Quick Lit: Recent Middle-Grade and YA Reads

The PenderwicksThe Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall

As I mentioned on my Instagram, I would have LOVED this book as a kid. LOVED IT. It’s funny and imaginative and the girls make it sound like being a Penderwick is so much fun. As an adult reading it, I can see lots of flaws with it, so I’m still debating how to rate it on Goodreads. A 5-Star book for kids, and a 3-Star read for me. Read it to your kids, let them read it themselves, or read it yourself and try and channel your inner 10 year old.

Looking for AlibrandiLooking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

Read during my Australia books binge, and the premise sounded like it was going to be just another typical coming-of-age story. Although it could have been completely cliched, Josephine is such an appealing character she turns the book into something much more than I expected. Nicely written, and it deserved a better cover for the American version than it got. There are some mature themes in it, so be aware of that if you’ve got younger teens interested in it.

An Uncertain ChoiceAn Uncertain Choice by Jody Hedlund

Light historical romance. I usually enjoy Hedlund’s books, but didn’t like this one (her first YA novel) as much. There are two more in the series but I’m unlikely to pick them up. Disclaimer: I don’t typically like romance novels so if you do and think this one sounds good, I’d give it a try. I wanted more emphasis on the history and less on the romance angle, and the plot was WAY too predictable.

The School for Good and EvilThe School of Good and Evil by Soman Chainani, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno

I’d heard RAVES about this book so I stuck with it even when I wasn’t enjoying it, thinking it had to get better. Sadly, no, it didn’t. I love fractured fairy tales, and while I loved the premise of this, it was dreadful. Derivative, repetitive, with awful messages – it makes me wonder what other people were seeing in it to like it so much. I’m dumbfounded that it was a best seller.

Please don’t waste your reading time, and please don’t give it to your daughter(s) to read. Want to know more details about why not? This gif-heavy review summarizes my main issues with the book. A heads-up though that there’s some language in it if that offends you, and it’s loaded with spoilers.

For more peeks at what people are reading, head over to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s link-up!


Previously on The Deliberate Reader

One year ago: Quick Lit: Recent Middle Grade and Young Adult Books
Two years ago: Quick Lit: Recent Christian Reads (2014)
Three years ago: Quick Lit: Recent Christian Reads (2013)

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Audrey of the Outback by Christine Harris

Audrey of the OutbackAudrey of the Outback by Christine Harris, illustrated by Ann James

The book we should have selected for our Family Book Club (except we didn’t discover it in time). This find is thanks to Give Your Child The World, and it’s such a fun book. I’m going to be doing a round-the-world kindergarten theme with my daughter this year, and this is on my list now to read to her when we reach Australia in our schedule.

Audrey reminded me a bit of Ramona Quimby, and then writing this review I see the publisher’s description compares her to both Ramona and Pippi Longstocking. I always love it when I see someone else agrees with my comparisons. 🙂

Audrey is not quite as … troublesome as Ramona (I can’t compare her to Pippi, as it’s been too long since I read that book) but she’s curious and adventurous and it’s easy to imagine her as a Ramona if she was being raised in that time and place. And vice versa.

There’s a glossary of unfamiliar terms in the back of the book, although they were all easy to figure out from the context of the story. While there are hints of the challenges of living in the Outback in the 1930s, overall the tone is gentle enough that I wouldn’t hesitate to read it to younger children. Each chapter is fairly short as well, and I think it’d make for an good early chapter book if you’re new to reading those aloud.

There are two more Audrey books, and happily for me my library has them all. Highly recommended for early elementary age as a readaloud – it was a delightful story.

This is the first book in a series, and is followed by Audrey Goes to Town and Audrey’s Big Secret. All three can also be purchased in combined volume for Kindle or Nook, although I’m not sure how well the illustrations translate in an electronic format. They’re not essential to the story, but they are very sweet.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Nook | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
Audrey is a 1930s outback girl with a lot on her mind. Her dad has gone away to work; her brother Price thinks he’s too old for games; and little Dougie likes pretending to be a bird. So together with her best friend Stumpy, Audrey ponders some of life’s big questions—like whether being a swaggie (or bush traveler, as explained in the handy glossary) is lonelier than being a girl, and whether it’s better to be a sheep or a cow. Determined, mischievous, imaginative, and inquisitive, Audrey is Australia’s response to Pippi Longstocking and Ramona Quimby.

