Review: The Collectors


The Collectors

Author: Jacqueline West

Publisher: Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2018

Source: Personal Purchase

Did you know that wishes are dangerous? Think about it: what if everything we ever wished for came true? We would certainly live in a very different world. Godzilla or King Kong or Jurassic Park could be real.  Plenty of the things we wish for aren’t so destructive, but they probably aren’t the best things for us either. What if the only food in the world was chocolate ice cream? Delicious, but not as healthy as we probably need.

Fortunately, there are collectors. Most of us aren’t aware of them, but they help take care of all those wishes floating around out there in the ethosphere. They help keep things in control. However, “[c]ollecting is a slippery thing” (103). Are all wishes bad? And do all people who collect those wishes have good intentions?

Giovanni Markson, Van for short, is a unique individual. He is able to see what most of us cannot: those individuals who are working tirelessly to accumulate all our wishes. However, there is more than one side to collecting. Van’s trouble is deciding who is collecting wishes for the right reasons and who is not. Who should he trust? The irascible Penny and her unusual associates? Or the kindly Mr. Falborg, who keeps some of his collections so secret that even the other side doesn’t know what he has?

The Collectors is fast-paced and fun, keeping readers guessing as Van struggles with the dilemma of wishes. The best part? The adventure continues in a sequel, The Collectors: A Storm of Wishes.

Review: Pippa Park Raises Her Game



Pippa Park Raises Her Game

Author: Erin Yun

Publisher: Fabled Films Press, 2019

Source: ARC

Pippa Park Raises Her Game is a retelling of the Dickens classic, Great Expectations. I want to get that fact right out there, because, frankly, I don’t think young readers are going to realize it. This book is a middle grade novel and usually Dickens isn’t read until high school (if at all – my school no longer includes Dickens stories in our curriculum).

Here is the nice thing about this novel. I don’t think the fact that the young readers don’t know the original story is going to matter. It is such a nice, fresh retelling, with likeable/relatable characters and a modern plot that I think it will appeal to the middle grade crowd despite their lack of knowledge about the original story. Hopefully, they might even be encouraged to go back to the original source eventually!

Although the plot does run along similar lines to the original story, I do want to talk about one twist that I think is fabulous. I really like the fact that Korean American Pippa Park has received a basketball scholarship to a ritzy private school. While there are plenty of books out there for boys who are involved in sports, it seems to me that there are not nearly as many about girls getting sports scholarships. That alone is enough for me to recommend the story, even if I do think there are plenty of other reasons to praise this book.

As far as I know, Fabled Films Press had plans to publish other classics for middle grade readers, providing contemporary updates to stories usually encountered in high school. The publisher hopes that by providing these selections, students will be able engage with and understand the material when it is introduced at a higher level in the school curriculum. I certainly hope they are successful in their effort and look forward to seeing how some of the other classics are handled. I have recently had discussions with other parents on this topic who are also excited and hopeful about the idea of getting kids excited about classic stories.


*Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Beverly, Right Here


Beverly, Right Here

Author: Kate DiCamillo

Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2019

Source: Personal Purchase

This new book of DiCamillo’s is the third in her series about three friends. The first was Raymie Nightingale. The next was Louisiana’s Way Home. Now we are taken deeper into the life of Beverly Tapinski.

Beverly doesn’t think she is running away. She has done that plenty of times before. No, this time she is leaving. For good. She hasn’t got much left to stay for. Her mother is too drunk to care where Beverly is. Her father had left many years earlier. And now, with the death of her dog Buddy, Beverly knows it is time for her move on, too.

Almost as soon as she puts her feet on ground, she finds a job and a place to stay. One by one a cast of characters, all unexpected, all just a bit heart-warming in spite of their many eccentricities, move onto the stage of DiCamillo’s story. As she introduces these unusual people, we learn more about Beverly – her strength, her vulnerability, her ability to reach out and touch others. And as we learn about her, we learn more about ourselves.

I recently had the great pleasure of hearing DiCamillo speak. She spoke of her three main characters this way:

“Raymie was the girl I was – shy, uncertain, terrified. Louisiana was the girl I might have been if circumstances had been different. Beverly was the girl I wanted to be – tough, uncompromising, tender.”

As DiCamillo continued with her speech, she pointed out that we can choose who we want to be. Stories teach us this truth, that we are in charge of who we really are. There are many, many wonderful stories out there that impart this message to young readers and DiCamillo mentioned both Bridge to Terabithia and Charlotte’s Web as two prime examples. I’d like to add her three stories to this list.  And although she has no current plans to continue writing about the girls, one only can hope. As DiCamillo herself admits, “all doors remain open even when they seem closed.”



