Whatever happened to April and May? Proof we’re living in sad and stressful times. Let me catch June before it whizzes by too!
Here are a few titles I’ve read recently along with my ratings. Most should be available as ebooks and/or audio ebooks.
The World’s Greatest Detective, Caroline Carlson 2017 ****
Mystery, 4th-6th grades
A whodunit story with an endearing main character, quirky secondary characters, and high stakes. The mystery itself is a bit simplistic (from an adult perspective), but interesting and entertaining, and will appeal to kids starting to become familiarized with the genre. (Early 20th century white community.)
“A quirky sci-fi adventure with a surprising layer of political irony.” (Kirkus) A group of humans are granted refuge on another planet, but while making the trip there, the planet’s government changes, and their request is denied. Highly entertaining and thought-provoking. Loved the aliens, especially the highly intelligent, marshmallow-like Ororos. (Diversity is implied.)
The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley, April Stevens 2018 ****
Fiction, 4th-6th grades
A moving, coming-of-age story about acceptance (of oneself and others), empathy, kindness, forgiveness, friendship, grieving, and growth. Loved the main character’s interest in nature and the impact that the wise and kind aging bus driver has on all the children. Great for gifted kids who feel misunderstood and isolated. (Universal messages, but minimal diversity.)
Fantasy (I question this classification), 4-6th grades *****
From the book’s blurb: “When eleven-year-old Max uncovers a buried family secret–involving an underground network of guardians who lead people fleeing a neighboring country to safety–he decides it’s time to find out more about his mother, who disappeared when he was a baby.” A poignant commentary on the struggles of refugee immigrants and those who bravely choose to protect them. (Hispanic characters and Own Voices author.)
Aggie Morton Mystery Queen: The Body Under the Piano by Marthe Jocelyn 2020 ****
Mystery/Historical Fiction, 5th-7th grades
Twelve-year-old amateur detective and aspiring writer Aggie Morton investigates a murder by poison with the help of her Belgian friend Hector Perot. A well-crafted mystery inspired by the imagined life of Agatha Christie as a child. The book’s one disappointment is Perot’s poorly-developed character and insubstantial role. (Also, no diversity.) Hopefully Perot’s characterization will improve as the series progresses. For fans of The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency.
A story about a 14-year-old girl uncovering a painful family secret. The pacing is a bit slow, but the lovely seaside setting, the endearing secondary characters, and the main character’s emotional journey hold your interest, plus the climax and resolution make the wait worthwhile. (White main character/family. Indian and biracial secondary characters.)
Some Places More than Others by Renee Watson 2019 *****
Realistic Fiction, 4-6th grades
A lovely story about an 11-year-old girl’s longing to connect with her father’s side of the family and their history. It reads like a travel journal, but that’s the beauty of it: it takes the reader on a fascinating historical tour of New York. (Own Voices: African American main characters/family.)
The Guggenheim Mystery: Sequel to The London Eye Mystery by Robin Stevens 2018 *****
Mystery, 4-7th grades
“Twelve-year-old Ted Stark, his sister, and cousin investigate the theft of a priceless work of art.” Robin Stevens captures the voices of the characters from the first installment of the series (The London Eye Mystery by the late Siobhan Dowd). The stakes are not as high as in the first book, but the plot and the setting hold your interest, and the writing—especially the characterization— is very good. (Diverse main and secondary characters. Main character/narrator has ASD.)
And last but not least, an important book for the times we’re living in:
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi *****
Nonfiction, YA (Grade 7+)
“The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. This remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning reveals the history of racist ideas in America, and inspires hope for an antiracist future. It takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited.
“Through a gripping, fast-paced, and energizing narrative written by beloved award-winner Jason Reynolds, this book shines a light on the many insidious forms of racist ideas–and on ways readers can identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.”
The Reading Café is changing a little bit. Instead of only addressing middle school students, I’ll be addressing jFIC (a.k.a. juvenile or middle grade fiction) fans of all ages. I’ll continue to share book lists, personal recommendations, and useful online resources, but all posts will have a jFIC focus and will be intended for a wider audience. I’ll also continue to include tea and coffee quotes.
So let’s begin:
Hello, jFIC fans,
Happy 2019! I’ve read approximately 45 jFIC titles published in 2018. Most were good and some were great. Here are my favorites:
The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis
Twelve-year-old Charlie is forced to pay off a family debt by working for a terrible man who is tracking down fugitives. When Charlie discovers what’s really happening and who the fugitives are, he has to choose between conscience and survival.
Christopher Paul Curtis brilliantly combines humor and heartbreak in his historical fiction stories. He does it again with this outstanding novel.
Merci SuárezChanges Gears by Meg Medina
Sixth grader Merci Suárez deals with difficult middle school and family issues in this highly entertaining novel full of humor and insight. The writing is delightfully peppered with Hispanic American sayings and idiosyncrasies.
