Books to Big Screen: The House with a Clock in Its Walls

September 4th, 2018 by

The other day, I was walking down the street when I spotted an ad for the new movie The House with the Clock in its Wallsbased on the book by John Bellairs.

First, I was like: “What the what? I didn’t know about this!” because how is there a book-to-film adaptation that I wasn’t on top of? And it stars Jack Black and Cate Blanchett, two actors I love!

Then, I was like: “I gotta get a copy of that book pronto!” because I always like to read the original source material before seeing the movie.

So I got myself the book that very same day, and I was super pleased with myself. But then I watched the trailer, and that threw a big wrench into my plans — because you guys, the movie looks really scary! I mean, I knew it was a mystery involving witches and warlocks, but I didn’t know it would be so creepy. And I do not do well with creepy!

Here, check out the trailer for yourself:

Honestly, I’m not sure I can watch this movie. Seems like it was designed to induce nightmares!

Fortunately, this second movie trailer includes some comedy and whimsy, so maybe the film won’t be a complete creep-fest after all. Take a look:

What do you think? Based on these trailers, do you expect the movie to be a terrifying horror film or a magical adventure? Maybe some of both? And are you planning to see it when it hits theaters on September 21st? Me? I’m still trying to decide if I have the nerve!

— Karen

In addition being nervous about the movie, Karen is also now a bit anxious about reading the book! Can anyone out there tell her how scary the original book is on a scale of 1 to 10 — with 1 being “all rainbows and sunshine, nothing creepy here” and 10 being “OMG, you’ll have to sleep with the lights on for the rest of your life”? Thanks, bye!

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Breakout by Kate Messner: Book Review

August 14th, 2018 by

breakoutA few years ago, a couple inmates broke out of a prison in upstate New York. Since I live many miles and hours away in New York City, I was intrigued by the story but it never affected my daily existence. I was never afraid of being attacked by those inmates, I didn’t hear every detail about the investigation into how it happened or the urgent search, and it didn’t change how I viewed law enforcement or convicted criminals — and I never thought about what life must be like for the people living in the area where they escaped. In Breakout by Kate Messner, I got a window into what those folks might have experienced.

Although it’s fiction, the story in Breakout has obvious parallels to the real story: Two inmates somehow escape from a facility in upstate New York, and they manage to hide from authorities even as a serious manhunt ensues.

But in Breakout, residents of the prison town are at the heart of the story — which is told through a series of letters, newspaper articles, and transcripts of in-person conversations and text messages. These records are collected by middle-schooler Nora to show what happened during the period of the big breakout, and they provide an up-close view of its impact on the community:

For Nora, it’s an exciting opportunity to hone her skills as an aspiring journalist — but also a challenging time for her family, as her father is the superintendent of the prison and faces a lot of pressure. For her best friend, Lizzie, it’s a chance to write some truly hilarious satirical articles for Nora’s records — until her own family unexpectedly gets caught up in the story. And for new girl in town, Elidee, it’s a a frustrating blocker to visiting her brother, who is in the same prison. It’s also a time when all three characters learn a lot about themselves, and when Nora and Lizzie start to see some hard truths about their neighbors and the world at large.

I recommend this book for fans of stories that are about everyday school/family life and simultaneously about societal issues (like Ghost by Jason Reynolds) — and also for fans of Jacqueline Woodson’s books, because in Breakout, Elidee reads Brown Girl Dreaming and writes her own poetry inspired by it!

If you were going to write a book inspired by a real-life news story, which event would you choose? Leave a comment with your answer!

— Karen

Karen also enjoyed the references to Hamilton in this book and was inspired to listen to the Broadway cast recording for roughly the millionth time!

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You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly: Book Review

July 23rd, 2018 by

you-go-first-bookI used to really enjoy Scrabble, but now I’m more of a Bananagrams person; I prefer the quick pace. Maybe because of that, I could never really get into Words with Friends or any of the other online Scrabble options. But I love the idea of making a new friend through one of those games — and that’s what happens in You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly.

Ben and Charlotte live halfway across the country from each other, but they have two big things in common: they both excel at Scrabble (way more than anyone else they know) and they are both dealing with friend issues at school — or rather, the issue of lack of friends. And the thing is, they don’t actually know they have that second thing in common. Yet they find a way to help each other even over the great distance.

Besides the friend thing, there are also other major changes happening in Charlotte and Ben’s lives: Charlotte’s dad is sick in the hospital while Ben’s parents surprise him with a terrible announcement about their own family situation.

So as you can see, this is not a happy-go-lucky, hilarious romp of a book by any means. But things are not hopeless either, and I enjoyed seeing how Charlotte and Ben’s stories came together.

