Archive for the ‘Middle-grade Books’ category

A Tale of Witchcraft

April 23, 2020

I love picture books and often review and recommend them on this blog. When one of my critique partners from the Writers’ Rumpus Group asked if anyone would like to review an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of his forthcoming middle-grade novel, I agreed to read it and write a review. It is not my usual genre, but I must say, I was hooked after the first chapter!

willow cove

WITCHES OF WILLOW COVE has it all – teen angst, romance, jealousy, betrayal, mystery, and witchcraft. It’s written by Josh Roberts and takes place in a small Massachusetts town that dates back to the time of the Salem witch trials. Middle schoolers Abby and Robby are best friends who live next door to each other. On Halloween night, which also happens to be Abby’s thirteenth birthday, the two of them decide to explore an abandoned mental hospital at the top of Whispering Hill. It’s there that Abby and Robby are caught up in unearthly experience. Later, Abby comes to the realization that she and five other girls in her class are witches. Miss Winters, their substitute teacher, and witch, becomes their mentor. Abby begins to spend time with the five girls, and she keeps secrets from Robby which causes a rift in their longtime friendship. Robby, his friend Zeus, and his girlfriend Becca know there is something mysterious going on. The three of them band together to unravel the truth about Miss Winters. In the end, it takes a clever plan devised by Robby, Becca, and Zeus with the combined efforts of Abby and the five young witches, using their witchcraft to destroy the evil resurrected in the town of Willow Cove. Josh Roberts masterfully weaves a spine-tingling tale of witches and witchcraft with plot twists and unexpected events that will keep readers spellbound from beginning to end.


A Great Middle-Grade Summer Read

July 6, 2017

warden 2

The year is 1959. It’s a time when American Bandstand, 45 RPM records, saddle shoes, and transistor radios are popular. The Warden’s Daughter written by the talented Jerry Spinelli takes place during this era. The story is about Cammie O’Reilly nicknamed Cannonball because of her unpredictable personality. She lives in an apartment above the county jail with her father, the warden. Her mother died in a tragic accident after saving Cammie when she was a baby — an accident that is well-known by everyone in town. The summer Cammie turns thirteen she aches more than ever to have a mother like everyone else. Cammie decides that Eloda Pupko, an inmate at the prison who takes care of her and keeps the apartment clean and running smoothly, should be that mother, but things are not as easy as Cammie thinks. Consumed with unhappiness and anger, Cammie lashes out when an unexpected event occurs, and her life begins to spiral out of control. It’s Eloda who steps in and provides the elusive motherly love and support that Cammie needs to face her inner turmoil. Jerry Spinelli weaves a story of an unhappy young girl that tugs at your emotions and keeps you turning the pages to a satisfying ending. If you have someone looking for a good book to read this summer, I recommend The Warden’s Daughter.


Check Out This Library

December 5, 2013

Mr. Lemoncello’s library is an architectural feat. It has all the bells and whistles anyone could ever imagine. It will keep you amazed and entertained for days on end unless you’re in a race to get out of the library to win the grand prize.

What is this I’m blabbing about? It’s Chris Grabenstein‘s book, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.


Kyle Keeley is one of twelve students chosen to attend an invitation-only lock-in on opening night of the town’s new library. Mr. Lemoncello, a famous game maker, has created a library beyond your wildest dreams and challenged his young guests to solve a very complicated set of puzzles and clues and be the first to discover how to get out of the building. Knowing how to use the Dewey Decimal System, recognizing quotes from well-known books and references to authors, being able to figure out pieces of a rebus, and learning how to trust one another and work as a team all come into play as the students vie for the big prize.

There is something new and exciting to discover in every room.  If you like mind games and challenges, this book is for you. And if that’s not enough, the author included one more puzzle in the book that wasn’t in the story, but the clue how to find it is there. Are you up for the challenge?

Timmy Is No Failure

July 11, 2013

Failure is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. ~Sir Winston Churchill

This should be Timmy Failure’s motto. And who is Timmy Failure?

You may have heard about him. You may have read about him. You may even know him. Failure. Failure. Failure.

