Currently viewing the category: "Mystery"


Framed: A T.O.A.S.T Mystery
Author: James Ponti
Published August 26th, 2016 by Aladdin

Summary: Get to know the only kid on the FBI Director’s speed dial and several international criminals’ most wanted lists all because of his Theory of All Small Things in this hilarious start to a brand-new middle grade mystery series.

So you’re only halfway through your homework and the Director of the FBI keeps texting you for help…What do you do? Save your grade? Or save the country?

If you’re Florian Bates, you figure out a way to do both.

Florian is twelve years old and has just moved to Washington. He’s learning his way around using TOAST, which stands for the Theory of All Small Things. It’s a technique he invented to solve life’s little mysteries such as: where to sit on the on the first day of school, or which Chinese restaurant has the best eggrolls.

But when he teaches it to his new friend Margaret, they uncover a mystery that isn’t little. In fact, it’s HUGE, and it involves the National Gallery, the FBI, and a notorious crime syndicate known as EEL.

Can Florian decipher the clues and finish his homework in time to help the FBI solve the case?

Review: I love mysteries; specifically mysteries with kids who solve things that adults couldn’t figure out. They are so much fun to follow along and try to figure out with the characters. Florian is one of the best kid detectives that I’ve read. His use of TOAST, the Theory of All Small Things, is so admirable and is something that kids could definitely learn from since they so often ignore the small things and focus on the obvious. I could definitely see games and activities being created for classrooms that use the TOAST theory. Or kids will play the type of games that Florian and Margaret played as Florian was training Margaret in TOAST: making inferences about the people around them, in stories, or with mysteries. I could see pairing TOAST with books like You Be The Jury

I also really enjoyed the mystery that James Ponti set up for us. I could predict part of it but other parts came as a total surprise to me. I am always in total awe of an author’s ability to craft such a complicated mystery and how it all comes together. I also loved that the story was mutli-faceted and will teach the readers as well as entertain them.

And I am so happy to say that Framed is on our 2017-2018 Sunshine State Young Reader Award list for both 3rd-5th grade AND 6th-8th grade! Congratulations, James!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to the mystery games that could be played using TOAST, reading aloud Framed, and having Framed available to students to read, there are lots of opportunities in the book to discuss art and art history. Since both of Florian’s parents work in the museum business and the mystery of the book focuses on an art heist, there multiple times where art comes into the story including discussion of impressionism (specifically Monet, Renoir, and Degas) and even stories of Van Gogh and Gaugin.

Discussion Questions: Did you figure out the mystery before it was revealed? Was there any foreshadowing now that you know the reveal?; What did you learn about art while reading Framed?; How could you use TOAST in your life?

Flagged Passages: “‘You want me to teach you TOAST?’

‘Toast?’ she asked. ‘You’ve tasted my cookies, which are…epic. Don’t you think I know how to make toast?’

‘Not that toast,’ I said. ‘TOAST stands for The Theory of All Small Things. That’s how I read people and places. The idea is that if you add up a bunch of little details, it reveals the larger truth.’

‘And where did you learn this theory? Philosophy class? Spy school?’

‘I…invented it…I guess.’

This made her laugh. ‘You invented TOAST?’

‘It’s based on some things I learned from my parents,’ I said. ‘But I pull it all together and came up with the name. So yes, I invented it.’

‘You said your parents work at museums, right?’

‘My father designs security systems, and one day he explained that the key to his job is finding the tiny flaw or inconsistency that the bad guys can take advantage of.’

‘Like the saying that ‘a chain is only as strong as its weakest link’?’

‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘And my mother’s an art conservator. She restores old paintings and says the best way to understand a painting is by finding the smallest details that tells you the whole story, like the smile on the Mona Lisa.’

‘And this led to TOAST?’

I nodded. ‘Even though their jobs are incredibly different, they both rely on the idea that tiny things can be hugely important,’ I explained. ‘Once I even used TOAST to help my dad catch a criminal.'” (Approximate Loc 221 in the ebook)

Read This If You Loved: Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Shakespeare’s Secret by Elise Broach, Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz, Loot by Jude Watson, Nickel Bay Nick by Dean Pitchford, Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand, Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson, Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher, A Girl Named Digit by Annabel Monaghan,

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**Thank you to the author for providing copies for review!**

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Last Day on Mars

Chronicle of the Dark Star: Last Day on Mars
Author: Kevin Emerson
Publishes February 14th, 2017 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: It is Earth year 2213—but, of course, there is no Earth anymore. Not since it was burned to a cinder by the sun, which has mysteriously begun the process of going supernova. The human race has fled to Mars, but this was only a temporary solution while we prepare for a second trip: a one-hundred-fifty-year journey to a distant star, our best guess at where we might find a new home.

