Bookmarks June 2012: Books for Middle School Readers

Welcome to the June edition of Bookmarks, our monthly shortlist of mini book reviews. I’m not sure how it happened, but it seems that middle school books took center stage this month! Walking the floor at BookExpo America always makes me feel SO far behind in my reading … there are so many great titles coming and so much to be excited about within the world of children’s and young adult books.

Summer officially kicked off June 1 in our house, and though it has been slow going, we’ve gotten into a routine that includes a daily dose of reading! In organizing the book closet in my office I found a journal called “My Book Reviews.” It has been put into use by a certain 10-year-old I’m particularly fond of! The journal itself i 5″ x 7″ and spiral-bound. Each book gets one page. I was disappointed at first by the lack of descriptive writing space, but it has worked out as a way to focus Catherine’s writing to pack a lot of info in with her choice of words.

So here is what we’ve been reading in our house, as well as those of our volunteers.

Noteworthy June Bookmarks

[amazon_link id=”076363638X” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1[/amazon_link][amazon_link id=”076363638X” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Softwire: Virus on Orbis, Book 1[/amazon_link]
by PJ Haarsma
Candlewick Press, 2010
Audience: upper elementary and middle school readers
Category: science fiction / fantasy

Johnny Turnbull can communicate with computers. Not by talking to them, but with his mind. When The Renaissance, a spaceship filled with 200 orphaned children docks at Orbis after a 12-year journey, the natives put them to work in factories. Things are starting to go wrong with the central computer, and suspicions turn to Johnny.

Who are the key players?
Johnny (13) and his sister Ketheria (7) are the central players, but there are plenty of plots and sub-plots

A Reader’s Thoughts
Our pre-teen reader took this to school for her “independent reading” for several weeks, then picked it up each day until she finished it. She liked the complex plot and all of the action. Our adult reader loved the premise but fears that there are so many pieces and players that it will deter a dormant reader.

Questions for PJ Haarsma
You’ve said on your page that your work as a photographer inspired you to write The Softwire series. Was there a specific night of sky viewing that set the concept in motion?

Where did you Get This Book? The author sent us a copy in 2009.

A Place for Delta
by Melissa Walker; illustrated by Richard Walker, Ph.D.
Whale Tales, 2010
Audience: middle school and high school
Category: chapter books

When his Aunt Kate calls and says she needs his help with a baby polar bear, Joseph jumps at the chance to spend the summer in Alaska. Joseph is charged with taking care of the sickly cub at the Arctic research station.Sitting in a local diner one day, Joseph and Ada (a new friend) discover that the bear may be an orphan and that there may have been foul play involved in its mother’s death. With the polar bear in danger, there is just one thing to do – bring it back to his grandmother’s house in the North Georgia woods.

Who are the key players?
Several characters share the spotlight, each in different phases / generations of the story. At the beginning, it is Lisi Morse, Kate’s mom and Joseph’s grandmother. She personifies a pioneer-woman spirit that is then visible as Kate and Joseph later take center stage.

Kate (or Aunt Kate) inherited a passion for animals and conservancy from her mother. When she begins to move to the fore in the story, she is a graduate student, and there is a subplot involving an Eskimo who helps the scientists at the research station.

When Joseph’s and Ada’s efforts to solve the mystery begin to unfold, the reader becomes a detective with them.

A Reader’s Thoughts
This was a great book. There are several mysteries, beginning with Lisi’s purchase of the house in the North Georgia Woods when Kate and Ben (Joseph’s dad) were young. There is just enough “prequel” to fill out the character’s personalities and give you a solid foundation for what is yet to come.

This is not quite a stay-up-too-late page turner, but it IS a book you want to come back to as soon as you can to keep reading. This is probably a book that you could read with upper-elementary readers, but kids sensitive to animals being killed / orphaned could need a little extra TLC.

Questions for Melissa Walker

  • Are there any parts of the story that are auto-biographical? The story seems so personal at times.
  • Who is your favorite character in the book?

Where did you Get This Book? The publisher donated a copy.

[amazon_link id=”1423121376″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Exiled Queen, The (A Seven Realms Novel)[/amazon_link]The Exiled Queen; A Seven Realms Novel
by Cynthia Williams Chima
Hyperion, 2010
Audience: middle school, high school, and young adult
Category: chapter books

Han Alister is an orphaned teen. In retaliation for killing his mother and sister, Han (a skilled street thief) stole a magical amulet from the Bayar family. Now Han Alister is running for his life … to Oden’s Ford, where he plans to pursue an education in magical arts. At Oden’s Ford, Han is classmates with twins Fiona and Micah, who is set to marry Princess Raisa. Only Raisa has run away to avoid the union.

Who are the key players?
Up to the point that I abandoned the book, there were three pairs of central characters:

  • Han Alister (aka Hunts Alone) and his friend Dancer, who are en route to Oden’s Ford to begin their studies.
  • Runaway Princess Raisa and Amon Byrne, a member of the Queen’s guard. Raisa has cut her hair and changed her name to Rebecca Morley so that she can be part of Amon’s group of “soldiers.” They are clearly in love, with Raisa wanting to move forward with the relationship and Amon fearful of it.
  • Fiona and Micah Bayar, the twins. These two seem to have an interesting – if not explosive – relationship.

A Reader’s Thoughts
I abandoned this book as I crossed 100 pages. The jumping back-and-forth between Han and Raisa was Okay, but every character had at least one nickname, and the author used them interchangeably. That would be fine later on, once you got to know the characters, but when you’re still introducing all of the players it was more than a little annoying. I also found the descriptions of place and events tedious.

Where did you get this book? The publisher donated a copy for review.

What We’re Reading

[amazon_link id=”0062015052″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Breadcrumbs[/amazon_link][amazon_link id=”0062015052″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Breadcrumbs[/amazon_link]
by Anne Ursu
Walden Pond Press, 2011
audience: upper elementary, middle school
category: chapter books

Initial thoughts: I was hooked on page 1. Hazel is a very sympathetic yet engaging character – you want to see what she’s thinking. The scenes of fifth grade life seem very realistic so far.

[amazon_link id=”1452110220″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Wumbers[/amazon_link][amazon_link id=”1452110220″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Wumbers[/amazon_link]
by Amy Krause Rosenthal; illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Chronicle Books, 2012
audience: preschool, elementary
category: picture books

Initial thoughts: It’s gr8. As soon as I saw the homage to William Steig, I HAD to read the book right then and there.

Click here to see other Reading Tub book reviews, including chapter books, this month. Use these links to take you to your favorite children’s and young adult book categories.


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