Monday, February 27, 2017

MMGM: Zoe in Wonderland

Today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday pick

Zoe in Wonderland, by Brenda Woods
Zoe in Wonderland

Written by Brenda Woods
Cover art by Frank Morrison

Nancy Paulson Books, 2016
an imprint of Penguin Random House
Ages 8-12
208 pages, 710L

Shyness, Resilience, Building Relationships

       The first thing that's definitely not my fault is that our last name is Reindeer. No one, not even Grandpa Reindeer, is quite sure how that came to be the family name. And even though everyone complains about it—well, everyone except my daddy—no one ever did anything to change it. As for me, I get tired of the jokes, especially around Christmastime.
       Once, last year, I explained to Grandpa and Nana Reindeer how you can actually go to court and legally change your name, but they both stared at me like I'd just said a cussword.

Zoe G. Reindeer has a fascinating family. Her sister is uber-popular, her brother is a science wiz, her mom is pursuing her Masters in Education, and her dad is a crusading horticulturist at Doc Reindeer's Exotic Plant Wonderland. But Zoe is just Zoe. Average, boring, invisible, day-dreaming nobody.

Through a series of encounters, Zoe tries to break out of her shell in order to deal with the life-changing events over which she has no control. She must learn how to build relationships, when to keep secrets, and whom she wants to become. That's a lot for an eleven-year-old to process. Like a seed, Zoe has something special inside her just waiting to sprout, but can she figure out how to make it grow?

Told with an amazingly authentic voice, this sweet little story is perfect for pre-teens. Zoe has a strong family who needs a little help to learn to pull together. She adores her best friend, but without him, she loses her identity. I enjoyed watching Zoe explore her hidden talents. I love the author's subtle message about drawing meaning in our own life by touching the lives of those around us. It's a perky story with a neatly-tied happy ending, but sometimes those are just the kinds of stories kids need when they're trying to discover the seed buried inside themselves.

 1. If you enjoyed Zoe in Wonderland, Brenda Woods has written almost a dozen other books for  middle graders. These two are at the top of my list.

Saint Louis Armstrong Beach, 2011
The Blossoming Universe
of Violet Diamond, 2014

2. For more MMGM books with a similar vibe, pick up a copy of Moo, by Sharon Creech, or Words With Wings, by Nikki Grimes. I'd also recommend The Year of the Book, by Andrea Cheng or White Fur Flying, by Patricia MacLachlan.

Reviewed by Heidi
cover art by Vincent Moustache
Reviewed by Laurisa
cover art by Eva Vazquez

3. Zoe's friend, Quincy, is an aspiring filmmaker who wants to make a documentary about Zoe's plants.Young readers can get started on their own films with a step-by-step guide from Desktop Documentaries. PBS also provides a teachers' guide to using documentaries in the classroom.

4. Zoe's father grows exotic plants. Africa Geographic and Baola offer fascinating facts about the Baobab tree. Join the discussion with #MakeBaobabFamous. You can also read how Madagascar is fighting to save their indigenous species on CNN or support the cause through The Global Trees Campaign.

5. The Jet Propulsion Lab plays a role in Zoe's journey. Check out their amazing space photography or stop by the lab to participate in community programs. Most of all, encourage the "imaginers" in your life.

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 February 13, 2017.

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?

Friday, February 24, 2017

PPBF: Champions for Equal Rights

There's no official Perfect Picture Book Friday today, but I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce a few of the worthwhile picture books I've read this fall.

Today's theme is Civil Rights!

The Youngest Marcher, The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks
The Youngest Marcher 

Written by Cynthia Levinson
Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Atheneum Books For Young Readers, 2017
Ages 6-11, 40 pp

Biography, Nonfiction, Civil Rights

"Whenever Mike flew into town, Audrey and her mama COO-OOKED!
Barbecued ribs, stewed greens, sweet potatoe soufflĂ©, and Audrey's favorite—hot rolls baptized in butter."

