Archive for ‘Middle-Grade Books’

September 21, 2015

Look Both Ways in the Barrio Blanco

barrioTitle: Look Both Ways in the Barrio Blanco
Author: Judith Robbins Rose
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2015
Pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary, Multicultural
Themes: Immigrant Experience, Mentorship
Ages: 10 and up

Synopsis (Amazon website):

“Miss, will you be my Amiga?”
Amiga means “friend” in Spanish, but at the youth center, it meant a lady to take you places.
I never asked myself if two people as different as Miss and me could ever really be amigas.

When Jacinta Juarez is paired with a rich, famous mentor, she is swept away from the diapers and dishes of her own daily life into a world of new experiences. But crossing la linea into Miss’s world is scary. Half of Jacinta aches for the comfort of Mamá and the familiar safety of the barrio, while the other half longs to embrace a future that offers more than cleaning stuff for white people. When her family is torn apart, Jacinta needs to bring the two halves of herself together to win back everything she’s lost. Can she channel the power she’s gained from her mentor and the strength she’s inherited from Mamá to save her shattered home life?

Why I Like This Book:

A richly detailed story giving readers a glimpse of life in the barrio. The plot centers around 12-yr old Jacinta who has one foot in barrio world and one foot in Miss’s (mentor) world which offers new experiences likes gymnastics, swimming pools and French classes. The reader sees Jacinta being torn between doing the things she wants to do with Miss and her responsibilities to the family. The author has done a wonderful job of showing the raw, honest truth about the views of the people and the trials they face. I did enjoy the misconceptions that Jacinta had about Miss, they did add to lighten the story. While their mentorship-mentee relationship was filled with ups and downs, it was a richer experience in the end.

Not just a multi-cultural book but one about socio-economic diversity as well. The book moves along at a good clip with obstacles and conflict around every corner, though at times it did seem a bit much. I enjoyed this book serving as a window into another cultural society however I would’ve liked a little bit more something to help me understand the decisions the parents made for their family. Why did they choose to live in America if it meant living in fear of the police and barely making ends meet? At times the existence of Jacinta’s family seemed so dismal and bleak, I just wanted to see the warmness of the familial bonds instead of what just appeared to be obligations. There is a very nice line near the end of the story which did give me some closure on this aspect.

It’s what families do. And it’s not because we have to. It’s because we choose to do.

The author does a nice job in tying up the story and giving the reader hope that Jacinta has gotten strong from having one foot in each world and is better because of it.

This book has sparked my curiosity about the immigrant experience. Here are some other titles in this genre:
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
La Línea by Ann Jaramillo
Star in the Forest by Laura Resau
For additional books checkout the wonderful list at Pragmatic Mom website.

Find Look Both Ways in the Barrio Blanco at the following spots:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Goodreads
ISBN-10: 0763672351
ISBN-13: 978-0763672355

Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher Candlewick Press. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion about the book.

July 7, 2015

Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head

Hope you all are having a relaxing summer. I am enjoying the longer chill days with my family. Today I have a special treat for you. A short review by my 9-year old daughter who flew through this first book in a new middle-grade mystery series. Enjoy!

shrunken_headTitle: Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head
Author: Lauren Oliver & H.C. Chester
Publisher: HarperCollins, September 29, 2015
Pages: 386
Genre: Mystery
Ages: 8-12

Synopsis (from Harper Collins website):

The book is about, among other things: the strongest boy in the world, a talking cockatoo, a faulty mind reader, a beautiful bearded lady and a nervous magician, an old museum, and a shrunken head.

Blessed with extraordinary abilities, orphans Philippa, Sam, and Thomas have grown up happily in Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. But when a fourth child, Max, a knife-thrower, joins the group, it sets off an unforgettable chain of events.

When the museum’s Amazonian shrunken head is stolen, the four are determined to get it back. But their search leads them to a series of murders and an explosive secret about their pasts. This sensational new series combines the unparalleled storytelling gifts of Lauren Oliver with the rich knowledge of the notorious relics collector H. C. Chester.

What you will find in this book:

A rather attractive bearded lady
Several scandalous murders
A deliciously disgusting Amazonian shrunken head
Four extraordinary children with equally extraordinary abilities
A quite loquacious talking bird
What you will NOT find in this book:

An accountant named Seymour
A never-ending line at the post office
Brussels sprouts (shudder)
A lecture on finishing all your homework on time
A sweet, gooey story for nice little girls and boys


AK’s Review:

The book was exciting at first but it got kind of scary towards the middle. It is about four kids who try to solve many mysteries all at once. It got scary when a lot of murders happened at one time. It’s also about how four children can work together to save their home. People who like mysteries will love this book. I give the book 5 stars.


Find Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head by Lauren Oliver & H.C. Chester at the following spots:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Goodreads
ISBN-10: 0062270818
ISBN-13: 978-0062270818


Disclosure: We received a copy of this book from the publisher HarperCollins. This review nevertheless reflects our own and honest opinion about the book.


September 22, 2014

Industrial Revolution for Kids: The People and Technology That Changed the World


Title: Industrial Revolution for Kids: The People and Technology That Change the World

Author: Cheryl Mullenback (interview by the Mixed Files … of Middle-Grade Authors)
Publisher: Chicago Review Press, 2014
Book Type: Non-Fiction
Ages: 8-12

Synopsis (from Chicago Review Press website):

This blend of authoritative historic overview and human interest stories recounts one of the most important eras in American history. This educational activity book introduces young readers to the Industrial Revolution through the people, places, and inventions of the time, from the incredibly wealthy Rockefellers and Carnegies and the dingy and dangerous factories of the day to the creation of new forms of transportation and communication. By recounting this fascinating period in American history through the eyes of everyday workers, kids, sports figures, and social activists whose names never appeared in history books—including Hannah Montague, who revolutionized the clothing industry with her highly popular detachable collars and cuffs and Clementine Lamadrid, who either helped save starving New Yorkers or scammed the public into contributing to her one-cent coffee stands—this book helps tell the human stories of the Industrial Revolution. Twenty-one engaging and fun cross-curricular activities bring the times and technologies to life and allow for readers to make an assembly line sandwich, analyze the interchangeable parts of a common household fixture, weave a placemat, tell a story through photographs, and much more. Additional resources featured include books to read, places to visit, and websites to explore.


