Sunny by Jason Reynolds

Published by Atheneum

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Summary:  Sunny’s the fastest miler on the Defenders track team, and easily takes first place at most of their meets. But he’s struggling with his reasons for running, and one day he comes to a halt before the finish line and refuses to finish his race.  Turns out his mom was a runner; when she died giving birth, his dad decided it was up to Sunny to carry on her legacy. Writing in his diary, Sunny tries to figure out his dad, his homeschool tutor Aurelia, his Defenders teammates, and himself. What Sunny really loves is dancing.  When he shows the coach some of his moves, Coach sees the beginnings of a champion discus thrower, and Sunny moves into a new role in the team. Book 4 in this series, Lu (the final installment) is due out in October.  176 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Another excellent entry into Jason Reynolds’ Track series that includes Ghost and Patina.  You don’t have to be a sports fan to appreciate the humorous narration, interesting characters, and emotional impact of all three of these books.  Can’t wait for the thrilling conclusion!

Cons:  I don’t know if it was the diary format or the slightly shorter length, but I just wasn’t quite as invested in Sunny as I was in Patina and (still my favorite) Ghost.

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The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Summary:  Boy has lived his life on a French manor that has recently been ravished by pestilence and other misfortune.  As a hunchback, he is frequently the object of bullying and ridicule. When a stranger named Secundus appears and tells Boy he is on a pilgrimage to collect relics of St. Peter, Boy is intrigued.  He thinks if he can get to Rome, he can ask St. Peter to remove the hump on his back and turn him into a regular boy. As the two travel together, meeting up with all kinds of adventure, it becomes clear that Boy is not a regular boy and never will be one.  He has a secret that he slowly begins to share, and by the end of their journey, both Secundus and Boy have been transformed. Boy ends up back home on the manor, but it is clear life will never be the same for him again. 288 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  An intriguing story that may appeal to fans of The Inquisitor’s Tale, which also takes place in France about a century earlier (1242 vs. 1350).  Boy is a kind and gently funny narrator, and Secundus is a fascinating character of mysterious origins who is transformed by traveling with Boy.  Beautiful woodcut illustrations appear at the beginning of each chapter.  A possible Newbery contender.

Cons:  These medieval French tales can be a hard sell for most elementary school crowds, and if I had to choose one to recommend, I would go with The Inquisitor’s Tale.

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Life According to Og the Frog by Betty G. Birney

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

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Summary:  Room 26 has a new pet: Og the Frog.  Og started his career as a classroom pet in Room 27, but George the bullfrog was something of a bully, so Og got moved next door.  He enjoys watching the kids (whom he calls “big tads”), thinks Mrs. Brisbane is a pretty great teacher, and is intrigued by his excitable hamster neighbor, but Og sometimes wishes he was back in the swamp.  He was “frognapped” by a fisherman, then given to the man’s grandson who is a student in room 27.  A herpetologist from a nearby nature center visits the classroom to tell the kids more about Og, and she informs them that Og can’t be released back into the wild (he may have picked up human germs that he would spread to other frogs).  The kids–and Og–have to decide if it’s best for him to stay in the classroom or if he should move to the nature center.  Of course, Og ends up staying in school, and readers can hope to hear more from the new frog in the future. 160 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Fans of the Humphrey series will be clamoring for a new book about a frog who is every bit as endearing as Room 26’s hamster is.  Og is a poet, and kids may be inspired to try to match some of his rhymes; they’ll also learn a bit about frogs and conservation.

Cons:  I was hoping Og and Humphrey would find a way to communicate, but all Og hears from Humphrey is a bunch of squeaking.

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Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant

Published by Beach Lane Books

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Summary:  Flora’s fourth grade year gets off to a rough start; her parents have recently separated, her dog died not too long ago, and the kids in her class seem a lot smarter and more confident than they did in third grade.  Flora is quiet and sensitive, and loves spending hours reading at Wing and a Chair Used Books, where her mother works three days a week.  As the year goes on, Flora makes a new friend, Yuri; gets a new cat, Serenity; and discovers her talent for writing.  When spring comes, her family changes once again, this time in an exciting new direction, and Flora is grateful for everything that has happened to her in the previous year.  160 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A quiet, introspective book about a quiet, introspective girl growing up in 1972 in the small town of Rosewood, Indiana.  The characters are memorable, especially Flora, Yuri, and Miss Meriwether, the book store owner.

