Monday, October 31, 2016

MMGM: The Scourge

Today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday pick

The Scourge, by Jennifer A Nielsen
The Scourge

Written by Jennifer A Nielson
Cover art by Tim O'Brien

Scholastic Press, 2016
Grades 4-7, 368 pages
about 66000-73000 words


       Few things were worth the risk of my life, but the juicy vinefruit was one of them. Even more so today because I was long past hungry. If I didn't eat something soon, my life was in danger anyway.
       Not immediate danger. Mama had poor man's bread at home and, indeed, was expecting me back soon for supper. But I couldn't stand the thought of gnawing on those thick crusts for yet another meal. Especially not now, after spotting a vinefruit this close, in perfect ripeness.
       Getting it would be simple.
       Well, not simple in the traditional definition of the word. but simple, meaning that I intended to get that fruit if it was the last thing I ever did.

I couldn't get enough of The False Prince the first time I read it. Although I spotted many of the twists ahead of time, I admired the author's skill in misdirecting the reader's attention, yet leaving the clues in plain sight. Is it any wonder Jennifer Nielsen lists J. K Rowling as one of her favorite authors?

So I went into The Scourge with pretty high (and perhaps unfairly unrealistic) expectations. To be honest, this book did not grab me in the first few chapters. The main character's voice is there, but something about the opening didn't glue me to the page the way her other books had. But I knew from experience that sometimes you have to come at a book more than once, or turn off the critical part of your writer's brain and read a little faster.

I am happy to report, after a halting start, the story takes off and Nielsen hits her stride. Readers will be swept into the chaotic runaway train that is Ani's story and laugh at her Puckish antics. Her character is brilliant, really. And the friendship that is revealed between her and her bestie Weevil is written with skill and sagacity.

I had a few nitpicks near the end, but only because Jennifer's earlier work is so blasted impressive.

After a bout of depression for feeling so critical, I read "the first 15,000 words of this story fought [Nielsen] like a cursed beast from the depths of Hades ..." She had " least a dozen failed starts for this story that kept leading me to dead ends. I wrote both my agent and editor to say I might not be able to write this. I quit sleeping. I ate a lot of ice cream. Then I took a deep breath and decided I needed to think about this story in an entirely different way. Only then did I start to put the right story down on the page."

For that reason. This book gets five stars. Without Jennifer's courageous perseverance and the insight of her supporters, we wouldn't have the entertaining roller coaster ride that is The Scourge.

 1. If you enjoyed The Scourge, I recommend The Ascendance Trilogy, which is better in my opinion. But don't take my word for it, read reviews by the other MMGMers.

Ascendance Trilogy: The False Prince, The Runaway King,
and The Shadow Throne. Cover art by Ken Choi.
The False Prince
Reviews by Mundie Kids, The Hopeful Heroine, and Laurisa White Reyes.

The Runaway King
Reviews by The Hopeful Heroine, Geo Librarian, and Mrs. Yingling Reads.

The Shadow Throne
Review by The Hopeful Heroine

2. Literary Rambles and The Book Cellar have each posted interviews with the author.

3. If you want a peek into Jennifer's writing process, she has posted a 3-part look at editing The Scourge.

4. Other books by Jennifer Nielsen

Reviewed by Book Dreaming
Cover art by Gideon Kendall
Reviewed by Tales From the Raven
Cover by Larry Rostant

Have you reviewed a Marvelous Middle Grade Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations for October 31, 2016.

MMGM started way back in 2010 by Shannon Messenger, author of Keeper of Lost Cities. Each week, participating bloggers review our favorite books for ages 8-12. Why not join us?

Sunday, October 30, 2016


Normally I would announce it's almost time for Tara Lazar's Picture Book Idea Month. I would give advice on meeting your goal, how to get out of your comfort zone, or even how not to starve during the thirty days of idea-generating mania. But . . .

Subscribe here to keep up to date on the latest.

So we'll have to find something else to do with our writing time.

Let me know how you'll be spending your November in the comments below.

