middle grade fiction

All posts in the middle grade fiction category

Beth And Chrissi Do Kid-Lit 2018 – MAY READ – The Wide Window (A Series Of Unfortunate Events #3) – Lemony Snicket

Published May 31, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Dear Reader,

If you have not read anything about the Baudelaire orphans, then before you read even one more sentence, you should know this: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are kindhearted and quick-witted; but their lives, I am sorry to say, are filled with bad luck and misery. All of the stories about these three children are unhappy and wretched, and this one may be the worst of them all. If you haven’t got the stomach for a story that includes a hurricane, a signalling device, hungry leeches, cold cucumber soup, a horrible villain, and a doll named Pretty Penny, then this book will probably fill you with despair. I will continue to record these tragic tales, for that is what I do. You, however, should decide for yourself whether you can possibly endure this miserable story.

With all due respect,

Lemony Snicket

What did I think?:

I think I was a little bit older when the Unfortunate Series Of Events books first came out so they kind of passed me by. This is why I love doing the Kid-Lit challenge with Chrissi though, I get to re-visit old childhood favourites and discover ones that I missed. The Wide Window is the third in the series so if you want to check out what I thought about The Bad Beginning and The Reptile Room I’ll link my reviews in the book titles. I initially fancied suggesting this series for our Kid-Lit challenge as I had always been curious to check them out and also to watch the Netflix series at some point which looks equally brilliant. So far, I’m thoroughly enjoying my adventures with the Baudelaire orphans and although life treats them abominably, I’m always intrigued to discover both what mishap might befall them next and how they manage to overthrow the wicked Count Olaf’s plans each time he turns up.

Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket, author of The Series Of Unfortunate Events stories.

In the third outing of this series and the dramatic events that led to the Baudelaire children being removed from their Uncle Monty’s house, Violet, Klaus and baby Sunny are sent to live with their Aunt Josephine in a house on the top of a cliff overlooking Lake Lachrymose. As soon as they get there, the children begin to have worries about their new guardian. She worries about everything – not just ordinary anxieties but things that affect her life drastically. For example, she won’t turn radiators on because they might explode, she won’t answer the telephone in case she is electrocuted, she won’t cook anything hot in case the stove catches on fire and she stacks tin cans by the door of each room so she can be alerted by anyone trying to burgle the house. Of course, as you might have suspected if you’ve read the previous books in the series, Count Olaf returns, once again in disguise as Captain Sham to flatter Aunt Josephine and persuade her by any means necessary to give up her claim on the children, his motive being to access that huge Baudelaire fortune.

Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf in the Netflix series.

Once again, this is another gripping episode of the misfortunes of Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire. I adore that each child has their own personality and talent, Violet for inventing things, Klaus for reading and learning and Sunny for er….biting. It does come in handy I promise, especially when dealing with that dastardly Count Olaf. Yes, you could say that each story follows the same old pattern; i.e. Count Olaf appears in disguise, nobody believes the children when they tell a responsible adult that it’s him (especially Mr Poe who is starting to get on my wick a little bit) and eventually, after an exciting incident, the children foil Olaf’s plans and he runs away to lick his wounds rather than getting captured and imprisoned for his crimes. But at the same time, I think the repetitive nature of the plot works in its favour too. As the older reader, we are always kind of aware of this formula but the younger reader can delight in the blessed relief of Olaf being defeated once more by some very industrious children.

I’m definitely going to continue with this series, after all, I do have that little glimmer of hope that the villain of the piece will be vanquished eventually and it’s always fun to see the unique way in which the children manage to get themselves out of a sticky mess time and time again.

For Chrissi’s fabulous review, please see her blog HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

COMING UP IN JUNE ON BETH AND CHRISSI DO KID-LIT: The Face On The Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney

 

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Beth And Chrissi Do Kid-Lit 2018 – APRIL READ – Ratburger by David Walliams

Published April 28, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The fifth screamingly funny novel from David Walliams, number one bestseller and fastest growing children’s author in the country. Hot on the heels of bestselling Gangsta Granny comes another hilarious, action-packed and touching novel – the story of a little girl called Zoe. Things are not looking good for Zoe. Her stepmother Sheila is so lazy she gets Zoe to pick her nose for her. The school bully Tina Trotts makes her life a misery – mainly by flobbing on her head. And now the evil Burt from Burt’s Burgers is after her pet rat! And guess what he wants to do with it? The clue is in the title…From the author that is being called ‘a new Roald Dahl’, Ratburger is not to be missed!

