Book Review: Mystery Club by Davide Cali and Yannick Robert

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Kyle loves a mystery. He even runs a blog from his home in London about how to solve them. The trouble is, he isn’t sure how to find mysteries to solve. Then a man shows up asking him to find out why people in London are turning into werewolves, and Kyle is on the case. With the help of his friends, he’ll spend time in the London Library and head out to do field work before cracking the mystery.

Mystery Club: Wild Werewolves and Mummy Mischief by Davide Cali and Yannick Robert is a great graphic novel double mystery for young readers aged 7 to 10. Kyle and Zoey start the club, then enlist help from Ashley and Tyler. As a group they all search for clues before figuring things out. Once they do, another mystery begins when they find out they’ve made an enemy who is determined to stop them from solving future cases.

When the group forms the mystery club and holds its first meeting, they find out about a strange sighting of a mummy on the subway. This case is a bit trickier for the junior sleuths, but after spending a night at the British Museum, they figure out why mummies keep appearing and disappearing.

The graphics for both stories are colorful and fun, and the mysteries are cleverly solved while the club members are doing the things they love the most.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Spark by Sarah Beth Durst

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Mina is so excited to be bonded with a storm beast. These guardians of the weather in her home country spread just the right amount of rain, wind, and other elements to keep crops growing and people happy. But when Mina discovers her storm beast, Pixit, is one that harnesses lightning, she’s worried there’s been a mistake. She quiet and shy, while most storm guardians are bold and brash. Yet Mina’s quiet ways are exactly what she needs to bring about important changes when she discovers all is not right with her world.

Spark by Sarah Beth Durst gives affirmation to quiet children that just because theirs is not the loudest voice in the room, it doesn’t mean what they have to say isn’t important. Mina’s gentle ways help lead her to speak out in a way that’s true to her nature while letting people know about the injustices she discovers. It’s a great lesson for anyone who fears that they can’t speak out about something they want to change.

Mina’s relationship with Pixit, her storm beast, is sweet and gentle, and even though Pixit longs to be more adventurous than Mina wants, he coaxes her along gently to realize her potential. Spark is a great book for anyone who loves a grand adventure set in a fantasy world. I recommend it for readers aged 9 to 12.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Reaching for the Moon by Katherine Johnson

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Katherine Johnson broke the barriers for her gender and race at a time when Black women were often relegated to one of two jobs: school teacher or domestic worker. But her dad taught her to remember that while she was no better than anyone else, nobody else was better than her. That philosophy stayed with her as she went to high school, which most Black children of her time were not able to do, attended and graduated from college, and went to work for the agency that became NASA, computing figures for space travel. The story of Johnson’s life and other women like her became known with the release of the book and movie, Hidden Figures. She tells her own story in Reaching for the Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson.

Geared to readers aged 9 and up, Reaching for the Moon is both history lesson and personal story. Johnson talks about her family’s struggle for racial equality in the Jim Crow era. The town in West Virginia where she grew up was segregated into White and Black communities, with separate schools, restaurants, and other public services. Her parents emphasized that education was the way to break through the poverty that many in her community experienced, and they sacrificed to put each of their children through high school and college.

Even with her advanced degree Johnson found the only professional avenue open to her was that of school teacher. But a 1950s expansion in space exploration meant that race and gender barriers became less rigid, allowing her to hire on as a human computer, which was someone who solved math equations in the time before machines were capable of the task. Throughout her career, Johnson kept to her simple principle that she was no better than anybody else, and nobody else was better than her. It helped her win respect of her co-workers and increasing responsibility.

Told with candor in a conversational tone, reading Reaching for the Moon is like sitting down with a friend to hear a fascinating story. I highly recommend it for readers both young and old.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Serafina and the Seven Stars by Robert Beatty

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Braeden has been sent off to school in New York and Serafina keeps feeling as though something bad is about to happen at Biltmore, but it’s just a hunch. When the start of hunting season on a magical night starts a chain of events that brings strange creatures to the grounds of the estate, no one is safe. Serafina knows she has to protect Biltmore and the people in it, yet she can’t do it alone. A strange girl named Jess helps where she can, and Braeden’s return comes just in time. Even so, it will take all their resources to defeat the threat.

Serafina and the Seven Stars by Robert Beatty is another page turner in the series about a girl who changes from human to panther when needed, and the boy who has a special bond with animals. As expected, there’s lots of action and adventure, and there’s also weaving in of magical tales and myths to create a fast-paced story that entertains to the last page.

