Middle Grade

The Wild Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

I want a robot. I’m absolutely willing to take the risk that my AI robot might one day imprison me for my safety so that I can have a robot friend. I have one of those vacuum robots and I named him, I talk to him, and he is my tiny friend. Middle Grade books like The Wild Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes only encourage me to believe that one day I will be able to have a smart and kind robotic friend.

thewildrobotThe Wild Robot introduces readers to robot Roz. After being shipwrecked on an island Roz awakens for the first time alone and surrounded by wilderness. As a robot she knows that she must have a purpose but what is it? She battles storms and dangerous animal attacks on the island before she understands that she must adapt to her environment in order to survive. As she begins to learn the language of the animals, make friends and form connections, the island starts to feel like home. But then, Roz’s past comes back to haunt her.

The Wild Robot is lauded as a wonderful for examining where technology and nature overlap. However, the more profound aspect of this book for me, and the children I have read it to, it Roz’s struggle to fit in. Children have told me that Roz is like being a new kid in class, an immigrant in a new country, or someone learning a new language. All of these important issues came to these middle grade readers while watching Roz try to adapt to her wild environment. And, for me, I strongly identified with the cultural and social struggle that accompanies learning a new language.

wildrobotescapesThe Wild Robot Escapes begins with Roz on a farm. As she meets the owner of the farm and his two young children she tries to hatch a plan to return to her wild island and her animal family and friends. But how will a wild robot adapt to working in a civilized situation?

As a sequel, The Wild Robot Escapes is almost as enjoyable as the first book because Brown created, in Roz, a character that the reader cares about deeply. It is slower to start but when the action does begin it is incredibly fast paced – especially for a middle grade book. Roz continues to struggle through situations where she begins as an outsider and has to work to be considered part of her community. The real question starts to become, will Roz be able to leave this new home to return to her wild island?

In both The Wild Robot, but even more so in The Wild Robot Escapes, we see Roz using two things in order to make friends and belong: kindness and honesty.  In so many middle grade books the parents are removed from the story so that the child can be the in charge of the action. But Brown’s use of an innocent robot has made for a unique protagonist that is simultaneously wise and immature.  But Roz is smart enough to be honest and mature enough to be kind and those two things work for her over time.

Middle grade books are a perfect reminder of the difficulties children face. And these two books arm us with a story that explains how it feels to not fit in, how a person can cope with those feelings, what is our higher purpose, and how using kindness and truthfulness will help us become who we want to be in the end.


Tell me, please!

Do you read middle grade books? Why?

FrighteninglyGoodRead · Middle Grade · YA

The Last of the Frighteningly Good Reads

Happy Halloween!

My favorite of all holidays is today! Dressing up (Edna Mode, thank you very much) and festive candy eating is the only thing that will distract me from the end of Frighteningly Good Reads 2018. I have had a wonderful month reading spooky, scary and suspenseful stories and I hope you all have found one or two that have tickled your terror needs.

I do have two more I finished just yesterday that I would like to highlight. The first is a middle grade book Small Spaces and the second is The Bone Witch. Both were excellent reads and were a perfect way to wrap up FGR!

smallspacesSmall Spaces is a middle grade story by Katherine Arden. In it, a girl names Olivia (Ollie) meets a distraught woman tearfully attempting to toss a book into the water. Like any good and dedicated reader she bravely saves the book. When her class goes on a field trip to a local farm she is surprised to see the woman from the edge of the water there – and she is the farm’s owner! Soon terrifying things begin to happen. Is it the book? Or the woman?

Small Spaces may be for middle grade readers but I thoroughly enjoyed every page. Ollie was a complicated character and watching her befriend two classmates, Coco and Brian, while running for her life was great scary fun. The author kept the tension going long enough for it to be delightfully spooky and never boring or repetitive, a difficult feat! I loved it.

The Bone Witch by Rain Chupeco is the first in a YA trilogy. In this story, Tea (pronounced Tee-ah) accidentally raises her brother from the dead. After doing so she is labelled a bone witch and is carried off to meet the King and be placed in school that will train her to become an Asha – more specifically – a Dark Asha. Since Tea and only one other Dark Asha exist, it is their sole responsibility to raise and order back to the dead eternal creatures of the enemy.