Yes, that’s Timmy’s last name – Failure. But Timmy Failure is no failure. He is the founder, president, and CEO of Failure, Inc. – a detective agency. That’s quite an achievement for someone who believes he’s on the right track, baby, but happens to miss his mark more often than not. He has his friends. He has his enemies. He has his nuisances. And he has his business partner, Total, a polar bear. Don’t ask why. Just read the book!


Timmy Failure is funny in a quirky way. It’s like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries had a head-on crash and the result was a “failure.” It’s a perfect choice for those hard-to-please readers looking for that just-right book.

 Timmy Failure Mistakes Were Made was written and artfully illustrated by Stephan Pastis, creator of Pearls Before Swine fame. Look for the next “failure,” Timmy Failure Now Look What You’ve Done, in February of 2014. How many failures can there be? I hope more.

Summer Reading

June 12, 2012

Summer vacation is here. It’s time to get down to serious reading business. The first book I’ve chosen is Keeper  written by Kathi Appelt and illustrated by August Hall. I can see those lovers of children’s books shaking their heads, wondering why I haven’t read this book before now.

In my pile of reading material, books get shuffled around. Some books that were on top end up at the bottom of the pile. Alas, that’s what happened to Keeper. Never fear. It has been rescued and is beside me this very minute, waiting patiently for me to open its magical pages.

Keeper will be a keeper as I begin my summer reading adventures.

A few other books I’ll be reading this summer are:

Dead End in Norvelt written by Jack Gantos (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011)

The True Meaning of Smekday written by Adam Rex (Hyperion, 2007)

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny – Detectives Extraordinaire! written by Polly Hovarth and illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Schwartz & Wade, 2012)

Do you have a favorite middle-grade book to recommend?

Saved by the Book

November 12, 2010

What in flippin’ flapjacks happened? This week galloped away from me. It’s Friday – my blog posting day. So what in tarnation am I going to post? I set my brain to thinkin’ and right there at my page-turnin’ fingertips was the answer to my dilemma.


Emily’s Fortune is my fortune. Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, one of my favorite authors and Newbery Award winner, has written a gosh darn lively read.

Emily Wiggins unexpectedly becomes an orphan and heads for her Aunt Hilda’s house in Redbud. Life for Emily is not so hunky-dory. Miss Catchum of the Catchum Child-Catching Services is after her. Devious Uncle Victor, who wants Emily’s ten million dollar inheritance, is after her, too. Luckily, Jackson, another orphan, happens along and helps Emily disguise herself and teaches her the ropes of the rootin’ tootin’ real world.

Will Miss Catchum catchum? Will Jackson be a trustworthy friend? Will devious Uncle Victor do away with Emily to get his grimy hands on the ten million dollars? Shake your tail feathers and hightail it on out and get yourself a copy of this book. You won’t be sorry!

Grow a Reader

March 30, 2010

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”—Emilie Buchwald

Rodent holes! Hidden beneath the snow cover, those sneaking little thieves were on a crunch, munch, and destroy mission, filling themselves with savory bulbs I had hastily planted. I guess if I had taken the time to send those critters packing, to fertilize the bulbs, and to plant them at the right depth, I would have a bloomin’ good garden. I’m not known for my green thumb. That’s why I have a stash of artificial flowers that I can shove into the ground just in case the real ones don’t come up!

Growing a garden is a lot like growing a reader. You need to take the time to nurture and cultivate both of them. As a teacher and author, I believe in growing readers. Start fertilizing your reader’s garden with a few of these tips.

In the beginning, cuddle that bundle of joy in your arms and share a fun board book.

Make the library your second home.

As children grow older, continue to read to them. Secretly, they love it!

Read outside the book. Encourage reading newspapers, magazines, and other nonfiction materials.

Read the same book your child is reading and talk about it.

Instead of an iPod on a road trip, check out an audio book from the library for everyone to enjoy.

Dish up a dinner discussion about an interesting newspaper article.

Stop the back talk and start a book talk.

Have a variety of books around the house so there’s something to please everyone.

Read every day.

You’re a role model. Let your kids see you read, and you’ll be planting the seeds for some bloomin’ good readers!


