#TopTenTuesday: Top Ten Foodie Passages

Genres: Middle Grade

It’s been awhile since I’ve shared a blog post but what a better opportunity than a Tuesday when the theme is Food in Books! As you may know, I adore all things culinary, and as a child, I even dreamed of being a culinary queen one day. No, I don’t have my own restaurant or bakery yet, but I cook and bake as often as I can, and my dreams of one day opening a coffee shop and bakery/bookstore combo continue to be stirred…

But first, here are some titles whose passages featuring food are deliciously enjoyable!

This weekly meme is hosted by The Broke and Bookish—check out their blog and join in any week you like.

Here’s what they have to say about Top Ten Tuesday: “Top Ten Tuesday is a fun weekly link-up in the community where we provide a prompt and other lovers of listmaking join in on it with their own top ten list. Feel free to have less than 10 or more if you need to at times and put a spin on the topic if you need to! Just please link back to us if you are participating :)”

ALL FOUR STARS

And there was the moment when the desserts began to arrive, carried by a procession of servers in black and yellow. Creamy-looking custards were followed by beautifully decorated slices of cake. Crisp-shelled pastries were set down next to gooey-centered pies. Dainty little goblets featuring ice cream and sorbet came out on a silver tray, and a pungent aroma rose off a long wooden board that was dotted with more kinds of cheese than Gladys had ever seen, even in Mr. Eng’s special fridge.

A TANGLE OF KNOTS

“Your perfect cake,” she said by way of an explanation.

“Usually I can tell as soon as I meet someone. Like, Amy’s mom there is a pineapple upside down cake, and her dad is a sour cream coffee cake with a crumbly blueberry center.”

ANNE OF GREEN GABLES

“Everything is ready, Diana, except my cake which I’m to make in the morning, and the baking-powder biscuits which Marilla will make just before teatime. I assure you, Diana, that Marilla and I have had a busy two days of it. It’s such a responsibility having a minister’s family to tea. I never went through such an experience before. You should just see our pantry. It’s a sight to behold. We’re going to have jellied chicken and cold tongue. We’re to have two kinds of jelly, red and yellow, and whipped cream and lemon pie, and cherry pie, and three kinds of cookies, and fruit cake, and Marilla’s famous yellow plum preserves that she keeps especially for ministers, and pound cake and layer cake, and biscuits as aforesaid; and new bread and old both, in case the minister is dyspeptic and can’t eat new.”

THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS

“What’s inside it?” asked the Mole, wriggling with curiosity. “There’s cold chicken inside it,” replied the Rat briefly; ‘coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrollscresssandwichespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater—”

THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE

You can think how good the new-caught fish smelled while they were frying and how the hungry children longed for them to be done and how very much hungrier still they had become before Mr Beaver said, “Now we’re nearly ready.” Susan drained the potatoes and then put them all back in the empty pot to dry on the side of the range while Lucy was helping Mrs Beaver to dish up the trout, so that in a very few minutes everyone was drawing up their stools (it was all three-legged stools in the Beavers’ house except for Mrs Beaver’s own special rocking chair beside the fire) and preparing to enjoy themselves. There was a jug of creamy milk for the children (Mr Beaver stuck to beer) and a great big lump of deep yellow butter in the middle of the table from which everyone took as much as he wanted to go with his potatoes, and all the children thought – and I agree with them – that there’s nothing to beat good freshwater fish if you eat it when it has been alive half an hour ago and has come out of the pan half a minute ago. And when they had finished the fish Mrs Beaver brought unexpectedly out of the oven a great and gloriously sticky marmalade roll, steaming hot, and at the same time moved the kettle on to the fire, so that when they had finished the marmalade roll the tea was made and ready to be poured out. And when each person had got his (or her) cup of tea, each person shoved back his (or her) stool so as to be able to lean against the wall and gave a long sigh of contentment.

FARMER BOY

There was oatmeal with plenty of thick cream and maple sugar. There were fried potatoes, and the golden buckwheat cakes, as many as Almanzo wanted to eat, with sausages and gravy or with butter and maple syrup. There were preserves and jams and jellies and doughnuts. But best of all Almanzo liked the spicy apple pie, with its thick, rich juice and its crumbly crust. He ate two big wedges of the pie.

FARMER BOY (X2)

The big blue platter on the stove’s hearth was full of plump sausage cakes; Eliza Jane was cutting apple pies and Alice was dishing up the oatmeal, as usual. But the little blue platter stood hot on the back of the stove, and ten stacks of pancakes rose in tall towers on it. Ten pancakes cooked on the smoking griddle, and as fast as they were done Mother added another cake to each stack and buttered it lavishly and covered it with maple sugar. Butter and sugar melted together and soaked the fluffy pancakes and dripped all down their crisp edges. That was stacked pancakes. Almanzo liked them better than any other kind of pancakes.

BREAD AND JAM FOR FRANCES

“I have a thermos bottle with cream of tomato soup,” she said. “And a lobster-salad sandwich on thin slices of white bread. I have celery, carrot sticks, and black olives, and a little cardboard shaker of salt for the celery. And two plums and a tiny basket of cherries. And vanilla pudding with chocolate sprinkles and a spoon to eat it with.’

That’s a good lunch,” said Albert.

PADDINGTON

“A wise bear always keeps a marmalade sandwich in his hat in case of emergency.”

