Ups and Downs

Front Desk by Kelly Yang is a close to firsthand account (based on the author’s note) of the lives of Chinese immigrants doing their best to provide for family in the face of adversity.

Mia’s parents moved from China a couple years before the story begins, and ever since have moved and changed jobs several times. The book centers on their time running a motel in California. They work around the clock every day of the week.  The motel owner is an unpleasant, demanding man who has them working for nearly nothing, and his son is in Mia’s class.  This in itself creates some unique conflict.

Mia is a pretty amazing kid. She works the front desk so that her parents can clean and manage the rest of the motel.  She befriends their permanent residents while managing yet  another new school.  She dreams of getting her family off the poor roller coaster, an analogy shared by her friend Lupe, and decides to enter a writing competition to win their own motel.  In order to do this, she needs to face insecurities her mom has instilled in her about writing in English.  Mia learns that working on her writing is worthwhile; she has a powerful voice.

Mia is a witness to discrimination, dishonest and at times violent customers, poverty and her own struggles with trying to fit in. There is no denying that her character is destined for greatness based on her strength through all of life’s obstacles. Readers will find out how she helps her family and others. 

This is an inspiring and important story. 

A Loyal Friend

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor was recommended many times over in a library group that I follow. The author also wrote All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, which is a 2020 nutmeg nominee that I recently finished. 

This book gave me a tough time for a bit.  I had this overwhelming feeling that something (else) bad was going to happen. There are a couple bullies in this book, Matt and Lance, and Matt is so rotten that I was afraid of what he might do. Mason is a kind and likable character with many tough obstacles to overcome.  I didn’t want anything else bad to happen to him!

Mason has been solitary since his best friend Benny passed away. He struggles in school with his only respite being in his special education teacher’s room, otherwise known as the SWOOF.  Here, he is learning to use the Dragon which is a machine to help him write his story.  Gathering his thoughts to write by himself isn’t a possibility, neither is reading. 

Mason befriends a new student named Calvin. They bond in their attempts to escape the school bullies and they have a project building a cool hideout. Things take a terrible turn when Calvin goes missing after an encounter with Matt and Lance. It turns out that Mason has been under investigation for his former friend’s death, and now eyes are on him again because of Calvin’s disappearance.  

Eventually everything is righted, but waiting for resolution is nerve wracking! Calvin and Mason’s friendship reminds me quite a bit of  the main characters in Freak the Mighty (a novel I enjoyed teaching in 7th grade ELA class). In both cases an unlikely duo find strength in each other. Their loyalty helps them to overcome the “evildoers” around them.  This book mixes positive and negative; and luckily, good prevails in the end.

Worlds Collide

Estranged by Ethan M. Aldridge is my final Nutmeg nominee!

This book is a graphic novel, telling the story of two boys switched between worlds at a very young age.  The Human Childe (no name) is raised by King and Queen of an underground fairy realm, while the fairy child Edmund, is raised by a human family.  Both struggle with fitting in.

Worlds collide when the evil Hawthorne breaks up a royal party to take over the throne.  She turns the king and queen into rats, and the Human Childe decides it is time to find his changeling.  He ventures into the world above with his walking, talking candle/paige named Whick.

The Human Childe sees what life would be like in the human world, having a short time with his parents and sister Alexis before the underworld creatures start looking for him.  He knows they won’t stop unless he is able to overthrow Hawthorne, and he knows he can’t do it alone.  The Human Childe, Whick, Edmund and Alexis go back underground to fight Hawthorne together.

They face challenging foes during their travels.  During their adventure, they realize what family really means and they find where they truly belong.

Time Out

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor is my ninth Nutmeg nominee, and my first completed book of our mandated school closing.  Perry is born and raised in a co-ed correctional center by his mom and foster parent (the facility’s warden).  Perry is a happy-go-lucky kid who is quite settled in his “prison” life, until someone finds out about his unique living experience.

The new D.A. in town decides that he must save Perry by getting him away from his mom and his correctional family.  It turns out the D.A. is also responsible for the warden losing her job, and he is trying to hold up his mom’s parole eligibility.  The only positive is that the D.A.’s stepdaughter is also Perry’s best (and only) friend at school, Zoey.  Perry attempts to get through his time with the Van Leer/Samuels family, while still trying to stay connected to his mom through scheduled visits.

Perry decides to devote his school project to sharing the story of the inmates at his mom’s facility, including his mother’s.  Each character adds a unique flair to the story.  Working on the project makes Perry aware that there is more to his mom’s jail story than she previously led him to believe.  Readers will find out more about Perry’s mom (Jessica’s) story, and whether or not the D.A. gets his way to keep her incarcerated.

Despite the setting, this is a story of hope and patience.  It describes the need to stay positive and count one’s blessings, even in the most difficult of times.  This is a fitting message in light of my current reality.

Keep Reading

Ban This Book by Alan Gratz was a fun surprise.  As a teacher/librarian I should have been itching to read this book-focused Nutmeg nominee, but (embarrassingly) I held off thinking it might be dull.  I was so wrong!

