Word Spelunking

Sky Jumpers - Peggy Eddleman Peggy Eddleman’s Sky Jumpers is a super captivating middle-grade read with exciting and refreshing post-apoc elements and breathless thrills. Twelve year old Hope lives in White Rock, a town located in a 10 mile wide crater, in a post WW III world. The green bombs of WW III left the world devastated and destroyed most of the technology, so the citizens of White Rock value inventing above all else. But Hope rather go sky jumping off the crater’s cliffs and into the deadly Bomb’s Breath- the deadly layer of air left behind by the bombs that one must hold their breath through. But when bandits invade, looking for White Rock’s life saving antibiotics, Hope and her sky jumping friends may be the town’s only hope.Sky Jumpers is such a fun, entertaining read and I loved every minute of it! Peggy Eddleman has woven a smartly crafted post-apoc story for a MG audience with superb storytelling, wonderful word-building, and charming characters. This book has all the well thought-out and logical post-apoc world-building elements and the intensity; urgency; and unpredictability I love in great YA post-apocs, but crafted in ways that are appropriate for and easily understood by a MG audience. In fact, Sky Jumpers is the perfect book to introduce younger readers to the post-apoc genre! Eddleman explores both her post-apoc world’s history and its current state in-depth, but not in a way that will overwhelm readers. The WW III green bombs and their devastating effects make complete logical sense, and create a setting with such exciting possibilities and potential. Like me, younger readers will be fascinated by White Rock and its intriguing mix of 19th-21st century technology and way of life.Sky Jumpers’ heroine, Hope, is a fun mix of feisty, clever, brave, and vulnerable. She’s such a relatable and lovable character, and I loved seeing this world through her eyes. Younger readers will easily connect with Hope and have no problems rooting for her. Hope’s friends and adventure companions, Aaren; Brock, and little Brenna, are just as lovable and well-developed as Hope, and I loved the genuine friendship among this quirky group.Sky Jumpers is filled to the brim with thrills and excitement! Like me, young readers will love soaring into the deadly Bomb’s Breath, careening down a snow covered mountain, racing across the desolate terrain, and going up against a group of lawless bandits to save White Rock, with Hope and her motley crew.The end is totally satisfying, but leaves plenty of room for future adventures, and I cannot wait for more!MY FINAL THOUGHTS: I had such a fantastic time reading this book! Endlessly enthralling and never boring, Sky Jumpers, will have readers breathlessly turning pages until the very end. As a new author, Peggy Eddleman has certainly made a sparkling debut and gained a fan in me. A definite MUST read, especially for middle-grade readers.
The Compound - S.A. Bodeen 3.5 to 4 stars
The Classroom Student Council Smackdown! - Robin Mellom, Stephen Gilpin During my last Middle-Grade March Madness, I had thepleasure of reading and reviewing Robin Mellom’s hilarious The Classroom and I’m back today to review the equally enjoyable sequel, The Classroom: Student Council Smackdown. Mellom returns to Westside Middle School, a few weeks after Trevor Jones’ brief foray into epicness, as the documentary crew continues to film middle-school life. The events at the dance have left Trevor with some unexpected popularity; popularity he hopes to use to help Libby win the job of Student Council President. Libby has some stiff competition in the form of her frenemy Cindy Applegate and the tweens learn that middle-school campaigns are a whole new ballgame.I really enjoyed The Classroom and am happy to report that this sequel does not disappoint. Mellom returns with even more laughs, fun, and heart, and has once again crafted a wonderfully written middle-school romp with that pitch-perfect voice I always look for and storytelling that sparkles.The refreshingly unique format of the book, with its mix of third person prose and first person documentary interviews, makes for a really captivating and entertaining story. Let’s face it, there’s no place filled with more drama, romance, and excitement than a middle-school, so this documentary premise makes total sense. And the middle-school environment Mellom has created is super realistic and believable. Like book one, The Classroom: Student Council Smackdown is brimming with laugh-out-loud humor and surprising heart. The race for seventh grade student council president is full of tough obstacles, crazy situations, and some important life lessons, all of which will enthrall and amuse young readers from beginning to end.Mellom’s story sparkles and her characters really shine. With a mix of over-the-top, shy, and endearing personalities, these books offer a character for every reader to love and relate to. Trevor Jones is such a lovable, relatable main character and I just love journeying through middle-school with him. Trevor is surrounded by the kind of kids you’d expect to find in a middle-school (the jocks, the over-achievers, the bullies, the rebels, etc) and yet, they’re continuously surprising and impressing me with their wit, humor, and heart.MY FINAL THOUGHTS: The Classroom: Student Council, with its laughs, relatable characters, and fun storytelling is a wonderful and worthy sequel to The Classroom. Both books in this series are great reads for the middle-grade readers in your life!
