Storm Blown by Nick Courage

Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  As Hurricane Valerie, the “storm of the century”,  approaches the Gulf Coast, two families struggle to survive.  Emily lives in New Orleans with her brother Elliott who is recovering from cancer surgery. Her father is out on the Gulf working on an oil rig, and her mom is completely stressed out trying to deal with everything going on at home.  When Emily feels pushed away, she retreats to an island in a nearby park and hides in a tree, unaware that evacuation orders have been issued ahead of the storm. Alejo lives in Puerto Rico with his uncle, and the two of them get separated during the evacuation there.  Eventually the kids’ lives intersect, and there’s a nail-biting, race-against-time rescue as the storm moves in, even bigger and more powerful than expected. 352 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Fans of the I Survived series will enjoy the slow build-up of the first half as the storm is still approaching, and the edge-of-your-seat suspense of the second half as the group stranded in New Orleans struggles to get away.

Cons:  The females in the story seemed too passive, depending on the males to rescue them.  Emily makes a series of bad decisions, leaving it to her sick brother to risk his life to save her.  Their mom seems just about paralyzed by anxiety, and it’s up to the dad to sweep in from his oil rig job at the last minute and begin the rescue effort.

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Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir, illustrated by Sarah Andersen

Published by Ten Speed Press

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Summary:  Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan’s Wendy have all been in and out of institutions, diagnosed with dissociative psychosis for believing they can travel to other worlds.  They wind up together in a research lab, where Dr. Rutherford hopes to learn more about their powers. Alice, angry over her years feeling like a prisoner, steals Dorothy’s silver slippers and escapes to Oz.  The other two go after her, along with their nanny (who may or may not be Mary Poppins), and before long they are dropping in and out of Oz, Neverland, and Wonderland in an attempt to foil the Queen of Hearts, Wicked Witch of the West, and Captain Hook (the last two have a budding romance in Neverland).  Everyone is reunited back in the lab in the end, but a last page hints that there may be a sequel. 128 pages; grades 7-10.

Pros:  There’s plenty of girl power with these three, as they refuse to let anyone control their destinies or overshadow them in their adventures.  The artwork is gorgeous, and it’s great fun to see elements of the three familiar stories woven together.

Cons:  I was hoping this would find a home in my grade 4 and 5 library, but the frequent swears and sexual innuendos (there’s a great subplot where Peter Pan grows up, Alice shrinks him, and he has a thing with Tinkerbell) make it more appropriate for middle school and up.

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Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn

Published by Bloomsbury

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Summary:  Cat is excited to be traveling with her mom and younger brother Chicken to visit her best friend in Atlanta.  When there’s a sudden change in plans, Cat and Chicken end up on Gingerbread Island in North Carolina with their mother’s parents whom they’ve never met.  Grandma Lily is warm and inviting, and seems to have an intuitive understanding of Chicken’s special needs. But Grandpa Macon is distant, and Cat feels like he doesn’t want them there.  As the summer goes on, Cat makes a new friend, learns how to fish, and gradually comes to understand the estrangement between her mother and grandfather. In the same way her mom felt pushed aside by her grandfather’s dedication to his work as a surgeon, Cat often feels the weight of the responsibilities that come from her mother’s hard work and her brother’s Asperger’s.  A fishing contest at the end of their stay provides Cat with an opportunity to confront her mother about some of the issues their family needs to deal with. 304 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This beautifully written book by first-time author Gillian McDunn makes a perfect late summer read.  The descriptions of the island and its community sound idyllic, and the various relationships are layered and complex.  The ending is satisfying without being unrealistic.

Cons:  I found Cat’s mom annoying and didn’t always fully understand her motivation for treating Cat and Macon the way she did.