This book, as is true with many YA series, is set in a complicated world. The first third of the book is full of wonderful other-world explanations and adventures and while the middle third of the book lags, it more than makes up for it in the ending. Now, as is also true of most YA series, I feel the strong need to read the next two books. I foresee a complicated romance for young Tea as well as an adventure fraught with peril!

And so completes Frightening Good Reads 2018! Next Month is Non-Fiction November and I am thrilled to be participating. You can look forward to seeing a number of new non-fiction books here.


Tell me, please!

What do you prefer, spooky or non-fiction?

Fantasy · fiction · FrighteninglyGoodRead · Middle Grade

FGR #6: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This book came into my hands highly recommended and I only wish I could, in turn, place it directly into your hands. The characters alone have me cuddling the book tightly in my arms as I type. But the story…this story. Sigh. Well, there is a reason this book won both the Newberry Medal and the Carnegie Medal.

graveyard
A blue cover with gold writing featuring an antique headstone and a golden Newberry sticker.

The Graveyard Book gives us the story of Nobody Owens and, much The Jungle Book, Nobody Owens is as unique as Mogli because his home is unique. He is being raised by ghosts, taunted by ghouls, and protected by magical beings. Bod, to his friends and family, has the blessings of the graveyard and many of the unusual gifts of his long dead family and friends. In short, Bod is the very coolest of characters.

It is why he is in the graveyard that matters. He doesn’t belong there but he is only safe while he remains inside. But safe from what? Or who? And for how long?

Neil Gaiman is a prolific and talented writer. I have enjoyed several of his other books. But I doubt that any other story of his will remain with me the way The Graveyard Book is sure to from this day onward. I loved it like so many others before me. It is, without a doubt, a perfect Frighteningly Good Read.


Tell me, please!

Have you read this book or others by Neil Gaiman? Which is your favorite?

FrighteninglyGoodRead · Middle Grade

FGR #2: City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

cityofghostsI have had The Shades of Magic books on my to be read shelf for quite some time now but when City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab crossed my path I couldn’t resist reading it. I suppose this is precisely why my to be read shelf continues to grow – I have no self control. But, in the case of this particular book it was absolutely perfect as a Frighteningly Good Read!

Victoria Schwab delivers a great cast of characters in this middle grade spooky story of Cassandra Blake. Cass died. But, just for a little bit. When Jacob saved her they became best friends. It doesn’t matter to either of them that Jacob is dead. And, since her parents are famous paranormal investigators Cass has ample opportunities to walk through the Veil that separates the living from the dead. When her parents get an opportunity to host a show in Edinburgh, one of the world’s most haunted cities, Cass and Jacob are in for an adventure whether they want one or not.

Cass has always seen herself as an observer of ghosts. She takes photographs with her classic camera hoping to document Jacob and the other ghosts she encounters. But, in Edinburgh, she meets Lara who believes Cass is like her an inbetweener. Lara thinks inbetweeners have the gift of “freeing” ghosts from the Veil. But does that mean Cass should free Jacob? And what about the dangerous woman occupying the Veil?

This was a fast paced novel filled with spooky features guaranteed to keep younger readers on the edge of their seats. I found myself whipping through the culminating action in an attempt to figure out how the story would resolve. Except for the typical problem of inept / absent parenting I truly enjoyed this story. It was spine chilling good fun and I am thrilled that this is going to be a new middle grade series!


Tell me, please!

Have you read a middle grade spooky story as an adult?

Graphic Novels · Middle Grade · Sunday Morning Comics · Uncategorized

Sunday Morning Comics May 27, 2018

Good Morning! In the United States we are enjoying a long three-day weekend which means that Sunday morning is extra relaxing. I had the time to quietly enjoy both of these graphic novels which feature characters grappling with typical adolescent issues in additional to the impact of their culture background.

American Born Chinese by Gene Lien Yang showcases the stories of Jin Wang, the Monkey King, and Wei-Chen Sun. Jin Wang’s parents are Chinese immigrants and when Wei-Chen Sun arrives at school directly from Taiwan, Jin Wang wants nothing to do with him. Jin Wang wants to be an all-American boy and date the all-American girl. And the Monkey King has lived for thousands of years mastering skills to join the ranks of the immortal gods. But there is no place in heaven for a monkey!