What did I think?:

Chrissi and I have made no secret of the fact that we love David Walliams’ writing for children and we’ve covered a few books now of his in our Kid-Lit challenge, so it was a bit of a no-brainer whether we would be putting another of his books up this year for discussion! Ratburger was another absolute joy to read and as before, the illustrations by Tony Ross were just the icing on the cake. In fact, if I consider all the David Walliams books we’ve read so far, I’m struggling to pick a favourite. This is a line up where each book is special and individual in its own right, each one has a host of glorious characters of heroes to adore and villains to despise, and Ratburger is another wonderful treat easily comparable to all the others.

In this story, our protagonist is a small girl called Zoe who lives with her beloved father and (evil) stepmother, Sheila who is addicted to prawn cocktail crisps and treats her step-daughter abominably. Zoe’s father has retreated into himself immensely since her mother died and soon after, he lost his dream job in the ice cream factory. Now he spends all of his days drowning his sorrows in the pub, reluctant to hunt too hard for another job. One of the only perks of Zoe’s life is her new pet rat, Armitage (DON’T ask how she gave him his name but if you do know, have a good giggle with me in the comments!). Like her pet before him, she starts to teach him tricks and dreams of the day when she can leave the bullies at school behind and start her own performing animals show.

However, this wouldn’t be a David Walliams book without a bit of trepidation, an unfortunate incident and a dastardly villain and our poor heroine happens to come across a very nasty individual who has grand plans for Armitage. Zoe then ends up in a very precarious situation where she must rescue her pet rat from a dangerous and hugely gruesome ending at the hands of a very odd man who makes very “special” burgers for a living.

This book is perfect for your average middle grade reader and like every other book I’ve read from this author, the humour is just right for that age group and perhaps even for a slightly immature adult like myself? Themes like death, bullying, being a bit different, chasing your dreams and family dynamics are introduced for the younger reader very delicately and at no time did I feel it was “too much,” or inappropriate. There are a couple of ruder bits but I promise you they’re incredibly tame and are more likely to make a child chuckle rather than scarring him/her for life! I’ve heard this described on Goodreads as more of a boy’s book but I one hundred percent dispute that statement. I can’t even imagine why the reviewer thought it was aimed more towards the male sex, I think both boys and girls would enjoy it equally. And hey, a brave female lead is ALWAYS appreciated here on this blog so thank you David Walliams for giving us Zoe, a determined, dreamy young girl who knows what she wants and will stop at nothing until she gets it despite the hardship she may suffer along the way.

For Chrissi’s fabulous review, please check out her blog HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT UP IN MAY ON BETH AND CHRISSI DO KID-LIT: The Wide Window (A Series Of Unfortunate Events #3) – Lemony Snicket.

Beth And Chrissi Do Kid-Lit 2018 – MARCH READ – The Girl Of Ink And Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Published April 1, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2017, and the British Book Awards’ Children’s Book of Year 2017 

Forbidden to leave her island, Isabella Riosse dreams of the faraway lands her father once mapped.

When her closest friend disappears into the island’s Forgotten Territories, she volunteers to guide the search. As a cartographer’s daughter, she’s equipped with elaborate ink maps and knowledge of the stars, and is eager to navigate the island’s forgotten heart.

But the world beyond the walls is a monster-filled wasteland – and beneath the dry rivers and smoking mountains, a legendary fire demon is stirring from its sleep. Soon, following her map, her heart and an ancient myth, Isabella discovers the true end of her journey: to save the island itself.

What did I think?:

I’ve been wanting to read this book for the longest time! Debut author Kiran Millwood Hargrave won both the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and the British Book Awards Children’s Book Of The Year in 2017 and with that stunning cover, I couldn’t resist much longer and made sure to suggest it to Chrissi when we were compiling our Kid Lit list for this year. In the end I have to admit, I wasn’t completely blown away by this book although there were many parts of it that I adored BUT I think if I had been the right age bracket for this novel, I would have rated it a lot higher. As a middle grade fiction read, it’s easy to fly through these pages in one sitting and both the fantastical and adventure elements are hugely appealing for children of both genders.

This is the story of Isabella Riosse who lives on a small island with her cartographer father under the tyrannical rule of the Governor whose daughter Lupe, Isabella happens to be best friends with. The Governor has cut off large portions of the land as forbidden and there are a lot of local legends about how the land used to be before the Governor’s time. Residents of the island are reminded that they are not permitted to venture beyond the forest into what is known as The Forbidden Territories so when the Governor’s daughter disappears there and is presumed lost, Isabella disguises herself as a boy and offers her map-reading skills to the Governor in the hunt to retrieve Lupe. Isabella is ecstatic at the prospect of seeing part of the land previously forbidden to everyone but is not entirely prepared for the journey she ends up going on, one that involves a desperate fight to save the land she loves dearly.

