Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake: Book Review

March 6th, 2019 by

Ivy-Aberdeens-Letter-to-the-WorldDid I enjoy Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake? Yes yes yes! Why did I enjoy it? Let me paint you a picture…

I’m a words person. I’m definitely NOT a gifted visual artist. (If you’ve seen any of our Kidsmomo Pictionary videos, then this confession comes as no shock to you.)

On the other hand, Ivy Aberdeen is very talented at drawing — and author Ashley Herring Blake is very talented at using words to describe Ivy’s art. Somehow, without ever seeing a single drawing of Ivy’s (not even a sketch), I feel like I know the truth of her art. And not only that, I know her heart.

This is all really important because Ivy puts her soul into every drawing. And some of the scenes hold secrets she doesn’t want anyone to know. In particular, her notebook has a series of drawings of two girls in a treehouse holding hands — and one of those girls is Ivy.

Actually, it’s more accurate to say her notebook had these drawings — because after a tornado destroys Ivy’s house, her notebook goes missing and suddenly someone is leaving Ivy’s drawings in her locker, along with notes encouraging her to talk to somebody about the feelings she’s trying so hard to hide.

Could it be Ivy’s new friend, June? Could it be Drew, a classmate affected by the tornado? Or what about Ivy’s best friend, Taryn? Whoever it is, Ivy’s determined to get her notebook back — hopefully without revealing herself to the world.

As I said, I really loved this book, and I’d recommend it to pretty much everyone! It’s a great pick if you’re looking for stories about LGBTQ characters, but there’s more to the book and more to Ivy than that. So I’d especially suggest this book if you’re a fan of family dramas, particularly with characters adjusting to new siblings or other big family changes — like You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino, Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord, and The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller.

Are YOU more of a visual artist or more of a words person? Or both? Or something else, like a builder, a crafter, a scientist, an athlete? Leave a comment about how you express yourself!

— Karen

It’s been a while, but Karen used to write a lot of poetry to capture her feelings and thoughts. Maybe one day she’ll dig up some old poems and share them here on Kidsmomo — if she can find any that aren’t too embarrassing!

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Front Desk by Kelly Yang: Book Review

January 22nd, 2019 by

front-desk Last month, we shared a list of the best books of 2018 — and basically my To-Read list grew from “out of control” to “SUPER DUPER out of control.” So I decided to start the new year properly by tackling that list, starting with Front Desk by Kelly Yang. And I am SUPER DUPER glad that I chose that book because it was SUPER DUPER amazing!

Front Desk is about Mia, who lives with her parents at a motel. But they’re not guests; they work there. Mia’s parents manage the place, spending most of their time cleaning rooms and doing laundry — so when she’s not at school, Mia runs the front desk! It sounds like a cool gig, but unfortunately the motel owner is a bit of a jerk. Actually, he’s a SUPER DUPER jerk. He refuses to pay Mia’s parents a fair wage even while demanding they work until they’re absolutely exhausted, he’s rude to the regular guests who essentially live at the motel, and he doesn’t even care about Mia’s family’s safety. And that’s not even all the drama that Mia has to deal with!

But why don’t I let a real expert tell you more about Front Desk and the inspiration for the book — check out this video with the author:

So, as you can see, Mia’s dealing with a lot — not only is her family struggling, but she’s also learning more about the challenges faced by other immigrants and she’s witnessing the effects of racism firsthand. But don’t worry, Front Desk isn’t a dark and gloomy read. There are definitely sad parts (I cried), but there are also lots of happy parts (I cried). And I loved the character of Mia, who is full of energy and really relatable. That was my favorite part of the book — getting to know Mia and seeing things through her eyes. My childhood was completely different from Mia’s, and I had the luxury of never having to think about the kinds of difficulties that Mia and her family encounter. Front Desk is a moving and much-needed window into their experiences.

I’d recommend Front Desk to, well, everyone! But I think you’ll especially enjoy it if you’re a fan of realistic fiction about families, such as The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya and Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai (both of which also involve family businesses!). Is there another similar book that you would recommend? Leave a comment with your suggestion!

— Karen

Karen wouldn’t have been able to run the front desk of a motel when she was Mia’s age. She was SUPER DUPER bad at talking with adults. Actually, maybe that’s why she still prefers talking with young people through Kidsmomo!

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Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail: Book Review

November 11th, 2018 by

well-that-was-awkward-rachel-vailI admit it: I fully judged this book by its cover. And I was into it right away — the intriguing title, the characters on their phones, and what’s up with the turtle and the rabbit? As soon as I spotted Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail, I had to know more about it.

And then once I read the description on the back cover, I knew it was for me:

It’s all good. Well… almost.

When Gracie learns that her crush likes her best friend, Sienna, she decides to help Sienna compose perfect texts to him. And Gracie is super okay with it. Like, more than okay! In fact, it seems everyone around Gracie counts on her to be okay… all the time. But Gracie has a wonderful though complicated family, and a big nose (but cute toes!), plus she’s in middle school. What happens if sometimes she’s not fully okay?

I love a good romantic comedy, so I decided Well, That Was Awkward would be the perfect light-hearted book to take with me on vacation. But guess what — it was AND it wasn’t.

As the blurb promises, the book definitely delivers mistaken identity mishaps, witty banter, friend/crush drama, and a lot of fun.The story is told in first-person from Gracie’s point of view, and I really loved her vivacious voice. I also enjoyed Gracie’s interactions with her classmates and found all of that to be quite realistic. I pretty much ripped through the story and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.

But there was also a serious side that I didn’t expect — related to the death of Gracie’s sister years ago and how that loss still shapes her relationship with her parents and even informs the very core of her personality. I didn’t know about this part of the book, and it caught me by surprise as it was introduced on the very first page. What’s going on? I wanted a fluffy romantic farce! But I actually really loved this component of the story. It made Gracie’s character more rounded and deepened the book as a whole.

So I’d absolutely recommend Well, That Was Awkward, especially if you liked other books by Rachel Vail like Unfriended and Never Mind. I also think you’ll enjoy this book if you’re a fan of Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead or books by Jordan Sonnenblick like Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie.

Have YOU ever felt like your family or friends view you one way when you actually have many sides to you? Leave a comment with your story! Or just leave a comment if you’ve already read this book or any others by Rachel Vail!

— Karen

Karen is not really a sentimental person, yet she LOVES romantic comedies and especially Hallmark Christmas movies! This often comes as a surprise to people who view Karen as a grump.

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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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