Circus Mirandus

I’ve never been a big fan of the circus. I think I went once when I was a kid, and I was so freaked out by the clowns that I never thought to go back. If, however, there had been a whisper of something like Circus Mirandus during my childhood, I may have changed my tune.

As you’ve gathered by now, Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley is my latest read. It’s a nominee for the 17-18 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, and it’s simply magical. This book is perfect for readers who enjoy Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter, and pretty much everything by Roald Dahl.

Micah Tuttle has grown up with his Grandpa Ephraim’s stories of Circus Mirandus, a magical circus that has to be believed to be seen. Micah believes. He believes in Bibi, the invisible tiger that guards the circus; the Amazing Amazonian Birdwoman, who flies and commands an enormous flock of birds; Big Jean, the smartest elephant ever; and, most importantly, the Man Who Bends Light, or the Lightbender, an extraordinarily powerful magician. Micah knows that all of it really exists, and he’d dearly love to see it someday, preferably with his beloved grandfather by his side.

Unfortunately, Grandpa Ephraim’s health is failing. Micah knows even telling stories about Circus Mirandus would make him feel better, but Aunt Gertrudis, Ephraim’s vile, mean-spirited sister isn’t having it. She thinks Ephraim’s stories are nonsense, and she does everything she can to keep Micah from seeing his grandfather and talking about the circus they both hold dear.

But Aunt Gertrudis may not have much choice in the matter. Circus Mirandus is real, and the Lightbender owes Grandpa Ephraim a miracle. Micah just knows that this miracle can save his grandfather’s life, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that Grandpa Ephraim gets what he needs. Micah is joined in his efforts by his new friend, Jenny, a girl who doesn’t exactly believe Micah’s tales of the circus. She simply wants to help Micah.

Micah and Jenny set off to find Circus Mirandus and bring the Lightbender back to Grandpa Ephraim. The two find the circus, and it’s more magical than either of them could have ever thought. Micah is enchanted by it, much like his grandfather was years ago, and he knows something this wonderful surely has the power to save Grandpa Ephraim. But it may not be so easy.

The Lightbender seems hesitant to honor Ephraim’s requested miracle, and Micah doesn’t know why. He’s disheartened, but he soon learns a shocking family secret that may explain why the Lightbender is reluctant to fulfill his promise. Will that stop Micah from doing everything he can to help his grandfather, though? Absolutely not.

Will the Lightbender perform the miracle Grandpa Ephraim requested? Will Micah’s grandfather become healthy again so that Micah doesn’t have to live with his horrible Aunt Gertrudis? Or does destiny, and the Circus Mirandus, have something else in store for Micah’s future?


I know I’ve given too much away in this post, but once I got going, I didn’t want to stop. To be honest, I could write a lot more about this book. It’s poignant and spellbinding, and it calls to the reader’s imagination. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I hope my students feel the same way.

I think this book is great for readers in upper elementary and middle grades. Readers as young as third grade will find something to love in this book–and even something to despise. Aunt Gertrudis is truly awful. For those Harry Potter fans out there, she’s almost as bad as Dolores Umbridge.

Circus Mirandus is the perfect book for anyone who’s ever wanted to run away and join the circus. Even if that’s never appealed to you, the book is excellent for readers who believe that there’s magic in the world. We really just have to open our eyes and be willing to see it.

For more information on Circus Mirandus, visit author Cassie Beasley’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Wild Swans

Thanks to NetGalley, I was fortunate enough to read an early copy of Wild Swans, the latest novel from Jessica Spotswood. I finished the book late last night, and, while I’m paying for it today (seriously, there is not enough coffee to get me going), the time I spent reading this riveting book was well worth it. It is a great example of contemporary YA fiction, and I think many libraries that serve teen readers will be adding it to their shelves.

