Always, Abigail

Today, I bring you one more of the nominees for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. (I’ve still got six left to read. Sigh.) This post is devoted to Always, Abigail by Nancy J. Cavanaugh.

Ms. Cavanaugh is not new to the SCCBA list. Her previous book, This Journal Belongs to Ratchet, was on the list a couple of years ago. I liked that book, so I figured I would enjoy Always, Abigail. As usual, I was right.

Told in lists and letters, Always, Abigail is the tale of–you guessed it–Abigail. This young girl is entering sixth grade, and she and her two best friends are obsessed with making the school’s pom-pom squad. Her life will be over if she doesn’t make it. (Anybody recognize the middle school melodrama?) It’s bad enough that she and her BFFs aren’t in the same homeroom and she’s been saddled with the school loser for a year-long project. Surely the universe wouldn’t take poms from her too?!

As you may have guessed, Abigail doesn’t make the pom-pom squad. She is devastated and doesn’t really know what to do anymore. Her friends are always busy and now have inside jokes that she’s not privy to. Abigail is feeling left out, bored, and depressed, and she’s not sure how to change things. Her partner for her class’ “Friendly Letter Assignment” doesn’t help matters.

Gabby Marco is the outcast of the sixth grade, and she’s Abigail’s letter partner. At first, Abigail wants absolutely nothing to do with Gabby, but, as Abigail’s friends drift away, she and Gabby form an unlikely friendship. The two girls learn more about each other and realize they have more in common than they thought.

But Gabby is still an outcast, and Abigail’s so-called “friends” delight in tormenting this girl, not knowing anything about what she’s going through at home. But Abigail knows…and she stays silent. She knows she should stand up for Gabby, but she doesn’t want to risk becoming an outcast herself. Abigail is sick about the entire situation, and she feels like she’s about to explode.

When Abigail’s luck looks like it’s starting to change, she’ll be forced to make some truly difficult decisions. Will she continue to go along with the crowd, or will she stand up for a friend who’s been nothing but kind to her…even if it means losing all she’s ever wanted? Find out when you read Always, Abigail by Nancy J. Cavanaugh.


Always, Abigail is a super-fast read that will appeal to fans of Dork Diaries, Dear Dumb Diary, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Readers who like lists–myself included–will also find something to enjoy.

I think many readers may grow a little weary of Abigail and her obsession with being part of the “in crowd,” but I also think they’ll see themselves in this thoroughly relatable character. This book could lead to some discussions about what they would do to be popular. Would they be willing to bully another student? Stay silent when others are mistreated? How far would they go to be included?

If you’d like to learn more about Always, Abigail and other books by Nancy J. Cavanaugh, be sure to visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Finally, check my YouTube channel later to see what I come up with for an Always, Abigail book trailer.

Happy reading!

Hero

It’s no secret that “dog books” circulate heavily in my school library. Most of the time, all I need to do is display a book with a dog on the cover, and it doesn’t stay on the shelf very long. Well, thanks to Sarah Lean, I now have one more “dog book” to share with my students. That book is Hero, and it was released to the masses this past Tuesday.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Hero through Goodreads First Reads, but I didn’t make time to finish it until last night…and I did read the bulk of the book in a single evening. It was a quick, engaging read suitable for anyone–young or old–who has ever imagined themselves to be extraordinary, struggled with fitting in or standing up for what’s right, or had a special bond with a beloved animal. (I’m pretty sure that covers everybody.)

Hero highlights heroic actions–from both humans and canines–in everyday situations…and in circumstances that defy even the most vivid imaginations.

Leo Biggs often imagines himself as a gladiator, fighting in the Roman amphitheater and trying to win the favor of Jupiter. In real life, though, Leo is a bit of an outcast. He only has one real friend–at least, just one human friend–but Leo longs to be seen as brave, popular, and extraordinary. And one day, he thinks he has his chance…

After a rather interesting episode at school, Leo gains the notice of Warren Miller, probably the coolest guy at school. Warren invites Leo to hang out after school…but Leo has to prove himself worthy of being in Warren’s crowd. Even though Leo is hesitant about what is asked of him, he’s willing to do just about anything to be popular. Leo couldn’t know, though, that his actions would lead to more trouble than even his powerful imagination could conjure.

