the production.  Includes an author’s note with additional information about Auschwitz. 288 pages; grades 5-8.  

Pros:  Readers will be fascinated and horrified by this moving story.  Zayde’s story is revealed slowly, and interspersed with lighter chapters about the play and the budding romance between Shirli and her co-star Ben.  

Cons:  Shirli seemed at times a little too good to be true, and Zayde’s contribution to the play felt a little unrealistic.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

Published by Aladdin

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Summary:  Moth has always felt like she doesn’t belong in the small town of Founder’s Bluff, Massachusetts.  Her mother grew up in the same town–only it turns out it was 300 years before Moth did. Moth learns near the beginning of the story that her mom was part of a group of witches that was driven out of town by God-fearing Puritans.  The witches escaped to a paradise called Hecate, but Moth’s mother was so unhappy there that she eventually returned to her hometown. Moth discovers her own magical powers over the course of the story, eventually meeting her grandmother and getting the chance to visit Hecate.  Although she learns to love being a witch, she and her mother both ultimately decide that they belong in Founder’s Bluff. As history begins to repeat itself, they find that their witchcraft comes in handy in making sure evil doesn’t return to their town. 272 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Fans of graphic novels with spunky girl main characters (think Telgemeier, Jamieson, Holm, and Hale) will enjoy this story which has a little magic and witchcraft thrown in.  

Cons:  Guess I like my graphic novels to stay in the realm of realistic fiction; I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the aforementioned authors. 

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.