Book Details

Title: Audrey of the Outback
Author: Christine Harris, illustrated by Ann James
Category: Juvenile fiction

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!


Previously on The Deliberate Reader

One year ago: Book Review: Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson
Two years ago: July 2014 Recap

Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7sCounting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Poignant story about a twelve-year-old genius whose adoptive parents are unexpectedly killed in a car crash, leaving her completely alone in the world. While that may have the possibility of being a heart-wrenching story, overall the tone is hopeful, and not as emotionally wrenching as it could have been.

My biggest criticism of the book relates to the ending, so I’ll hide it in the next paragraph. If you’re not opposed to being somewhat spoiled, highlight the text block:

The ending is probably too unrealistically happy, but it’s satisfying and considering the target age range for readers, I can’t really complain too much. There’s plenty of time for middle grade readers to get more realistic conclusions to novels, and the wrap-it-all-up-in-a-bow aspect of it did make me happy for Willow. And yes, I just admitted to feeling happy for a fictional character.

I loved Willow as a character – she’s delightfully odd. I loved Mai and Pattie and how they take charge of Willow, and get Dell to do what they need and want. There’s a few too many happy coincidences throughout the book, but I can forgive it because I liked the characters so much.

Heartwarming and uplifting, I really enjoyed it.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
In the tradition of Out of My Mind, Wonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life… until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

Book Details

Title: Counting By 7s
Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
Category: Middle Grade Fiction
My Rating: 4 Stars

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!


Previously on The Deliberate Reader

One year ago: 12 Sports Books to Read if You Liked “The Boys in the Boat”

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

A Single ShardA Single ShardA Single Shard by Linda Sue Park by Linda Sue Park

I read this when I was pre-reading/re-reading books for the family book club’s Korea theme. Ultimately I recommended we select When My Name Was Keoko as the middle grade/teen book, feeling that it gave a better balance to our pairing, but want to still encourage anyone interested in children’s literature or historical fiction to give this one a try – it’s fantastic.

Park’s writing is so beautiful, but the characterizations and themes of her novel are what make A Single Shard such a standout to me. While it’s not the right fit for me to read to my children (yet), I’m looking forward to introducing them to it when they’re older and able to appreciate the story.

And if you’re able to read the book and not feel an overwhelming urge to do some searching online for celadon pottery, you’ve got more restraint than I do. I had to go looking for some images of the pottery described in the book – such beautiful work!

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
In this Newbery Medal-winning book set in 12th century Korea, Tree-ear, a 13-year-old orphan, lives under a bridge in Ch’ulp’o, a potters’ village famed for delicate celadon ware. He has become fascinated with the potter’s craft; he wants nothing more than to watch master potter Min at work, and he dreams of making a pot of his own someday. When Min takes Tree-ear on as his helper, Tree-ear is elated — until he finds obstacles in his path: the backbreaking labor of digging and hauling clay, Min’s irascible temper, and his own ignorance. But Tree-ear is determined to prove himself — even if it means taking a long, solitary journey on foot to present Min’s work in the hope of a royal commission . . . even if it means arriving at the royal court with nothing to show but a single celadon shard.

Book Details

Title: A Single ShardA Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
Author: Linda Sue Park
Category: Juvenile Fiction
My Rating: 4.5 Stars

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

What the Kids are Reading (in February 2016)

Late in January I finally closed out my Usborne kickoff parties and cashed in on the free books I earned through them.

I got a TON of books, and we’ve been reading and reading them. Here are the board books I received – stay tuned for later posts about all the other books. It was an amazing shipment! So, yes, most of the books we read in February were either picture books about the Arctic or Korea, or our new books. Since I’ve already posted about those themed picture books, today’s post is all about the books we actually added to our bookshelf. So exciting!

Board Books and Activity Books

Busy Train bookBusy Train Book
I *thought* I was just getting this as a display book for home shows. Ha! My kids – all of them – LOVE this book. Who knew a train driving around in loops could be so amazingly entertaining?

