Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Review by Mia Levings

Autumn_Leaves_36Mia is an unassuming, sweet, reflective young lady who I never would have guessed would be a powerhouse on the stage, but she is! In December, I went to support a friend appearing in a play, and on walked Mia playing a bratty, rude, loud character — the exact opposite the kid I’d seen in class every day for months. An entertaining surprise! You can’t judge kids based on their in-class reserve, and you can’t judge a book by its cover. Or maybe you can, because since Miss Peregrine popped up on shelves (at the exact same time as Falling for Hamlet, as I recall), it looked intriguing, mysterious, and scary. Let’s see what Mia’s got to say about it.

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. – Amazon

missperegrine_334x518Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is the best book that I’ve read (so far) ever. Adventure, World War 2, monsters and very, very peculiar children – one of the best combinations ever. Set in modern times (Florida, USA), teenager Jacob Portman has always felt a little out of place. (I know that sounds like a cliche, but trust me, this is good.) With his grandfather getting older and his childhood dreams of being a world famous explorer fading from memory, Jacob is just getting settled into the normal life of anything and everything boring. But when a terrible and unbelievable “incident” happens, Jacob realizes that his grandfather’s old childhood stories might be a bit more real than he expected. This book is truly amazing, but just a warning it is a bit scary and creepy, so if that’s not your type you might want to read something else. Also it’s a series of three and there’s a movie, all great. Happy reading!

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Every Last Word – Review by Lillian Dow Paterson

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Lillian joined my class midyear, which is not  the easiest thing to do. Some kids are intimidated by the pace, the style, or the fact that a class can be like a family — quirky and individual — but Lillian came in confident and ready to go! She’s got great ideas and is all-in when it comes to reading, trying new things, and working with groups. I’m delighted that she’s jumped into the book review fray, as well, and has introduced me (and maybe you) to a new novel.

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off. Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.  – Amazon

Every Last Word is a novel by Tamara Ireland Stone. Every Last Word is about a highevery-last-word school junior named Samantha McAllister. Samantha was diagnosed with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) at age ten and has struggled with it constantly. She swims and goes to a shrink (therapist) named Sue.  On one fateful day she meets Caroline and her whole world changes, Caroline is the only one who truly understands her, Caroline introduces her to the Poets Corner and Samantha starts to feel normal and drenched out of the thoughts that tantalize and taunt her day on. She begins to stand up to the harshness of her so-called friends. She begins to see a new world, a better world forming around her. Among her new friends is AJ, Andrew Olsen who she previously chastised because of his past stutter. The two begin to start a romantic relationship, even though her “popular friends” don’t seem to approve of the two. Along with this, her poetry processes and becomes better and better. Every Last Word is a fabulous book that I would recommend for everyone to read.  Warning: Some content may not be appropriate for younger children.

The Sun is Also a Star – Review by Allison H.

-3Allison is now on summer break after an intense and thrilling (I hope) year in our literature class. She is not only a sweet and funny kid with strong skills in writing and reading, she is also a tremendous performer. Having had the pleasure of watching her in a musical and a Shakespeare play, I look forward to seeing her on stage now that I no longer get to have her in class.

From Amazon:
Natasha:
I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

 

28763485The Sun Is Also a Star is a fabulous book full of romance, humor, and suspense. Natasha is a no-nonsense girl who is about to be deported back to Jamaica. Daniel is a dreamer who is forced to do nothing but schoolwork by his parents. They meet by chance in New York City. The book takes place over one day, showing their journey together and how they fall in love.
The Sun is Also a Star is one of the best books I’ve ever read; it is intriguing, funny, and kept me hanging on through the last page. While this book might sound like just another cheesy romance novel, it is so much more. The book revolves around the theme that everything is connected and shows it through a day with Natasha and David. The main plot is interesting and unusual; both of the characters have their own personal struggles and unlike some books actually have substance. The characters are relatable and I enjoyed reading about them. The book switches between many points of view; the main ones are Natasha, the who views the world from a no-nonsense, scientific lens and Daniel, who looks at things as a dreamer and a hopeless romantic. My personal favorite part was how throughout the book the author included short informational chapters about the story; these would explain concepts in the book (such as “black hairstyling”), the backstory of the minor characters, and how the actions of the main characters affect those they meet. The book gives you a new look at life and helps you better understand that our actions do matter and that everything is connected.This book is wonderful, and I recommend it to anyone who likes romance, drama, and humor. Not recommended for those bothered by curse words and kissing.

 

Using Picture Books to Interest Young Readers in New Genres – by author Henry Herz

13240064_1100770546649029_4587016448810551750_nI was lucky enough to meet Henry Herz on a cold, spring, rainy day under the SCBWI tent at the Gaithersburg Book Festival. I was selling books and chatting with awesome kids, teens, parents and authors, when Henry came up explaining that he, among other topics, wrote Shakespeare-inspired books for kids. His books are gorgeous, he’s great, and I’m thrilled he wanted to guest post here. Check out his newest venture MABEL AND THE QUEEN OF DREAMS, inspired by Queen Mab from Romeo and Juliet.