How to Hide a Lion - Helen Stephens Helen Stephens’ How to Hide a Lion is a sweet, funny story about one lion’s need for a hiding place and one little girl who sees the kindness in him. A lion, on the hunt for a new hat, strolls into town and is chased away by the scared townsfolk. He runs away and befriends, Iris, who keeps him at her house. But a big, often sleepy and loud lion, is not easy to hide.Stephens has spun a heartwarming and enchanting story about friendship and looking past a person’s appearance. Young readers will be amused by Iris’ silly attempts to hide the lion and love the friendship between the two. The illustrations are simple and lovely, with a lot texture and movement, and are the perfect companion to the fun story.This is a lovely and amusing story that young readers will enjoy again and again.
Elephant's Story - Tracey Campbell Pearson Tracey Campbell Pearson’s Elephant’s Story is a sweet, charming tale about one little girl’s lost book and an elephant’s fascination with words. Gracie loses her book and Elephant finds it. Elephant accidentally snuffs up all the words in his trunk then sneezes them out. He asks various animals for help putting the words together and eventually Gracie finds him, and they enjoy their love of words together.Elephant’s Story is a quick, fantastic tale that celebrates the joy and power of words. Elephant’s quest to put the words back together and back into the book is a heartwarming and sweet one. Young readers will find the various animals’ reactions to the words funny and silly and will even learn about how awesome words can be. The watercolor illustrations are simple, but bright and eye-catching.This is a great book to share with those readers learning how to read.
Papa Is a Poet: A Story About Robert Frost - Natalie S. Bober, Rebecca Gibbon Natalie S. Bober’s Papa Is a Poet is a lovely picture book about poet Robert Frost, told from the perspective of his eldest daughter. Young readers just being introduced to Robert Frost will enjoy learning about the man, husband, and father he was. Told in a simple, honest voice, this book explores tidbits of Frost’s childhood and his children’s childhood.Lesley Frost, the narrator, tell readers all about their free-spirited childhood driven by their parents’ love of books and words, and her father’s difficulties with earning money as a poet. Depicting Robert Frost in this way will help him seem more accessible and relatable to young readers. And Rebecca Gibbon’s bright, childlike illustrations beautifully bring Bober’s words and Frost’s words to life.Also included in the back of this picture book, are many of Robert Frost’s lovely poems. This is the perfect book to read aloud to a classroom full of kids.
Shadow Train - J. Gabriel Gates, Charlene Keel I’ve immensely enjoyed reading J. Gabriel Gates and Charlene Keel’s YA series, The Tracks and I’m sad to see it ending. All the kung fu action, romantic entanglements, supernatural thrills, and captivating mystery come to an explosive head in this awesome conclusion. Picking up a few months after the events in Ghost Crown, the rival gangs of Middleburg find themselves in the middle of what could be a world disaster in Shadow Train. The Flats gang is desperate to find their missing leader Raphael and when one of their own is put into the hospital by a member of their rivals, the two gangs are out for each other’s blood. Meanwhile, Aimee is under Orias’ spell and barely remembers her true love Raphael. The Flatliners, the Toppers, Orias, a group of fallen angels, a pack of government agents, and a mysterious and dangerous ancient Chinese order are all on the search for the shards of the mystical Shen ring and its power. One final showdown could be the end of or the salvation of Middleburg.Over the span of three books, Gates and Keel have crafted a wonderfully layered and endlessly exciting story full of kickbutt characters, addicting romance, and cool supernatural elements. I always walk away from these books completely entertained and impressed! Like books one and two, Shadow Train has fantastic world-building and enthralling storytelling. Gates and Keel are a great writing duo, who has seamlessly and cohesively blended their talents. In this third book we are taken, not only to the magical and mystical areas of Middleburg, but to the depths of Hell, 19th century America, early 20th century Ireland, and an eerie, deliciously chilling in between world, and each of these settings is laid out with rich, vivid details and feel so real. The mystical and supernatural elements are a fun blend of refreshing originality and cool re-imagining. There’s such a well-crafted atmosphere in these books that feels both darkly whimsical and chilling.One of the things I love most about this series is the diverse, eclectic cast of characters. Over the span of this series, Raphael; Aimee; Nass; Dalton; Zhai; Kate; Maggie; and the other characters have kept me entertained, charmed, and on my toes. These are all likable, believable, relatable characters with such organic and great character growth and development. I’ve come to be completely vested in their journeys, relationships, and individual stories, and they’ve come to feel like old friends.At almost 500 pages, Shadow Train is a longer book, but thrillingly fast paced and never boring. The last quarter of the book is especially exciting and had me anxiously turning pages. And the explosive and electrifying final showdown is big and epic and makes for a hell of a satisfying ending.MY FINAL THOUGHTS: I couldn't have asked for a more epic and enthralling conclusion to The Tracks Series! Shadow Train is explosive, entertaining, and full of chills and thrills. I'm sad to see this series ending, but have enjoyed the exciting ride and definitely think it's a must read series!
