Loss, Lemonade and (Big Foot)Lore

Lemonade Liberty Witt has a mother who is a free spirit full of love. Lemonade has lots of friends and likes living in the city. But death erases the life she knows. Her mother dies of cancer.  Lemonade is sent to live with Charlie, a grandpa she doesn’t know who lives  in a rural town, Willow Creek, the dorky so-called “Big Foot Capital of the World”. What’s worse, her grandpa runs the Big Foot Souvenirs and More store downtown. All Lemonade wants to do is return to her former existence and stop feeling the overwhelming pain of grief. Then she meets Tobin, an oddball kid who has his own Big Foot Detective Agency.  Like Lemonade, Tobin has struggles. His strict adherence to rules and dedication to finding the elusive Sasquatch make him a glowing target for bullies. He has not seen his father since his dad was freed from imprisonment in Vietnam.  Expected to board a plane to return home, his father, instead, disappears. Tobin is convinced his father will return and soon. Lemonade becomes Tobin’s Big Foot-hunting assistant and, many Sasquatch expeditions and intense disagreements later, they become buddies. Eventually, Lemonade develops more friendships with locals both young and old. Ultimately, she realizes that these caring townsfolk and, most importantly her grandfather, love her and she has forged a new family in this new place.

Melissa Savage, the story’s author, expertly weaves common threads through the tale: we all suffer loss, it gets better over time if we let others in, life’s not fair, but we are strong and love (and friendship) conquer all. The topic of death seems heavy, but the humorous banter between Lemonade and Tobin, along with the adventure of Sasquatch hunting, balances the story. FYI: There is some dialogue about the need to pee in the woods and a brief mention of the difference between male and female Sasquatch (one has stuff up top). Because a main topic is grief, the book is best read by 5th or 6th grade students or shared aloud and discussed with younger readers.

Written by Melissa Savage

Copyright 2018

Accelerated Reader Level 4.1

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She’s No Plain Donut!

A unique and strong-willed girl named Donut is the star of my newest scout, A Stitch in Time, set in the 1930’s and written by Daphne Kalmar. Donut’s name is as unusual as her life. Her mom passes when  Donut is just a baby, she spends her time hanging out with Sam, a taxidermist, learning to stuff birds and mice that she finds in the woods of Vermont and Tiny, her sweet, “not-so-tiny” friend. Her father is a dreamer and that suits Donut just fine. But when he suddenly dies, Donut’s Aunt Agatha arrives from Boston to care for her. Not only does she serve oatmeal for breakfast and turnips at supper, both of which are on Donut’s “don’t-care-for-list”, but she plans to uproot Donut and take her back to the big city to live with her and Aunt Jo. Donut, still grieving for her dad, wants no part of that arrangement, so devises schemes of her own. When those fail, she concocts an ill-thought-out plan to run away and stay in a friend’s cabin. Donut must cross a lake, keep warm, and deal with the woods at night.  Nonetheless, fueled by her anger at everyone, from Sam for not successfully helping her stay, to her aunt, to Tiny, who can’t keep a secret, to, ultimately, her father for leaving her, she stays for days aware of the worry and fear she is causing everyone.  A blazing fire brings the story high drama and propels Donut to make decisions and realizations about her life, future and the people in it.

Kalmar brings Donut’s experiences in the woods to life with depth of  description that will draw in readers. I recommend this book for the older end of intermediate chapter book readers, grades 4 or 5 through 6. Some of the language of the time may need explaining, although it is entertaining, “the cabin was as dull as ditchwater.” But more so, there are references to smoking a pipe, drinking and a sprinkling of words such as damn and, at one point, Donut talks about how swearing makes her feel better. Emphasizing that it’s a work of FICTION, may be in order for impressionable partakers.

Written by Daphne Kalmar

No Accelerated Reader quiz yet exists

Copyright 2018

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Just Dance!

Okay, today’s Flashback Friday is a bit of a trick and Halloween’s over! Hmmm….anyway, I’ve featured a flashback as well as a new release by the same author. Guess that just means she’s been and continues to be a talented writer!

Patricia Maclachlan is the quintessential writer of short, richly worded stories that warm the heart.  Many of them are historical in nature, like her 1985 Newbery Award Winnng gem, Sarah, Plain and Tall, and the ensuing books in its series: Skylark, Caleb’s Story, More Perfect than the Moon and Grandfather’s Dance.  But, of late, MacLachlan has been spinning short, touching yarns about other topics. In White Fur Flying, Philip is a nine-year-old boy who is sent to live with his aunt. Although the dogs in her rescue operation come and go, one dog, Kodi, is her permanent resident. Philip, who is nonverbal with everyone else, talks to Kodi. It is, like all of MacLachlan’s tales, heart-warming with a satisfying ending. Her most recent release is my current scout: Just Dance. In this country story, Sylvie lives on a farm with her parents and younger brother, Nathan. Sylvie has a talent for noticing details, processing them and transferring them to paper. Despite her efforts, however, there is one piece of her life she just can’t seem to puzzle out. When her parents fell in love and married, her mother, a gifted soprano, gave up performing to raise her family on the farm. Her mother seems at peace with singing to the cows and sheep rather than a human audience, but Sylvie can’t comprehend why anyone would give up glitz and glamour for plain old life on a farm. When Sylvie gets the chance to ride with the sherriff and write about her observations of local crime and town life, she gains a bit of local fame herself. But it’s not until James, a former performing partner of her mother, arrives in town for a show that Sylvie finally understands how even a successful singer can happily choose family over fame.