I didn't know the story of Audrey Faye Hendricks. Her family used to host Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he came to town. They called him Mike, and he sat at their dinner table with other famous activists, and he inspired young Audrey with his dreams. So when the call went out for children to march for equal rights, Audrey was at the head of the line. She and hundreds of other students protested segregation in what is now known as the Children's Crusade of 1963. Audrey was the youngest child arrested and jailed. This picture book is told from her point of view and based on an interview with Audrey. The book includes a recipe for Audrey's mama's "hot rolls baptized in butter" and standard back matter. It was well thought out and executed. Definitely a book kids should read. The children involved in the march, like young Audrey, were not flippantly rebellious, but deeply committed to changing injustice. This book offers a peek into their times.

 For another PPBF review of this book, check out the post from Joanna on Miss Marple's Musings.

Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of young John Lewis
Preaching to the Chickens

Written by Jabari Asim
Illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2016
Ages 5-10, 32 pp, 840L

Biography, Nonfiction, Civil Rights

"Little John Lewis loved the spring. He loved it because it was the time when not only the whole planet came alive, but also because it was the season of the chicks. Winter was too cold to bring them safely into the world, and summer was too hot. Spring was just right.

"Everyone on the farm had work to do. 'Work and put your trust in God,' his mama liked to say, 'and God's gonna take care of His children.'"

This book is beautiful, words and pictures. It tells a story of the gentle soul who is John Lewis, leader in the Civil Rights Movement, founder of the Freedom Riders, member of the House of Representatives. When John was small, he used to take care of the family chickens, a job that taught him compassion and duty. And he used to preach to them, to the amusement of his family. This book is based on an interview with John Lewis, and his recollection of his chicken-tending days. Using a warm, authentic, genuine voice and sparkling dialogue, the author sends a powerful message, particularly to those of us who call ourselves Christians, to allow God's Word to change our thinking and to live out the principles we find there. The included author's note tells more about John Lewis's later accomplishments. I love how the text weaves early experiences as influences for adult decisions.

For a thorough review, visit fellow PPBF participant, Joanna on Miss Marple's Musings.

The First Step:
How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial
The First Step

Written by Susan E. Goodman
Illustrated by  E. B. Lewis

Bloomsbury USA, 2016
Ages 6-9, 40 pp, 740L

Biography, Nonfiction, Segregation

Sarah Roberts was four years old when she started school in April 1847. Even though it was spring, icy winds still wailed off Boston Harbor near Sarah's home. She was lucky her school was close by.

Sarah Roberts was four years old when she was expelled from her school for being African-American. The only school in Boston which she was allowed to attend had no playground and only one book. Her parents could have fought to make the school better, but they instead fought to ensure that all children everywhere and for all time had an equal opportunity to learn, an equal opportunity for a quality education in their own neighborhood.

This book tackles a huge subject and pares it down into an organized narrative that today's readers can comprehend and sympathize with. This book covers the steps toward desegregation of schools, not just the struggles of the Roberts family. Lewis's illustrations are always expressive, humanizing the subjects, making them real to the reader. Goodman's text is well-written, well-researched, and stirring. This is a great book to add to the historical puzzle.

Lillian's Right to Vote:
A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
Lillian's Right to Vote

Written by Jonah Winter
Illustrated by Shane W. Evans

Schwartz & Wade, 2015
Ages 5-9, 40 pp., 1030L

Biography, Nonfiction, Civil Rights, Elections

"A very old woman stands at the bottom of a very steep hill. It's Voting Day, she's an American, and by God, she is going to vote. Lillian is her name.

"It's a long haul up that steep hill. It's a long haul when you've been alive for a hundred years. It's a long haul when you've lived the life that Lillian has—and walked so far in her shoes. When Lillian looks up, it's more than blue sky she sees. She sees history."

Lillian Allen's great-great-grandparents were sold as slaves. Her family and families like hers, have been marching uphill for decades: to earn freedom, equality, and the right to vote. Miss Lillian voted for the first black president in 2008. To her that was a culmination of her family's journey. I loved the rhythm of the text, the very personal point of view it represents. The illustrations were masterfully done, separating history from the present, and using symbolism in a way that is easy for kids to grasp. The back matter included context and personal details. I'm not sure I loved the way the story ended, that the youngest readers will understand you vote for someone based on their ideas or character, not on their physical characteristics, but if this book is thoughtfully used, I think it can be a stirring reminder of our nation's historical heritage and a powerful motivation to get it right going forward.