Liam Saunders-Chang is one of the last humans left on Mars. The son of two scientists who have been racing against time to create technology vital to humanity’s survival, Liam, along with his friend Phoebe, will be on the very last starliner to depart before Mars, like Earth before it, is destroyed.

Or so he thinks. Because before this day is over, Liam and Phoebe will make a series of profound discoveries about the nature of time and space, and find out that the human race is just one of many in our universe locked in a desperate struggle for survival.

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About the Author: Kevin Emerson is the author of The Fellowship for Alien Detection as well as the Exile series, the Atlanteans series, the Oliver Nocturne series, and Carlos is Gonna Get It. He is also an acclaimed musician who has recorded songs for both children and adults. A former K-8 science teacher, Kevin lives with his family in Seattle. Visit him online at

Social Media:
Kevin Emerson on Twitter: @kcemerson
Walden Pond Press Twitter: @waldenpondpress
Walden Pond Press Facebook:
Walden Media Tumblr:
LAST DAY ON MARS website on Walden Media:

Advance Praise: 

“Enigmatic enemies, sabotage, space travel, and short, bone-wracking bits of time travel make for a banging adventure.” Kirkus Reviews (Starred)

“Last Day on Mars is thrillingly ambitious and imaginative. Like a lovechild of Gravity and The Martian, it’s a rousing space opera for any age, meticulously researched and relentlessly paced, that balances action, science, humor, and most importantly, two compelling main characters in Liam and Phoebe. A fantastic start to an epic new series.” —Soman Chainani, New York Times bestselling author of the School for Good and Evil series

“Emerson’s writing explodes off the page in this irresistible space adventure, filled with startling plot twists, diabolical aliens, and (my favorite!) courageous young heroes faced with an impossible task.” —Lisa McMann, New York Times bestselling author of the Unwanteds series

Review: The suspense that builds throughout this book is palpable! I really enjoyed how Kevin Emerson used a prologue to set the stage for Liam’s world so that once Liam’s story begins, we jump right into the chaos of the the last day on Mars for all humans. What I assumed this story was going to be ended up just being the tip of the iceberg. I knew the story was going to be about humans escaping a doomed Mars, but there is an underlying heart-stopping craziness that really adds suspense to the novel. 

AND you will be so mad when it ends because even though the current conflict is mostly resolved, there is definitely a cliffhanger, and you will be on your seat waiting for book 2 with me!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: My 8th grade teachers have their students take part in dystopian lit circles to discuss different components of utopian vs. dystopian societies, and I think Life on Mars would be a great basis to start a sci-fi lit circle set that would include books about the future of humans that don’t fit the exact dystopian/utopian definition. It would be a really interesting way to discuss authors’ representation of humans’ future. Or if you did this as a an inclusion to a text set, there are many articles, picture books, and movies out there that also touch on this subject.

Publisher Teaching Guide: 

Discussion Questions: What foreshadowing did the prologue give us for what happened to Liam?; What foreshadowing for book two did the end of book one give us about Phoebe?; What character traits does Liam embrace? What evidence supports your analysis?; What event do you think was what propelled the plot to what it became in the end?; Which character do you feel was the hero of the story?

Flagged Passages: “Earth Year: 2179. As you all know, for the past four years we have been documenting unusual activity in the sun. Increased radiation and solar flares have wreaked havoc on daily life. The best minds in the world have studied this data around the clock, and tonight I can report that while we still do not know the cause, the conclusion is unanimous: the sun is expanding and we are all in grave danger.” (p. 14)

Read This If You Loved: Feed by MT Anderson, Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis GillLife on Mars by Jon Agee

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Blog Tour Stops: 

Jan. 27th  Unleashing Readers

Jan. 30th  SciFi Chick

Feb. 1st  This Kid Reviews Books

Feb. 3rd  Walden Media Tumblr

Feb. 6th  Word Spelunking

Feb. 7th  Novel Novice

Feb.  8th  Charlotte’s Library

Feb. 9th  Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Feb. 10th  Librarian’s Quest

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**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for having us be part of the blog tour!**

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The Curse of the Were-Hyena
Author: Bruce Hale
Published July 5th, 2016 by Disney-Hyperion

Summary: What do you do when your favorite teacher starts turning into a were-hyena?

a) Flee in terror?
b) Try to cure him?
c) Bring him carrion snacks?

