In the final volume of the Ascendence Trilogy, Jennifer A. Nielsen concludes the eventful story of a young boy ascending to his place as the leader of his country. If you have not yet read The False Prince and The Runaway King, you should start with those (in that order) as this is a true trilogy in which the story continues from one book to the next. (And, you should stop reading here to avoid any spoilers.)
Jaron is again fighting for his people, this time because war has come to Carthya. But the stakes go even higher when he discovers that King Vargan of Avenia has kidnapped Imogen. Jaron must save her, even if he knows it is a trap for Vargan to capture him and claim lordship of his country. Jaron's knack of encountering everything that could possibly go wrong follows him on this journey to find out how much he can handle and how much he can lead.
His loyalty to his friends makes him willing to sacrifice himself for them, and puts him in the gravest of danger, but finding new allies within old friends helps and learning the true strength of loyalty, integrity and kindness goes a long way.
I was sorry to see the last page of The Shadow Throne (Lexile: 810; Interest Level: Grades 5-9) turn, and I found myself wishing for just a little more, even though the author neatly finished the story she was telling. Definitely a worthy ending to an intriguing series. (336 p.)
Jennifer A. Nielsen continues the story of The False Prince in The Runaway King (Lexile: 710; Interest Level: Grades 5-8), the second book in the Ascendence Trilogy. During the funeral of Jaron's parents, right after he has been named King, a former friend tries to assassinate Jaron in his own garden. This attempt lets Jaron know that there are still problems for his beloved Carthya, and it is up to him to sort them out and keep his people safe.
Jaron steals away from the castle, putting into place a series of events that could bring either safety or destruction to his people. Following a path that lets him see what is really happening in his kingdom, who his friends really are and a chance to find allies in unusual places, Jaron goes back to living by his wits on the street.
If you haven't read The False Prince, you should definitely start there before reading The Runaway King, and then follow it with The Shadow Throne, the final book in the trilogy (see upcoming review). I find this series fascinating because it is a prince as the main character and his choices show grace, intelligence and grit galore! (352 p.)
Peter is a true businessman. It doesn't matter that he runs his business out of his yard/ garage. It doesn't even matter that he is only 12 years old. He reads business magazines and is confident that he has what it takes to be the best businessman on the block. Rule number one? No lemonade. Lemonade stands are for amateurs, not professionals, and Peter is a Professional.
So, as a professional, Peter decides it will be a good idea to hire an intern. An intern is someone who works for you, doing most of the grunt work, and doesn't get paid. So, he holds an essay contest to choose an intern. He chooses his next door neighbor, Rachel. Rachel is at first quite excited to be part of Peter's business, but she quickly learns that he expects her to do the work for no pay, no recognition, and no encouragement. Rachel then decides that her time could be better spent in a different way.
Check out Payback on Poplar Lane by Margaret Mincks (Lexile: Unknown; Interest Level: Grades 4-7) to find out what Rachel does to get back at Peter, and what their war for the cup-de-sac does to their relationships with others! If you liked Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen, or other stories in which children are vying to make money, you will probably also enjoy this story. (320 p.)
It is not easy to move schools and start a new life in a new state. It is even harder for Aven because she is constantly faced with strange looks from kids (and adults) who don't quite understand her life with no arms. Yes, you read that correctly. Aven was born without arms, but that doesn't stop her from doing all of the ordinary things that other people her age do. She just does them differently.
Eating lunch at school can be a particular challenge for Aven, so she searches for somewhere other than the cafeteria to eat, which is how she meets Connor in the library. Conner has his own disability that makes him uncomfortable around other people, and he and Aven become good friends. The two of them uncover a mystery to solve on the theme park property where Aven lives, and they get to puzzle out a mystery with a result for which neither of them were prepared.
Told from a first-person point of view with a liberal sprinkling of humor, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling (Lexile: 700; Interest Level: Grades 3-6) will captivate the reader from the very beginning. A good book for learning empathy for those who are differently abled, this is a book I highly recommend to all readers. (272 p.)
Jerry Spinelli pulls readers into an interesting time and topic his historical fiction novel The Warden's Daughter (Lexile: 550; Interest Level: Grades 4-7). Cammie O'Reilly lives a rather unusual life, the least of which is because she lives at the town prison. Her father is the Warden, or the chief jailer. That isn't the only thing that makes Cammie unique, though. Her mother died when she was a baby--died while saving her life!
Both of these events make Cammie an oddity in her town, and she grows up with an interesting take on the world. One of the ladies who is an inmate at the prison is appointed to work in her apartment as a caretaker--of both the apartment and Cammie, who begins to see her as a surrogate mother.
The story takes place during the summer months, right before she turns 13, and Cammie has more freedom that is probably good for her, and she starts acting out in various ways to get the attention of her Trustee caretaker.
