A satisfying and progressive tale with real sweetness at its center.

MIDDLE SCHOOL, THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE

In order to cope with the terrors of middle school, Rafe Khatchadorian teams up with his imaginary friend, Leo, to become a troublemaking legend.

There’s a fine line between a class clown and a smart aleck. Class clowns make big dopey gestures to make up for superficial insecurities, leading to inevitably poor life decisions. As Conan O’Brien once said: “The class clown is killed in a motel shoot-out.” Smart alecks are different. There’s a lot of potential in every one of them. And there’s a lot of potential in Rafe. As his efforts to break every rule in his new school’s handbook progress, Patterson and Tebbetts illuminate the psyche of a scared, angry kid who is smart, creative, bored and ever so over the “teach ’em what’s on the test” mentality the U.S. education system has so ruthlessly perfected. Rafe lashes out against an establishment that is designed against him and a shattered family unit, and it’s hard to push past his defense systems. But once through, readers will discover the best kind of child: one that is intelligent, artistic and brave. The authors weave these ideas through a world perfectly described through a 12-year-old’s point of view, complete with humor and jokes to be expected from that bracket. Witty illustrations and wacky scenarios will rope young readers in, but the emotional undercurrents will keep them hooked.

A satisfying and progressive tale with real sweetness at its center. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: June 27, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-316-10187-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2014

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For every dreaming girl (and boy) with a pencil in hand (or keyboard) and a story to share. (Memoir/poetry. 8-12)

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BROWN GIRL DREAMING

A multiaward–winning author recalls her childhood and the joy of becoming a writer.

Writing in free verse, Woodson starts with her 1963 birth in Ohio during the civil rights movement, when America is “a country caught / / between Black and White.” But while evoking names such as Malcolm, Martin, James, Rosa and Ruby, her story is also one of family: her father’s people in Ohio and her mother’s people in South Carolina. Moving south to live with her maternal grandmother, she is in a world of sweet peas and collards, getting her hair straightened and avoiding segregated stores with her grandmother. As the writer inside slowly grows, she listens to family stories and fills her days and evenings as a Jehovah’s Witness, activities that continue after a move to Brooklyn to reunite with her mother. The gift of a composition notebook, the experience of reading John Steptoe’s Stevie and Langston Hughes’ poetry, and seeing letters turn into words and words into thoughts all reinforce her conviction that “[W]ords are my brilliance.” Woodson cherishes her memories and shares them with a graceful lyricism; her lovingly wrought vignettes of country and city streets will linger long after the page is turned.

For every dreaming girl (and boy) with a pencil in hand (or keyboard) and a story to share. (Memoir/poetry. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-399-25251-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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