Beatty keeps the series going in a way sure to satisfy fans of the series. It’s great for readers aged 9 to 12 and up.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Out of Place by Jennifer Blecher

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Twelve-year-old Cove doesn’t know what she’ll do without her best friend, Nina. Nina is the one who helps her ignore the girls who bark at her and call her Rover, like she’s a dog. Nina has always understood that Cove’s free-spirited mom doesn’t believe in cell phones, designer clothes, and makeup. So when Nina announces she’s moving to New York City from their home on Martha’s Vineyard, Cove just has to find a way to see her. She gets an idea to enter a reality show for kids, but to do so she’ll have to lie to her mom and her new friend Jack. When her deception catches up to her, she’s not sure how to fix it.

Out of Place by Jennifer Blecher deals with a lot of common issues teens and preteens face on a regular basis. How do you respond to bullies? How do you react to your mom’s new boyfriend? What happens when you have no control over major events in your life? How do you know who to trust when you need to confide in someone? Cove ponders all these questions and more after her best friend and emotional lifeline moves away.

As Cove makes new friends and learns to trust others, she begins to see a way forward in the situation she creates as well as with life in general. Out of Place is a great book for any reader and for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 8 to 12.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski

A chance encounter between a hungry child and a New York City office worker led to a life-long relationship that changed both people. Maurice came from a poor family where the adults assumed he would take care of himself, even though he was only eleven. Often, there was no food in the refrigerator and he would be hungry for days. That’s when he would go to his favorite street corner and beg for change.

Laura worked at USA Today, a newspaper that Maurice had never even heard of. She lived just two blocks from Maurice, but they were worlds apart. When Laura saw Maurice begging for change, she passed him by. But something made her turn around and offer to take him for a hamburger at McDonald’s.

That meal turned out to be the first of many, with the two of them meeting every Monday for years. Maurice was suspicious at first, because his family taught him that people weren’t nice unless they wanted something, but gradually he came to realize Laura only wanted to be his friend. Over time, she provided guidance that helped him do better in school and dream about having a future.

The story of Laura and Maurice was written as nonfiction for adults, and became a New York Times bestseller. An Invisible Thread: A Young Readers’ Edition, is an adaptation of the original story for adults. Even though the events depicted took place in the 1980s, this incredible story still holds relevance today.

Written by Laura Schroff with assistance from Alex Tresniowski, An Invisible Thread is a powerful story of compassion, acceptance, and unlikely friendship. Even though Maurice’s mother and grandmother were neglectful, he loved them fiercely. Laura didn’t try to force change on Maurice that he didn’t want, but she did provide love and stability when his world was often rocked by chaos and uncertainty.

Photos of the two and their families at the end of the book help readers see the people behind this real-life story of triumph. I recommend it for readers aged 8 to 12.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Before They Were Authors by Elizabeth Haidle

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Some of kids’ favorite writers, people like Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss, and Madeleine L’Engle, were also young before growing up to become famous. And learning about the lives of these writers-in-the-making can provide inspiration for children, possibly prompting them to learn more or even to write stories of their own. Before They Were Authors: Famous Writers as Kids by Elizabeth Haidle talks about these budding writers as well as others, profiling 10 in all.

The graphic format combines illustrations with snippets of facts and a timeline of each author’s life to show that even well-known people can try and fail many times before becoming successful. For instance, Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, tried many jobs, including being a lumberman, steamboat captain, and silver miner, before he started to write stories that sold. Dr. Seuss’s art teacher once told him he would never learn to draw. And Gene Luen Yang self-published his comics, photocopying and stapling them himself, before a publisher offered him a contract.

Readers also learn about Maya Angelou, Sandra Cisneros, J. K. Rowling, Beatrix Potter, and C.S. Lewis. Before They Were Authors is great for ages 8 to 11, but can be appreciated by older readers as well.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Camp by Kayla Miller

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Olive and Willow are excited about going away to summer camp together for the first time. As best friends, they imagine doing all their activities together and having nonstop fun. But once at camp, Olive is outgoing and makes new friends easily, while Willow is more shy and waits to join in. Willow starts to feel abandoned, and the two are soon at odds over how to spend their days. Can they find a way to both be happy before summer ends?

Camp by Kayla Miller is a graphic novel that shows friendship is an evolving thing that sometimes has to be worked at to be saved. Olive and Willow don’t want to lose what they have, but they also need to find a way to enjoy each other’s company without feeling like they’re giving up other experiences. Their solution, when they find it, provides a great example for anyone facing similar issues.

Miller treats her characters gently, showing the struggles they face as they search for ways to be happy without hurting their long-term friendship. Her illustrations capture complex emotions and move the story along expertly.

Camp is a great book for anyone prepping to go to summer camp with or without friends, or for any young reader facing an issue of evolving friendships, which is most everyone. I recommend it for readers aged 8 to 12.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

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