MacLachlan’s sweet, simple-yet-impactful tales are a great fit for readers just entering the world of chapter books.

Written by Patricia MacLachlan

Copyright 2018

Accelerated Reader level 3.5

I just finished scouting out the latest survival tale by Lauren Tarshis: I Survived the Children’s Blizzard, 1888.  As with her other survival novels, she effectively transports readers back in time, bringing a period of history alive through the dangerous events experienced by young characters..

In this offering, John, his parents and sister Franny move from Chicago to Dakota Territory. It’s 1887, and Mama and Papa are thrilled to take the government up on its offer of 160 acres of free farmland. Frontier life, however, is initially not so idyllic for John, who enjoyed his city life, friends and the not-as-extreme temperatures of Chicago.  Here, he endures the sweltering summer, the bitter-cold winter and his family’s rustic home made of sod, which occasionally leaks and frequently contains bugs and mice. Over time, however, John becomes part of a tight group of friends and wants to attend school. After a winter cold snap keeps them homebound, John and Franny return to school only to be caught up in a massive, quickly-approaching blizzard. The story pace  quickens equally.  Franny becomes missing, John risks his life and needs to be rescued, then he and his friends find themselves abandoned in deadly conditions. Readers will root for John and friends as they fight to survive the lethal blizzard.

By the time readers get to the end of the story, they’ll want to learn more about this historic blizzard that took the lives of 100 children. Thankfully, Tarshis includes a thorough Questions and Answers section following the conclusion of the story.

The straightforward simplicity of this story  makes it most suitable for third, fourth and some fifth-grade readers.

Written by Lauren Tarshis

Copyright 2018

Accelerated Reader Level 4.3

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If you’re not familiar with the I Survived series, it’s time to start your collection of these high-interest historical fiction books!

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Bigger May be Better, but Tiny is Terrific!

Eddie and his family discreetly live in a classroom at Ferny Creek Elementary. Life is good until the day that Aunt Min travels to the library and never returns. Eddie is tasked with traveling to the library and rescuing her. Dangers abound, with a school full of squishers (humans) and physical challenges.  Eddie, however, perseveres, locating Aunt Min, but realizing she is injured and he must stay with her as she heals. The two are book-loving bugs, content to discuss classics, enjoy story time and observe the young readers of Ferny Creek Library. All changes, however, when the librarian takes a leave to have her babies (yes, babies, she’s having three!). Enter the substitute librarian, Mrs. Vrisch (guess what her name rhymes with? yep, squish). Eddie and Aunt Minn overhear her evil plan to get rid of books and convert the library into a testing center (horrors!). Now, Eddie must take on one big job for a little bug….saving the Ferny Creek Library. Communicating with humans through sticky notes and inadvertently perpetuating the idea that the ghost of a former library volunteer is haunting the library, Eddie makes a sizeable impact for his cause.

The story is bursting with cuteness while getting across the point: determination is what matters and anyone, of any size, with enough of it can accomplish big things. Children love books set in schools and this imaginative tale will have them wondering what the bug on their school library windowsill is up to!

Written by Linda Bailey

Copyright 2017

Accelerated Reader Level 3.7

My Kind of Courage

You could say that Joseph Johnson is on a run of bad luck. That would be an understatement. True to the times, 1890, Typhoid has taken many lives, among them Joseph’s mother and young sister. His father dies in an accident, leaving Joseph in the care of an unscrupulous man who sells Joseph’s cherished horse, Sarah, to horse traders. This is Joseph’s breaking point. At age twelve, he sets out to rescue Sarah. He is not alone for long, though. He soon adds an unexpected companion, a Chinese boy who speaks no English.  On their horse-trader chase around Washington State, the two encounter characters ranging from villains to kind strangers, gruelling physical challenges and continual danger. Through it all, a touching kinship is formed between the boys. The fast-paced action will keep readers engrossed all the way to the gratifying ending.

A boy facing tough odds, solely focused on saving Sarah, with gritty determination and unwavering bravery.  Some Kind of Courage is my kind of story. Yet, the ultimate review is a one-liner from a fifth-grade boy who is a bit of a reluctant reader. Imagine him holding up the book with a wide grin and saying, “This book is the best!”

