The winner of the Fall Into Books Giveaway is Kelly! Congratulations Kelly!
Please get in touch with you mailing address so I can send you your books! Yay!
This is what Kelly won:
It’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday again !
Literary Addicts is running another giveaway, and of course I want to get in on the action. I’d like to make my giveaway middle grade friendly in honor of Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays, so here’s what you can win.
To enter all you need to do is this: Add WICKET SEASON to your Goodreads “to-read” list and /or follow me on this blog or on Twitter and/or tweet, blog or Facebook this giveaway. Tell what you’ve done in a comment on this post and boom! You’re entered. Good Luck! Click on the Blog Hop Image above to find other hop participants. Also visit Shannon Messenger’s blog for more middle grade fun.
The Sizzling Summer Reads Giveaway is over folks. And what fun it was to hear from a bunch of new visitors and followers as well as from some old friends. Once again I relied on the folks at Random.org to give me the winners of the giveaway. So here they are:
For this week’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday I whipped through the Newbery Honor Book BREAKING STALIN’S NOSE by Eugene Yelchin.
Sasha Zaichik has known the laws of the Soviet Young Pioneers since the age of six:
But now that it is finally time to join the Young Pioneers, the day Sasha has awaited for so long, everything seems to go awry. He breaks a classmate’s glasses with a snowball. He accidentally damages a bust of Stalin in the school hallway. And worst of all, his father, the best Communist he knows, was arrested just last night.
This moving story of a ten-year-old boy’s world shattering is masterful in its simplicity, powerful in its message, and heartbreaking in its plausibility.
A few weeks ago I reviewed MY OWN REVOLUTION, another Soviet Communism exposé, that one about Czechoslovakia . Then last week I read BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY which concerned the fate of Lithuanians “transported” to Siberia by Stalin. So BREAKING STALIN’S NOSE rounds out my tour of the former USSR and the states under its hammer and sickle, so to speak.
Now I’m mad. It’s 2012. I’ve been reading books for children and teens since 1972. Why are these the first three kids books I’ve read about life under the Soviet regime? I personally know several people who escaped eastern bloc countries during the regime – people who have been living and working in the west for decades. Why are we just hearing their stories now?
It is not about dark subject matter, that I know. We’ve had detailed and graphic accounts of the Holocaust and the Nazi regime at least since I was a child. Not to mention the fictional dystopias that have been all the rage for years with their totalitarian governments, arbitrary arrests and systematic oppression. Sound familiar?
Let me change tack for a moment. A few years ago I was teaching a 20th Century history course to some mainland Chinese students in Vancouver. We did a unit on WWII and the Holocaust. We visited the Jewish Museum. We watched a documentary. At the end of the unit one of my students put his hand up and I called on him. He stood, as they do and spoke in halting English “You know that Mao did this also?” he said.
I nodded somberly. “Well, yes, I have heard that,” I said. “I don’t know much about it”.
“He killed millions of people,” the young man said. He wasn’t emotional about it. He was almost bemused. I think perhaps he was wondering why I had made such a big deal of the Holocaust, since it was, by body count anyway, less significant than Mao’s “Great Leap Forward”.
Sometimes the worldview of these mainlanders would break my heart a bit. This was the same kid who after a unit about the suffrage movement asked, slightly petulantly: “What’s the big deal about voting anyway?” He was not outraged by Mao’s holocaust or his own disenfranchisement. He hadn’t yet twigged that there is another world out here, another way to live.
So what I’m wondering now is when one of these kids that I teach, one that choses to stay in Canada will tell their story or their parents’ story to a Canadian born child who will grow up to write a kids’ book on the horrors of living under Chinese Communism.
Are you twitching, cringing? Many of my readers are dyed in the wool lefties like me. Some of my friends parents took sabbaticals in China or Poland, so enamored were they with their promised utopias. For some of us it is hard for us to believe that communism, this great Marxist ideal, could have gone so horribly wrong. We don’t want to believe it. My own mother sings the praises of Cuba. The place people escape on half inflated inner tubes. Over some of the most treacherous seas in the world. To be a minority in Florida. “Everyone gets education and medical care in Cuba,” my mother told me. “Also the case in many prisons,” I replied.
Kim Phuc, remember her? Here’s her picture, to remind you. She defected from Vietnam to Canada in 1992. I guess she really wanted to be free. I’ve read her biography. Her story would make a fantastic young adult book about Vietnam after the war. It would NOT be flattering about the regime that exploited her as a propaganda symbol.