Mr. Chu, the coolest teacher ever, has developed some very unusual habits, like laughing hysterically for no reason, sniffing people’s homework, and chasing chickens. When best friends Carlos and Benny decide to find out what’s happening to him, they get caught up in some moonlight madness. And it looks like just the beginning of the weirdness that has arrived in the town of Monterrosa. . . . This first entry in a silly, sassy, and suspenseful new series will leave readers howling with laughter.

About the Author: Edgar-nominated author Bruce Hale is passionate about inspiring reluctant readers to read. He has written or illustrated more than 35 seriously funny books for children, including the popular School for S.P.I.E.S. and Chet Gecko Mysteries series; as well as picture books such as Clark the Shark, Snoring Beauty, and Big Bad Baby. An actor and a Fulbright Scholar in Storytelling, Bruce is in demand as a speaker, having presented at conferences, universities, and schools around the world. Bruce’s book The Malted Falcon was an Edgar Award Finalist and Murder, My Tweet won the Little D Award for Humor Writing. He lives in Santa Barbara, California with his wife and dog.

Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook

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Review: There are so many kids who are going to love this new series!  It immediately reminded me a bit of the Bailey School Kids series because it does such a good job being funny and scary (but not TOO scary; just enough), so this series is going to be a wonderful ladder between Bailey School and Goosebumps. I also really liked the easy inclusion of a diverse cast of characters. This will help a wide variety of readers to see themselves in one of the characters. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to a good Halloween or full moon read aloud and definitely a classroom library addition, The Curse of the Were-Hyena would be a good cross-curricular read because of the projects Mr. Chu has his students do as well as the interesting look into African art. First, Mr. Chu assigns an oral report on “Something that Makes me Crazy.” This would be a fun tie in to the book, and it would be a good public speaking opportunity. There is also mention of a social studies project which seems to be about traditions of cultures from around the world. These two things in addition to the African art (and even the moon cycle and comics) help the book tie into different subjects. Lasly, Hale’s use of imagery throughout the book makes for a perfect reading or writing mentor text.

Discussion Questions: What clues were there that Mr. Chu was a were-hyena and not a werewolf?; Predict as you read about who you think the alpha were-hyena is. Were you right? What clues did you miss?; Benny and Carlos went about solving the mystery in a quite dangerous way. How would you have done it?

Free discussion guide and activities can also be found on Bruce’s website!

Flagged Passages: “As I reached for my final item, the mauled tennis show, Mr. Chu surprised me. He peeled back his lips and growled–a serious growl, like a Doberman giving one last warning before taking off your arm. His eyes rolled upward, showing only the whites, which totally creeped me out.

All the little hairs on my body stood straight up. It felt like someone had dumped a six-gallon Slushie down my back.” (p. 6)

Author’s Guest Post!: I asked Bruce his formula for writing creepy books for kids, and he shared these secrets with us!

“Scaring kids for fun and profit”

When my wife and I were sharing the movies from childhood that really creeped us out, I couldn’t wait to show her The Omega Man, a movie that gave me nightmares when I was young. “This’ll knock your socks off,” I told her. When we watched it, however, we both burst out laughing at the cheesy special effects and stilted dialog. (To be honest, her movie, Monkey Shines, was no 28 Days Later either.)

That got me thinking. Tastes change. What scares kids can be quite different from what scares adults. And when it comes to writing creepy tales for the younger set, it’s good to bear three things in mind.

It’s the antici…pation

Master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock famously said, “There’s no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” Writing scary stuff for kids isn’t just about piling on the startling scares; it’s largely about setting up expectations. That’s where true suspense lies. For example, if a kid is walking down a dark street and suddenly a monster pops out, that’s a surprise. Suspenseful? Not so much.