Ivy Milbourn knows a little something about pressure. Her grandfather drives her to be the best (at nearly everything) and live up to the Milbourn family legacy. But what legacy is that? Using her talent to achieve success? Dying too young? Or abandoning her family?

A few Milbourn women took care of those first two things, and Ivy’s own mother handled the last. Ivy wants to be successful–without being driven crazy–but she also wants to prove that she’s nothing like her mother, a woman she hasn’t seen since she was two years old. Ivy is looking for a way to stand out, but she’s constantly tormented by her own feelings of mediocrity.

Well, this summer, which Ivy thought was going to be relatively pressure-free, may just be the one that breaks her and forces her to really examine what it means to be a Milbourn woman. Ivy’s mother, Erica, has come back home…with Ivy’s two little sisters.

Ivy doesn’t quite know how to handle her mom’s sudden reappearance, especially when faced with Erica’s blatant animosity. Why does her mom hate her so much? What could a two-year-old have possibly done to earn so much loathing, and why does this virtual stranger seem to delight in making Ivy miserable now? What’s more…why does Erica insist that Ivy’s sisters never know of their true relationship?

As if this huge mess with her mom and sisters is not enough, Ivy is also dealing with a changing dynamic between her and her best friend, a potential love interest (who is also one of her grandfather’s students), and the continuing struggle to both live up to and break free of her grandfather’s expectations and the Milbourn family legacy.

Will Ivy be able to handle all of the burdens on her young shoulders? Will she crack under the pressure or find some way to rise above it all while remaining true to herself?

Discover the answers to these questions and many more when you read Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood.


Any reader who’s ever dealt with family pressure will find something to relate to in Ivy. (Doesn’t narrow the audience down much, does it?) Ivy didn’t always handle things in the best way, but she did experience quite a bit of personal growth throughout the course of the book. She learned to speak up for herself and let others know how they made her feel. It wasn’t easy, but Ivy came to realize that it was necessary. That’s a lesson that many adults–myself included–have yet to learn.

As much as I liked this book and most of the main and supporting characters, I have to say that I loathed Erica. (Kudos to the author for making me despise someone so much.) This woman’s behavior was absolutely atrocious for the vast majority of the book. Erica is definitely a character that readers will love to hate, and they’ll cheer when Ivy finally confronts her. Even though there is a hint of redemption for this troubled woman by the end of the book, she still comes off as the villain of the piece…as she should.

Wild Swans, which will be released on May 3rd, is a good fit for teen readers. I wouldn’t recommend it for middle grade readers, simply because there is some frank talk of sexual situations, a lot of underage alcohol use, and a fair amount of swearing. (Having worked in a middle school, I’m not stupid enough to think that some middle school students don’t have experience with that stuff, but I am certain that they’re not mature enough to deal with a lot of it.) This is a book for high school libraries and YA collections.

If you’d like more information on Wild Swans and other books by Jessica Spotswood, check out the author’s website as well as her Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, and Goodreads pages.

The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky

It’s time, dear friends, to bring you another of the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky by Holly Schindler. This heart-warming book illustrates that beauty can be found anywhere. All we really have to do is look for it.

Auggie Jones is pretty happy with her life. She lives with her Grandpa Gus, rides around in his old truck, and helps him with his trash hauling business. She doesn’t really care that she and her neighbors live on the poor side of town. They have everything they need, and they’re always willing to help each other in times of need.

All of that, however, is about to change. This year, thanks to budget cuts, Auggie is being moved to a new school, where she’ll come face to face with people who judge her and her neighbors for what they don’t have. One of Auggie’s new classmates, Victoria, is particularly cruel, and it doesn’t help matters that she’s a junior member of the newly formed House Beautification Committee, a group intent on making the town a little more pleasing to the eye. But whose eyes are they worried about pleasing? And what does this mean for those who don’t have the money to make large improvements?