Review: Explorer Academy: The Double Helix


Explorer Academy: The Double Helix

Author: Trudi Truett

Publisher: National Geographic, 2019

This is the third book in the Explorer Academy series. Cruz Coronado continues his search for the missing pieces of his mom’s cipher. His dad is also missing. While Cruz continues with his Explorer Academy studies – and his secret quest – on the Orion, his Aunt Marisol has returned to Hawaii to work with police in finding his father.  Meanwhile, his friend Lani, who is still in Hawaii, is doing some unofficial (and highly dangerous!) sleuth work of her own.

Here is this installment’s clue:

“To find the third cipher, travel to the ancient rose city of stone. Walk on confetti until you find the animal that is at home both in the clouds and under the sea. It may seem like a strange mythical creature, but at the end of the day, if you’re willing to reach out, you’ll have your reward” (119).

It might seem baffling, but readers will love the way the mystery deepens with every turn, leaving Cruz uncertain as to who he can trust.

I love the way that science is blended right in with the story. The Truth Behind the Fiction portion of each novel is my personal favorite part. Some of the information in the story seems like pure science fiction, and although some is based on futuristic technology, much is based on actual research going on right now. It’s both fascinating and inspirational.

Here’s another fun fact about this book: the ending is a real cliff-hanger. Readers will be anxious for installment 4.


*Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.


Review: The Girl in the Locked Room

girl locked in the roomReview:

The Girl in the Locked Room

Author: Mary Downing Hahn

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018

Source: Personal Purchase

Sorry, readers. I meant to have this post up before Halloween, but new work assignments are challenging and keeping me exceptionally busy of late. Even though I have missed my anticipated date, it is still too good of a story to simply pass. Since scary stories are perennially popular and those dark and dreary winter nights are also perfect for snuggling under the covers with a good ghost story, I am going ahead with my review.

I particularly wanted to select a ghost story and when thinking about authors, Mary Downing Hahn immediately sprang to mind. This new book gets it just right. Of course, there is a ghost. She was a young girl involved in a tragic historical incident. There is also a present-day girl, who has abilities to connect with the paranormal.  Jules’ father restores historic houses, which is what brings her to be living right alongside the haunted house. Past and present collide and Jules and her friend Maisie may be just the ones to help a long-imprisoned girl who holds the key to mysteries of the past.

Review: Small Spaces

small spacesReview:

Small Spaces

Author: Katherine Alden

Publisher: G.P. Putman’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2018

Source: Personal Purchase

Ollie Adler has a major attitude, one that causes her plenty of issues. It’s this attitude which results in her taking actions that send her heading away from school toward the river. Here she encounters a weeping woman who is threatening to throw a book into the water. Ollie grabs the book away and after a mysterious speech about a smiling man, the woman gives Ollie one bit of advice. Avoid large places at night. Keep to small.

What follows is a deliciously creepy story. It’s got it all: an unsolved mystery from the past, a haunted house, ghosts and other evil creatures, a corn maze that is far more than a maze, and especially very, very scary scarecrows. It doesn’t take long to realize that these scarecrows are the ones that Ollie must stay away from and to do so, she must hide in small spaces. Only if she is not caught will she be able to solve the riddle of the corn maze and free others from the workings of the smiling man.

Ollie has the help from a couple of friends. Coco, the seemingly small and sweet, and the ever-resourceful Brian the Boy Scout help her battle forces of evil that none of them even actually understand. There are also messages that pop up on Ollie’s watch, messages Ollie is certain come from her recently deceased mother who is trying to protect Ollie. And through it all, Ollie is bold, brash, sassy – and wonderfully brave.

This book is a great read during the Halloween season!

Discussion Questions: Maybe He Just Likes You

maybe he just likes youDiscussion Questions for Maybe He Just Likes You


  1. For her friend Omi’s twelfth birthday, Mila and her friends plan a special birthday surprise/celebration. During this time, the “basketball boys” give Mila a hug – of sorts. But is this really a hug? And do you think these boys are just being friendly like Zara claims?


  1. During band, Callum gives a “hand swish” that brushes against Mila’s shoulder. She feels it was enough to deserve an apology, yet no one else seems to feel that way. Do you think Mila is right or is she overreacting?


  1. Mila is trying to disguise her developing body by wearing a concealing fuzzy green sweater. Is this strategy working?


  1. In band, Dante offers to let Mila use her music if she gives Leo a “birthday hug.” Do you think this is a fair offer? When Mila questions whether it really is Leo’s birthday, she finds they almost blame her for not believing them. However, Callum won’t meet her eye. Does this behavior seem sketchy to you or is Mila once again making too much of it?


