The Comeback Challenge Review

When I glanced at this next column of shelves, my options were split between three authors. Matt Christopher, Beverly Cleary, and Andrew Clements. Each of these authors has an entire shelf dedicated to their contributions to children’s literature, and I was torn between Cleary or Clements. In the end, I decided to choose the author I was most unfamiliar with, and whose subject matter is most unfamiliar to me. Matt Christopher seems to have found his niche writing fictional sports stories. These sports range from basketball to dirt bike racing. Knowing my knowledge in sports is limited, I grabbed one that had a focus on soccer.

In The Comeback Challenge, Mark Conway is struggling to deal with his parents’ divorce. He has been moved around many times in the past year, and until his parents work out the divorce in court, Mark has been ordered to live with his grandparents back in his hometown. He joins the soccer team, and despite being a really good player, the team captain Vince dislikes him for being a know-it-all who played soccer in England. Mark must learn to open up and talk to both Vince and his parents about why their behavior towards him makes him feel upset.

I liked this book well enough and I think Matt Christopher’s books would be good choices for reluctant readers. I expected that this book would solely be about playing soccer and the difficulties of getting along with the other teammates, so I enjoyed the fact that this book included a strong focus on Mark’s parents’ divorce. This makes the story a good mirror for children dealing with these problems in their own lives!

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Invasion of the Overworld Review

CHE - Invasion cover

A chapter book series about Minecraft!? I have to read this one! Especially when so many young people are obsessed with Minecraft. We can hardly keep our Minecraft handbooks on the shelves, so being aware of a chapter book series that takes place in Minecraft may be good for future reader’s advisory.

I was incredibly touched when I learned that the author of this book, Mark Cheverton, was inspired to write this series after his son had been bullied on Minecraft by what we call “griefers”, people who like to ruin the game online for other players by destroying what they create. Our protagonist starts off as a griefer, but over time begins to realize how much hurt is he causing, and sees the error of his ways. The message Mark Cheverton wanted to get through to the audience, that players on Minecraft should consider the consequences of their actions while playing the game, is crystal clear. I think kids who have experienced bullying online will certainly see this book as a reflection of those experiences.

Despite the strong messages presented in this book, it suffers from poor writing. Here is the sentence that bothered me the most as a reader; “…Gameknight pulled out flint and steel and started striking it. He wasn’t sure when he’d gotten the fire maker and didn’t care.” Are we sure it was Gameknight999 who didn’t care and not the writer? This was a crucial point in the plot! Without the flint and steel Gameknight would not have been able to set off the TNT and save the day. But instead of adding the flint and steel into the plot at any time before this, we opted to ignore it all together and acknowledge the fact that it was just thrown in there for the sake of convenience.

This book is intended to target young lovers of Minecraft, and it fulfills this niche. Those who aren’t familiar with Minecraft however, will be completely lost. I’ll admit that even I did not understand any of the references made towards popular YouTube stars and videos. (And I follow a lot of gamers online!) I would still recommend this book to Minecraft lovers who are ready to give this chapter book a shot.

NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society Review

BUC NERDS Cover

When I saw this series on the shelf I couldn’t help but pick it up, because it has the word NERD in large bold text right on the cover. And I am, after all, a nerd. I was also a fan of the show Codename: Kids Next Door when it aired on Cartoon Network, and this book reminded me of my love for it.

Our protagonist, Jackson Jones, starts out as the most popular kid at his elementary school. He is a star athlete on the football team, and adored by all of his peers… Or so he thinks. After a trip to the dentist he discovers that he was born with two rows of teeth, and is required to wear a large head brace indefinitely. Overnight he is kicked off the football team for not being able to wear a helmet, and his friends stop talking to him completely. Left alone to his own devices, Jackson begins to uncover some mysteries about his school. He notices that the biggest group of nerds always sneeze at exactly the same time in class and then leave together, disappearing in one of the school’s hallways. Jackson climbs into a locker, and finds himself transported into an underground laboratory, home to the National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society.

Jackson is offered the chance to join NERDS, but can he get along with the same group of people that he once tormented for being nerds?

This book offers a unique perspective in that there are also chapters told from the Hyena’s point of view, these were also my favorite chapters in the book. The Hyena is an assassin for hire, even though she’s eleven years old and has yet to kill anybody. She works for the antagonist of the story, but grows to question his motives as the story continues. I would highly suggest this book for children in grades 2-5.