There are a lot of gaps in the young people’s publishing world. We know that. There are not enough characters or writers of color for example. There are not a lot of books about non-Anglo cultures at all, black, brown or white. And there is very little about life outside the democratic bubble of “western civilization”.
Is this because publishers/agents and even writers are afraid to point fingers and say “this sucks”? Have we been too skeptical about reports on the horrors of communist and/or totalitarian regimes? Do we not want to “judge”? Are we afraid of indoctrinating young readers with truth so off-putting as to seem one sided?
Maybe this is beginning to change. I hope so.
Well, anyway, though BREAKING STALIN’S NOSE is a powerful book, it has a surprisingly small scale for such a big subject matter. Not only is it a short book, but it all takes place in the span of less than 24 hours, and much of it takes place in the very confused mind of its young protagonist and narrator. But it packs a considerable punch narratively, so much so that I’m not sure many of its intended audience would be able to fully comprehend it with the kind of casual read that young readers typically do. Contrary to my usual stance, I think book might be best appreciated in the classroom, with the guidance of a good teacher.
BREAKING STALIN’S NOSE IS just over 15,000 words with an age level of grade 4-5.
For this week’s I Can’t Wait to read I’m going with PRINCE PUGGLY OF SPUD AND THE KINGDOM OF SPIFF another novel in verse from the brilliant author of ZORGAMAZOO, Robert Paul Weston.
Prince Puggly of Spud and the Kingdom of Spiff is, logically enough, about Puggly, the newly crowned prince of the very muddy, very unfashionable Kingdom of Spud.
Puggly is surprised to receive an invite to the lavish Centenary Ball in the oh-so-chic Kingdom of Spiff. As everyone knows, Spiffians are known for the poshest clothes and the fluffiest wigs, so it’s no surprise when Prince Puggly’s grand entrance ends in humiliation.
However, Puggly discovers an unlikely ally in Francesca, the bookish Princess of Spiff and together the two friends set out to teach the Spiffs an absurd lesson in style.
Rumor has it that Penguin will be sending me an ARC so I’m pretty excited! It comes out February 2013.
For more Middle Grade reviews and and recommendations, visit Shannon Messenger’s Blog.
This week for MMGM I’m clearing my shelves a bit. As part of the Sizzling Summer Reads Giveaway I’m letting go of a bunch of stuff. Comment below and let me know if you are a follower and which one you’d like to win to enter. I will draw one name for each book available so there’s incentive for making your choice. Don’t forget to click on the Sizzling Summer Reads badge to find a list of other blog you can visit for more giveaways. And visit Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays with Shannon Messenger for more middle grade reviews, interviews and general fun.
Two ARCS of THE MERITS OF MISCHIEF: THE BAD APPLE BY T.R, Burns
(From Goodreads) Quirky and irreverent new middle-grade series about a group of kids being trained to cause trouble! For all of his 12 years, Seamus Hinkle has stayed out of trouble, but on one fateful afternoon in the Cloudview Middle School cafeteria, Seamus accidentally does the unthinkable—a substitute teacher is dead, and Seamus is to blame. Unable to return to Cloudview, Seamus’ parents take him to the most infamous of reform schools: Kilter Academy. But when Seamus’ parents drive off, headmistress Annika Kilter shows her true colors: she’s not interested in reforming delinquents, but quite the opposite—the mission of Kilter Academy is to foster troublemaking, and she’s decided Seamus is her star pupil! Together with his new mischief-making friends, Seamus lives every young boy’s dream of getting points for getting in trouble! But soon Seamus discovers that Kilter Academy may have more plans in store for its students than just turning out troublemakers…
LUCY UNSTRUNG by Carole Lazar
Teens who get pregnant and raise their babies are often in the news. But what about those children who are growing up with parents scarcely half a generation older than themselves?
