Category Archives: Middle Grade

Fellow Fifteener: Alison DeCamp–My Near-Death Adventures (99% True)

22318393As a member of the Fearless Fiteeners, I was able to read an ARC of Alison DeCamp’s middle grade historical novel, My Near-Death Adventures (99% True) (2/24/2015; Crown Books for Young Readers). ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are the uncorrected proofs that are sent to reviewers, librarians, and book bloggers to promote the book. My fellow fifteeners and 2k15 classmates are sending their ARCs on tour, which allows us a sneak peek at these upcoming new releases. I’ve decided to let you all know about the ARCs I’m reading to help support my 2015 debut colleagues.

Here’s the description: It is 1895. Stan is on a mission to find his long-lost father in the logging camps of Michigan. And he’s embellishing all of it in his stupendous scrapbook.

There are many things that 11-year-old Stanley Slater would like to have in life, most of all, a father. But what if Stan’s missing dad isn’t “dearly departed” after all? Who better to find this absent hero/cowboy/outlaw than manly Stan himself? Unfortunately, Stan’s fending off his impossible cousin Geri, evil Granny, and Mama’s suitors like Cold-Blooded Killer Stinky Pete. If only he could join the River Drive, the most perilous adventure of all, where even a fellow’s peavey is at risk.

It’s a wild ride for Stan as he finds out about true manliness. But at least Stan has his scrapbook, full of 200 black-and-white 19th-century advertisements and photos, “augmented” with his commentary and doodles.

Stan’s tale will leave readers in stitches, but not the kind that require medical attention.

What I liked about it: I love Stan. How can you not? He’s funny, charming, and vulnerable all wrapped up in a super manly package. Just look at those muscles on the cover! Seriously, Alison DeCamp had me laughing from the start and throughout the novel. I stopped writing notes in the ARC because I would have filled the page with LOLs and smiley faces. Really. Reading DeCamp’s debut novel is like a master class in “voice” because she Stan’s is distinct and doesn’t waver at all throughout the novel. This is a sweet, fun story about a boy trying to become a man that will be loved by many. If you are a middle grade parent, teacher, or librarian, this one should definitely be on your shelf.

About the author (from her website): Alison grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where people say “Yah, eh?” and “Youse guys” and dress in many layers for seven months of the year. Unlike Stan, the hero in her book, Alison had indoor plumbing and more than two pairs of pants. However, she might have worn the same sweater every day in fifth grade.

The daughter of a hardware store owner (and reluctant, occasional employee) Alison spent too many school breaks attending ACE Hardware conventions and not enough at Disney World. After graduating from Michigan State University, Alison began teaching middle and high school English. Here she dealt with students chewing tobacco during one of her amazing lessons as well as a questionable principal who once pulled her out of class just to get Alison’s opinion on her new skirt.

Alison admires teachers greatly.

After eight years, Alison quit teaching to stay at home with two babies who are now two teenagers. Babies and teenagers require almost the same amount of work. During this time she taught herself to make glass beads and jewelry which she sold at local galleries. She now can occasionally be found “working” at Between the Covers bookstore in Harbor Springs or grocery shopping. Her people like to eat.

Fellow Fifteener: Gail Nall–Breaking the Ice

20662374As a member of the Fearless Fiteeners, I was able to read an ARC of Gail Nall’s middle grade novel, Breaking the Ice  (1/13/2015; Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are the uncorrected proofs that are sent to reviewers, librarians, and book bloggers to promote the book. My fellow fifteeners and 2k15 classmates are sending their ARCs on tour, which allows us a sneak peek at these upcoming new releases. I’ve decided to let you all know about the ARCs I’m reading to help support my 2015 debut colleagues.

Here’s the description: Kaitlin has always dreamed of being a champion figure skater, and she’s given up a lot to pursue her passion. But after having a totally uncharacteristic and decidedly NOT figure-skating-approved tantrum after getting her scores at a major competition she’s dropped by her coach and prestigious skating club.

When no other club in town will have her, she’s forced to join the ridiculed and rundown Fallton Club, jokingly referred to as the Fall Down Club. At first Kaitlin thinks this is a complete disaster, but after meeting some of the other skaters, including a boy (who happens to have the most perfect hair she’s ever seen) Kaitlin thinks it might actually not be so bad.