Readers will discover an interesting look into the prisons and life in the late 1950s and the growing up of a young girl within the pages of this novel. (352 p.)
Middle school can be really difficult, and it can become more so when you are the new kid. And, Landon has the added complication that he is deaf, but wears cochlear implants to help him hear. Landon makes a deal with his parents before the move that he won't be negative about the move if they let him try out for football at the new school.
Landon is huge. Going into the seventh grade, people assume he is in high school. He looks like a football player. He has never learned to play football. And when he speaks, people assume he is "slow" because his speech is difficult to understand. Left Out by Tim Green (Lexile: 800; Interest Level: Grades 3-6) shows us how Landon perseveres, however, and continues to try to be part of something bigger than himself, even when his younger sister stands up to his bully.
In typical Tim Green fashion, Landon gets help from an unexpected source on his new team with connections to an even bigger help. Can Landon make it on the new team and learn to play the game he loves? Can he and his sister fit into the new school? Fans of football books and Tim Green will, I am sure, enjoy this book. (341 p.)
Following the success of the adult version of this book, Daniel James Brown adapted The Boys in the Boat for Young Readers (Lexile: 1000; Interest Level: Grades 5-11). This is a true story of the 1936 Olympic Rowing Team and their race for the gold medal.
I was hooked into this book from the prologue, where the author describes his first meeting with Joe Rantz as he begins to learn the remarkable story of one of the members of this rowing team. The description of learning such a big story that has never been told makes one wonder how many stories like this have not been told!
The actual story itself begins with the arrival of Joe Rantz at the University of Washington, moving across campus toward the boathouse where the rowing team tryouts would be. From there, we begin an amazing journey of learning about the sport of rowing, the time period after the Great Depression and before World War II, and the life of a very interesting, hard-working young man. Those who enjoy nonfiction, historical information, and unique sports will enjoy this story. (240 p.)
I have known a lot of kids in my life who have longed to own dogs or horses (or really any number of pet-types, really), but this book really surprised me when the idea of horse and dog began to mix.
Dirt (Lexile: 940; Interest Level: Grades 4-7) by Denise Gosliner Orenstein is a story about Yonder, an eleven year old who is trying to find her own way after her mother dies and her father sinks into depression. She notices that the Shetland pony owned by her neighbor has taken a liking to escaping and coming down to visit her house, so Yonder adopts the pony and calls him Dirt. Of course, when Yonder decides it is better to spend time with Dirt than attend school, trouble is bound to find her, and she must figure out how to protect herself, her family, and her pony.
This is a very touchy story about poverty, depression in family members, and trying to do the right thing. I certainly see why so many students who have read it have recommended it to me! (212 p.)
In this first volume of a sequel series to Fablehaven, Brandon Mull takes us deeper into the hidden sanctuaries of the magical creatures, specifically returning us to Wyrmroost, the dragon sanctuary, where Celebrant is waging war on the captivity of the dragons. He wants to break free and lead the dragons in reclaiming the world!
The wizards, enchantresses, and dragon slayers that once made up the order of Dragonwatch has all but disappeared over the years, so a new plan must be made. Kendra and Seth are going to have to work harder and more cooperatively than they ever have before to help protect the boundaries of the sanctuary from the assault within its borders.
Don't worry if you haven't read the Fablehaven series (although I think you would enjoy it, too!), Dragonwatch (Lexile: 620; Interest Level: Grades 4-8) contains enough background information to fill you in on characters and backstory. Fans of Brandon Mull's other series, dragons, and adventure will certainly enjoy this tale. (376 p.)
Jennifer Holm takes on the interesting topic of aging in The Fourteenth Goldfish (Lexile: 550; Interest Level: Graded 3-6) when Ellie is confronted with a bossy, obnoxious boy who looks and acts a lot like her scientist grandfather. Wait... It can't really be her grandfather standing there sassing her mother, can it? If it is, what is Ellie going to do about it?
Join Ellie as she gets to know her grandfather, and scientific inquiry, in ways she never expected to. Fans of Jennifer L. Holmes' other works and anyone interested in the old tale of the Fountain of Youth will find this story fun and engaging. (240 p.)
Rick Riordan, author of the popular Percy Jackson series moves from Greek mythology (Percy Jackson series) and Egyptian mythology (Kane Chronicles) to Norse mythology in this new series. Magnus Chase is living homeless on the streets of Boston when we first meet him, living by his wits and trying to stay out of trouble. He has been living this way for 2 years, ever since his mother was killed in mysterious circumstances.
Now, Magnus's Uncle Randolph is searching for him, and since the last thing Magnus's mother said to him was to not trust Randolph, Magnus is trying to stay far away. However, fate intervenes and sends Magnus into a world that he thought was old folk tale--a world that involves the old Viking beliefs and legendary gods. Magnus, it seems, is the son of a Norse god and is fated to find The Sword of Summer (Lexile: 630; Interest Level: Grades 5-9).
