Archive for middle grade novels

This Totally Bites

I can’t believe I hadn’t blogged about this before (OK, so it’s probably because it’s been a little while since I last blogged).

This Totally Bites

This Totally Bites by Ruth Ames ROCKS. Emma-Rose Paley is a fantastic heroine who looks a little more vampire-ish than the rest of her family. Which wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that her great-Aunt Margo is coming for a visit from Romania and looks a lot like Emma-Rose. And for the fact that Great-Aunt Margo is clearly up to something other-worldly. Could it be that Emma-Rose’s aversion to garlic and sunshine are more than just a question of taste?

Clearly, This Totally Bites is playing off the current vampire craze, setting this story up for the 8-12 crowd who are a little young for Twilight. But it’s way more than that. The storytelling here is way beyond what you get in most young chapter books — it really moves and the plot builds and the characters are remarkably developed. I’ve given this to a few reluctant readers who plowed through it and demanded more! What I really like about the story though is the ending, which I won’t give away. I expected that she couldn’t be a vampire. Or maybe Ames would make her a vampire? But the ending is much more inventive than I could have predicted.

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Passover Books!

OK, so I think this isn’t too last minute to be useful. Depending on what you are looking for, there are some really nice Passover books out there. So here, in a nutshell (kosher for Passover nuts only please), is the round up of titles to consider:

If you are looking for a great book to really get into the story of Passover, check out:

Nachshon

Nachshon

Nachshon Who Was Afraid to Swim by Deborah Bodin Cohen. Great for the 6 and up set, this is the story of Nachshon, the Biblical character who is said to be the one to first step into the sea (before it split). Didn’t help (according to Cohen, not the Bible) that he was afraid of water. But freedom means living up to your fears… Beautifully illustrated and a great book to help you discuss freedom and the Exodus story. New this year!

Yankee at the Seder

Yankee at the Seder

Yankee at the Seder by Elka Weber. Great book. Really, really great book. It’s the end of the Civil War and a Yankee Soldier happens upon a Southern child eating matzah outside. Of course, the family invites him for seder. There’s nothing boring or didactic about this story — it’s just great. Pictures are lovely, writing is lovely. Highly recommended and new this year!

Miriam’s Cup by Fran Manushkin. Better for girls, ages 6 and up. This book really delves into the Biblical narrative, from the point of view of Miriam, Moses’ sister. The illustrations are stunning.

If you are looking for something that can be used at your seder, check out:

Let My People Go!

Let My People Go!

Let My People Go! by Tilda Balsley. A play about the plagues (oy vey), it’s actually a lot of fun. Last year, I got our whole seder table participating, with my (then) 5 year old playing Moses. There’s lots of words for the narrator to say and the other parts are pretty easy to remember (even for a 5 year old).

Wonders and Miracles

Wonders and Miracles

Wonders and Miracles by Eric Kimmel. A fantastic seder companion filled with interesting information and incredible photographs and illustrations, it really explains each part of the seder. It’s perfect for kids who like to know things, as well as adults. Highly recommended, even though it’s non-fiction.

If you are looking for some books that are just plain fun, check out:

Only Nine Chairs by Deborah Uchill Miller. What happens when 19 guests are expected but there’s only 9 chairs? It’s pretty funny what they come up with. The illustrations feel dated, but the book is hilarious. Great for 2-4 year olds.

Passover!

Passover!

Passover! by Roni Schotter. Nice and light Passover experience for very young children (ages 1-3).

Passover Magic by Roni Schotter. This is sadly out of print, but if you can find it, it’s really great. A lovely story about a young girl during her family’s celebration of Passover — it’s pretty much a perfect book. Ages 4-7.

No Matzoh For Me!

No Matzoh For Me!

Pearl’s Passover by Jane Breskin Zalben. A great collection of stories and activities that will last kids through all seven/eight days of Passover. Better for girls, and kids ages 5 to 7.

No Matzoh for Me! by Nancy Krulik. It’s Passover time and you are cast in your Hebrew school play as the Matzah? Not the Pharoh, not even a plague or Moses but Matzah?? Great for kids 5 to 7.

If you are looking for a chapter book, check out:

Penina Levine

Penina Levine

Penina Levine is a Hard-boiled Egg by Rebecca O’Connell. A modern day Jewish family with a very modern day Jewish girl at the center. Penina is a great heroine, and luckily there’s another book in the series: Penina Levine is a Potato Pancake. Probably better for girls…

The Devil's Arithmetic

The Devil's Arithmetic

The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen. OK, it’s very heavy, but so so good. Hannah is really bored at her family seder and wishes she wasn’t there. Her family is annoying and the whole seder is pretty meaningless to her. Until she opens the door for Elijah and suddenly, she’s not in the present time anymore, she’s stepped into Poland in the early 1940s. Yes, it’s heavy, but so good.

If you are looking for something for a child who is really ready to understand the meaning of freedom, check out:

The Secret Seder

The Secret Seder

The Secret Seder by Doreen Rappaport. An illustrated book for older children, this is the story of a family who is pretending to be Gentiles during the Holocaust. The lengths that they are prepared to go to celebrate Passover and have a secret seder, is heart-breaking. There’s no violence and difficult images, but the idea of what they are saying during the seder vs. how they are living is really challenging.

OK, it’s a pretty solid list, though I’m sure I’m missing stuff. Any favorites I left out?

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Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains by Laurel Snyder

So, I’ve been focusing recently on books for younger readers, mostly out of laziness since I read to my young readers often. However, I recently read a fantastic new early chapter book/ middle-grade novel that I couldn’t wait to share with you all. 

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains by Laurel Snyder is the kind of book that children who love good stories will fall in love with. It’s the kind of book that you get sucked into, that you wind up staying up way past your bedtime to keep reading under the covers. For those of you who have children who dive into books with that kind of passion, this is the book for them.

Best of all, if you are looking for a book that you can read to your slightly younger reader, say a seven year old, this is a great option. It’s the story of a young girl and her best friend, who just happens to be a prince. The young girl is one of those lovely plucky heroines, but there’s a sadness to her also, as her mother disappeared when she was a baby. At least she thinks she disappeared, it’s better than thinking the alternative. Now don’t get discouraged, this isn’t a heavy book. It’s a funny adventure story as the young girl goes looking for her mother on the slightly magical Scratchy Mountain, and discovers what’s really important. And the prince? Well, at first he’s out of the picture as the King wants him to start learning to be a real prince (very fun stuff here), but ultimately he realizes that being a real person is more important, and a real person both follows his best friend, and his heart.

With great characters, some nice adventures, and just enough magic to keep it enchanting, this story is a winner. It seems like Laurel Snyder has a new book coming out — I can’t wait to see it.

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