My Wild Animal WorldMy Wild Animal World
Another huge hit here – my youngest is obsessed with opening the big book, and then removing the 9 individual books, flipping through them, and then putting them back in the big book. The other two love reading these with her too, so it’s a double win!

Slide and See Under the SeaSlide-and-See Under the Sea

And yet another huge hit with the toddler. She loves the textures, she loves the various interactive features – it’s fantastic. I’ve even caught the other two flipping through it, and both are eager to read it to her.

Little Red Penguin ShapesLittle Red Penguin Shapes

The toddler likes lifting the flaps on this one, but it doesn’t captivate her as much as some of their other choices. However, I like the smaller size on this, as it’s easy to keep in my purse and pull out when I need a little bit of distraction.

Pop-Up JunglePop-Up Jungle

Really pretty pop-ups, but it’s probably the least popular of all the board and interactive books I’ve gotten from Usborne, perhaps because it’s got all these tempting elements – the snapping crocodile jaws, the swinging monkey, the slithering snake – and I won’t let her grab any of them.

Peek Inside the ZooPeek Inside the Zoo

A great first lift the flap book, as the flaps are bigger than in some of their other titles. Pretty illustrations too – I really like it. That said, it just misses being one of the biggest hits of this order, but I can see my youngest liking it more as she gets a bit older. It’s suggested for kids 3 and up, and based on my experiences with my three, I’d agree with that. 🙂

Felix and Ella's VacationFelix & Ella’s Vacation

It’s a huge, reusable sticker book: of course my kids are obsessed with it. It was all I could do to keep them from tearing into it the first day it arrived. We haven’t had it long enough to really test the long-term re-usability factor of the stickers but so far they’re definitely movable.

Big Book of ColorsBig Book of Colors

My 4 year old LOVES this. The 6 year old really likes it too, but not as much as his sister. I have to admit I kind of wanted this one for myself – I love the colors, I love the color wheel, I love the acrylic overlay that lets you see how colors change. Love love love. It’s great for color vocabulary too.

I Want to Be a Lion TamerI Want to Be a Lion Tamer by Ruby Brown, illustrated by Alisa Coburn

Usborne has a handful of books that are great transitions from board books to picture books, and this is one of them – the pages are thicker and plastic-coated, so while they feel and turn more like picture books, they’re sturdier like board books. This has great illustrations with an old-fashioned feel, and the message is fantastic. I really debated between choosing this one or the I Want to Be An Astronaut, but like this one so much I may end up getting both. 🙂

Look Inside Mummies and PyramidsLook Inside Mummies and Pyramids

I got this as a fun extra for our upcoming homeschool history program, and cannot WAIT to pull it out and let my son see it. He’s going to love it, I’m certain.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!


Previously on The Deliberate Reader

One year ago: How I Decided to Homeschool and How I Decided on a Curriculum
Two years ago: Women Heroes of WWII
Three years ago: Let’s Talk about Spoilers

newest reads board books interactive books February 2016February 2016 Usborne board books

The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin

The Port Chicago 50The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil RightsThe Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin by Steve Sheinkin

Juvenile nonfiction is tough: I often find myself wanting more depth, and so perhaps giving lower ratings than is fair because a book skims the surface (as may be appropriate for the target audience).

I think this is probably one of those times – I’m not super enthusiastic about this book, mostly because I wanted *more* from it. It felt superficial, and like it’s the skeleton of an AMAZING book.

So, if you like juvenile nonfiction, or are looking for something to round out history for your children, this may be a great choice. It touches on World War II, military history, African American history, segregation (both in the military and in the US in general), civil rights, and life on the homefront. I’m fairly well-read in World War II history, but had never heard of this incident, and found myself getting enraged at the offensively bad treatment these sailors received.

Recommended, with the caveat that there isn’t much depth to it all and it left me wanting more. If you don’t mind it being aimed at middle grade readers, then it is interesting, if infuriating. And if the topic sounds appealing but you don’t want a juvenile title, there is Robert Allen’s The Port Chicago MutinyThe Port Chicago Mutiny by Robert Allen. I haven’t read it but am thinking about it, on the assumption that it will give me the depth I was missing in Sheinkin’s book.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Audible | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
An astonishing civil rights story from Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Steve Sheinkin.

