MS Fiction – Dance Fever; The Shadow Cipher; The First Rule of Punk; Auma’s Long Run

Bowe, Julie. Dance Fever. Stone Arch, 2017. 978-1-4965-3819-2. 148p. $19.99. Gr. 4-8.

Victoria Torres is back in another installment of Capstone’s Victoria Torres, Unfortunately Average series. In Dance Fever, Victoria is finding her role on her middle school’s fundraising committee to be stressful. Annalise (one of the bossiest girls in the school) proposes holding a formal dance to raise funds, but other students want a more relaxed activity. Victoria thinks she’s hit upon the perfect compromise: a barn dance with a Wild West theme. When Annalise agrees, it looks like a crisis has been averted. But Annalise has one condition, she wants the event to be a Sadie Hawkins dance. Now Victoria not only has to deal with helping to organize and run the event, she also must try to work up the nerve to ask her crush Drew to the dance! THOUGHTS: This series is fun and humorous, yet incorporates issues/topics relevant to upper elementary and middle school students. The characters in Dance Fever must work together to meet a common goal, compromise in order to reach their goal, deal with obstacles/complications, and even ask someone out for the first time. Overall, a great (and quick) read.

Realistic Fiction       Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg School District

 

Ruby, Laura. The Shadow Cipher: York (Book 1). New York: Walden Pond Press, 2017. 978-0-0623-0693-7. 496 p. $17.99. Gr. 5-8.

In 1798, the Morningstar twins arrived in New York City and began building impressive buildings with state-of-the-art machines and technology. They then mysteriously disappeared with their assistant, but their legacy left a lasting impact on the city. It was also rumored that the twins hid a vast fortune in the city that could only be discovered by solving the Old Cipher, a cryptic, seemingly unsolvable puzzle.  Over 300 years later, Tess and Theo Bidermann and Jamie Cruz live in an apartment building designed by the Morningstar twins. A real estate developer is determined to demolish the building along with the other Morningstar buildings in the city. Tess, Theo, and Jamie are determined to save their beloved building and are convinced it’s their time to solve the Cipher and show the world it’s real. THOUGHTS Ruby’s middle grade follow-up to the excellent Bone Gap is a fun, adventurous novel with a lot of heart. Give this one to The Mysterious Benedict Society fans.

Mystery     Vicki Schoewbel, Friends’ Central School

 

Pérez. Celia C. The First Rule of Punk. Viking, 2017.  978-0-425-29040-8. 310p. $16.99.  Gr. 4-8.

Malu has to move to a new place, but only for two years for her mom’s job.   She calls her mom, “Super Mexican” as she tries to get Malu to become more of a senorita.  Malu’s parents are divorced and her dad, who is a white record store owner and lover of punk music, won’t be coming with them.  Once she gets to Chicago, for the first time in her life, there are other Mexican-Americans around her besides her mom.  In order to deal with all of the changes in her life, Malu makes zines, many of which are sprinkled throughout this book.  Malu does manage to make friends in Chicago and make some music as well.  Malu is a strong character, who still makes mistakes.  At times, this story hits the reader over the head with too much Mexican history and culture at once, but at other times it feels appropriate and flows naturally.  It works best when it is incorporated into one of Malu’s zines.  THOUGHTS: If you are looking to add diversity to your collection for this age group, this is a solid purchase.  Any student who feels out of place can relate to Malu.  

Realistic Fiction      Toni Vahlsing, Abington Friends School

 

Odhiambo, Eucabeth. Auma’s Long Run.  Carolrhoda Books, 2017. 978-1-5124-2784-4  298 p.  $17.99  Gr. 5-8.

Auma has been running her whole life.  She lives in Kenya and has pinned her hopes on attending secondary school knowing that her only chance of making it there is via a track scholarship. Auma’s dreams don’t stop there; instead of marrying young, like so many girls, Auma wants to become a doctor. Compared to many of the families in her small village, Auma lives a comfortable existence with enough to eat, occasional treats, and the tuition money that will allow her to complete primary school and score well on her admittance exams. However, a dark cloud looms over the village as more and more adults start succumbing to a strange new disease that no one wants to talk about. When Auma’s beloved Baba (father) comes home from his job in the city not feeling well, Auma’s world is turned upside down. Although Auma desperately wants to hold on to her dreams, she is suddenly burdened with the responsibility of supporting and caring for her younger siblings.  Auma starts to learn the truth about the dreaded disease invading her village, AIDS, but there is no cure and little comfort.  Auma’s struggle to keep her dream of getting an education and eventually becoming a doctor alive while keeping her family from starving is nothing short of inspirational.  THOUGHTS: While the writing is very straightforward, at times almost pedestrian, the story is vitally important both in terms of its specific setting (1990s in Kenya) and its larger, universal themes.  A valuable addition for middle school libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

MS Fiction – The Gauntlet; Making Bombs for Hitler; Stef Soto, Taco Queen; You May Already be a Winner

Raizi, Karuna. The Gauntlet. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1-4814-8696-5. $16.99.  Gr. 5-8.