However, if everyone tells your young hero that something has been making neighborhood pets disappear, and that they’ve heard strange growls outside at night, that sets up an expectation. Then, when she’s forced to take a nighttime walk, it will be fraught with the terrors of her imagination. Every twig that snaps, every shadow that looms becomes a threat. And after all that anticipation, when the monster finally shows, the suspense goes off the charts.

Hold the murder

A dash of violence is fine, if it stays on the cartoony side. But when writing for middle-graders, it’s best to stay away from explicit murder and bloodshed. Kids that age can’t handle it. Or if you must get gory, see if you can keep most of the bloodletting offstage. Even the Goosebumps books, which were spooky to the max, didn’t feature any onstage murder.

Of course, just because nobody’s getting killed doesn’t mean you can’t make things scary. Close calls, chases, betrayals and so forth will keep the fear factor going just fine. And your readers won’t miss the murder.

Find the safety in scariness

When I was a kid, I reveled in scary movies—heck, I even had a shelf-full of hand painted classic monsters like Wolf-Man and The Mummy. But I liked the movies best when they weren’t too scary. It’s the same thing for young readers today. There’s a limit to how much actual, pulse-pounding terror is appropriate for 8-12 year-olds.

That’s why, when I wrote The Curse of the Were-Hyena, I deliberately sought a balance between humor and chills. By leavening the scariness with jokes, I made it less threatening. Of course, the trick is to find that happy balance. Make it too jokey, and the creepiness is lost. Make it too scary, and your readers hide under the covers.

If you manage to pull off all three of these things, you just might have crafted a scary tale that keeps young readers glued to your pages. Whether they roll their eyes when they re-read it as adults is another matter entirely.

Read This If You Loved: Goosebumps (series) by RL Stine, Bailey School Kids (series) by Marcia T. Jones and Debbie Dadey

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The Full Moon of the Were-Hyena Howling Good Giveaway!

Ten winners will receive a copy of Bruce Hale’s The Curse of the Were-Hyena. Four Grand Prize winners will receive The Curse of the Were-Hyena plus an advance reading copy of the second book in the series, Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies! And as a bonus, Grand Prize winners will also get a signed photo of Bruce Hale disguised as a were-wolf! Click here to enter.

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**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for hosting the tour and providing a copy for review!!**

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journey quest return

Journey Trilogy
Author and Illustrator: Aaron Becker
Journey Published August 6th, 2013
Quest Published August 26th, 2014
Return Published August 2nd, 2016
By Candlewick Press

Journey Summary: Follow a girl on an elaborate flight of fancy in a wondrously illustrated, wordless picture book about self-determination — and unexpected friendship.

A lonely girl draws a magic door on her bedroom wall and through it escapes into a world where wonder, adventure, and danger abound. Red marker in hand, she creates a boat, a balloon, and a flying carpet that carry her on a spectacular journey toward an uncertain destiny. When she is captured by a sinister emperor, only an act of tremendous courage and kindness can set her free. Can it also lead her home and to her heart’s desire? With supple line, luminous color, and nimble flights of fancy, author-illustrator Aaron Becker launches an ordinary child on an extraordinary journey toward her greatest and most exciting adventure of all.

Journey Review: This book is very hard to explain the magic of it. Lorna (@notforlunch) described it the best, I think: “a wonderful mashup of a David Wiesner book and Harold and the Purple Crayon.” I think this is perfect. It has the illustration beauty and magic of a wordless David Wiesner picture book and it is about creativity (and a crayon) like Harold. The beauty of the castle she visited also reminded me of Cathedral by David Macaulay. This book is just full of amazing!

Originally published at: (10/5/2013)

Quest Summary: A king emerges from a hidden door in a city park, startling two children sheltering from the rain. No sooner does he push a map and some strange objects into their hands than he is captured by hostile forces that whisk him back through the enchanted door. Just like that, the children are caught up in a quest to rescue the king and his kingdom from darkness, while illuminating the farthest reaches of their imagination. Colored markers in hand, they make their own way through the portal, under the sea, through a tropical paradise, over a perilous bridge, and high in the air with the help of a winged friend. Journey lovers will be thrilled to follow its characters on a new adventure threaded with familiar elements, while new fans will be swept into a visually captivating story that is even richer and more exhilarating than the first.