Why I Like This Book:

This is wonderful book that can be used to supplement a curriculum on the Industrial Revolution. It is jam-packed with basic historical information and photographs. Personally, I really liked the short articles offset in blue boxes. These are the little tidbits or personal stories that you won’t find in most textbooks, that make this era come to life. For example, did you know factory girls would sometimes leave notes in the garments they made in hope of finding a husband. Or how about Owney, the railway mail dog who rode the train across the US making sure the mail pouches were safely delivered to the post office. The book also comes with activities tied into the various section themes such as making an assembly line sandwich or designing a tenement space. With so much information this isn’t a book to speed through all at once, but rather read, process, and explore one chapter at a time.

If you liked this book be on the lookout for the next book by this author The Great Depression for Kids coming out in 2015.

Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher Chicago Review Press. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion about the book.

August 16, 2012

The One and Only Ivan

Thank you Mr. Schu, if it were not for your steady flood of #theoneandonlyivan tweets, I would not have read this amazing story. I can see why are you are so passionate about this book, I am too now. Thank You!

Title: The One and Only Ivan
Author: Katherine Applegate
Illustrator: Patricia Castelao
Publisher: Harper 2012
Themes: Animals, Animal Treatment, Art, Friendship
Ages: 8 and up
Pages: 320

Ivan is a gorilla in a circus-themed mall. He enjoys his friends, Stella the elephant and Bob the dog, and his human friend Julia, from whom he learns art. He spends his days observing the shoppers, watching TV, and painting. He doesn’t remember his old life in the jungle, this does not bother him. Until, one day when Ruby the baby elephant’s arrival triggers a series of events that opens Ivan’s eyes to their ‘real’ living situation. With this realization, Ivan begins to take on the role of the mighty silverback, the protector.

This is unlike any book I have ever read, breathtakingly simple, humorous, but also poignant. I knew this was going to be an amazing story after reading the following lines on page 2:

 “People call me the Freeway Gorilla. The Ape at Exit 8 … I am just Ivan … Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot.

Everyone knows peels are the best part.”

The writing style eloquently matches Ivan’s character. Chapters are structured more like topics or insights that are only one to several pages long. Sentences are short, simple, but with tremendous impact to make the reader cry, rejoice, or simply ponder the impact we humans have on the world. Throughout the book there were many what I call “stop-and-think” lines that would make great discussion points. The combination of the short chapters and easy-to-read sentence structure makes this book accessible for even young readers just transitioning into middle-grade novels.

This is a beautiful, thoughtful story that will sit in your mind long after the last page is turned. I am not sure what is more amazing, the beauty of the author’s writing or knowing the true story that inspired this book.

Thank you Ms. Applegate for writing such an enlightening story for kids just beginning to comprehend the world around them.

Related Resources and Reviews:

Links about Ivan.

  • Learn more about Ivan on the author’s website.
  • Newspaper article about Ivan.
  • Atlanta Zoo’s Ivan Page – timeline, photographs, video clip

Check out the book trailer here.
Discussion guide with questions and activities.

Check out other great reviews of this book at Great Kid Books, Sprouts Bookshelf, and 100 Scope Notes.

Spoiler Alert and Analysis:

Below is a list of some of my favorite parts from the book. (skip through if you don’t want to know more.)

  • Parallel structure of the chapters “Three Visitors” and “My Visitors Return”
  • Ivan coming to terms with his past in “Remembering”, “What They Did”, and “Something Else to Buy”. Be prepared with a hankie and set aside some time for pondering.
  • Ivan watching the gorilla family on TV, and they are right behind his wooden curtain. Excellent use of anticipation, my heart leapt for joy.
  • Julia and Bob coming to visit Ivan in the zoo, it was like good old friends coming to visit.

What were your favorite moments in the book? If you haven’t read the book yet, no worries, please come back after you have read it. I would love to hear your thoughts.

April 5, 2011

When You Reach Me

Miranda is your average sixth-grader latch key kid. She is independent, mature, street smart, likes to read sci-fi, and has a best friend Sal; who one day stops being that. Sal’s unexplained absence from her life leaves her feeling sad and confused, but she accepts it and soon becomes friends with Colin and Annemarie. But then strange mysterious Notes start to appear.

” I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own. I ask two favors. First you must write me a letter …”

I would say 75% of this book is about the friendship between Miranda and her friends and Miranda’s relationship to her mother. Miranda is growing up and becoming more aware of the world around her and the different social statuses of people, from the laughing man who sleeps under the corner mailbox to her friend, Annemarie, who lives in a building that has a doorman. Miranda also learns that small acts of kindness or meanness can have significant consequences.

The other 25% of the book is sci-fi and is what drives the momentum of the book and the reader constantly guessing. Who is coming? Who’s life needs to be saved? Will the person get here in time? The author does an amazing job in dropping hints about the storyline, that keeps the reader searching for clues to the puzzle. For this reason it took me a longer time to read this middle-grade novel as I was reading every word, and constantly reviewing all the information. It is the type of story where once you figure out the puzzle, you immediately want to read it again!

Winner of the 2010 Newberry Award for most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

Author: Rebecca Stead
Recommendation: Add to Home Library

When You Reach Me


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