Twelve year old Farah Mirza recently moved from Queens to the Upper East Side in New York City. Though she never had any problems in her last school, the kids here don’t understand her hijaab or her younger brother Ahmad’s issues. At her birthday party, Farah is excited to see her two closest friends from Queens, Essie and Alex. They decide to open a mysterious gift from Farah’s aunt and are elated to see it’s a board game called The Gauntlet. What they don’t know is that Farah’s aunt did not mean to gift this game – and that the game is alive! Soon they are sucked into the world of The Gauntlet, and must work against a game that doesn’t play fair. When Farah sees that Ahmad is in the game, too, she is determined to find him and free herself and her friends. THOUGHTS:  It’s refreshing to see a strong Muslim lead character in a middle grade novel! Farah is a clever and fierce protagonist whose faith in her friends and family never waivers. While the book is an adventure, Riazi also adds in some subtle social commentary that reflects the world outside the book.

Fantasy    Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuck. Making Bombs for Hitler. Scholastic, 2017. 9781338170757. 232 pp.  $6.99. Gr. 6-8.

In this absorbing novel, Skrypuch makes the reader aware of a lesser known aspect of World War II – that of the enslavement of Ukrainian and other Eastern Europeans by Nazi Germany.  Lida is a 10 year old Ukrainian girl who has known tragedy in her short life.  First, her mother is killed by German soldiers, and then Lida and her younger sister Larissa are captured by the Nazis.  Separated from her sister, Lida is sent on a train to an abysmal work camp in Germany.  The author does not shy away for describing the horrors of the train ride and life in the camp.  While not discussed in detail, the author leaves no doubt about the fate of the younger children in the camp, who are taken to the “hospital” for medical experimentation   At first, she works with the laundress and has a relatively clean and safe job.  This changes as the Allies continue to push forward into Germany. Lida is taken to factory to fit together bombs, a place where one wrong move or a tiny piece of metal will cause the factory to explode. Facing meager rations and lice-ridden condition, Lida and her friends know what they need to do in order to survive.   THOUGHTS: This text provides another perspective of the war and is a valuable addition to World War II juvenile literature.

Historical Fiction            Denise Medwick, West Allegheny School District

 

Torres, Jennifer. Stef Soto, Taco Queen. Little, Brown, 2017. 978-0-316-30686-7 166 p. $16.99. Gr. 4-7.

Mexican-American Stef Soto is the daughter of immigrants, and while she loves her parents and is proud of their success, she wishes they would leave her alone sometimes. She’s horrified when her father comes to pick her up at school in his taco food truck, especially when she overhears popular girl Julia refer to her as the “Taco Queen.”  Stef decides to show her parents how responsible she is so they give her more freedom, a plan that doesn’t work out the way she hopes it will. Meanwhile, she gets involved in a school fundraiser, finds herself paired up with Julia, and winds up alienating her two best friends.  Spanish words are skillfully woven throughout the book, either defined or easily understood in context. THOUGHTS:  This debut novel is a light-hearted, fun read, and Stef is a likeable, relatable heroine.  Highly recommended for elementary and middle school libraries.

Realistic Fiction        Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Stef Soto is embarrassed. She just wants to be an average seventh grader. But it’s hard to be anonymous when your dad picks you up after school every day driving the family’s taco food truck, Tia Perla. Her immigrant parents are working hard to make a good life for the Soto family, and they’re a little too protective of their only child (at least that’s how Stef feels). When Stef wins concert tickets, she tries to convince her parents to let her attend, but she knows it will ultimately prove unsuccessful. A talented artist, Stef is also working with her classmates to try and raise funds for art supplies for their school. When proposed changes to city regulations threaten the future of her family’s food truck business, Stef must reevaluate her feelings for Tia Perla. Maybe the food truck is worth standing up and fighting for, after all. THOUGHTS: This family-centric story is a solid addition to upper elementary/middle school shelves. Readers will find themselves rooting for the Stef and her friends as well as the Soto family. Spanish words and phrases are integrated within the storyline; non-Spanish speakers will have no trouble understanding their meaning.
Realistic Fiction    Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

 

Ellis, Ann Dee. You May Already Be a Winner. Dial Books, 2017. 978-1-101-99385-9. 352 p. $19.99. Gr. 5-8.

Twelve year old Olivia has the responsibility of someone much older. With her mom working overtime to make ends meet and her dad “away” in Bryce Canyon, Liv tries to keep her little sister, Berkeley, entertained. Since Berk can’t go to daycare anymore, Liv stays home from school and looks after her, making sure they take time to practice various subjects in their workbooks.  Life in Sunny Pines Trailer Park isn’t always sunny and happy. Olivia’s former best friend has moved on, and Olivia begins to wonder about feelings she might have for a boy. Trying to distract Berk from their misfortune further, Olivia comes up with a circus spectacular, so they have something to plan and look forward to. As her mother’s resolve begins to crack, Liv has to take on even more responsibility. Determined to change their luck, Olivia follows a very strict routine of entering online contests, that is until their computer dies and the librarian asks questions about why the girls aren’t in school.  THOUGHTS: This is a heartbreaking look at family dynamics and being honest with oneself and each other. With Olivia’s wild imagination, there are parts of her story that are fabricated, and those may confuse young readers, but it is a beautiful story of sisterhood, hope, and not giving up on those you love.

Realistic Fiction       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District