Booklist: Experience an Escape Room, Kidlit Style

August 7th, 2017 by

The other day, my friend told me that he and his family did three escape rooms in one week. Seriously, dude loves puzzles.

Not familiar with escape rooms? They’re theme rooms where you solve a series of puzzles in order to figure out how to exit the room — usually within an hour time limit. You participate in teams, so it’s a fun activity for a family or a group of friends.

I got to thinking… If I had my own escape room company, I’d make all the rooms based on different children’s books where the storyline revolves around characters solving puzzles and putting together clues. In my opinion, reading these brain-teasing books and playing along is like experiencing an escape room!

So check out these puzzle-centric books packed with even more riddles, codes, and drama than you’d find in a real-world escape room (official descriptions from the book publishers/authors):

puzzling-world-of-winston-breen-book-reviewThe Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Erin Berlin

Winston Breen says the only thing better than discovering a puzzle is stumping someone else with it. But when his sister uncovers mysterious strips of wood with words and letters on them, even Winston himself is stumped. Soon the whole family (and some friends) are caught up in the mystery and off on a scavenger hunt that just may lead to a ring worth thousands of dollars! Chock-full of puzzles to solve, some tied to the mystery and some not, this treasure hunt will keep readers’ brains teased right up to the exciting ending!

the-gollywhopper-gamesThe Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman

Gil Goodson’s future happiness depends on winning Golly Toy and Game Company’s ultimate competition. If Gil wins, his dad has promised the family can move away from all the gossip, false friends, and bad press that have plagued them ever since The Incident.

Gil has been studying, training, and preparing for months, and once he makes it through the tricky preliminary rounds and meets his teammates, the competition gets tougher. Brainteasers, obstacle courses, mazes, and increasingly difficult puzzles and decisions — not to mention temptations, dilemmas, and new friends (and enemies) — are all that separate Gil from ultimate victory. Does Gil have what it takes to win? Do you?

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

Kyle Keeley is the class clown and a huge fan of all games — board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative gamemaker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind the construction of the new town library. Lucky Kyle wins a coveted spot as one of 12 kids invited for an overnight sleepover in the library, hosted by Mr. Lemoncello and riddled with lots and lots of games. But when morning comes, the doors stay locked. Kyle and the other kids must solve every clue and figure out every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route!

Floors_Patrick-CarmanFloors by Patrick Carman

Charlie had his chocolate factory. Stanley Yelnats had his holes. Leo has the wacky, amazing Whippet Hotel. The Whippet Hotel is a strange place full of strange and mysterious people. Each floor has its own quirks and secrets. Ten-year-old Leo Fillmore should know most of them; he is the maintenance man’s son, after all. But a whole lot more mystery gets thrown his way when a series of cryptic boxes are left for him… boxes that lead him to hidden floors, strange puzzles, and unexpected alliances. Leo had better be quick on his feet, because the fate of the building he loves is at stake… and so is Leo’s own future!

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

A bizarre chain of events begins when 16 unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger — and a possible murderer — to inherit his vast fortune, one thing’s for sure: Sam Westing may be dead… but that won’t stop him from playing one last game!

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

For 12-year-old Emily, the best thing about moving to San Francisco is that it’s the home city of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, book publisher and creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger (a game where books are hidden in cities all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles). Upon her arrival, however, Emily learns that Griswold has been attacked and is now in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold himself, and might contain the only copy of his mysterious new game.

Racing against time, Emily and James rush from clue to clue, desperate to figure out the secret at the heart of Griswold’s new game ― before those who attacked Griswold come after them too.

spiderweb-for-twoSpiderweb for Two by Elizabeth Enright

Randy and Oliver Melendy awake one fall morning full of gloom. Their brother and sister are away, the house seems forlorn and empty, and even Cuffy, their adored housekeeper, can’t pick up their spirits. Will they have to face a long and lonely winter? But a surprise message in the mailbox starts a trail of excitement and adventure that takes them through the cold season. When summer finally comes around again, the children have found 14 messages in all, and the end of the search brings them a rich reward.


I’m pretty sure the characters in these books would kick major butt in an escape room — and I’d love to solve puzzles and decipher clues alongside them, or at least pretend to be in their world for an hour if I could. So… who’s going to fund my new escape room business? 🙂

Leave a comment if you have an escape room idea or a book recommendation I didn’t include here!