  1. Mila finds out from Zara that the boys lied about it being Leo’s birthday. Why doesn’t Mila feel comfortable sharing this information with Zara?


  1. Another of the basketball boys – Tobias – is looking for a hug. He gives the excuse that Mila’s green sweater contains some kind of magic, that the boys who touched it achieved their personal best after touching it. Mila feels relieved – mystery touches explained! But do you really believe his explanation? And do you think Tobias or Callum both might just like Mila?


  1. On the bus, the boys are giving Mila lots of attention, but very little of the bus seat. Does this crowding seem fair? Normal? And do you think the boys are really interested in the fuzzy green sweater?


  1. Do you think the plaid shirt Mila borrowed from her mom is going to help the situation with the basketball boys?


  1. Samira noticed what happened on the bus and told Mila she wouldn’t allow the boys to treat her that way. Samira seemed to be blaming Mila for the incident. Do you think Mila “allowed” it? What else might Mila done?


  1. As Mila was leaving the band room, Callum made a comment about her butt. Was this appropriate? And how would you have handled this remark?


  1. Mila’s friend Max has noticed the way the boys are treating Mila and he offers to help. Max has been bullied in the past. Is what the basketball boys are doing bullying?


  1. What do you think Zara’s problem is? Is Mila’s guess that she might be jealous correct?


  1. Mila tries to go to Guidance to get some help. Was Mr. Dolan helpful? Should Mila have been more honest with him?


  1. After the chair incident in band, Mila is accused of overreacting. Is she? Do you think Ms. Fender is blaming Mila for the incident?


  1. Mila arrives home late and wants to hide the real reason from her mother. Do you think this is a good decision?


  1. Mila runs into to Tobias in the park. She considers confronting him about the behavior of the basketball boys, but changes her mind. Were her reasons valid? Would this have been a good way to solve her problem? And why are things different when it comes to Mila?


  1.  What do you think of the karate class at E Motions? And what about Mila’s thoughts and concerns after her first experience?


  1. Mila wonders: Does her mother know she needs “coverage”? What do you think?


  1. Zara apologizes to Mila for not sticking up for Mila during lunch. Do you think everything is right between them now?


  1. At her locker, Mila feels Tobias grab her butt. Then he denies it and says it must have been her imagination. When she tries to talk to her friends about the incident, she gets all kinds of mixed reactions. Describe some of their reactions. Who is right?


  1. Mila runs into trouble again on Friday afternoon when she and her friends plan to go to CVS. Zara says she has to deal with the situation herself because Mila is not dealing with it. Is Zara’s accusation accurate? Is Zara’s idea the right solution? And did her actions really solve Mila’s problem?


  1.  Mila becomes aware her mother has some issued going on as well, both at work and with her father. This makes the family’s situation  – especially from an economic standpoint  – difficult. Should Mila confide her own problems at this time? What do you think of Mr. Fitzgibbons?


  1. Do you think that karate may be the solution to Mila’s problems? And does any of the initial training seem like it will be helpful?


  1. Through Omi, Mila finds out the real reason the boys have been so anxious to touch her. What do you think of this game? What do you think Mila should do?


  1. How might Mom losing her job affect Mila and her situation?


  1. Do you think Mila should have apologized to Zara? And should she have expected an apology in return?


  1. Callum says the scorecard on Mila is just a game. Is it? And is Mila’s reaction the right one? The result was Ms. Fender changing her band position. What do you think Mila should have done differently?


  1. In karate, Mila and the other students get a lesson in self-defense. What does she learn? Do you think this is going to help her?


  1. When Callum grabs Mila’s arm, she comes back with some of her new techniques learned in karate. Does this seem to help Mila’s problem?


  1. What do you think about Zara’s reaction when she learns about the scorecard? What do you think of Max’s suggestion to go to Mr. McCabe?


  1. Mila spills some of her frustration to her mother, complaining she doesn’t know what to do when others won’t listen. Mom suggests finding a way to speak their language without physical attacks. How might Mila manage this?


  1. Is Omi brave? Is Mom brave?


  1. In a conversation with Erica, Mila might have found an opportunity for Mom. Did she learn to speak Erica’s language or was it something else?


  1.  Max has a conversation with Mila about her problem. He wants to help, but Mila responds with the comment that it is her problem. Is it? Should she follow Max’s advice and go to an adult? Is she a bully victim? Or is it really something else?


  1. What do you think of the game of Untag? Why is blame for the situation shifted to Mila?


  1. Mila admits to her friend Samira that the situation is out of her control. Even with her friends’ support, it doesn’t seem to be enough. What do you think she should do?


