Written by J.J. Johnson
This new book is recommended for anyone who eats. Heartfelt and very readable, this is a memoir from a recovering bulimarexic, an eating disorder featuring low weight and purging. She shows how personal issues, especially those with food, can affect everything you do and your relationships with everyone.
At fifteen, Jennifer had gotten very good at hiding her problems from her family and friends, but it became obvious to her that she needed help. So, when she suggested to her parents that she check into the eating disorders unit of a psychiatric hospital, they thought she was looking for attention. Turns out, she really did need help and so did her family. Of course the unit was way worse than she could have imagined, with forced eating, monitored bathroom visits, nasty co-patients, and despicable staff. Jennifer did find the help she needed, though, to set her on the road to a healthy life and a better relationship with her family. Jennifer also learned that, even though others around her also need help, she couldn’t always provide the help they needed.
The subject matter is often complex and for mature students. Sixth graders and up should have no problems with it, though. They can learn a lot about health – both physical and mental – and about interpersonal relations. Despite the page count, the book reads very quickly, as it’s set up as a diary.
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- Title: be*liev*a*rex*ic
- Author: J.J. Johnson
- Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2015
- Reviewer: Sue Poduska
- Format: Hardcover, 464 pages
- Grade Level: 5 Up
- Genre: Memoir, Eating disorders
- ISBN: 978-156145-771-7
Written by Joanne Rocklin
Pittsburgh, 1952. Recovering from polio, Franny Katzenback listens to the sounds of her friends playing outside as she lies in bed and wishes her legs would move. With only books for comfort, she falls in love with the newly published Charlotte’s Web. If only she had a Charlotte in her life, she thinks. Her wish comes true when she receives a mysterious letter written in blood-red ink. The author happens to be a highly intelligent flea named Fleabrain, who lives on her dog’s tail.
The two strike up a correspondence. Fleabrain shares with Franny a love of literature as well as music and languages. Not only can he talk, but his saliva contains superpowers, which allow him to take Franny on all kinds of fantastical adventures based on his extensive reading. He flies her around at night on a magical horseback ride, he miniaturizes her á la Alice in Wonderland, and he zooms her around the globe to tour the Seven Wonders of the World. Their relationship strains, however, when she learns he cannot use his powers to cure her of polio. Issues of social injustice are touched upon when Franny faces discrimination upon her return to school.
Sixth graders will likely find the historical elements of this story interesting as it paints a solid picture of the polio scare during the 1950’s and what it was like to be on the receiving end of that terrible disease. While there certainly is enough advanced vocabulary and thematic elements to enhance one’s comprehension and literacy skills, the overreaching plot and fantastical elements may leave readers scratching their heads just like the poor dog who hosts Fleabrain.
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- Title: Fleabrain Loves Franny
- Author: Joanne Rocklin
- Publisher: Amulet Books / Abrams, 2014
- Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
- Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
- ISBN: 978-1-4197-1068-0
- Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Written by Lisa Greenwald
13-year-old Lucy Desberg is back in the third book of the Pink & Green series, and, on the outside, things couldn’t be better. Her initiative to have the school cafeteria go green is a success, her family’s pharmacy and spa are thriving, and she has a boyfriend in high school. What she’s not telling everyone, however, is that Yamir hasn’t called or texted her in weeks, and she has no idea why. To take her mind off him, she and her best friend, Sunny (Yamir’s sister), agree to help plan the upcoming school dance, the Eighth-Grade Masquerade, even though mean-girl Erica Crane is in charge. At least Erica has been acting like a normal human being lately, but Lucy wonders if that will last.
Like everything else she does, Lucy puts her heart and soul into making the masquerade perfect. She offers to do everyone’s makeup at the spa and works hard to make sure all her friends have dates. But as hard as she tries to ignore the Yamir problem, the more frustrated she becomes. To make matters more complicated, a cute boy named Travis, who’s new to the school, shows interest in her. Lucy puts on a happy face and pretends like she can handle it all, but it doesn’t take long until the cracks in her armor begin to show.
In this coming-of-age novel, Greenwald creates a realistic depiction of middle school girl drama, where saving face and fitting in sometimes makes it challenging to do the right thing. Sixth graders will identify with winsome Lucy and her friends as they navigate the turbulent waters of balancing friends, crushes, family and school.
