The Red Zone: An Earthquake Story by Silvia Vecchini

3 stars Children’s

This graphic novel addresses the issues an earthquake has on young children. Torn from their homes, these children have to deal with the issues of the unknown as their community tries to rebuild.

I liked how the novel immediately begins with some powerful action. Mother Nature begins unleashing her power upon the community, leaving its citizens left to fend for themselves. We follow Matteo, Giulia, and Federico as they learn to live with the aftermath of the destruction.

The devastation from the quake is massive. The citizens are warned not to enter the “Red Zone” but to some that zone is their life and contains everything they have. How can you tell someone to stay away from the only possessions they have?

A make-shift school is immediately constructed while the community tries to rebuild. Why is it taking so long to move forward? What are they supposed to do in the meantime? Each family tries to rebuild their lives and get some structure into their lives, to the best of their ability, but it’s hard when all your possessions are in the “Red Zone.”

I really liked the idea of this graphic novel and I thought, the illustrations were fantastic. We are experiencing more weather-related catastrophes lately and having children understand them is important. The illustrations were bright, colorful and had a great flow. I liked everything about this novel but I thought it was missing a few things. I really had no connections to the characters as I had no background on them. I wished I had known something about them and/or their relationships with other individuals in the novel, so I knew exactly the emotional toll this disaster played on their lives. I know that any tragedy is hard but I felt that my character and emotional connection was not fully engaged while reading this novel. I think this is a good novel to share with children, it’s a good starting point.

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. 

Middle School Misadventures by Jason Platt

3 stars Graphic Novel

The illustrations were great but I just couldn’t get into the story. The colorful, brilliant illustrations really jumped off the pages and I really thought this graphic novel was going to be a hit. It was the story itself that just didn’t make any sense to me as I read it but I continued reading it, as I liked the illustrations.

Let’s begin with the story and then, end this review on a positive note, the illustrations.  The story was about a middle-schooler Newell who is signed up for his school’s first talent show. Newell spends countless hours trying to come up with a talent that he can showcase and its really painful, as he can’t find anything.

Why doesn’t he just cross his name off the list?  If he doesn’t perform, he’ll have to attend summer school.  Yes, I found this weird.  The principal is offering the students the opportunity to exchange the academics of summer school or the punishment of detention, if they perform in this show. Newell was scheduled for Summer School, so he’s excited to do something/anything for this show but he needs to find something worthy.

The book is funny and sometimes, I thought, just a bit on the weird side. I wanted Newell to just move on, perhaps experiment with something(s) and let’s see how he does instead of just talking/thinking about it[S1] .

The illustrations are action-packed and tell a great deal of the story.  A variety of text fonts add a great deal to the action. The colors are vivid and the rich in detail and burst from the page.

I feel there’s a lot of talent here and I would like to see what else this author can provide to us readers in the future.  


 [S1]

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.”

Amal Unbound by Alsha Saeed

5 stars Middle School/YA

Amal’s dream of becoming a teacher were put on hold when she must stay home and tend to her mother, who has not recovered since giving birth to her fourth child.  Amal waits with anticipation for the day when she can return to school but an incident with a rich landlord/politician takes her even farther from her dream.  Yet, through it all, Amal continues to keep reaching for that dream.

Becoming one of his servants to pay off the debt, Amal works at his lavish estate and believes that she’s working off the debt, that the incident triggered.  This is a whole new world for Amal and I enjoyed how Amal handled herself.  Locating a library within the estate, Amal begins “borrowing” material until someone spots her and tries to stop her. When she located the library, the first thought that went through my head was Belle from Beauty and the Beast.  I imagined her reaction and amazement to be the same and that brought smiles to my face. 

Amal is wise and clever, which I feel gives her an edge.  She does what’s expected of her and she tries to stay out of trouble.  She just wants the debt to be paid off so she can return home and return to her studies.

I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was a fast read and I really liked the character of Amal. She was a bright individual, a character who matured in the novel and someone that I cheered for throughout the whole book.

Good Enough by Jen Petro-Roy

4 stars Realistic Fiction/ Middle School

I didn’t know what to expect from this book when I first started listening to it. I knew that I wanted to read it as it was on my TBR list but as I started to listen to it, I didn’t like how the book was starting out.  I continued listening and, in the end, I liked the rollercoaster ride that I took with Riley. 

When Riley was checked into the treatment center by her mother, Riley acted standoffish and I thought she wouldn’t make it.  She didn’t see herself belonging to the individuals on this floor.  She didn’t feel that she had an eating disorder and she believed that she would be in-and-out of the center within hours.  She hid behind the truth because she believed it, she’d convinced herself that she was normal, so why was she there? 

Riley liked salad and she liked to run.  Actually, I thought Riley was obsessed with running.  If you could look inside her head, you would see a different Riley but of course, you couldn’t.  Riley had convinced herself that what she was doing was normal because that was the world that she lived in. I could totally understand what Riley was saying and why she was saying it.  Riley had not just convinced me but I looked at Riley’s life and I saw things the way she saw them. While at the center, Riley was playing the staff and not being totally honest with them.  I felt that if she continued, they might just release her, and then what?  She’d go right back to being Riley and hiding her eating disorder.  Riley really needed to see that eating healthy wasn’t a bad thing, she needed someone to help her take those first few steps.

Being in treatment, Riley is able to take a few baby steps towards a healthy eating plan.  There are others in the program who are struggling, so she is not alone.  It’s not easy, every meal they struggled and there are the inner voices that haunt and taunt them, as their eyes glare down on their food.  It was the voices that got me as I listened to this novel on audio.  I don’t feel that I have an eating disorder but I could totally relate to what they were telling Riley.  I’m health conscious and I think about those extra calories before I eat them.

I thought she was making huge improvements.  Riley was starting to feel good about herself, she was learning to accept her new image, and Riley was living in a controlled environment, yet wait…….what would happen when they set her free?  I hate to be a Debbie Downer but let’s face reality here. What would happen when Riley gets released and she has to face her friends, her family, and the real world?  You have to consider this outside world influences Riley. How is she going to handle this?  Riley is a twelve-year-old teen and pressure is high at this age.  I, seriously had my doubts for Riley.  I wouldn’t be surprised or upset if Riley had issues once she is released. 

I like how this book addressed Riley’s eating disorder. How it began, her struggles and successes, and how her life was like outside the center. This was a great, realistic novel that I’m glad I read and would definitely recommend.  

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.