Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk

3 stars Graphic Novel

Have you ever read a book and even though it stretches your imagination, you’re actually liking it, and then……bam, they’ve totally lost their minds and you wished, you could undo what you’ve just read?  That’s what I felt as I read Making Friends. This middle school graphic novel was dealing with some typical teen issues in a unique way when suddenly the main character cracked.

Dany’s Aunt Elma died, leaving the family to sort out her estate on their own.  Dany finds herself in the possession of one of her aunt’s sketchbooks, one of the few items the family didn’t fight over. Labeled, “handle with care,” Dany finds many of the pages empty and after a hard day at school, she begins to sketch in it.

Life was easier in elementary school when Dany had Joan and Leah at her side but now in middle school, it was getting more complicated.  Dany decides to draw Prince Neptune, yet she stopped after only drawing his head.  Neptune would protect her, if he was real.  Dany talks to her drawing as her pencil slides over the paper. Admiring her finished drawing, Dany is stunned when the image pops off the paper and becomes a living thing! Remember, she only drew his head so the Prince is now a talking head.

Prince Neptune is immediately head-over-heels in love with Dany and calls her Princess Dany and boy, how fun is this!? Dany is enchanted and scared at the same time.  What has just happened?  The prince is compassionate, caring, and supportive to Dany (even though, sometimes his ideas are a bit extreme) but you need to remember that he’s just a head, that was drawn to protect Dany and he doesn’t know that much about this world and then you’ll understand why he says what he does. 

Having the prince around does help Dany but it’s not like the prince can be out and around everyone else.  Dany wants other friends and she wants to fit in, but how? You guessed it!  She takes her pencil and she begins drawing in her aunt’s sketchbook. I see the dangers of this right away but Dany, she thinks it’s going to work out wonderfully.

Now, Dany is on a roll and she can’t stop now.  It’s as if someone has taken over this girl and she has become a different person, who is she? Dany is this loud, screaming individual who rants and yells. Her face takes up the whole text box.  Someone, please push her off button.  I was liking this book until Dany got greedy.

Overall, it was a fun book that I was enjoying until things got out of hand.  Why Dany had to go extreme, I have no idea but it was a turn-off for me. 

I loved it so much! The Very, Very Far North by Dan Bar-El

5 stars Children’s/Middle School

I absolutely loved The Very, Very Far North!  Immediately after finishing it, I had to know if this was going to be a series, as I didn’t want this to be the end of Duane and his adventures in the Far Far North.  This story captured my attention immediately and entertained me until I turned the very last page (make sure you read the letter from Duane at the very end).  Filled with engaging adventures and exciting stories, this book made me laugh, smile, and touched my heart.

It wasn’t until after I read the book, did I read what others thought of this book.  I have to agree with what many other readers reported, this book does have that Winnie the Pooh feel to it.  As Duane makes himself comfortable in his new home in the Very, Very Far North, Duane has that comfortable, quizzical state about him and the adventures that he has, are quite fun and enlightening.

Duane loves three things in life: napping, eating, and exploring.  For Duane, the polar bear, finding C.C. and the shipwreck was the perfect beginning for him.  He learns and forms so many great friendships in the Very, Very Far North, I’m so glad that he went.

As they have new experiences, met new friends, and help each other, I enjoyed that there was no major rivalry or conflicts between them.  Any struggles that they did have, were addressed, handled and then the parties dropped it.  I also liked that each individual in the book was different and had their own personality.  I really loved the way the book was written; it was reader friendly as the text spoke to you. I think young readers will enjoy this.

I can’t wait to read more about Duane, Major Puff, Magic, C.C., Sun Girl, Boo, Twitch, and Handsome in the next book. I’m really hooked on this book and think it would make a great read aloud for elementary-age children.  I can’t wait to share it with others. 

If you have young children, pick this one up.  If you have grandchildren or work in a school-setting with young children, this is one you will want to look into.  It definitely is a keeper!

“You or I might have responded to a polar bear crashing into our home with a little more alarm, perhaps. I won’t speak for you, but I would definitely have screamed at least once, or five times.”

