Review: Elemental Island

elemental island

Summary: Astie has always been different. Her 12th birthday is looming and she still has not decided on her thesis. All the Learners at the Hub picked theirs years ago. If it wasn’t for her cousin, Jakob, life would be unbearable on Elemental Island. On the verge of being diagnosed with Social Syndrome, she stumbles upon Danny who has landed in a forbidden flight machine….(continued here)

Age Level: Middle Grade (ages 8-13)

Genre: Adventure (with low level Sci-Fi feels)

Pages: 224 (hardcover)

Published: December 2015 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers

This book is a celebration of differences. In a world where everyone loves logic, order, and alone time, main character Astie is on the verge of turning 12 with no scientific thesis to obsess over and an enjoyment of spending time with people, and hugs, that is going to get her shunned as having what is known as Social Syndrome. Of course, Astie winds up saving the day. But I will leave it to you to discover just how she does it.

I enjoyed this book very much. It was a quick read, coming in at only a few hours in one of my days to read it, but the storyline has stuck with me. The world Ms. Hoopmann created is a logical, scientific narrative of what an island full of fully functioning autistic humans might be like. They are secluded. They are safe. They have no contact with an outside world, because there isn’t one (as far as they know). They like it that way, and if anyone starts being too social, or illogical, or touchy feely. Well they might have to be retrained. This flip-flop of what we normally see in books made me happy and excited to read on. I really liked the interactions between our main character and her family and friends. They were written true to how someone with non-neurotypical tendencies might speak and react, which I really appreciated.

This book earned 3.5 dragons from me. Go check it out.

 

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3 Reasons to read MG as an Adult

There is a debate happening across BookTube and book blogs right now, one that happens every few years, about reading YA (young adult) fiction as *gasp* adults. I won’t get into it because I am, in fact, an ‘adult’ and I do, indeed, continue to enjoy YA books. It happens. What I do want to discuss today is something I think deserves just as much discussion: Children’s and Middle Grade books. Specifically, the benefits of reading children’s and middle grade fiction long after you’ve passed the top end of that particular age bracket. Don’t worry, I’ve narrowed this down to a top 3 list!

1)      If you are a parent, teacher, caregiver, aunt, uncle, cousin, or person who lives near children (a.k.a. pretty much anyone on the planet) reading children’s and middle grade literature allows you to keep your finger on the pulse of the younger generations. You can not only monitor what they’re being exposed to through their reading, you can also find common ground to strike up conversations. Start a book club with them and discuss the important things, both in the books and in their lives.

Similarly, if you’ve been reading children’s and middle grade books in a wide variety you will be more readily equipped to suggest the book that might change a child’s life. For example, you hate reading but love skateboarding and now you’re grounded until you choose a book and write a review for class? Try out Tony Hawk’s autobiography.  You might just help with an assignment, but this might be the way they get into reading…or pass the fifth grade.

2)      Books meant for a younger audience deal with hard hitting issues such as death, race, orientation, and even terrorism in a more direct and seemingly sensitive manner which can help ease you into dealing with these issues in a much swifter and easier fashion than many adult books, which either swerve around the problem or tackle it with bloody force. Articles on dealing with grief might help eventually, but a good cry while reading through L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables might help you get up and try a lot faster than a ‘professional’ giving step by step instructions.

3)      Finally, sometimes you just want to relax, de-stress, and read something that allows you to revisit the home and innocence of your youth. You miss the times of braces, first crushes, and bff’s for-like-ever. These can all be revisited smoothly and swiftly with an old favorite (I like to curl up with one of Ann M. Martin’s Babysitter’s Club Books or some Winnie the Pooh myself) or even through a new modern ‘classic’ like Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven series. Maybe the feel of a Nancy Drew book can transport you back to the summer of awkward growth spurts and braids, or the flow of Harry Potter remind you of acne and beginning football.  Whatever it is, read to remember the wonder and awe of your childhood. Let the stresses of your ‘adulting’ melt away. Believe again.

It’s ok, no one will judge you for enjoying a good book.  If they try to, just ignore them and retreat to a well-made couch fort. No one has time for that sort of negativity!

Interview | MG Author Chris Grabenstein

In the past few months I’ve discovered an author that’s been around awhile, but that I’ve only just discovered. Since then, I’ve read multiple books by this middle grade author and can honestly say that he is my new favorite author.