Amy Anne is completely distraught when a classmate’s parent overrides school board protocol to ban a number of books from the school library (including her absolute favorite book). Along with help from a couple friends, she starts the B.B.L.L. (banned book locker library). They secretly build a collection of banned books with phony book covers to check out to interested students. Her locker library is a hit, until the principal discovers it. 

Amy Anne is suspended, but the whole experience helps her to find a voice to back up her beliefs/actions. Amy and her friends develop a plan to get the books (and the fired school librarian) back to where they belong. This book is full of well-developed characters, and  Amy Anne is an amazing one. She is quietly witty and a great kid. 

This book made me laugh out loud several times; it also made me angry and sympathetic.  It’s about knowing when to speak up, friendship and giving people a chance.  This is my favorite of this year’s Nutmeg nominees so far.  Two more to go …

Art’s Amnesia

The Van Gogh Deception by Deron Hicks is my sixth Nutmeg nominee read.  A twelve-year old boy, aptly named Art, wakes up in the National Gallery in Washington D.C..  He has no memory of who he is or how he got there.

He is placed with a temporary foster parent Mary, and her ten-year-old, spit-fire daughter Camille.  The trio return to the National Gallery the next day in hopes that it will help jog Art’s memory.  In doing so, they begin to realize that Art is being hunted by a pack of very determined people led by mastermind Dorchek Palmer.  It becomes clear that Art has information proving a forgery which would stop a multi-million dollar Van Gogh sale from occurring.  Art and Camille lead their followers on a crazy adventure as Art tries to put together the pieces of who he is.

Sadly, I was the first person to check out this book from my public library.  I think kids  will enjoy the book too, if they could get past a bit of confusion in the opening chapters.  This is not only a book for art lovers, but one for those who enjoy mystery and adventure.  There are QR codes throughout the book which link to the art being discussed too.  Overall, it’s a fun and engaging read.

 

New Family

Greetings from Witness Protection! by Jake Burt is my fifth Nutmeg read (halfway there)!

I really enjoyed this one!  Nicki’s mom abandoned her as a baby, her dad was in jail, and her grammy passed away.  These events led to her being in numerous foster families, and honed her skills as a kleptomaniac and an overall tough cookie.

U.S. Marshals choose her to be part of a special project to hide witnesses.  The family she is asked to join is on the run from a notorious mob family- the Cercatores.  The mom, “Harriet,” was a key witness against her brother’s countless murders.  Now her family (husband “Jonathan” and son “Jackson”) must relocate after receiving special training to help them assimilate.  They become the Trevor family along with their new daughter, Nicki/”Charlotte.”

Charlotte is a pretty amazing character.  Cool enough to take on the challenge of fitting in while not becoming too popular, maintaining a B- average and managing an extremely bitter, angry new brother.  Things seem to be going pretty well, until they find out that Harriet’s brother has been acquitted on a technicality.  They know they are being hunted, and with social media errors, it’s only a matter of time before they are found.

This story really appealed to me!  It has a great pace, likable characters and realistic events that kept me entertained until the very end!

A Foxy Fiend

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken is my fourth (of ten) Intermediate Nutmeg Nominee reads.  Needless to say, I need to get going on these!

The story follows Prosper and the fiend/demon Alastor who lives in him, and is slowly gaining control  of him.  Long ago, Prosper’s family made a contract with Alastor to ensure their own success.  Years later, the contract was broken and Alastor is looking for revenge.  He is on the brink of getting such revenge as Prosper’s thirteenth birthday draws closer.

Prosper is taken by an uncle and cousin who appear invested in helping him properly rid himself of Alastor without losing his own life.  His cousin, Cornelia, is an aspiring witch.  She puts a glamour spell on Prosper so that he can attend school with her as a means of protection.  This is a new start for Prosper, who is used to not fitting in at school.

Meanwhile, Alastor is working to find out which member of his own family betrayed him.  In the end, there are not too many trustworthy characters.

This story will appeal to kids who love tales of other worlds, creatures, witchcraft and adventure.  I enjoyed the book, but was bummed that I will have to read Book 2 to find out what happens next.

Time for Change

I can check off another title from this year’s Nutmeg nominee list after finishing Unbound by Ann E. Burg.

Grace is required to leave her family’s slave quarters in order to live in the Big House as a servant to Master Allen and his Missus.  Grace befriends the other slaves in the house, while witnessing the terrible treatment they endure.  The Missus seems to look for any reason to inflict bodily harm to her servants.  Grace doesn’t want to draw attention to herself, but she can’t help her reactions to injustice.

Grace overhears the Missus telling Master Allen to bring Grace’s mom and brothers to the auction block.  At this point, Grace realizes that escaping with her family is worth any risk rather than losing them forever.   With bravery and determination, Grace and her family (mother, two brothers, “uncle’ and aunt) are guided into an escape route that brings them through forest and swamp.  They meet others along the way, all with their own stories of poor treatment, loss and escape to share.

I would recommend that students read the Author’s Note and Acknowledgements before the book to understand its historic significance.  Unbound is written in verse, making for a quick and powerful read.

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).