As I’ve mentioned, this story has a lot of things going for it and when I first started, I was in awe of how the author set the scene and introduced her characters, particularly Isabella. The world she lives in is fascinating and I was intrigued by the setup and history however this is also where the story fell down slightly for me. I just wanted more. I would have loved the author to have gone into more detail about the world including The Forbidden Territories and how the Governor came to power and I felt this was touched on too briefly and left me feeling slightly confused about how exactly everything happened. This was also the case with the characters, sadly. Isabella was a wonderful female protagonist and I loved her bravery and tenacity in helping her friend, especially considering the horrors she comes across along her incredible journey. She had such great potential and yet somehow, I still didn’t feel like I really knew her at the end of it all which was a shame. Saying all this, The Girl Of Ink And Stars is still a masterful, exciting story that I’m sure will capture the hearts of many children around the world. It’s fast-paced, very easy so read and packed full with the most brilliant magical elements that kept me constantly eager to turn the pages.

For Chrissi’s fantastic review, please see her blog HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT UP IN APRIL ON BETH AND CHRISSI DO KID-LIT: Ratburger by David Walliams.

Beth And Chrissi Do Kid-Lit – The Titles For 2018 Revealed!

Published January 2, 2018 by bibliobeth

Image from: http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2017/04/03/even-more-outlandish-further-thoughts-on-the-role-of-translation-and-childrens-literature/

JANUARY – The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader -C.S. Lewis

FEBRUARY- Matilda-Roald Dahl

MARCH – The Girl Of Ink And Stars- Kiran Millwood Hargrave 

APRIL- Ratburger- David Walliams

MAY – The Wide Window (A Series Of Unfortunate Events #3)-Lemony Snicket

JUNE- The Face On The Milk Carton-Caroline B. Cooney

JULY – Murder Most Unladylike- Robin Stevens

AUGUST- The Creakers- Tom Fletcher

SEPTEMBER – Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing -Judy Blume

OCTOBER- Nightbirds on Nantucket  (The Wolves Chronicles #3)- Joan Aiken

NOVEMBER – Number The Stars- Lois Lowry

DECEMBER- Time Travelling With A Hamster- Ross Welford

Generally, we had a wonderful Kid-Lit year in 2017 but generally, I didn’t think it was as strong as 2016. However, lots of beauties to look forward to on this list. We are continuing with our Narnia series with The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader, the fifth book in the Chronicles by C.S. Lewis, The Series Of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket with the third book in the series and the third book in The Wolves Chronicles by Anne Cassidy which we’re very much excited about. We’ve also got some old classics like Matilda by Roald Dahl and one of my favourite childhood authors, Judy Blume to look forward to and some newer authors like Tom Fletcher and Kiran Millwood Hargrave. I’m expecting great things for this year and I can hardly wait. Join us at the end of January for our first post!

Banned Books 2017 – DECEMBER READ – The Agony Of Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Published December 25, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Life, Alice McKinley feels, is just one big embarrassment. Here she is, about to be a teenager and she doesn’t know how. It’s worse for her than for anyone else, she believes, because she has no role model. Her mother has been dead for years. Help and advice can only come from her father, manager of a music store, and her nineteen-year-old brother, who is a slob. What do they know about being a teen age girl? What she needs, Alice decides, is a gorgeous woman who does everything right, as a roadmap, so to speak. If only she finds herself, when school begins, in the classroom of the beautiful sixth-grade teacher, Miss Cole, her troubles will be over. Unfortunately, she draws the homely, pear-shaped Mrs. Plotkin. One of Mrs. Plotkin’s first assignments is for each member of the class to keep a journal of their thoughts and feelings. Alice calls hers “The Agony of Alice, ” and in it she records all the embarrassing things that happen to her.

Through the school year, Alice has lots to record. She also comes to know the lovely Miss Cole, as well as Mrs. Plotkin. And she meets an aunt and a female cousin whom she has not really known before. Out of all this, to her amazement, comes a role model — one that she would never have accepted before she made a few very important discoveries on her own, things no roadmap could have shown her. Alice moves on, ready to be a wise teenager.

Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to the twelfth and final banned book of 2017! As always, we’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book.