Congratulations: to the winners of Susanna Leonard Hill's Second Annual Valentiny Writing Contest. You can read the winning stories on the finalists' post. I highly recommend you read as many submissions as possible by clicking through the links. There were many amazing stories and I learned a lot from entering. I was honored my entry made it into the finals. Our thanks to Susanna and all the judges!

Next Week: PPBF returns with a review of Will's Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way We Talk

Coming Soon: PPBF review of  Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World about Kindness

Don't Miss: My review of Answering the Cry for Freedom, by Gretchen Woelfle, a middle grade book highlighting the roles of African Americans during the Revolutionary War. Also, last week's PPBF reviewed four books about African American inventors and pioneers.

Check out these and other Perfect Picture books at your local library.

Reviewed by Vivian and Barbara
Reviewed by Wendy

Reviewed by Patricia
Reviewed by Wendy

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Most Accessible Art Form

"You can get beautiful artwork and poetry into your home with a picture book . . . and spend countless hours just poring over it and enjoying it and absorbing the art with the words."
Cindy Jenson-Elliot*

Bookplate by Hermann Hirzel

*Via San Diego Union Tribune

Monday, February 20, 2017

MMGM: Answering the Cry for Freedom

Today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday pick

Celebrate George Washington's birthday by reading American Revolutionary history.

Answering the Cry for Freedom:
Stories of African Americans and the American Revolution
Answering the Cry for Freedom
Written by Gretchen Woefle
Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Calkins Creek, 2016
Ages 9-12, 240 pages, 1040L

History, Slavery, Revolutionary War, Biography

In 1775, when the American Revolution began and colonists took up arms to free themselves from British rule, slavery existed in every one of the thirteen colonies. In 1776, when the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, declaring that “all men” were entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” they didn’t really mean everyone. The American Patriots did not fight to give life, liberty, and basic civil rights to five hundred thousand African Americans enslaved in the North and South. Yet African Americans living in Boston, where Patriot passions blazed, and those living on isolated southern plantations heard talk about liberty and equality.

And those ideas were as contagious as smallpox.

In 1775 and again in 1779, the British issued a proclamation offering freedom to slaves owned by Patriots. Hundreds, then thousands of men, women, and children fled to British army territory—and freedom. Sixty thousand African Americans became Black Loyalists—loyal to Great Britain—because this was their best chance for freedom.

George Washington understood their choice. He wrote: “Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.” Among African Americans, the “liberty plant” took root in many places, in many ways. Most slaves in the American colonies did not flee to the British during the Revolution. But they sought freedom in other ways: by joining the Continental army, by buying their freedom from their owners, and by running away. Then came their struggle for equality.

This book tells the story of a hidden chapter of the American Revolution: how African Americans answered the Revolution’s cry for freedom...

Agrippa Hull
Jarena Lee

Even as American Patriots fought for independence from British rule during the Revolutionary War, oppressive conditions remained in place for the thousands of enslaved and free African Americans living in this country. But African Americans took up their own fight for freedom by joining the British and American armies; preaching, speaking out, and writing about the evils of slavery; and establishing settlements in Nova Scotia and Africa. The thirteen stories featured in this collection spotlight charismatic individuals who answered the cry for freedom, focusing on the choices they made and how they changed America both then and now. Includes individual bibliographies and timelines, author note, and source notes
— from the publisher's website
Includes stories of Boston King, Agrippa Hull, James Armistead Lafayette, Phyllis Wheatley, Mumbet Freeman, Prince Hall, Mary Perth, Ona Judge, Sally Hemmings, Paul Cuffe, John Kizell, Richard Allen, and Jarena Lee.  Standard back matter completes the collection.