Chris Grabenstein is a funny, interesting, and intelligent author from Buffalo, New York. He co-writes the I FUNNY, HOUSE OF ROBOTS, TREASURE HUNTERS, and JACKY HA-HA books with James Patterson, as well as writing many of his own, fabulous, works. My current favorite is a three way tie between Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, and Dr. Libris Library. You can find Mr. Grabenstein at Goodreads and at chrisgrabenstein.com.

I caught up with Chris this past week and he very kindly answered a few questions for me to pass along to you. So, without further ado, here is Author Chris Grabensteins Interview.

1) I stalked your Goodreads page and saw that Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library was inspired by a library in New York and that a 5th grader made the comment that got the ball rolling for Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, which are both amazing, but who did you base the characters on? And are YOU MR. Lemoncello?
The characters come from various sources.  Kyle Keeley, who is the third son in his family, is based on my memories of being the third son in my family.  The only time I could ever beat my big brothers was when we played board games.  Sierra Russell is based on every bookworm I’ve met on my numerous school visits (and seems to be a character that resonates with a lot of young readers and older ones, too!)  Miguel Fernandez is based on (and named after) a fifth grader I tutored at my church’s Homework Help program.   And, yes, Mr. Lemoncello is sort of based on me and also the late Jim Henson, whom I worked for back in the 1980s.   The wackiness comes from me.  The unbridled creativity coupled with a bajillion dollars comes from Mr. Henson.
I, like many of us, adore the late Jim Henson. This makes me love Lemoncello even more (which I didn’t know was possible)
2) Welcome to Wonderland, Home Sweet Motel is coming out October of 2016 and (on your website) features Roadside Americana. Was it a piece of that roadside Americana that prompted and inspired this story? If so, what piece started the journey?
WONDERLAND is based on my memories of visiting my grandmother every summer in St. Petersburg, Florida.  We’d pack up the car and hit the road, stopping at places like South Of The Border and Weeki Wachee Springs (mermaid shows!).   While staying at an extended stay motel in Michigan, helping my wife take care of her father, I remembered how much I used to LOVE staying in a motel when I was a kid.  Swimming pools!  Snack vending machines!  Toilets sanitized for my protection.   So, I wondered, what if I was a kid who LIVED in a motel!
I feel a road trip coming on!
3) You’ve written books across the age levels, is there any difference in your writing process when those age levels and genres change?
When writing for ages 8-12, I have to watch my language.  No, not that way (even though I do).  I have to be more aware of the vocabulary I am using and, if I use a word that may not be in a fifth graders lexicon, put it into a context where the meaning can be understood.  I also write for short attention spans because I have one, too, and get bored easily in the long descriptive paragraphs that most readers tend to skip anyway.
4) What IS your writing process? (I, personally, tend to be a pantser. Do you outline, meticulously write note cards, or just let the words flow?)
When I was writing one, maybe two, books a year I was definitely a pantser.   Now, as I attempt to write or coauthor 5-6 books every twelve months, I craft a very tight outline with all the major beats, twists, turns, etc. planted.  I find that my working on the outline for a week or two, I save a month or two one the back end with rewrites.
Maybe I should start working on finding the right kind of outline again…I gave up that search awhile ago but…saves a month or two on rewrites!
5) Do you have any superstitions or traditions that help you get more writing done and, if so, do those change depending on the story, age level, or genre?
No real superstitions.  Just a very boring, self-disciplined work ethic.
6) I’ve seen you give the advice to ‘write, write, write…’ and ‘give yourself permission to write a bad first draft.’ Do you have any other advice you’d like to give to aspiring (or already there) authors?
Follow Elmore Leonard’s TEN RULES FOR GOOD WRITING
Especially the last bit of advice:  “My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
7) Do you read Indie and/or self-published authors? What advice would you give them?
I must admit that I don’t have much experience with self-published books.  I have self-published a few e-titles of my own and have great respect for those who can make it work for them.  I don’t have the marketing/promotional energy to do it correctly.
He’s not kidding! I am a totally indie author at the moment and I never have that energy!
8) What books are on your reading pile right now?
Edward Eager’s KNIGHT’S CASTLE, HAMILTON, and UNDERGROUND AIRLINES.
Look, even Chris Grabenstein is reading Hamilton, I need to jump on that bandwagon.
9) Finally, in Dr. Libris the protagonist(s) find an island on a lake where story characters come to life. What character(s) would you most like to have come to life to spend a day with you? (yours and/or someone else’s)
Mr. Lemoncello. So he can tell me what happens next.
a) that means we’ll possibly be getting a 4th Lemoncello book (the 3rd is coming soon!)
b) he’d be on the top of my list too, along with Gandalf. I want to see Gandalf, Dumbledore, and Lemoncello hanging out.

