Category Archives: For Kids

New School Blues

CountingThyme

Moving is always a challenge, especially when it involves a new school. Take it from this shy girl who went to three different kindergartens alone and moved more times than she cares to count. Whether it’s a new town or making the leap from elementary to middle school, here are some books to make life easier in the great unknown of a new home.

COUNTING THYME by Melanie Conklin (Putnam 2016) When eleven-year-old Thyme Owens’ little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush, and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours, and days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

With equal parts heart and humor, Melanie Conklin’s debut is a courageous and charming story of love and family—and what it means to be counted.

HootHOOT by Carl Hiaasen (Yearling 2006) Unfortunately, Roy’s first acquaintance in Florida is Dana Matherson, a well-known bully. Then again, if Dana hadn’t been sinking his thumbs into Roy’s temples and mashing his face against the school-bus window, Roy might never have spotted the running boy. And the running boy is intriguing: he was running away from the school bus, carried no books, and–here’s the odd part–wore no shoes. Sensing a mystery, Roy sets himself on the boy’s trail. The chase introduces him to potty-trained alligators, a fake-fart champion, some burrowing owls, a renegade eco-avenger, and several extremely poisonous snakes with unnaturally sparkling tails.
Roy has most definitely arrived in Carl Hiaasen’s Florida.

TheTroubleWithRulesTHE TROUBLE WITH RULES by Leslie Bulion (Peachtree 2008) For Nadine Rostraver, fourth grade means peer pressure and new social rules she hadn t anticipated. For one thing, girls aren t supposed to hang out with boys anymore. So where does that leave Nadine and her best friend Nick?

Then Summer Crawford arrives at Upper Springville Elementary and Nadine s life goes from bad to worse! Nadine loses her job as the art editor on the class newspaper The Springville Spark and gets in some serious trouble with her teacher, Mr. Allen.

But Summer is a free spirit who marches to her own beat. Slowly Nadine realizes that life can be a lot more fun if you call your own tune. Together Nadine, Nick, and Summer decide breaking the rules is sometimes the best thing you can do. Especially when the rules don t allow you to be yourself.

Author Leslie Bulion s sensitive, realistic look at adolescence and her humorous slant on its unique struggles will resonate with young readers who will recognize themselves and their own dilemmas in her well-drawn characters and their responses to a complicated world.

MovingDayMOVING DAY by Ralph Fletcher, illustrated by Jennifer Emery (Boyds Mills Press 2006) The traumas and trials of moving away are poignantly expressed in new poems from a respected writer. Fletch’s new Diamondback mountain bike and his brother’s new hockey outfit are unexpected gifts from Dad. When Dad announces, “We’re going to move to Ohio,” Fletch’s heart drops to his stomach. Leaving means selling the house, abandoning his best friends,and living next to Lake Erie. . . . Hey, didn’t that lake catch on fire? Ralph Feltcher’s poems evoke what’s hard about moving away as well as what makes moving day, well, maybe, okay.

SchooledSCHOOLED by Gordon Korman (Hyperion 2008-from Booklist’s red review) Homeschooled on an isolated “alternate farm commune” that has dwindled since the 1960s to 2 members, 13-year-old Cap has always lived with his grandmother, Rain. When she is hospitalized, Cap is taken in by a social worker and sent—like a lamb to slaughter—to middle school. Smart and capable, innocent and inexperienced (he learned to drive on the farm, but he has never watched television), long-haired Cap soon becomes the butt of pranks. He reacts in unexpected ways and, in the end, elevates those around him to higher ground. From chapter to chapter, the first-person narrative shifts among certain characters: Cap, a social worker (who takes him into her home), her daughter (who resents his presence there), an A-list bully, a Z-list victim, a popular girl, the school principal, and a football player (who unintentionally decks Cap twice in one day). Korman capably manages the shifting points of view of characters who begin by scorning or resenting Cap and end up on his side. From the eye-catching jacket art to the scene in which Cap says good-bye to his 1,100 fellow students, individually and by name, this rewarding novel features an engaging main character and some memorable moments of comedy, tenderness, and reflection.

HowToSurviveMiddleSchoolHOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL by Donna Gephart (Yearling 2008) Eleven-year-old David Greenberg dreams of becoming a YouTube sensation and spends all of his time making hilarious Top 6½ Lists and Talk Time videos. But before he can get famous, he has to figure out a way to deal with:

6. Middle school (much scarier than it sounds!)
5. His best friend gone girl-crazy
4. A runaway mom who has no phone!
3. The threat of a swirlie on his birthday
2. A terrifying cousin
1. His # 1 fan, Bubbe (his Jewish grandmother)
1/2. Did we mention Hammy, the hamster who’s determined to break David’s heart?

