Best Friends = A Better You

We all know adults who are, well, less than mature. We also know kids who sometimes exceed those adults in wisdom. Such is the case in Barbara O’Connor’s new chapter book, Wonderland.

Mavis is a head-strong girl whose mother is chronically discontent, moving them frequently to the next town and the next job that she thinks will finally bring her happiness. Meanwhile, brave Mavis has only one focused desire: to have and be a best friend.

Rose is the introverted daughter in a wealthy family. She has a marginally involved father and an overbearing mother who constantly complains about trivial matters and people who don’t live up to her standards. Chief among her mother’s disappointments is Rose, who silently absorbs her mother’s cutting remarks and retreats when she can stand no more. Rose’s saving grace is Mr. Duffy, the aging gatekeeper of the housing development in which she lives. Together, they laugh, play and genuinely care for one another, yet lately, he has changed. Since the death of his cherished dog, the luster has gone out of life for Mr. Duffy.

Enter a third character, Henry, a retired greyhound whose future is not bright at Wonderland Race Track. He escapes and hides out, fearfully, in the woods behind Magnolia Estates, where Rose lives.

The tale is told in alternating chapters, narrated by Rose, Mavis or Henry.

When Mavis’ mom takes a job as housekeeper for Rose’s family, Mavis instantly decides that Rose will be her best friend. The friendship is rocky at times. The girls must endure the catty behavior of Rose’s mom, the endless discontent of Mavis’ mom in her new job, Amanda, the snobbish neighbor girl all while devising a plan to capture Henry as a new canine companion that they hope will relight the spark in Mr. Duffy.

Not everything turns out as they may have hoped. Still, in the process, friendships, human and canine,  blossom and people grow.  Mavis develops self-discipline; Rose self-assurance and both learn that friendship can foster positive change that spills over to others in your life. A fun read about determination, evolution and the power of friendship.

Written by Barbara O’Connor

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Copyright 2018

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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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A poignant tale of the perils of plants and people

Katherine Applegate is an amazing writer, having produced picture books, intermediate-level books and young adult books. Her characters have included a gorilla, an imaginary cat and now…..a tree! Who knew that a tree, an oak named Red, who can neither talk to humans nor physically move, could be the main character of a book for 4th-6th grade readers? Yet, indeed, this old oak tells a powerful story about problems, both human and plant, and how kindness is the answer to them both. Red’s spent 200 plus years rooted near the elementary school, watching over the neighborhood and it’s residents while graciously providing a home for the area’s small animals. Red’s closest friend, Bongo, a bird, nests in his branches and adds a sometimes snarky perspective in contrast to Red’s philosophical ways. Each May, residents write a wish on a piece of cloth and tie it to Red’s branches. Over time, Red becomes known as the Wishtree. Red has seen human’s wishes come true, but has also witnessed the cruel treatment of newcomers to America who’ve settled in the neighborhood. These acts of prejudice started decades earlier when an Irish immigrant girl was the target of the spiteful behavior of others. Unfortunately, they continued to the present with the word “leave”  carved in Red’s bark as a threatening message to Samar, a Muslim immigrant girl. The story intensifies as Red and Bongo concoct a plan to help Samar. Additionally, the friends must deal with the reality that Red’s roots, which have enabled growth and strength, are now interfering with the plumbing on a neighborhood woman’s property. As a result, she intends to cut Red down. The resolution of plant and human problems is satisfying and, by books’ end, having the tale told by a tree makes uniquely perfect sense.

Wishtree is written in short chapters and is Accelerated Reader level 4.2

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