The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall

By: Mary Downing Hahn

  • Age Range:10 – 12 years
  • Grade Level:5 – 7
  • Paperback:160 pages
  • Publisher:HMH Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (September 6, 2011)

 
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Amazon Book Summary:

When twelve-year-old Florence boards the crowded horse-drawn coach in London, she looks forward to a new life with her great uncle and aunt at Crutchfield Hall, an old manor house in the English countryside. Anything will be better, she thinks, than the grim London orphanage where she has lived since her parents’ death.
But Florence doesn’t expect the ghost of her cousin Sophia, who haunts the cavernous rooms and dimly lit hallways of Crutchfield and concocts a plan to use Florence to help her achieve her murderous goals. Will Florence be able to convince the others in the household of the imminent danger and stop Sophia before it’s too late?

Character Believability:

The characters in this book are for the most part, fiercely one dimensional. While some of their traits come across smoothly and with incredible believability, the flat stubbornness of the characters brought the believability down to a 3 out of 5 for me.

Flow and Pace:

The flow was choppy in several places, but the pace was well set. While it could have been smoothed out a little more, I felt this book had a good set up and movement for its intended middle grade audience. I gave this category a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Reader Engagement:

The storyline and plot twists kept me engaged, despite the predictable events and flat character personas.

I enjoyed the glimmers of a great story that shone through and even had a couple of moments in which my spine was tingled. I gave this category a 4 out of 5 possible stars.

Reader Enrichment:

I walked away without feeling enriched at all. I honestly have nothing that I felt boosted my mind in any way and give this category 2 out of the possible 5 stars.

Reader Enjoyment:

This was a quick, decent, and fairly enjoyment read for me. I believe that the intended audience of middle grade students will have a great enjoyment in this book. I am giving this category 3.5 out of possible 5 stars.

Back Copy:

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The back cover copy, which is almost identical to the summary listed above, feels choppy and not very intriguing. 3 out of 5 stars for the Back Copy.

Front Cover:

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The picture on the front cover works well. It goes with the story, is intriguing and a little creepy, and would work even better as the first thing to pull in a reader if there wasn’t a large red splotch over the female character’s head. I understand that this story is about a ghost and the way she died would lend itself to this macabre addition to the image. However, the red blot actually takes away from the creep factor of the book. 3 out of 5 stars for this image as well.

Overall Rating: 3.14 Stars.

Rump Review

Rump:

The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin

Written by: Liesl Shurtliff

Printed by Scholastic Inc. 2014

Age Range: Middle Grades (8-13 years old)

 

Book Review by:

 Elizabeth S. Tyree

(www.alaynabellesmom.wordpress.com

www.facebook.com/TyreeTomes

www.amazon.com/author/elizabethtyree )

 

In Liesl Shurtliff’s Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin the audience is introduced to Rump, a 12 year old boy living in a world where your name is your destiny…and he’s named after the rear end of a cow.

Rump is trying to find his destiny and, along the way, discovers family secrets, friendship, and the real power of names.

At the beginning of the story Rump is a small-for-his-age twelve year old that is the *ahem* butt of the town’s joke. Liesl Shurtliff has created a world in which nothing has a unique name, except for the people inhabiting it. Rump lives in The Village on The Mountain, wherein no animals have names and no town in THE KINGDOM has a real name, known only as Yonder, The King’s City, etc.

On the Mountain, villagers dig for gold to trade with the Kingdom for their rations. Pixies, who love gold, become excited around veins of gold, but haven’t been active lately…that is, until Rump turns 12 and they become agitated every time they’re anywhere around him.

Cue zany antics and the search for his true name! With the help of his only friend, Red, her grandmother, and his family, Rump searches for his real name, learns his special gift, and begins the journey that will lead him to becoming a well-known and sometimes villainized fairy tale character.

I give this book 5 out of 5 dragons for the awesome cover art. The whimsical depiction of a dark wood, a castle, pixies, and two young people on the cover caught my eye before the title did!

As for the story, I give it 4 out of 5 dragons. I enjoy a good twist on the classics probably more than a lot of people I know, but this had little to do with the old story I always enjoyed. In fact, I rather like the character of Rumpelstiltskin and this supremely likable character, whom the audience will identify and empathize with, threw me for a loop!

Over all, though, I enjoyed this book immensely and look forward to reading other works by Liesl Shurtliff. (I’m getting ready to go get Jack now!)