But when David’s new best friend, Sophie, starts sending out the links to everyone she knows and her friends tell their friends, thousands of people start viewing his videos.

AnastasiaAgain!ANASTASIA AGAIN! by Lois Lowry (Yearling 1982) Anastasia has grown to love her new little brother, Sam. But she is in for a new shock as her parents announce that they will be moving to the suburbs. Anastasia is sure that all suburbanites live drab, meaningless lives, and tries to prevent the move by requesting a room with a tower before she will consent to the move. Her parents, however, find just such a house, and Anastasia must confront her misconceptions. Her adventures in the suburbs involve meeting her new neighbors, including a cute boy who mows lawns, and a “witch” who lives next door.

WeAreAllMadeOfMoleculesWE ARE ALL MADE OF MOLECULES by Susin Nielsen (Ember 2016) Ashley’s and Stewart’s worlds collide when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom. The Brady Bunch it isn’t. Stewart is trying to be 89.9 percent happy about it–he’s always wanted a sister. But Ashley is 110 percent horrified. She already has to hide the real reason her dad moved out; “Spewart” could further threaten her position at the top of the social ladder. They’re complete opposites, but they have one thing in common: they—like everyone else—are made of molecules.

TheKidInTheRedJacketTHE KID IN THE RED JACKET by Barbara Park (Random House 1988) Can Howard SURVIVE life without friends? Howard Jeeter’s parents have ruined his life. They’ve moved him across the country, and all the kids in his new town act like he’s totally invisible. At least, all of them except for his six-year-old neighbor, Molly Vera Thompson. Howard could use a friend. But a little girl who talks nonstop? Not what he had in mind. Still, when you’re really lonely, you’ll be friends with anyone…right?

 

NewBoy

NEW BOY by Nick Earls (Puffin 2015) Adjusting to a new country and a new school was never going to be easy for Herschelle. The food is strange, it’s so different to South Africa and, worst of all, no one understands the Aussie slang he’s learnt on the web. But it’s the similarities that make things really hard. Herschelle will have to confront racism, bullying and his own past before Australia can feel like home…

 

 

EllieMcDoodle

ELLIE MCDOODLE NEW KID IN SCHOOL by Ruth McNally Barshaw (Bloomsbury 2009) When Ellie’s family moves to a new town, she’s sure she won’t fit in. Nobody else likes to read as much as she does, and even the teachers can’t get her name right. But when the students need someone to help them rally against unfair lunch lines, it’s Ellie to the rescue―and if shorter lines and better food prevail, can friendship be far behind?

 

 

WonderWONDER by R.J. Palacio (Knopf 2012) August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school―until now. He’s about to enter fifth grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid, then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has crafted an uplifting novel full of wonderfully realistic family interactions, lively school scenes, and writing that shines with spare emotional power.

What other books can you recommend to help kids ease into the daunting world of a new school?

Louise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD and IN TODD WE TRUST (Razorbill). 

It’s About Time

clock

If only we could predict time future or change time past. If only we could make time speed up, slow down, or even stop. Instead, we run out of time, or have too much time on our hands. We’re always trying to steal a bit of it, and getting upset when we lose or waste it. Time blithely ignores all our efforts to control it.

“Time creeps. Time sprints. Time leaps. Time stumbles…Now and then, time stands still.” Thus speaks Jeptha A. Stone, a marble monument in my MG novel “Every Single Second”. Jeptha resides in a cemetery, where he’s got plenty of time (!) to contemplate its slippery nature.

Researching the novel, I marveled at all the ingenious ways humans have concocted to measure its passage, from sundials to water clocks, hour glasses to star maps. Today scientists can measure time in units called attoseconds: one hundred attoseconds is to one second as one second is to three hundred million years. (pause here for a dizzy spell).

And yet, isn’t it a little arbitrary, maybe even arrogant, to try to pin down something so cunning and elusive? Nella, my book’s main character, is driven crazy by the concept of infinity. How can something have no beginning or end? Her sweet nerdy friend Clem longs to time travel, even though her scientist father warns her that it will always be impossible to return to the past. Time runs forever forward. Why? We still don’t know.

