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: 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: 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!

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.

Discussion Question: The Next Great Paulie Fink

paulie finkDiscussion Questions for The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin:

Ok, ok – everybody knows that when I really like a book, I start in with the discussion questions.  This story is hilarious. Maybe I find it more so than some because I have met a number of Paulie Finks in my years of working for a school. (And some of the Paulie-esque pranks have impacted me more directly than others.) The Paulies of this world certainly give us topics for interesting dinner conversations. However, what makes this story really special is that there is so much more to it than a few laughs. I tried – unsuccessfully – to limit myself on these questions. There could have been more! Great selection for classroom study or book club meetings. It’s fun, but there is also so much to learn and absorb.

  1. Even from Caitlyn’s initial interviews, a picture of Paulie Fink begins to emerge. What do you think he was like?


  1. When the class meets Caitlyn Breen for the first time, one girl (Fiona) comments, “Well, you’re not Paulie Fink.” How does Caitlyn feel about this remark? How would you feel?


  1. Caitlyn’s new classmates don’t react as positively toward her as she had hoped. Why not?


  1. What do you think about Caitlyn’s Rules of Life (pg. 30)?


  1. How would you feel if you were Caitlyn when she was knocked down by a goat? For that matter, how would you feel about being in a school that has goats?


  1. Caitlyn is worried about who she will sit with at lunch and then finds out she will be sitting with her “Mini” (a kindergartener). What do you think of this system? Together they pledge not to ring the Good Day Bell. Do you think they will ever change their minds?


  1. What do we learn about the characters in the game Underlair in the interview with Sam (61). Can you apply this to anything else? During this interview we also learn Paulie’s actions on his first day of school. What do you think of this prank? Of Paulie?


  1. On page 64, we learn something about Jadelicious, contestant from The Search for the Next Great Megastar. She, too, has some rules about life. How are they different than Caitlyn’s rules? Is there anything Caitlyn could learn from Jadelicious?


  1. In Gabby’s interview, she explains that what made Jadelicious so memorable was her personality type. She is a Disruptor. Paulie Fink also appears to be a Disruptor. Is it good or bad to be a Disruptor?


  1. Paulie’s gym bag is found in the Lost and Found. It is filled with treasures. What do these things tell us about Paulie?


  1. Apply the lesson of the cave to life at Mitchell School (77).


  1. In the interview with Sam, Willow, Lydia, Thomas and Timothy (80-81), we learn that Paulie was very convincing and made things seem real just by repeating them over and over.  Does this ever really work?


  1. Caitlyn decides to tell her Mini a story (94). What do you think of her story?


  1. Caitlyn has an essay to write about the allegory of the cave (96). Do you think Caitlyn is the only one who has ever been outside the cave of Mitchell School?


  1. How does Caitlyn feel about her actions to former classmate Anna Spang?


  1. Miss Mags issues the challenge that she can connect anything relevant in her students’ lives/the present to ancient history. Do you think she will be able to do it?


  1. What do you think of Caitlyn’s question (105)? Is her question relevant only in the present – or it a challenge that always exists?


  1. The first week of school is nearly over (and already Mitchell students are talking about the Land of Blah!) They begin to discuss rules. They decide that if something is not written down, it is not a rule. Do you think this is true? Do people sometimes act differently?


  1. What do you think Henry means when he says, “…different doesn’t have to mean bad. And as long as it is here, maybe we should try and have fun” (110). Is he talking about the Paulie scarecrow?


  1. Do you think Caitlyn should ditch the soccer game for the sleepover with friends from her old school?


  1. Discuss: “… our understanding of history is never objective truth. It always depends on who does the telling” (123). How might this be true at Mitchell School? In your own life?


  1. According to Mags, Paulie’s best pranks contained the power of surprise (and we learn about another of his infamous pranks!) (124). Think about the pranks we have read about so far. Which do you like best and why? Is it because, as Mags claims, that surprise is the important element or is it something else that makes them memorable?


  1. Zucchini Day certainly gives us new perspectives. Normal vs. abnormal/Expected vs. unexpected. Rules may help us find our place, but does it mean something is wrong because it is different/abnormal/unexpected?


  1. Farabi is talking about natural ecosystems when he says everything is connected (132), but could think idea be applied to other “ecosystems”?


  1. Farabi points out an aspect of Paulie that no one else, so far, has brought up. He claims Paulie was the school’s unlucky charm, especially considering his soccer skills. What do you think?


  1. The students are studying kleos (hope that someone might be remembered when they are gone). What are some ways this is achieved? (Think beyond Paulie.) What do you think of the idea of The Search for the Next Great Paulie Fink? What do you think the Mitchell School 7th graders will be able to achieve?


  1. During Caitlyn’s interview of Henry, he admits how he feels about Paulie not returning to school. Would you feel this way, too?


  1. We learn more about Paulie’s exploits – which leads us to the competition. What do you think about the Shakespeare competition? (And does it change your mind – at least a little bit – about reading Shakespeare?)


  1. Caitlyn’s friend Mira has changed the date of her sleepover party – without telling Caitlyn. How does Caitlyn feel about this? Where is Caitlyn’s real home now?


