Well, it’s the first day of Spring Break, and I’ve already finished one book and started on another. The book I finished is a nominee for the 2013-2014 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, and, in my opinion, it will be a hit with baseball fans–male and female, young and old. The book is Plunked by Michael Northrop. Now, I’ve been a baseball fan as long as I can remember, but I’d never heard the term “plunked” until I read this book. It essentially means “to hit someone or something abruptly,” and that definition certainly applies in this book.

To paraphrase that gem of baseball cinema, The Sandlot:  For Jack Mogens, baseball is life…and he’s good at it. This sixth-grader is looking to start in left field this year. He just needs to convince the coaches that he’s the man for the job. Jack’s got to be an outstanding outfielder and a top-notch hitter to claim the spot. Somehow, everything works out, but things won’t stay great for long. In the first game of the year, Jack is plunked by an inside pitch (his worst enemy). His cage gets rattled…as do his nerves. Now, at every at-bat, all Jack can think about is getting hit by another pitch. Fear is taking over his waking–and sleeping–hours, and Jack doesn’t know how he can possibly get over this and get his head back in the game.

It’s not exactly easy to get over being hit in the head by a pitch, especially when one of your own teammates seems bent on making it happen again. Jack just can’t let go of what happened to him, and it’s starting to cause problems with more than just baseball. He’s having nightmares. His relationships with his parents and friends are also suffering. Jack is lying to cover up just how badly this incident is making him feel, and he knows that his lies will eventually catch up to him. Can he turn things around before he gives up the game he loves entirely? Or will being plunked kill his baseball dreams for good? Read Plunked by Michael Northrop to learn what one kid will have to do to get back in the game.

Plunked will definitely be a winner with the boys in my school. Baseball is huge here in the south, and many of my students–boys and girls–play on Little League teams, so they’ll definitely be able to relate to the characters in this book. I’m hoping those that enjoy this book will continue on to other good baseball fiction like Beanball by Gene Fehler and Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick.

Even though Plunked is on the SC Children’s Book Award nominee list, I think this would be an excellent purchase for any middle school library, too. Middle school librarians may also want to check out Trapped, another excellent book by Michael Northrop. It touches on many teachers’ worst fear–being trapped inside a school during a freak snowstorm. (When I read it, I was extremely grateful to live in South Carolina. Our weather may be kind of schizophrenic, but we have very little chance of ever dealing with a snowstorm like the one in Trapped.)

For more information on Plunked and other books by Michael Northrop, visit Let the games begin!

The Devouring

Let me be the first to admit that I absolutely hate to be scared.  I am afraid of nearly everything:  spiders, the dark, clowns, storms, rodents, evil kids, attics, etc.  You get the point.  I’m a big ‘fraidy cat.  When trailers for scary movies come on TV or anything, I have to close my eyes and cover my ears.

All that being said, I just finished reading a book that terrified me to the very depths of my soul.  It is The Devouring by Simon Holt (and, no offense to Mr. Holt, but I think he has to be seriously disturbed to come up with some of the stuff in this book).

The Devouring revolves around Regina and her little brother, Henry.   Regina has come across an old handwritten manuscript titled The Devouring.  It appears to be a first-hand account of one girl’s encounter with beings call Vours, which steal souls and inhabit the bodies on the coldest night of the year.  The Vours eat up light, hate the cold, and thrive on fear.  Regina tells Henry the story of the Vours, and, like any little kid, he becomes scared.  Little does Regina know that she has opened up a gateway for the Vours to get to Henry.

Overnight, Henry changes.  He goes from being a scared but loving little boy to one that kills without remorse and seems to love scaring people.  Regina knows that something is off.  She begins to realize that her brother has become one of the Vours, and she must find a way to rescue his soul without losing her own.

I almost had to put this book in the freezer a couple of times while reading it.  (That’s a reference to a great episode of Friends, in case you didn’t know.)  The imagery was vivid, and it honestly scared me.  There were spiders, evil kids, killer clowns, and a whole bunch of other stuff I won’t mention.

If you enjoy scary movies, you’ll probably like The Devouring.  As for me, I need to read something light and fluffy now so that I won’t have nightmares this weekend.