Some of the most beloved MG novels of all you-know-what ponder the notion of time. Just to mention three:

wrinkle in time

The hands-down champion is, of course,  “A Wrinkle in Time” and the other books in Madelein L’Engle’s “Time Quintet”. Meg and Charles Wallace’s scientist father is researching the tesseract, that wrinkle which allows for travel in time and space, when he goes missing. They set off to find him.

when you reach me

The book won the Newbery, and so did Rebecca Stead’s staggeringly brilliant homage to it. In “When You Reach Me”, Miranda receives notes from what clearly is her own future.

tom's midnight

Another classic, by my lights too often overlooked, is Philippa Pearce’s “Tom’s Midnight Garden”. When the clock in his aunt and uncle’s apartment strikes thirteen, Tom is flabbergasted to find the deserted alley behind has become a lush garden. He meets another child, from another time, who is no less surprised than he is.

Since 1962, when “Wrinkle” was published, the science of time has grown ever more mind-blowing. Yet it’s dizzying and exciting and somehow gratifying to know that every discovery scientists makes engenders many new questions. What we know is far less than what we don’t, and time still has the last chuckle on us. No wonder we can’t stop reading and writing about it.

Please add your own time-themed favorites below!

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Tricia’s newest MG books are “Every Single Second” and “Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe”. Time is always getting away from her, especially when she’s reading. You can visit her at triciaspringstubb.com

In Praise of Grandparents

There are many relationships I’ve treasured through my life, and high on that list lives the bond I had with my grandparents. I was a late baby, and all my grandparents were elderly or gone by the time I came along, so I always felt I missed many special years of growing up with them, while I appreciated the time I did have. I’m so grateful that our own daughter, now grown, got to spend many wonderful hours with her grandparents.

On hunting down a title I know I’ve recently read that features a grandparent, I stumbled upon an eye-opening article written by the author of one such book here. Who knew that the comfortable role of grandparents I grew up with in my family dynamic and in the books I read as a middle grade kid has changed so drastically?

The following booklist is by no means comprehensive, and it’s quite diverse in style, content and approach to grandparents. Some of these books were childhood favorites that I read and re-read, like Heidi, by Johanna Spyri.

Our daughter introduced me to A Long Way from Chicago, by Richard Peck, when she was in 4th grade. That grandma has such a strong voice.


The Hello, Goodbye Window,  by Norton Juster and illustrated by Chris Raschka, may be a picture book but it is also an homage to grandparents and their relationship with grandchildren. It also proves how cool they can be. Students of all ages loved this vibrant book in my library.

Another book that features  a “cool” grandparent is our own MUF member, Barbara Dee’s Trauma Queen.


Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull, proves that we aren’t always right when it comes to thinking we’re going to be spending a boring summer at the grandparents’ house…


I’m eager to read the tender story many are talking about in Love, Aubrey, by Suzanne M. LaFleur.


Who wouldn’t love The Summer Book Tove Jannson?


Another book I read countless times was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl. The relationship Charlie had with his grandparents has stuck with me since I read it at 10 years old.


Seven Stories Up, by Laurel Snyder, a magical book featuring a beloved grandmother, is a lovely journey into this relationship.


A grandmother is not the character I think of when I remember the powerful The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne, but one of many blog posts I read about grandparents in books mentioned this relationship in particular. I think it’s time for a re-read.


Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, by Ian Fleming, was another childhood favorite of mine, one I read when sick in bed, feeling blue, or otherwise at loose ends.  Do you remember them saving the grandfather? I remember more about the quirky things. Guess it’s time for a re-read of this one, too.

 

We’ve got talented members her at The Mixed Up Files! Two of our own  Rosanne Parry’s novels, Heart of a Shepherd and Written in Stone, feature grandparents in prominent roles.

   

It’s fantastic when a grandparent works to solve the problem, as in Granny Torrelli Makes Soup, by Sharon Creech, illustrated by Chris Raschka.

I was captivated by the description of Bird, by Crystal Chan, and can’t wait to read this story about a girl whose grandfather does not speak since he is blamed for a family tragedy.

And what about a grandparent you’ve never met, but your mom refuses to talk about it? Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It, by Sundee T. Frazier was a real hit with my students.

 

And last but not least, there are too many wonderful reads to list individually here, so I’ll send you over to Cynthia Leitich Smith’s blog for this list of books featuring grandparents (you should just all read her blog regularly).

I’ve had this post on my mind for a long time without writing it, partly because I was afraid of missing some stand-out titles featuring grandparents. Do you have any to add?