The Perfect Robot

Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger proves that even robots can be good or bad.

Vanguard Middle School has been selected for a Robot Integration Program, and Max is extremely excited to be selected as the robot Fuzzy’s guide.  Vanguard is no stranger to robots as the vice principal, Barbara, is also an all-seeing and all-hearing robot.

This school is all about perfect data.  Students must constantly improve their scores as well as demonstrate impeccable behavior or they face being sent to an undesirable school.   Barbara is watching every moment and assigns discipline tags the moment anyone steps out of line.  It seems Max and her friends are always on the receiving end of these discipline tags.  Tensions are running tight for Max at home, and she wants to prove that she is a good student.  As a robot who can make decisions for himself, Fuzzy decides his primary mission is to help Max.  Meanwhile, there are people out to steal Fuzzy for a huge profit.

Max and her friends must face Barbara’s true motives and discover the real reason that a robot is being trained in their school.  I think readers who enjoy the movie “Big Hero 6” and technology/coding will appreciate this book.  This is also one of the 2020 Nutmeg nominees (the third I’ve read so far).

Building Friendship

Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan is a great parallel story taking place during the two main characters’ first week of fifth grade.  Weeks writes Joe’s chapters.  Joe mainly keeps to himself, primarily because of his APD (Auditory Processing Disorder), and because he is often the target of bully Dillon Samreen.

Varadarajan writes Ravi’s chapters.  Ravi’s family has just moved to the U.S. from India.  Ravi was extremely successful and popular in Bangalore, and he expects the same to be true in the U.S.  This isn’t exactly how it goes for him.

Over the course of the week, both boys endure being misunderstood (in their own unique situations), and the difficulty of being able to fit in as they are.  By the end of the week, they manage to erase their own false assumptions about each other and work together to overcome Dillon’s bullying.  Their respective family’s are pivotal in helping them through these tough first days.

The clear, fluid writing from both authors will engage student readers, and get them rooting for the boys to befriend each other.  Also, the authors’ backgrounds and process of writing together (described in the post-story interview) will promote conversation of writer’s craft.  It would be a cool exercise for students to try their own dual story with a writing partner.  (Can’t take the English teacher out of the librarian!)

Taking the Bus

I recently read a review which mentioned that The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart was a real tearjerker.  While I was a bit teary-eyed by the end of the book, I wouldn’t say it is a sad story.  Rather, I found it to be a tale of resiliency and both confronting and overcoming very difficult life challenges.

Coyote Sunrise is a twelve-year-old girl who is on the road with her dad, Rodeo.  They’ve been driving around the country in a school bus turned motor home for the past five years.  Her mom and two sisters died in a car accident back then, and the traveling has been an escape from facing this tragedy.

Coyote’s story starts at a gas station when she chooses a free kitten against her dad’s “no pets” rule.  We learn more about her relationship with her dad as she figures out how to persuade him to let her keep the kitten named Ivan.

The real story begins during a phone call to her grandmother, in which Coyote finds out that the park near her old home is being dug up.  It becomes her mission to get back to Washington state from Florida in order to retrieve the memory box that her mom and sisters had buried there before their deaths.  She can’t tell her dad her true motive because that would be a “no-go.”  From here, Coyote and her dad pick up other people needing a ride, all with their own stories to share.  There’s Lester the musician, Salvador and his mother who are escaping an abusive dad/husband, Val the misunderstood runaway, and finally Gladys, a goat needing a ride to her proper owners.

Through the miles they share, bonds are formed and the true destination of their journey is revealed.  Coyote (previously Ella) takes some major risks in order to recapture her family’s memories once and for all.  This is a true journey story, with great characters and a mission that you will care about.

Growing Stronger

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste is my first jump back into the realm of young adult literature.  It’s also my first Nutmeg of this year’s nominees.