In this wise and funny first novel by Carole Lazar, Lucy is a sensible, perhaps even rigid, thirteen year old who is convinced that Grandma, God, and the Catholic Church are on her side. She tries hard to make her twenty-eight-year-old mother see the error of her ways. It’s not that her mother is wild – in their household even a fancy coffee causes a scene – but she has had to put off her own teenage years and she’s chaffing at the restraints on her life. Lucy is faced with the loss of her family, her home, her school, and even her best friend. As she struggles to preserve what she can from her past life, she finds that while Grandma, God, and her church are still there for her, there are problems she has to solve for herself
OUT ON A LIMB by Gail Banning
Rosie and her family’s financial problems find them living in the most unexpected of places a treehouse, on the estate of Great-Great-Aunt Lydia. Not that Rosie minds, at first. The treehouse is awesome bigger than some apartments, with a great view, and full of fresh air. Plus it’s located in a fancy neighborhood. But after a summer of fun on the treehouse grounds, things get complicated. Rosie’s new school friends all live in mansions; suddenly the treehouse looks pretty pathetic. How can she seriously expect to fit in when her house” doesn’t even have running water? One little lie seems to help, at first, but pretty soon Rosie is keeping secrets from her family, bribing her little sister, and lying to her new best friend. As the school year drags on, every day presents a new challenge. When things finally reach the boiling point thanks to the famous spring rummage sale” fundraiser Rosie learns that lying is not the answer, and that sometimes help comes from the least likely places. Gail Banning’s lively characters, exciting story, and exploration of deeper issues make Out on a Limb a memorable read.
And finally WICKET SEASON (signed!) by me, Gabrielle Prendergast
In Winnipeg, Harry was a cricket star. With few West Indians in the community and few people who played the sport, he always stood out from the crowd. But when he moves to Toronto’s Little Jamaica to stay with his grandfather, Harry is suddenly just another West Indian kid who loves cricket. There are even girls who are more talented than him. Harry is determined to make the cricket team at his new school, but he’ll really have to step up his game. To prove his commitment to the sport, he volunteers to coach Kanga cricket – cricket for beginners, akin to little league baseball. At first, all he wants to do is impress the coach. But soon, Harry realizes that being a part of a bigger community can be more rewarding than standing out on your own. [Fry reading level – 3.4]
This week on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (sponsored by the lovely Shannon Messenger) I’d like to talk about sleuths. But first, some painful childhood reminiscence.
Despite my mother being a public librarian, as a child I didn’t use the library nearly as much as you might think. I lived in a house full of books, and though many of them weren’t suitable or of interest to me, others captured my interests so fully that I read them over and over. But it was a slightly random collection. I’ve previously blogged about books I read over and over. All of these were books I or someone in my house owned.
That’s the clincher. I’m the youngest of four girls. Of those books that I read and re-read most were not purchased for me. So, no matter my age I read things suited to the tastes of intellectual older girls. I have strong memories of reading books just because I found them laying around the house. I often wonder what my childhood reading might have been like if I’d had older brothers instead. I might have been more into comic books, superheroes or high fantasy maybe.
At some point in my childhood, I found a Nancy Drew book laying around. It was a kind of double feature with THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE and THE SECRET OF THE OLD CLOCK. I don’t remember the OLD CLOCK very well but I must have read THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE about a dozen times. I’m not sure what captured my imagination about this particular story. I’d always liked hidden passageways (I still do!) so I guess that’s part of it. But I also think I really liked Nancy. She was beautiful but sensible, smart but feminine, vulnerable but brave.
I never got really obsessed about Nancy Drew or anything. I think that’s a little sad. I just re-read this book over and over like a kid marooned on an island. I’m not sure why I someone didn’t notice me reading it and suggest I take out a few more of the fifty or so Nancy Drew books I’m sure they had shelved twenty feet from where my mom worked every day. Perhaps this is a conversation I should be having with my shrink.
At any rate, sleuths were, are and I think always will be cool for kids. NANCY DREW, THE HARDY BOYS, NATE THE GREAT and ENCYCLOPEDIA BROWN all solved their rather gentle mysteries in my day (though Nancy was OLD by the time I read her). Nancy Drew has been re-booted for my daughter’s generation, joined by new gentle sleuths such as THE SISTERS EIGHT, SAMMY KEYES as well as more hard core young sleuths investigating murders such as THEODORE BOONE .
Sleuth fiction is a great change of pace for a kid reader who is stuck in reading rut. I think there is something very satisfying about reading a mystery and trying to puzzle it out along with the sleuth hero. THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE is short, about 36,000 words, and has reading level of grade five making it a perfect and contained book for a young reader who is looking for something a little different.
Speaking of sleuths, I can’t wait to read the new series SLEUTH OR DARE series by Kim Harrington. Great title. Great covers. This new three title series just came out this summer. One for mother daughter front porch reading club for sure!
For more MMGM fun check these other blogs:
Not long ago I entered a contest on Twitter, asking entrants to detail a mischievous act. I told about the time I filled the fountain in front of city hall with laundry soap and red food coloring so it was pink and bubbly the next day. Ah, high school.