  1. We have a new list to consider: The Megastar Creed by Gabby. How does this compare to earlier lists? And how does it make you feel?


  1. We learn some bad news. How do you think the Mitchell School 7th graders will feel about this?


  1. WWJD? (What Would Jadelicious Do?) The real question is: What Would Caitlyn Do? The search for The Next Great Paulie Fink has begun! Caitlyn has made it official. What challenges do you think Caitlyn will face?


  1. What do you think of the Mini Challenge and all its repercussions?


  1. Mags presents a lesson about scapegoats. What are Caitlyn’s feelings about this topic? And what about Henry’s thoughts, which he shares in his interview (207-209)?


  1. Caitlyn announces the next elimination challenge. It involves banana peels. However, this challenge is different. How and why is it different from Paulie’s pranks and the earlier challenges?


  1. Why does Henry come to Caitlyn’s aid when Principal Glebus finds out what they are up to?


  1. When Caitlyn first started at Mitchell School, she felt like she didn’t belong. It was too different. Now she learns they are going to close the school. How does she feel about this? And what does she do to show that her feelings have changed?


  1. What does Caitlyn learn when she visits Gabby.?


  1. What does Caitlyn realize about the fable of the elephant?


  1. What do you think of Caitlyn’s conversation with Mags (Among the Statues, 241-245)? Is Mags a Disruptor? Are there different ways to be a Disruptor?


  1. What do you think of the next challenge? And are the results what you expected?


  1. Do you think the Originals can save the school?


  1. What do you think will be the result of the upcoming soccer game against Devlinshire?


  1. Caitlyn joins Fuzzy with Real Rabbit in the fort. What are the lessons of the fort?


  1. When the Devlinshire team arrives, what is the biggest surprise of all?


  1. How do the Mitchell School students feel about the return of Paulie Fink?


  1. The first half of the soccer game isn’t the best for Mitchell School. What changes things?


  1. What does the game between Mitchell School and Devlinshire do for the following people? (a.) The Mitchell School 7th grade class (b.) Paulie Fink (c.) Mitchell School


  1. Do you think Caitlyn will ever become brave enough to send her letter to Anna Spang? Does it matter?


  1. Caitlyn explains what has been going on to Principal Glebus. How do you think the principal feels?


  1. What do you think about the choice for the Next Great Paulie Fink?


  1. Our last look at Paulie Fink gives us some different options about who Paulie Fink really is. Which one is the true one? And what does his action tell us about him?


  1. What do you think will happen to Mitchell School? Does it matter? And what do you think will happen to the 7th grade class?


  1. Answer this one last question: Doesn’t everybody need a little Paulie Fink in their life?



Review: The Next Great Paulie Fink


The Next Great Paulie Fink

Author: Ali Benjamin

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2019

Source: Personal Purchase

Paulie Fink is one of those people who are impossible to forget. Call him what you will – evil genius, class clown, confident god of chaos – he is one of those people that from the moment they enter your life they take center stage. Life goes from that “Land of Blah” to a place where the possibilities are endless.

When Paulie Fink does not return to school at the beginning of 7th grade and Caitlyn Breen joins the class of a small school in Vermont, the rest of the students seem disappointed. After all, who could ever take Paulie’s place? To answer this question, Caitlyn designs a reality TV style competition to determine who will be the next great Paulie Fink.

As Caitlyn learns more about Paulie – his infamous pranks, his unique fashion sense, his devil-may-care attitude – a picture begins to emerge. As Caitlyn chronicles Paulie’s life at Mitchell School and designs a series of challenges (all based on Paulie’s exploits), parts of Caitlyn’s own life begin to emerge.  The question is: do we ever really know all there is to know about another person? Or even ourselves?

The Next Great Paulie Fink is based on Plato’s allegory of the cave, but if you think that such a connection will transport you immediately to the “Land of Blah,” you are wrong. Paulie Fink was unpredictable, unconventional, diabolical – and wickedly funny. There is plenty of meaning to be found in this laugh-out-loud story. Don’t be surprised when you realize that everyone needs a Paulie Fink in their lives.


Review: An Invisible Thread

invisible threadReview:

An Invisible Thread: Young Readers Edition

Authors: Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011

Source: Personal Purchase

Ages: 10 and up

On a street corner in NYC, a young boy begs for change in order to buy food. A chance encounter has Laura Schroff pass by the boy and, when he asks her for money, she refuses and continues on. Then she stops and returns to the boy. An unlikely friendship is begun.

Most of us would have behaved exactly as Schroff did on that day. The story that follows is both heart-warming and heart-breaking. Together these two individuals – Laura and Maurice – explore the real meaning of friendship and family. It’s an inspirational story that makes the reader want to run out and immediately do something good for someone else, although their lives are not the type that typically make for a “feel good” story.

This is a young reader edition, so Maurice’s mother is usually referred to as having an “illness.” Well, she does suffer from an illness. Addiction. I think the book avoided that fact when I believe young readers could have handled the truth. Laura’s father was an alcoholic. I think by not coming right out and naming the illnesses, by keeping them secret (at least from younger readers), the book lost an opportunity to have a real discussion about these illnesses. Other parents may not agree, but I see a lot more kids that have to deal with these issues than we might want to believe. However, this story is one that gives us all hope.