Review for The Losers Club

Thanks to Kid Lit Exchange network for this review copy of The Losers Club. All opinions are my own.

The Losers Club is Andrew Clements latest book targeted at upper elementary readers. Clements is known for his large body work for this age group with books such as Frindle and No Talking. (And so many more.) Clements’s fans will not be disappointed with this newest addition to his collection.

Alec is a lover of all things books and reading. In fact, his love of reading gets him in hot water with his principal, because he is constantly reading instead of paying attention in class. To make matters worse, his parents have new jobs, which means Alec and his younger brother Luke have to go to an after school program where Alec has to choose between unappealing options to occupy his time. Enter his idea of The Losers Club, a club devoted to sitting and reading. Along the way, Alec has to deal with a bully who used to be a friend, his new feelings for Nina, a girl in his club, and the fact that the club is required to make a presentation in front of other students and parents.

The story is simple and fun, which is appropriate for its intended audience. I enjoyed Alec’s character and his development over the duration of the novel. One ingenious aspect of this story is that Clements intertwines book recommendations throughout the story. Because Alec is such a voracious reader, Clements is able to mention countless books appropriate for this age group. Among the books mentioned in the novel are Holes by Louis Sachar, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, and many, many more. At the end of the novel, Clements includes The Losers Club Checklist, a list of all the books mentioned in the novel. Love that!

Bottom Line: This book is definitely for upper elementary because of its simplistic, straightforward storyline. I really like it for this age group and would not hesitate to recommend it to my son, who is 9. I think the upper elementary crowd will love it! My rating is 5/5 for upper elementary.


A Review of Hilde Cracks the Case: Hero Dog!

Thanks to the Kid Lit Exchange network for this review copy of Hilde Cracks the Case: Hero Dog! All opinions are my own.

Hilde is a precocious young journalist investigating a theft on her street, Orange Street. The story follows her investigation as she questions neighbors to find out who is responsible for a break-in in her neighborhood. Her big sister and partner, Izzy, is along for the ride, snapping pictures of potential clues. Who has committed the crime, and will Hilde get her story in time for her 6:30 deadline? All will be answered by the conclusion of the story.

What a delightful book for young readers, and a great foray into the mystery genre for readers who haven’t been exposed to mysteries. This book is well done and smart. I enjoyed it. As a gauge, I had my nine-year-old son read it, and he really enjoyed it. Even though he usually prefers books whose protagonists are male, he liked the mystery and the fact that Hilde is an investigative journalist (he didn’t use the words–“investigative journalist”–he IS a fourth grader, after all!) His direct quote on the book is, “I liked the mystery. When I read it I though every new character was the thief. I thought it was cool that Hilde and her sister worked together. My favorite character was Zeus, because he barked like Zeus’s thunder.” (Side note: My son is really into Percy Jackson, so the name of the dog could have (did) affect his choice of favorite character.)

I love that the book is based on a real-life girl who actually publishes her own newspaper called the Orange Street News. (Click the link to see her site.) Not only is the story great, but Hilde provides a great example for youngsters of loving something, in this case, journalism, and going for it.

Bottom line: Love the book, and love that it is based on a real-life girl. If you have young readers (ages 5-9), they should definitely read it. My rating is 5/5.


A Review of Girls Who Code Book #1: The Friendship Code

Thanks to the Kid Lit Exchange network for this review copy of Girls Who Code Book #1: The Friendship Code. All opinions are my own.

Lucy is a middle school student who is desperate to learn to code so that she can create an app that will help her sick uncle. She joins the school coding club, but is soon disappointed when after the first meeting members have not even touched a computer. Dissatisfied, Lucy complains to her parents and old brother, Alex, who advise patience. Dissatisfied once again, Lucy decides to try her hand and teaching herself to code. That is, until mysterious notes begin showing up on her locker written in code. She enlists help from her friends to figure out what the notes mean and who could be writing them. Is it Alex? A friend? Who could it be?

Girls Who Code Book #1:The Friendship Code is a mild, straightforward story with the ultimate goal of introducing young girls to coding. The characters are likable and the friendships presented in the book are standard fare for this genre.

This book would be an excellent choice for educators who are interested in introducing coding in a unique way. Definitions and coding jargon are explained in a way that will resonate with young readers. I especially appreciate the “real-life” examples that were used within the book to explain coding in an accessible way. For example, in one scene Lucy and her friend, Erin, complete an activity in which Erin is blindfolded and Lucy has to guide her through an obstacle course using only spoken directions highlighting the importance of being clear and thorough when coding.