I would recommend this book to fans of serious stories about friendship and family — like Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick, Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff, and The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern.

Also, the author of You Go First won the 2018 Newbery Medal for another book, Hello, UniverseSo if you’ve already read that one and enjoyed it, definitely check this one out — and vice versa!

Have you ever had a pen pal or other long-distance friend? Leave a comment with your story!

— Karen

In high school, Karen became friends with someone from halfway across the country when they attended the same summer program. They kept in touch over the years through letters and emails, and they’re still friends today!

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Real Friends and Invisible Emmie: Combo Book Review

June 30th, 2018 by

real-friendsinvisible-emmieRecently, I went on a reading spree of graphic novels/memoirs and illustrated books. One after the other, I gobbled up Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova, Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, and Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson. And they were all AMAZING in the very real way that they depict the rough waters of school and friendship.

If you click on the links above, you’ll see that we already have plenty of reviews for Awkward and Roller Girl from Kidsmomo visitors like you. You should definitely check out what your fellow readers have to say about those books and then decide if they’re right for you.

Here I’m going to focus on Real Friends and Invisible Emmie — which have a lot of similarities even though Real Friends is a memoir (telling the story of author Shannon Hale’s childhood) and Invisible Emmie is a novel (telling the fictional story of Emmie). Both books are about girls who only have one really good friend and lack the confidence to stand up for themselves. Unfortunately, both protagonists therefore find themselves controlled by the decisions of their classmates, unable to make choices about what they really want their school and friend group experience to be and unable to be proud of their talents and let their strengths shine.

But don’t worry — the books aren’t dark or super sad. Just as I sympathized with the characters’ struggles, I also delighted in the brighter moments of their days, like when Shannon and her friends come up with funny (and sometimes bonkers) games of pretend or when Emmie and her best friend write hilarious love letters to their crushes (never meant to be shared, of course!).

The artwork in these books is essential to experiencing them, so rather than try to describe the illustrations, I’ll leave you with these two videos that will give you a sense of the characters and their worlds:

I highly recommend both Invisible Emmie and Real Friends, especially if you’re a fan of El Deafo by Cece Bell, Smile by Raina Telgemeier, and All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson.

Have you read any of the books mentioned here, or do you have a recommendation for a different book that covers similar themes? Leave a comment below!

— Karen

Karen’s best friend from middle school is named Erin, and they’re still friends to this day. Their favorite things to do together were create treasure hunts for each other, play UNO, and talk about The Baby-Sitters Club. Now their favorite thing to do together is eat!

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The Secret of the Night Train by Sylvia Bishop: Book Review

June 24th, 2018 by

the-secret-of-the-night-trainI’m not really a train person. Once or twice a year, I take an eight-hour train trip from NYC to upstate New York and let me tell you — I’d rather not. Sure, it’s a good opportunity to read, but I would really prefer to get where I’m going faster, if possible.

So I would not relish taking the looooooooooong train trek in The Secret of the Night Train by Sylvia Bishop. But thank goodness for me that the protagonist, Max, does make the journey — because it’s a wonderful adventure!

At first, Max doesn’t know exactly what to expect, but she knows that she’s a bit anxious. As the youngest one in her family, it’s a big trip to do on her own, with only an unrelated traveling companion (a nun who lives nearby) to watch over her.

But it turns out that Max is more attuned to mystery and mayhem than she ever knew: Once she realizes that an extremely valuable stolen jewel may be traveling the same train route as her, Max finds herself drawn into an investigation that proves to be more dangerous and exciting than she could have anticipated.

I enjoyed the story in this book, but more than that, I loved the wacky cast of characters who make up Max’s fellow travelers — and suspects:

  • Sister Marguerite, the unusual nun who has volunteered to be Max’s chaperone
  • Rupert, who seems to be hapless — but did very suspiciously manage to miss the police inspection before departure
  • Ester and Klaus, a very wealthy and very cranky woman and her much friendlier nephew
  • Celeste, who has mismatched eyes and a “dragon smile” that shows no real emotion

I always love an eccentric gaggle of side characters, and this group did not disappoint!

I would recommend this book to people who like mysteries that take place during travels, like The Postcard by Tony Abbott and the Silver Jaguar Society Mystery books by Kate Messner. Also, if you enjoyed the train travel adventure in The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel and now you want something similar (but less dark), then I’d suggest you try out The Secret of the Night Train.

Have you taken any train trips recently? Leave a comment with your story!

— Karen

Karen’s favorite train ride was when she spent eight hours reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It was the perfect way to pass the time!

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The Ambrose Deception by Emily Ecton: Book Review

May 20th, 2018 by

ambrose-deceptionThe Ambrose Deception by Emily Ecton drew me in right away:

Three students are selected for a scavenger hunt competition that will take them all around Chicago? Yes, I love it! As they get deeper into the contest, they realize it may be something beyond the innocent scholarship program they were told about? Oh, yes, I love it even more!

