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Epic Antics Mockumentary-Style

Yesterday I attended what has become an annual and much looked forward to event, the Mother/Daughter Book Party at Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse in La Canada.

Seven super talented female authors attended and lots more moms and daughters.  I had a chance to sit down at each author’s table and learn more about the books they had written and I am delighted to be able to share that information with you.  If you’ve got a 3rd – 6th grader who loves to read, here are some great books to choose from. Today I’ll cover  San Luis Obispo author Robin Mellom’s middle grade novel.

tmb_240x240_bks_the_classroom_1423150635Mellom has penned a clever mockumentary in book form called The Classroom: The Epic Documentary of a Not-Yet-Epic Kid ($12.99,  DisneyHyperion, ages 9 and up), and it’s not just for girls. The title alone conjures humorous images but the illustrations by Stephen Gilpin really add the “you are there” quality that will bring a smile to every reader’s face. Mellom described the artwork as having a “Far Side” comic strip feeling, which it does, and which works perfectly considering the storyline.

Trevor is starting 7th grade and on his very first day he learns from his best friend Libby that he must find a date by day’s end for the dance that is just around the corner. If he doesn’t ask someone to the dance, all the girls he could invite would already have been asked spelling disaster for Trevor. Plus on top of all this, a film crew has come to the school and his every move will be captured up close and personal! This was not the 7th grade life he imagined and could it get any worse?

Kids will get a kick out of the way the book includes one funny antic after another. Also featured are “documentary-style” items found by the film makers to help paint a picture of Trevor such as drawings from Trevor’s notebook and an old yearbook picture. In a nutshell, if Trevor can just get through 7th grade until the big dance, things could turn out okay, even epic.

Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Rooting for the Underdogs

Start Cheering Now Sports Fans!

Boys and girls alike will enjoy page after page of New York Times bestselling author Len Berman’s The Greatest Moments in Sports: Upsets and Underdogs ($19.99, Sourcebooks, ages 9-12), and maybe even identify with a few of the figures covered in this new book and audio CD. Berman begins by reflecting back on perhaps history’s oldest “Cinderella Story,” David vs. Goliath. Certainly nothing plays out better than when the unexpected happens. This kind of excitement is captured for kids by Berman’s retelling of well known and lesser known success stories. Readers will find themselves, as I did, rooting for athletes that they previously never even heard of including Greco-Roman wrestler Rulon Gardner.

At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, the Russian Bear Alexander Karelin was the Gold Medal favorite having never lost a major wrestling competition. Hailing from Wyoming, Rulon Gardner was the classic underdog. However, despite odds against him, Rulon remained determined as he faced the final with Karelin that he was going to get gold for the USA. If that meant breaking the Bear’s winning streak, so be it. Early on in the competition Rulon scored an unexpected point against the Bear, but then neither athlete scored the required three points to win so the game went into overtime. Within seconds to the match’s end, Karelin could not keep up with his competitor and conceded. From that day on Rulon became known as The Miracle on the Mat. Listen to that miraculous moment on the CD track.

There are so many other amazing stories recounted such as the Miracle on Ice when the longshots, U.S. Olympic hockey team, (which according to rules in 1980 could not consist of NHL players since they were professionals. Those rules have since changed.) came out of nowhere, made it to the finals and then beat the powerhouse Soviets 4-3  in what Berman describes as “one of the most famous play-by-plays calls ever made, as befits one of the greatest upsets in the history of sports.”

It’s dark horse stories like these that make The Greatest Moments in Sports: Upsets and Underdogs such an engrossing, gratifying read. I know it’s what kept me glued to my  TV during the London Olympics this summer and what will get me watching the World Series beginning October 24, 2012.  Gear up now by getting this book!

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Middle Grade Mystery Liar & Spy Should Top Reading Lists

Author Kristen Kittscher reviews a middle grade novel for thinking kids.

If Rebecca Stead found it difficult to follow up her 2010 Newbery award winner, WHEN YOU REACH ME, you’d never know it. Her latest book, LIAR & SPY ($15.99, Random House Children’s Books, ages 9-12), is a stunningly well-crafted, moving story of friendship, trust, and nonconformity that’s sure to soar to the top of 2012 award lists, as well.

In the same spare, lyrical style that packed an emotional punch in When You Reach Me, Stead tells the story of Georges, a seventh grade boy adjusting to difficult new realities at home and school. His best friend has abandoned him for a cool crowd, bullies are targeting him, and he’s just moved out of the only home he’s ever known after his father lost his job. Georges finds some distraction from his troubles when he strikes up a friendship with his new neighbor and fellow twelve-year-old, Safer. An eccentric, coffee-drinking self-proclaimed “spy,” Safer enlists Georges’ help in hunting down the truth about their mysterious neighbor Mr. X, whom Safer suspects is a serial killer. While Georges does indeed get to the bottom of the mystery, in the process he discovers hard truths about himself and friendship.

LIAR & SPY is not for kids seeking an action-packed ride. It’s a gripping, poignant, and often funny book for kids who like to think. Its mystery slowly builds to a surprising climax and twist, but Stead focuses on delivering an emotionally satisfying resolution rather than a purely plot-based one. Her gift for exploring life’s larger questions in a way that’s accessible to kids without condescending to them makes this book an especially good pick for the classroom or a book club, as it’d undoubtedly spark great discussion about friendship, trust, lies, bullying and difference. WHEN YOU REACH ME fans need not worry about being disappointed by this magnificent follow up! 

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again

Today’s review is by author Kristen Kittscher. Please see below to read about her upcoming middle grade novel.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fans can rejoice! Cosmic and Millions author Frank Cottrell Boyce teamed up with illustrator Joe Berger to deliver the very fun and charming sequel,Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again ($15.99, Candlewick, ages 9 – 12). Though there are lots of nods to Ian Fleming’s classic (and only children’s book), kids unfamiliar with Chitty will happily climb aboard for this adventure-fueled, silly romp, too.

 Mr. Tooting has lost his job — and the company car that went along with it. When he channels his underused engineering talents into a old camper van and a racing engine the family stumbles across, they’re all in in store for some crazy adventures! The engine, of course, is the same one that powered the famous flying car… only the Tootings discover it the hard way. No matter how much they try to control the car, Chitty forges ahead on her own mission to find all her lost pieces. Worse yet, a dastardly villain is also on their tail! Will the family make it through their escapades unscathed?

With quick pacing and funny dialogue, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again is an especially good pick for reluctant readers or for a classroom read-aloud. It’s billed for readers 9 and up, but there’s no reason younger readers wouldn’t also enjoy the book, even if some of the wry humor goes over their heads. The many colorful characters and the Tooting family’s optimism in the face of adversity made them especially delightful to spend time with. Though I preferred Boyce’s outstanding Cosmic  and Millions more, Sir Ian Fleming’s heirs were wise to turn to Boyce for this wonderful sequel. Chitty is certainly one wild (and fun) ride!

Visit the Candlewick website by clicking here for an activity kit, teacher’s guide and lots more!  


Photo: ©Konrad Tho Fiedler

Kristen Kittscher grew up in many places, including San Francisco, Dallas, and London but she feels most at home in Southern California, where she lives with her husband, Kai, and their hopelessly spoiled cat and dog. A graduate of Brown University and former English teacher, she now writes funny mysteries for the precocious middle-schoolers she once enjoyed teaching so much. Her debut novel, THE WIG IN THE WINDOW, comes out in 2013 with Harper Children’s. She’s now at work on its sequel, THE TIARA ON THE TERRACE.

THE WIG IN THE WINDOW (Harper Children’s, 2013)
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