The Ghastly Dandies Do the Classics - Ben Gibson Ben Gibson’s The Ghastly Dandies Do the Classics is laugh-out-loud funny, super entertaining, and surprisingly educational. The Dandies are a classy breed of monsters that tell quick and smart renditions of classics like Don Quixote, Frankenstein, The Great Gatsby, Moby Dick, Hamlet, Sherlock Holmes, and Pride and Prejudice.I’ve re-read this book at least five times and love it more each time! Gibson’s Ghastly Dandies are a rare breed of monster indeed: smart, refined, and grand (and silly and funny and giggle-inducing) storytellers. The Dandies’ brief summaries of the included classics are wonderfully imagined and done in a way that will captivate and resonate with young readers. Even the biggest fan of these classics will find themselves laughing! Gibson’s collage like illustrations are bright, smooth, and delightful. Bits and pieces of each classic are cleverly brought to life, with fun little surprises sprinkled throughout, And the big, furry Dandies are simply irresistible and lovable.If you’re looking for a way to introduce young readers to the classics, but not overwhelm them then The Ghastly Dandies Do the Classics is the perfect book for you.
One Word Pearl - Nicole Groeneweg Nicole Groenewg’s One Word Pearl is an utterly dazzling display of words and Pearl, the book’s charming heroine, would definitely approve of my chosen words! Pearl loves words so much that she collects them in a chest, but one day the words whirl and swirl into a word tornado and escape. Pearl then decides that she must only use one word a time in order to save the few words she has left.I LOVED this quirky, whimsical word filled tale! Groeneweg’s smart, snazzy use of words will delight and captivate readers of all ages. Younger readers will love the delicious way Pearl’s words roll of the tongue and sound and parents will appreciate the way this story will encourage kids to think about how and why they use words. Pearl is such a lovable, endearing, and imaginative character. Hazel Mitchell’s bright illustrations wonderfully bring Groeneweg’s words to life and she has given Pearl such style and flair.Word lovers, Word makers, and Word collectors will be smitten by this book and fall in love with all of its words.
Hello, My Name Is Ruby - Philip C. Stead Philip C. Stead’s Hello, My Name is Ruby is a gorgeously rendered and surprisingly poignant tale about a brave little bird that sets out to make friends and find her place in the big ol’ world.Stead’s sweet Ruby may be tiny, but her courage and compassion are HUGE. The story itself is seemingly simple and easy to grasp, but tells a lovely story about friendship and love. Readers of all ages will be able to relate to Ruby’s quest for friends and her journey offers such a wonderful and heartwarming lesson about seeing the good and beauty in others. Stead’s storytelling is charming and affecting and his illustrations are absolutely charming. The illustrations are done in an exquisitely childlike manner and Stead has seemed to use crayons, markers, and colored pencils to give his pictures texture and movement. The various animals are expressive and have such personality.Hello, My Name is Ruby is a superbly crafted story with an unforgettable heroine and pictures that readers will want to gaze at all day.
A Moose That Says Moo - Jennifer Hamburg, Sue Truesdell In Jennifer Hamburg’s A Moose That Says Moo silly chaos erupts when a little girl imagines her own unique zoo filled with animals that do unexpected things. A mooing moose, book reading sharks, tap dancing pig, car driving bears, oh my!Young readers will be absolutely charmed by Hamburg’s delightfully deadpan, yet whimsical rhymes. The heroine’s imagined zoo is filled to the brim with wacky, exciting fun and surprises in every corner. Sue Truesdell’s bright, comical illustrations are the perfect companion to the little girl’s wild imagination. And little readers will love looking at the busy, eye-popping pages and will delight in all they find. A Moose That Says Moo will surely entertain all the little ones in your life and will encourage their own imaginative musings.
