Sunday, February 18, 2018

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, by Chris Grabenstein


Kyle Keeley and his family are obsessed with the board games of Luigi Lemoncello, a celebrity game designer and flamboyant billionaire.  When Kyle’s hometown announces the construction of a new library after 12 long years, the buzz turns into a frenzy when it’s revealed that Mr. Lemoncello has funded and designed the new building!  Kyle is among a handful of kids who’ve been hand-selected to receive the first library cards, and also to participate in an overnight lock-in adventure.  They’re allowed to use only their wits and the library’s resources to solve a number of clues, and the first person who makes it out of the building will receive the grand prize!

One of the great things about this particular book is the number of mysteries and puzzles included with the story.  Heavy readers will be tickled to see some of their favorite books included as clues, although I’d be impressed with any kid who’s actually read all the referenced texts!  What really makes this book, though, are the picture rebuses included as clues.  Reading this book is like being part of a madcap treasure hunt, and that means that you’re instantly sucked into the plot.  “Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” and its sequel are a matching pair of fast-paced, exciting and most importantly, fun books which deserve a spot on every kid’s bookshelf. 


Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger


Dwight is a sixth-grader at McQuarrie Middle School, and even as kids go he’s far from normal.  As one of his most recent quirks he’s taken to carrying around a folded paper finger puppet of the great Jedi master, then offering his classmates sage advice through his best Yoda impersonation.  After the oracle’s wisdom pays off for a number of students, some kids begin to believe that Origami Yoda actually does have some kind of mystical connection to the Force.  As a fellow student starts a case log to document the chain of strange events, Origami Yoda is quickly put to his most challenging test…

One of my favorite parts of this book, aside from the hilarious story I mean, is the fact that it’s just so believably real.  Even though I’m long out of middle school, I know how easily boys of this age could become obsessed with such a simple phenomenon.  If a paper finger puppet could inspire so much hilarity, it would seem that the amount of story ideas found in any middle-school lunchroom is simply endless (much like the galaxies of Star Wars themselves!)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Billionaire Boy, by David Walliams


Joe Spud is the richest boy in the country.  As the heir to his father’s multi-billion-dollar toilet paper empire, Joe has enough money to buy anything.  He’s got a full-size race car, an orangutan butler and all the chocolate he can eat.  In fact, you could probably say that Joe has everything… except for a friend.  In an effort to break out of his depression, Joe convinces his father to let him transfer from his elite private academy to a public school where no one knows him.  As he revels in his newfound anonymity, though, Joe learns that there’s no true way for him to run from his problems!

This hilarious book was an extremely quick read, no doubt due to its awesome pen-and-ink illustrations and the epic number of lists incorporated into the story.  The book is a great way to show that everyone has problems, even kids who seem like they’re doing well on the outside.  I’d recommend this one as a particularly good choice for reluctant readers, but it’s also suitable for anyone in need of a good belly laugh!  

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J.K. Rowling


2018 marks the fifth year that I’ve been keeping this blog as a side project, and I can’t believe that I never got around to adding the Harry Potter series to my list!  My apologies to J.K. Rowling, as the slight was most definitely not intentional!  Let me correct my oversight by introducing you to Harry Potter, a young orphan boy taken in by the Dursley family.  On the approach of Harry’s eleventh birthday, he begins to experience strange powers that he can’t yet understand.  Then one day, a mysterious visitor arrives to inform Harry that he’s actually a young wizard, and also that he’s due to begin school at a magical academy for witches and wizards!  Hogwarts Academy is the escape that Harry has been dreaming of his entire life, and it’s a glorious experience…at least, until he learns about Voldemort, the evil wizard who killed his parents!

This book is the first in a series of seven novels, all of which are rightfully considered to be modern classics.  The continuity and backstory between the books runs amazingly deep, so it’s important to read them all through in sequence.  Some of the Harry Potter books can run quite long by middle grade standards, although it’s a safe bet that the awesome story will serve to pull young readers along through the pages.  If by some unfortunate circumstance you haven’t yet read “Sorceror’s Stone”, you really have no one to blame but yourself! 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne


Otto Lidenbrock is a German professor who believes that there are several volcanic tubes spread across the Earth which lead directly to its core.  Searching for irrefutable proof of his new theory, Otto takes his nephew Axel and their guide Hans deep into the caves beneath Snaefellsjokull, an active volcano in Iceland.  There, much to their disbelief, the three explorers encounter a number of natural hazards and even some prehistoric creatures!

Mr. Verne first published this book in 1864, and I think that one of the reasons behind its longevity is its outlandish plot.  Of course it was written back in a golden age of science and exploration, when academics were making major leaps of progress in all fields of study.  Most of Mr. Verne’s books have strong elements of science and discovery worked into the plot, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of them to readers of all ages.  Upon reading “Journey to the Center of the Earth” for a second time, however, I found myself marveling at our modern levels of scientific progress.  Could it be possible that today’s generation might have its own young Jules Verne among us, a budding author who’s already hard at work writing stories about genetic engineering or deep space exploration?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Big Red, by Jim Kjelgaard


“Big Red” was a champion Irish Setter; from the moment Danny saw him, he knew Red would be his dog.  Danny was just a lowly trapper, a boy who knew more about the ways of the woods than fancy kennels and dog shows.  But when the two meet for the first time, they quickly become inseparable and Red’s owner entrusts him to Danny’s care.  In the harsh wilderness that Danny calls home, Red proves to be a reliable, loyal companion…even when faced with a legendary enemy!

Mr. Kjelgaard is the prolific author of more than forty novels for young men, and it seems as if I’ve done him a disservice by waiting so long to include him on this list.  Although he was born over a hundred years ago and many of his books have now gone out of print, a good number are still available in retail shops today.  “Big Red” was even made into a Disney movie, a sure sign of its powerful and moving story.  These animal-focused books were some of my favorites growing up, so do yourself a favor and start searching for some of Mr. Kjelgarrd’s writing yourself! 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

My Dog Skip, by Willie Morris


This autobiography tells the story of Willie Morris, a 9-year-old boy growing up in rural Yazoo City, Mississippi.   When Willie falls in love with a lively puppy named Skip, the two of them grow up together in a small town which seems to have no shortage of adventures.  Although this book is more of a reflection on the author’s childhood than it is a plot-driven story, I’d still have no hesitation recommending it to young readers.  After all, reading a memoir like “My Dog Skip” will invariably cause children to think about the imminent responsibilities of life in the real world, as well as how they’d like to remember the present.  If you love dogs (and who doesn’t?), I’d recommend you order a copy today.