Quest Review: Quest is a beautiful continuation of Journey. Aaron Becker starts where the first book left off, but Quest is as unique as Journey was. The kids we met in the first book are swept into an adventure to save a king who has armed them with the tools to save the kingdom. I read this book over and over again because there are so many different little nuances in this adventure that promotes creativity, imagination, and teamwork. To be honest, I almost like Quest better than journey because the kids work together.

First published at: (11/12/2014)

Return Summary: Welcome the much-anticipated finale of Caldecott Honoree Aaron Becker’s wordless trilogy—a spectacular, emotionally satisfying story that brings its adventurer home.

Failing to get the attention of her busy father, a lonely girl turns back to a fantastic world for friendship and adventure. It’s her third journey into the enticing realm of kings and emperors, castles and canals, exotic creatures and enchanting landscapes. This time, it will take something truly powerful to persuade her to return home, as a gripping backstory is revealed that will hold readers in its thrall. Caldecott Honor winner Aaron Becker delivers a suspenseful and moving climax to his wordless trilogy, an epic that began with the award-winning Journey and continued with the celebrated follow-up Quest.

Return Review: You will adore the conclusion to the trilogy. Becker does an amazing job of tying the beginning of Journey to the end of Return. To think that all the books happened in a day! The girl had quite an amazing journey, quest, and return in only one day! It is amazing what can go on when magic is involved. I don’t want to give away much else about the finale, but I will say it is as much a must read as the first two. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In my classroom, the first thing I would do is project the book and just have the students read it with me. No talking; just looking. Then we’d go back and discuss what is going on in the book, talk about some of the smaller parts of the illustrations, relive the journey. If I wanted to include a writing activity, we could add words to the book (although, I think this book’s illustrations stand alone). We could also discuss what we’d do if we had a magic crayon. I think this book would be a great addition to Dot Day and discussing creativity. Finally, I think a discussion of observing your surroundings would be appropriate as what the girl wanted the most was right in front of her at the beginning of the book. (From 10/5/13 post)

Additionally, this trilogy would be a wonderful mentor text to discuss narrative elements because Becker has given us a perfect plot arc filled with conflict, suspense, and resolution. It would also be interesting to talk to students about characterization in a wordless picture book because the characters still have very evident traits though it is through illustration and actions that we have to determine them. Although, I would be careful in taking the magic away from these books. I don’t want to analyze and dig into them too much because they are beautiful pieces of art that should be enjoyed first and foremost.

Journey Trilogy Activity Kit:

 Q&A with Aaron Becker:

Discussion Questions: What would you do with a magic crayon?; Why did the girl have to turn to a magical land instead of remaining at home?; Were you surprised about who finally saved the day?; What is happening on the final page of Return? How do you feel about this resolution to the story?; How did the story progress through each book?

Return Book Trailer:

Journey Book Trailer:

Quest Book Trailer:

Read This If You Loved: Shy by Deborah Freedman, The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas, The Typewriter by Bill Thomson The Whisper by Pamela ZagarenskiFloat by Daniel Miyares, Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac BarnettHarold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, Blackout by John Rocco, David Weisner wordless picture books, Cathedral by David Macaulay, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, Henri Mouse by George Mendoza, Chalk by Bill Thomson, Art & Max by David Weisner, Weslandia by Paul Fleishman, Narnia (series) by C.S. Lewis

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**Thank you to Raquel at Candlewick for providing copies for review and giveaway!!**

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“An Enterprising Young Reader”

Throughout the 1970s, every polyester-clad television program director in Evansville, Indiana, did me a huge favor: They chose not to show Star Trek on their channel. At the time, this seemed like a gross injustice to me – the kind of thing that would (and did) make a budding young nerdling (which is what I was) shake a flabby fist at the heavens and cry “Why, God, why?” But looking back, I can see that my hometown TV stations, by choosing The Beverly Hillbillies and Mr. Ed over Star Trek, where steering me away from TV and toward my destiny.


I discovered Star Trek during a visit with my grandparents in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville seemed to get all the cool shows Evansville didn’t: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, Wild Wild West, etc. etc. Which was why I had to be pried from the TV set kicking and screaming for every family meal.

My kicking and screaming was loudest for Star Trek, the coolest of the cool. Trek was different for a few reasons. First off, it was objectively good (most of the time, anyway), something that couldn’t be said of monster-of-the-week silliness like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. And second, even though this was in the days before DVDs or even VCRS, I could take Trek home with me.