The Assasination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson
Elfin historian Brangwain Spurge’s mission is to deliver a peace offering to the goblin kingdom, but also to spy on them in the process. Goblin archivist Werfel’s mission is to serve as Brangwain’s host and enthusiastic tourist guide. But their ridiculously different cultures and conflicting historical perceptions result in dangerous consequences for the two of them and their kingdoms.
The novel alternates between illustrations showing Brangwain’s secret messages to the elfin kingdom and Werfel’s differing narrative, and delivers a funny, clever, and timely social commentary plus the story of a unique friendship.
The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Boy is a fearful outcast with a large hump on his back, a gift of talking to animals, and no recollection of his past. A mysterious pilgrim named Secondus notices his climbing abilities and takes him on as his servant on a journey to gather the seven precious relics of Saint Peter. Boy reluctantly agrees in the hope that Saint Peter will answer his prayer and take his hump away. Extraordinary adventures follow, and the reader soon realizes that neither Boy nor Secondus are what they seem.
The Book of Boy is a unique and surprising story about discovering and valuing your identity and gifts.
Nightbooks by J.A. White
Alex loves to watch, read, and write scary stories. When he is trapped by witch Natasha in her magical apartment, he discovers that his hair-raising tales can keep the witch and her home happy, which can buy him time to figure out how to escape. But he soon realizes that escaping—even with the help of two other captives—may be impossible. As he well knows, terrifying stories like the one he’s now a part of, hardly ever have happy endings.
Nightbook is sure to delight young writers and readers of dark and creepy tales.
Granted by John David Anderson
Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets is a Granter-in-training fairy. A Granter’s job is to leave their magical land called the Haven, fly out into the dangerous human world, and grant a previously selected human wish. Wish-granting is crucial to the fairies because it releases the magic that protects the Haven, so being a Granter is a huge responsibility. Ophelia is given her first assignment, and she enthusiastically sets out to complete her mission, but wish-granting turns out to be far more complicated and difficult than she expected.
Dangerous adventures and a heroine with a noble heart are what make this fantasy novel truly special.
Wicked Nix by Lena Coakley
The fairy queen and her court have gone away and left Nix behind. He concludes that it’s because he was given the important job of protecting the forest from humans until the queen and the rest of the fairies return. So when a trespasser arrives, Nix tries to scare him away with fairy tricks, but to no avail. Who is this trespasser, and what’s the real reason for the fairies to have left Nix behind?
Themes of home, family, identity, and belonging make Wicked Nix a unique and unforgettable fairy tale.
Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier
Chimney sweep Nan Sparrow’s protector has disappeared, but has left a creature made from soot and ash–a golem–in his place. Nan and the golem form a unique friendship and together find ways to survive and protect each other and other chimney sweeps.
Sweep is a fascinating historical/fantasy story full of wonder, friendship, heartbreak, and hope.
The Tale of Angelino Brown by David Almond
A tiny angel appears in the pocket of Bert, a bus driver. He takes “Angelino” home to his wife, Betty, and they both become his doting parents. Tiny Angelino charms and cheers up everyone he meets, or rather, almost everyone, for in any happy story, there’s always a meanie who wants to spoil things. But Angelino is not going to let anyone foil his mission of spreading goodness and gladness and of being a special blessing to Bert and Betty.
Angelino Brown is a delightful little story that will bring joy and hope to all who read it.
Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night with the cry “The day of reckoning has arrived!” and whisks her off on a road trip to wherever the gasoline left in their old car will take them. Their destination turns out to be a small Georgia town where Louisiana makes some unexpected friends while Granny stays in bed recovering from an emergency dental procedure. Louisiana’s difficult situation worsens when Granny unexpectedly takes off, leaving her with nothing but a shocking good-bye letter. What will happen to Louisiana now? Will she find a way back to her best friends, Raymie and Beverly? Most importantly, will she ever find a place to call home?
Great writing, humor and surprise, unique characters, and themes of kindness, friendship, resiliency, belonging, and forgiveness make Louisiana’s Way Home an oustanding story.
Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech
Louie is determined to save the sickly newborn donkey that his father has brought home. No one expects the donkey, whom Louie names Winslow, to survive, including his prickly new friend, Nora. But Winslow surprises everyone. He not only survives and grows, but also proves to be a valuable companion to the children and even a hero of sorts.
Saving Winslow is a sweet story full of tenderness, friendship, love, and the hopeful message of finding your place and purpose in the world.
Love to Everyone by Hilary McKay
Love to Everyone is the story from birth to adulthood of smart, kind, and loving Clarry Penrose. Clarry wants to get an education and discover her place and purpose in the world, but it’s not easy with a distant father who doesn’t believe that girls need to be educated and it being the early twentieth century. Fortunately, Clarry has the support of her brother Peter, her cousin Rupert, her grandparents, and her friends. But then World War I happens and everything changes for everyone.