Elecopter - Michael Slack Michael Slack’s Elecopter is a delightful and surprising rhyming picture book. The shining star, Elecopter, is a brave, helpful helicopter elephant, who patrols high above the savannah, saving animals and keeping the land safe.The story is told in simple, yet addicting rhymes that young readers will have a lot of fun mimicking in a chanting manner. Bright, astonishing colors burst off every page and Slack’s illustrations are done in a completely unique and unforgettable style and have a fun sense of texture and composition. The eye catching landscapes are an exciting mix of unexpected blues, greens, pinks, oranges, and yellows.Elecopter is an epic and lovable hero worth rooting for and children will want to dive into her story again and again.
Icing on the Cake (The Cupcake Club) - Sheryl Berk, Carrie Berk Y’all know that I’m a cupcake fantatic, a cupcake fangirl, a true cupcake enthusiast, so when I was asked to review a book in a series call The Cupcake Club, well, I was all over THAT! And I’m so thrilled to have discovered this yummy series. Sheryl and Carrie Berk are a mother-daughter writing duo and The Cupcake Club is their sweet creation. Each book in the series focuses on one member of The Cupcake Club, a club consisting of a group of elementary aged girls, and Icing on the Cake is Jenna’s story. Jenna is the official taste tester of the club, and when her mother gets engaged to Leo, Jenna’s life is anything but frosting and sprinkles. Jenna’s mom asks The Cupcake Club to bake the cupcake wedding cake and even invites the club to join the family in Vegas for the wedding. It seems like EVERYONE is excited about the wedding except Jenna. Will the club be able to deal with Elvis impersonators, the melting Vegas heat, and a less than thrilled Jenna, AND bake the best cupcake cake ever?!The Berks have certainly found the recipe for cupcakey goodness! Icing on the Cake, like the other books in the series, are the perfect length for younger middle-grade readers and contain plenty of fun, humor, and heart to charm readers of all ages. Jenna’s story in Icing on the Cake is a relatable one that touches upon relevant subjects like mixed families, bullying, and responsibility, and the authors explore these things in way that is entertaining, yet completely appropriate for its intended audience. Readers will learn important life lessons and not even realize it!Jenna’s story is one that many young readers will be able to relate to and appreciate. Jenna’s anger, confusion, and fear over her mother’s impending marriage, and the changes it will bring their family, are deftly and sensitively explored with a lot of heart, humor, and honesty.At the heart of this book and the series, is The Cupcake Club, and the friendship among its members. The club itself, with its kid run business, offers such an exciting premise. I love how each member plays an important role in the club and how the members actually responsibly run a money making business. The characters are wonderfully diverse, unique, and endearing. There’s definitely at least one club member for every reader to connect and identify with. And the genuine love, support, and friendship among the club members is so heartwarming.I want to point out that this isn’t a series that necessarily needs to be read in order. Icing on the Cake isn’t the first book in the series, but it is the first book in the series I’ve read and I was easily able to understand all that’s going on. The authors do a great job of recapping previous books and giving readers a clear sense of the club and characters.AND, the book includes cupcake recipes used by the club, which is just super cool! MY FINAL THOUGHTS: Diverse, likable characters; a sweet, heart-warming story; and lots of yummy fun make Icing on the Cake a delicious read. Readers of all ages can appreciate and enjoy this book and series, but younger middle-grade readers will be especially captivated. I look forward to devouring the rest of the books in this delicious series!
