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

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

Middle Grade Review: The Question of Miracles (2015) by Elana K. Arnold

Middle Grade Review: The Question of Miracles (2015) by Elana K. ArnoldThe Question of Miracles by Elana K. Arnold
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on February 3rd 2015
Genres: Death & Dying, Family, Friendship, Middle Grade, Realistic, Religious, Social Issues
Pages: 208
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Sixth-grader Iris Abernathy hates life in Corvallis, Oregon, where her family just moved. It’s always raining, and everything is so wet. Besides, nothing has felt right since Iris’s best friend, Sarah, died. When Iris meets Boris, an awkward mouth-breather with a know-it-all personality, she’s not looking to make a new friend, but it beats eating lunch alone. Then she learns that Boris’s very existence is a medical mystery, maybe even a miracle, and Iris starts to wonder why some people get miracles and others don’t. And if one miracle is possible, can another one be too? Can she possibly communicate with Sarah again?

“Bad things happen, Iris thought. People die. Eggs sometimes do not hatch. But miracles…they happen too.”

What I Loved:

Iris asks the Hard Questions: I think Iris is such a wonderful character. Even though she doesn’t understand something—why miracles happen for some people and not for others, she keeps asking and  wondering. She is determined and if there is a glimmer of hope for a miracle for herself (seeing her best friend again), she’s going to pursue that.

“…maybe there was another part to her—a soul—and maybe that part was still out there.”

“But what I want to know is, if there is a God…if divine intervention is possible…then why would miracles only happen sometimes? Wouldn’t it make more sense, if God could make good things happen, that miracles would happen all the time?”

The Treatment of Grief in the Narrative: Even though this is a Middle Grade story, with a sixth grade protagonist, the author doesn’t shy away from tough topics. I think the way grief was treated in the book was sensitive and honest. The fact is that Iris’s best friend was killed the previous school year, and though the family has moved from California to Oregon and Iris is seeing a counselor, that kind of traumatic event is certain to have effects on Iris. This is a slim book, but I felt that there was a satisfying resolution to Iris’s working through getting over the death of her friend (and saying goodbye). The metaphor of gardening represents another important aspect of the story and played into the overarching themes of the story. When Iris joins her father to help with his garden, it represents more than just an activity to get Iris thinking about something else.

The Spiritual Aspects of the Story: Whether it is Iris wondering if a miracle is possible to bring back her best friend, Sarah, or her realization that Sarah’s ghost may in fact be living in her house, Arnold’s narrative features several pretty explicit spiritual aspects. At one point, Iris leaves a gift for Sarah—Sarah’s favorite book, Anne of Green Gables. Iris’s mother realizes Iris has left the book for Sarah, and the resulting conversation isn’t patronizing or discouraging. I thought the presence of these aspects in the story added a rich dimension to a sensitive topic, and I was glad the author didn’t shy away from some of the more difficult questions her protagonist asks.

This leads directly into the next category….

Illuminations of Spirituality:

Because of Iris’s journey throughout the book, the story also positions the reader to ask these (spiritual) questions:

What happens to our family and friends when they die?

Is there any way to contact them after death?

Why do miracles happen for some people and not for others?

All of these are pretty serious questions, but the book is an excellent jumping off point for talking about some of these questions with the middle grade crowd (or older readers too).

Who Should Read This Book:

Fans of The Secret Hum of a Daisy and Counting by Sevens would see similar themes in this book, though it’s certainly unique on its own, and I loved these characters, including Iris’s parents. In some Middle Grade books, the parents aren’t major players, but I appreciated the roles Iris’s mother and father played in the story.

I loved this book and have already purchased it for my collection. A true gem of a debut for 2015!

The Final Illumination:

This debut is strong, refreshing, and unique. I loved The Question of Miracles, perhaps more so because of its unflinching spiritual dimensions, which I felt were treated sensitively and with grace. Though there are many Middle Grade stories (at least that I’ve been reading lately) treating the death of loved ones in the lives of young people, that doesn’t mean each doesn’t have a unique contribution to make about questions that young people deserve to voice.

**I received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

four-half-stars
What Katie Read

The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman Blog Tour (Giveaway + Recipes!)

The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman Blog Tour (Giveaway + Recipes!)The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman
Published by Penguin on May 5th 2015
Genres: Cooking & Food, Humorous Stories, Middle Grade, Realistic
Pages: 336
Goodreads
five-stars

“A scrumptious gem of a story!”—Jennifer A. Nielsen, New York Times bestselling author of The False Prince for All Four Stars. In this charming sequel to All Four Stars, eleven-year-old foodie Gladys Gatsby now has her first published review under her belt and is looking forward to a quiet summer of cooking and reviewing. But her plans quickly go awry when her friend Charissa Bentley delivers Gladys’s birthday gift: a free summer at Camp Bentley. As Gladys feared, camp life is not easy: she struggles to pass her swim test and can’t keep the other campers happy while planning lunches. The worst part is she can’t seem to get away from the annoying new “celebrity” camper and sneak away for her latest assignment—finding the best hot dog in New York City. But when it turns out her hot dog assignment was a dirty trick by a jealous reviewer, Gladys’s reviewing career may be over forever.

