Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Osh found Crow as a baby, when the dilapidated skiff she was riding in washed up on his tiny island off the coast of Massachusetts.  At age 12, Crow begins to want to know more about her past.  Rumor has it she came from Penikese, the island that used to house a leper colony, and this causes most of her neighbors to shun her.  One notable exception is Miss Maggie, a neighbor who is like a mother to Crow.  Osh, Miss Maggie, and Crow take a trip to Penikese to try to find clues about her past, and meet up with a nasty man who claims to be in charge of the bird sanctuary there.  This trip and their encounter begin a chain of events that eventually include buried treasure, a violent crime, shipwreck, a long-lost brother, and Crow’s discoveries about her families…both the one that gave her up and the one that has loved her all along.  304 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Lauren Wolk’s follow-up to her Newbery honor Wolf Island does not disappoint in the least.  The story is well-paced, with fascinating details about life on the Elizabeth islands in the 1920’s, and well-developed characters.  Readers will take Crow, Osh, and Miss Maggie to heart, and enjoy the secrets that are slowly revealed as the story unfolds.

Cons:  Here it is the end of July, and this is only the second Newbery contender I’ve read this year and the first for fiction (I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Undefeated by Steven Sheinkin).  Anyone else have any thoughts about this?  Leave a comment if you’ve read something else that you think is Newbery-worthy this year.

A Dog Like Daisy by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

Summary:  When we first meet Daisy, she’s in a cage at the pound, situated between the door leading to the Good Side, full of sunshine and happiness, and the door that goes to the Bad Side, smelling of fear, from which dogs never return.  Daisy knows it’s almost her time to go to the Bad Side, but she’s rescued by a military veteran named Victor and his son Micah.  Victor suffers from PTSD, and he’s enrolled in a program to train a service dog.  The VA will pay for ten weeks of training, so that’s how long Daisy has to prove herself, or get sent back to the pound.  But Daisy’s got some trauma in her own past, and sometimes that can interfere with her training.  And as much as she wants to help, figuring out humans can sometimes seem impossible.  When Daisy fails her first test as a service dog, she’s given a second chance…will she be able to make the most of it?  177 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  A heartwarming story with a very funny canine narrator.  Readers who are struggling to get that summer reading requirement taken care of might want to consider this relatively short book that is both compelling and humorous.



Cons:  The ending seemed a little implausible; however, readers will find it very satisfying.

The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff

Published by Philomel Books

Summary:  When Winnie’s parents divorce, they are determined to divide her time equally between the two of them.  They buy two houses on a circular street with a huge tree in the middle.  Winnie spends three days a week with her mom, three days a week with her dad, and one day, Wednesday, by herself in her treehouse.  As her parents become increasingly competitive in making her time with each of them the best, Winnie finds the treehouse to be more and more of a haven.  Finally, she’s had enough, and retreats to the tree, refusing to come down until her parents are willing to sit down and listen to what she has to say.  Inspired by her actions, nine of her friends join her, each with his or her own demands to parents.  Who will win in this war between kids and parents?  288 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  What kid wouldn’t want to live in a giant treehouse with no parents?  Winnie and her friends have a pretty good time, and document their activities with craft instructions, Scrabble tips, and Post-It note footnotes to the main narrative.  This makes for a fast-paced, appealing read that will draw in reluctant readers.

Cons:  I found the Post-It notes distracting.

Restart by Gordon Korman

Published by Scholastic

Summary:  When Chase Ambrose falls of the roof of his house, the blow to his head causes complete amnesia.  After getting reacquainted with his family, he starts back to school, where he discovers he has been a superstar athlete and the biggest bully in the eighth grade.  The kids in the video club that he now wants as friends were once his biggest victims.  His old friends Aaron and Bear can’t understand why he’s turned into such a goody-two-shoes.  The three of them are doing community service at a retirement home as punishment for one of their worst misdeeds, and Chase befriends a crotchety war veteran there who may hold a clue to more of Chase’s former life.  As his memory begins to return in brief flashbacks, Chase has to make a choice between who he used to be and who he wants to become.  256 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Told in the usual Gordon Korman style of short chapters from many different points of view, this funny and thought-provoking look at the middle school social hierarchy will definitely be a popular choice for many readers.

Cons:  Chase’s complete transformation was occasionally difficult to believe.

The Doll’s Eye by Marina Cohen

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Summary:  Hadley’s not too excited about moving into a new house, particularly since the move includes her new stepfather and stepbrother.  She’s excited about the discovery of a beautiful dollhouse in the attic, though, and intrigued by the glass doll’s eye that seems to appear out of nowhere.  The old lady living over the garage seems like the grandmother she never had, and the boy next door is a little peculiar, but nice enough.  Events take a sinister turn, however, when Hadley accidentally wishes her stepfather and stepbrother away, and her mother starts acting like a Stepford wife.  These incidents seem tied to the dollhouse and its occupants, and Hadley becomes increasingly desperate to learn how to control her wishes and return things to normal.  Interspersed through the main narrative are chapters told by the first girl who lived in the house with hints of how her life may be tied to the present.  The old lady (ominously named Althea de Mone) shows her true colors as events come together in a creepy conclusion.  208 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  The menacing details start on page one and don’t let up much right through the end.  Horror fans will find this hard to put down.

Cons:  There’s a happy ending for everyone…except the reader.

Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

Published by Aladdin

Summary:  Mattie is generally a behind-the-scenes kind of girl, but when her favorite teacher Mr. Torres announces that the eighth grade play will be Romeo and Juliet, she decides to join her two best friends in auditioning.  She proves to have more talent than she’s given herself credit for.  Originally cast as Paris, she gets moved into a starring role when the boy playing Romeo drops out.  She slowly comes to terms with the fact that she has a crush on Gemma, the girl playing Juliet, and struggles with revealing her feelings to both Gemma and her best friends.  After some awkward rehearsals (those kissing scenes!), the play goes off without a hitch, and the final pages at a school dance reveal that Mattie and Gemma aren’t the only ones thinking about romance.  277 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  A sweet and funny school story with a coming-out twist.  Mattie is a sympathetic character who is fortunate enough to have supportive friends and family.  Theater fans will enjoy the narrative about putting on a play and might even be tempted to try some Shakespeare.

Cons:  The cover makes the girls look like they’re about 11, but the content is a little more mature.

Bubble by Stewart Foster

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary:  11-year-old Joe has spent almost his whole life in a sterile London hospital room, suffering from a rare immunodeficiency that prevents him from going outside.  His only human contact is with medical personnel, his older sister Beth (their parents were killed in a car accident), and Henry, an American boy with a similar disease with whom he Skypes.  Henry is getting ready for a trip outside in a suit designed for him by NASA.  When Joe’s eccentric new nurse Amir suggests a plan to secretly get Joe outside, Joe is intrigued but scared at the prospect.  Both boys get their trips out, Henry in front of TV cameras and Joe secretly in the dead of night, but there are serious consequences for them both.  Despite all his difficulties, Joe manages to move from one day to the next with a remarkably optimistic view.  352 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A moving story that has its moments of sadness but ultimately remains hopeful.  Despite his limited life, Joe is a typical kid in many ways, with his love of superheroes, video games, and football (British-style).  I would recommend this to fans of Wonder if it weren’t becoming such a cliche to do so with any book that packs an emotional punch.

Cons: Flashbacks to 1976.