The Halloweeners (MonsterStreet #3) by J. H. Reynolds

5 stars Middle School

This series is fantastic! All the books are stand alones but you’ll want to read them all, once you get started. This is book #2 and it was loads of fun.

Fisher is getting tired of moving. He’s finally making friends at school and now, his mom notifies him that they’ll be moving soon. Fisher can’t hold back his frustration and he voices his opinion. Now grounded, he doesn’t want to miss trick-or-treating tonight, with the guys from school, so he sneaks away after his mother left to attend a school function.

Meeting up with Champ, Fisher meets the rest of the boys in a tree house and this section of the book, reminded me of the movie, Stand By Me. The boys gather for a meeting and now a serious tone takes over, as they discuss the night before them. They must win at Halloween Games and they talk about their secret weapon. The information that they discuss is important and it sets the mood for the rest of the night. The boys tell Fisher about the Halloweeners and Fisher decides that he would also like to be a member of this group.

Throwing on their costumes, the boys get ready to head out to collect their candy. It’s almost as if I’m out on the street with them as they tell their stories, encounter other individuals carrying their bags, and try to fill their bags. As they view the end house, the Halloweeners know that this house is off-limits yet Fisher is drawn to the mansion and what’s sitting on its front porch. As they approach the house, being a winner of the Halloween Games takes over their thinking and the boys see an opportunity. What an opportunity! An opportunity that changes the course of their lives.

What a fun, adventurous story. I liked what happened when the boys came up to the cauldron and they didn’t abide by the rules. What a ride! What a great imagination! Another great read in the MonsterStreet series.

Carnevil (MonsterStreet #3) by J.H. Reynolds

5 stars Middle School/ Children’s Chapter

The two brothers hadn’t spent much time with their aunt and now, their parents expected them to spend an entire week with her while they went on a trip. When she arrived at the depo to pick them up, they didn’t expect to see her in a hearse. Little did the boys know, but their adventure was just beginning. Aunt Winnie was, what I would call a Fun Aunt. She was this radiant individual who was full of life and positive energy. The boys had arrived close to Halloween and Aunt Winnie was excited about the approaching holiday. Now that the boys were here, she wanted them too, get involved in the celebration.

Aunt Winnie was transforming her workplace into a haunted manor for the residents but the boys didn’t quite see things the way that she did. Twelve-year old Ren and nine-year old Kip see the nursing home residents as old and close to Halloween creatures already. It isn’t until Ren is bribed into checking on a resident, do the stories that Aunt Winnie claims these residents have, start to become a reality. As Mrs. Wellshire rambles about the carnies and the harvest, the mention of the man’s name begins to make “his blood turn cold.”

Armed with a twenty, the boys attend the carnival which had popped up overnight. A carnival unlike any other carnival that they had attended. It was dreamlike, and from the looks of the other kids attending, they felt the same way. It was fantastic!
The rides were amazing and the food delicious. Out of money, the boys visited Zora and her magic crystal ball, to have her look into their futures. If only, they had gone in to see Zora a minute or two earlier or they had left the carnival after their money was gone, the stories the boys told of that night might have been different but as it stands, Kip loved the carnival and he was staying. As the boys stay at the carnival, the night becomes interesting and dark. I can’t stop reading now, the prices at the carnival are worth talking about.

I really enjoyed this book. The action never lets up and there aren’t a lot of characters to keep track of. There was no way that I could stop reading as I needed to know what happened to the brothers at the carnival and I wanted to know how things worked out with the aunt. Even though it’s labeled a middle school book/upper elementary chapter book, I devoured this book. I feel that kids of this age will really enjoy reading this and scream for more.

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

3.5 stars Middle School

I thought this graphic novel was okay. I liked the characters and I liked how things were progressing but there was something about the flow of the story that didn’t feel right. 

Moth doesn’t fit in and she’s basically accepted that.  She’s now thirteen-years old and suddenly things start to change for her on Halloween.  No one has told her the truth about her mom and that Moth’s obsession with witches might have something to do with her mom but now, someone might have to.  Moth was born a half witch but suddenly now, she’s showing her powers.  Moth is excited about her new identity but her mother, a witch herself, tells her that it’s not such a great thing. 