I’m honored and excited to kick off the Official Blog Tour for the sequel to Tara Dairman’s All Four Stars: The Stars of Summer! After falling in love with Tara’s debut last year, I was jumping for joy when I received the ARC of its sequel, and I think you are going to adore this book!

In fact, you can enter a Rafflecopter Giveaway at the bottom of this post to win a SIGNED COPY of both All Four Stars and The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman!

AllFourStarsbyTaraDairman

Prepare to be entertained by Gladys and her family and friends yet again in this May 5th release from Putnam.

A sequel to the utterly delightful All Four Stars, Tara Dairman’s The Stars of Summer opens with Gladys’s birthday dinner in NYC at a Tapas restaurant where Gladys is faced with the task of reviewing the meal with her family and friends and jotting down her notes in secret. While in the restaurant restroom, Gladys discovers that there’s a $1000 dollar reward for cracking the identity of restaurant reviewer “G. Gatsby”!

Gladys’s mishap in the previous book—the crème brulee incident is thankfully behind her and she is able to use the kitchen once again. Readers open the story expecting Gladys will be able to cook and create her culinary delights once again.

But, there’s more in store for Gladys this summer than just typical time in the kitchen. And let me give you another hint: there’s a BOY involved! Just what Gladys needs…

side eye dalmations

When Charissa gifts Gladys with a free summer at Camp Bentley, Gladys’ summer plans quickly take on a nightmarish quality. No way does Gladys want to spend her days in the sun swimming or running relay races! Her newest assignment for the newspaper is also a bit strange—she will have to find the best hot dog in New York City!

It is no surprise that adventures for Gladys ensue in this equally charming sequel to Tara Dairman’s 2014 debut.

What I Loved

The Food: From the beginning of the book, your mouth will water. Whether you’re reading about items from the Tapas Menu at Gladys’s birthday restaurant such as Ham-Wrapped Roasted Asparagus and Griddled Polenta Cakes or her three-tired Strawberry Lime Birthday cake, you might not want to read this book while hungry.

Having a healthy obsession for cookbooks, I absolutely adore the fact that Tara’s books feature a healthy number of food references! Gladys isn’t afraid to take on a culinary challenge and I love that.

Though Gladys normally wouldn’t consider scouring the city for the “best hot dog,” her summer experiences lead her in this direction. I found this to be a fabulous aspect of the sequel, especially as it’s releasing in late spring and the summer is fast approaching.

The Laugh Aloud Moments: I don’t think you can read this book with a straight face.

Gladys’s antics (especially when you add her parents as well as her friends and a new kid named Hamilton Herbertson) infuse the narrative with the perfect ingredient of humor.

I appreciate when a story, especially a middle grade novel makes me laugh, and The Stars of Summer is no exception. My hope is that you find Chapter 14: A (Hot) Dog Day of a Summer as funny as I did.

The Curriculum Connections: Both All Four Stars and The Stars of Summer are excellent choices for titles in the upper elementary classroom. Whether chosen for individual reading by students or featured as a whole class read-a-long, Tara’s books feature colorful characters, engaging plots, and humorous antics that I think would especially engage this age group.

Its culinary aspects made me think—what about including the book as part of a Home Economics/Language Arts hybrid lesson plan?

It would depend on the school’s curriculum, but I love the idea of giving students the chance to read the book and then to learn to cook some of the recipes referenced in either All Four Stars or The Stars of Summer.

The New Twists and Challenges for Gladys: Whether it was learning to swim, navigating a summer camp kitchen with the bossy Mrs. Spinelli, dealing with a boy who “might” like her, or combing the streets of New York City for every hot dog stand in sight, Gladys has her share of new adventures and lessons to learn. Gladys is as endearing a character in the sequel as she was in All Four Stars. The addition of new characters supplies welcome challenges and tension to a narrative that, to be honest, I couldn’t put down.

Reasons to Read The Stars of Summer

-You read All Four Stars and have fallen in love with Gladys and her culinary adventures.

-You need a story to get you in the mood for summer.

-You’re fascinated by the idea of the search for the perfect hot dog in New York City.

-You’re hungry for a delightful contemporary Middle Grade read about an ambitious twelve year old whose adventures and interactions will entertain you and keep you chuckling.