Love to Everyone is both a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of resiliency, perseverance, and steadfast love. (My absolute favorite 2018 jFIC read!)
More 2018 jFIC novels you may like:
The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson ****
Small Spaces by Katherine Arden****
The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown****
Two Roads by Joseph Bruchac****
Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender****
The Turnaway Girls by Hayley Chewins****
Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome*****
The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor*****
The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter****
Winterhouse by Ben Guterson****
Otherwood by Pete Hautman****
Very Rich by Polly Horvath****
The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson****
The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras****
Bob by Wendy Mass*****
The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty*****
Here are five delightful 2017 books I recently enjoyed:
The Explorer by Katherine Rundell (2017) *****
Fred, Con, Lila, and Max are flying back to England from Manaus, Brazil. The small plane they’re on crashes in the Amazon, and the pilot dies. They must learn to get along, figure out how to survive in the jungle, and try to find their way back to civilization. Just as they’re running out of luck, Fred finds a map that leads them to an abandoned ancient city and its one mysterious inhabitant. Explorer is a thrilling survival story with interesting characters!
The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange (2017) *****
It’s 1919, Henrietta’s brother has died in a fire, her mother is severely depressed, and her father has taken a job abroad. She, her mother, nanny, and baby sister are now living in a new house full of strange secrets. Things start to get difficult when a doctor wants to place her mother in a mental hospital and his wife wants to take away her sister. How can Henrietta—who’s just a child— save her mother and baby sister and restore her family? Help comes from her brother’s lingering presence and the mysterious woman living in Nightingale Wood. This is a wonderful story of courage and perseverance in the face of overwhelmingly negative circumstances.
Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray (2017) ****
Molly thinks her mother, a potion maker, and her unusual family life are too different from her classmates’. She longs to be “normal” like her best friend Ellen. Molly’s grumpy neighbors are angry because of her mother’s noisy rooster, so her mother decides to make a potion that will quickly grow a tree between their houses. Unfortunately, she accidentally drinks the potion and turns into the tree. Now Molly must figure out how to save her mother before the neighbors start cutting down the tree branches that are reaching onto their property. With the help of her inquisitive classmate Pim, she starts to appreciate the value of both the normal and the wondrous.
The Doorman’s Repose by Chris Raschka (2017) *****
Have you ever wondered what the lives of people living in a New York City’s posh apartment building are like? Here are ten fascinating stories about the inhabitants (including the mice) of one of those old buildings. The book gives young people a glimpse of adult life and an awareness of how people (and mice) living in close proximity affect each other. And did I mention that the elevator has feelings? A fun and poignant read!
The Murderer’s Ape by Jacob Wegelius (2017 English Translation) *****
Sally Jones, an extraordinary and super-talented gorilla, and the Chief are friends and partners. They operate a cargo boat business and live a pleasant and carefree life traveling from port to port. Unfortunately, their way of life is upended when one of their jobs turns out to be a dangerous con that ends badly, their boat sinks to the bottom of a river, and the Chief is falsely convicted of murder. Sally Jones escapes and embarks on a quest to prove the Chief’s innocence. Her talents and good heart win her some good friends, but there are many–especially the ones behind the botched job–who seek to destroy her. This fabulous story is told from the gorilla’s point of view and contains wonderful characters, exotic settings, and exciting adventures.
“If I were a wizard, I’m pretty sure my Patronus would be a steaming cup of coffee.” –Anonymous
Twelve-year-old Nick runs away from his unpleasant uncle and ends up an apprentice to the bewildering and powerful Wizard Smallbone. Magical adventures follow!
Quicksand Pond by Janet Taylor Lisle ****
Quicksand Pond has a history of murders and disappearances. That’s where troubled Terri lives with her problem family. When twelve-year-old Jessie comes with her family to spend the summer, the two girls form an unlikely friendship that deeply affects both their lives.
Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder ****
Six children live on a mysterious island that provides for all their needs. Once a year, a boat appears, bringing a new child to join them and taking the eldest away. What will happen if one year the eldest refuses to leave?
Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk *****
When she was but a newborn baby, twelve-year-old Crow was set adrift in a small boat from one of the tiny Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts. She was rescued and raised by Osh, a solitary man living on another one of the islands, with the help of his neighbor, Miss Maggie. An unexpected sighting prompts Crow to investigate the mystery of her birth.
Brilliant by Roddy Doyle and Emily Hughes ****
The Black Dog of Depression has descended over Dublin and only the children can stop it. One night, siblings Raymond and Gloria decide to run after the elusive dog. As they chase the dog, they are joined by dozens, then hundreds, and finally thousands of other children. They have one weapon against the dog’s negative power: the word “brilliant.”