Friday, October 28, 2016

PPBF: Six Dots: A Story of Louis Braille

Today's Perfect Picture Book review

Six Dots, by Jen Bryant and Boris Kulikov
Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille
Written by Jen Bryant
Illustrated by Boris Kulikov

 Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2016
Ages 4-8, 40 pp

Biography, Nonfiction, Disability, Invention

       On the day I was born, Papa announced me to the village: “Here is my son Loo-WEE!”
The neighbors came, clucking their tongues, whispering: “Too small. He won’t survive!”
Oh, but I did survive.
        I was a curious child, and my eyes studied everything: Maman’s gentle face. Lace draping my cradle. The smooth shape of a bread loaf on the table.

Six Dots introduces the reader to Louis Braille when he is little, working in his father's leather workshop. The story follows him through toddler-hood, the accident that took his eyesight, and through the trials of being blind in 19th century France. With perseverance, the young Braille assembles all the pieces which became the system of reading and writing for the visually impaired: the braille alphabet and books for the blind.

Back matter includes resources for further investigation, a French pronunciation guide, fascinating author’s notes and questions, plus the Braille alphabet.
Note: Even though the braille alphabet is printed  on the endpapers, I was extremely disappointed an actual sample of raised braille is not used anywhere in the book.

What I Love:
The story flowed from one scene to the next, and I was immediately drawn in. Bryant skillfully describes Louis's surroundings in a way that makes the reader feel what he is feeling. When you analyze the facts in this story, it amazes me that the author was able to build such a coherent, interesting narrative. Many of the facts are mundane. But the story is stronger for her use of these little things to highlight Braille's perseverance and his achievements.

I wasn't attracted to the cover, but once I opened the book, this illustrator's talents shine through. Once the main character loses his sight, Kulikov uses changes in style and color to depict the world Louis can't see. His layouts keep the pages turning. And his compositions give life to even the most static scenes.

1. This book has already been reviewed by PPBF reviewer, Beth Anderson in September. It was so inspiring, I wanted to post my own views and spread the word.

2. You'll find more about Louis Braille as well as other resources at the American Foundation for the Blind.

3. Publications like The Braille Monitor are available through the National Federation for the Blind, as well as access to news and assistance technology.

4. BrailleSC lists activities for the seeing classroom including games and sensory play, aimed at understanding blindness.

5. WonderBaby lists 10 Tips to teach yourself Braille in this excellent post.

6. You don't have to travel to France to visit the Braille Museum. Kentucky boasts the Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind. There you can tour the facilities, see their collection of antique Braille writers, or even use one of their take-home kits in your classroom.

7. Stuff of Genius has created a video of Louis Braille's life. (above)

8. Check out these and more Perfect Picture Books at your local library.

Reviewed by Jarm
Reviewed by Beth

Reviewed by Joanne
Reviewed by Kirsten

Reviewed by Vivian
Reviewed by Joanna

Have you reviewed a Perfect Picture Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Perfect Picture Book Friday is on hold for Susanna Leonard Hill's Halloweensie Contest. Read all the chilling entries on her blog.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Artistic Near Misses

"Maybe you’ve made something mediocre–there’s plenty of that in any artist’s cabinets–but something mediocre is better than nothing, and often the near-misses, as I call them, are the beckoning hands that bring you to perfection just around the blind corner.”
~ Sally Mann*

Don Quixote bookplate by Vilnis Resnis

*Via Rosi Hollinbeck at The Write Stuff

Friday, October 21, 2016

PPBF: What Degas Saw

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

What Degas Saw,
by Samantha Friedman and Cristina Pieropan
What Degas Saw
Written Samantha Friedman
Illustrated by Cristina Pieropan

Museum of Modern Art, 2016
Ages 5-10, 40 pp

Art History, Biography, Nonfiction

       The world was changing. Paris was alive.
       From his studio on rue Victor Masse, the artist Edgar Degas could see pedestrians strolling on wide, new boulevards. . . smoke rising from new factories. . . grand new buildings of iron and glass.

This book introduces readers to the person of Edgar Degas at a point in his life where he was searching for a new form of expression. The narrative follows him as he experiences the busyness of Paris and longs to capture it. It alternates illustrations of the scenes with copies of Degas's actual work, like puzzle pieces, fitting into people's everyday lives.

What I Love:
I love the viewpoint the author chose. She distilled Degas's philosophy down so succinctly in the line, "He wanted to find a way to capture the beauty of the passing moment." The text does not talk down to its audience, but invites them into the artist's thought process. I love how the illustrator depicts the scene going on around the famous paintings. The book also highlights some of the artist's work which is rarely seen: not just his ballerinas, but charcoals of passersby, sketches of average Parisians. Friedman's work as a curator at the MOMA gives her a unique perspective and adds authority to both the text and the backmatter.