View Spoiler »

The_Stars_of_Summer_cover

Now, this tour stop wouldn’t be complete without at least a few gourmet hot dog recipes. I hope that Gladys would approve of these, and I have selected a few I found through my online search for some more “creative” hot dogs. Here’s one interesting tidbit—I started searching for hot dog recipes before I had finished my reading of the book. I inadvertently highlighted a hot dog recipe I wanted to include that actually shows up in the book—the Sonoran Hot Dog!

Enjoy!

If you have recipes to share, please do so in the comments below!

HOT DOGS WITH CHEDDAR AND SAUTEED APPLES

CAPRESE DOG

(Mozzarella, Basil, & Tomato!)

BACON WRAPPED SONORAN HOT DOGS

(Beans, Tomatoes, Onions, Cilantro, Avocado!)

HOT DOGS WITH DAL & RED ONION RAITA

(Lentils, Red Onion, Yogurt, Mint, Serrano Chile!)

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 it here.

**Thank you to Kristin Rae for a beautiful blog tour button!

BIO: Tara Dairman is the author of ALL FOUR STARS, which was named an Amazon Best Book of the Month and a Mighty Girl Top Book of 2014 for Teens and Tweens. She is also a playwright and recovering world traveler. She grew up in New York and received 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 husband and their trusty waffle iron.

Tara Dairman headshot
Photo Credits: Tiffany Crowder @ Crowded Studios: http://www.crowdedstudiosphoto.com/

Book buying links:

Penguin: http://www.penguin.com/book/the-stars-of-summer-by-tara-dairman/9780399170690

Indiebound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780399170690

Powells: http://www.powells.com/biblio/62-9780399170690-0

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Stars-Summer-Tara-Dairman/dp/0399170693/ref=la_B00IK6WU4U_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412958767&sr=1-2

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-stars-of-summer-tara-dairman/1120421974?ean=9780399170690

BAM: http://www.booksamillion.com/p/Stars-Summer/Tara-Dairman/9780399170690?id=6117508412118

Indigo (Canada): http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/the-stars-of-summer/9780698173675-item.html?ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=2

Book Depository: http://www.bookdepository.com/Stars-Summer-Tara-Dairman/9780399170690

Social media links:

Website: http://taradairman.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TaraDairman

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TaraDairmanAuthor

Instagram: http://instagram.com/allfourstars/

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

five-stars
What Katie Read

Waiting on Wednesday: Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Waiting on Wednesday: Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca SteadGoodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Published by Wendy Lamb Books on August 4th 2015
Genres: Middle Grade, Realistic
Pages: 304
Goodreads

This brilliant novel by Newbery Medal winner Rebecca Stead explores multiple perspectives on the bonds and limits of friendship. Bridge is an accident survivor who's wondering why she's still alive. Emily has new curves and an almost-boyfriend who wants a certain kind of picture. Tabitha sees through everybody's games--or so she tells the world. The three girls are best friends with one rule: No fighting. Can it get them through seventh grade?     This year everything is different for Sherm Russo as he gets to know Bridge Barsamian. What does it mean to fall for a girl--as a friend? On Valentine's Day, an unnamed high school girl struggles with a betrayal. How long can she hide in plain sight? Each memorable character navigates the challenges of love and change in this captivating novel.

Newbery Winning Author REBECCA STEAD has a new book coming out in August! It’s realistic, set in New York City, and harbors a beautiful cover. Just look at it!

New WoW

You may know that When You Reach Me is one of my favorite books of all times–it’s both historical and fantasy–two of my favorite genres wrapped up into one.  and Liar and Spy is another beautiful story Stead wrote after her Newbery winning When You Reach Me.

Yes, When You Reach Me was stunning with its Brooklyn setting, its mystery, and its references to A Wrinkle in Time. Liar and Spy sports a twelve year spy who drinks coffee and is named Safer. He and Georges, a newcomer to the Brooklyn apartment building, participate in various spy activities and you’ll never guess what happens next. Trust me, if you haven’t read either of these gems, you must skip off to the library at once and procure them!

It’s safe to say that Rebecca Stead is one of my favorite Middle Grade authors and I will read anything she writes. When I found out she had a book releasing in August, I just about jumped out of my chair.

flailing

I’m beyond excited for Goodbye Stranger and look forward to reading it in the near future!

What are you waiting on Wednesday for this week?

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, in which we share those upcoming releases we are most excited about!

 

What Katie Read

Bookish Illuminations: Rain Reign (2014) by Ann M. Martin

Bookish Illuminations: Rain Reign (2014) by Ann M. MartinRain Reign by Ann M. Martin
Published by Macmillan on October 7th 2014
Genres: Animals, Dogs, Middle Grade, Realistic, Social Issues, Special Needs
Pages: 240
Goodreads
five-stars

Rose Howard is obsessed with homonyms. She’s thrilled that her own name is a homonym, and she purposely gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Not everyone understands Rose’s obsessions, her rules, and the other things that make her different – not her teachers, not other kids, and not her single father.When a storm hits their rural town, rivers overflow, the roads are flooded, and Rain goes missing. Rose’s father shouldn’t have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search. Hearts will break and spirits will soar for this powerful story, brilliantly told from Rose’s point of view.