My grandmother, you see, in addition to having access to way cooler adventure shows (not that she cared), was also a bargain hound. And in one of her many garage sale sorties she bought (for reasons I never learned) a battered old copy of Star Trek 3 by James Blish. Star Trek 3 has nothing to do with the movie Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. The film would come later. Star Trek 3 is a collection of short story adaptations of Trek scripts. So while it would be years before I actually got to see classic episodes like “The Trouble with Tribbles” and “The Doomsday Machine” on TV, I could see them in my mind’s eye whenever I opened the book.

Thanks to Star Trek 3, I knew Trek could always be found on the greatest TV station around: my brain. So I began to explore strange new bookstores. Seek out new libraries and new yard sales. To boldly go where every Trekkie in Evansville had to go: to books.

From 1977-ish to 1985-ish, I read a lot of Star Trek novels. And I got more out of them than a mental rerun of a favorite show. I got adventure and escape. I got a respect for science and teamwork and diversity. I got new ideas and new hope. And I got a doorway.

My interest in Star Trek led to an interest in science fiction in general. Which led to an interest in novels in general. Which led to an interest in writing in general. Which led a career in writing.

Which led to here: me promoting (in an incredibly roundabout way) my new science-based middle grade mystery by reminding teachers that inspiration can come in surprising packages.

How many librarians rolled their eyes when I asked if there were any Star Trek books to check out? How many teachers shook their heads when I said I wanted to skip the pre-approved “classic” and do my book report on science fiction fare like The Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat or Dune Messiah?

I’ll tell you how many. None. I was never discouraged from reading Star Trek tie-in books or SF novels. Or comic books, for that matter. Back in the day, all three were the Rodney Dangerfields of the library – no respect! – yet they opened up new worlds for me. Thank god no one told me they shouldn’t.

What are today’s literary Dangerfields? Manga? Twilight-inspired YA? Online fan fiction? Romance novels? I hope students are being encouraged to boldly pursue whichever might strike their fancy.  The results could be out of this world.

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Nick and Tesla’s Solar-Powered Showdown: A Mystery with Sun-Powered Gadgets You Can Build Yourself
Authors: Steve Hockensmith and Bob Pflugfelder
Published May 10th, 2016 by Quirk Books

About the Book: Kid inventors Nick and Tesla Holt have outsmarted crooks, spies, and kidnappers. Now they have to crack their biggest mystery yet: Where the heck are their parents? To outwit the criminal mastermind who’s holding their parents hostage, the twins will need all their brainpower, the help of their eccentric Uncle Newt, and an assortment of homemade solar gadgets. Will the Holt family be reunited? Or will a hijacked solar satellite beam down doom from the skies? This adventure – the sixth in the exciting and unique “Nick and Tesla” series – includes instructions for creating a solar-powered hot-dog cooker, alarm, secret listening device, and model car, plus a nighttime signal cannon that fires illuminated ping-pong balls.

Hockensmith Steve_N&T

About the Author: Steve Hockensmith is a New York Times best-selling author and an Edgar Award finalist. His books include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, The White Magic Five and Dime, Holmes on the Range and six “Nick and Tesla” middle-grade mysteries. His coauthor for the “Nick and Tesla” books, “Science Bob” Pflugfelder, is an elementary school teacher in Newton, Massachusetts. A fan of science since the age of six, he promotes Random Acts of Science through instructional videos, public presentations, workshops, and appearances on national televisions shows including Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Dr. Oz Show, and Live! with Kelly & Michael.

Thank you, Steve, for your reminder that there are many different ways to find your passion!

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Doodle Adventures

Doodle Adventures: The Search for the Slimy Space Slugs
Author: Mike Lowery
Illustrator: Mike Lowery and YOU!
Published May 17th, 2016 by Workman Publishing Company

Summary: Draw your way through the story!

Doodle Adventures: The Search for the Slimy Space Slugs! is a lighthearted fantasy where the reader first draws him- or herself into the story, and then continues by following prompts and adding more illustrations and doodles. Set in space, the book invites the reader to join Carl, a duck and member of a super-secret international group of explorers, on a journey in search of a very important grail-like object. The book is sturdy paper over board with beautiful cream paper—perfect for defacing! And by the end, the reader will have co-written a tale to return to again and again, and show off to family and friends.