The Agony Of Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

First published: 1985

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2006 (source)

Reasons: offensive language and sexually explicit

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: This is one of the older releases on our Banned Books list for this year (not quite as old as me but nearly there!) and comes with a fantastic vintage eighties cover that did bring a smile to my face. On reading the synopsis and seeing the front cover, I was intrigued as to why this book might be challenged/banned. I think I’ve mentioned before that I deliberately try to avoid seeing the reasons until after I’ve finished the book. Probably so that I can get even more outraged at them but that’s besides the point. I finished The Agony Of Alice at a bit of a loss to understand what problems people could have had with this story and on reading the reasons why I have to admit I’m at even more of a loss.

CHRISSI: This book is older than me! 😉 It was a really interesting one to look at, especially because it made the challenged list in 2006. I was really intrigued to see why this book could be banned. Quite often I can see why a book may have come into some trouble, but I’m completely stumped with this one. I have no idea why it was challenged. Genuinely. I didn’t find anything offensive about the language and as for sexually explicit? Pah!

How about now?

BETH: This book was first published in 1985 and you might think that some attitudes have relaxed over thirty or so years? However….this book was put on the challenged/banned list in 2006, just over ten years ago so that doesn’t really make very much sense. More importantly, I see no reason at all why this book stirred up so many obviously negative feelings towards it. Offensive language? Sexuality explicit? Give me a break. This book is a story of a normal (sometimes slightly annoying) young girl on the cusp of puberty going through normal emotions and struggling with daily life without a mother figure to support her on the journey. If sexually explicit means sharing an innocent first kiss on a piece of cardboard whilst playing a game of Tarzan oh my goodness please ban every single book in the world because they are all bound to have an offensive scene like this! The only way I can get my head round this is that on the list, it says the series of Alice books has been questioned and perhaps further books in the series, as she becomes a teenager have more explicit material in them that has ruffled a few feathers? I’ll just be over here in the corner, rolling my eyes.

CHRISSI: As before, I don’t really understand. I really am at a loss. There are a lot more explicit pieces of literature out there and nothing that happens in this book would be offensive to our modern day young ‘uns. It’s about a girl who is just about to go through puberty. It’s normal. I don’t see why it was challenged. I really, really don’t. I think it’s so dangerous to challenge books such as this!

What did you think of this book?:

BETH:  I can’t lie, it wasn’t the best book in the world for me but I’m obviously not the target age range. I swayed backwards and forwards over Alice as a character but loved the relationships she ended up developing. It’s a quick, easy read and a good introduction to adolescence for those children teetering on the edge of being a teenager. I also enjoyed the fact that it wasn’t a conventional family set up and the author explored what it was like for Alice to be in a family without a mother.

CHRISSI: It’s an okay read, but I didn’t connect with it very much. Baring in mind, I’m not the target audience I think others might really enjoy it. Alice annoyed me a little as a character and I don’t think I’ll be continuing her story, but many others will and have done!

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Probably!

CHRISSI: Yes!

Thank you so much to everyone who has read and enjoyed our Banned Books posts in 2017, we’ve really enjoyed doing them. Join us again on January 2nd 2018 when we’ll be revealing our Banned Books list for 2018! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.

Strange Star – Emma Carroll

Published December 19, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

They were coming tonight to tell ghost stories. ‘A tale to freeze the blood,’ was the only rule. Switzerland, 1816. On a stormy summer night, Lord Byron and his guests are gathered round the fire.

Felix, their serving boy, can’t wait to hear their creepy tales.

Yet real life is about to take a chilling turn – more chilling than any tale.

Frantic pounding at the front door reveals a stranger, a girl covered in the most unusual scars.

She claims to be looking for her sister, supposedly snatched from England by a woman called Mary Shelley.

Someone else has followed her here too, she says. And the girl is terrified. This breathtaking new book from Emma Carroll, the critically-acclaimed author of Frost Hollow Hall, The Girl Who Walked On Air, In Darkling Wood and The Snow Sister, is a deliciously creepy story inspired by the creation of Frankenstein, and is brought to life by a leading talent in children’s literature.

What did I think?:

Regular visitors to my blog might recall my previous gushing reviews for the wonderful middle grade fiction author that is Emma Carroll. I highly recommend all her work including Frost Hollow Hall, The Girl Who Walked On Air, In Darkling Wood and The Snow Sister and now I’m delighted to recommend another one – Strange Star which was so beautifully Gothic in nature and eerily atmospheric that once more, I was left in awe of the author’s story-telling abilities. Emma Carroll takes notorious figures from our history, the author Mary Shelley and Lord Byron and writes a fantastic fictional account of where Shelley may have got her inspiration for Frankenstein and it was a story that was so utterly compelling I had no problems in finishing it in just two sittings.