Well, Auggie decides to show the committee and Veronica that her house is something to be proud of. Auggie begins looking through the trash that Gus hauls around, and she starts to see potential in some of the discarded items. Where some people might simply see a broken toaster, Auggie sees a lovely metal flower. Where one person sees broken windows and pottery, Auggie sees a way to make colorful mosaics. And it doesn’t stop there. Pretty soon, Auggie and Gus are taking old, broken-down machines, and giving them life as whimsical pieces of art.

But not everyone sees Auggie’s creations as the beautiful works of art that she does. Some call them eyesores and demand they be removed…or else. What is Auggie to do? How can she convince people that her house and others in her neighborhood are beautiful in their own special ways? Can she find a way to show people that beauty is all around? It doesn’t matter if it comes from a trash dump or a fancy store. Beauty can be found anywhere if one takes the time to simply look.

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The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky is a great book for libraries that serve upper elementary and middle grade readers. It’s a quick, easy read, and it also teaches some important lessons: staying true to yourself, looking for beauty in the world, standing up for what you believe in, forgiving those who’ve wronged you, and working together to affect change. I don’t care what age you are; these lessons are important for all of us.

I also think The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky would be a great read for those interested in art, recycling, or just making stuff. (I’m trying to figure out a way to make some kind of display centered around this book and my library’s new Makerspace. If you have any ideas on this, let me know in the comments.) I plan to share this book with the art teachers at my school as well as the sponsors of our Environmentalist Club and Robotics Team. I think there’s definitely something they can use here. And now that I think about it, there may also be some parts of the book that fit with science standards–recycling, engineering, etc.–so there’s a whole new connection to explore. It’s kind of exciting!

I’m very happy that The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky is a part of this year’s SCCBA nominee list. I hope my students (and teachers) enjoy it as much as I did. If you think you might enjoy this book and want to learn more about it, you can connect with author Holly Schindler on her website, Goodreads, and Twitter. You can also learn a bit more about the book by checking out the book trailer below. Enjoy!

The Fourteenth Goldfish

On August 26th, The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm will be released. (Once again, I was lucky enough to read an ARC courtesy of NetGalley.) Well, let me go ahead and tell my librarian friends who work with upper elementary and middle grade readers that this books is a must purchase for your collections! The Fourteenth Goldfish is highly entertaining, delivers an important message, offers opportunities for further research, and shows readers just how cool science can be. I’m hoping to use this book as a read-aloud with several classes in my school this year, and I’m already looking forward to the discussions it will generate.

Things were so much simpler for Ellie in elementary school. She didn’t have to worry about where to sit in the cafeteria, losing her best friend, or all the other changes middle school brings. Well, soon Ellie will have one more change…and this one will rock her entire world.

One day, Ellie’s mom brings home a strange yet oddly familiar boy. He bears a striking resemblance to her grandfather, but Ellie doesn’t know of any long-lost relatives who would just show up all of a sudden. So who is this odd, crotchety, young boy?

Well, as it turns out, this boy actually is Ellie’s grandfather, Melvin. Through his research with jellyfish, he seems to have found the “cure” for aging, and this seventy-six year old man now looks like a teenager. (He still acts like an old man, though.) Melvin shares his discovery with Ellie and enlists her help in retrieving the research that he’s sure will win him a Nobel Prize.

Ellie is intrigued by her grandfather’s work, but, the more she learns about science and what happens after important discoveries–like Oppenheimer’s work on the atomic bomb–the more she wonders if Melvin’s breakthrough is a good thing. Does the world really need a cure for aging? What would be the consequences if such a thing were available?

As Ellie explores the scientific possibilities with her grandfather, she’s also coming to grips the changes in her own life. Maybe it’s okay that she’s letting go of old friends and making new ones. Moving on is a part of life, right? Now, all she needs to do is convince her grandfather of that…

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Like I mentioned previously, I really want to use this book as a read-aloud, particularly with my fifth grade students. My school’s major focus this year is science, and I think The Fourteenth Goldfish could really serve as a catalyst for some intriguing conversations and inquiry-based science projects with my students.

