Middle Grade Bookmarks for April 2012

Welcome to the April edition of Bookmarks, our monthly shortlist of mini book reviews. Overall, it has been a slow month. In our house, we pulled out lots of old favorites [mostly picture books and easy readers], and I am still uploading new picture book reviews from last month.

What are the odds that we would have two chapter books for middle school readers by the same publisher? Both have middle school as an element, though one is set as school is going back into session and the other is the beginning of summer vacation.

I’d encourage you to check out the I Can Read MEME for new readers, hosted here this month. We had some great reviews of easy rearders, as well as ideas for engaging new readers.

You can always see what we’ve added so far on our 2012 Books We’ve Read Page. Book reviews on the Reading Tub website will have the requisite link. Each Bookmark has basic info and an original blurb / overview. You’ll meet the key players, we’ll add our reader reaction, and then we’ll ask the author and/or illustrator a question or two.

Noteworthy April Bookmarks

Falcon Quinn and the Crimson Vapor
Jennifer Finney Boylan
Katherine Tegan Books, 2011
Audience: Middle school readers

Try as he might to fit in, Falcon Quinn learns over and over again, that friendship is fleeting and he just doesn’t belong. Anywhere. His mother’s people, the Guardians, don’t trust him; but neither do the monsters … and neither do the Filchers, a group of gypsy-like thieves that move between those two worlds.

Who are the key players?
Falcon Quinn, an angel,  is the central character. Over and over again, Falcon is misunderstood or in the wrong place at the wrong time. Although subtle at first, Falcon is on a quest to stop the two sides from an all-out, winner-take-all war.

Falcon’s father is The Crow, the leader of the monster “nation.” He is integral to the story, even though he is “gone” from it for long periods of time. This is our first Falcon Quinn book, but it seems that The Crow is unlike many of the other monsters bent for war or some of the other traditional and over-the-top creatures on Monster Island.

It is pretty obvious that Cygnus (a Guardian) is a big player. Having come into this story late in the game, we don’t know all of the key points, but the story adds enough perspective so that readers aren’t completely lost.

A Reader’s Thoughts
Frankly, I go back and forth on this one. There are some laugh-out-loud moments, and the author does a fabulous job turning the world to a monster’s point of view (e.g., monsters take a “haunted house” ride that is nothing but mundane human activities). Middle school readers will find the events, references to vampires and monster teachers hilarious.

Still, I found the story bouncing all over the place and trying to do too many things. The crimson vapor – which is part of the title – seems like an add-on to the other elements of the book. I did love this passage ..

Falcon looked around at the roaring ocean, the strange cloud-filled sky. “Why not? There’s some law that you can’t kill a librarian?”
“There should be,” said Mr. Lyons. “That is a law I would surely endorse.”

Question for Jennifer Finney Boylan
There were times in the story when Falcon reminded me of Harry Potter: feeling set apart, not fitting in, unique academy classes, moral dilemmas. If the two could meet, what do you think they’d talk about?

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

mystery for middle grade readersThe Family Hitchcock
by Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett
Katherine Tegen Books, 2011
audience: upper elementary and middle school readers

Maddy and Benji Hitchcock have plans for the summer … and so does their dad. The Hitchcocks of Chicago are swapping houses with the Xavier Vadim family of Paris, France. Tres fun, oui? Everyone but Dad sees it as a disaster, and their fears are confirmed when the Vadims arrive in Chicago early: Mom, Dad, goth teen girl, and 3-year-old boy! What on earth will they find when they get to Paris? Let’s just say its an adventure!

Who are the Key Players?
Roger Hitchcock (aka Dad) is a nerdy-verging-on-naive guy who adores his family. He works so hard to make everything wonderful, yet is disappointed at every turn because nothing ever goes as planned.

Teenager Maddy Hitchcock tries to be a dominating character. She knows everything about everything and peppers the story with thoughts, opinions, and suspicions that add depth to the story. She would much rather be spending the summer by the pool with her friends and rarely misses a chance to rain on Dad’s parade … or Benji’s or her mom’s.

A Reader’s Thoughts
Any preteen who has a younger sibling will love this! Parents of pre-teens and teens will enjoy it, too! The family dynamics are spot on, and the story moves fast with plenty of day-in-the-life humor.

What makes the story particularly fun is the way that many of the misconceptions – often dropped into the story by Maddy – unravel. Upon arriving in Paris, the Hitchcocks unwittingly land in the middle of an international police investigation.

Suspense and mystery are balanced and yet keep pace with the events themselves. Xavier Vadim has stolen a vial of a chemical that could “change the world.” The bad guys think Roger Hitchcock is Xavier Vadim, and the family is, literally, running for their lives, trying to sort it all out.

The best part of the story is that not only do you learn more about the characters, you see that they learn about themselves and each other, too!

Question for Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett
Will we get to go to Rio with the Hitchocks?

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

What We’re Reading

The Secret Life of Mrs. Finkleman
by Ben H. Winters
HarperCollins, 2012
audience: middle school readers

Initial Thoughts: This is going to be a fast read. I can already see that I’m going to like Bethesda Fielding. She thinks outside the box!

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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