Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Wild Robot (Peter Brown)

Publication Date: April 2016

SYNOPSIS: When robot Roz opens her eyes for the first time, she discovers that she is alone on a remote, wild island. She has no idea how she got there or what her purpose is--but she knows she needs to survive. After battling a fierce storm and escaping a vicious bear attack, she realizes that her only hope for survival is to adapt to her surroundings and learn from the island's unwelcoming animal inhabitants.

As Roz slowly befriends the animals, the island starts to feel like home -until, one day, the robot's mysterious past comes back to haunt her.

THOUGHTS: This book is so unique - a heartfelt story about a robot's adventures with wildlife on an island. The interactions between the robot and the animals are sad, funny, and interesting, and some action/adventure sneaks its way in there. Plus it has a mishmash of genres – science fiction, adventure, humor, animals – that will make most kids sure to find some aspect of the story to latch on to.

I was so close to giving this book four stars, but the ending just did not live up to the build-up from the rest of the story for me. It was still excellent, and I think kids will really like it. I chickened out for some reason on giving this book 3.5 Cartwheels, but it has definite kid appeal.

 Yes, absolutely!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Raymie Nightingale (by Kate DiCamillo)

Publication Date: March 2016

SYNOPSIS: 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. 

There is a reason Kate DiCamillo is the best in the business. Because she creates such great characters, even a relatively spare and quiet story such as this one is very compelling. I loved it.

The three main child characters have so many different layers, particularly Raymie's friend Beverly. Beverly, who is stubborn and impatient for most of the story, lets her guard down at times later in the story to show her real self. Each girl is brittle in her own way and every time the story breaks your heart, it glues it back together.

This is definitely a character-driven story, which I think (unfortunately) will rule out a considerable number of readers who will seek more action, mystery, or humor. However, it will be cherished in the right reader's hands.

 Possible, but I’m not sure if it has the broad interest level that we usually look for. Either way, I will definitely encourage kids to read this story. It’s really great.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Howard Wallace, P.I. (by Casey Lyall)

Publication Date: September 2016 

SYNOPSIS: Twelve-year-old Howard Wallace lives by his list of rules of private investigation. He knows more than anyone how to work with what he’s got: a bathrobe for a trench coat, a makeshift office behind the school equipment shed, and not much else—least of all, friends. So when a hot case of blackmail lands on his desk, he’s ready to take it on himself . . . until the new kid, Ivy Mason, convinces him to take her on as a junior partner. As they banter through stakeouts and narrow down their list of suspects, Howard starts to wonder if having Ivy as a sidekick—and a friend—is such a bad thing after all.

THOUGHTS: This is the perfect light-hearted mystery with characters to root for and root against – with a few surprises thrown in! This was such a fun book! I loved the chemistry between Howard & Ivy, I loved the mystery component, I loved the humor. This book totally hit the bull's eye for me, and I think a lot of kids are going to really enjoy it. I could easily recommend this to any middle grader – boy or girl, mystery lover or not, great reader or reluctant reader – and feel good about it. Kudos to Ms. Lyall!

CARTWHEEL AWARD NOMINEE?: I think this book is a model book for what we like to choose for a Cartwheel nominee, so most definitely. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Girl in the Well is Me (by Karen Rivers)

Publication Date: March 2016

SYNOPSIS: Newcomer Kammie Summers has fallen into a well during a (fake) initiation into a club whose members have no intention of letting her join. Now Kammie’s trapped in the dark, growing increasingly claustrophobic, and waiting to be rescued—or possibly not.

As hours pass, the reality of Kammie’s predicament mixes with her memories of the highlights and lowlights of her life so far, including the reasons her family moved to this new town in the first place. And as she begins to run out of oxygen, Kammie starts to imagine she has company, including a French-speaking coyote and goats that just might be zombies.

Karen Rivers has created a unique narrator with an authentic, sympathetic, sharp, funny voice who tells a story perfect for fans of Flora and Ulysses, Reign Rein, and Counting by 7s. The Girl in the Well Is Me will have readers laughing and crying and laugh-crying over the course of its physically and emotionally suspenseful, utterly believable events.

THOUGHTS: I think the description of this book does it a disservice. I'm not exactly sure why they claim it is "hilarious" (while there are some parts that may elicit a smile, I wouldn't say it is even "funny," never mind "hilarious" ... but it shouldn't be, either). Also, I'm not sure I get why they are comparing this book to Rain Reign or Flora & Ulysses. The books don't seem all that similar to me. 

I have seen a lot of reviews for this book that complain about the protagonist's voice and how annoying the stream of consciousness is. I felt it to be very believable and raw. Kammie is scared and low on makes sense that she would be getting lost in her own thoughts. And I thought the tact of letting parts of her backstory come out a little at a time throughout her time in the well was effective. To me, the story was compelling, and I'll be very interested to see what kids think of it. It definitely has a catchy title and an appealing cover, and will be easy to book talk. 

Something to keep in mind: the swear word that begins with "s" makes two appearances, which may be a turn off. Kammie says it in part because of her situation but also because, as she acknowledges, she is not allowed to swear at home.