— Karen

Karen’s actually never done an escape room — but she would if there were some based on these books!

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The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson: Book Review

July 24th, 2017 by

great-greene-heistFrom the moment I met Jackson Greene, I knew I was in for an entertaining ride! The title of The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson really says it all. You’ve got the slick con man (or middle school student, as the case may be) and you’ve got his one last big job — even though he vowed he was out of the game after the last one blew up in his face.

What could possibly tempt Jackson to come out of retirement and return to a life of crime? Why, the girl of his dreams, of course! Unfortunately for Jackson, he really messed things up with Gaby, his best friend (and more?), during his last plot. Can he make it up to her when she faces an unexpected challenge in her bid to be school president?

Much to my delight, Jackson recruits a team to help him pull off his great heist: a tech whiz, an inside man, someone to bankroll the mission, etc. I’m a huge fan of Ocean’s Eleven, so I always love watching specialists assemble, plan, and then execute complicated schemes — maybe even with some double crosses and bluffs thrown in.

I think pretty much anyone would enjoy this book because it’s fast-paced, fun, and funny — but I’d especially recommend this book if you’re a fan of other capers like The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander or the Swindle books by Gordon Korman.

And once you finish The Great Greene Heist, you can check out the sequel: To Catch a Cheat!

Have you already read The Great Greene Heist, or do you have another caper book to recommend? Leave a comment below!

— Karen

Karen gets freaked out by movies that are overly suspenseful, but for some reason she loves capers (so long as they’re light-hearted). Maybe she’s got a secret schemer inside of her, just waiting to get out!

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The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish: Book Review

July 9th, 2017 by

the-ethan-i-was-beforeSummer equals road trips, picnics, swimming, and relaxing with a popsicle in the shade of a tree. No worries, no cares. And the book equivalent to all of that is obviously beach reads — lighthearted stories or action-oriented page turners. Fun books. Nothing too serious.

So why am I recommending The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish, a book about a boy dealing with the aftermath of a tragic accident? Because despite the premise, the story is far from being all doom and gloom. In fact, once I started, I couldn’t put it down!

The book focuses on Ethan, and how he’s dealing with an accident involving his best friend. He and his family have just moved to a new town in order to get a fresh start, and at first Ethan is totally uninterested in meeting new people and getting settled in there.

But then Ethan meets Coralee, who’s funny, feisty, and tells great stories. They become fast friends, and soon the two of them are exploring town and navigating school cliques together — and in the process, they stumble upon a mystery. As they dig deeper and maybe even put themselves in danger, Ethan also starts to unravel some of the murkier details of Coralee’s life. And as Ethan and Coralee become more and more entangled in their adventure, Ethan starts to wonder who he can really trust… [Imagine dramatic music here!]

So, given that plot, you can see why I couldn’t put the book down! There are definitely lots of serious parts, and Ethan is dealing with real pain and guilt. But the book was never hard to read because of that. That’s why even though it’s not a typical beach read, I recommend it for summer (or anytime!) reading.

And what are YOU reading this summer? Leave a comment with your recommendations!

— Karen

Karen is currently reading two books: The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson and Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson. Normally she wouldn’t read multiple books at the same time, but one’s a graphic novel, so that makes the multitasking/multireading possible!

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You Asked, We Answered: Newbery Picks

June 25th, 2017 by

On June 21, 2017, Kidsmomo reader Cassie asked us for some award-worthy book recommendations:

I love all books and do you have any books for the Newbery?

That’s a great question, especially now that we’re halfway to the next Newbery announcements (which will be in January 2018). Cassie, I’m going to answer your question two ways:

1. Potential Newbery Winners Worth Reading:

There are several blogs out on the interwebs that identify books that are getting lots of buzz and might be Newbery contenders. So I’m going to let those blogs do the work for me, and give you their suggestions:

From 100 Scope Notes:

The Ethan I Was Before
– Orphan Island
The Someday Birds
Thick as Thieves
See You in the Cosmos
Me and Marvin Gardens
Scar Island
The Pearl Thief

From Heavy Medal:

Isaac the Alchemist
– Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out
The March Against Fear
Me and Marvin Gardens
One Last Word
Pathfinders: The Journeys of Sixteen Extraordinary Black Souls
– Princess Cora and the Crocodile
Thick as Thieves
The Warden’s Daughter

2. Newbery Medal Winners I Love:

The American Library Association has been giving out Newbery awards since 1922, so that means there are A LOT of winners out there. Below are my particular favorites — selected just from the Medal winners. (If I were to include Newbery Honor recipients… forget it — the list would go on for days and days!)