  1. Mila gets through her days by practicing karate, thinking about karate, and attending karate classes. She is making progress. How has this helped her? Do you think it will be enough?


  1. What do you think of Callum’s comment at the band concert? How does it affect Mila? What do you think of her response at the band concert?


  1. After the concert, Mila has to face Ms. Fender and the truth of the situation finally comes out. Was the response from Ms. Fender what Mila (or you) expected?


  1. What do you think of Ms. Fender’s solution? Should Mila agree to this?


  1. How does Mila’s conversation with Liana affect her decision?


  1. What did you think of the “community meeting”? Do you think this was an effective way to deal with the harassment? Was it better than, say, a traditional punishment (detention, suspension)?


  1. Have you ever had a problem that you think might have been solved in this way?


  1. Talk about how the perspective of the characters – Mila, Callum – has changed. Do you think these changes would have taken place without the community meeting?

Review: Lucky Little Things

lucky little thingsReview:

Lucky Little Things

Author: Janice Erlbaum

Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2019

Source: Personal Purchase

Things have been difficult and sad for Emma Macintyre ever since her beloved Aunt Jenny died. Aunt Jenny was the kind of person who made everything seem brighter and better. No problem was insurmountable with the support of Aunt Jenny. Now she is gone and both Emma and her mom are swamped with grief.

When a mysterious letter arrives, containing a $20 bill and the message that Emma’s luck has changed for the better, Emma doesn’t know what to think. She is to make a list of ten lucky things she wants to happen and then at the end of thirty days, she is to check it to see what her luck has brought her. In addition, she is not to tell anyone about the letter. Despite her skepticism, she makes a list.

What follows is a month of unexpected happenings. Always on the look-out for her “secret pal,” Emma learns a lot about luck, herself, and the items on her list. It seems everyone has a different view of luck. Is it something you are born with? Is it something you attract or make? Or is life just a series of coincidences?

Unfortunately, none of these investigations give Emma a clue as to who the sender of the letter is. Some of the things on her list do happen. Some don’t. Sometimes Emma realizes that an item isn’t really what she wants, so she changes her list. However, the final item on her list – bring Aunt Jenny back – can’t possibly come true.

Lucky Little Things is a poignant story that will bring tears and hope and joy into the lives of readers. Aunt Jenny’s belief – that to be alive is to be lucky – rings true throughout the entire story.

Review: Maybe He Just Likes You

maybe he just likes youReview:

Maybe He Just Likes You

Author:  Barbara Dee

Publisher: Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 2019

It starts very subtly. Some boys touch Mila in a way that makes her uncomfortable. It begins with an unwanted hug. It seems a bit weird, but, after all, is a friendly hug so bad? And initially, Mila thinks it was just one odd, isolated incident.

Then “incidents” keep happening. It’s not like Mila doesn’t speak up for herself, but the boys won’t stop and her friends don’t understand. Mila hasn’t done anything to attract this attention and she doesn’t want it.

When Mila enrolls in a karate class, it seems like the perfect way to learn to defend herself. Yet even this brings her problems, for her effort to defend herself lands her in the principal’s office. It’s too difficult and too embarrassing to explain – especially to a man – what is going on.  And what is going on? Is it simple bullying, like her friend Max suggests? Or is there something more to this?

This book made me so angry. Not because it was poorly written or far-fetched. It made me angry because it is true. It’s honest, real-life, and though not overly explicit, raw. It certainly is a story that is going to raise powerful emotions.

I liked that the ending was realistic. It is not too goody-two-shoes but instead leaves room for hope, change, and reconciliation.

Having just admitted that this wasn’t the typical feel-good book, do I recommend it? Absolutely. I think it should replace some of the other school required reading choices, be a book that is discussed in book clubs, and be brought to readers’ attention at libraries in as many ways as possible.

And though these early days back to school are busy ones, expect to see discussion questions in the upcoming weeks!


*Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: The Problim Children


The Problim Children

Author: Natalie Lloyd

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2018

Source: Personal Purchase

The Problim children – there are seven, one for each day of the week – are left to live alone in a ramshackle bungalow in a swamp. When one day this blows up, they must move to their late grandfather’s home in Lost Cove. But that is not all. There is a madcap mystery to be solved here and the Problim children are just the ones to take it on.

Fans of Lloyd’s quirky sense of humor will appreciate this book. For my personal preference, there were way, way too many references to farts, as Toots has a different smelling one for every occasion and the odor is described in detail. Younger readers will probably find this hilarious, but it wore really thin with me.  This brand of humor just doesn’t tickle my funny bone. I wouldn’t be quick to choose this as a read-aloud and also won’t be quick to pick up the sequel, which is something I always find disappointing.