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.

 

Review of How To Disappear

How To Disappear is a YA novel that focuses on social anxiety in a world where social media and popularity are king. Bravo to Sharon Huss Roat for tackling this tough and multi-faceted issue. I haven’t read a book that addresses this particular issue in this way. While Roat could have easily made this an “issues” book, she instead creates a relatable character and a setting that is familiar to most teenagers.

Vicky Decker is a high school student who suffers from severe social anxiety, which is amplified after her lifelong best friend, Jenna, moves away. She is incredibly self-aware; however, she is unable to control the panic she feels in social situations. Enter Vicurious, an Instagram persona that Vicky creates to connect with other people online to avoid connecting in real life. As Vicurious’s fan following grows,Vicky is faced with living in two worlds–her actual life in high school, and the one that is playing out on Instagram.

What I loved about this book is the acknowledgement that social anxiety is a real and debilitating aspect of life for some teens. I also appreciated the social media tie-in, because fan following and ‘likes’ have become such an integral part of daily life for kids (and let’s be honest, sometimes adults). The characters are relatable and believable, and as I read, I didn’t feel like I was reading an “issues” book, or being preached at about the dangers of social media or the perils of social anxiety. The narrative felt authentic which I appreciated.

As the book neared its conclusion, I did feel like Vicky’s social anxiety issues seemed to clear up quickly and that her saving grace was the attention of a love interest, Lipton Gregory. Lipton’s character is likable and quirky, but his relationship with Vicky seemed to help her social anxiety issues a little too quickly which seemed implausible to me. The last third of the book had some inconsistencies that bothered me, one being the storyline between Vicky and her best friend, Jenna (the one that moved away at the beginning of the story.) Without giving spoilers, I would just say that the first two-thirds of the book were excellent; whereas, the last one-third left me scratching my head a bit. The ending seemed rushed and unrealistic to the rest of the story.

Still, I appreciate that there are authors who are willing to tackle this complex issue. Our kids are subjected to similar social situations in real life and on social media and it is important to be aware of this. Readers of YA will like How To Disappear for its fast-paced story and its look into the overlooked issue of social anxiety. Parents will like it for a glimpse into the world their kids are likely a part of in their everyday lives.

Bottom Line: How To Disappear is worth a read by YA enthusiasts and by parents. In general it gives an interesting perspective on social anxiety and the lives of our kids on social media. This book is appropriate for high school AND middle school students. My rating is a 4/5.

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.

The books that shaped my love of reading

When I think about what was transformative in my experience as a reader, I think about three specific books. Some readers I talk to cannot remember ever not being a reader–he or she walked into kindergarten ready and eager to read. This was not me.

I don’t really remember reading voraciously until the fourth grade. My wonderful fourth grade teacher, Ms. Newland, handed each child in my class a wrapped Christmas gift the day we left for winter break in December of 1988. (Wow! Did I just write 1988?!) When I opened the package, it was a copy of Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. This book about Paul and Maureen, two orphaned children who save their money to buy a wild horse during Pony Penning Day, spoke to me like no other book ever had. I have never been a huge fan of books with animals as a focal point, but this story captured my heart.

That same year, my parents went on a trip and brought me back Daphne’s Book by Mary Downing Hahn. Hahn’s book about Daphne, the class “weirdo,” and Jessica, the main character, being partnered for a writing project, was the one of the single most transformative books in my reading life. In the book, Jessica is less than thrilled with being paired with Daphne; however, through their partnership, she realizes that Daphne is living with a dark secret, and the girls become unlikely friends. This book really fostered my love of reading AND writing, because as the girls worked on their writing project in the book, I found myself intrigued by the process and began to experiment with my own writing. Daphne’s Book was also the first book I had ever read that dealt with a true issue, and it touched me in a way that other books hadn’t.

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder is another all-time favorite and was discovered in the last months of fourth grade. The librarian at my small-town elementary school talked about Laura Ingalls Wilder and some of her books during our weekly library visit close to the end of the year. I looked at all of the books in the series, but the cover of Little House spoke to me. I loved the picture on the cover of Laura lovingly cradling her doll while she basked in the adoration of her family. I just had to know about that little girl on the cover and her family. I was engrossed in this book from the start and couldn’t wait to read about Laura’s daily chores, the way she played, and her family. There was something so appealing about the simplicity of her life and the hard work and dedication that went into maintaining it. I have already told my children my favorite scene from the book–the one where Pa blows up a pig bladder after butchering for Laura and her siblings to play with like a balloon. The wholesome story and the importance placed on family made me feel warm and snuggly like being wrapped in a warm hug which is why I checked it out of my elementary and middle school libraries numerous times during my younger years. I cannot wait to read this one with my daughter.

It is interesting to me that two of these books were written quite a long time ago, but are still some of my most beloved. When I taught English, I often recommended these books to students and was delighted (and gratified) that they enjoyed them too.

What are some books that were transformative for you? What are the books that really flipped the switch and made you a lifelong reader?