Anyway, I won the contest and the prize was a super fun promo pack for T.R. Burns’s THE MERITS OF MISCHIEF: THE BAD APPLE. Here’s the blurb:
Quirky and irreverent new middle-grade series about a group of kids being trained to cause trouble!
For all of his 12 years, Seamus Hinkle has stayed out of trouble, but on one fateful afternoon in the Cloudview Middle School cafeteria, Seamus accidentally does the unthinkable—a substitute teacher is dead, and Seamus is to blame. Unable to return to Cloudview, Seamus’ parents take him to the most infamous of reform schools: Kilter Academy. But when Seamus’ parents drive off, headmistress Annika Kilter shows her true colors: she’s not interested in reforming delinquents, but quite the opposite—the mission of Kilter Academy is to foster troublemaking, and she’s decided Seamus is her star pupil! Together with his new mischief-making friends, Seamus lives every young boy’s dream of getting points for getting in trouble! But soon Seamus discovers that Kilter Academy may have more plans in store for its students than just turning out troublemakers…
I read this book in a day. It’s pretty short, just under 60,000 words with a reading level of grade 4. I can see what Burns is setting up here, and there is great potential in this series, but this book felt a bit like a very long prologue. The main problem, for me, is that Seamus’s GOAL was never articulated. The goal of punking all the teachers one by one just didn’t really grab me. Because of the nature of the school this is kind of like setting a protagonist in a typical school story the goal of getting good grades. It’s such a shame, because there is so much potential mayhem in this premise, but it was never exploited.
So much is left unexplained. Why does this school exist? What possible purpose could these mischief makers serve? Is there some nefarious secret? WHO is the antagonist? There doesn’t seem to be one. All we have a are a bunch of kids at school doing their assignments. Yes, the assignments are funny (in principle) but in reality how these pranks play out are much less funny and entertaining than my bubbles in the fountain. For example, when Seamus pranks one of his teachers all he needs to do is whistle at him from a hidden place in the washroom. Huh? How is that exciting?
This premise needed to be thought out more completely. T. R. Burns is apparently an accomplished author (whose true identity is secret) and this is certainly well written. And, as I said, the premise is great. Where it falls down is characters and plot. There’s just not enough to go on.
The next book in this series comes out next year and hopefully it will more completely exploit this premise. As it is THE BAD APPLE just doesn’t cut it. Not yet.
Find more MMGM fun here:
I picked up MY OWN REVOLUTION by Carolyn Marsden at ALA last month, after not only blogging it as an “I can’t wait to read” book that week, but also having a drink with Carolyn at a middle grade meet-up the night before! When I found her signing the books in the exhibition floor we had a laugh about it, because I had been completely unaware who I’d been gossiping with at the Hilton Hotel.
Here’s the blurb: In 1960s Czechoslovakia,. Fourteen-year-old Patrik rebels against the communist regime in small ways whenever he gets the chance: spray-painting slogans, listening to contraband Beatles records, even urinating on a statue of Lenin under cover of night. But anti-Party sentiment is risky, and when party interference cuts a little too close to home, Patrik and his family find themselves faced with a decision — and a grave secret — that will change everything. As the moments tick toward too late, Patrik takes his family’s fate in hand, risking everything for a chance at freedom. Examining the psychological toll of living under an authoritarian regime, Carolyn Marsden allows readers to experience both Patrik’s persistent worry and his hope for better things.
The book is a quick read that I breezed through while waiting for and taking the ferry to Vancouver Island. It was interesting that I read it on this journey because on Vancouver Island lives my sister and her husband, my brother in law, who is the most pro-communism person I know. I’ve known him for over thirty years and while he is not as rose tinted about the former Soviet Union as some of his comrades, or especially his late father, he still adheres to the notion that Soviet Communism was a genuine application of Marx’s ideals.
Marsden was inspired to write this book after meeting a Czech surgeon who escaped the Soviet Occupation as a teen. So I’m confident that the book’s negative portrayal of life under communism is very authentic. I’VE never been a believer that Soviet Communism was anything like the ideal that Marx dreamt of, despite the dewy eyed exultations of some of my brother-in-law’s friends. But I found myself squirming as I read this book. It’s not that it’s a polemic against communism or the Soviets, in fact I think it’s quite balanced and real. I think my struggle was just a lingering hangover to my left-wing upbringing. Maybe I didn’t want to believe it was ever that bad. It’s possible I was raised to mistrust any American media about life under communism. I was very surprised at my discomfort.