The Penderwicks Review

BIR Penderwicks

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy is a heartwarming tale that reminded me of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I loved the author’s ability to give each sister their own personality, and each girl shone in her own way, from responsible Rosalind, spunky Skye, imaginative Jane, and four year old Batty. The girls spend part of their summer on a family vacation at a cottage located on the Arundel estate, owned by a rather mean-spirited woman named Mrs. Tifton. The girls explore the lush gardens, make friends with the gardener Cagney, the cook, and young Jeffery Tifton, who develops strongly as an important character throughout the novel. Together they do their best to uphold the Penderwick family honor and stay out of trouble. Only one thing is for sure; this is a summer vacation they will never forget.

So much can be said as to how much I enjoyed this book, it definitely deserved the National Book Award it earned.  I think boys and girls from grades 2-6 would enjoy this story on their own, or read together.

The Witch’s Boy Review

BAR Witch's Boy

Kelly Barnhill’s The Witch’s Boy drew me in with it’s dark cover and intriguing title. I also knew this title was a newer addition to the library, but I never saw it leave it’s prime spot on our new shelf, which made me even more curious to read it.

This tale is about two twin brothers, Ned and Tam, who attempt to build a raft together and sail into the dangerous river beside their village. When the raft breaks down and the two boys are near drowning, their father only manages to save one, the wrong boy. The boy who is too slow, and too weak to do anything. Their mother guards an ancient magic that must not (or should not) be used for evil, and she uses it to sew the soul from the twin who drowned into the twin that lived, so that she does not lose either of her children.

This tale is about a strong and resourceful girl named Aine, who dreams of living on the sea as her mother did. After her mother passes on due to illness, she watches her father slowly regress into who he was before he met her mother. A bandit.

This tale is about loss, unlikely friendships, and that words are what truly have power in this fairy-tale world.

I would recommend this story to more middle-aged children because the story is very in-depth, but also because the word “damn” was used a few times and I know some parents would be uncomfortable with younger children reading that kind of language. I personally felt the author’s use of the word damn was used in a clever way, to further emphasize how malicious one of the side characters were. This story was enjoyable to read, and I would highly recommend this to anyone who loves fairy-tales.

Alien in My Pocket: Blast Off! Review

BAL Alien Cover

Nate Ball’s Alien In My Pocket: Blast Off! is a lighthearted story about how fourth-grader Zach McGee deals with an alien life form whom crashes it’s spaceship into his room! Luckily for Zach, the invading alien named Amp is only the size of a hamster, and is actually pretty nice once you get to know him. Amp reveals that he is a scout from his home planet, and that his race plans on taking over the Earth! In order to stop them from destroying humanity (or maybe not, since Amp’s weapons tickle more than everything) Zach and his friend Olivia must find a way to send Amp back up into space within 24 hours.

I found this book to be charming and would recommend it for children from grades 1-5 depending on their reading level. (This book has an AR level of 4.5 and a Lexile score of 690.)  I also could see this book being used as a read aloud since the chapters are relatively short and funny. I would suggest this book for fans of science fiction, or for students who enjoyed the My Weird School series by Dan Gutman.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle Review

Here we are at the end of the As! There were several books that caught my attention on this shelf (Animorphs!), but I really wanted to read something by Avi, since I’ve heard so much about this author. I wanted to read Poppy, the first novel in the Dimwood Forest series, but it was checked out! Instead I picked up The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.

AND - AVI

I really enjoyed this book! Avi is a fantastic storyteller and I felt truly immersed in the story. The content was geared more for a middle level audience, as it does get a bit violent with two deaths and a whipping. I found Charlotte Doyle to be an interesting character caught in a peculiar circumstance. In the beginning she is an obedient schoolgirl on her way back home to America to return to her family, but by the end she becomes independent and no longer feels as though she should confine herself to society’s expectations of what she should be. A positive message I think young minds today need to see. The ending was a major surprise, and I’m honestly not sure how I would have reacted had I been in a similar situation.

While reading this book I felt it was somewhat similar to Paula Fox’s The Slave Dancer. Anyone interested in historical fiction or living while at sea would enjoy both of these novels.