Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom by Louis Sachar, illustrated by Tim Heitz

Published by HarperCollins

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Summary:  After a 25-year hiatus, Louis Sachar has produced another installment in the Wayside School series, this one dealing with a large cloud that’s rolled in over the school, bringing with it a sense of doom.  Of course, the plot is secondary to all the weird goings-on at the school. Familiar characters like Mrs. Jewls, Maurecia, Calvin, and yard teacher Louis are all here, with the same mix of silly supernatural happenings and ordinary school events.  Each of the thirty short chapters starts with an illustration and tells a complete story, making this a natural choice for a read-aloud. 186 pages; grades 3-5.

Pros:  Louis Sachar’s still got it, as I found myself chuckling aloud at some of the stories.  It looks like the other Wayside School books are being reissued with covers similar to this one, so we can look forward to introducing a new generation to the fun on the thirtieth story.

Cons:  Mrs. Gorf was nowhere to be found, even in ghostly form, although Miss Zarves finally made an appearance.

If you would like to order this book from the Odyssey Bookshop, click here.

Support independent bookstores!

I’m sure Amazon is thriving during our time at home, and I’ve placed a few orders there myself in the last few weeks.

But let’s remember that there are independent bookstores all over the country that we love and want to stay alive until they can open their doors again.  One of my favorite local bookstores is the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Massachusetts.  Not only do they have thousands of great titles, but they are an amazing community resource, hosting all sorts of author visits, book clubs, and other programs.  I think their owner, Joan, is a subscriber to my blog, so I hope she is reading this!

To support the Odyssey, I’m going to temporarily stop posting my Amazon Affiliate links, and instead post a link to order from their online bookstore.  They are still filling web orders, complete with free media mail shipping.  If you don’t order through this link, I encourage you to support your local independent bookstore now and in the future.  If you aren’t in the market for any books now, consider ordering a gift certificate from them.

Take a look at The Odyssey Bookshop and give a shout-out to your own favorite bookstore(s) in the comments!


The Candy Caper (Trouble at Table 5 book 1) by Tom Watson

Published by HarperCollins

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Summary:  Narrator Molly is a third grader who sometimes “gets things stuck in her head”.  When she sees a jar of Skittles on the principal’s desk, she can’t rest until she knows how many are in the jar.  Fortunately, her friends Simon and Rosie understand her, and they offer to figure out a way to count the candies.  After a few false starts, the three of them hatch a plan to get Molly sent to the principal’s office, then to distract the principal while Molly replaces the original jar with one she’s brought from home.  The plan works, Molly gets her answer, and even her understanding parents don’t punish her for getting sent to the principal’s office. Includes three activities that connect to the story. 96 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  A fun school story for emergent readers, showing the progress made in reading the book at the end of each chapter.  Kids with anxiety or OCD may make some connections to Molly, who is portrayed sympathetically and surrounded by supportive friends and family (although I wish the principal had caught her so they could have had a conversation about Molly asking how many Skittles were in the jar instead of having to sneak them).

Cons:  This is part of a new HarperChapters imprint which seems to be Harper’s answer to the Scholastic Branches series.  Their website even compare one of the new series (13th Street) to Eerie Elementary and Notebook of Doom. Sure, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I think Harper would be better served by coming up with something a bit more original.

If you would like to buy this book from the Odyssey Bookshop, click here.

Itch by Polly Farquhar

Published by Holiday House

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Summary:  Isaac “Itch” Fitch is dealing with the usual sixth grade issues of fitting in and escaping the bullies.  But he and his best friend Sydney have some chronic health issues to deal with as well. Isaac has idiopathic angioedema which means he sometimes breaks out in itchy hives for no apparent reason, earning him his nickname; Sydney has life-threatening food allergies.  With his mom away on an extended business trip to China, Isaac tries to deal with his issues on his own. When Sydney collapses after a lunch-trading issue and is taken to the hospital, Isaac blames himself. It takes a few missteps, some caring adults, and a bit of soul-searching for Isaac to finally get himself straightened out and to realize who his true friends really are.  256 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A realistic look at kids with chronic health conditions, how they affect their everyday life, and how they find the strength to cope with them.  Isaac and his friends’ experiences ring true and readers will find plenty to relate to.

Cons:  The Ohio State football craziness seemed a little over the top.  

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

Up on Bob by Mary Sullivan

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Bob is a dachshund with some work to do.  Up on the bed, he tosses off a doll and stuffed animal and knocks the bedside lamp and books to the floor.  Everything is perfect for his day-long nap. “Uh-oh. Suddenly everything is not perfect.” A cat is seen peering over the side of the bed.  Suddenly…pounce! The cat is up on Bob, with work to do. She crawls around on Bob, licks his ear, then finally settles down, snuggled up with Bob, ready to sleep all day.  40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  Anyone with a pet will get a chuckle from this brief tale by Geisel honoree Mary Sullivan, and really, couldn’t we all use a laugh these days?  The illustrations are adorable and do a great job telling the story.

Cons:  I found myself wishing this were in the usual early reader book format.  I’m always looking for good short books for newly independent readers. This one fits the bill, but looks more like a picture book.

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

My Ocean Is Blue by Darren Lebeuf, illustrated by Ashley Barron

Published by Kids Can Press

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Summary:  A girl and her mother explore many different aspects of the ocean.  It can be shallow or deep; slimy or sandy; sparkly or dull. It can splash, crash, echo, squawk, or be silent. It appears and disappears with the tides.  She finds things that are pink, orange, grey, green, and red in and around the ocean, but mostly it is deep, endless blue. 32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  This follow up to My Forest Is Green will make kids want to go to the beach and look closely at all that is in and around the ocean.  The collage illustrations are filled with great colors and textures that really capture the feel of the seashore.

Cons:  I turned the last page, eagerly expecting additional information and sources about the ocean…nothing.

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

Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Summary:  Wade is crushed when his grandmother’s fall means he has to spend his summer at the rec center.  His hard-working parents are taking double shifts to try to buy their own house, and they need easy, affordable care for their son.  Wade is an introvert who hates spending the day running around with the other kids. One day, he wanders next door to an abandoned church that immediately sparks his imagination.  When he discovers a girl, Jolene, who’s trying to grow papaya plants there, the two must figure out a way to share the lot. They slowly get to know each other and eventually form a tentative friendship while trying to figure out how to keep their secret kingdom away from developers.  When Wade’s artist uncle gives him a movie camera, Wade discovers a hidden talent that may also be the key to saving the church. While he wishes at the beginning of the summer to be “normal”, by the end, he has come to appreciate his own unique gifts that he uses to help himself and his new friend.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Introverts and sensitive artist types will make a connection with Wade as he slowly comes to appreciate his empathy, artistic tendencies, and enjoyment of his own company.  The various parts of the story all came together in a very satisfying conclusion.

Cons:  I didn’t really start enjoying this book until I was about halfway through it.  Kids may not have the persistence to get through the somewhat slow beginning.

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