But I think that’s a mark of a very well written book. I was drawn into Patrik’s struggle and began thinking as that idealistic lefty I had been myself at that age (rather than the skeptical pragmatist I am now). I thought the innocent romance subplot played a very nice counterpoint to the political crisis that Patrik was having. The plot was tight and streamlined, the characters drawn with simple strokes but still three dimensional. And it was tense and taut. I was scared for Patrik and his family.
This is a short book, about 42,000 words and I estimate the reading level to be about grade five. Certainly a good book for boys or girls reading at age typical levels ages 10+. There is no sex and very little violence or inappropriate language.
For this week’s I can’t wait to read I’m going to look at my pile of ARCs from ALA and go with THE GREAT UNEXPECTED by Sharon Creech. I’m a huge fan of Creech’s verse novels, but this will be the first of her prose that I read. Here’s a little taste:
I had big thoughts to match the big wind. I wondered if we find the people we need when we need them. I wondered if we attract our future by some sort of invisible force, or if we are drawn to it by a similar force. I felt I was turning a corner and that change was afoot.
Don’t need the library, Amazon or the bookstore for this one, I’ve already got it! Bean bag chair on the porch, here I come!
For other MMGM fun check out these blogs:
A quick MMGM post this week because I (and the lovely Shannon W Messenger) are both busy running around ALA12 like lunatics. This week I’d like to highlight a series Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan.
Ranger’s Apprentice is part George RR Martin, part Tamora Pierce, Part Nancy Farmer. It’s a series of dramatic adventures involving a Ranger, Halt and his maturing apprentice, Will. This is one of those fantasy series that doesn’t rely on too much fantasy. Most of it is just straight out action adventure. There are sword fights and battles, kings and princesses, invaders, kidnappers, plenty of wilderness survival and a range of fascinating invented cultures, most of which are recognized as being derived from real historical groups – Vikings, Gauls, Arabs etc. These are more challenging books for confident readers, but have little content (apart from medieval style violence) that would be unsuitable for readers as young as 10. They range in length from from about 70,000 to over 100,000 words and have readers levels of about grade 6.
There are eleven books in the series, and John Flanagan now has a companion series called The Brotherband Chronicles, set in the same imagined world. There are many things to recommend John Flanagan’s books not the least of which is that they all have awesome covers. Check it out:
For this week’s I can’t wait to read I’m going with something I hope to find an ARC of here at ALA12, My Own Revolution by Carolyn Marsden. While this might be a slightly more mature Middle Grade book, or even YA, it concerns life under soviet communism, which is an area of literature for young people I feel is seriously lacking. I just purchased Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys (and no, I didn’t buy it by accident) which covers similar themes so I thought this would be a nice pairing. My Own Revolution comes out October 9th, 2012.
More MMGM Madness can be found here:
This week for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday I’m looking at The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman. While this isn’t a classic from my youth it might as well be. The cover even makes it look like a vintage book, and the premise – a 1960s girl pulled back in time to the 1860s – gives it a setting similar to many of the books I read when I was a middle grader.
But this book has a contemporary edge to it, and this comes from the very clever and subtle rhetoric about race, identity and privilege.
Sophie a “white” thirteen year-old wishes for adventure and is whisked back 100 years to the same Louisiana plantation her family still owns. But Sophie, tanned with dark frizzy hair, is taken for a slave and absorbed into the daily life of the sugar plantation . At first she’s affronted to be so treated, but soon learns about slave life, her family and the important role she has to play if she ever wants to get back to her own time.
This was a strange read for me. I didn’t zip through it as I often do with books, but it got under my skin. The writing and story-telling is so precise that I felt I was being carefully led through a series of questions and feelings. It feels like a book for young readers, certainly appropriate for nine and up, (though there are some subtle sexual references) but for older readers it provides plenty to think about.
The Freedom Maze is 71,000 words and has a reading level of about grade five.
For this week’s I can’t wait to read I’m going with Dark Lord: The Early Years by Jamie Thomson. Here’s the blurb:
Could it be that Dirk Lloyd is really a human incarnation of the Dark Lord who, after a cataclysmic final battle with his arch nemesis, was hurled into the Pit of Uttermost Despair, aka Earth? Or is he just a lost and confused boy? The Dark Lord must regain his rightful place in the universe before his powers of domination and destruction are lost forever, and he’s shocked to find help comes from a most unlikely source…a human friend.
I mean come on. Dirk Lloyd? This sounds completely brilliant and I love love LOVE the cover. The Dark Lord: The Early Years comes out October 2nd 2012.
Here are some other MMGM blogs for your reading pleasure: