Things That Surprise You
Author: Jennifer Maschari
Published August 22nd, 2017 by Balzer + Bray
Summary: Emily Murphy is about to enter middle school. She’s sort of excited… though not nearly as much as her best friend Hazel, who is ready for everything to be new. Emily wishes she and Hazel could just continue on as they always have, being the biggest fans ever of the Unicorn Chronicles, making up dance moves, and getting their regular order at The Slice.
But things are changing. At home, Emily and her mom are learning to move on after her parents’ divorce. Hardest of all, her beloved sister Mina has been in a treatment facility to deal with her anorexia. Emily is eager to have her back, but anxious about her sister getting sick again.
Hazel is changing too. She has new friends from the field hockey team, is starting to wear makeup, and have crushes on boys. Emily is trying to keep up, but she keeps doing and saying the wrong thing. She want to be the perfect new Emily. But who is that really?
Things That Surprise You is a beautifully layered novel about navigating the often shifting bonds of family and friendship, and learning how to put the pieces back together when things fall apart.
About the Author: Jennifer Maschari is a classroom teacher and the author of THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF CHARLIE PRICE and THINGS THAT SURPRISE YOU. She is hard at work on her next middle grade novel with Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. Jennifer lives in Ohio with her husband and stinky (yet noble) English bulldogs, Oliver and Hank. To learn more, visit http://jenmaschari.com/.
Review: Things that Surprise You is a perfect starting middle school book because it really shows the truth of how that transition is a turning point in kids’ lives. As a middle school teacher, I see students all start coming into their own or getting pushed by peer pressure to be something they’re not. It is such a tough time in a kids’ life; a book like this will surely make them feel less alone during the turbulent time.
There are other two minor plot lines/characters that I felt were really well done. First, I think the inclusion of Emily’s sister’s eating disorder was done tastefully and was not added in just to make the book an issues book. Although this story didn’t take center stage, it was dealt with in a way that was respectful yet also brought light to anorexia. The struggles that Emily’s sister, family, and Emily face during this time is realistic because so many middle schoolers are facing adversity at home and when starting middle school. I also really enjoyed Emily’s teacher. I think her ability to make students feel like her classroom is a home for them and that she is there for them was honorable, and I hope that I can be just a tiny bit like her.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: A curriculum guide has been created by the publisher that includes discussion questions and activities that meet Common Core standards.
Discussion Questions: What do you think surprised Emily the most about middle school and was the most impactful?; What is the theme of this book? What is the author trying to tell us about middle school?; Do you have a book series that you love as much as Emily loves her unicorn books? What series is it? Why do you love it?; What do you think was the hardest for Emily in middle school?; Hazel changed a lot throughout the book. How would you compare/contrast Hazel from the beginning to the end of the book?; Mina’s eating disorder is one of the main conflicts of the book. Do you feel hopeful about Mina going forward?
Flagged Passages: “While Hazel and I wait, we bench dance to the music from the jukebox. It’s a lot like car dancing but a little more restrained since you’re in public and everything. She does the squid, a move she made up where you wiggle your arms on either side of your body. I do the turtle, where you bob your head forward and backward. Hazel’s snort-laughing and I practically have tears coming out of my eyes, when I hear a noise behind me. Hazel stops dancing. I turn my head to look, but not so fast that I miss Hazel taking the purple horn off her head and hiding it below the table. I blink once and then again Confused.
‘Hazel!’ the voice cried but it sound like ‘Heyyyyzel’ the way she draws it out.
Three girls wearing the same field hockey shirt Hazel was before crowd around the booth.” (p. 18-19)
Read This If You Love: The Real Us by Tommy Greenwald, Hundred Percent by Karen Romano Young, Truth or Dare by Barbara Dee, Still a Work in Progress by Jo Knowles, The Secret Hum of Daisy by Tracy Holczer, Georgia Rules by Nanci Turner Stevenson, Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry
One lucky winner will receive a copy of THINGS THAT SURPRISE YOU (U.S. addresses).
**Thank you Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!!**
Giant Pumpkin Suite
Author: Melanie Heuiser Hill
Published September 12th, 2017 by Candlewick Press
Summary: Who are you, if you can’t be what you always expected? A moving coming-of-age tale of prodigy and community, unlikely friendship and growing things.
Twelve-year-old Rose Brutigan has grown seven inches in the last eight months. She’s always been different from her twin brother, Thomas, but now she towers over him in too many ways. The gap in their interests continues to widen as well. Musically talented Rose is focused on winning the upcoming Bach Cello Suites Competition, while happy-go-lucky Thomas has taken up the challenge of growing a giant pumpkin in the yard of their elderly neighbor, Mr. Pickering. But when a serious accident changes the course of the summer, Rose is forced to grow and change in ways she never could have imagined. Along the way there’s tap dancing and classic musicals, mail-order worms and neighborhood-sourced compost, fresh-squeezed lemonade, the Minnesota State Fair — and an eclectic cast of local characters that readers will fall in love with.
Review: I must be honest as I start this review. I love the cello. I started playing at 11, went to a music school of choice in high school, and minored in music in college. And I believe that the Bach Cello Suites are some of the most beautiful pieces of music in existence. All of these facts may have made me a bit biased when it came to Giant Pumpkin Suite.
Rose is one special young lady. She is a prodigy of the cello and academics. She is taking college courses and has skipped grades and is in high school at age 12. And at the beginning of the book because of all of these things, she has lost what it is like to be a child. The only child-like thing she does in the first 50 pages or so is read Charlotte’s Web, which is her favorite book. Everything else in her life is structured and serious. But then something happens and everything changes. This is where the pumpkin comes in.
Rose truly transforms in this novel in a way that is believable yet amazing. The girl at the end of the novel seems so far away from the young lady you meet at the beginning, but as a reader, I loved the transformation. Rose is one amazing character who really finds who she is because of all the people in her world who truly do care for her.
Speaking of the other people, I loved the supporting cast in the novel. Hill did a great job making sure every character in the novel had their own personality and story and each played such an important part. I felt like I was part of the neighborhood by the time I was done with the book. And it isn’t only Rose that grows throughout the book. I loved seeing how Thomas, Jane, and other characters really found themselves throughout the book.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I am interested to hear what students think of this book! I had it in my book speed dating in my classroom, and students seemed to love the cover and synopsis. I personally think that fans of the books listed below are going to love Rose’s story, so please put this book in your libraries 🙂
Discussion Questions: How did Rose change from the beginning to the end of the book?; Who do you think made the biggest impact on Rose?; How did the pumpkin affect the whole neighborhood?; Why did the bowl from Japan mean so much to Rose?; How do you think the story would have been different if the accident didn’t happen?
Flagged Passages: From Chapter 1:
“It was all so clever. Bach was a musical genius, but he didn’t even stop with beautiful music. He had all these jokes and numerical riddles running in the notes — forward, backward, and upside down, sometimes. Two of her favorite things in one package: math and music! Oh, how she loved Bach.”
“At age twelve (and two weeks and three days), Rose was almost a foot and a half taller and four grades ahead of her twin. Thomas had been sick a lot in first grade and had been held back, while she’d skipped a grade a couple of times and had started high school this past fall. She was left-handed; Thomas was right-handed. She loved to read; Thomas hated it. She went to university for math, but Thomas had never passed his multiplication tables. Nearly everyone had forgotten they were twins. Except Mr. Pickering, who seldom mentioned it. And Calamity Jane. Who mentioned it all the time.”
