The Friendship War by Andrew Clements

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Grace is a collector and a scientist.  When her grandfather takes her for a tour of an old warehouse he’s recently purchased, she’s delighted to have permission to keep any artifacts she finds inside.  On a whim, she asks if she can have the 30 boxes of buttons they find there, and her adoring grandfather ships them to her home. Fast forward a few months:  her class is studying the industrial revolution, and Grace volunteers to share some of her finds from the mill. A few bags of the buttons spark a fad, and before long her classmates are bringing in buttons of their own to trade and show off. The fad turns into a war, and Grace’s longtime friendship with Ellie becomes a casualty.  Grace’s idea to use the science of economics to stop the craze backfires, but new friend and fellow scientist Hank helps her to keep things in perspective and begin to move toward a reconciliation with Ellie. 208 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Another engaging school story from Andrew Clements; I’m already considering this for a back-to-school fourth grade book club choice that will appeal to kids starting to move into “real” chapter books.

Cons:  Ellie seemed like such an unpleasant kid for most of the book that it was hard to understand why Grace was so anxious to preserve their friendship.

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Just Jaime by Terri Libenson

Published by Balzer + Bray

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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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The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly by Rebecca K. S. Ansari

Published by Walden Pond Press

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Summary:  Charlie O’Reilly’s younger brother Liam went missing a year ago–but Charlie is the only one who remembers him.  His mother, struggling with depression, and his father, often away on business, assure him that he is, and has always been, an only child.  The only person who believes him is his neighbor and best friend Ana, even though she has no memory of Liam. Charlie tells Ana about the dreams he has where he is Kiernan, a boy living a tragic life first in Ireland and then in America.  When Charlie receives a mysterious note to talk to Jonathon, his kind but distant assistant baseball coach, he finally finds out what has happened to Liam. It may be possible for Charlie and Ana to rescue him, but only if they are willing to risk giving up everything they have ever known and loved.  389 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Part family story, part time-traveling fantasy, part historical fiction, this debut novel grabs readers from the first chapter and takes them on a wild roller coaster ride to a well-earned happy ending.

Cons:  There is a lot to keep track of–many characters and setting from the past, present, and an alternative world.

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Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Summary:  Amelia isn’t expecting much from her spring vacation week–as usual, her distant father is working, and her pleas to go to Florida have fallen on deaf ears.  She decides to hang out at the clay studio the first day, where her passion for sculpture helps her forget about her troubles. When she gets there, she meets Casey, the owner’s nephew, who is spending the vacation with his aunt while his parents try to salvage their marriage.  Casey and Amelia start hanging out at the coffee shop, making up stories about the people they see through the window. When a woman resembling Amelia appears, Casey plants the idea that she might be Amelia’s long-dead mother. The vacation week turns out to be different–and better–than Amelia expected as she enjoys her new friendship, embraces her art, and meets a woman who will change her future.  192 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This spare, beautifully-written story will resonate with many tweens, as Casey and Amelia deal with familiar issues around families and friendship.  A possible Newbery contender.

Cons:  I find this kind of book–where most of the action is internal–difficult to book talk, yet I know many kids in my school would enjoy it.

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Shouting At the Rain by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

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Summary:  Delsie is looking forward to her annual summer reunion with her best friend Brandy, who spends summers on Cape Cod where Delsie and her Grammy are year-round residents.  Things seem normal at first, but there’s a new girl in town, and slowly Brandy starts spending more and more time with Tressa, who turns out to be a classic mean girl. Lonely and humiliated, Delsie finds herself hanging out with Ronan, a new boy living with his fisherman father.  She learns that Ronan, like Delsie, has been abandoned by his mom. As their friendship grows over the course of the summer, they learn to value each other and their families–both blood relatives and friends who feel like family. By the end of August, Delsie feels strong enough about herself and those who love her to be able to stand up for herself and appreciate true friendship.  288 pages; grades 4-6.

Pros:  Fans of Fish in a Tree will rejoice to see a new book by Lynda Mullaly Hunt and will find many connections and lessons in Delsie’s story.  The descriptions of summer scenes on the Cape feel very real, as do the changing friendships and relationships with family members.

Cons:  Delsie sometimes felt wise beyond her years, and as the story went along, there were a few too many “teachable moments” where she or another character imparted some life lesson.

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Up for Air by Laurie Morrison

Published by Harry N. Abrams

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Summary:  The story begins with Annabelle finishing up her seventh grade final exams, frustrated and feeling like she’s not very smart.  She gets some confirmation of that a few days later when her grades come out. The one thing she knows she’s good at is swimming, and she’s excited for summer swim team, which brings together year-round and summer residents in her island community.  At the end of the first practice, the high school coach approaches her to ask if she’d like to move up from the middle school team; Annabelle is thrilled when her mother and stepfather agree, on the condition that her summer reading and tutoring come first.  Swimming and hanging out with the older kids is exciting, especially when Connor starts giving her some extra attention. But some of the high schoolers’ activities are a little scary, and Annabelle finds herself in over her head when she starts to hang out with them outside of swim team, leaving her middle school friends behind.  It may not always be fun, but Annabelle’s summer before eighth grade is a memorable one, and the lessons she learns promise to serve her well as she moves into her last year of middle school. 278 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Annabelle’s difficulties with school, her family, and friends ring true, and middle school readers will undoubtedly relate to her.  Her struggles and mistakes are ones kids will understand; she learns from them, but sometimes not as quickly as the adults around her are hoping she will.  An excellent choice for middle school summer reading.

Cons:  I wish the story had gone up to the end of the summer.

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A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry, illustrated by Mónica Armiño

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Summary:  Swift may not be the biggest member of his pack, but he is the fastest, and determined to some day beat out his larger brother Sharp.  When another pack of wolves attacks, though, Swift finds himself alone.  He travels through miles of wilderness,  searching for members of his pack, or any wolves that will be his companions.  Along the way, he encounters with a variety of animals, including humans, and barely survives some narrow escapes. He finally meets a female wolf, and after renaming himself Wander, they work together to create a new pack of their own.  Includes several pages of information and photos of the real wolf that was the inspiration for the book; additional facts about wolves; a map of Swift/Wander’s journey; and a list of resources for more information. 256 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  An exciting nature story that will be especially appreciated by animal lovers.  Lots of adventure and plenty of illustrations make this a good choice for reluctant readers.  

Cons:  The illustrations added a lot to the text, and Mónica Armiño’s name doesn’t appear on the cover, nor is there any information about her on the back flap.

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