 

 

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NY Times bestsellers Brandon Sanderson, Maggie Steifvater, Kami Garcia, Jonathan Maberry & Zac (Heather) Brewer

 

I love fantasy. Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are hooked me in elementary school. And J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings sealed the deal. I write fantasy picture books, like When You Give an Imp a Penny. I moderate fantasy literature panels at San Diego Comic-Con. I even edited a dark anthology, Beyond the Pale, featuring short stories by fantasy greats Saladin Ahmed, Peter Beagle, Zac Brewer, Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine, Kami Garcia, Nancy Holder, Gillian Philip, and Jane Yolen.

As a parent, I wanted to share my love of fantasy with my young sons. I hit upon the idea of writing a fantasy story for them. This turned out to be a pivotal moment for me personally, as it led to my discovering a passion for writing children’s literature. But it also gave me a useful insight. If I wanted my sons to one day read The Lord of the Rings and other great fantasy novels, starting them on fantasy picture books could be a good way to plant that seed. A third unexpected boon was that my sons didn’t just read that story. They gave me feedback, essentially becoming junior co-authors. The fruit of that labor was our self-published fantasy early chapter book, Nimpentoad.

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I also fondly remember reading Bullfinch’s Mythology as an older kid. After a couple of years honing my writing craft, another inspiration struck. Why not write an anthology of fractured nursery rhymes that substituted mythological creatures for some of the original characters? Surely that might interest kids in reading mythology. The result was our first traditionally published book, Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes.

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Hey Doblin, doblin, the gnome and the goblin. The centaur ran through the lawn. / The minotaur laughed to see such sport, and the imp ran away with the fawn.

Although I’d been reading fantasy my whole life, it wasn’t until I had the pleasure of meeting author Kevin Hearne that I discovered urban fantasy. Urban fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy set in an urban setting, typically in contemporary times. Note that the boundary between the subgenres of urban fantasy and paranormal romance is blurry. The use of magic and/or the lack of a romantic focus can help distinguish urban fantasy from paranormal romances like Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, and Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

I devoured Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series, and went on to enjoy other urban fantasies like The Exile by C.T. Adams, Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, Weather Warden series by Rachel Caine, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, Magicians series by Lev Grossman, Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa, October Daye series by Seanan McGuire, Rebel Angels by Gillian Philip, and Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (yes, technically it’s middle grade/young adult urban fantasy).

image4So, if I could plant literary seeds for fantasy and mythology, why not try urban fantasy? The answer to that question became the bedtime picture book, Mabel and the Queen of Dreams from Schiffer Publishing. Little Mabel was an expert at not going to sleep. She knew all the best bed-avoiding excuses. “I’m thirsty. I need to use the bathroom. Will you tell me a story?” Mom ALWAYS fell for that one. But Mom had the Queen of Dreams in her quiver of bedtime tales. The fae queen paints children’s dreams, so she can only visit when their eyes are closed. As Mom’s tale unfolds, Mabel gradually transitions from sitting on her bed, to slipping her feet under the covers, to laying her head on her pillow, to finally closing her eyes.

“Wait,” you ask. “Doesn’t the presence of the fae queen make this a fairy tail?” I’m glad you asked. The story’s contemporary urban setting violates Tolkien’s definition of a fairy tale. The story takes place in the “real” world, rather than in Faërie. So, Mabel and the Queen of Dreams, though featuring a fairy, is urban fantasy, not fairy tale, or as Tolkien preferred, Märchen (wonder tale).

image5But wait, there’s more! Mabel and the Queen of Dreams is inspired by Mercutio’s soliloquy in Romeo & Juliet, in which he details how the tiny fairy queen Mab influences people’s dreams as she passes by in her flying chariot. An author’s note provides the original Shakespearean language. So, this story serves double duty, planting seeds of interest in both urban fantasy and Shakespeare. *drops mic*

Regardless of subgenre, I hope readers will find in my story what Tolkien posited for Märchen generally. “Far more powerful and poignant is the effect [of joy] in a serious tale of Faërie. In such stories, when the sudden turn comes, we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart’s desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through.”

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Deep Blue – Review by Rifka

-1Rifka is funny, unique, and spirited, as I hope you can tell by the picture she decided to use for this post. She makes me laugh all the time, and she loves to talk as much as I do (and that’s saying something!). She makes me think and she brings up really good points that cause me to alter or add to my lessons, like when she pointed out that we hadn’t learned about women of the Civil Rights Movement, so we did. The book she picked is rather beloved by the kids in my class, so I think I need to check it out myself. 