But when she’s tasked with learning a whole new program right before Regionals and figures out that almost all the other skaters target Fallton, she thinks joining the Fall Down Club may just be the second biggest mistake she’s ever made.

In this figure skating themed debut, Kaitlin learns that when you fall down, you have to pick yourself up – even if it’s in front of judges and a crowd.

What I liked about it: Remember these famous faces of athletic disappointment?

Gymnast  Skater

Well, these moments are nothing compared to Kaitlin’s tantrum after a skating competition that ends with medals on the floor and her expulsion from her training center. Kaitlin doesn’t quit, though, and as she trains at the Falton Club, what’s clear is she also doesn’t want to be defined forever by a single moment. What’s interesting, and often true, is that the trait that gets her intro trouble–her temper, passion, willingness to speak her mind–is the same trait that helps her later in the story on and off the rink. You don’t have to be a skater or even an athlete to enjoy this book because it also weaves in funny, heartwarming threads about friendship, family, and first crushes. Nall totally gets middle school girl; Kaitlin makes mistakes but picks herself up time and again as she tries to find her voice while navigating expectations from those around her. As a middle school teacher, I’m always on the lookout for new titles to add to my classroom library. This is definitely one that my students will enjoy.

About the authorGail Nall lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family and more cats than necessary. She grew up skating, and as a teenager working at the local rink, she rented skates and made nachos (but not at the same time). She spends her early mornings writing contemporary middle grade fiction, her days working at a homeless shelter, and her evenings reading and trying to stay up past eight o’clock. Her obsessions include hiking and camping, travel, history, and food.

Fellow Fifteener: Kerry O’Malley Cerra–Just A Drop of Water

20344662As a member of the Fearless Fiteeners, I was able to read an ARC of Kerry O’Malley Cerra’s middle grade novel, Just a Drop of Water (9/2/2014/Sky Pony Press). ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are the uncorrected proofs that are sent to reviewers, librarians, and book bloggers to promote the book. My fellow fifteeners and 2k15 classmates are sending their ARCs on tour, which allows us a sneak peek at these upcoming new releases. I’ve decided to let you all know about the ARCs I’m reading to help support my 2015 debut colleagues. These are introductions, not reviews, just to let you know what’s coming out in the next year.

Here’s the description: Ever since he was little, Jake Green has longed to be a soldier and a hero like his grandpa, who died serving his country. Right now, though, he just wants to outsmart—and outrun—the rival cross country team, the Palmetto Bugs. But then the tragedy of September 11 happens. It’s quickly discovered that one of the hijackers lived nearby, making Jake’s Florida town an FBI hot spot. Two days later, the tragedy becomes even more personal when Jake’s best friend, Sam Madina, is pummeled for being an Arab Muslim by their bully classmate, Bobby.

According to Jake’s personal code of conduct, anyone who beats up your best friend is due for a butt kicking, and so Jake goes after Bobby. But soon after, Sam’s father is detained by the FBI and Jake’s mom doubts the innocence of Sam’s family, forcing Jake to choose between his best friend and his parents. When Jake finds out that Sam’s been keeping secrets, too, he doesn’t know who his allies are anymore. But the final blow comes when his grandpa’s real past is revealed to Jake. Suddenly, everything he ever knew to be true feels like one big lie. In the end, he must decide: either walk away from Sam and the revenge that Bobby has planned, or become the hero he’s always aspired to be.

A gripping and intensely touching debut middle grade novel by Kerry O’Malley Cerra, Just a Drop of Water brings the events of September 11, which shook the world, into the lens of a young boy who is desperately trying to understand the ramifications of this life-altering event.

What I liked about it: Kerry’s novel allows young readers to experience the events of 9/11 through the eyes of Jake Green, a character their own age. As a teacher, I think this is an ideal way to introduce students to tough subjects and moments in history. The description of the attacks on 9/11 gave me chills, and the things that happen with Jake’s family and friends afterward are examples of what happened throughout the country. Kerry also “gets” middle school boy in that Jake is confident one minute and confused the next, all the while believing he is right and can fix things :.)

About the authorKerry O’Malley Cerra is a former high school history teacher who often enhanced textbooks with historical fiction to bring time periods to life. Just a Drop of Water was inspired by a deeply personal experience following the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Though she’ll always consider Philly her home, she currently lives in Florida with her husband, kids, and three poorly behaved dogs. You can find her on Goodreads and Twitter.