Suggested age range: 9 and up

If you read my Friday 56 post, you’ll know that today I plan to share with my thoughts on Ann M. Martin’s Middle Grade stand alone, Rain Reign.  Happy Monday and Enjoy!

Illuminations

First things first.

I loved Rose’s relationship with her dog, Rain. When things became difficult between her and her father, Rain was a source of comfort and protection. Rain was also a joy for Rose’s classmates to see the day she follows Rose into her classroom–this created a space for Rain to talk about something with her classmates beside homonyms.

When Rain is lost in a big storm about halfway through the book, things get a little tense, and like many other readers, I’m sure, I was hoping against hope that Rain would be found. Rose finds out what one must do to search for a lost pet after a storm, and she is remarkably adept and detail-oriented; she does what she has to do. What makes the book so fantastic is the way the reader gets a true glimpse into Rose’s thought processes by hearing her side of things. As someone who reads a lot of children’s and young adult literature, I’m endlessly fascinated by the notion of an adult author trying to portray the perspective of a young person. Will it work or won’t it? I like what Ann M. Martin has done here, with this story, but it’s always helpful to remember that this is a work of writing by an adult. Raising this point makes for interesting discussion, that’s for sure, and it’s a point that is unique the world of children’s literature.

With that in mind, getting close to Rose’s voice and her dreams and disappointments is an important part of the book. Even though readers may not come into contact with children with Asperger’s on a daily basis, reading Rose’s story can raise readers’ awareness, and though it’s fiction, the story gives us the opportunity to develop compassion for a young character who possesses a unique perspective on her surroundings. This brings up something that I think good fiction can accomplish: it can affect our social sensitivity.

Rose’s mother is absent from her life, and her father is often at the bar after work. But Rose’s uncle and Rose share a significant relationship, and he spends time with her. So, though Rose’s parents aren’t there for her as much as she needs, her relationship with her uncle fills a gap, and this is crucial.

Who Should Read This Book

Fans of Lisa Graff’s Absolutely Almost will definitely appreciate this book. As I was reading it, I couldn’t help but think about Albie in Graff’s newest novel. It’s interesting that I read both of these books fairly close to one another. They both feature rich and authentic child protagonists who are making sense of themselves and those around them.

Both books highlight heartwarming narratives that are uplifting, but they don’t skate around the sad things that happen to Rose and Albie. Sometimes it can seem difficult to find books with protagonists living with autism, but Graff and Martin have provided two 2014 books that provide such books for readers.

Rose announces that she has been diagnosed with Asperger’s in the second chapter of the book—this isn’t something hidden from the reader. Rose is an endearing character, and just as Albie’s perspective is provided for the reader, making it easier to understand him, Martin does the same in the narrative for Rose. Because we get a deeper glimpse into Rose’s thought processes through the story, we feel more compassion for her and what she’s going through. And so many of us know what it’s like to be searching for a lost pet! In that respect, the book is relevant to a huge spectrum of readers.

And just look at that cover! The title (a homonym—and you know, Rose is obsessed with homonyms) and the cover image were enough to draw me in to read the book. The hues, the silhouette of Rose and Rain, and the font style of the title certainly caught my eye. What I felt: Mystery, excitement, and hope for what was beyond the storm. (If seeing that Ann M. Martin wrote it hadn’t been enough!)

The Final Illumination

I grew up reading all of Ann M. Martin’s Babysitter Club books. Though I read series books as well as stand alones and a huge variety of genres, I appreciated the comfort and the patterns in the Babysitter Club plots. I followed the lives of Kristy, Mary Ann, Dawn, Stacy, and Claudia, and loved the fact that they would be the same girls every time I started a new book. Ann M. Martin was definitely an important author to my young reader self.

More recently, I’ve read one of her Doll People books, but no other stand alones she’s written. Now that I’ve read Rain Reign, I plan to hunt down the others—because she’s not just talented at writing series books. With Rain Reign she’s crafted a beautiful, but not overly sweet story about a girl learning to navigate the world of home and school, while facing challenges that many children never have to deal with. Her story is an important one, and though I had pretty high expectations for this one, I was even more blown away by Ann M. Martin’s ability to pull me into Rose’s world, and feel tremendously sad as I turned that last page. (Sad, at least, that I was saying goodbye to Rose!)

Did you read this 2014 realistic novel? Did you like it as much as I did?

five-stars
What Katie Read