This book features important figures in history presented with striking honesty. The text is readable, enjoyable, educational. The author makes the people come alive, though the facts about them are limited. She delves into their motives and allows us to view a more comprehensive picture of early America. I had of course heard of Oney Judge and James Lafayette, but Paul Cuffe and John Kinzell were completely new to me. I appreciated the way Woefle integrated the biographical facts into the setting, grounding her portraits and making them absolutely relatable to her audience. While I definitely recommend this book for the classroom, I am sure the engaging style will appeal to recreational readers as well.

 1. If you enjoyed Answering the Cry for Freedom, you may like Gretchen's historical picture books: Write on Mercy!: The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren and Mumbet's Declaration of Independence.

Write On, Mercy!,
by Gretchen Woefle and Alexandra Wallner
Mumbet's Declaration of Independence,
by Gretchen Woefle and Alix Delinois
2. To learn more about the Black Loyalists, many of whom emigrated to Nova Scotia after the war, try these links: BlackLoyalist, BlackLoyalistHeritageCenter,

To read more about a full-spectrum Revolutionary War, visit Africans in America, The National Parks Service, or

You'll find a few more biographies on the American Thinker  website.

3. Other MMGM reviewers recommend
The Seeds ofAmerica trilogy by Laurie Halse Anderson, Covers by Chris Silas Neal.

Chains, book #1
Reviewed by Sue
and Joanne
Forge, book #2
Reviewed by Joanne,
Patricia, and
 Marsh and Emiline
Reviewed by Karen
and Patricia
The Underground Abductor,
by Nathan Hale
Reviewed by Aeicha
Shackles from the Deep,
by Michael H. Cottman,
Reviewed by Greg
The Slave Dancer, by Paula Fox
Cover Art by Wendy Popp
Reviewed by Pam

4. Calkins Creek, an imprint of Boyd's Mill Press, offers an teacher's guide to accompany the book. I've copied the link to the PDF from their website.

5. For more abolitionists, trailblazers, and poets...

 of Olaudah Equiano
The truth about
Sojourner Truth
Collected writings
 of Phyllis Wheatley

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 February 20, 2017.

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?

Friday, February 17, 2017

PPBF: Pioneers and Inventors

There's no official Perfect Picture Book Friday today, so let me recommend some books celebrating Black History Month instead:

Today's theme is Trailblazers!

Dear Benjamin Banneker, by Andrea and Brian Pinkney
Dear Benjamin Banneker
Written by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrated by Brian Pinkney

HMH Books for Young Readers, 1994
Grades 1-4, 1550 words 1100L

Biography, Inventors, Nonfiction, Abolition

No slave master ever ruled over Benjamin Banneker as he was growing up in Maryland along the Patapsco River. He was as free as the sky was wide, free to count the slugs that made their home on his parents' tobacco farm, free to read, and to wonder: Why do the stars change their place in the sky from night to night? What makes the moon shine full, then, weeks later, disappear? How does the sun know to rise just before the day?

As much as this is an introduction to the amazingly diverse talents of Benjamin Banneker, it is a spotlight on his efforts to fight the injustice and sins of slavery. Written in a lengthy, picture storybook style of the 90s, it is nevertheless well-crafted. Between striking pictures and piercing words, this biography gives a picture of life and thought during the late 18th century.

Teacher link has compiled lesson plans and biographical resources for this book.

What Color Is My World?
The Lost History of African-American Inventors
What Color Is My World?

Written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld
Illustrated by Ben Boos and A. G. Ford