“If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee.” -Abraham Lincoln
To culminate Women’s History Month, here’s a list of books with girl protagonists with scientific and/or detective minds:
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
12-year-old Willow Chance is a genius with an obsessive-compulsive personality and an extraordinary knowledge of nature and medical conditions who’s in need of a family.
Echo Falls Mystery Series by Peter Abrahams
13-year-old Ingrid Levin-Hill is an amateur sleuth and a budding thespian. Not surprisingly, she’s also a devoted fan of Sherlock Holmes.
Enola Holmes Mystery Series by Nancy Springer
Enola is the 14-year-old sister of much-older and famous Sherlock Holmes. Throughout her investigative adventures she proves that she’s as–if not more– intelligent, talented, and resourceful as her brother.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
11-year-old Calpurnia Tate is happiest when making scientific observations with her grandfather. Her mother, however, wants her to conform to the social expectations of the time period.
Flavia De Luce Mystery Series by Alan Bradley
11-year-old Flavia de Luce has an extraordinary knowledge of chemistry, a fascination with death, and a talent for solving murder mysteries.
The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
11-year-old Ellie Cruz’s grandfather is a scientist who has discovered how to reverse aging and has now returned to being 13. As Ellie helps him with his discovery and predicament, she becomes more and more interested in science.
The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
10-year-old Lucky has a brain full of questions, which is why she wants to be a scientist. She also wants to find her Higher Power so she can gain special insight into the uncertainties of life.
Hold Fast by Blue Balliett
11-year-old Early’s father has vanished, and she, her mom, and her brother are forced to move into a homeless shelter. Early uses her talent for recognizing patterns and rhythms to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance.
Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee
11-year-old Ophelia doesn’t believe in things that science can’t explain. After her mother’s death, her father takes a job at a museum, where she discovers a marvelous boy who’s a prisoner of the magical and evil Snow Queen.
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
14-year-old Violet is the oldest of the Baudelaire children. Her talent as an inventor helps her and her two siblings escape many dangerous situations.
Three Times Lucky and sequels by Sheila Turnage
11-year old Mo LoBeau has a wild imagination and is always up for an adventure. With the help of her best friend Dale, she starts the Desperado Detective Agency.
The Westing Game by Erskine
Tabitha-Ruth (Turtle) Wexler, one of the heirs chosen to solve the book’s mystery, is an intelligent and underestimated 13-year-old girl who excels at playing the stock market.
The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency Series by Jordan Stratford
11-year-old genius Augusta Ada Byron (better known as Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer) and 14-year-old adventurer Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (better known as Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein) combine their talents and abilities and set up the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency.
Wonder at the Edge of the World by Nicole Helget
13-year-old Lu Wonder has a thirst for knowledge of the mysteries of the natural world and wants to be a scientific explorer like her father. She embarks on a life-changing quest with her friend Eustace.
A Wrinkle in Time and sequels by Madeleine L’Engle
Meg, the heroine of the story, is an extremely intelligent twelve-year-old girl who has a hard time fitting in at school. Her parents are scientists and her youngest brother–with whom she has a special bond–is a genius.
Lastly, two classic series:
Nancy Drew Mystery Stories by various authors
Nancy Drew is a rich, talented, and intelligent teenager who enjoys spending her time solving mysteries.
Trixie Belden Series by various authors
Trixie is a farm girl who manages to discover mysteries all around her. She solves them with the help of her brothers and friends, who together form a good-Samaritan club called the Bob-Whites of the Glen.
“There was a teapot, in which Mma Ramotswe — the only lady private detective in Botswana — brewed tea. And three mugs — one for herself, one for her secretary, and one for the client. What else does a detective agency really need?” –Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
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The list of award winners includes March: Book Three by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell:
March: Book Three is the final installment of the March Trilogy, a black and white graphic novel about the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, told from the point of view of Congressman John Lewis. It has won several awards including the Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award, the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young-adult literature, the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, and the YALSA Award for excellence in young-adult nonfiction.
And last, but not least, three book recommendations from different genres:
1- Historical Fiction: Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis:
Of all of Christopher Paul Lewis’s books, Elijah of Buxton is my favorite. It made me laugh and it made me cry. This is the story of eleven-year-old Elijah Freeman, the first free child born in Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway African American slaves just over the border from Detroit. The book won a 2008 Newbery Honor Award, the 2008 Coretta Scott King Award, the 2008 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and the 2008 Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children Award.
2- Poetry: Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad and illustrated by Benny Andrews:
Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was an American writer considered to be a primary contributor of the Harlem Reinassance. This is an illustrated collection of some of his best-known poems. It won the 2007 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award.
3- Folktales: The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales told by Virginia Hamilton:
The People Could Fly is a beautiful illustrated collection of folktale retellings. It won the 1986 Coretta Scott King Award.
Why hasn’t someone invented an alarm clock that just hands you a cup of coffee? –Anonymous
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