Read This If You Love: Vanished by James Ponti, The Way to Stay in Destiny by Augusta Scattergood, Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Audition and Subtraction by Amy Fellner Dominy, A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
Vanished!: A T.O.A.S.T Mystery
Author: James Ponti
Published August 22nd, 2017 by Aladdin
Summary: Florian Bates—the only kid on the FBI Director’s speed dial and several international criminals’ most wanted lists—must uncover the truth behind a series of middle school pranks that may or may not involve the daughter of the President of the United States in this hilarious second novel in the T.O.A.S.T. Mystery series.
Middle school is hard. Solving cases for the FBI is even harder. Doing both at the same time— well that’s just crazy. But that doesn’t stop Florian Bates!
After helping the FBI solve an art theft at the National Gallery and uncovering a DC spy ring, Florian’s finding life at Alice Deal Middle School a little boring. But that’s all about to change! His FBI handler, Marcus, has a job for him! Is it a bank robbery? Counterfeit ring? International espionage? Actually it’s middle school pranks…
Sounds pretty ordinary except that the pranks are happening at a prestigious private school attended by the President’s daughter who may—or may not—be involved. So Florian and Margaret are going undercover to see if they can use their TOAST skills to figure out what’s going on before the media gets hold of the story.
However, once the crime-solving pair arrive at the school, they discover that there’s a lot more than a few pranks going on and the conspiracy of silence reaches all the way to the top. Then a student vanishes in the middle of a concert at the Kennedy Center and things take a sinister turn!
Can Florian and Margaret save the day? Or are they about to get toasted?
Review: Like Framed!, Vanished! is a crazy adventure of a mystery with twists and turns that make the reader struggle to solve the mystery before Florian does! Once again Ponti’s mystery is easy to follow yet complicated enough to make it so that the reader doesn’t figure everything out before the end (which I think is the best kind of mysteries!).
What I love about this mystery, is that it teaches us more about the characters while also putting them in a whole new setting and mystery. I really enjoyed how different the two mysteries were and how Florian and Margaret’s character development really grew. Anyone who loves Framed! is going to be so happy with the sequel.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Like Framed!, I think it would be so much fun to play some mystery games with TOAST. And just liked Framed! dealt with art, this mystery includes classical music which can be explored along with it being introduced in the story.
Discussion Questions: Who did you think the prankster was?; Did the solution to the mystery surprise you?; What foreshadowing clues were there to show who the villain was?; What part of Florian and Margaret’s time in school is most realistic to the real experience?; How does Margaret help Florian face his bullies?
Flagged Passages: (When the headmaster doubts that Florian and Margaret can help, they put TOAST on display.)
“‘You have nothing to worry about, Dr. Putney,’ I assured him. ‘W’re discreet. We’ll approach it the same way you approached your church mission. Just like when you went to Brazil and adapted to their customs, we’re guests and will respect the customs and traditions unique to Chatham while we do our work.’
Marcus shot me a wink.
‘Y-y-yes,’ he stammered, trying to make sesne of what I’d just said. ‘But how did you know that?’
‘How did I know what?’ I asked. That you went on a mission? Or that it was to Brazil?’
‘Both,’ he replied.
‘TOAST,’ I said.
‘The Theory of All Small Things.’ answered Margaret. ‘The idea is that little details often give away much bigger pieces of information than you think. When you add them up, you have an indisputable truth. That’s how we’re going to find who’s responsible for the pranks. Florian and I are going to use TOAST.’
He looked back and forth at us like we were speaking a foreign language. ‘What little details could possibly tell you that I took a mission to Brazil?’
‘On the wall beside your desk are your college diplomas,’ I explained. ‘They’re from Bringham Young University. Over ninety-eight percent of the students at BYU are Mormon. And roughly a third of all Mormon men go on a mission.’
‘Okay, but that means two-thirds don’t,’ he said as a challenge. ‘What makes you think I did?’
‘You’re featured in the welcome video not only as a headmaster but also as a graduate of Chatham Day,’ I replied. ‘But there’s a six-year gap from your high school graduation until the date you received your bachelor’s. That’s four years of college with two years left over for your mission.’
‘As to Brazil,’ Margaret said, picking up without missing a beat, ‘that was easy. There’s a picture of you on the far bookcase when you were about twenty years old. You’re standing in front of the giant Christ the Redeemer statue, which is in Rio. There’s also a picture of your family on your desk. It looks like a vacation shot and it in you’re wearing a yellow-and-green jersey. Anyone who plays soccer knows it’s the jersey of the Brazilian national team. I’m guessing you became a fan while you lived there and you’ve continued ever since.’
He sat for a moment flabbergasted, unsure what to say.” (p. 32-34)
Read This If You Love: Mysteries like FRAMED! by James Ponti, Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher, Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson
The Real Us
Author: Tommy Greenwald
Illustrator: J.P. Coovert
Published August 8th, 2017 by Roaring Brook Press
Summary: Laura Corbett and Damian White are loners, and not by choice. Kids make fun of smart, sarcastic Laura for her weight and artistic Damian for his tendency to sweat through his shirts. Calista Getz, however–well, everyone agrees that Calista is the prettiest girl in the whole school. Maybe even the whole state. Let’s just say that she sits at the popular lunch table. Laura and Damian don’t.
But when Calista wakes up just before the school dance with the BIGGEST pimple she has EVER seen right in the middle of her face, and her attempts to hide it backfire spectacularly, Laura and Damian are the only ones who don’t ignore her. In fact, they seem to see not only past her pimple, but past her popularity, too. Together, they’ll challenge the school’s status quo in this hilarious, heartfelt novel The Real Us, by Tommy Greenwald.
About the Author: Tommy Greenwald has enjoyed reading all his life, which is why he’s appalled that his kids Charlie, Joe and Jack, would prefer getting a dental check-up to checking out a book. After years of pleading, threatening, and bribing, Tommy finally decided the only way to get his kids to read was to write a book about how to get out of reading. The result was Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading. And they read it! (So they say.) The Executive Creative Director at SPOTCO, an entertainment advertising agency in New York City, Tommy lives in Connecticut with his wife, Cathy; his non-reading sons, Charlie, Joe and Jack; and his dogs, Moose and Coco.
Review: Middle school is a time of finding one’s identity. In The Real Us, Tommy Greenwald explores three different examples of kids in middle school and their search for who they really are. Damian is like many of our students who has something to hide from his peers so is quiet and hidden. Laura is friendly and known, but because of her weight is still excluded from most social activities. Then there is Callie. Who seems to have the perfect life, but even she learns through a bump in the road that perfection is not always what it seems. All three of these characters will resonate with readers either as a mirror or a window.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is going to be loved by middle school students. Add it to your classroom and school libraries, and it will be read and loved!
Discussion Questions: Callie’s life seemed perfect, but it wasn’t. How was it not as it seemed?; Which of the three characters do you relate to the most? Why?; Why did Callie stop being friends with Laura? What does this tell you about the two characters?
Damian: “I wish they had assigned seats at lunch like they do in class. It would make life a lot easier.”
Callie: “Here is a math equation for you: Sitting in class + A bandage on your nose = Forever.
Everyone gets pimples, Patrick had said.
Laura: “I start to walk away, since my work here id done. But Ellie has one last question for me.
‘Do you play goalie?’ she asks. ‘Because you kind of look like you could totally block the goal all by yourself.’
Ellie and Ella dissolve into hysterics. I look at Calista, who doesn’t seem amused. But she doesn’t seem mad, either. She doesn’t seem anything.
‘No, I don’t play goalie,’ I answer. ‘I play defense. And you better watch it before I defense your butt with my foot.’
That shuts them up. I walk away.”
Read This If You Love: Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling, Moon Shadow by Erin Downing, Posted by John David Anderson, Real Friends by Shannon Hale, Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan
Don’t Miss Out on Other Blog Tour Stops!
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus
Author: Dusti Bowling
Published September 5th, 2017 by Sterling Children’s Books
Summary: Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again.
Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all . . . even without arms.
*“Aven is a perky, hilarious, and inspiring protagonist whose attitude and humor will linger even after the last page has turned.” —School Library Journal (Starred review)
“Connor’s Tourette’s support-group meetings and Aven’s witty, increasingly honest discussions of the pros and cons of “lack of armage” give the book excellent educational potential. . . . its portrayal of characters with rarely depicted disabilities is informative, funny, and supportive.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Bowling’s sensitive and funny novel . . . demonstrates how negotiating others’ discomfort can be one of the most challenging aspects of having a physical difference and how friendship can mitigate that discomfort. . . . [an] openhearted, empathic book. —Publishers Weekly
Review: From the very first page, you know that Aven is awesome. In the first paragraph you learn that she doesn’t have arms but it doesn’t matter to her. The only reason why she is upset is because someone else freaked out about her armlessness. She is brave and funny and resilient. The way that she is able to joke around about her physical difference to help ease the reader and the other characters is a true talent. The stories she creates about what happened to her arms just to freak people out truly cracked me up. And Aven’s awesomeness is followed closely by her parents’. I adore them. They are the pinnacle of parents. They are kind yet tough and are raising an independent, wonderful young woman. Then there is Connor who is also so well-crafted. His Tourette’s syndrome is dealt with in a thoughtful way and also doesn’t define Connor just like Aven’s armlessness doesn’t define her. This is a book of amazing characters coming together to find their place in the world.
You are going to love this book. Your students are going to love this book. Parents are going to love this book. Your fellow teachers are going to love this book. This is a book that is going to get a lot of love!
Check out Dusti’s “Spotlight on Dusti Bowling” feature in Publishers Weekly to hear more about her inspirations.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Please add this title to your collection of read aloud and classroom library books that you share with students to promote empathy, kindness, and friendship with those with differences as well as facing hardship and stepping up to challenges. You will not be disappointed!
Discussion Questions: After reading Aven and Connor’s story, how has your attitude and future actions towards those with differences changed?; How was Aven’s story inspiring to you?; Why did you feel that author made the choice to have Aven’s family move at the beginning of the book?; Did you predict the connection to Stagecoach Pass?; How were Connor and Aven able to help each other?
Flagged Passages: “When I was little, a kid pointed at me on the playground and shouted, ‘Her arms fell off!’ then ran away screaming in terror to his mom, who had to cuddle him on her lap and rub his head for like ten mintues to get him to calm down. I think, up until then, I hadn’t thought about the idea that my arms must have actually fallen off at some point in my life. I had never really thought about not having arms at all.
My missing arms weren’t an issue for me or my parents. I never once heard either of them say, ‘Oh, no, Aven can’t possibly do that because that’s only for armed people,’ or ‘Poor Aven is so helpless without arms,’ or ‘Maybe Aven can do that one day, you know, if she ever grows arms.’ They always said things like, ‘You’ll have to do this differently from other people, but you can manage,’ and ‘I know this is challenging for you. Keep trying,’ and ‘You’re capable of anything Aven.’
I had never realized just how different I was until that day that horrible kid shouted about my arms having fallen off. For the first time I found myself aware of my total armlessness, and I guess I felt like I was sort of naked all of a sudden. So I, too, ran to my mom, and she scooped me up and carried me away from the park, allowing my tears and snot to soak her shirt.” (Chapter 1)
Read This If You Love: Wonder by RJ Palacio, Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, How to Speak Dolphin by Ginny Rorby, Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin, Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson
**Thank you to Dusti Bowling and Sterling for providing a copy for review!**
The Misadventures of Max Crumbly: Locket Hero
Author: Rachel Renee Russell
Published: June 7, 2016 by Aladdin
A Guest Review by Emily Baseler
GoodReads Summary: Max Crumbly is about to face the scariest place he’s ever been: South Ridge Middle School. There’s a lot that’s great about his new school, but there’s also one big problem—Doug, the school bully whose hobby is stuffing Max in his locker. If only Max could be like the hero in his favorite comics. Unfortunately, Max’s uncanny, almost superhuman ability to smell pizza from a block away won’t exactly save any lives or foil bad guys. But that doesn’t mean Max won’t do his best to be the hero his school needs!