Candlewick, 2012
Ages 8-12, 96 pp, 880L

Biography, Inventors, Nonfiction, History

"You've got to use your imagination," Mama encouraged us.
That's what adults always say when something looks really awful but they want you to say something nice anyway.
Mama smiled weakly and waited for us to say something nice.
And waited.
More Waiting.
Finally, my twin sister, Ella, shook her head. "My imagination must be low on batteries because all I can see is some creepy old house out of some old horror movie."
Thank-you, Ella." Mama frowned. Then she turned to me. "What do you think, Herbie?"
"It's great, Mama. Very, uh, roomy."
The ideas and talent behind this book are first-class. The execution, maybe not, but this is a book deserving of attention for its kid-appeal, its engaging content, its rare subject matter, and its optimistic mission. The book is immense in scope, attempting to tell "the lost history of African-American Inventors." The format is daring, encompassing a narrative about a contemporary African-American family, a secondary narrative: the contents of a character's journal, short biographical portraits of numerous inventors, and more lengthy historical anecdotes. Add a few comic-style pages, foldouts, and a mysterious handyman, and you can see why I think this book over-ambitious. But I appreciate the content. I applaud the author's passion that there's "more to our history than slavery, jazz, sports, and the civil rights marches." This is a book I would have loved as a kid. As an adult, I was fascinated by the diverse inventions and saddened by the unjust struggles the inventors had to overcome. I would have liked to see the book include an index of some sort and biographical information on all four of the book's creators. The story about the family was a little contrived, but I'm sure the intent was to bring readers to this book. Indeed, I hope to find this book, and many like it, on kids' shelves across America.

With Books and Bricks,
by Suzanne Slade and Nicole Tadgell
With Books and Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built a School

Written by Suzanne Slade
Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell

Albert Whitman & Company, 2014
Grades 2-5, 1000 words, 830L

Biography, Non-fiction

From Sunrise to sunset, young Booker worked hard. He carried water to the fields. He carried corn to the mill. He carried rocks from the yard.
All day long, Booker carried heavy loads with a heavy heart because he was a slave.

Beautifully written, never sentimental, this forthright telling of the herculean effort to build the Tuskegee Institute is a testament to human ingenuity and determination. The illustrations are packed with emotion. The rare origin of the school is a compelling story which opens conversations. Booker T. Washington was a remarkable man who deserves this spotlight, but his students, too, are remarkable for their willingness to work for their dreams. While no one should be barred from opportunity to improve, I wonder how many of us today would work so hard or value our futures so highly?

Fancy Party Gowns,
The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe
Fancy Party Gowns
Written by Deborah Blumenthal
Illustrated by Laura Freeman

Little Bee Books, 2017
Grades preschool-3, 40 pp, 830L

Biography, Non-fiction, Fashion

When she was old enough to thread a needle, Ann Cole Lowe's momma and grandma taught her how to sew.

Wisps of cloth would fall from their worktables like confetti, and Ann would scoop them up and turn them into flowers as bright as roses in the garden.

Ann's family came from Alabama. Her great-grandma had been a slave, so her family knew about working hard just to get by.

Ann also knew that doing what you love could set your spirit soaring.

I love the quirky illustrations in this book. The text is written in a lyrical voice, painting word-pictures without overwriting. Fascinating snippets from the subject's life piece together a compelling portrait of an unsung African American. The author inspires readers with the recurrent phrase, "Ann thought about what she could do not what she couldn't change."  In the author's note, Blumenthal admits, "While researchers of Ann's life will find inconsistencies in her biography, what is never in dispute is the extent of her talent." From precious evenings beside her mother to lonely afternoons in a New York college classroom, Lowe stitched her dreams into reality. Unrecognized and underpaid, Lowe nevertheless pioneered a path for career women who would follow. This book is inspiring and worthwhile.

Don't forget:
Susanna Leonard Hill's Second Annual Valentiny Writing Contest has preempted her regularly scheduled Perfect Picture Book Friday event. My entry was posted last week. Voting starts Monday. Winners will be announced next Friday.

Next week:
Picture books on the Civil Rights Movement.

Coming soon:
PPBF review of  Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World about Kindness

Check out these and other Perfect Picture books at your local library.

Reviewed by Joanna
Reviewed by Joanne

Written by PPBF reviewer Vivian
From Sally's Bookshelf

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

On Rejection

There may be a gift accompanying the rejection at best, insight into how to improve your manuscript or query, and maximize your chances of nailing the next submission; and at least, the opportunity to strengthen your commitment and resolve. (An old acting teacher of mine used to say, “Never mind the talent, do you have the tenacity?” This is just as relevant for writers.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day and the CYBILS Awards!