On July 17, 1944, a massive explosion rocked the segregated Navy base at Port Chicago, California, killing more than 300 sailors who were at the docks, critically injuring off-duty men in their bunks, and shattering windows up to a mile away. On August 9th, 244 men refused to go back to work until unsafe and unfair conditions at the docks were addressed. When the dust settled, fifty were charged with mutiny, facing decades in jail and even execution. This is a fascinating story of the prejudice that faced black men and women in America’s armed forces during World War II, and a nuanced look at those who gave their lives in service of a country where they lacked the most basic rights.

Book Details

Title: The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil RightsThe Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin
Author: Steve Sheinkin
Category: Juvenile Nonfiction / History
My Rating: 3 Stars

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Previously on The Deliberate Reader

One year ago: Cover Love: Parnassus on Wheels

Come Along with Us To Korea! (our next theme for RTFEBC)

RTFEBC KoreaLooking ahead (so you’ve got time to reserve or buy the books), in March and April we’ll be reading about Korea for our family book club.

The picture book will be The Firekeeper’s SonThe Firekeeper's Son by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Julie Downing. I’ll be back soon with a list of alternative picture book titles you can try, if you can’t easily locate this one.

The early elementary book (to be discussed in March) will be The Kite FightersThe Kite Fighters by Linda Sue Park. This was a new-to-me book I was excited to read!

The middle grade/teen book (to be discussed in April) will be When My Name Was KeokoWhen My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park. And while April’s books are aimed at somewhat older kids, this is a fantastic title that’s well worth reading even if you are an adult with no kids, or kids too young to appreciate it. It discusses Korea right before and during World War II, when Korea was occupied by Japan. Despite the topic, it’s handled gently, and may still be something you feel comfortable reading to upper elementary age children. If you want some specifics as you wonder about it’s appropriateness for your children, let me know – I reread it last month in preparation for this.

All of these picks for the Korea theme are by the same author – Linda Sue Park. She is an amazing author, to be sure, but that really wasn’t intentional. 😉

I hope you’ll join us over in the Facebook group, where this month we’ll be discussing Julie of the Wolves with Carrie of The Lion is a Bookworm as we finish our Arctic theme, and then get ready to move on to Korea along with that theme’s co-host, Moira of Hearth and Homefront.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!


Previously on The Deliberate Reader

One year ago: Book Review: Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
Two years ago: Book Review: Fit to Burst by Rachel Jankovic
Three years ago: Literary Confessions

What the Kids are Reading (in January 2016)

That Is Not a Good IdeaThat Is Not a Good Idea!That Is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Willems by Mo Willems

They are *obsessed* with this one. Great repetition, fun illustrations, and a twist that makes them laugh every time.

Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You SeeBrown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr, illustrated by Eric Carle by Bill Martin Jr, illustrated by Eric Carle

Wonderfully repetitive – I keep thinking H is going to get tired of reciting it to herself, but so far she hasn’t.

Polar Bear Polar Bear What Do You HearPolar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? by Bill Martin, Jr. illustrated by Eric Carle by Bill Martin Jr, illustrated by Eric Carle

Just like the Brown Bear book, only with a polar bear and sounds. H loves this one too, and reads both of them to her sister (and how adorable is that?).

That's Not My HedgehogThat’s Not My Hedgehog by Fiona Watt, illustrated by Rachel Wells

We already owned other titles in the “That’s Not My…” series, but M got this one for Christmas and it quickly became her favorite. It’s all about the scratchy texture on the last page – she loves it! Plus, you know, finding the little mouse on each page is super fun as well.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!