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The 47 People You’ll Meet in Middle School by Kristin Mahoney

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Augusta, a.k.a. Gus, hasn’t had much time for her younger sister Lou since middle school started.  She feels bad about it, so creates this collection for her describing 47 people she’s met since starting sixth grade.  There’s the usual middle school cast of characters: the old friend who’s grown distant, the surprising new friend, the boy who may be more than a friend, and the pack of mean girls.  Gus’s parents have recently divorced, and negotiating between their two homes sometimes adds to her stress. As she goes through the first few months of the school year, she slowly finds a new group of friends who have her back and learns to feel more confident about speaking up for herself.  304 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Gus’s voice is pitch-perfect, and took me back to my own early middle school days, which is quite a ways back.  Fans of Dork Diaries and other tween realistic fiction will enjoy meeting Gus and the other 47 characters.

Cons:  The mean girls picked on Gus for wearing glasses, which seemed unrealistic, since it seems to me about half the kids in middle school are bespectacled these days.

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The Haunting of Henry Davis by Kathryn Siebel 

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  When Henry Davis walks into Barbara Ann’s fifth grade class on the first day of school, she feels like she already knows him.  Before long, they’re good friends, and Henry confides to Barbara Ann that he’s been visited by a ghostly boy named Edgar who seems to live in his new house.  The two begin investigating, soon joined by two other kids in their class, Renee and Zack, and discover that Edgar died during the flu epidemic of 1918. Henry’s 102-year-old neighbor offers a few more clues, and eventually the other kids have a ghostly encounter or two with Edgar.  When Henry gets dangerously ill and ends up in the hospital, Barbara Ann fears history will repeat itself, and discovers how important Henry’s friendship has become to her. 240 pages; grades 4-6.

Pros:  A ghost story is always an easy sell; this one is also a nice friendship subplot about kids who have had trouble connecting in the past finding each other.  Edgar is a pretty benevolent ghost, but there are a few creepy moments that many scary story fans will enjoy.

Cons:  Maybe the current state of the world has made me immune to fictional horrors, but once again I found this story a lot less scary than reviewers had led me to believe it would be.

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The Strangers (Greystone Secrets book 1) by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

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Summary:  Chess, Emma, and Finn Greystone, ages 12, 10, and 8, live with their mom in Ohio.  One day they hear on the news that three kids in Arizona have been kidnapped. As the story unfolds, they learn that these three children have exactly the same names as them.  And exactly the same birthdays. Their mom seems especially disturbed by this bizarre coincidence, and the next day she abruptly announces that she is going on a business trip and isn’t sure when she’ll return.  She arranges them to stay with a woman named Mrs. Morales and her daughter, Natalie, people who are pretty much strangers to the three children. When the kids discover their mom left her computer and phone at home, and that the phone has been programmed to send texts to Mrs. Morales about the trip, they begin to suspect that their mother has disappeared and may never return.  As they delve further into the mystery, they discover some horrifying secrets about their family that could put all of them–as well as Natalie and her mom–in serious danger. A cliffhanger ending paves the way for book #2. 405 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Like the best books by Margaret Peterson Haddix, this one is a total page-turner, keeping the reader guessing as one bizarre clue after another is revealed.  Kids not quite ready for The Hunger Games may enjoy the glimpses of a dystopian world toward the end of the book.

Cons:  Developing realistic characters doesn’t seem to be Haddix’s greatest strength.  I found preciously cute Finn especially annoying.

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Jada Sly Artist and Spy by Sherri Winston

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Jada is moving back to New York City after several years spent in France.  She’s dealing with the recent death of her mom in a plane crash, but she can’t accept that her mother is gone.  In fact, she’s sure she has seen her on more than one occasion, although her father assures her that’s just part of her reaction to grief.  New York seems full of strange characters, though, and Jada enlists the help of four new friends to try to figure out who they are and what is going on.  By the end of the story, they’ve revealed everyone’s true identities and learned the truth about Jada’s mother. The epilogue sets up the next book in the series.  272 pages; grades 3-5.

Pros:  Illustrated with Sherri Winston’s artwork, this story has plenty of plot twists and nefarious characters to keep kids turning the pages.  Jada and her friends are a bit smarter and more worldly than the average fifth grader, but that’s all part of the fun, as they go undercover and discover truths that elude the adults around them.

Cons:  Jada’s father’s new relationship with his assistant Cécile seems a bit odd when we learn (spoiler alert) that her mother is actually still alive.

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