Science aside, The Fourteenth Goldfish also teaches readers important lessons on moving forward, even when things don’t go the way we want them to. Ellie’s relationship with her best friend just wasn’t the same when they reached middle school. Was she sad about this? Yes, but she worked to make new friends who shared her interests. That’s something even adults–like myself–can learn from. Ellie’s grandfather also needed to learn the importance of moving forward instead of looking back, and I think Ellie definitely helped him with that.

If I haven’t made it perfectly clear already, I adore The Fourteenth Goldfish, and I think this book is a necessary purchase for any school or public library that serves upper elementary and middle grades. I hope my students (and teachers) love it as much as I do!

For more information on The Fourteenth Goldfish or other fabulous books by Jennifer L. Holm, check out the author’s website or Twitter.

To learn a little more about The Fourteenth Goldfish from Jennifer Holm herself, check out this cool video on YouTube. Enjoy, and believe in the possible!

Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip

Sometimes I’m surprised by how much I enjoy a book.  That’s the case with Jordan Sonnenblick’s Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip.  (Those that frequent this blog know that this is not the type of book I normally read.)  Having read one other book by Sonnenblick, Notes from the Midnight Driver, I had a feeling I would like Curveball, but I didn’t know that I would spend an entire Monday evening so engrossed that I would forget to watch How I Met Your Mother.  Only when I finished the book at around 9pm did I realize I had missed one of my favorite shows.  (Luckily, I found out it was a rerun, so I didn’t miss much.)  Curveball was a quick read, and it definitely held my interest.  The storyline was kind of predictable, but I really didn’t mind.  The main character, Peter, was relatable and funny, which is kind of rare in a lot of YA fiction.  (I’ll be the first to admit that many of the male characters I read about are morose, aloof, Mr. Darcy types…and they often have supernatural abilities.  I like that, but it’s sometimes nice to change things up a bit.)  I think Curveball will be an easy sell for male readers, from middle through high school, because of the baseball angle, but there’s really something in this book that all readers, male and female, will enjoy…a good story.

Peter Friedman loves baseball.  He’s all set to become a stud pitcher on the high school baseball team.  Unfortunately, his elbow has other ideas.  The summer after eighth grade, Peter has an accident that forces him to throw all of his dreams of being a star athlete out the window.  What now?  He can’t really be a big-shot baseball player if he can’t, you know, throw a baseball.  Peter’s best friend A.J. seems convinced that Peter will be back in pitching shape before the spring, but Peter knows that it’s not going to happen.  Is there any way for sports to play a part in Peter’s high school life?  Possibly.  And it all starts with an unexpected “gift” from Peter’s grandfather, the most important person in Peter’s life.

Peter knows how much photography means to his grandfather, so he’s worried when, all of a sudden, Gramps gives all his stuff away.  Peter thinks it’s a sign that something is wrong with his grandpa.  He’s probably right, but no one—his mom or his grandfather—wants to admit that there might be a problem.  Peter knows he’s too young to have this worry added to all his other issues—his slow-to-heal injury, his delusional best friend, girls, and finding a place for himself in high school—but he just can’t help it.

Peter finds some happiness in two things:  photography and Angelika.  Photography gives him a connection to his grandfather and an identity at school.  Angelika, the cute, funny girl in his photography class, provides Peter with a confidante, a friend, a partner, and, when he needs it most, a swift kick in the pants.  Even though things seem to be unraveling around him, Angelika is his constant, until she confronts Peter about being honest about his future with baseball and his grandfather’s condition.  Peter is losing his grip, and he’s unprepared for the curveballs life has thrown his way.  Can he figure everything out before he loses everything that really matters?  Read Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip to discover how one guy gets his head back in the game…of life.

For more information on Curveball and other books by Jordan Sonnenblick, visit http://www.jordansonnenblick.com/.