What’s a jumbie?  It’s a collection of creepy creatures that live in the woods.  They are often used to scare/intrigue children in Caribbean fairy tales, but they’re real characters in this story.  Corinne has caught the interest of the powerful jumbie named Severine.  Severine works her magic to appear as a beautiful woman.  She plans to enchant Corinne’s dad and hopes to also take Corinne.  Ultimately, she wants to turn them into jumbies and use them (along with all the other jumbies) to take over the island on which they’ve been forced aside by humans.

Corinne, joined by three friends, her mother’s spirit, and a little help from a witch, must work to conquer Severine and prevent her dad from being lost forever.  In doing so, Corinne learns a surprising truth about herself.

This is an engaging tale with both cute and creepy characters, action and suspense.  I think kids will enjoy it!

Sail Away

Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey is not your typical coming of age story.  Sixth grader Lewis Dearborn is socially awkward and painfully shy, but that all changes once he  befriends the seven pirate ghosts that live in his great-grandfather’s home.

Lewis’s great-grandfather passes away shortly after turning 101 years old.  He leaves his grand old home on the Atlantic coast, named Shornoway, to Lewis and his parents.  Lewis immediately feels drawn to his new tower room overlooking the ocean.  But, things change when he realizes that pirate ghosts are sharing the room with him.  Lewis’s great-grandfather promised them that Lewis would be the one to bring them to their pirate ship, the Maria Louisa, which is an exhibit in a nearby museum.   Their ultimate dream is to reach the pirate paradise, Libertalia.

Lewis reads them pirate stories, buys them second-hand clothes and prepares a plan to bring them back to their ship.  His growing friendship with the pirates emboldens him in other areas of his life (namely at school).

Ultimately, the pirates rediscover their ship and manage to get revenge on the band of pirates who caused their deaths.  The message of being bold enough to take a chance for change relates to multiple characters.  There is action, humor and unlikely friendships, all combining to make this a jolly good read 😉

Moonstone Curse

Loot by Jude Watson is my second to last read from this year’s Intermediate Nutmeg nominees.  March and Jules McQuin are twins who have been separated ever since the fateful night when their dad, mom and a friend were stealing cursed moonstones from Carlotta Grimstone.  The curse caused their mom’s death, the friend’s incarceration and foretold their death at the age of thirteen.  Their dad Alfie, who is an infamous robber, decided to separate them in an attempt to outsmart the curse.

March stayed with his dad and learned the life of an accomplished robber while his sister stayed with aunt Blue, a performer in a traveling trapeze/circus act.  In a terrible turn of events, March witnesses his dad “falling” from a building during a job.  Alfie is able to muster a few last words to his son before he passes away.

March is reunited with his long-lost twin when they are both sent to a juvenile facility back in the U.S..  It’s here where they meet up with their new “family,” companions Izzy and Darius.  This group of four pull from each other’s unique talents to follow the clues that Alfie has left behind.  Their mission is to steal back the rest of the moonstones in hopes of breaking the curse on their lives.  Of course, they also hope to make seven million dollars upon returning the gems to their original owner.

While this story at times stretches the realm of reality, it is action-packed and fast-paced.  I think it will definitely appeal to middle grade readers; I know it appealed to this middle-aged one!

New Life

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate was my son’s One School, One Book read this year.  Applegate is a consistently great author for me, and this book is no exception.  The story is a lyric narrative and word choice paints powerful emotions and images throughout the story.

It is Kek’s story, a refugee who lost his brother and father in war, and whose mother is currently missing after their camp was attacked.

Kek was brought to America to stay with his cousin and aunt, who were also relocated.  Kek tries to assimilate to American life in Minnesota.  He manages to find work at a nearby failing farm, just to have some semblance of home and to be near the farm’s solitary cow.  He befriends a foster girl in his grade too.  Kek’s character combines strength, softness and hope to get through the difficulties he is forced to face in his life.

Applegate’s note at the end of the story reminds us that people (for any number of reasons) may feel lost, alone or as though they don’t belong.  While I don’t think many can imagine quite what it would feel like to go through the atrocities that Kek and his family have endured, I think we all can feel compassion and offer kindness to those who need it most.