Tempted into cooperation by Randolph's claim to be able to tell Magnus about his father, the quest into the strange world of Norse heroes begins with Magnus finding the sword and immediately... well, I should probably not tell you that part. Spoilers straight at the beginning. I can say, however, that this story will keep you wondering, and laughing at Magnus's strange humor, all the way through. Fans of mythology, Rick Riordan's other work, and fun adventure will find this story engaging. (544 p.)
Imogene's family works for the local Renaissance Faire, a two month weekends-only acting experience in which people come to see what life was like during the time of the Renaissance (think knights, queens, jousts, etc.). Imogene is now about to become a squire to a knight, and she must go on a quest. The quest she prepares for herself? Middle School!
In All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson (Lexile: GN460; Interest Level: Grades 5-9), Imogene moves from being homeschooled into public school for the first time in the sixth grade. This is not an easy transition, especially as she senses that her family's business may not be considered "cool." Learning to make friends, keep up with her work, and continue with her love of the Faire keep Imogene on her toes.
Told in a combination "illustrated manuscript" and graphic novel format (mostly graphic novel), Jamieson again takes us into a world not typical of middle schoolers to share some real truths about being yourself, finding real friendship, and growing up. Her characters are real, mistake-making people, and I found myself rooting for Imogene out-loud! Fans of Jamieson's other graphic novel, Roller Girl, as well as fans of Shannon Hale and Raina Telgemeier will enjoy this one as well! (248 p.)
By the end of the first page, this book had bumped into my favorites of all-time list, and by the time I finished it a few hours later (because I couldn't put it down!), I had decided that every single person I know should read this book. And maybe even own their own copy.
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate (Lexile: 590; Interest Level: Grades 4-7) gripped me from the beginning with the amazing narration of the tree. Did you know trees could talk? Apparently, only to those they know can listen, and that does not normally include humans. But this tree had a story to tell. A story that involves trees. And humans. And time. And history. And patience. And acceptance.
Beginning with information about being a tree (which we definitely need as background here), the story widens out to the neighborhood that the tree watches over: the people who bring wishes to tie on the branches on the first day of May; the people who live in the houses in the shade; the people who own the houses; the animals who live in the tree, under the porches, and in the houses of the people. And then, in particular, there is Samar and the wish she makes to have a friend. The wish the tree decides to grant.
Seriously, this is a must-read book for everyone. It is gentle, familiar, challenging, and difficult. It will touch your heart and make you want to touch the hearts of others. (224 p.)
Down the Rabbit Hole: The Diary of Pringle Rose, Chicago, Illinois, 1871 by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
One of the Dear America series, Down the Rabbit Hole; The Diary of Pringle Rose, Chicago, Illinois, 1871 (Lexile: 750; Interest Level: Grades 5-9) by Susan Campbell Bartoletti includes information about the labor wars of the post Civil War era, leading up to the Great Chicago Fire. Pringle Rose's father was the owner of coal mines in Pennsylvania, and as such, she has a pretty well-to-do lifestyle. She attends a prestigious boarding school, just like her mother did, and was used to the finer things in life. When Pringle's mother and father were killed in a carriage accident, her life changes drastically, and she has to make decisions to protect herself and her younger brother Gideon, who, judging by the description, has Down's Syndrome, a genetic anomaly that was not yet understood in her time period.
Pringle decides to escape her meddling aunt by running away with Gideon to Chicago to stay with her mother's best friend. On the journey, she makes some other friends who turn out to be quite valuable to the children when they are unable to connect with their mother's friend.
The older age of the girl in this story (almost 15) and some of the situations of her needing to be more adult than child are what places this Dear America book a little higher on the Interest Level than some others. As such, however, it is a good representation of the stories in this series. (256 p.)
Mostly a novel in verse, but with some prose, Moo by Sharon Creech (Lexile: 790; Interest Level: Grades 3-7) tells the story of Reena and her little brother Luke as they move from the big city to a small town in Maine when her parents needed to find new work. Reena and Luke encountered an older lady whom their mother wanted to befriend and ended up "loaned" out to her to help with chores.
As Reena and Luke explore their new world, they discover friends in farming children and in the livestock they care for. In the process, Reena begins to learn to love Maine, the crazy cow she was taking care of, and even the crazier old lady who owned her. This is a gentle, light-hearted book with good, solid characters and family values. Fans of Sharon Creech and novels in verse will enjoy this book. (288 p.)