There’s some time travel as Moth learns about the craft and its history.  We find out how old mom really is and what mom has been through.  Mom has told Moth not to practice her new craft yet Moth feels she wants to help her friend and does so without anyone knowing.  

I liked that there was this emphasis on family and friendship in the book.  I liked how Moth tried to do things on her own and make her own decisions which at thirteen, has its positive and negative aspects. I thought the book at times felt too wordy.  It felt heavy and the flow felt off.  I thought the illustrations were well done and I liked how the cat was used in the book. 

MonsterStreet: The Boy Who Cried Werewolf #1

5 stars Children

It’s a mysterious and surprising tale regarding a young boy who finally discovers his father and the grandparents, that he doesn’t recall.  The story moves quickly; swallowing you in an adventure where you’re not sure what will happen in the end.

Max finds it strange that he’s off to spend a weekend alone with some relatives that he doesn’t even know or remember.  Yet, somehow, he is told the time is right for this visit with his grandparents.  Welcome to Creepville, in Wolf County.  This can’t be the place when they finally turn off the engine and get out.  The home has been taken over by cobwebs, some boarded up windows, and Max will discover later, no phone or electricity. 

The place looks deserted but as they walk around, an older man appears clutching an ax, and then an older woman emerges in a bloodstained apron, lugging a hog.  The stage is set for Max’s weekend as mom quickly makes her exit in her minivan.  

I enjoyed how Max was fed the story of his family.  Through a neighbor girl, his father’s diary, his mother, and his grandparents, Max learns about himself and his family.  There are elements of surprise and anticipation in the novel and I liked how they flowed into the story. There wasn’t anything gross or descriptive in the novel, just mysterious and creature horror. 

I think it’s a great book for kids who can handle some horror without getting scared.

“He was torn between his desire to obey his grandparents and the curiosity he now felt about what Jade was saying.  He wasn’t sure who to trust.”

CatStronauts Space Station Situation by Drew Brockington

4 stars Child’s Graphic Novel

I love cats and I’ve been looking at these graphic novels for a while now.  The CatStronauts are just what they sound like, cats who are astronauts.  Weird, yes but feasible in a kid-friendly world.  I enjoyed all the subtle cat references, the friendships, the easy flow of this graphic novel, and their adventure.

In this mission, Pom Pom is finished helping colonize Mars and is now meeting up with his team on the Space Station. The team will now try to repair the Hubba Bubba Telescope. Sounds easy enough for the CatStronauts until transmission problems arise and they can’t talk to ground control.  They discover that meteor showers are causing all the interference.  The problems just continue for the team as they try to fix one problem after another, until they discover that if they don’t act quickly, destruction on a massive scale is in their future. 

“What the fish is going on?!” These references were just part of the text, which made me smile as I read this book.  References to the kitty box, tuna, kitties, etc., caught my attention, although there really weren’t a whole lot of them.  I felt that they added to the charm of the book and to the characters, themselves. 

This graphic novel had a good flow to it.  There was enough action to keep me engaged and the illustrations were detailed and they complemented to the story.  I’m often asked what would be a great graphic novel to give to a young child and I think this one would fit the bill.  It’s a great child’s graphic novel for any level, I believe.  I’m going to pick up other books in this series to see what these cats are up to.

“Meow, meow, meow.”

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

4 stars Middle School/ Ya/ Children’s Chapter

I listened to the audio of this book and I thought it was really good.  The only issue I had was some of the voices on the audio.  It sounded like some of the voices were dubbed in, for they were louder than any of the other voices on the CD’s and it was annoying.  I enjoyed how the students discussed their opinions and their lives, and I enjoyed the discussion on the last CD.

As the students gather weekly in the Art room, they have become a small family.  They were chosen to be a part of this group and at first, they’re not quite sure exactly what their part is, in all of it.  They are a small group, a group of their own peers.  Meeting weekly to discuss anything they wanted, without any distractions or interruptions.

I like how the conversations started to change overtime.  They become more lucid and fluid, their tones changed and they started to care more for one another.  They weren’t just peers anyone but they became friends and sometimes they became brothers and sisters, someone they could depend and lean on.  They’re not all the same which makes their conversations interesting and sometimes intense. 