A SNICKER OF MAGIC

I saw an old couple with matching sun visors. They were eating ice-cream cones full of rainbow-colored scoops. I watched a girl with red hair hold a novel in one hand and a waffle cone in the other. She was mumbling the words of her story, so happy to be reading that she didn’t notice the pink dollop of ice cream on her chin.

I don’t know about you, but these passages are making me hungry! There are probably many other children’s books featuring delightful food-filled passages, but these are the ten I chose for today. What foodie books did you choose? Children’s? Young Adult? Adult? Cookbooks? I would love to read your posts so do share your links here!

What Katie Read

STAR SO SWEET Blog Tour & Giveaway: A Delicious Finale!

STAR SO SWEET Blog Tour & Giveaway: A Delicious Finale!Stars So Sweet (All Four Stars, #3) by Tara Dairman
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on July 19th 2016
Genres: Middle Grade, Realistic
Pages: 288
Goodreads
five-stars


Joan Bauer meets Ruth Reichl in this charming middle grade foodie series.

As the summer winds down and Gladys Gatsby prepares to start middle school, she is nervous about juggling schoolwork and looming deadlines from her secret job as the New York Standard’s youngest restaurant critic. When her editor pushes for a face-to-face meeting to discuss more opportunities with the paper, Gladys knows she must finally come clean to her parents. But her perfectly planned reveal is put on hold when her parents arrive home with a surprise:  her Aunt Lydia, one of the only adults who knows her secret, fresh off the plane from Paris. Gladys and Aunt Lydia try one last ruse to fool her editor at the Standard, but even with her aunt’s help, Gladys just can’t manage the drama of middle school and a secret life. It’s time for Gladys to be true to herself and honest with her friends and family, regardless of what those around her think.

Gladys Gatsby is back! And this time it’s in the final installment of the ALL FOUR STARS foodie Middle Grade trilogy by Tara Dairman. You know I (and many others) adored the first two books, ALL FOUR STARS and A SUMMER OF STARS. July 19th, 2016 will see the publication of STARS SO SWEET, and let me tell you, you will not disappointed! You can expect more hilarious antics from Gladys and her friends, as well as challenges and adventures that inevitably come her way. Gladys is starting Middle School, and she is also being offered an amazing new opportunity at her top secret job for The New York Standard as a restaurant reviewer. The surprise arrival of a family member also has Gladys working on yet another project, and then you might remember the famous Hamilton from A SUMMER OF STARS. I won’t give too much away, but it’s possible the child literary star also makes an appearance. To sum up, you can expect more mouthwatering treats from Gladys as well as her creative and interesting attempts to navigate various foodie scrapes and challenges.

Now onto some of the highlights of this Middle Grade treat.

What I Loved

-Gladys’s passion for cooking and all things foodie is front and center in the narrative, as it has been in the last two books.

-Her diverse group of friends and their differing personalities and quirks are part of the action as welll—you’ll find appearances by Parm, Charissa, and Sandy. I assure you—you’ll definitely be laughing throughout the book, just as you probably were with the first two.

-The story features different cuisines and ingredients some readers may have never heard of before! Whether Gladys is browsing Mr. Eng’s specialty food shop or creating Salvadoran pancakes, she is sure to introduce readers to something new in the culinary world. At one point Gladys, Aunt Lydia, and Charissa attend a foodie trade show and sample foods such as biltong (South African beef jerky), antelope meats, yak meat, and even horse-meat bites!

-The rich themes of friendship and becoming comfortable in your own identity (something that can be quite challenging in Middle School) are appreciated and embedded in the narrative without being preachy. I love the way Tara illuminates important and relevant aspects of friendship in her storyline.

-The resolution of all the loose ends, especially regarding Gladys’s top secret job of restaurant reviewer for The New York Standard. The conclusion of STARS SO SWEET is stunning, and everything I had hoped for in the ending to this fantastic trilogy. I know this series will continue to be a popular one in my school library. I already have many students who have been waiting avidly for the last installment in the series. It’s true: Young readers love these foodie books!

-I always love the fact that each chapter features its own title. I especially enjoy that Chapter 21 is called “Irrational Doughnuts.”

Some Foodie Connections

-Gladys receives an assignment from her job: Distinguish between Salvadoran, Peruvian, and Cuban food by visiting restaurants with these cuisines. I decided to bring a few links for you to check out, so that you can do your own investigation of these three different cuisines.

10 FOODS FROM EL SALVADOR YOU NEED TO TRY RIGHT NOW: http://www.theflama.com/10-foods-from-el-salvador-you-need-to-try-right-now-1592974846.html

ESSENTIAL PERU: 10 MUST-EAT DISHES TO SEEK OUT: http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/06/essential-peruvian-cuisine.html

9 DISHES TO MAKE YOU FALL FOR CUBAN CUISINE: http://www.saveur.com/article/-/Cuban-Recipes

FINALLY

I can imagine that yet another reason you would want to purchase the book once it’s out in the world on July 19th is that the cover is as gorgeous as its predecessors and that the trilogy presented together on the bookshelf will be absolutely stunning.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 8.52.46 PM

I’m in denial that this is the last installment of Gladys’s adventures, and I’m hoping that one day maybe we’ll get another book….or a novella, even. I just don’t want to say goodbye…

GIVEAWAY TIME!

Would you like to win a complete set of the ALL FOUR STARS books? I’m running a giveaway, courtesy of Penguin, and one winner (USA only) will receive a complete set of the trilogy. To enter, all you have to do is leave a thoughtful comment about why you are excited to read STARS SO SWEET (or any of the other All Four Stars books)!

If you missed my first interview with Tara, you can explore it here. Also, if you aren’t familiar with All Four Stars, you can read about that here. My thoughts on the second book, The Stars of Summer, can be found here.

REVIEWS OF TARA’S BOOKS

ALL FOUR STARS (Putnam/Penguin, 2014)

*An Amazon Best Book of the Month*

 

THE STARS OF SUMMER (Putnam/Penguin, 2015)

“Hilarious.” – School Library Journal

 

STARS SO SWEET (Putnam/Penguin, coming 7.19.16)

“A tasty dish that series fans should eat up.” -Kirkus

Tara Dairman’s Bio

Tara Dairman is the author of the middle-grade foodie novel ALL FOUR STARS (Putnam/Penguin) which was named an Amazon Best Book of the Month and won a 2015 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. THE STARS OF SUMMER followed in 2015, and STARS SO SWEET (6/19/16) completes the series. Tara grew up in New York and holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College. After surviving the world’s longest honeymoon (two years, seventy-four countries!), she now lives in Colorado with her family.

Tara Dairman headshot

Links to Find Tara

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Are you excited about STARS SO SWEET? What are some of your favorite memories of Gladys from the first two books?

five-stars
What Katie Read

A Middle Grade Marvel: ALL RISE FOR THE HONORABLE PERRY T. COOK

A Middle Grade Marvel: ALL RISE FOR THE HONORABLE PERRY T. COOKAll Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on March 1st 2016
Genres: Middle Grade, Realistic
Pages: 400
Goodreads
five-stars

From Leslie Connor, award-winning author of Waiting for Normal and Crunch, comes a soaring and heartfelt story about love, forgiveness, and how innocence makes us all rise up. All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook is a powerful story, perfect for fans of Wonder and When You Reach Me.
Eleven-year-old Perry was born and raised by his mom at the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility in tiny Surprise, Nebraska. His mom is a resident on Cell Block C, and so far Warden Daugherty has made it possible for them to be together. That is, until a new district attorney discovers the truth—and Perry is removed from the facility and forced into a foster home.
When Perry moves to the “outside” world, he feels trapped. Desperate to be reunited with his mom, Perry goes on a quest for answers about her past crime. As he gets closer to the truth, he will discover that love makes people resilient no matter where they come from . . . but can he find a way to tell everyone what home truly means?

Don’t let this book escape your grasp!

http://bestanimations.com/Books/Books.html
http://bestanimations.com/Books/Books.html

What I Loved

I loved PERRY T. COOK! What a wonderful, kind, compassionate, and creative eleven year old. I had no idea just how much I would adore this book and Perry’s journey. When the book opens, Perry has spent the first eleven years of his life in the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility where his mother is serving a sentence (for something that Perry knows a little bit about, but not all the details have been revealed to him). At both the correctional facility and out in the wider world where he attends school, Perry brightens the lives of those around him. Perry approaches people by believing there is good within him, primarily because of the kindness with which he has been raised in the prison. Over those eleven years, Perry has become close friends with many of the inmates, and learned a lot about their stories. He recognizes that there are good choices and bad ones to be made, but it seems that Perry is able to distinguish between the idea that people can do bad things and that people are always one way or another. Perry is a strong character, and he gracefully navigates difficulty throughout the story.

Illuminations of Spirituality

There is a definite social justice aspect to this book in that the protagonist (and those close to him) want to see justice for those who have been treated unjustly (particularly within the prison system). Though there may not be concrete actions that Perry can take for all those within Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility, telling their stories is one way he gives a voice to their lives.

The way that Perry sees other people, especially those whom he knows within the prison, brings up another aspect of the spiritual life. When we look at people, do we only see their actions? Do we only see their bad choices? Or can we take the time to look beyond, to the authentic person inside, to the person he/she is becoming? This is an aspect of spirituality that the narrative brought up to me, because, like Perry, we, the reader, also get to know the inmates of Blue River. And I think I can safely say that we also come to care about them.

Who Should Read This Book

Readers in 3rd grade and up would appreciate this fun and thought-provoking title, and anyone who loves Middle Grade with a social justice aspect would do well to pick it up. After reading Perry’s story, I’m planning to look up other books by Leslie Connor, and my hopes are high for future books.

You readers know: When you read a good novel that makes you look at people differently and perhaps with a little more empathy, you can safely say that such a story is doing something wonderful. This is an important story in that it just may change your thinking about people in correctional facilities.

These people have stories worth telling. May Perry T. Cook teach us all a little something!

**Thank you, Katherine Tegen Books, for allowing me to read and review an ARC of this title.**

five-stars
What Katie Read

Kate DiCamillo Returns: RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE

Kate DiCamillo Returns: RAYMIE NIGHTINGALERaymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
Published by Candlewick Press on April 12th 2016
Genres: Middle Grade, Realistic
Pages: 272
Goodreads
five-stars

Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie's picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.

It’s high time I shared my thoughts with you about the new Kate DiCamillo book. Let me say this—when I heard a new book by Kate was coming out, my level of excitement spiked! You know that I adore her books, including THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE, THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT, and THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX, among others.

And now we have RAYMIE. RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE.

group excited

It’s true. Kate DiCamillo has created another endearing and delightful character that will remain in the hearts of readers for many days to come after they have turned the page of the newest book from Kate, published this past April.

I was lucky enough to borrow an ARC from Porter Square Books, and had to stop myself from devouring the book in one sitting. I wanted it to last so tried to take my time (I probably read it in three days!).

I can safely say, it’s wonderful! The story was everything I hoped it to be…and even more. Kate’s storytelling is masterful, and I would venture to say this is a strong contender for the Newbery…

The story is inspired by Kate’s own life, and though this is certainly a “made up” narrative as Kate says in the beginning of the book, it is “the absolutely true story of my heart.” In other words, this book gives us a glimpse even further into the author’s mind and heart, and I would say that the book carries a spiritual aspect for that very reason. In reading this book, I felt like I was connecting with Kate in a new way, and that can be a profound thing!

Quotes that Made Me Think

(Beverly) “I tell you what: Fear is a big waste of time. I’m not afraid of anything.”

“Just then, the sun managed to come around the corner of Isabelle’s window and throw itself into a small square of light on the floor. It was very bright. It shimmered. It looked like the window to another universe.”

“She could feel her soul. It was a tiny little spark somewhere deep inside of her. It was glowing.”

“For just a minute, she understood everything in the whole world.”

The story highlights the friendship among three girls—Raymie, Louisiana, and Beverly. Let me tell you: I love this trio! Beverly is snarky and interesting, Louisiana is surprising and persistent, and Raymie is seeking to fill up her soul. You can imagine that there are mishaps galore, but at the heart of it is a girl who wishes she could win a pageant so that her father will take note and return home. Along with this, though, and even more, is the desire of Raymie’s to fill up her soul. The language that Kate uses in the story to reflect what Raymie is thinking about and wondering reflects a spirituality that I found thought-provoking and authentic. I love the way Kate’s books get to the heart of the big questions in life, all through the window of these endearing child characters.

I don’t want to give away a lot from the story, because it’s just too much of a gem, so this review will be a bit short.

The fact is: you really need to buy a copy and read it. So…Tell me what you think when you do!

side eye dalmations

This one is worthy of all the STARS!

five-stars
What Katie Read

Portals of History: ONCE WAS A TIME (2016) by Leila Sales

Portals of History: ONCE WAS A TIME (2016) by Leila SalesOnce Was a Time by Leila Sales
Published by Chronicle Books on April 5th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade
Pages: 272
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads
three-half-stars

In the war-ravaged England of 1940, Charlotte Bromley is sure of only one thing: Kitty McLaughlin is her best friend in the whole world. But when Charlotte's scientist father makes an astonishing discovery that the Germans will covet for themselves, Charlotte is faced with an impossible choice between danger and safety. Should she remain with her friend or journey to another time and place? Her split-second decision has huge consequences, and when she finds herself alone in the world, unsure of Kitty's fate, she knows that somehow, some way, she must find her way back to her friend. Written in the spirit of classic time-travel tales, this book is an imaginative and heartfelt tribute to the unbreakable ties of friendship.

Time travel! England during WWII! Tea! A British protagonist! Two bosom friends…all these elements and more are what drew me to read Leila Sales’ new Middle Grade book, ONCE WAS A TIME.

The Book:

Charlotte and Kitty are the two friends we focus on in the opening pages of the narrative, and it’s Charlotte’s father who is actually researching time travel. Charlotte is aware of the importance of her father’s work and is curious about what the ability to time travel might mean, but she is not prepared for the dangerous situation into which she, Kitty, and her father are thrust. Lives are at stake, and Charlotte has to make a split decision about whether to stay with Kitty or to leave. In other words, the opportunity for time travel presents itself, and Charlotte has to decide whether to make the leap…or not.

What I Loved:

Awhile back, I read one of Leila’s Young Adult books, and when I heard that she wrote a time travel middle grade, I was intrigued, especially since it featured a British protagonist and opened in the great country of England during WWII. If you keep up with me on Goodreads or even this blog, you’ll know that I am especially fond of children’s and young adult literature set during the WWII period—historical fiction is one of my favorite genres—in the world of children’s, young adult, and adult books. So it’s no surprise that I snatched this one up on Netgalley as soon as it was available!

Readers with a passion for children’s literature in general might appreciate the many references to different children’s books and even the large role that a library plays in the story. Spoiler: Charlotte does travel through time, but it’s forwards, and not backwards.

Charlotte’s friendship with a librarian is a highlight of the story, and the notion of libraries closing due to lack of funding is brought up, bringing in a real life (and sad!) connection. If you were an avid reader as a young person (or if you are now), you will be delighted at the many books referenced in the story due to Charlotte’s great appetite for reading as many volumes in the library as possible.

The celebration of friendship and its capacity to be enduring and weather trials is strong in this story, and readers certainly have room to discuss the nature of authentic relationship and connection. I loved the connection between Charlotte and Kitty–especially in the last part of the book, but I wanted to read even more with them on center stage!

Finally, I love that cover! Well-done Chronicle books for a unique and intriguing design!

What I Didn’t Expect:

If you glanced at my Goodreads review, you would have seen that I made a comment about this story was not quite what I expected. While I assumed certain characters would take center stage in the narrative, that was not actually the case.

Also, I was surprised at the direction of travel that the transporting took place! I won’t give anything away here, but there was an interesting twist with who traveled where, and for how long they stayed in that time period. There might be some readers who are a little incredulous at the way the story is resolved, but I didn’t have too many issues with the ending, due to the readership and the scope and length of the book.

Are you planning to read ONCE WAS A TIME when it is released in April? What are your thoughts on time travel in Middle Grade titles? Other favorites to share?

three-half-stars
What Katie Read

ARC Review: THE KEY TO EXTRAORDINARY by Natalie Lloyd

ARC Review: THE KEY TO EXTRAORDINARY by Natalie LloydThe Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd
Published by Scholastic Press on February 23rd 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 240
Goodreads
five-stars

Everyone in Emma's family is special. Her ancestors include Revolutionary War spies, brilliant scientists, and famous musicians--every single one of which learned of their extraordinary destiny through a dream.
For Emma, her own dream can't come soon enough. Right before her mother died, Emma promised that she'd do whatever it took to fulfill her destiny, and she doesn't want to let her mother down.
But when Emma's dream finally arrives, it points her toward an impossible task--finding a legendary treasure hidden in her town's cemetery. If Emma fails, she'll let down generations of extraordinary ancestors . . . including her own mother. But how can she find something that's been missing for centuries and might be protected by a mysterious singing ghost?
With her signature blend of lyrical writing, quirky humor, and unforgettable characters, Natalie Lloyd's The Key to Extraordinary cements her status as one of the most original voices writing for children today.

First of all, this amazing book is out today and if you haven’t preordered a copy, you better run down to the bookstore ASAP and purchase one! I also have a Twitter giveaway going on for an ARC of the book as well!

“IT IS A KNOWN FACT THAT THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY MOMENTS IN A PERSON’S LIFE COME DISGUISED AS ORDINARY DAYS.”

What I Loved:

It was no surprise to me that I adored THE KEY TO EXTRAORDINARY just as much as I loved A SNICKER OF MAGIC.

This book is everything!

HOT CHOCOLATE, TREASURES, PEACH LAVENDER MUFFINS, FAMILY, FRIENDS, BLACKBIRD HOLLOW CEMETERY, LOVE, NURTURING THE HUMAN HEART: This book has it all! And Natalie Lloyd is the perfect author to pull it all together with her whimsical prose and her stunning style.

Just like A SNICKER OF MAGIC, this book made me laugh and it made me cry. The way Emma did everything she could to save her family’s bakery made me root for her throughout the entire story. The way she longed for her “Destiny Dream” to happen filled me with hope, and the way she reached out to Earl with friendship moved me with compassion as I thought about how there are many people I encounter like Earl all the time, that perhaps, I just pass right by. And the fact that Emma lost her mother years earlier made me imagine how unbelievably painful it must be for a child to lose a parent.

Do you remember in A SNICKER OF MAGIC how certain ice cream flavors made you feel a certain emotion? Well, that very cool and almost magical concept is kind of in KEY TO EXTRAORDINARY with the hot chocolate, known as BONEYARD BREW. AND I LOVE IT! What I would give to pop into the Boneyard Café, and sit down with Emma and Cody Belle and Earl…

“AS NEAR AS I CAN DESCRIBE IT, BONEYARD BREW IS LIKE HOT CHOCOLATE WITH A HEAVENLY TWIST.”

That’s an aspect of this book I loved—the depiction of the friendships (and family relationships) among the characters. Emma and Cody Belle are best friends, and while Emma is waiting to have her Destiny Dream, Cody Belle does nothing but encourage her. This duo is super, and I’d love to read more stories with them on stage. Then there’s Earl. He’s got some issues, and he doesn’t talk, but that doesn’t mean Emma and Cody Belle won’t be there for him and reach out to him in friendship. And his friendship ends up meaning a lot to Emma, especially as she grapples with getting to the bottom of her Destiny Dream. All the women in her family have had a “Destiny Dream”—and this dream has always meant something significant for each of those women. But what does Emma’s mean, and how will it help her to keep the family bakery in the family?

Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out!

Who Should Read This Book:

If you love delightful Middle Grade fiction with colorful and humorous characters facing real life problems and challenges, and perhaps even a dash of magic, then you will most likely love THE KEY TO EXTRAORDINARY. Like hot chocolate and freshly baked muffins? Treasure? New friendships?

GO AHEAD THEN!

“SOMETIMES EVEN DOING THE RIGHT THING WILL LEAVE YOU WITH SCARS. BUT BEAUTY COMES FROM ASHES, TOO. AND I KNOW THAT TO BE TRUE.”

The Final Illumination:

I was incredibly lucky to finally meet Natalie at an event hosted by New Leaf Literary at this past January’s ALA Midwinter Meeting. When my friend Helen and I stepped into this lovely room at a Boston hotel for a dessert reception, you can imagine my delight when I spied the one and only Natalie! I just had to wait for my turn to approach her and let her know she is one of my favorite Middle Grade Authors and I think her writing is just spindiddly splendid!

It was no surprise to me that Natalie turned out to be just as lovely and delightful in person as I suspected and I hope our paths cross again. I also hope to meet her dog Biscuit one day. It’s possible Biscuit might even write a book—I wouldn’t be surprised at that either!

Melanie Conklin, Author of Counting Thyme, Natalie Lloyd, Me, & Helen Swinyard (School Librarian from London!)

Yes, I remember the delicious crepe filled with white chocolate, milk chocolate, and strawberries I devoured that night as well as the divine glass of red wine I drank, but I shall never forget meeting the author of A SNICKER OF MAGIC as well and THE KEY TO EXTRAORDINARY in person…

I hope you have the pleasure of meeting Natalie one day as well! And I intend for my kids at the school library to meet her, even virtually!

Thank you New Leaf and also Scholastic for making it possible for Natalie’s books to become a part of our world! I’m forever grateful and would like to lift a virtual cup of BONEYARD BREW to you as well as offer you a PEACH LAVENDER MUFFIN from the BONEYARD CAFE.

YOU ARE LIVING AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE….

five-stars
What Katie Read

The Heart of a Fox: Pax by Sara Pennypacker (2016)

The Heart of a Fox: Pax by Sara Pennypacker (2016)Pax by Sara Pennypacker, Jon Klassen
Published by Balzer + Bray on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Animals, Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 304
Goodreads
five-stars

Pax was only a kit when his family was killed, and “his boy” Peter rescued him from abandonment and certain death. Now the war front approaches, and when Peter’s father enlists, Peter has to move in with his grandpa. Far worse than being forced to leave home is the fact that Pax can’t go. Peter listens to his stern father—as he usually does—and throws Pax’s favorite toy soldier into the woods. When the fox runs to retrieve it, Peter and his dad get back in the car and leave him there—alone. But before Peter makes it through even one night under his grandfather’s roof, regret and duty spur him to action; he packs for a trek to get his best friend back and sneaks into the night. This is the story of Peter, Pax, and their independent struggles to return to one another against all odds. Told from the alternating viewpoints of Peter and Pax.

Remember all those Middle Grade ARCs I acquired at ALA Midwinter? Well, PAX was one of them, and I am happy to say that it was one of my first 5 Star reads of 2016 in the world of Middle Grade!

Thank you, HarperCollins, for providing me with the opportunity to give my honest review of the book.

What I Loved:

This was a beautiful and heart-wrenching book, sensitive in its depiction of the animal world and the relationship between a young person and his beloved pet. There were many things I loved about this book I’d like to share with you:

-The way the book switches between the perspectives of Pax (the fox) and Peter (Pax’s owner). When Pax and Peter are separated, they (and the reader) want to be reunited, but will Peter be able to find Pax in the woods where he was force to leave him? This is the question…

“You going back for your home or for your pet?”

“They’re the same thing.”

-The sensitive way Pennpacker depicted Pax’s first encounter with the great outdoors.

-The relationship between Peter and Vola, and the multi-dimensional nature of Vola’s character. There was so much to her, and these layers were revealed as the story unfolded.

“I was so lost, I needed to find out all the true things about myself. The little things to the biggest of all: what did I believe in at my core?”

-The depiction of the other foxes Pax encountered and the development of their relationships. Trust me, this aspect of the book was marvelous! I absolutely adored Gray, Bristle, and Runt. I think you will too.

What Was Heartwrenching:

-Peter’s struggle to let Pax go in the beginning of the story–obviously his father was forcing him to do this, and that made it all the more painful to read about.

-Pax’s feelings of confusion that Peter left him in the woods.

-Peter’s journey to finding Pax with its delays and challenges.

-Pax’s interaction with the other foxes in the woods.

BUT NO SPOILERS WILL BE ILLUMINATED HERE…

You can definitely read Pax in one sitting, but it’s also a book you can read over the course of a few days, which I did. Either way, I think you will appreciate the pace and the journey of both Peter and Pax. You may not expect the conclusion, or you might…regardless, this is the kind of story that may stick in your head for quite awhile after you’ve read it.

Some Ponderings:

As I reflected on the story before I was even finished, I’ve considered how reading a book from the perspective of a fox has made me more aware of how the growth of our world (of humans) has affected the animal and natural world.

One area I’m really interested in is how children’s literature can nurture a passion in young readers to care for the natural and animal world. How can books speak to us in a meaningful way so that we take action for the good of our world, in terms of our natural spaces and animal life?

These are some of the questions and ponderings I had as I was reading Pax and I’m looking forward to hearing what other readers are thinking and how this book might be a springboard for discussion and action around these issues for both young and old readers. Have you read Pax? What did you think?

five-stars
What Katie Read

ARC Mini Review: Book Scavenger (2015) by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

ARC Mini Review: Book Scavenger (2015) by Jennifer Chambliss BertmanBook Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
Published by Macmillan on June 2nd 2015
Genres: Action & Adventure, Books & Libraries, Middle Grade, Mysteries & Detective Stories, Realistic
Pages: 368
Goodreads
four-stars

For twelve-year-old Emily, the best thing about moving to San Francisco is that it's the home city of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, book publisher and creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger (a game where books are hidden in cities all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles). Upon her arrival, however, Emily learns that Griswold has been attacked and is now in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold himself, and might contain the only copy of his mysterious new game. Racing against time, Emily and James rush from clue to clue, desperate to figure out the secret at the heart of Griswold's new game--before those who attacked Griswold come after them too.

Ciphers! Games! Codes! A fun romp through San Francisco! This Middle Grade Debut has it all…

And guess what…I’m about to depart for San Francisco soon to attend ALA’s Annual Convention! So I’m sharing my thoughts about this book at the perfect time.

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Always moving and having to leave friends behind is hard. Making new friends all the time can be difficult too. In this story we have a family whose job it is to move—Emily’s parents keep a blog and record all their travels and adventures. Sure, that’s all fun and good, but at the end of the day, they have to pick up and go to a new place so they can keep everything on the blog fresh. Emily has grown a little weary of endlessly picking up and moving, saying goodbye to friends, and starting over at new schools. Now that the family is in S.F., she wishes they would stay put.

She meets James, her neighbor, who becomes a great friend and loves puzzles as much as she does. It becomes clear pretty early on that it will take both of them to crack the code[s] that will lead them to the “treasure” at the end of the hunt Book Scavenger creator Garrison Griswold has set up.

If you like puzzles, then you’re in for a treat—there are loads of puzzles to unfold and codes to crack.

Twelve year-old Emily and her new friend James are pretty busy as they race to find out what treasure lies at the end of their hunt once they get their first clue in the shape of a strange book discovered in a Bart Station. The kids are dismayed to discover that Garrison Griswold is lying in a coma somewhere in a San Francisco hospital after he is attacked. This makes her even more determined to figure out the puzzle behind her mysterious book. Adventures, danger, and various mishaps ensue! But trust me…you do want to set out on this scavenging hunt!

**The author has peppered references to parks and restaurants and other spots in San Francisco throughout the story, and those of you familiar with this California landmark will enjoy these references.

Who Should Read This Book:

This book reminded me so much of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library—which coincidentally is mentioned in the book. If you know a reader who is a lover of literature and books, then by all means give them this delightful new Middle Grade debut from Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. You may even find yourself wanting to develop your own Book Scavenger game or community. If you’ve ever heard of geocaching, Book Scavenging is a kind of similar activity, but you’ll find out all about its origins in a section at the end of the book.

Fans of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as well as Mr. Lemoncello couldn’t find a better middle grade mystery debut to pick up. There’s an extensive Afterword filled with lots of fun and intriguing information—about codes, Edgar Allen Poe, books, and San Francisco! This is a strong debut from Jennifer, and I’m excited to see what else she uncovers for us.

Did you read Book Scavenger? What did you enjoy most?!? And who’s going to be at ALA this weekend?

four-stars
What Katie Read

An Award Winner: The Crossover (2014) by Kwame Alexander

An Award Winner: The Crossover (2014) by Kwame AlexanderThe Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 2014
Genres: Basketball, Family, Middle Grade, Novel in Verse, Parents, Poetry, Realistic, School & Education, Siblings, Sports & Recreation
Pages: 237
Goodreads
five-stars

2015 Newbery Medal Winner 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor Award Winner "With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I'm delivering," announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he's got mad beats, too, that tell his family's story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander (He Said, She Said 2013).    Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story's heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

Where were you at the end of January? Did you listen to the live stream of the ALA youth media awards?!? Or were you there? Even if you weren’t there or didn’t listen, you may know that the winner of the Newbery Award, the most prestigious award in children’s literature, for 2014, went to The Crossover by Kwame Alexander.

Today I want to tell you my thoughts about this powerful and stunning novel in verse—sure to appeal to male AND female readers. It left a lasting impression on me, and I’m curious to know what others thought.

I was lucky enough to hear Alexander speak during lunch at the recent New England regional conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators in Massachusetts. What a fabulous speaker! He even shared a poem at the end of his talk, which left the audience moved and wanting more.

This snippet from his award winning novel is just one example of his perfect metaphors:

In this game of life

Your family is the court

And the ball is your heart.

What I Loved:

The relationship between the Brothers: Josh and Jordan Bell are twins, and they share a lot, including a passion and gift for basketball. They love their mother and father dearly, and their father, once a famous basketball player himself, plays a strong role in the story. One aspect of this book I loved, though, was the depiction of the relationship between the brothers. It’s from Josh’s point of view that we hear the story, and over the course of 237 pages, these thirteen year old twins go through quite a bit. Sure, their relationship has some bumps along the way, but ultimately their connection endures its test, and their love for their family stands strong. With each poem titled, I think Alexander exceptionally described the strength and uniqueness of the twins’ relationship.

The imagery: Wow! Is one way to express how I feel about Alexander’s imagery. Whether it’s “arms as heavy as sea anchors,” “JB’s eyes are ocean wide,” or “to push water uphill,” this novel in verse is chock full of stunning language and rhythm that will reinforce the power of a narrative told in verse. And if you like basketball, you definitely can’t pass up the chance to read The Crossover. You’ll feel like you’re in the court with Josh and JB and right in the middle of the action. Check out “Fast Break” on page 149, for example.

Illuminations of Spirituality:

The Connections Among Family: There’s no way I can’t mention a spiritual aspect of this book as it relates to the profound connections within family. Josh’s mother and father both play an important role in the story, and this book definitely wouldn’t be the same without them in it. There’s no doubt that Josh and JB love their parents, and they’re influenced (for the better) by both of them. When tragedy strikes their home, it’s even more apparent how strong their family bonds actually are. The story is a testament to the importance of our families, and also the significance of honoring what our parents have sacrificed for us, their children.

Who Should Read This Book:

I’ll probably recommend this book to just about everyone—one reason being that this book won the Newbery and I think it’s important to read the books that win the major awards (even if only to consider what the committee deemed noteworthy that year). However, this novel in verse is a quick read, powerful, and beautiful. I loved it, and though I have to admit that I may have cried a little, the story is worth it. I will genuinely miss Josh’s voice, and will just have to go hunt down more of Alexander’s work.