 

Deep Blue, by Jennifer Donnelly-2

“When Serafina, a mermaid of the Mediterranean Sea, awakens on the morning of her betrothal, her biggest worry should be winning the love of handsome Prince Mahdi. And yet Sera finds herself haunted by strange dreams that foretell the return of an ancient evil. Her dark premonitions are confirmed when an assassin’s arrow poisons Sera’s mother. Now, Serafina must embark on a quest to find the assassin’s master and prevent a war between the Mer nations. Led only by her shadowy dreams, Sera searches for five other mermaid heroines who are scattered across the six seas. Together, they will form an unbreakable bond of sisterhood and uncover a conspiracy that threatens their world’s very existence.” – The Book Smugglers

Deep Blue is not your average mermaid book and nor is Serafina your average mermaid. This book is for people who like fantasy and mermaids but are tired of the “brave prince saves princess, happy ending” cliche, as well as clueless and shallow mermaids. Sera and her friends have amazing powers that they must use to save the oceans from a terrible power that threatens. I like how each mermaid has a different character and weakness. Sera is royal and strong but has moments of uncertainty and is sometimes impulsive. Neela is first portrayed as shallow and frilly, but she can think fast and follows her dream, designing, even though it goes against the wishes of her family. Deep Blue is a moving and entertaining book, that will keep you hooked. The second one, Rogue Wave, has just come out and I just cannot wait for the third, Dark Tide!

Picture Perfect – Review by Julia A.

attachmentJulia A. is just a pleasant kid to be around. You might think that’s not the biggest of compliments, but in a middle school, that’s a huge deal. Julia is kind and thoughtful, and  funny. She has great ideas and makes strong connections in our literature class. The picture she chose for herself is pretty fitting, too, since she’s caring and protective of her friends. All that and she can write! I’m so glad she wanted to share this book review with the world.

 

Picture Perfect, by Elaine Marie Alphin

754348Picture Perfect depicts Ian, a 15-year-old, photography-loving boy, who tries to discover the truth behind the disappearance of his best friend, Teddy. While investigating Teddy’s disappearance, Ian begins to act strangely. He wonders about his role in the mystery and who he can trust to help him. Through his journey to find Teddy, Ian learns of secrets that change how he sees those closest to him. He discovers the pieces of the puzzle that have made up his life.

Picture Perfect is a phenomenal book; I have never read anything as intriguing and exciting. It is a story in which something is always going on. Sometimes the conflict is internal, like when Ian debates whether or not to confide in a counselor about the confusion going on in his life. Other times the conflict is external, like when the sheriff accuses Ian of withholding evidence that may be important in their efforts to find Teddy. Author Elaine Marie Alphin develops all of Ian’s conflicts by creating a compelling plot. Ian is trying to solve many small mysteries and piece them together to get the big picture. He must figure out why his best friend has disappeared and why he has mysterious gaps in his memory. He must also find out why his dad, the principal, seems to be a completely different person at school than he is at home. His dad compliments Ian on fabulous work one moment, but yells at him and locks him in the closet he next. Alphin also creates intrigue by following Ian during a time when he has many clashing thoughts and ideas. Ian is constantly arguing with himself about how to fix his problems. He wonders if he should rely on the sheriff and others to find Teddy or if he should venture out and find Teddy himself. He wonders if he should talk to someone about his dad’s changing personalities or if he should keep silent to avoid his dad’s wrath. I would recommend Picture Perfect to anyone who likes a good mystery, in which you can figure out what is going on along with the main character. Alphin drops small, subtle clues regarding the solutions to Ian’s problems, but doesn’t make anything too obvious. Picture Perfect is a beautifully written book, one that will have you turning pages until you learn how everything ties together.

Fish in a Tree – Review by Maria

9s8cGHqYV85RzSyXHwkZdwo7f6ygh4VUkyi6IgWHVwvoH2F4GCULH77l-jh74VfdpUZDpiiYal1BBAX-_diTkpitZpjna5OCXvi8kl4FAXUqVw=s0-d-e1-ft Maria is currently in my 6th grade literature elective. She is delightfully earnest and thoughtful. Every day she responds with care in writing and during discussions, she works to connect our books to current events and history, and stops on her way out the door at the bell to make a last comment or just to say thank you.

She has chosen to review Fish in a Tree, which was written by one of my EMLA agency mates and Facebook friends, but I assure you, this choice and her ideas are all her own.

Fish In A Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt is a book that faces the problems of growing up and believing in yourself. It tells the story of Ally, a girl who has dyslexia. She is ashamed, teased, hides it. But her newest teacher sees who Ally truly is: a smart, creative girl. With his help, Ally becomes more confident and discovers that there is more to herself than she and others know.

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I cannot say how much I loved, enjoyed, and was amazed by this book! It is a truly original story about being confident and being yourself. Unlike other stories, the problem isn’t magically solved. This book describes in detail the shame and hate Ally receives. I read this in about 2 days, and cried at the end of it. Hunt has many descriptive, heart – wrenching paragraphs about Ally’s bullies, and her dad, who is off in the military. In one paragraph, it says, “I’ve been drawing pictures of myself being shot out of a cannon. It would be easier than school. Less painful.” Hunt uses amazing sentences such as this that will make the reader, no matter who, feel as if they are Ally. Despite being a bit of a tearjerker, I would recommend this amazing story to anyone 9 – up. Some of the parts are very sad and emotional, and not all kids might enjoy the more cruel and sad scenes. But aside from that, anyone can enjoy this story, as we have all been an outsider at a time and will be able to sympathize with Ally’s struggle. I loved the ups and downs, the descriptions and drama, and the wonderful quote, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”