Cassie, I hope that gives you some good ideas for what to read next — and potentially enough books to keep you busy all summer!

To the rest of you: If you’re like Cassie and want some customized book recommendations just for you, submit an Ask Kidsmomo question in the form below!

Kids: Ask your parents or teachers for approval before you submit anything to us, and read our Privacy Policy Statement.

Your Name (optional):

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— Karen

Okay, Karen can’t stop herself from mentioning some of the recent Newbery Honor books that she loves: Brown Girl Dreaming, El Deafo, Three Times Lucky, Inside Out & Back Again, One Crazy Summer… The list goes on and on! Literally. Like, here is the list of all the past winners ever.

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Captain Underpants Movie: Video-palooza!

June 11th, 2017 by

In January, we excitedly shared a “first look” at the Captain Underpants movie. Well, now the film is finally out in theaters!

Apparently, the film is HUGE (just like Captain Underpants’ tighty whities) — with the movie coming in #2 at the box office over opening weekend. But if you’re like me and you haven’t had the chance to see the movie yet, I thought you might appreciate this video round-up, including clips from the film and coverage of fun stuff from the red carpet premiere!

Video #1: Features an amazing montage of George and Harold’s many pranks…


Video #2: The moment when Captain Underpants comes to life…


Video #3: With great power comes great responsibility — but try telling that to Harold and George!


Video #4: It’s man (kind of) versus ape (kind of) in this video clip:


Video #5: Some people say, “It’s the thought that counts.” But I’m not sure the recipients of Captain Underpants’ supposed “help” would agree…


Video #6: Introducing Professor Poopypants!


Video #7: Check out the official movie theme song by Weird Al Yankovic! (Warning: You may later find yourself humming this tune even when you don’t want to!)


Video #8: Somehow, these kids managed to get Captain Underpants videos created based on their wacky ideas — even without the use of hypnotism!


Video #9: Have you always wanted to watch movie stars and the author of the Captain Underpants books fling underwear through the air with all their might? Well, today is your lucky day! Search no further. The video of your dreams is below:


If all these videos don’t get you pumped to see the movie, I don’t know what could! Actually, I do have another idea: Read the Captain Underpants books while you wait for your trip to the theater! There are sooooooooooooo many books in the series — making it a great choice for summer reading too!

If you’re a Captain Underpants fan, leave a comment and share your thoughts on the new movie!

— Karen

If Karen became a superhero, she would definitely want to wear more than just underpants — maybe some pajamas for ultimate comfort and flexibility during battle!

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Books to Big Screen: Wonder Movie Trailer

May 30th, 2017 by

wonder-posterHere are my two favorite things in life: children’s books and food. So you probably won’t be surprised that when I attended a friend’s party recently, I spent a good amount of time stuffing my face and talking about the book I had just finished.

That book was Auggie and Me by R.J. Palacio, the companion to the critically acclaimed and totally beloved book Wonder.

Based on Wonder‘s popularity, you’ve probably heard of it. In fact, you’ve probably read it yourself! If not, I highly recommend it — and I’m not the only one: Check out these reviews from other young readers.

So, if you’re a fan of Wonder, then you probably already knew that a movie adaptation is in the works. And that’s what we were taking about at the party — which actors are in it, when it’s coming out, and how Auggie might be portrayed.

Well, now the first trailer is finally out! Watch it below:


So, what do you think?

Some people at the party guessed that the movie will start with Auggie wearing his space helmet, so that there is a more dramatic reveal later. If the trailer is any indication, the full movie may indeed take that approach.

Other people guessed that a good portion of the movie might be shot from Auggie’s point of view. The trailer does not support that theory, but who knows what isn’t shown here?

My personal opinion is that Auggie doesn’t look exactly as described in the book. But I tend to be a big stickler for faithfulness to the source material, and I always get annoyed when movie adaptations stray too far. So maybe it doesn’t matter that Auggie is not depicted in the movie precisely as he is described in the book — as long as the film gets the heart of the characters and the story right. And for that, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what the final movie is like!