By Dan Gemeinhart

Copyright 2015

Accelerated Reader Level 4.8

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A Crazy Aunt, A Ghost and a Gun

As a librarian, when students ask for a scary book, I usually show them a book with just enough suspense to get them interested and tell them that if it’s too creepy, close the book and bring it back. I really don’t want to cause nightmares, but I also know that some readers love a little creepy in their stories. So, I try to walk the line. Keep the readers reading and the parents from calling.  The Ghost’s Grave, written in 2011, was written far enough back to qualify as  a Flashback Friday book and is just right for kids that want something a tinge suspenseful to read around Halloween.

Josh’s parents travel overseas for work and leave him with his eccentric-to-say-the-least Aunt Ethel for the summer. To compound his agony, his aunt has no electronics, including television, and Carbon City, where he’s been transplanted, is a boring old mining town. He ends up entertaining himself by hanging out in what’s reported to be a haunted tree house near the cemetery. Josh gets more excitement than he bargains for when he is contacted by the ghost of Willie, a miner with a macabre request . Willie wants Josh to dig up a small, unkept grave with his arm bone in it. Josh is to retrieve the bone and then bury it with the rest of him in the graveyard. Josh complies and, in the process, discovers a box of stolen cash. Suddenly, a once-dull summer is now filled with supernatural events and a dangerous crime with Josh set right in the middle. Readers may be late for dinner as they can’t stop turning the page to discover Josh’s next move.

For fans like me, The Ghost’s Grave is yet another of the talented Peg Kehret’s yarns. As usual, she spins a don’t-miss tale woven with strong characters and rounded out with humor.

Written by Peg Kehret

Accelerated Reader, Level 5

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A Fantasy Book with Chocolate…Yum!

A dragon who turns into a girl and becomes an apprentice to a chocolatier? Well, if that’s not the makings of a delicious fantasy story, I don’t know what is! Aventurine is a young dragon with a restless spirit and an over-protective family. They keep her close and away from danger. Aventurine has other plans. She leaves her family to show them she can care for herself. Unfortunately, her first encounter with a human ends badly. She accepts a sip of enticing-smelling cocoa and POOF! She is transformed into a human girl. Aventurine makes her way to the village where she encounters a motley crew of characters, including an intensely disgruntled chocolatier, with whom Aventurine apprentices and finds a passion for chocolate. Not only is being human foreign to Aventurine, but dealing with them is as well! She learns imperative lessons along the way, evolving into a truly strong and independent person. The dragon attack on the village is so full of suspense and action that readers may feel compelled to duck and hide!

By Stephanie Burgis

Copyright 2018

Accelerated Reader Level 5.8

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Get Ready to Roll!

There are two innovations that I think make Darcy Miller’s book, Roll, a winner. First, the main character is adjusting to numerous changes and trying to make it all work.  Not innovative enough for you? There are lots of books about characters trying to handle change? True, but most of these books feature a girl as the main character. Dealing with developing situations and redefining yourself is not often the topic of a book with a boy as the central character. Featuring a boy going through this makes for an interesting, fresh perspective.. Second, Birmingham Roller Pigeons are an imperative part of the story. Now, that’s intriguing. By the end of the story, I’d learned a lot about them and wanted my own! (not going to happen)

Ren is a boy dealing with change, lots of it. He and his family move away to live in grandma’s house. Ren’s best friend Aiden, once a kindred soul who shared his love of comic books, is now an athlete and joining the popular crowd. His father, a celebrated runner, is expecting Ren to be one, too. Ren tries to cope and meet the expectations of others. Out on a run, he finds himself mesmerized by what appear to be pigeons hurtling toward earth as a group. Following his curiosity leads him to Sutton, a no-nonsense, take-me-as-I-am girl with flaming red hair and a talent for training competitive Birmingham Roller Pigeons. The sport, as well as a friendship with Sutton, spark Ren’s own change and eventual self-acceptance. Fans of realistic fiction will find this story engaging.

By Darcy Miller

Copyright 2017

Accelerated Reader Level 4.0

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Cheaters Never Prosper…..

Okay, 2006 isn’t all that far back, but honestly, every generation needs to read at least one awesome story about kids who try to cheat and get away with it. First, because who doesn’t need to learn that lesson? Second, because we ALL dream big as kids, so we can all relate. When I was little, I was sure that by high school we’d all be flying to school using jet packs.  But think about the licensing problems, the collisions, the parking…see, big dreams start out great, but then reality hits. Brenton’s big dream was to modify his computer so that it would do his homework for him, hence the book’s title, The Homework Machine. Amazingly, he did it and it worked, but soon thereafter his solution to homework transformed into a problem. Sam, Judy and Kelsey are assigned to be a study group with Brenton. The four are as different as can be, yet they have one thing in common. They all want in on the Homework Machine action and so the secret grows. Events gain momentum in their downhill roll and, eventually, their moral lapse is revealed. Written in concise chapters, each is narrated by a character explaining his/her perspective on the situation. Dan Gutman creates a sometimes humorous, sometimes harshly real view of following opportunities without considering their consequences. A great read-aloud perfectly suited for discussion of or the chance to write about right versus wrong and the morality of our actions and maybe even a little bit about big dreams.

By Dan Gutman

Accelerated Reader Level 4.8

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