It’s a tale at first that is narrated by a young ex-slave called Felix who is working as a servant for Lord Byron and his guests (which include Mary Shelley) at one of their infamous dinner parties where they challenge each other to tell the scariest stories. This evening however, a young girl called Lizzie appears at the door in a terrible state. We end up hearing a whole new and very frightening story from her that involves a tragic event in her past that led to her being blinded by a lightning strike, a scientist who likes to carry out dangerous experiments with electricity and her worries for her younger troublesome sister as they become embroiled in a precarious situation.

This wonderful Victorian story covers so many different themes effortlessly told in Emma Carroll’s distinctive style which never fails to impress. We touch on racism with Felix and his past as a slave, feminism with some of our strong, female protagonists and their choice of careers, grief and loss and also some ethical questions regarding experimentation and how far someone would be willing to bend their morality in the name of science. As a scientist myself, I loved how the author took science and gave it a voice, (especially a female one) and I found these portions of the narrative both intriguing and at times, slightly unnerving. However, it’s all done in an excellent way considering the target audience of this novel and it never felt too much for a younger reader or, on the other hand, “dumbed down” for the age range. What I love most about Emma Carroll is that her stories can easily be read and enjoyed by both adults and children – her writing is intelligent, insightful and in each novel I’ve read so far, challenges the way you might look at the world. I loved every moment and I can’t wait to read her latest tale, Letters From The Lighthouse, coming soon!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Banned Books 2017 – NOVEMBER READ – George by Alex Gino

Published November 27, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

BE WHO YOU ARE. When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part. . . because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte – but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to the eleventh banned book of 2017! As always, we’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. If you would like to read along with us, here’s what we’ll be reading for the rest of the year:

DECEMBER – The Agony Of Alice – Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

But back to this month….

George by Alex Gino

First published: 2015

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2016 (source)

Reasons: challenged because it includes a transgender child, and the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels.”

Note: This month’s book was supposed to be The Color Of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa but unfortunately we have not been able to get hold of a copy for a reasonable price so we’ve had to make a last minute switch!

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: I’m really looking forward to hearing Chrissi’s thoughts on George, she said to me she had “a lot to say,” and I’m very intrigued! I found out about this book a while ago through my sister who has already read and done a full length review of it on her blog. I could have already guessed why the book might be challenged but I was really hoping that it wouldn’t be for the reason stated. *Sigh* of course it is. I was really hoping that in 2016, when this book was originally challenged (published in 2015) we were much more enlightened as a species about transgender issues and a book aimed at children about this subject would not be a big deal. Sadly, I was wrong.

CHRISSI: It actually hurt my heart that this book was challenged. It’s aimed at elementary children and in my eyes isn’t inappropriate at all for that age group. It actually makes me mad that it is challenged. The reason why it’s challenged was because ‘the sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels.’ I mean WHAT? Many children know from an early age if they feel like they’re in the wrong body that they were born into. It’s told with a child’s voice. How can it be challenged? I really, really don’t get it.

How about now?

BETH: As George is a very recent release, I’m sure attitudes have not changed very much in the year that it was first challenged. I’d be upset to see it appear again when the list for 2017 comes out but you’re always going to get those people that feel uncomfortable with children’s sexuality, particularly if it happens to be a child determined that they are the opposite sex from the body they have been born into. I think this book is entirely appropriate for the elementary level as it is handled in a very intelligent and sensitive way. In fact, I think children definitely shouldn’t be shielded from these things because in a way, isn’t that confirming to them that being transgender might be strange/wrong (when obviously it is not?!). Of course, if it can help a child that is struggling with their gender assignment and can see themselves in George then that can only be a good thing, I think.

CHRISSI: It definitely has a place for elementary aged readers and those beyond. I think it’s such an innocent read about a topic that isn’t talked about enough. I have experienced teaching a child who is absolutely determined that she’s a boy. It wouldn’t surprise me if she was transgender. I know a lot of people think it’s just a ‘stage’ and for some children it is, but we’re devaluing those for which it’s not by challenging a book like this. Argh, it makes me mad. Children should read books like this, so they know they’re not alone and that people are different. Such a valuable lesson.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH:  I really enjoyed it. I thought it was a sweet, quick and easy to read novel. I loved the characters and the message it conveyed although I was quite cross for a little while with a couple of the characters which you might understand if you’ve read this book yourself!

CHRISSI: I think it’s an inspiring read. I’m really pleased I’ve read it and I’d certainly recommend it to elementary aged children!

Would you recommend it?:

BETH:  But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

four-stars_0
Join us again on the last Monday of December for our final banned book this year when we will be talking about The Agony Of Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.