One day, Warren and his crew try to convince Leo to have a little “fun” with Jack Pepper, his neighbor’s dog. Leo knows what’s going on is wrong, and he doesn’t really want to participate. What happens next changes everything Leo feels about himself and what the people in town think of him. Leo takes credit for saving Jack Pepper’s life (even though it was really the other way around), and now everyone thinks he’s some kind of hero. Only Leo, Warren and friends, and little Jack Pepper know the truth…but none of them are talking.

Leo is enjoying his new status as a town hero, but part of him knows that he’s living a lie. One day, however, something happens that puts Leo’s vision of himself as a hero to the test. A catastrophic event hits the town, and Jack Pepper is put in real danger. Leo knows it’s up to him to save this little dog, but what can one boy do in a truly perilous situation?

Will Leo finally step up and be the hero that Jack Pepper needs? Will Leo–or anyone else–ever reveal what actually happened when he “saved” Jack Pepper to begin with? And will Leo ever discover what it really means to be a hero? Answer these questions and many more when you read Hero by Sarah Lean.

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Hero is a good book for illustrating the importance of being true to oneself and standing up for what’s right…even when it’s not easy. This book also emphasizes the value of all types of friendships–those with kids, adults, and even animals. As the story progresses, Leo begins to realize that real friends are loyal, even when he doesn’t deserve it, and he needs to do whatever is necessary to prove his loyalty as well. Sometimes, that simply means being upfront and honest about his mistakes and doing whatever he can to make things right.

I think Hero is a good fit for most elementary and middle grade readers. It deals with issues like bullying, honesty, popularity, imagination, bravery, friendship, and, of course, caring for animals. I’m sure this book will be a big hit in my own school library.

For more information about Hero and other books by Sarah Lean, check out her website. You can also follow her on Twitter @SarahLean1.

 

 

Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality

Yesterday, I finished reading Elizabeth Eulberg’s Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality.  I suspected I would enjoy this book because I’d read two of Eulberg’s other books (Prom & Prejudice, Take a Bow), and I adored them. Thankfully, I was right (as I so often am).  In addition to a fabulous title, readers are also given a wonderful story. I think many girls–both young and old–will be able to relate to the character of Lexi, a fun, smart girl with a great personality, who is often overshadowed by what passes for beauty in the world around her.

Lexi’s always been known as a girl with a great personality.  But when she spends her weekends following her mom and seven-year-old sister, Mackenzie, on the pageant circuit, hearing about how beautiful her little sister is, Lexi gets a little tired of looks mattering so much.  She hates the artificiality of the entire pageant world, how pageants have turned her sister into a little monster, and the fact that her mom focuses all of her attention–and money–on pageants and pays little attention to her eldest daughter unless she’s considering how Lexi can help Mackenzie’s pageant prospects.

Lexi’s friends convince her that she’s great the way she is, but they admit that she could highlight some of the features that she tends to downplay.  So Lexi decides to venture into the world of makeup, hair care products, and form-fitting clothes…and the result is a little shocking to her.  For the first time, she’s the one getting noticed for her looks.  She’s being asked out and noticed by the popular crowd.  While Lexi is officially offended that people only started noticing her when she “glammed up,” a part of her is thrilled with the added attention.  Is this what keeps those pageant girls going week after week?

Pretty soon, though, the pressure gets to be too much for Lexi. Yes, she does like some of the makeup and hair stuff, but she doesn’t really feel like she’s being true to herself anymore.  Even when she snags the attention of not one but two popular guys, she questions why they really want to be with her.

Also, tensions are rising between Lexi and her mom.  No matter what Lexi does or says–or even what little Mackenzie does or says–her mom is all about the pageants, and the family is running the risk of losing everything to keep Mackenzie in these pageants. When Lexi’s mom does the unthinkable, Lexi must examine what really makes her beautiful and what she may have to do to finally open her mother’s eyes to the truth.

So how does this girl with the great personality finally get her revenge on those who think “beauty” is everything? Find out for yourself when you read this fantastic book by Elizabeth Eulberg!

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I cannot say enough good things about this book.  I loved–and identified with–Lexi’s character, her friends were awesome, and, even though I’ve never had much experience with the pageant world and its ups and downs, I felt bad for the toll it was taking on Lexi.  I appreciated how Lexi came to term with her own image and realized that the only person she needed to please was herself.