Valentine's Day offers a new way to give. Join the celebration with International Book Giving Day!

#bookgivingday poster art by Marianne Dubuc
Download posters, bookmarks and more. But most of all, show your love by giving books.
Local schools, community centers, shelters, daycares, and crisis pregnancy centers can all use good children's books, and they are well-placed to get the books into the hands of kids who need them.

While you're giving, don't forget to treat yourself to a new book. Supporting authors, illustrators, and publishing houses is the only way to keep books on the store shelves. Share your love of books today and everyday.

I was privileged to participate in the first round judging for the CYBILS Awards last fall. The winners have finally been announced. So head over to their site to see the top picks in each category, and do yourself a favor by reading the nominees as well. There were dozens of outstanding books nominated. Browse the CYBILS blog to read blurbs and reviews.

Congratulations to the winners!
You'll find some of my favorites reviewed here, and many of the elementary and juvenile non-fiction nominees reviewed on my Goodreads account.

Mira Forecasts the Future, by Kell Andrews and Lissy Marlin
Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion, by Alex T. Smith
A Morning With Grandpa, by Sylvia Liu and Christina Forshay
Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles, by Mara Rockliff  and Hadley Hooper
Six Dots: A Story of Louis Braille, by Jen Bryant and Boris Kulikov
The William Hoy Story: How A Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game, by Nancy Churnin and Jez Tuya
The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton, by Audrey Vernick and Steven Salerno
Kid Artists: True Tales of Childhood from Creative Legends, by David Stabler and by Doogie Horner
Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois, by Amy Novesky and Isabelle Arsenault
Dorothea's Eyes: Dorothea Lange Photographs the Truth, by Barbara Rosenstock and Gerard DuBois
Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature, by Cindy Jenson-Elliot and Christy Hale
Seeing Things: A Kids' Guide to Looking at Photographs, by Joel Meyerowitz
Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land, by John Coy and Wing Young Huie
Glow: Animals With Their Own Night-Lights, by W. H. Beck
The Great Leopard Rescue, by Sandra Markle and Tom and Pat Leeson
Poop Detectives: Working Dogs in the Field, by Ginger Wadsworth
Welcome to New Zealand: A Nature Journal, by Sandra Morris
The Slowest Book Ever, by April Pulley Sayre and Kelly Murphy
Animal Planet Animal Atlas, ed. by James Buckley Jr
In Focus: Close-Ups, Cross Sections, Cutaways, by Libby Walden and various illustrators
The Human Body: The Story of How We Protect, Repair, and Make Ourselves Stronger, by H. P. Newquist
Mighty Jack, by Ben Hatke
Ghosts, by Reina Telgemeier
Save Me A Seat, by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan
The Scourge, by Jennifer A Nielson and Tim O'Brien

Monday, February 13, 2017

MMGM: The Night of the Comet

Today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday pick

The Night of the Comet,
from the Bostock and Harris series
The Night of the Comet
Written by Leon Garfield
Cover art by Gordon Crabb

First edition, Kestrel Books, 1979
First American edition, Delacorte Press, 1979
Reprint New York Review Books, 2014
Grades 4-8
149 pages,  940L

Comedy of Errors, historical fiction

"Love turns men into angels and women into devils. Take Cassidy, of Cassidy & O'Rourke, Slaters, Thatchers, General Roofers and Sundries. He was a liar, a rogue, and so light-fingered it was a wonder that, while he slept, his hands didn't rise to the ceiling of their own accord. Whenever there was a night without a moon, suspicion, naturally fell on Cassidy."

Like A Midsummer Night's Dream, cupids arrows go astray in this wacky historical comedy. The rogue, Cassidy, searches every town for his lost love Mary Flatley, but since "Cassidy had kissed the Blarney Stone...but by the squashed look of his nose, it must have been more of a collision than a kiss" he can't help sweet talking every lady he meets. No wonder she'd shut the door in his face a year ago.

