Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Fat Boy Chronicles, by Diane Lang and Michael Buchanan

Jimmy Winterpock always gets teased by the football team for being fat.  He’s not just a little overweight, mind you, but just plain fat.  Thanks to a writing journal kept for his English class, we get to follow along over the course of the school year as Jimmy works to slim down with healthy lifestyle changes.  Jimmy is thrilled to see the changes in his body, and along the way he discovers that nearly all of his school friends have some kind of personal problems as well.

Even though this book seems to be focused on Jimmy’s personal struggle with obesity, I found myself even more sympathetic to the other kids at his school.  Adolescence is hard enough by itself, but you’re really creating a recipe for disaster when you add in other risks like abusive parents, depression or learning disabilities.  Although this book is clearly categorized as “young adult” due to its mature themes, I’d actually recommend it for parents as well.  Jimmy’s journal provides a window into the mind of a teenager, and the issues they could be silently struggling with.   

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Tangerine, by Edward Bloor

Paul Fisher is a visually impaired young man best known for his unique goggles.  Despite his impairment, he’s a natural athlete and a great soccer goalie.  When he moves to Florida and a sinkhole destroys half of his new school, the students are given the choice of busing to the town’s other public school, Tangerine Middle.  Paul sees this as his chance to finally make the starting team, so he starts all over again as the new kid…twice in the same year!

Even though Tangerine Middle seemed like a rough place, this book didn’t contain any graphic descriptions of violence so I’d say it’s fine for middle grade readers.  In fact, I’d think that it would be a very helpful book for anyone who’s feeling anxious about an upcoming change in schools.  After everything that Paul goes through, the challenge of starting all over would seem small in comparison!

One of the best things about this book is the way that Mr. Bloor peels back the shiny veneer of the state of Florida, a place most of us associate with theme parks and holiday destinations, to show that there are real people with real problems here as well.  “Tangerine” was the first book I’ve read from this talented writer, but it will definitely not be my last.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Okay for Now, by Gary D. Schmidt

Doug Swieteck is a fourteen-year old who just moved to a new town.  With no friends and a lousy family, it seems as if the entire world is stacked up against him, at least until he meets Lil Spicer.  Lil is a fiery young lady who turns Doug on to his local library, a place of solitude of Doug’s otherwise stormy life.  As Doug discovers the joy of drawing, he works to integrate himself into the social web of small-town New York.

Even though Doug has his share of challenges to overcome, including a dysfunctional family, an abusive father, brushes with the law and a brother deployed to Vietnam, this is hardly an “issue” book.  Rather, Mr. Schmidt focuses more on Doug’s passion for drawing, and how having a creative outlet helps him manage all these stressors.  Drawing initially helps Doug escape from his troubled world, but later he uses his talents to begin healing it. 

This is a particularly raw, real story, and I appreciate the no-nonsense manner in which Mr. Schmidt told it.  I wouldn’t recommend the book for any young men under 14 or 15, but it’s a must-read for anyone old enough to handle to mature themes.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Good Boy, Fergus, by David Shannon

Meet Fergus, the Scottie dog who takes disobedience to a whole new level.  This book follows him through a perfect doggy day, from chasing cats and motorcycles to being scratched on his favorite spot.  Even though Fergus has a mind of his own, he’s a perfect angel in the mind of his owners.  There’s nothing he could do that would make him anything but a “good dog!”

This picture book features very few words, and Mr. Shannon chooses to tell the real story through his hilarious illustrations.  Our kids found themselves cracking up at these situations, since they were old enough to know what was really expected of a “good dog”.  This book quickly became one of our favorites, destined to be read again and again.  

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Homer Price, by Robert McCloskey

Homer Price is a mild-mannered boy who lives in the sleepy town of Centerburg.  Somehow, he continues to get himself involved in the most outrageous incidents, like the time when a donut-making machine ran out of control.  Even worse was the time when Homer came face-to-face with his comic book hero, the Super-Duper, and he realizes that….well, I’ll let you read this one for yourself!

Homer Price was written in 1943 so the environment might seem a little dated, although the characters are genuine and will still resonate today.  Boys will be boys, no matter the century.  Homer Price is a hilarious book for middle-grade readers, one that I’d even be willing to recommend to a girl!  

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot, by Dav Pilkey

This is the story of Ricky Ricotta, a lonely little mouse who befriends a mysterious giant robot.   The robot helps Ricky with his homework, stands up to the school bullies, and even saves the world by battling the evil Doctor Stinky McNasty!  Using an amazing graphic novel format, even the most reluctant reader will find himself whizzing through the chapters.

 Some of you might already be familiar with Mr. Pilkey’s work from his epic series, Captain Underpants.  The Ricky Ricotta series features his same brand of unique humor, although slightly turned down for younger readers.  First- and second-grade boys would probably love the juxtaposition of a tiny mouse teamed with a giant robot….at least, I sure did! 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen

Brian Robeson is a thirteen-year-old boy, the son of divorced parents.  While traveling through Canada on a Cessna plane to meet his father for the summer, the pilot suffers a massive heart attack and dies.  Brian survives a crash-landing in the forest, leaving him stranded on his own with nothing to help him survive…except for a single hatchet.

“Hatchet” is a fast-paced adventure story which is considered to be one of today’s must-read books for young men, although I’m ashamed to say I never read it before now.  It’s a fast-paced story in which a seemingly endless series of challenges are thrown at Brian, one after another.  In fact, the only thing I really didn’t care for with this book was the way that it all seemed so unfair!  After surviving a traumatic plane crash, you’d think the last thing Brian would have to worry about would be dying from starvation or exposure!

Mr. Paulsen’s book proved so popular that he went on to write another four books in the “Hatchet” series, which collectively became known as “Brian’s Saga”.  I’m planning to move on to the first sequel in the series soon, if only to find out what kind of adventures Brian will be thrown into next.  Even though it never seems fair when it’s the entire world against one boy, these hopeless situations sure make for a great story!  “Hatchet” gets my strongest recommendation, so be sure to pick up your copy today.