I will say, though, that I absolutely despised Lexi’s mom.  I’ve never watched an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras or Dance Moms or anything like that, but she’s what I imagine when I even think about the parents on those “reality TV” programs.  Completely out of touch with what really matters to–and what’s best for–their children. I finished this book nearly 18 hours ago, and I’m still mad at Lexi’s mom for her atrocious behavior.

Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality is, I think, an excellent book for readers in middle grades on up.  It examines what we–girls, especially–really think about beauty and body image.  By the end of the book, the main character learns that being herself is the best thing she can do, and that’s a lesson that all young women–and those of us who are a bit older–could stand to learn.

For more information on this book and others by author Elizabeth Eulberg, visit http://www.elizabetheulberg.com/.

How to Take the Ex Out of Ex-Boyfriend

A couple of days ago, I finished yet another book, How to Take the Ex Out of Ex-Boyfriend by Janette Rallison.  (Normally, I post on the books I read immediately after I finish, but, well, life got in the way.)  I think this makes the 290th book I’ve read so far in 2011. 

Anyway, as you may have guessed from the title of the book, this is very much a “chick” book.  It’s a light, quick read that will appeal to girls from middle school on up.  It’s not particularly deep, and the main character is a bit aggravating sometimes, but the story is decent and most girls will find something to relate to.

What would you do if you had to choose between your family and the love of your life?  That’s the dilemma facing Giovanna.  Her twin brother, Dante, has unexpectedly decided to run for student council president.  Giovanna expects her too-perfect-to-be-real boyfriend, Jesse, to help with Dante’s campaign, but things don’t really work out that way.  You see, Jesse’s best friend, Wilson, is also running for president, and Jesse has agreed to be his campaign manager.  Giovanna feels betrayed, so what does she do?  She breaks up with Jesse, of course.  (Stupid, stupid girl.)

Now, Giovanna is managing her brother’s campaign and sparring with Jesse on a regular basis.  She just doesn’t understand why he’s so devoted to Wilson.  Can’t he see that Wilson and his buddies are a bunch of stuck-up elitists who look down on everybody else?  They’ve always looked down on Giovanna, and, now that she and Jesse have split, it’s not getting any better, so she is determined that Dante will win this election.  The “little people” need a voice in this school.

As both campaigns heat up, Giovanna realizes that, although she loves her brother and wants to help him win, her feelings for Jesse are still there.  She wants him back, but can she forgive him for what she sees as a betrayal?  Could something more be behind his loyalty to Wilson’s campaign?  Does he want her back, too?  Read How to Take the Ex Out of Ex-Boyfriend by Janette Rallison to discover how one simple class election can both rip a couple apart and, quite possibly, bring them back together.

This book is full of your typical high school drama–objecting to frog dissections, dealing with mean, rich girls, horrible blind dates, fighting with parents and step-parents, young love, and simply trying to survive.  Giovanna has a way of inviting trouble into her life, as do many teenage girls.  (I know I did.)  As I said before, most girls will find something to relate to within the pages of this book.

If you’d like more information on this book and others by Janette Rallison, visit http://www.janetterallison.com/.

Geek High

Geek High is your typical “pink book.” It is targeted to girls, and the story is a predictable tale of high school woes and fumbling romance. What might be a little different, however, is the main character, Miranda. She’s a math genius, and she attends the Notting Hill Independent School for Gifted Children, also known as Geek High. She’s funny, awkward, extremely intelligent, and she’s just been dropped on the doorstep of her estranged father while her flaky mother lives in London for a while.

Life is not so great for Miranda. She’s being forced to live with her evil stepmother and stepsister and a father she barely knows anymore. Her love life is nonexistent. She’s being pressured to be on the math team even though it bores her to tears. One of her best friends is writing a gossip blog that she’s being blamed for, so she’s blackmailed into planning the Geek High’s horrible Snowflake Gala. To make matters worse, the guy she’s been crushing on for two years has the hots for Miranda’s totally abhorrent stepsister, Hannah.

Could anything else go wrong for Miranda? Of course! (This wouldn’t be a high school drama if it didn’t.) But she might just find a way to turn things around. With the help of some friends–and even some “enemies”–Miranda could make things go her way. There even might be hope for her to find a date to the Snowflake Gala. Will this Cinderella story have a happy ending? Find out for yourself when you read Geek High by Piper Banks.