Are you planning to watch the movie? What do you think of the trailer? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

— Karen

Once a friend remarked to Karen, “I can’t believe how you always find people to talk with you about children’s books at parties.” Guess that’s what happens when you have narrow interests and a persistent demeanor!

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Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan: Book Review

May 14th, 2017 by

Short by Holly Goldberg SloanA few month’s ago, Nancy created a personality quiz to pair Kidsmomo readers with their Valentine’s Day Book Match. Obviously, I couldn’t let you guys have all the fun, so I decided to give it a try for myself. And guess what, you guys — Nancy’s quiz is GENIUS. Because I got matched with Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan, and I really, really, really, REALLY loved it!

The book is about Julia, who is in middle school but always gets mistaken for being younger. Why? Well — in case the title wasn’t a giveaway — Julia is short. In fact, she’s so small, she can still climb through the family’s doggie door!

But at the moment, that’s not the issue weighing most on Julia’s mind. At the start of the story, she’s most concerned about the loss of her dog, Ramon. With her two best friends away all summer, it’s going to be hard for Julia to cope with Ramon’s recent death. And to make matters worse, her mother is forcing Julia to audition for a community production of The Wizard of Oz.

Julia is decidedly NOT interested in being on stage, but she’s compelled to go along with her younger brother (and talented singer), Randy. Lo and behold — both of them get cast as Munchkins. And soon, Julia starts finding her place as part of the theater community. I don’t want to give away any details, but I will say that I absolutely loved all of Julia’s behind-the-scenes adventures as she gets involved in things like costume design, flying monkey casting, and actor gossip.

To be honest, I always like stories that offer a peek into what goes on behind the curtains in the theater world. But in the case of Short, I particularly enjoyed seeing everything through Julia’s eyes — and through her unique and often hilarious narration. And not only is Julia a fully rounded character, but so are all the adults involved with the show — from the eccentric director with a particular vision, to Julia’s Munchkin partner, Olive, an actress with dwarfism.

I’d recommend Short to pretty much anyone who likes realistic fiction, but especially to fans of these kinds of books:

With the school year ending soon, you may be working on your own summer plans right now. I suggest you include reading Short on your list!

But also, what are your summer plans? Going to camp? Traveling somewhere fun for vacation? Staying home and taking cool classes like robotics or art or sports? Leave a comment and share what you’re up to!

— Karen

Karen doesn’t have any big vacations planned for the summer, but she wants to do some little weekend trips. Any suggestions?

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Moo by Sharon Creech: Book Review

April 30th, 2017 by

moo-sharon-creech April is National Poetry Month, so I decided to read Moo by Sharon Creech. I was all patting myself on the back, like: “Great poetry book pick, Karen!” But lo and behold — I soon realized it’s not actually a poetry book! Some of it is in poetry, but some of it is in prose. It’s kind of a combo novel.

Well, once I got over the shock, I realized that it didn’t matter. It didn’t feel jarring at all to move between poetic verse and paragraphs of prose. In fact, I found that I really enjoyed the unique approach.

In a way, my experience as I discovered Moo is kind of like Reena’s experience in the book. When she first meets Mrs. Falala, she thinks the old lady is super crabby and horrible — but then Reena realizes there’s more to her neighbor than she initially thought.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe I should tell you who Reena and Mrs. Falala are: Reena is the narrator in Moo. She and her family have just left behind big-city life and moved to Maine. Mrs. Falala is their new neighbor — and in a way, she becomes Reena’s boss. That’s because Reena’s parents volunteer Reena and her younger brother to help out Mrs. Falala on the farm. As you can imagine, scooping cow dung is NOT glamorous work. Plus, Mrs. Falala is not particularly friendly. So Reena is not at all pleased with the situation.

But over time, Reena’s feelings start to change. She starts to feel more comfortable on the farm with Zora the cow, Paulie the pig, China the cat, and Edna the snake. Not to mention Mrs. Falala! But there are still challenges, especially for a former city slicker like Reena, and I enjoyed reading about her adventures trying to wrangle Zora and settle into her new life.

I highly recommend this book to fans of Sharon Creech’s other books, like Love That DogGranny Torrelli Makes Soup, and Walk Two Moons.