Cons:  Readers seeking a lot of humor/action/adventure may be disappointed.

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Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart

Published by Scholastic Press

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Summary:  On page 1, Brodie is waking up in a new place, vaguely aware that he has died.  He soon learns that he is in a sort of purgatory, waiting to move on to the mysterious Forever, but still able to return to Earth as a ghost…with the risk of losing his soul.  As his memories of his previous life slowly return, Brodie realizes that his beloved boy Aiden is in danger, and that it’s up to Brodie to save him.  Accompanied by the lovable and loyal, if not too bright, Tuck, Brodie returns to Earth to help Aiden.  The two dogs are pursued by four hellhounds, dogs who have lost their souls and feed off of the souls of “good dogs” to stay alive.  They’re assisted by Patsy, the ghost of a streetwise stray cat who is down to her last bit of soul.  It’s a struggle to the end, but Brodie succeeds in his mission, and the human-canine bond is celebrated in a moving final chapter.  304 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Animal lovers will take Brodie, Tuck, and even Patsy to heart, and between the hellhounds and Aiden’s evil father, there is plenty of action to keep them reading to the end.

Cons:  Brodie’s “good dog” status was hammered home just a bit too hard.  And Dan Gemeinhart?  He needs a better editor to eliminate some of the rhetorical question and answer format of his narration.

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Drum Roll, Please by Lisa Jenn Bigelow

Published by HarperCollins

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Summary:  The day before 13-year-old Melly is leaving for Camp Rockaway, her parents tell her that they’re getting a divorce.  She is angry and hurt, but as usual, keeps those feelings to herself.  Camp proves a distraction, a place where she can play drums and learn more about music.  She expects to be in a band with her best friend Olivia, but when the two of them are split up, each finds herself with a crush on a bandmate.  Olivia’s feelings for Noel are unrequited, but she doesn’t learn that until she has spent a week ditching Melly to hang around with him.  Melly is surprised by her attraction to Adeline, and isn’t sure how to handle her emotions.  Her relationships with both Olivia and Adeline, as well as her interactions with a tough music teacher, help her to figure out her feelings and express what she wants and needs.  An end-of-camp performance for families shows how much Melly has grown in confidence and learned about herself during two eventful weeks of camp.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  An empowering and fun summer read, perfect for fans of middle school girl fiction.  Melly’s voice is genuine and funny, and readers will cheer for her as she learns to speak up for herself while also valuing her relationships with her friends and family.

Cons:  I really wanted to go to Camp Rockaway.  And to have some musical talent.

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The Last (Endling book 1) by Katherine Applegate

Published by HarperCollins

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Summary:  Byx is part of a small pack of dairnes, dog-like creatures prized for their soft fur and hunted almost to extinction.  One day she goes off from the pack by herself and ends up rescuing a small creature called a wobbyk, whose name is Tobble.  During her absence, humans come and slaughter the rest of the dairne pack leaving Byx alone and possibly the only one left of her species.  Heartbroken and with no other options, she ends up traveling with Tobble, a human girl (disguised as a boy) named Khara and her horse, Vallino, as well as a felivet (a huge catlike creature) named Gambler.  This unlikely band travels through the city of the cruel Murdano, the human ruler who has ordered the death of the dairnes and who may be trying to extinguish felivets as well.  Their journey ends in the far north, where Byx glimpses a floating island that may or may not house another dairne pack.  Their destiny is uncertain at the end of book #1, but this motley band of travelers knows that they have become a family.  400 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  I might as well confess here, I’m not much of a fantasy fan, but I willed myself to tackle this 400 page book because it’s gotten excellent reviews, and I enjoyed Katherine Applegate’s book trailer about it.  It was worth the push, with beautiful writing and exquisite illustrations (I wish there were more).  True fantasy fans will love the unique characters and non-stop adventure, and will be anxiously awaiting book 2.

Cons:  With a couple of notable exceptions, humans don’t come off too well.  You may find yourself wishing you were a dairne, a wobbyk, or a felivet.

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