1. Find out more about modern art on the Museum of Modern Art's webpage and to learn more about their publishing arm, check out the recent article from Publisher's Weekly.

2. Author Sarah Friedman has collaborated with MOMA on another biography, Matisse's Garden. Buy it at the online store, or explore inside.

3. Artist Cristina Pieropan has illustrated another
art biography, this one about architect Andrea Palladio.

4. Degas used charcoal and pastel to blur the figures in his drawings, conveying the feeling of life and motion. Have students experiment with chalky media. Show them photos of movement caught on film and Degas's pastels. Have them draw their own surroundings with the side of the crayon to imply movement.

5. Kids Play Box has a tutorial for painting roosters with a fork. It's not impressionism, but it produces an amazing impressionistic effect.

6. Mr. Otter Studio produced a creative art project video where kids can recreate one of Degas's ballerina pieces. See video above.

7. Check out these and more Perfect Picture Books at your local library.

Reviewed by Barbara
Reviewed by Joanna

Reviewed by Lynn Marie
Reviewed by Kirsten

Reviewed by Joanne
Reviewed by Leslie

Have you reviewed a Perfect Picture Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday
for Friday, October 21, 2016 available on Susanna Leonard Hill's blog.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Monday, October 17, 2016

MMGM: Disappearing Act

Today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday pick

Disappearing Act, by Sid Fleischman
Disappearing Act

Written by Sid Fleischman
Cover art by Chad Beckerman

Greenwillow Books, 2003
Ages 8 and up
144 pages, 21500 words

Humor, Mystery

       Hear that screaming? That's my sister, Holly. It's not exactly screaming. It's singing. She's practicing to be a world-famous opera singer. She thinks people will actually pay to listen to her.
       I have to listen because she's driving. We're heading for California in her old VW with about a million miles on it. The only thing holding it together is the green paint. Holly couldn't find Los Angeles without me, Kevin. She gets lost going around the block. Aside from her sense of direction, she's brilliant.
       We have to get out of New Mexico. Some guy is stalking her. Us,  I mean.

Holly and Kevin are orphans on the run from a mysterious stranger. They try to disappear among the colorful residents living and performing in Venice Beach, California.  But a middle-schooler and an opera-loving twenty-one year old are hard to hide, especially when they may hold the key to a lost treasure. Their pursuers are not above murder. It will take all the kids' ingenuity, plus a little help from their friends, to unravel the mystery and get their lives back to normal. As normal as it gets in their eccentric neighborhood.

All of Sid Fleischman's books are brilliant, but I have a fondness for this particular book. I can't tell you why. Normally I am drawn to stories set in the past or something with a bit more magic, but Disappearing Act probably appeals to me because it is so fresh. The voice is spot on. The setting so welcoming. The main characters plucky, pathetic, and likeable. The ludicrous, yet true-to-life characters they meet win your heart. Oh, and it's just plain funny.

 1. If you enjoyed Disappearing Act, you can read dozens of other books by Fleischman. The Ghost in the Noonday Sun is my all-time favorite, though not a comedy like this one. Fellow MMGMer, Janet, recommends the classic The Whipping Boy, reminiscent of both The Prince and the Pauper and The Ransom of Red Chief.

The Ghost in the Noonday Sun, by Fleischman.
Cover art by Tim Jessell, illustrated by Peter Sis
The Whipping Boy, by Fleischman.
Cover art by Dan Andreasen, illustrated by Peter Sis

2. If you love comedy, you can read more about the winners of the Sid Fleischman award for humorous kidlit on the SCBWI website. You may find a few new favorite authors among them.


3. Interested in the man himself? Bookpage posted an interview about The Giant Rat of Sumatra, and Reading Rockets did another amazing interview. View the transcript or watch the video below.


Have you reviewed a Marvelous Middle Grade Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations for October 17, 2016.

MMGM started way back in 2010 by Shannon Messenger, author of Keeper of Lost Cities. Each week, participating bloggers review our favorite books for ages 8-12. Why not join us?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Star Wars Reads 2016

Say what you want about the Disney Company, but I am thankful they are using their formidable licensing power for good. In this case, it looks like Star Wars Reads Day has turned into Star Wars Reads Month. 