Meanwhile our heroes, Harris and Bostock, are striking a deal. "They were friends and had been through thick and thin together, for which nature seemed to have formed them, Harris being thin and Bostock very thick." The lovesick Bostock will give Harris his father's brass telescope in exchange for Harris's help procuring the love of his sister, Mary Harris. Harris was, as in all things, an expert on courtship. In this case his expertise hailed from an article on mating rituals in the wild: displaying bright plumage, discharging scent, presentation of prey or stimulating objects, etc.

The trouble snowballs when Dorothy Harris is mistaken for her sister, Mary. Add in a jealous best friend, a music teacher, a young fish-monger, a magistrate, and a portentous comet, and you have the makings of romantic disaster.

Leon Garfield is largely unknown today, but he was a skilled writer whose complex plots and witty repartee have rightly been compared to Dickens's own. His books are most often historical, and usually swirled with supernatural elements. The only supernatural element in this novel is the astounding workings of Harris's scheming brain. The caricatures are hilarious, the word-play divine. The denouement rattles to a tidy conclusion worthy of the Bard. After all, Garfield spent a good deal of his life teaching and refashioning Shakespeare's plays for young people. Many of Garfield's books have been reprinted by New York Review Books in recent years; this one has been combined with its companion story The Strange Affair of Adelaide Harris in The Complete Bostock and Harris.

 1. If you enjoyed The Night of the Comet, I suggest all of Leon Garfield's other books. If I had to choose a favorite, I'd say the delightfully complex Smith or the chilling, The Empty Sleeve. And I loved the plot of Sound of Coaches.

The Puffin edition of Smith
Recommended by Eoin Colfer
The NYRB edition of Shakespeare Stories
Illustrated by Michael Foreman

2. For more comedic buddy books and MG romance, MMGM reviewers recommend The Whipping Boy, reviewed by Janet on Creative Writing in the Blackberry PatchA Match Made in High School, reviewed by Briana, The Book Pixie, or Me & Miranda Mullaly, reviewed by Aeicha on Word Spelunking.

The Whipping Boy,
by Sid Fleishman,
Cover by Dan Andreasen
A Match Made in High School,
 by Kristin Walker
Me & Miranda Mullaly,
by Jake Gerhardt


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 February 13, 2017.

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, February 11, 2017

Second Annual Valentiny Writing Contest Entry

 At the eleventh hour I decided to enter Susanna Leonard Hill's 
Second Annual Pretty Much World Famous
Valen-tiny Writing Contest
Please go to Susanna's blog to read the amazing entries in the comments and click on the links to view even more Valen-TINY stories. Very tiny, as in 214 words or less. Don't forget to stop by Susanna's site on February 20th to vote for your favorites. Thanks for reading. And now...
A Picture-Perfect Valentine
by Joanne Roberts
   Moose eyed the pile of valentines. On top was a handmade card from Maya. Honestly, he was surprised to see any valentines, let alone one from Maya.
      On the card, she'd drawn a doughnut with sprinkles. "Sweet?" Moose whispered. "Sweetie? Sweet Thing?"
       Next was a picture of something with wings. "A bee," thought Moose.  
      Below that, a drawing of Maya herself. Moose stared, confused.
      Why would Maya give him a valentine? He broke her crayons and stole her snacks. Well, not every day. "Sweetie, be mine."
      Moose grinned.
      "Thanks for the valentine," he told Maya. Now Maya looked confused. "I figured it out. See? Something sweet…"
      "A doughnut," Maya corrected.
      "And a bee."
      "And that's you," Moose continued.
      "Well, sure, but…"
      "So the message is, 'Sweetie, be mine!'"
      "Actually," said Maya, her nose wrinkling, "that's just a bug. Get it? 'Donut bug me,' like, leave me alone and don't steal my candy today." Maya walked away, shaking her head.
      Moose blushed. He sank into a chair. Then he noticed another valentine on his desk, two candy hearts glued to construction paper. One said, "PUPPY LOVE." The other said, "NO WAY."  Signed, Chloe.
      "No way," he repeated. "Not puppy love? Then it must be true love."
      "Hey, Chloe," he shouted "thanks for the valentine!"
Necco conversation hearts candies