Review: This book is the beginning of a soon to be very popular series. I suggest you purchase a copy of this book for your classroom library while you still can. In June, the 2nd book will be released and I have a feeling it will not be available on the shelf for long. This book has a very similar style to the “Dairy of a Wimpy Kid” series which children across grade levels love. This book introduces relevant themes to a middle grade reader such as peer conflict, coping with bullying, pop culture, relationships, friendship, surviving middle school, and learning to laugh at yourself. This book was an easy ready and would be ideal for a more reluctant reader or to read for pleasure.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is one of the rare few written in second person. Max Crumbly, the narrator, is writing journal entries addressing the reader as “you.” “The Adventures of Max Crumbly” would be an interesting text to explore point of view with your students. You could also use the text to highlight the use of exclamation and variation of font. Additionally, the text could be a resource when reviewing the writing process. There are entire sentences scratched out, arrows redirecting the narrative, edits, revisions, and inclusions in the final text.
Discussion Questions: Is this style of writing something you think you would be able to create?; How does the point of view of the narrator impact your perceptions as a reader?; What value did the illustrations add to the text—if any?; Are there any themes or topics in which you can identify/connect with?
Online Resource: http://maxcrumbly.com/
Read This If You Loved: Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renee Russell, Dairy of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney
Thank you, Emily!
How To Read a Story
Author: Kate Messner; Illustrator: Mark Siegel
Published: May 5, 2015 by Chronicle
A Guest Review by Marisela Valencia
GoodReads Summary: Kate Messner and Mark Siegel’s How to Read a Story is a great picture book for young students to learn how to become excellent readers. In just ten easy steps, students learn about the reading process, and the necessary steps to reading a book. The book starts off with Step 1: “Find a Story” and shows us an illustration of a young boy with blond hair, blue jeans, and bare feet surrounded by books. The young boy continues to go through the steps, picking a book off the shelf, finding a good reading buddy, a cozy place to read, and more. Within these steps we see creative insight into teaching readers and students how to read aloud, make predictions, and even read with expression. This “how to” book is great way to deepen any readers’ love for reading.
Review: Not all reading processes look the same, but this book provides steps to becoming a reader in such a fun and interesting way! Following along with the young boy and the book he chooses in the story, our young readers learn the steps that they can take when reading their own books. The bright and colorful fonts and illustrations in How to Read a Story also draw in readers and provide more detail about the steps. Any student would be motivated to keep reading with these illustrations. Another amazing thing about this book is that the author demonstrates to readers that it is okay to go back and pick a new book if you and your reading buddy do not agree. She also mentions that it is okay to go back and read the book again if you really enjoyed it! I think it is so important for readers to know that they are not stuck with the first book they choose and also that they are more than welcome to read the book again if they enjoyed it!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Great mentor text for students learning to create their own “how to” books and learning about sequencing. Also a great way to initiate discussion about choosing the right book, reading with expression, making predictions, and decoding.
Discussion Questions: What kind of reading buddy would you choose? Would they like the same things as you?; What are some good places to read? What are some not so good places to read (and why?); Did you learn any new things about being a reader from this book? Do you follow any of these steps already?; If you were writing your own “how to”, what would be some important things to include?
Read This If You Loved: Ralph Tells a Story by Abby Hanlon; A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen and Mike Lowery; This is Not a Picture Book by Sergio Ruzzier; Where Are My Books? by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Thank you, Marisela!
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