Kellee’s Review: I cannot wait to see this book completed by students. I think so many kids of all sorts of ages will enjoy this book. It is silly enough for young elementary students, and its plot is interesting enough for middle school students. I love the narrator, Carl, who is a puny and out spoken duck who takes the reader on a journey to the Slug Planet (in 2nd person point of view!). The  illustrations are also so well done for what the book is trying to do. They are comic-esque and funny. I truly enjoyed my journey with Carl, but I am really looking forward to watching a kid complete this book in the interactive way that it is made for. 

Ricki’s Review: After I review books, I almost always give them away to schools. I couldn’t help but think it would be such a great book for the boys who live next door. They are always adventuring in their backyard, and they will surely be captivated by this book. The narrator Carl (a duck) is highly entertaining, and I couldn’t help but laugh as I read the book. He talks to the reader, and the second-person narrative makes the book particularly funny. The reader will be catapulted into the story because of its interactive nature. Even kids who don’t enjoy drawing will want to put their pens to the pages.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book promotes creativity, plot development, and humor. There are so many different ways that a teacher could utilize this book, one for each of our recommendations below. First, it could be a class read aloud where the teacher does the drawing based on the class’s votes or students can take turn drawing. It could also be a lit circle/book club book where students complete the book in groups then they can jigsaw into new groups to share their newly created book. Lastly, the book could definitely be an independent read or class read where students draw in their own books and each student will have their own unique book.

Discussion Questions: How does drawing help you interact with the story? Which drawings were particularly fun to draw?; How does the second person narration make this story engaging? What other stories are written in this point of view?; Why might the book be narrated by a duck? What does this do for you, the reader?

Flagged Passages: “I brought you down here because the unthinkable has happened! Someone found our secret HQ, broke in, and stole a PRICELESS artifact from our collection of…priceless artifacts!

I’ll pause here so you can GASP!” (p. 26)

Doodle Adventures spread

See more at or the author’s Instagram @mikelowerystudio

Read This If You Loved: Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey, Diaper Baby series by Dav Pilkey, Choose Your Own Adventure books, Drawing/Illustrating books

Recommended For:

  readaloudbuttonsmall litcirclesbuttonsmall

Kellee Signatureand RickiSig

**Thank you to Estelle at Workman Publishing for providing copies for review!**

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Invisible Fault Lines

Invisible Fault Lines
Authors: Kristin-Paige Madonia
Anticipated Publication: May 3, 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: Tired of living in limbo, Callie finally decides to investigate her father’s disappearance for herself. Maybe there was an accident at the construction site that he oversaw? Maybe he doesn’t remember who he is and is lost wandering somewhere? But after seeing a familiar face in a photo from the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, she wonders if the answer is something else entirely.

Hailed by Judy Blume as a “remarkable young novelist,” Kristen-Paige Madonia, author of Fingerprints of You, explores how to rebuild a life after everything seems lost.

My Review: This book kept me guessing! From the very first page, I wondered what happened to the narrator’s father. About halfway through, I realized that it didn’t matter what happened to him because this is a story about character. It is an emotional ride through the trauma of a young girl’s life after her father goes missing. I felt all of her emotions right along with her—guilt, fear, anger. I particularly enjoyed the evolvement of her friendship with her best friend Beckett. I appreciate authors who feature characters who happen to be gay—rather than making this the sole focus of a story. I recommend this book to readers who enjoy strong character development. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might consider tying this story into a study of missing persons. This investigation could go beyond children as missing persons and extend into adults who are missing. Students might research local missing persons in their area, and this could lead to advocacy efforts.

Discussion Questions: What do you think happened to Callie’s father? What different potential realities does Callie explore in the story?; How does the author switch the point-of-view effectively to deepen our understanding of the story?; What emotions does Callie experience in the story? How might we tie these into the stages of grief? Should she feel guilty that she doesn’t start looking for her father immediately? Why or why not?

Flagged Passage: “My father disappeared on a Tuesday that should’ve been like any Tuesday, but eventually became the Tuesday my father disappeared.”

