Genre: Middle Grade

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.

clap

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
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