Thursday, July 27, 2017

Ghost Stories by the Campfire #scarystories

If you've been following this blog at all, you know my FAVORITE genre is creepy (but not too scary) books. The three books I chose to read this week all fit into that category!

                                                             One for Sorrow: A Ghost Story by [Hahn, Mary Downing]

The QUEEN of children's spooky stories just published this gem last week. Mary Downing Hahn's One For Sorrow is set in 1918, but it's content is very relevant for today's youth. Annie Brown is the new girl in school and can't wait to make friends. She's always been well liked and never had a problem fitting in with other girls. On her first day, she is immediately taken under the wing of Elise Schneider who proclaims they will be "best friends forever." Initially, Annie is excited to have a buddy until she realizes that the other girls can't stand Elise. She is mean, clingy and awkward and is later revealed to be a liar and thief. Elise has deep problems that cause her bad behavior, but the other students treat her terribly not having an ounce of sympathy for her. Poor Annie can't seem to break away from her new "friend" and  falls victim to the same bullying that Elise does. When Annie is finally able to get away and befriend the popular girls, she leave Elsie alone once again. Going further, Annie joins in the relentless teasing that Elise endures.

Soon the Spanish Influenza rips through the town taking Elise as one of its victims. Annie feels badly but is also slightly relieved she will never see Elise again- or so she thinks!!! SHAZAM!! In typical Mary Downing Hahn fashion, Elise begins to haunt Annie from beyond the grave and forces her to get even with all of the mean girls. Annie feels like she is slowly losing her mind and is desperate for a way to rid herself of the ghost.

Quite honestly, I don't even have to read a summary when it comes to this author. I love everything she writes, and I know my students will as well. She's been writing since I was a little girl, and I am thrilled she is still producing scary tales. That said, I was actually a bit torn throughout my reading because Elise really is a nasty girl, and I had trouble feeling sorry for her. It's an interesting view of bullying- does a mean, hateful girl, who is sometimes a bully herself, ever deserve a taste of her own medicine? Of course no one should ever be teased, but I had a hard time finding sympathy for her. At the same time, I don't think the character could have been written any other way. She needed to be awful in life so her ghost could be awful in death. In all, a great read and my students will love it.


                                                          The Girl with the Ghost Machine by [DeStefano, Lauren]

Where has Lauren DeStefano been all of my life? The Girl with the Ghost Machine is excellent and quite unique. This one really made me think. What if you could spend one more minute with a dearly departed soul? Would you do it at any cost?

Young Emmaline's mother died tragically, and her father has locked himself away in the basement searching for a way to bring her mother's energy back to the land of the living.  He spends so much time on his ghost machine that he neglects sweet Emmaline. Much to her shock and surprise, his machine works! She can talk to her mother again- but not without a price.

This review is tough to write because I don't want to give away any of the story. There are quite a few twists and turns. I read this one to the last page without a break- it is fantastic! The characters are well written and the plot is incredibly creative. Be warned- if you have lost anyone close, it will be difficult not to think of that person while reading this book. The main theme of the story is grief and the different ways we all handle it. I finished reading with the lingering question of "what if?" for a few days after I closed it.

I am excited to add this to the library and will read some of DeStefano's other stories.


From what I can deduce, the The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street is Linday Currie's first solo novel and it's a beaut! I don't often find ghost stories for middle grades set in modern times, and it was a nice surprise.

Young Tessa is faced with a move from sunny, bright Florida to a cold and wet Chicago town. She's not happy about the move, and it's made even worse when things start to go bump in the night in her new room. Ghostly drawings appear mysteriously in Tessa's sketch book, her brother's doll cries real tears, and she feels a deep sense of sadness throughout the house. Tessa is certain there is a ghost trying to tell her something. When she accidentally blurts the truth about her haunted home, her new classmates react in a surprising way. Instead of thinking she's crazy, they vow to help her solve the mystery. Andrew, Richie, and Nina become her partners in the paranormal, and they work together to solve a puzzle that's over 100 years old. From libraries to graveyards, they leave no stone unturned to help their ghost find peace.

I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery. I always love a ghost story that is "just right" for younger grades (4-5). It kept me on the edge of my seat but wasn't too scary or violent in any way.  It's a neat story and the kids' adventure kept me interested and turning the pages. There is the usual dynamics of tweens trying to find their way and make friends, and the characters are relatable nice kids. There is one small thing bugging me- there is a character, Cassidy, who seems kind of thrown in without a purpose. I don't see a reason for her other than possibly setting up a sequal??? I did have a few unanswered questions at the end, so I'd love a second book. I'm  excited to add this title to the library when it's published this October!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I Love Summer Reading! #summerreading

My summer reading in a hammock under a big maple tree continues! I've found a few titles that I had not seen before so I'm excited to share.

                                                             Exit Strategy (MAX) by [Allbright, Lauren]

Exit Strategy by Lauren Allbright is on my list for purchase this fall. I think my male students will really enjoy it.

12- year-old Ross moves from school to school more frequently than some kids change their underwear. His mom is a musician with a traveling show, and Ross moves with her to various cities on the tour always enrolling at a new school.  He's pretty quiet in class while he's there, but he has developed an interesting way to leave when it's time to move on to a new district. On his last day, Ross likes to play an epic prank! Whether it's goldfish in the toilets or salt in the coffee machines, Ross starts thinking of his "exit strategy" on the first day. While his pranks are becoming more and more creative, what would happen if Ross had to stay in one place for a while? Who is he if he's not the guy who pulls the last day prank? When an unexpected event lands him in a permanent place, Ross sets out to discover how to be funny without his tricks. He even turns the question of "how to be funny" into a science project. His research leads him in a surprising direction and he discovers that the formula for funny might not be that cut and dry.