They’re kids, they speak from the heart and they show their emotions without warning.  It’s a great audio and it’s rather short.  The interview/conversation with the author at the end was interesting so make sure you stay tuned to that, if you listen to the audio.  I highly recommend the audio version of this book.      

Mascot by Antony John

5 stars Middle School/ Children’s Chapter

I loved this book! There is so many reasons why I loved it and those reasons kept mounting as I read it.  I’m only sorry that it took me a while to find this book and now, I’m wondering what else this author wrote that I should be reading. 

In the beginning pages of Mascot, you will meet Noah who is adjusting to life in a wheelchair.  Noah was with his father in a car accident, were his father was pronounced dead and now, Noah is a paraplegic.

From his tone, Noah isn’t happy with the way his life is headed. During his weekly physical therapy sessions, Noah’s passive/negative remarks have him moving nowhere, whereas another patient in the room, who Noah has been watching, is slowly making progress.  His former teammates taunt and bully him, every chance that they get.  The pitcher, once his close friend is the leader in this cruel act.  Once a star catcher on the school’s baseball team, Noah can’t use his legs anymore.  With his father gone, he must rely on his mother for everything and the way things are going, Noah feels this might be a long time. 

When Ruben enters the picture, this book just blew up. Ruben cracked me up!  Ruben, a.k.a Double Wide or Dee-Dub, arrives in his true form.  When he was first introduced to the class, I had many thoughts going through my head as Dee Dub basically says the honest truth without any filters.  Like Noah thought, Dee-Dub was crazy or a total genius that knows that being a new kid he can get away with anything.  I think he was a little bit of both.

Ruben ends up sitting next to Noah and they form a friendship.  Ruben is now associated with Noah which gets the attention of everyone especially the baseball team.  I wondered how Ruben would handle the harassment now that he was a part of it.  Noah and Ruben were now a pair but could they do anything against a team?  We meet Alyssa, who is a friend of Noah’s.  I thought she was one tough girl.  Noah needed to start hanging around her more as she would teach him something, for she was not taking any gruff from anyone.

Ruben was not afraid of speaking his mind and now, Noah finally has someone to talk to.  Ruben helps us, as readers, get to know the characters as he’s not afraid of talking to them and inquiring into the lives of each of them.   

What a remarkable, outstanding book!  I loved the characters as they felt realistic and I liked how they felt a variety of emotions.  There were fears and bleak situations but they worked through them.  Now to see what else I need to read by this author.

After Zero by Christina Collins

5 stars Middle School/Children’s Chapter

I didn’t even know they had a name for it but it all makes sense after reading this novel, Selective Mutism.  An anxiety disorder, where a child speaks in a normal fashion at home (or any comfortable, relaxed, safe environment) but in some social situations, that same child, will refuse to speak. When Elise is unleashed into public schooling, she finds that speaking can get her in trouble and perhaps being silent is the way to go.

Elise had heard stories from Mel, her neighbor about how great school was.  Mel talked about school and her “school friends,” so when Elise’s mom quit homeschooling her, Elise was excited to finally be able to go to middle school.

Unfortunately, school turned out not to be as much fun as she thought.  It wasn’t long before Elise found herself in hot water.  School was a new social situation for Elise and she didn’t know the rules.  She wasn’t hurting her peers on purpose but no one had told her the etiquette and now, Elise decided it was just easier to not say anything.  It was better to be quiet than to say the wrong thing so, off went her voice and on, went her tally marks in her book.

I could feel the stress as Elise struggled with dodging answering the questions that were addressed in the classroom at school.  She knew the answers yet to answer them would create a tally in her book, the book that she felt needed to be blank.  Even when her peers addressed her or harassed her for her silence, she felt safe under the cover of her book. She wanted no tally marks, and every day she worked towards that goal.

I liked that she didn’t run back into the safe arms of homeschooling and that she continued to try other things at school, she wasn’t a quitter.  There’s a bit of fantasy in the book as Elise becomes intrigued by an object at school. I thought this gave her something else to focus on while she was there. I think this book is marvelous and I feel that Christina Collins did an excellent job explaining this disorder.