The author and illustrator employs a fairly unique storytelling trick and does not use a traditional narrative structure. This allows three different perspectives regarding cultural assimilation and race-shaming to combine into one poignant message: “It’s easy to become anything you wish so long as you are willing to forfeit your soul.”

Meanwhile, in Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol, Vera is the odd-duck out in her social circle of all-white affluent kids. Vera immigrated from Russia with her Mom, little brother and sister when she was five. After a disastrous attempt to host a sleep over she turns to her Russian Orthodox Church to find friends. There she hears about a camp which is only for Russian Orthodox kids and convinces her Mom to send her to camp. She figures that it will be easy to make friends with kids with her own cultural identity and background.

Once at camp though things don’t go quite as planned. They speak in Russian as much as possible, sing Russian songs and while Vera’s accent is perfect, it seems she isn’t Russian enough. She is also placed in a tent with much older girls and finds out that there is a big difference between almost ten and fourteen.

I really enjoyed how both of these authors used their personal knowledge to highlight the additional struggle foreign culture can add to growing up in America. While I have always been fascinated by other cultures I am well aware that there are many obnoxious Americans insist on cultural homogenization which is a tragedy. I hope every child (really, adults as well) read these books and work to feel comfortable with their own culture, or, embrace the child whose culture is different from your own. The world is just a more interesting place with diversity and acceptance.


Tell me, please!

Have you come across any other culturally interesting Graphic Novels?


 

Fantasy · FrighteninglyGoodRead · Halloween2017 · Middle Grade · Mystery

Frighteningly Good Read #14

I know, I know. I’m running behind. There have been some big changes to my life outside this blog that have created a little hiccup in my schedule. But, I have all day today to get caught up!

So, lets start with the FGR for Saturday, October 14th. I have been reading some terrifying books during the day. At night, I just can’t do it. I have enough trouble with insomnia. So, I have been lulling myself to sleep with delightful children’s books that lean toward spooky or other wordly. This one is just too cute!

supernaturalsleuthingThe Supernatural Sleuthing ServiceThe Lost Legacy by Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe is the story of Stephen and his father moving to New York City to live in an unusual hotel, The New Harmonia. This hotel has a resident dragon and his hoard living in the basement. Bigfoot, creatures of the night and the fae are all frequent guests. And, my favorite side character, Elevator, torments riders with his big personality while he carries them up and down.

As is typical of books for grades 3-8, Stephen is dealing with moving to a new city, mysterious and magical artifacts and the self-discovery and social learning that is unique to children his age. This, as I have reiterated again and again, is what makes children’s literature so special. These characters don’t know who they are yet and they have to figure that out, deal with social norms and solve a big mystery. I will never stop reading them and recommending them because I think adults are constantly readjusting our self-knowledge. Except, we aren’t supposed to talk about it.

Stephen makes new friends and foes and together the story is simply adorable. With the characters including those of the night category I felt safe declaring it today’s (well, the 14th’s) FGR!


Tell me, please!?

Can you read truly scary stories right before bedtime?


 

FrighteninglyGoodRead · Halloween2017 · Middle Grade

Frighteningly Good Read #1

Its the first day of October! Hallelujah! So, obviously I’m already picking out pumpkin designs and spending quality time on Pinterest compiling Halloween ideas. But this month is a marathon here. I need to stretch.


cabinentofcuriositiesSo, for todays Frighteningly Good Read, I have a great warm up book. Fantastically eccentric and slightly scary, The Cabinet of Curiosities by Stephan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand and Emma Trevayne is the perfect knuckle cracking-let’s get down to business- spook book. This compilation of middle grade short and scary tales is the perfect tool for shifting from summer to fabulous fall. The 36 Brief and Sinister tales included in this book would also be easy read aloud fun when you just need a little more scare into your daily punch.

The book is delightfully quirky.  It is broken down into sections or drawers that are labelled innocent and light things “cake” or “song” but include short stories that were found in the shadows. Since the book is a middle grade level, none of the tales are so dreadful or disgusting. Rather each is just a little cup of chilling fun.

I also enjoyed the fun letters and notes written from one “curator” to another. Whatever you do, don’t skip the Meet the Curators at the end. Here the authors describe themselves as, “Tinker of Shadows and Tailor of Lies,” or “Dark Puppetress,” and will give you more books to read by these authors.


Tell me, Please!

Do you enjoy spooky short stories?