This story was very entertaining. It's unique and quite endearing. Like most middle grade book characters, Ross has to sort through the minutia of bullies, cute girls, and nerdy science partners. His research on the art of humor will teach him (and the reader) a fantastic lesson. How important is it to be funny? What makes someone or something funny? Do we all laugh at the same things?  Does it matter? This is a great book for a reluctant reader because of it's humor and general tomfoolery (that's a great word that I need to use more). My students are going to like this one a great deal.


I'm sorry I didn't get to this book sooner than now as it was published last year. This is another one on my list for order!

Far From Fair by Elana Arnold is a terrific book. Odette's life is about to change in a way few of us can imagine. Her parents have made the decision to simplify their lives. They sell their house and all of their belongings and purchase an RV called "the coach." The plan is for her family to live in the camper and travel wherever the road  might take them. They will bring only what fits in the coach and only the necessities. While her parents are incredibly excited, it feels like the end of the world for Odette. What about her school, her friends and HER CELL PHONE!? Sharing a confined space (a definite breach of privacy) with her parents and younger brother on a permanent basis feels like the end of the world for Detters. Worst of all, no one bothered to ask her if she would want this life. Nonetheless, they begin their journey up the west coast. Their first stop on their adventure is to see her wise and beloved Grandmom Sissy who Odette discovers is gravely ill. Her grandmother has always been a calming presence for Odette, but Sissy's illness adds to the upheaval of the family's new life. Odette feels more and more powerless with each passing day. Why won't anyone listen to what SHE wants and needs?

I happened to be reading this book while I was camping with my family. We were on the third day and I was starting to get a little antsy for the comforts of home and my nice soft bed. I kept looking around as I was reading trying to imagine what it would be like to actually live in the camper. A simple life of adventure and family togetherness seems so appealing until the kids start fighting, the dog starts barking and wifi is no where to be found. This story led to some AWESOME discussions with my children. How much do we really need? Is technology ruining our family time? Wouldn't a cross country adventure be amazing? The jury is still out in my family.
I think my 4th-5th grade students will really be able to relate to Odette and her frustrations. The end of this story also teaches a powerful lesson best summed up by the Rolling Stones- You can't always get what you want, but if try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.

Monday, July 3, 2017

It's Monday What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR 07/03/2017

Happy Summer! There's something about reading in the summer that is simply magical. I love reading under the shade of a big tree, or while swinging in a hammock, and especially while sitting on a beach. I've read two books this week that I really enjoyed and they are fittingly set during a summer vacation!

                                                         Quicksand Pond by [Lisle, Janet Taylor]

Quicksand Pond by Janet Taylor Lisle, starts the way I like all of my books to start- with mention of a long ago mystery and its lingering consequences. Jessie and her family move to a run down rental cottage in a seaside town to try to recapture a simpler time without internet and constant distractions. On the first day, Jessie discovers a huge pond close to her new house and even better- a raft capable of taking her exploring. She soon befriends a local girl named Terri Carr and they start their summer spending long lazy days fixing the raft and having adventures on the pond. As they grow closer, Terri explains all of the local lore focusing on a murder where Terri's grandfather was wrongly accused (so she says). The more Jessie learns of the town's history and of Terri's abusive father and troubled brothers, the more she wonders if being friends with Terri is a good idea. The "no good" Carr family reputation follows Terri wherever she goes and she feels Jessie start to slip away. Soon enough, events happen that paint Terri in a bad light and Jessie must decide whether she trusts her new friend or the town gossip.

This is a very engrossing story. Terri and Jessie's friendship is the main story, but there are many subplots- Jessie's parents crumbling marriage, old Henrietta Cutting's knowledge of the long ago murder and Jessie's older sister Julia's quest for independence. There are actually a few too many subplots happening, and I would have liked the focus to have been solely on the girls' friendship. The story is also wrapped up very quickly. I finished reading with many unanswered questions, but perhaps I am supposed to draw my own conclusions. Putting the abrupt ending aside, this book is a page turner for sure!  Ultimately, while this is a story about a summer friendship, it's primarily about how a false accusation can ruin lives and the rippling effect it has on everyone involved.

                                                           The Emperor's Riddle by [Zhang, Kat]

I have never read anything by Kat Zhang before, but I'm glad I tried The Emperor's Riddle. I usually don't love books set in China, but this one is EXCELLENT! Mia Chen is spending the summer with her family visiting her mother and Aunt Lin's village  in China. Mia is very close to her Aunt Lin and is excited to spend time with her exploring history and solving puzzles (their favorite hobby). Aunt Lin has shared stories of ancient treasures with Mia for as long as Mia can remember and their trip to China is the perfect setting to go exploring. One night, Aunt Lin suddenly disappears and while Mia's mother chalks it up to her wandering personality, Mia knows something is wrong. She discovers a clue and a secret map that can help her find her Aunt, and she must convince her older brother Jake to assist her. Mia and Jake face the task of solving a mysterious series of riddles and traveling through a foreign country without telling their mother!

This book was terrifically fun to read! It is a mystery, adventure, and a history book rolled into one. Mia is clever and persistent and her brother becomes a faithful assistant. Each riddle brings them to a different part of China and as a reader, I learned an incredible amount of history. What could have become a complicated story remained light and easy for children to read. The puzzles fall into place quickly and that helps keep the momentum going. The young detectives are very likable and while it's perhaps a far fetched idea that they could actually locate an ancient treasure, this story is exciting and fun. I think it's an excellent summer reading book for children who love following clues!