Based on a true story about the life of Yanek Gruener, Prisoner B-3087 (Lexile: 760; Interest Level: Grades 5-8) by Alan Gratz shares some gritty, gruesome information about Poland in World War II. Yanek is only 10 when the war breaks out and finds its way to his city. First, he is banned from school. Then his family is herded into the ghetto and forced into jobs. Then, the relocations begin. Yanek celebrates his bar mitzvah in a secret room at midnight on his 13th birthday, becoming a man overnight. He must learn to survive on his own as his family, and eventually himself, are taken to the camps. Ten different camps become places for Yanek to survive. He can't call them home. Every moment wondering if it would be his last.
Readers interested in World War II will likely gravitate to this book, but the stark, blunt, details of what happened in the camp make this certainly a book for the upper levels. I admit that I cried reading what happened to young Yanek. At the end, the author has a note about which things happened to the real Yanek and which were incorporated from other stories to paint a more complete picture of the camps during the war. (272 p.)
Shannon Hale writes a wonderful autobiographical story of growing up in search of Real Friends (Lexile: GN290; Interest Level: Grades 3-6). I certainly know I found some similarities between myself and Shannon while trying to learn how to belong.
This graphic novel does a fabulous job of showing what it is like for Shannon as she navigates between her best friend, other people who are friends with her best friend, and eventually into trying to form her own "group." Dealing with tough friendship issues like friends who bully you, talk about you behind your back, and turn to you only when they need you, this story provides a realistic look at how someone might handle these issues. Definitely a recommended book for girls in the middle grades! (224 p.)
The Fellowship of the Ring (Lexile: 860; Interest Level: Grades 8+) is the first in The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien. It is a bit outside of the range I usually write reviews for, but I know that some of our advanced readers are reading this series, so I thought I would include it. I see no reason why advanced readers could not read this series (based on content), but there may be some concepts and language that could cause a little confusion. Tolkien, for example, invented his own Dwarven and Elvish languages, and there are references to the rise of the industrial state that may go over the heads of younger readers. However, over all, it is a good story.
The tale begins several years after story of The Hobbit finishes the tale of Bilbo Baggins' adventures. Here we start with Bilbo preparing for his 111th birthday and his decisions on leaving all of his belongings to his nephew, Frodo. Frodo does not know what kind of adventure this might mean for him, but he is soon to be swept into a quest that seems to be destined for him alone. He must carry the Ring of Power to the Land of Elrond for the Council to decide what to do with it. His journey is filled with trouble and terror from the outset, and it is his remarkable personality that allows him to survive.
Fans of fantasy novels, and I daresay, the movies of this series, should definitely read the book to gather more information about the marvelous world that Tolkien created. (432 p.)
Archer Magill narrates the story of his elementary school years from the starting point of having to be a ring bearer in the wedding of the daughter of his grandmother's friend at the age of 6. This is important because it is where he meets his friend Lynnette. Being friends with a girl can be trouble at times, but they manage to work it out.
The story goes on in short episodic bursts through first, second, third and fourth grades, slowing down a bit for some big events in the fifth grade: most notably, the arrival of the student teacher Mr. McLeod. Mr. McLeod's arrival is accompanied by some crazy events that include world-wide press coverage.
And then, there is the bullying incident involving the sixth grade boys on their last day of school. Mr. McLeod decides that they must be held accountable, and he helps the fifth grade boys in an unexpected way. This, of course, leads to more discussions in Archer's family about the amazing Mr. McLeod, whom, it turns out, may become part of Archer's family by marrying his uncle.
The Best Man (Lexile: 540; Interest Level: Grades 4-6) by Richard Peck takes on some tough issues for upper grade readers, especially those of growing up, choosing role models, being bullied, and understanding love--of both oneself and each other. I would recommend this book to others to are interested in how other children experience life. (240 p.)
The 2018 Newbery Award Winner, Hello, Universe (Lexile: 690; Interest Level: Grades 5-8) by Erin Entrada Kelly, is a beautiful book told from the points of view of 4 different characters: Virgil, Valencia, Kaori, and Chet. Summer vacation has just started, and each person is trying to discover their summer plan. Virgil feels alone in his family of people who "always talk with exclamation points." Valencia yearns for adventure but feels smothered by her mother. Chet bullies others because he feels insecure about himself. Kaori searches for answers in the Universe to make order from coincidences. All four cross paths (literally) in the neighborhood woods.
Join Virgil on his quest to find the courage to speak to Valencia. He begins by seeking out the psychic services of his friend Kaori. Valencia grabs Kaori's business card in the supermarket and seeks her help to stop her nightmares. Kaori uses her connections to the Universe to help them both. Chet seeks adventure in the woods to prove he is as good and brave as he thinks, even if he has to put others down to do so. And when Virgil goes missing for the day, the Universe must intervene.
The four intertwining tales make for an engaging read in which the reader will grow to care about the characters, even Chet. I encourage all students to explore this engaging story about one afternoon in summer. (313 p.)
One of the reasons I became an elementary school librarian is so I can read children's books.