Rose - Holly Webb Holly Webb’s Rose (Rose #1) is a fun middle-grade read that enchanted and charmed me. Set in an alternate Victorian England where magic is real and those who have it are called alchemists and have great power and wealth, this story is all about one very special orphan. Ten year old Rose doesn’t dream of being whisked away from the orphanage by a new family. She wants nothing more than to find a job and make her own way in life, and she gets the chance when she’s hired as a maid in the grand home of the famous alchemist Mr. Fountain. Here Rose finds a surrogate family of sorts, a house brimming with magic, and unexpected friendships. And when children all over the city start to go missing, Rose and her new friends, and her maybe magical powers, must save them.There is so much to like about Rose: its endearing characters, captivating settings, and magic filled plot. Holly Webb is a wonderful storyteller and has crafted a story that is bursting with whimsy, excitement, humor, and heart, and she’s captured that sparkling pitch-perfect middle-grade voice. The only thing that I found a bit annoying about the writing, is an overabundance of unnecessary adverbs; but other than that, the writing is excellent. The world-building is rich in details, vivid, and layered. The Victorian England in Rose is both familiar yet intriguingly new with the addition of magic that is widely known about and revered. The grand Fountain house reminds me of Hogwarts (on a much smaller scale), in that it’s overflowing with magic, unexpected sounds; sights; and smells, and oddly behaving objects, and every turn of a doorknob leaves you in excited anticipation, never knowing what you’ll find. I do, however, wish that this magical abode was explored further and I’m hoping we see even more of it in future books.Webb’s characters are all charming and likable in their own ways. Rose is a fantastic middle-grade heroine with a lot spunk, smarts, and sass. She’s super relatable and easy to root for. The Fountain household is comprised of an eclectic and entertaining bunch. The other servants really become a new family for Rose, while Freddie (Mr. Fountain’s young apprentice) and Isabelle (his little girl) become unexpected friends for Rose. We don’t get to know Mr. Fountain too well in this first book, but there’s something very delightful and admirable in his pleasant, fun-loving demeanor. And of course, there’s Gus, the clever, posh talking cat (love him!).The magical elements (talking cats, mist-monsters, witches, and spells, oh my!) are super fun and both fantastically whimsical and thrillingly dark. I look forward to exploring the magical aspects of this world even more in future books.MY FINAL THOUGHTS: Rose is brimming with magic, fun, and heart, and is an immensely entertaining and enjoyable middle-grade read. The characters charmed me, the setting captivated me, and the story thrilled me. This is a fantastic book for the middle-grade audience and older readers looking for a quick, delightful read.
Taste Test - Kelly Fiore Review to come
Counting by 7s - Holly Goldberg Sloan When it comes to contemporary novels, I tend to gravitate toward middle-grade contemp and Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting by 7’s reminded me why I love this genre so much. Counting by 7’s is a moving, heartbreaking, yet utterly heartwarming, story about 12 year old genius Willow Chance. Willow, with her obsession with plants and disease diagnosing, inability to connect with anyone but her parents, and habit of counting by 7’s, is extraordinarily odd. When Willow’s parents are killed, her organized, routine based life is turned upside down and she finds herself living in an unexpected place, with unexpected people, and discovers some wonderfully unexpected things about life.Holly Goldberg Sloan drew me in quickly with her oddball genius main character and her subtle, yet totally sparkling storytelling. There are so many wonderful things I love about this book: the refreshingly different characters, Willow’s voice, the tangible and excellently woven emotional aspects to the story, and its powerful message of love; friendship; and acceptance. Most of the main characters, including Willow, are people of color and mixed races, which we don’t see nearly enough of in any genre. And while the various races and cultures are celebrated and explored within Counting by 7’s, they aren’t lazily used to define the characters; which I appreciated. The characters’ personalities and character growth and development are what define them and make them richly complex and well-crafted.And these are unforgettable characters that I grew to greatly love. One of the most impressive aspects of Sloan’s storytelling and writing ability in this book is Willow’s distinct, memorable voice. Sloan has managed to capture Willow’s extraordinary genius and uniqueness, while still making her sound and feel 12 years old. And there’s something so captivating in the mix of Willow’s logical observations, frank honesty, profound musings and her still childlike wonder and point of view. This is a character that really captured my heart and moved me. I felt like Willow almost became a part of me as I read this book, and I not only witnessed her emotional journey, but experienced it with her. Willow’s new surrogate family is equally memorable in their individual and group uniqueness, oddities, and refreshing differences. And Sloan has done a great job of creating very real, perfectly flawed characters. This book is rich in emotions and, trust me, you will feel them ALL! Sloan has beautifully and authentically explored the all consuming world of grief and heartache and all that comes with it. Yet, this story is as hopeful, delightful, and inspiring as it is dark and heart-aching, and it is surprisingly funny. As much as I enjoyed (and even loved) this book, I must admit that I found the ending disappointing and lacking, which keeps me from giving this book 5 cupcakes. I won’t spoil the ending for anyone, but I will say that it felt forced and contradictory to the rest of the story :(MY FINAL THOUGHTS: The disappointing ending aside (which you can easily re-imagine), Counting by 7’s is a wonderfully moving and captivating read. Willow Chance is a truly unforgettable character and I’d recommend this book merely for her alone, but luckily for readers the rest of the book is pretty great too. I think older middle-grade readers and up will get the most enjoyment out of this book.

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