One caveat–on, the grade recommendations for this are third through seventh.  The Friendship Code is definitely geared toward younger readers. Third and Fourth grade seem like a better fit for this book than middle school students. The simplicity of the plot and the lack of conflict make it better suited for upper elementary. I would not use this book for middle school students.

Bottom Line: A great introduction to coding for younger readers and for educators who are searching for an approachable way to present an introduction to coding for young girls.


A Review of Three Times Lucky

I just finished Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, a 2013 Newbery Honor book,  and I just want to rave about it. But, first things first.

This book follows a spunky protagonist, Mo Lobeau and her sidekick Dale, as they attempt to investigate a murder in their small southern town of Tupelo Landing. Mo is character reminiscent of Scout Finch and Ramona Quimby–all spunk, sass, and confidence. Along with Mo and Dale, there are a myriad of colorful characters who inhabit Tupelo Landing. The Colonel and Miss Lana are Mo’s caregivers and stand-in parents after Mo is found as an infant floating in the water during a hurricane. Other characters include, Lavender, Dale’s older brother, and the object of Mo’s affection and school girl crush, Mr. Jesse, the unfortunate murder victim in the story, Detective Joe Starr, the law enforcement officer sent to Tupelo Landing to solve the murder, plus many more. It is these characters that add flavor and heart to this middle grade mystery selection. The novel has a homey, nostalgic feel to it that I just adore.

In addition to the main plot, there are several subplots intertwined within the story-Mo and the Colonel’s mysterious backgrounds, Miss Lana’s connection to the Colonel, and Dale’s homelife with his alcoholic father.

The characters in this book sucked me right in and I instantly cared about them and their lives. Scout Finch is one of my all time favorite literary characters, and Mo reminded me so much of her. At times, her shenanigans and gumption are laugh out loud funny. You just can’t help but root for her!

Action-packed, and fast moving, the plot does not disappoint. I was as engrossed in this story and Mo and Dale’s investigation into Mr. Jesse’s murder as I would have been if I were reading a mystery written for adults. This speaks volumes for the way that Sheila Turnage has crafted this novel. The way the mystery evolves throughout the course of the book is interesting and compelling and will keep young readers engaged.

This brings me to the ending. I love the way Turnage chose to end this book. It is satisfying without being neat, and I love that in a middle grade read. Of course, I am not going to give any more information about the ending than that. No spoilers here!

The only possible issue I see with this novel with young readers is that there is a lot going on and a lot of characters introduced throughout the novel. There is a clear plot, but there are also several side plots that may distract younger readers.

Bottom Line: This is excellent reading for late elementary and middle grades. An easy 5/5!

*Shoutout to @topshelftext for recommending this book on Instagram.

A Review of El Deafo

I swear, I am not a graphic novel person, yet this is the second graphic novel I am reviewing in a week. I have a personal interest in Cece Bell’s autobiographical graphic novel. One of my favorite people in the whole world, Bekah, has a similar story–ill at at a young age which led to total hearing loss in both ears. A cochlear implant before starting school and similar struggles to Cece throughout the course of her life. It was extremely appealing to read a novel which chronicled a similar story to my Bekah.

Clearly this graphic novel is something special. It won the Newbery in 2015. The humor and rawness with which Cece Bell portrays her story is deeply affecting, but peppered with humor so that it is accessible to a wide audience. I adore the way she incorporates herself and her alter-ego, El Deafo, within the story to depict what is actually happening versus what she desires to happen.

This graphic novel is a straightforward account of Bell’s early years and how she transitions from a school for children with hearing loss, or students like her, to a mainstream school. It chronicles her struggles with friendships, academics, and coming of age being ‘different’ from other students.

I so appreciate Bell’s approach to these issues. I found myself laughing out loud in certain places. Because although I have never had hearing loss, I have been an awkward, unsure adolescent and Bell’s ability to capture this milestone will resonate with readers, hearing or non-hearing.

I thoroughly enjoyed this graphic novel from start to finish, and would recommend it to teachers, parents, and upper elementary/lower middle school kiddos.

Bottom Line: This book is must for young readers. I give El Deafo a solid 5/5.