Check out the Star Wars website for history, posters and printables, and look for an event near you.

BB-8 rolls into reading! See what's happening on Facebook

Better yet, share a Star Wars book like Barnes and Noble's top 10, Brightly's picks for pre-K through YA, or one of the books below. After all, literacy surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.

Cozy Classics, Epic Yarns
Abrams, Origami Yoda
DK's Incredible Cross-Sections

Friday, October 14, 2016

PPBF: Around America To Win The Vote

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

Votes for Women!
Around America to Win the Vote,
by Mara Rockliff and Hadley Hooper
Around America To Win the Vote
Written by Mara Rockliff
Illustrated by Hadley Hooper

Candlewick, 2016
K-3, 40 pp

Historical, Biography, Nonfiction, Women

       On April 6, 1916, a little yellow car set out from New York City.
It carried:
spare parts,
a teeny-tiny typewriter,
an itsy-bitsy sewing machine,
one stout leather trunk bursting with useful things,
two smiling women,
and a wee black kitten with a yellow ribbon tied around its neck.
       The taller woman was Nell Richardson. The smaller one was Alice Burke. Together, they planned to drive all the way around America. It was a great big country, but they had a great big cause.

During the early twentieth century, two women drove across the country and back again in "The Golden Flier." They held rallies and passed the word for women's suffrage. These plucky women fixed their own car, mended their own clothes, avoided hazards and bandits, and earned the respect of a nation. They believed so strongly that women had both a duty and a right to vote, that they devoted six months to their daring adventure. This is the story of that amazing trip.

What I Love:
This book is written in an engaging style. The text is as spunky as the women it tells about. The art is vibrant and fun, as Nell and Alice were, whether at a formal party or stuck in a mud puddle in a back-woods back road. Full of facts and interesting tidbits (many from the ladies' own journals.) Plus Back matter and notes. Perfect for an election year.

Vintage votes poster by H. Dallas,
 turned into a coloring page, thanks to Sinergia
1. Read all about it on the Smithsonian web page. More info on Nell Richardson and her gorgeous car from America on the Move. Plus additional photos at the Library of Congress. Young readers can make a list of items they might need for a cross country road trip.

2. Visit the National Women's History Museum or read from the website concerning the suffragettes.

3. Just for fun, check out the sheet music and artifacts on the Women's Suffrage Memorabilia website. Have students write their own rally song.

4. University of Houston has a digital copy of a suffragette flyer, listing reasons women thought they ought to have the right to vote.

5. School Library Journal offers a huge list of books and suggestions for Demystifying an Election Year.

6. Check out these and more Perfect Picture Books at your local library.

Reviewed by Miranda
Reviewed by Julie

Reviewed by Vivian

Reviewed by Myra

Reviewed by Joanne
Reviewed by Grade Onederful

Have you reviewed a Perfect Picture Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday
for Friday, October 14, 2016 available on Susanna Leonard Hill's blog.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

2016 Cybils Awards Nominations

 Just three days left to nominate your favorite books for the Cybils Award!
What are you waiting for?
See the nominations or submit one of your favorites.

Have a treasured graphic novel, picture book, chapter book? Fairy tale, coming of age, science, biography? Which YA book kept you glued to the page? Which middle grade read had you in stitches? Eligible books must be published from Oct 2015 to Oct 2016. See the Rules for further details.

Please forward your favorites by category on the Cybils website . . .

                                                                                                        . . . and spread the word!


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Illustration Is Art

"Children's literature is the first literature and the first art that children are exposed to. It should be good. And when it is, it should be given respect."
 - William Joyce*

Bookplate by Celeste Gagnon

*Via Muddy Colors

Monday, October 10, 2016

MMGM: Scumble

Today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday pick

Scumble, book #2, by Ingrid Law

Written by Ingrid Law
Cover art by Brandon Dorman
Dial BooksFYR, Penguin Group, 2010
Ages 8-12, Lexile 900
412 pages, 66,300 words

Magical Realism, Coming of Age

       Mom and Dad had known about the wedding at my Uncle Autry's ranch for months. But with the date set a mere ten days after my thirteenth birthday, my family's RSVP had remained solidly unconfirmed until the last possible wait-and-see moment. We had to wait until my birthday came and went. We had to see if anything exploded, caught fire, or flooded before committing to a long-haul trip across four states in the minivan. In my family, thirteenth birthdays were like time bombs, with no burning fuse or beeping countdown to tell you when to plug your ears, duck, brace yourself, or turn tail and get the  hay bales out of Dodge.
       I'd known for years that something in my blood and guts and brains and bones was poised to turn me tall-tale gollywhopper weird. On my thirteenth birthday, a mysterious ancestral force would hit like lightning, giving me my very own off-the-wall talent. My very own savvy. Making me just like the rest of the spectacular square pegs I was related to.