And since Moo is about a kid finding her way in a new place over the summer, it’s also a great pick if you enjoy stories about people trying out new things during their summer breaks, like Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord and Ten Good and Bad Things About My Life (So Far) by Ann M. Martin.

Not sure you’re ready to spend time with a grumpy cow like Zora? You can check out an excerpt of the book on the author’s website!

— Karen

Like Reena at the start of the book, Karen is most definitely a city girl who prefers to be indoors. Maybe spending time with Zora would change that?

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Ghost by Jason Reynolds: Book Review

April 17th, 2017 by

ghost Despite its title, Ghost by Jason Reynolds is not a horror story. Ghost is actually the nickname for the main character (whose real name is Castle). There’s nothing supernatural or paranormal going on here.

But Ghost has known terror in his life — specifically, the moment when his father grabbed a gun and chased Ghost and his mother through their home and down the street, shooting to kill. Since then, Ghost has lived with a lot of anxiety and anger inside, but no place to put that energy.

That all changes one day on the track. Ghost happens to come across tryouts for an elite middle school running team, and he decides to show off a little — not because he wants to join, just because he can’t stand the smug looks on some of these athletes’ faces. But lo and behold, soon the coach has convinced Ghost to join the team.

Cue the happy ending? Not quite. This is Ghost’s first time as part of a group like this, plus Coach is pushing him to push himself to his own limits… and maybe even beyond — and Ghost is not used to it. Can Ghost find his place on the team, and maybe even find himself along the way? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

I highly recommend this book to everyone, especially fans of Kwame Alexander’s books The Crossover and Booked. But you don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy Ghost. And you definitely don’t need to have a similar background to Ghost’s in order to appreciate his story.

In fact, I think it’s really important to read books about people and places that don’t mirror your own life — and that’s why I’m participating in the Reading Without Walls Challenge this month. One of the challenges is to read a book about a character who doesn’t look like you or live like you. I chose Ghost!

But even though Ghost has a completely different life than mine, it was easy to identify with him. The author does an amazing job of taking you into Ghost’s head. As I read the book, I felt like I was getting to know a very real person, not just a book character.

Ghost is the first book in a new series called Track, where each book will focus on a different member of the running team. I’m really looking forward to the next one about Patina (aka Patty)! Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait until it comes out in August. But you’re in luck because you don’t have to wait at all for a taste of Ghost! If you’re interested, you can watch the author read the beginning of the book in the video below:

Are you a runner like Ghost, or do you play another sport (like basketball in The Crossover or soccer in Booked)? Leave a comment and share your sport!

— Karen

Karen is most definitely not a runner. The last time she tried to go running, she made it one block before turning around and going home. Swimming? Yes. Dancing? Yes. Running? No.

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Sunny Side Up: Book Review

March 19th, 2017 by

Summer vacation in Florida — what could be better? Well, you might not be so excited if you were staying with your grandpa in a senior home, without the rest of your family, away from your friends, and miles from Disney World. That’s exactly the summer facing the main character in the graphic novel Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm.

Still, Sunny Lewin tries to make the best of her summer away from home. And things start looking up when she makes a new friend — someone actually her age, as opposed to all the old folks. Together, Sunny and Buzz retrieve lost golf balls to earn some pocket change and discover they have a talent for finding lost cats. Plus, Buzz introduces Sunny to the joy of comic books!

Check out the official book trailer below:

But wait — there’s more to this book than shown here. Yes, Sunny is trying to maintain a positive attitude and she finds plenty of fun things to do. But her summer is also tinged with pain and confusion. There’s something bad going on with her family at home, and even though she’s miles away, Sunny just can’t shake it.

I don’t want to give away too much, so I won’t go into detail here. But let’s just say that Sunny, her parents, and especially her older brother are going through a hard time. I didn’t know about this aspect of the story when I first started the book, and I was happily surprised to find that Sunny Side Up is deeper than I expected. But don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom. Just like with life, there’s a balance between the sad side and the sunny side.

I highly recommend this book to fans of Raina Telgemeier’s books, like Ghosts, Sisters, and Drama. And, of course, if you’re already a fan of Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm from their Babymouse and Squish series, then you’ll definitely want to check out this book. To see a sneak preview of Sunny Side Up, go to the official website, which has a slideshow of the first few pages!

— Karen

Karen was in Florida a few months ago — but not anywhere near Disney World. Like Sunny, Karen was not too pleased about that.

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