As you know, I’m a huge fan of puzzle books like Book Scavenger, Walls Within Walls, The Gollywhopper Games, and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. Now we can add The Ambrose Deception to the list.

But besides just the puzzle element, I also really liked seeing the action from the perspective of the three very different students who are drawn into the mystery:

  • Melissa is underestimated and misunderstood, so she generally keeps to herself. But the scholarship competition is a way to prove herself to all the doubters.
  • Bondi, on the other hand, is full of confidence — maybe too much, according to his teachers.
  • And Wilf, well, he’s no scholar. So he’s determined to make the most of the free perks that go along with the competition until he gets kicked out.

I enjoyed moving between the points of view of these distinct characters, seeing the contrasting ways they approached their challenges — and then seeing them react to the realization that they are being used in a competition, but not the one they agreed to participate in.

If you’re a fan of any of the puzzle books I mentioned above, then this book should be on your to-read list for sure. And if you have any other puzzle books to recommend, leave a comment below!

— Karen

The last time Karen went to Chicago, she didn’t participate in a puzzle competition. But she did a food crawl, and that’s kind of like a scavenger hunt for snacks, right?

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The Lifters by Dave Eggers: Book Review

May 6th, 2018 by

the-liftersI got ahold of an early review copy of The Lifters by Dave Eggers, and the back cover describes the story this way:

The town of Carousel has a secret. A deep, dark, below-the-ground secret. The kind that hurtles through tunnels with the force of a hurricane, sinking houses and shops and playgrounds. Only two kids know what’s going on. And only they can save the town. They are the Lifters.

Technically, all of that is true. But if you’re looking for a spooky tale where kids fight pure evil, then this isn’t it. And if you’re looking for an epic adventure through a crazy subterranean world, then this is not the book for you. (Instead, I would recommend the Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins or Un Lun Dun by China Miéville.)

But guess what — despite my misconceptions about what the story would be, I still really enjoyed this book. But I do wish I had known what to expect, so that’s why I’m starting my review with this warning.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get on with it…

Gran (short for Granite) and his family move to the small town of Carousel because his father is looking for work. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of opportunity waiting for him, and the family soon finds itself fractured: Gran’s dad is on the road all the time, cobbling together a living. Gran’s mother is disappointed and gets angrier and angrier. And Gran has no friends at school; in fact, no one even really notices him.

Well, one person does: Catalina. And when Gran realizes she disappears every day for hours at a time, that’s when his life in Carousel starts to get interesting. Soon, Gran finds himself ditching school, sneaking out of the house at night, and stealing/borrowing stuff in order to help Catalina — as she literally goes underground to help the whole town avoid danger.

If you’re a fan of stories grounded in reality but with fantastical elements, then I think you’ll like The Lifters. In particular, I would recommend this book to readers who enjoyed the Willow Falls books by Wendy Mass, A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, and A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff.

What would you expect to find under the town or city where you live? Leave a comment with your answer!

— Karen

Karen lives in New York City, so she spends a lot of time underground — on the subway! Based on all the rats she sees at subway level, she shudders to think what she’d find if she traveled even deeper…

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Mabel Opal Pear by Amanda Hosch: Book Review

April 15th, 2018 by

mabel-opal-pear-and-the-rules-for-spyingWhen I was a kid, I didn’t know (and didn’t much care) about the details of my parents’ jobs. They’re both lawyers — not super exciting, in my opinion. Mabel Opal Pear, on the other hand, has spies for parents — which is pretty awesome, even if it does mean they’re traveling a lot. At least Mabel’s got her Aunt Gertie to keep her company when her parents are off on a mission. But then everything turns upside down…

In Mabel Opal Pear and the Rules for Spying by Amanda Hosch, Mabel finds herself in the middle of a mystery when her parents are called out of town, her Aunt Gertie gets thrown in jail, and her estranged Uncle Frank and his family move into the house claiming that Mabel’s parents asked them to take care of her.

It’s a good thing Mabel’s been studying up to be a spy herself because it quickly becomes clear that her uncle is looking for something in the house — meanwhile, her cousin seems to be playing both her parents and Mabel. Who can Mabel trust as she tries to get to the bottom of her uncle’s motives and her parents’ disappearance, not to mention saving Aunt Gertie from jail?!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, not just because I love a good mystery, but also because of the fun setting: a small town at the foot of Mt. Rainier in the Pacific Northwest, where Mabel’s parents run a spoon museum (yes, a spoon museum!) when they’re not off doing their spy thing. So I’d highly recommend this book to other fans of mysteries, especially if you’re a sucker for mysteries with eccentric characters in quirky towns. For example, you’ll love Mabel Opal Pear if you enjoyed Three Times Lucky, Last in a Long Line of Rebels, and any of Carl Hiassen’s books (like Hoot and Chomp).