What did you think about the award winning books this year? Have you read any of them? Are there any novels in verse you think I must read?

five-stars
What Katie Read

ARC Middle Grade Review: Extraordinary (2015) by Miriam Spitzer Franklin

ARC Middle Grade Review: Extraordinary (2015) by Miriam Spitzer FranklinExtraordinary by Miriam Spitzer Franklin
Published by Sky Pony Press on May 5th 2015
Genres: Friendship, Middle Grade, Realistic, Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, Social Issues, Special Needs
Pages: 256
Goodreads
four-stars

Last summer, Pansy chickened out on going to summer camp, even though she’d promised her best friend, Anna, she’d go. It was just like when they went to get their hair cut for Locks of Love; only one of them walked out with a new hairstyle, and it wasn’t Pansy. But Pansy never got the chance to make it up to Anna. While at camp, Anna contracted meningitis and a dangerously high fever, and she hasn’t been the same since. Now all Pansy wants is her best friend back—not the silent girl in the wheelchair who has to go to a special school and who can’t do all the things Pansy used to chicken out of doing. So when Pansy discovers that Anna is getting a surgery that might cure her, Pansy realizes this is her chance—she’ll become the friend she always should have been. She’ll become the best friend Anna’s ever had—even if it means taking risks, trying new things (like those scary roller skates), and running herself ragged in the process. Pansy’s chasing extraordinary, hoping she reaches it in time for her friend’s triumphant return. But what lies at the end of Pansy’s journey might not be exactly what she had expected—or wanted. Extraordinary is a heartfelt, occasionally funny, coming-of-age middle grade novel by debut author Miriam Spitzer Franklin. It’s sure to appeal to fans of Cynthia Lord’s Rules and will inspire young friends to cherish the times they spend together. Every day should be lived like it’s extraordinary.

What I Loved:

The book’s depiction of the ups and down, the trials and joys of life in the 5th grade: I know Spitzer Franklin has worked as a teacher, and that she drew on her own experiences as a teacher in the writing of this book. I appreciated the portrayal of life in the classroom for Pansy, and the way she navigated her friendships—both old and new.

The adventurous antics of Pansy: Pansy is a delightful character! You can’t help but cheer for her as she seeks to become “extraordinary” for her best friend, who is set to have surgery in the near future. Pansy is certain Anna will return to her normal self and they’ll be able to pick back up as the best friends they were before Anna became ill. Pansy is motivated to become the top reader in class, to become good at ice skating, and to be the best girl scout she can be—all for her dear friend Anna. Through each of these endeavors, Pansy learns valuable lessons, and she changes a bit too.

The role of Pansy’s parents: Pansy’s parents play a significant role in her life in the story, and you don’t always see this in Middle Grade Fiction. Pansy’s parents encourage her as she strives to become “extraordinary” and they comfort her as she faces the sadness about who Anna has become because of her illness.

Illuminations of Spirituality:

The Desire to Be a Better Person for Those Around Us: Pansy’s motivation to become extraordinary for her best friend, who has recently suffered brain damage, is inspiring and reflects the great value she places on her friendship with Anna. Even though there are things Pansy wants to attempt that are scary (ice skating lessons & rollerblading to school, for example) she perseveres because the goal of making her best friend proud is more important.

Hope: Even when the reality of what we see doesn’t match what we hope for, we still hope. Sometimes things change and sometimes they don’t. But the act of hoping is itself important.

Being Thankful for What You Have: It’s easy to take for granted all the things we have—and that includes friendships. Pansy’s friendship with Andy is extremely important, but there are times in the story when she definitely forgets this, and runs after other opportunities and friendships that detract from her relationship with Andy. It takes some time, but Pansy learns something important about being thankful for what’s right in front of us.

Who Should Read This Book:

Spitzer Franklin has written a character driven book featuring all things relevant to upper elementary students—school, friendships, and new opportunities (ice skating, girl scouts, classroom competitions!). There are certainly some sad parts—the fact is that Pansy’s best friend has suffered a major medical condition, and she is not the same girl Pansy was best friends with before she became ill. Certainly, children today might have to go through something like this, whether it’s a serious illness with a friend or a family member or the death of a loved one.

I won’t lie—this book does have its heartbreaking moments, but it’s ultimately a hopeful story that illuminates the importance of being comfortable with who you are, being thankful for the good in your life, and relying on the love and friendship of friends and family when things don’t go the way you want them to go.

Extraordinary really made my think of my own 5th grade experience–and how well I remember that desire to fit in and have friends, and yet there was the tug to be my own person and stand up for myself too. This book reminded me of the variety of kinds of kids in any 5th grade class–there are the kids who are “mean” sometimes, the kids who try to get others to follow them, and the ones who are appealing just because they were comfortable with being themselves.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect, you know. You just have to do it on your own.”

The Final Illumination:

Extraordinary is a heartwarming and solid debut from Spitzer Franklin, reminding me of my own adventures in 5th grade and the tension between the balance you had to maintain between forming friendships and being your own person. I love that Pansy is not afraid of being unique—she’ll wear two different color shoes and she’ll risk falling down while rollerblading to school. She’s a good example for all of us who struggle with being confident in who we are, young and old.

**I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

**If you missed my interview with the author, you can find it here.

four-stars
What Katie Read