Okay, I admit Scumble was originally a bit of a let down for me. It's hard being the second child. But  when I read the third book in the series a few months ago, it gave me a yen to reread. This one definitely improves with age and deserves a bit more love and attention than it's gotten.

I never felt Ledge's voice was as strong as his cousin's, but on second look, he is well-written and genuine. Ledge gets stuck in a tough situation when he reveals his family's powers to an outsider. This situation and his reactions are what give authenticity to this book. Ledge has a savvy after my own heart, and his yearning to fit in strikes a chord. On first read, I forgot about my inner middle grader. Thank goodness authors like Ingrid Law help us to remember what it felt like and put us back in touch with the isolated, awkward, uncertain kid within.

 1. If you are new to the series, the other MMGMers have posted some reviews to whet your appetite.
VB wrote a review of Savvy, and Suzanne gives her first and second impressions, linked to some personal reflections.
Pam posted a review of both Savvy and Scumble plus and interview with the author.
Joanne, Violet, and Sonora review the third book, Switch.

2. Looking for more great reads?
Aeicha  recommends Waiting for Augusta.
Jemi recommends Maniac Magee.
Michael recommends A Million Ways Home.
Mundie Moms recommend Pete's Dragon, The Lost Years.
Shannon recommends Artemis Fowl
And Ruth recommends the series as one of her top ten beach reads for Middle Schoolers.

If you want to join MMGM, blog about a middle grade book you love on a Monday. You can post a straight review or contests, author interviews, etc. Then email Shannon Messenger at

Put "MMGM" or "Marvelous Middle Grade Monday" in the subject line, include the title of the book you're featuring, and a link to your blog. Email your link by Sunday evening in order to be included in the list of links for the coming Monday.

For additional details, see Shannon's website.

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday
for Monday, October 10, 2016 available on Shannon Messenger's blog

Friday, October 7, 2016

PPBF: Glow: Animals With Their Own Night-Lights

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

Glow: Animals With Their Own Night-Lights,
 by W. H. Beck, cover photo by Mark Laita
Glow: Animals With Their Own Night-Lights

Written by W. H. Beck
Illustrated with photographs
Cover Photo by Mark Laita,

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Grades preschool-3, Lexile 760

science, animals, nonfiction, ocean

[It's called by-oh-loo-mih-neh-sense.]
Bioluminescence is when living things make their own light. They glow.

Glow is mostly an overview of the basics of bioluminescent sea creatures and an introduction to a handful of them. Organized by how light affects their behavior, startlingly set against black backgrounds, these animals will amaze you. Just a few facts about each creature make this book easy for younger grades and fascinating enough for older students. Even the design of the type has been carefully considered to make the greatest impact on the reader. The back matter includes more details and a size chart.

What I Love:
Gorgeous design and stunning photography elevate this science book to a new artistic level. The way the author highlights each animal makes them seem even more extraordinary. The design of each page, the placement of text, the carefully curated images, work together to make a refreshingly vibrant book.

OK, they don't glow, but these Jell-O aquariums
 from We're Calling Shenanigans are cool!
1. Author W. H. Beck has resources for teachers on her books page.

2. Get to know Beck during an interview with WritersDigest regarding her debut novel, Malcolm At Midnight.

3. Enjoy videos of bioluminescence under the sea from National Geographic, or explore articles from Dicover and Ocean Portal.

4. Mold your own crazy glow-in-the-dark creatures using store-bought clay or make your own glow with thorough reviews and instructions from The Blue Bottle Tree.

5. Check out these and more Perfect Picture Books at your local library.

Reviewed by Rhythm
Reviewed by Joanna
Reviewed by Susanna
Reviewed by Sue

Reviewed by Joanne
Reviewed by Barbara

Have you reviewed a Perfect Picture Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday
for Friday, October 7, 2016 available on Susanna Leonard Hill's blog.