Since the title of the book is Mabel Opal Pear and the Rules for Spying, I can only hope we’ll be seeing other Mabel Opal Pear and… books in the future. I’d love to see what Mabel gets up to the next time her parents leave town!

Have you read this book, or do you have other mysteries to recommend? Leave a comment below!

— Karen

While Karen would love to visit a spoon museum, she’d be even more excited about going to a museum for food you eat with a spoon — like an ice cream museum or a soup museum!

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The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin: Book Review

February 18th, 2018 by

The Year of the Dog_Grace LinHappy new year!

Confused? Yes, the Western world celebrates New Year’s as the clock strikes midnight between December 31st and January 1st. But this weekend marks the start of a new lunar year, celebrated in some Asian countries such as China and Korea. Each year is associated with a different animal — 12 in all. This is now the year of the dog, and in 12 years we’ll celebrate the year of the dog again! (Last year was the year of the rooster, and next year is the year of the pig.)

Just like with the Western zodiac that is based on your birth month, there are certain characteristics attributed to people born in each lunar year. For example, I was born in the year of the monkey, which supposedly makes me mischievous and clever.

Also, each year’s animal influences what happens to everyone during that year. In The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin, the main character, Pacy, learns about what to expect from the year of the dog: Because dogs are loyal, it will be a year dedicated to friends and family; and because dogs are sincere, it will be a good year for thinking hard and finding herself. Immediately, Pacy vows that she will discover her true calling before the year is over — and hopefully it’s tied to a way to get rich!

Over the course of the year, Pacy also makes a new best friend, navigates her feelings about being Taiwanese-American, and deals with the ups and downs of regular school stuff (like the Halloween costume contest and the science fair). In other words, the book is a snapshot of a pretty relatable year. But I love that it is all through the lens of Pacy’s Taiwanese heritage and what the year of the dog means to her and her family.

This book is aimed at younger readers than some of Grace Lin’s other novels (like Where the Mountain Meets the Sea and Starry River of the Sky). So if you’re a super fan of those books, then you might find The Year of the Dog doesn’t hold your attention in the same way. (Also, there are no fantasy elements in Pacy’s life!) But I’d recommend this book for fans of Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins and Andrew Clements’ school stories (like Frindle and Lunch Money).

And don’t just take my word for it — check out these positive reviews from Jackson (age 10) and Tammy (age 10)!

Do you celebrate lunar new year at home, or did you mark the occasion at school? Leave a comment about what you did to welcome the year of the dog!

— Karen

In addition to being quick-witted, people born in the year of the monkey are also supposed to have a competitive spirit. This seems to be true of Karen on board game night!

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Behind the Mountains by Edwidge Danticat: Book Review

February 9th, 2018 by

behind-the-mountains“Behind the mountains are more mountains.”

This Haitian proverb is the inspiration for the title of Behind the Mountains by Edwidge Danticat. It’s obviously a description of the landscape in Haiti. But at the end of the book, the main character, Celiane, reflects on how this saying has applied in a deeper way to her own life, with its many ups and downs. And as I read the final lines of the story, my heart was filled with all of the sadness, hope, and relief of Celiane’s journey — even though her life is so different from mine.

Just like me, Celiane moves to New York City from somewhere else. But unlike me, Celiane is coming from Haiti — a country I’ve never visited. That’s one of the things I enjoyed about reading Behind the Mountains; I got a chance to learn about life in Haiti through Celiane’s story.

Celiane lives with her mother and brother in the countryside, but her father is working in America, saving money and putting in his time until everyone can live in the U.S. together. In the meantime, Celiane studies hard at school, spends time with her boy-crazy best friend, helps her mom make and sell candies at the market, and goes to visit her aunt in the big city. It’s during this trip that Celiane has the most harrowing experience of her life and awakens to the volatile political situation in the country.

Unfortunately, Celiane’s problems don’t end when she gets to the United States. But now she faces a different set of challenges — learning now to navigate at her new school, in her new neighborhood, and within hew newly reunited family.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about life in Haiti — getting a window into another country, while also getting to know a character you’ll identify with despite your different backgrounds.

Have you read any other books about Haiti, or any other books about characters who immigrate to the U.S.? Leave a comment and share your recommendations!

— Karen

Karen grew up in San Francisco. Even though it’s not nearly as warm there as it is in Haiti, Karen also had to acquire a winter coat and boots for her move to the East Coast — just like Celiane. And similarly, Karen was fascinated when she experienced her first snowfall!

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