Maximum Ride

Maximum Ride by James Patterson

girl with wings book cover

BIBLIO: 2007,New York: Warner Vision Books, Ages 12 to 16.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-0316067959

Maximum Ride is a series written by the highly popular (at every age) James Patterson. It follows the story of six genetically mutated humans, Max, Fang, Iggy, Gasman, Nudge, and Angel. The genes used? Avian, so they all sport a set of wings. Of course being such valuable experiments The School, the mad scientists that created them, are seeking to regain these young teenagers. At their bidding they have other genetically modified humans, Erasers, on the hunt with their werewolf-ish features. Scared, without their adopted father Jeb to guide them, the Flock flee from place to place. This thrilling beginning leads the reader to a world of growing up, emotions, and what family really means. I would recommend this series to 7th grade- 10th grade girls and boys, I would even lean toward encouraging boys to read this for the action and witty dialogue, all with minimal romantic themes.

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Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

BIBLIO: 1998 Farrar, Straus and Giroux., ages 10 and up, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 978-0-374-33664-6


Joey Pigza is a little boy that any kid can relate to. He is hyper and jittery and plays the class clown. But unlike most kids, he has ADHD. Joey tries really hard to act like the good kid he is but… he has to “get back to you on that”. With an illness controlled by poorly administered meds, Joey frequently gets caught up in wild antics like shouting out, sticking Band-Aids everywhere, swallowing a key, eating a whole shoofly pie, and cutting off Maria’s nose!
Unable to handle Joey’s wild behavior the school sends him to the Lancaster County Special Education Center. There he meets Special Ed (Mr. Ed Vanness) to get reevaluated for meds and change his outlook on life. After six weeks at the center he returns to school well –adjusted and with a renewed hope for his academic success, and with a new puppy, Pablo, who was an incentive to get better.
He realizes that everyone had been rooting for him all along and that he actually made a difference in people’s lives. Among them Mrs. Maxy, Mrs.Jarzab, Mrs.Howard, and Nurse Holyfield from public school who worry about his safety and only want to see him learn; not forgetting Charlie and Howard, the special needs students he befriended, showing that he, Joey Pigza, really could make a positive change in the world.
Jack Gantos uses this book as a way to describe to the reader how it feels to be hyperactive and attention deficit. Using descriptive language such as “wired” and “spring” and describing the blurring of the surrounding world bouncing everywhere except into Joey’s brain. Subtly the author also brings in themes of a troubled home-life. Starting with the abusive grandmother and nonexistent dad, and moves along to the devoted previously absentee mother who has a messy past with alcohol. This very real book brings some perspective to how a mentally challenged student might feel about themselves and how they understand what society thinks about them.

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Stanley the Mailman

Stanley the Mailman by William Bee

hamster on motor bike

BIBLIO: 2016, Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, Ages 3 to 6, $14.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Picture book
ISBN: 978-1-56145-867-7.

Bee has produced another charming installation about Stanley the Hamster. Stanley acts as the town’s postman and delivers mail to all of his friends. Stanley’s day starts before dawn as he rides his scooter. Each friend opens up their mail which come as whimsical fun gifts or unfortunate truths like Hattie’s ticket. The book shows a lot of movement through the pages and actively engages the reader. The sentences flow and are very simple grammatically ideal for young readers. The digitally designed pictures are well thought out. The drawings are colorful, cute, and clean lines, along with a lot of sweet details. The cover of my particular book is pillow-y and perfect for tiny hands. I would recommend this book as a read-a-long book and for very beginning readers. This book is great as part of a career-themed Storytime and Stanley the Hamster as a series works perfectly as a quick grab for toddlers.

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Some Kind of Magic

Some Kind of Magic by Adrian Fogelin

shadows, book cover

BIBLIO: 2015,Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, Ages 10 to 14, $15.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 978-1-56145-820-2

Part crime-solving part coming of age, this novel features the four friends Justin, Cass, Jemmie, and Ben along with Ben’s kid brother Cody on their adventures as their last summer before high school kicks off to a boring start. Set in Tallahassee within a week countdown to Cody’s birthday, the story centers around the “magic hat” Cody finds that leads them to an abandoned shed on the site of a house fire that serves as their new secret hangout. A subplot of the novel is finding out what happened to the brothers’ Uncle Paul. It doesn’t take long for them to find out how the house fire, Uncle Paul, and the hat all connect. In the end Ben has an accident and Justin proves to be a hero as everything resolves. Teenage drama runs throughout the story with romance, family troubles, obesity, interracial friendships, and the uncertainty of a new school all being relatable to the reader. The novel does become very unrelatable when the “magic” is brought in. As this novel is designed for middle schoolers, the youngest will say they’ve outgrown it and the oldest really have. While the hat’s magical powers are symbolic of imagination and confidence, the characters’ expressed belief and the title can be deterring to potential readers. This is great for teachers to use to reassure students going to high school or for the kid sibling always tagging along. Some real issues and learning lessons are presented and can be effectively used for discussions in the classroom. For more adventures with these characters look for Fogelin’s novels, Crossing Jordan, The Big Nothing, and My Brother’s Hero.

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Angelfish

Angelfish by Laurence Yep

Angelfish book cover

BIBLIO: 2001, G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Putnams Books for Young Readers, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 0-399-23041-6

Yep’s novel Angelfish is a captivating tale about a Chinese-American girl Robin. This charming story uses the archetypal story of the Beauty and the Beast to create the storyline and subplot of the book. Robin is a young ballet dancer who has gotten the role of Beauty in the upcoming recital. She dances with her friends Amy, Leah, and Thomas, her counterpart the Beast.

On their way home Thomas teases Robin and she throws her bag at him but instead breaks the storefront window of The Dragon Palace, the pet fish store. Rather than getting grounded and having to give up the recital Robin agrees to work for the surly manager, Mr. Tsow (Cao).

Upon working for Mr. Tsow, Robin is convinced she has met the real Beast. When she tells Grandmother about this awful old man she is reminded that most people are turned bitter by experience, not born that way. Robin reflects on the story of the ballet and vows to find out why Mr.Tsow has turned so sour and uses her experiences in the fish store in her dancing.She notices that Mr.Tsow has a hidden kindness which he shows in particular to his angelfish.

In her search for the humanity inside of Mr.Tsow Robin learns more about China’s history and discovers Mr.Tsow’s dancing fame and helps her Beast rediscover his love for the art.

This is a coming of age tale that shows compassion, heritage, and determination. This book brings up some serious topics such as racism, dark parts of history, gambling, and the effort needed to be part of a family (two busy parents) in a way that is true but easy to comprehend opening up a wide range of discussions.

A great addition to a classroom setting as a way to explore different cultures in a fun way and a great read for kids in general, especially those who have very specific interests such as ballet and fish.

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