Read This Series If You Loved: Fingerprints of You by Kristen-Paige Madonia; If I Stay by Gayle Forman; Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver; Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley, The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci

Recommended For: 

  litcirclesbuttonsmall  classroomlibrarybuttonsmall


Interview with Kristen-Paige Madonia
Kristen-Paige Madonia

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process/ How has writing this book been different from writing Fingerprints of You

The most important thing I learned from writing Invisible Fault Lines is that my process will inevitably change depending on the project. My first book, Fingerprints of You, was a fairly straightforward novel with a traditional structure and timeline, so I wrote it start to finish and was able to create the first draft in less than two months — of course it took much longer to revise and polish, but in general is was quick and relatively easy to write. My new novel is much more complicated, as it blends a contemporary mystery set in 2006 with bits and pieces set one-hundred years earlier, as the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake plays a large role in the novel. It’s a hybrid novel, and the narrative arc is a bit more intricate, so though I initially tried to use the same process I used when writing Fingerprints of You, it just didn’t work. Eventually I wrote the book out of order and then went back, during revision, and braided the two storylines together. So in terms of process, I suppose it’s ever changing! And of course that’s one of the reasons that I write – there are no rules and there’s no one way to do it. It’s about experimenting, about doing something different each time you sit down to work.

Where/How did you come up with the premise of this book? 

Like most writers, I write from a place of curiosity. With Fingerprints of You, I was curious about the ways we define family, but this novel stemmed from my curiosity about grief and the various modes we use to manage and process loss. I began writing it after hearing David Levithan read from his novel Two Boys Kissing, specifically honing in on the sentence that eventually became the epigraph of Invisible Fault Lines: “How beautiful the ordinary becomes once it disappears.” We were both at Wordstock Book Festival in Portland, and I was in between projects, hoping to find inspiration while traveling to publicize Fingerprints of You. And there it was. That line. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I tend to begin stories with an event after which nothing will be the same for the character, and that idea of ordinary, of how our version of ordinary can shift in an instant, intrigued me. So I wanted to write about that kind of shift and about the possibility of the impossible being possible, which is where the link to the historical event, the earthquake of 1906, originated. I knew I wanted to do something completely different than Fingerprints of You and that I wanted to experiment with form and genre while staying true to my character-driven style of writing.

From the outset, we wonder what happened to Callie’s father, and at one point, Callie and her friends explore potential reasons for his disappearance. We obviously won’t spoil the book for readers, but did you know how the book would end from the very beginning?

I did. I knew that I wanted to invite the reader to participate in the novel in a more active role than my last novel allowed. I believe all books are collaborative projects between the author and the reader, but this novel leans heavily on what the reader brings to the story, on what they want to believe and how they want to interpret the events in the book. When I first imagined the story, I decided that I wanted to write a book that honors the fact that not all questions have clear answers – I think it’s part of our job, as YA authors, to be realistic and honest with our readers while also allowing for and portraying hope, so that was one of my original goals, and it inevitably shaped the ending.

Beck is a wonderfully crafted character. Did you base him on anyone in your life?

Oh, he’s such a scene-stealer, isn’t he?! Every time he showed up in the novel, I fell a little bit more in love with him. No, he’s not based on anyone I know, but I imagine him to be a compilation of my best friends from high school and also my current best friends: honest, hilarious, and one-hundred percent golden-hearted.

You are a professor of YA Lit and creative writing. How has this impacted your position as an author or thoughts as a writer? Do you get feedback from students, or do you keep your work private?

This is such a complicated question, so in attempt to not write a fifteen-page essay here, I’ll simply say that I love what I do. I find great inspiration from working with students who hope to pursue a creative life, who find value in literature and the arts. But the reality is that every moment I spend teaching and planning and grading is one less moment that I spend writing my own work, and that’s the hard part. Teaching reminds me why I write and what my tools are in terms of craft, and actively publishing new work reminds me how important it is to be a positive literary citizen, to serve as a mentor and encourage and inspire young authors. It’s a hard balance, of course, but it’s also a privilege to be both a professor and a published author, so I could never complain about the challenges.

Are you working on anything new?

I am! And I’m in that bizarre and dreamlike phase of being equally terrified and excited by my new project. It’s also a protective phase in terms of not wanting to talk much about it yet, but I will say that it’s a project based on my curiosity about our reliance on technology and the environmental and creative effects of that reliance.

Thanks so much for having me on your blog – it’s been lovely to visit with you!


**Thank you to Kristen-Paige Madonia for providing an copy for review and a signed hard copy for the giveaway!**


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