CARTWHEEL AWARD NOMINEE?: No. While I think it is a good story and I think many girls will like it, I’m not sure it will find much of an audience with boys. Also, we would never choose a book with swear words. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Flashback Four: The Lincoln Project (by Dan Gutman)

Publication Date: February 2016

SYNOPSIS: Congratulations! You are invited to participate in a very special once-in-a-lifetime experience. Please do not share this invitation or discuss it with anyone. In New York Times bestselling author Dan Gutman's all-new series, which blends fascinating real history with an action-packed and hilarious adventure, four very different kids are picked by a mysterious billionaire to travel through time and photograph some of history's most important events. This time, the four friends are headed to 1863 to catch Abraham Lincoln delivering his famous Gettysburg Address. They'll have to work together to ask the right questions, meet the right people, and capture the right moment. And most important—not get caught! Back matter separating fact from fiction and real black-and-white photographs make Flashback Four the perfect mix of true history and uproarious fun.

THOUGHTS: I really like Dan Gutman. I would say he is in my top ten favorite middle grade authors. This book was really good, too - a diverse, historical fiction adventure novel. There were four main characters: a white boy and girl, a Hispanic girl, and an African-American boy. This diversity just is – it is mentioned briefly but the characters are allowed to “be” without the color of their skin being part of the plot. (The exception being the obvious concern David has for going back to a time period that included slavery.) Also, the photos throughout were definitely a good addition.

Kids will really like this. The plot moves very fast, and both kids who enjoy history and those who enjoy adventures will find something here. Mr. Gutman put in an afterward detailing what in the story was true to history and what parts he used creative license on. As an aside, the story doesn't have a real ending, which I found disappointing.

CARTWHEEL AWARD NOMINEE?: I’m going to say no, and I wish I didn’t have to. I usually do not mind nominating first books in a series (last year’s “Favorite Book” winner was Gordon Korman’s Masterminds, a series starter). However, I think in fairness to the kids, there should at least be an ending to the specific story arc, which this story lacked.

Paper Wishes (by Lois Sepahban)

Publication Date: January 2016
SYNOPSIS: A moving debut novel about a girl whose family is relocated to a Japanese internment camp during World War II--and the dog she has to leave behind. Ten-year-old Manami did not realize how peaceful her family's life on Bainbridge Island was until the day it all changed. It's 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Manami and her family are Japanese American, which means that the government says they must leave their home by the sea and join other Japanese Americans at a prison camp in the desert. Manami is sad to go, but even worse is that they are going to have to give her dog, Yujiin, to a neighbor to take care of. Manami decides to sneak Yujiin under her coat, but she is caught and forced to abandon him. She is devastated but clings to the hope that somehow Yujiin will find his way to the camp and make her family whole again. It isn't until she finds a way to let go of her guilt that Manami can accept all that has happened to her family. 

THOUGHTS: Just an amazing story, which takes place during a sad and regrettable part of American history. The main character, Manami, struggles through all the changes in her life as her family is relocated to a Japanese internment camp and separated from her dog. So many emotions in this book, which is told in first person. It is a quiet book, not much action, but - wow - the feels! Great supporting characters, especially Manami's brother Ron and her teacher Miss Rosalie. Such a heartfelt and heartbreaking story in many ways, not the least of which is the guilt Manami feels for the separation with her dog and her subsequent actions (some of which account for the title of the book).

I wonder how kids will enjoy this book. Maybe not big interest (due in part to the rather dull cover), but I do think it will end up finding a sizable youth audience to go along with the adoring adult audience it is sure to have. Either way, this book is definitely an early shortlist contender in my eyes.

CARTWHEEL AWARD NOMINEE?: Yes, I think so. It’s such a well-written historical fiction story, and I am hopeful the kids will really give it a chance. If they do, I think they’ll be surprised.

Save Me a Seat (by Sarah Weeks & Gita Varadarajan)

Publication Date: April 2016

SYNOPSIS: Joe and Ravi might be from very different places, but they're both stuck in the same place: SCHOOL. Joe's lived in the same town all his life, and was doing just fine until his best friends moved away and left him on his own. Ravi's family just moved to America from India, and he's finding it pretty hard to figure out where he fits in. Joe and Ravi don't think they have anything in common -- but soon enough they have a common enemy (the biggest bully in their class) and a common mission: to take control of their lives over the course of a single crazy week.

THOUGHTS: This book was a quick read, but a lot was put into those 200 or so pages. And I don't mean a lot of action; Save Me a Seat is not an action-adventure story. What it does have a lot of, though, is hope and gentle lessons that there is more to people than meets the eye. This story tackles the theme of bullying and fitting in and, importantly, compassion. The chapters effectively alternate between the voices of the two protagonists (Ravi & Joe), who are realistically multi-layered. They are characters to root for despite (or perhaps because of) their faults. This is a story for Andrew Clements fans, for sure.

CARTWHEEL AWARD NOMINEE?: Yes, definitely. A good choice on its own, but bonus points for unforced multiculturalism.