A garden of books My First Garden  by Wendy Lewison (Little Simon, 2009), My Garden by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow Books, 2010),  The Curious Garden by Peter Brown (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009),  Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden by Edith Pattou (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2007), The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Candlewick, 2008)           

Coming Soon! Rose’s Garden by Peter H. Reynolds (Walker Books Ltd., May 2010)     

Lost and Found

February 16, 2010

Lost! Missing! Vanished! Gone!

How do they do it? One minute they’re with you and the next they’re not. I’m talking about family members who go astray while shopping. Does the store gobble them up? Do they hide and laugh while you frantically search for them? Do they think you’re lost and they’re not?

When my daughter was young and wandered away from me, I was a crazy woman until I found her. When she was a teenager I figured she had purposely disappeared so I wouldn’t embarrass her. I knew she would eventually find me because I had the keys to the car. But when your husband disappears, that’s a whole new game of hide and seek.

On Saturday we entered the department store together. He went one way. I went the other. We were to meet back in the middle. I zoomed through the store, knowing my husband hates to shop and would show signs of impatience if I took too long. (He will deny this, but it’s true!) I got back to the middle with my purchases and waited, and waited, and waited. I did a quick search of the store. Not a sign of him. A saleswoman asked if she could help me find something. I told her my husband. She laughed and walked away.

After twenty minutes, I’m thinking, where is this man? Is he like The Man Who Lost His Head? Was he searching for a new one and that’s what was taking so long? I took out my phone, which I was told to always have with me, and called him. The phone rang, and rang, and rang. Then it went to voicemail. I had been waiting for forty-five minutes. My happy face was no longer. I considered going to the service desk to have them make an announcement for a missing husband when he strolled over to me. It seems he had discovered shopping wasn’t so bad after all. He had been hiding in a fitting room for the past hour, trying on clothes and finding some great deals.   

When we got to the car, he picked his phone up off the floor where he had left it. “Oh,” he said, “I have a missed call.” I rolled my eyes and said, “Let’s go.”

More lost and found: Patches: Lost And Found by Steven Kroll (Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books, 2005), Corduroy Lost and Found by B.G. Hennessy (Viking Juvenile, 2006), Lost and Found:  Three Dog Stories by Jim LaMarche (Chronicle Books, 2009)  Lost and Found by Andrew Clements (Atheneum, 2008)

Coming Soon:  Nini Lost and Found by Anita Lobel (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2010)

And the Tony Award Goes to…

January 12, 2010

“Humor is everywhere, in that there’s irony in just about anything a human does.” — Bill Nye

Secretly, I’ve always wanted to act. I wanted my name in lights, to be a Broadway star, to win a Tony Award. Okay, I’m not a Broadway star. I don’t have my name in lights, but it’s on the door of the library, and inside, I’m a star! I can be charming, harebrained, or totally obnoxious. When I’m reading a book, I’m a drama queen, bringing down the schoolhouse with my performance.

I love my job! I can be as zany as I want as long as I have a book in my hand. Along with sharing incredible books with the students, I also teach library skills. This can be a bummer. Right now I’m in the middle of teaching the Dewey Decimal System. Okay, it’s ingenious and a necessary part of the curriculum, but it doesn’t rock my world. I needed something to ramp up the excitement for learning good old Melvil’s system. Then I discovered Candace Fleming’s, The Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School.

This book is hilarious! It’s right up my alley of humor. In fact, it’s downright punny, and it has a great chapter on teaching the Dewey Decimal System.

Thank you, Candace, for making my life so easy!

After reading The Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School, I was possessed. I was on a mission to use this book to mesmerize my students with Dewey’s classification system. My lesson was going to be an award-winning performance. I was ready. Plastered on the wall was the name of the chapter, “Dewey We or Don’t We?” As each fourth-grader walked into the library, my mantra was, “Dewey! Dewey! Dewey!”

They looked at me like I was from another planet. Ha! Little did they know that one of the characters they were about to meet was a teacher named Mr. Jupiter. They sat. I read. I reached into my inner self to provide an awe-inspiring learning experience. I had the characters down pat. By the end of the chapter, the entire class was loudly chanting these words from the book. “Do we know about the Dewey decimal system? Do we? Dewey? Boy, do we?”

The Dewey Decimal System was a hit—well, almost. I’m still working on that, but the book was a hit and so was my performance. I expect calls from agents any day. Now if only I could sing…

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