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- Title: Pink & Green is the New Black
- Author: Lisa Greenwald
- Publisher: Amulet Books / Abrams
- Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
- Format: Paperback, 272 pages
- ISBN: 978-1-4197-1225-8
- Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary Fiction
- Release Date: October 2014
Written by Kate A. Boorman
Part Divergent, part Giver, this story of an alternate reality follows some believable and loveable characters as another harsh winter approaches their community. Emmeline, just short of sixteen, tries to be a model citizen but doesn’t quite make the cut in a society where a series of seemingly minor infractions can land you in caged exile. Emmeline’s grandmother was punished years earlier for supposedly propositioning a married. This leaves the entire family in a precarious position. With some of her duties taking her outside the fortification, Emmeline is drawn to the woods by curiosity and by her vivid dreams. Are there really monsters in the woods that can snatch a person? If not, what is out there? What can harm you and what can help? The surprising answers lie in both the past and the future. No one is sure why the settlement’s leader chooses her as a life mate. Is it to keep her under control? Meanwhile, she is falling in love with someone else. Choosing the path between what is right and what is safe is nearly impossible.
Sixth graders can appreciate all the subtleties in Emmeline’s struggle to help her community, her father, and herself. Reading activities include many discussions of Emmeline’s decisions, as well as those of the other characters. Readers are also invited to speculate about the exact location and time of the story and the identity of the Lost People. The story is fast-paced and riveting.
- Title: Winterkill
- Author: Kate A. Boorman
- Publisher: Amulet/Abrams, 2014
- Reviewer: Sue Poduska
- Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
- Genre: Dystopian, autocratic rule, survival
- ISBN: 978-1-4197-1235-7
- Release date: September 2014
Written by Tracy Barrett
Sixth graders and above will love this quirky re-take on the familiar story of Cinderella. Looking beyond the unambiguous version where Cinderella was the good little servant and the stepsisters were malevolent, Barrett wonders what might have happened if all the characters were well-developed. Maybe Cinderella was a spoiled brat who told lies to elicit sympathy. Maybe the family was destitute after years of trying to live without the men who had promised to take care of them. (High-born women, in fact, weren’t allowed to do men’s work.) Maybe the prince was also spoiled and not even worthy of further thought.
Young Jane Montjoy is doing her best to keep her family together. Mamma is ineffectual and Maude is much younger than she is. Both Jane and Maude work very hard making butter and cheese and taking care of the house. They share with the people who live in the forest. One day, Mamma goes to market and comes back with a new husband and a new stepsister. The man does not live long. He was in debt and his daughter has no skills. A harsh winter nearly kills them all, until Jane has the good sense to ask the forest people for help. When the prince tries to marry Ella, adventure ensues.
The many details the author uses to explain away Cinderella’s story make this extra delightful and also very funny. It’s the humor which will make many boys enjoy this book. The pumpkin coach and the glass slippers are items Ella’s father spoils her with before his death. Ella doesn’t even think the coach looks like a pumpkin. The beautiful dress was Ella’s mother’s, which hasn’t been touched in years. Ella plays in the ashes in order to be close to where the heat was. Of course, some details remain unexplainable. Fairies?
As I said, the characters are well-developed, making this great for extending literacy skills and comprehension. There is a lot in this book about not taking things at face value and putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Wonderful new book worth a look.
- Title: The Stepsister’s Tale
- Author: Tracy Barrett
- Publisher: Harlequin Teen, 2014
- Reviewer: Sue Poduska
- Format: Hardcover, 272 pages
- Genre: Retold fairy tale
- ISBN: 978-0-373-21121-0
- Extras: Discussion questions to keep the thinking going
Written by Sarah Albee
Illustrated by Robert Leighton
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Combining biology, history, and a little humor, the author of this amazing new book presents a different view of the world as we know it. Sixth graders, especially boys, will get a kick out of the idea that insects had such a huge influence on history. Information is presented in small digestible doses with clever section titles (e.g., “The Buzz on Locusts”). The author begins with a quick biology lesson on what an insect is. She then proceeds to the many facts of hygiene and some of the more unusual edible insects. Most of the rest of the book goes chronologically through human history, highlighting each event in which insect-borne disease or blight played a major role. Many examples of invading armies either being overcome by local insect-borne illness or introducing a new illness were shown to decide the conquerors. Valuable insect-related products helped decide where conquerors wanted to go. Cortes was so taken with the dyes used by the Aztecs, and derived from insects, that he hung around to learn their secrets. Countries outside of China tried for hundreds of years to find the secrets of silk.
Leighton’s sketches and choices of photos add a fun dimension to the project. Bugs with muscle power. Bugs chomping on the Roman Empire. Bugs inside caskets labeled malaria.
Added bonuses include a table of contents, glossary (helping with comprehension), further reading and surfing (literacy skills), notes on sources, picture credits, and index. The author’s website, http://www.sarahalbeebooks.com/, has more information and reading activities.
- TITLE: Bugged! How Insects Changed History
- AUTHOR: Sarah Albee
- ILLUSTRATOR: Robert Leighton
- PUBLISHER: Walker Books for Young Readers/Bloomsbury, 2014
- REVIEWER: Sue Poduska
- ISBN: 978-0-8027-3422-8
- FORMAT: Paperback, 176 pages
- GENRE: Nonfiction, History, Insects, Disease
- RELEASE DATE: April 1, 2014