Previously on The Deliberate Reader

One year ago: Book Review: Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley
Two years ago: Book Review: Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller
Three years ago: Getting Geeky: 2012 Reads, Charts & Graphs Style

The Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill by Andrea Warren

The Boy Who Became Buffalo BillThe Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill: Growing Up Billy Cody in Bleeding KansasThe Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill: Growing Up Billy Cody in Bleeding Kansas by Andrea Warren by Andrea Warren

An excellent biography for children and younger teens. It doesn’t have the depth I’d want to recommend it as a full biography for adults, but for the target audience it’s well-written and engaging. Warren does an impressive job of sifting through the embellishments of Cody’s life, and of detailing some of the tragedies of his childhood in a way that still keeps it readable by younger children.

I especially enjoyed it because of having recently read Eiffel’s Tower, which included a little bit about Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show as it appeared at the Paris World’s Fair. After reading in that book about what a showman he was, and how much his shows delighted Paris (and much of the rest of Europe, before and after the World’s Fair), it was enlightening to read about how he became that man.

While I don’t think it’s a must-read as an adult, it was still one that adults can appreciate. I’d be careful before handing it over to younger elementary students but upper elementary and older should be fine with it (although, as always, know your readers and their sensitivity levels. There are some harsh moments in the book.)

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
The greatest entertainer of his era, Buffalo Bill was the founder and star of the legendary show that featured cowboys, Indians, trick riding, and sharpshooters.

But long before stardom, Buffalo Bill—born Billy Cody—had to grow up fast. While homesteading in Kansas just before the Civil War, his family was caught up in the conflict with neighboring Missouri over whether Kansas would enter the Union as a free or slave state.

To support his family after a pro-slaver killed his father, Billy—then eleven—herded cattle, worked on wagon trains, and rode the Pony Express. As the violence in Bleeding Kansas escalated, he joined the infamous Jayhawkers, seeking revenge on Missouri­ans, and then became a soldier, scout, and spy in the Civil War—all by age seventeen.

Award-winning author Andrea Warren brings to life the compelling childhood of an adventurous, determined boy who transformed himself into a true American icon.

Book Details

Title: The Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill: Growing Up Billy Cody in Bleeding KansasThe Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill: Growing Up Billy Cody in Bleeding Kansas by Andrea Warren
Author: Andrea Warren
Category: Juvenile Nonfiction / Biography
My Rating: 4 Stars

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Previously on The Deliberate Reader

One year ago: Books Read in 2014 – the Compiled List

The Year of Miss Agnes (& a Linkup)

Last week we started discussing The Year of Miss AgnesThe Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill as part of the Arctic theme for our Family Exploration Book Club (Haven’t joined us yet? There’s plenty of time – come on over to our Facebook group!)

The Year of Miss AgnesI selected The Year of Miss AgnesThe Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill as one of the books for the year, even though it’s maybe not *technically* set in the Arctic precisely. As far as I was concerned, the Athabascan village setting on the Koyukuk River was close enough to the Arctic Circle in order to include one of my favorite titles.

I love the character of Miss Agnes (of course), but I love so many of the children as well – Fred is a fantastic narrator, and she brings the setting to life.

What delighted me almost as much as the book was learning about the story behind it. The author taught in the Alaskan bush for many years, and all of the characters and incidents in the book are based on people she knew and things that really happened.

If you’ve written a post about The Year of Miss Agnes, please add it to the linkup below. This is a joint linkup with the other hosts – Jessica (Quirky Bookworm) has written a post about the adorable Arctic-inspired craft she did with her 2-year-old, and Carrie (The Lion is a Bookworm – our guest host for the months in the Arctic) has shared her thoughts about the book as well. Add your post once from any one of our sites, and it will automatically appear in the linkup on their blogs. Yay technology!


RTFEBC Arctic

Link-up Guidelines:

1. Share a post about reading this book or one of the themed picture books. Entries completely unrelated to this theme or linked to your homepage may be deleted.

2. Link back to one of the host’s posts.

3. The linkup will be open until the end of the month.

4. Please visit the person’s blog who linked up directly before you and leave them a comment.

5. By linking up, you’re granting us permission to use and/or repost photographs or comments from your linked post.


Looking ahead, next month continues the theme, and we’ll be discussing Julie of the WolvesJulie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George. I read this in elementary school, so it’s past time for me to reread it and see what I think about it now as compared to back then.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!


Previously on The Deliberate Reader

Three years ago: Link Love