Although this story was predictable, and some of the pop culture references were a bit dated, I thought this was a quick, enjoyable read. If you’re looking for something light with a totally relatable main character, this might be the book for you!

FYI, Geek High is the first in a series of books. I think there are four or five books in this series right now. If you’d like more information on this series and author Piper Banks, visit http://www.piperbanks.com/.

Before I Fall

What would you do if you knew today was your last day on Earth?  Would you tell people what you really thought of them?  Would you spend the day with friends and family?  Would you avoid everyone and be depressed all day?  Before I read Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, I thought I knew the answer to this question.  I thought I’d tear into my “enemies” and let them know what horrible people I thought they were.  I thought I’d eat all of my favorite foods without worrying about my blood sugar or weight.  I thought I’d have a Star Wars movie marathon.  I thought I’d spend a little time with my family.  Now, I’m not so sure.  Before I Fall really made me think about how I’d want to spend my last day, what’s really important to me, and what I could do now to change people’s impressions of me before it’s too late.

Samantha Kingston is one of the most popular girls at Thomas Jefferson High.  She’s got awesome friends and a hot boyfriend.  She’s invited to all the parties.  She gets the best table in the cafeteria.  So what if she and her friends can be a little mean to the people around them.  It’s high school, right?  Survival of the fittest and all that Darwinian drivel.

This day should be like any other for Sam.  She goes to school, cuts a class, gets some roses for Cupid Day, makes plans with her friends and boyfriend, and goes about her business.  But today is Sam’s last.  Her last everything.  In the blink of an eye, everything stops…then, it starts again.

Sam has an opportunity to change things.  Somehow she’s living her last day over and over again.  She can make different decisions.  She can be nicer (or meaner) to the people around her.  She can right some wrongs.  But will she?  And what impact will these changes have on how things turn out for Sam and the people around her?

Sam relives her last day seven times.  Does she learn anything?  Does she become who she really should be?  Does she realize what’s really important?  I’ll let you find out for yourself when you read Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver.

Before I Fall is an extremely powerful book, and it really makes the reader think.  Like I stated before, it forced me to think about what I would do if I knew this were my last day on Earth.  Honestly, I don’t have all that figured out (and I hope I never actually have to), but I like to think I would spend as much time with my family as possible, and everything else would fall into place.  Given recent events, especially the increased number of suicides among gay young adults, I think this book also helps readers see that actions, whether positive or negative, have lasting and often unintended results.  You never know what’s going on in someone’s head or how your words and actions could impact them.

If you liked Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, I think you’ll be really pleased with Before I Fall.  To learn more about this amazing book and its author, Lauren Oliver, visit http://www.laurenoliverbooks.com/.

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder

I am a nerd.  Shocking, I know.  I can relate nearly anything to Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, X-Men, or various other staples of nerd culture.  I find joy in math, physics, and ancient history.  I’ve been playing the tuba since I was twelve.  I would rather read than, well, do just about anything else.  I’m a librarian, for goodness sake.  I embrace my geekdom and all that comes with it, so I was immediately intrigued by the title of my latest read, Into the Wild Nerd Yonder: My Life on the Dork Side.  Great title.

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder is essentially about a teen girl who is in denial about becoming a nerd.  Jessie is a self-avowed mathlete.  (I was on the math team in high school, so I can relate.)  She likes to sew and listen to really awesome audio books in her free time.  (Some of the books she listens to are Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer and Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin.  Excellent choices.)  She has all the makings of a true nerd, but her friends and her own ideas about what it means to be cool are holding her back.

Anyway, Jessie’s life is changing in some new and not necessarily pleasant ways.  Her best friends, Bizza and Char, have decided to go punk, and Bizza makes an obvious play for the guy Jessie has been crushing on for years.  Fast forward through some suitably awkward shenanigans–friendship over.  Now Jessie really doesn’t know where she belongs.

In study hall, Jessie becomes friends (sort of against her will) with one of the nerdiest girls in school, Dottie.  Dottie definitely marches to the beat of her own accordion.  Dottie invites Jessie to join her and her “nerd herd” for some Dungeons and Dragons adventures and to possibly help them make costumes for live role-playing games.  Jessie reluctantly agrees but soon becomes a willing participant in these activities considered “geeky” by others (and herself, if truth be told).  Can Jessie overcome her preconceived notions about what it means to be a nerd?  Will she ever realize that she’s a nerd herself?  Embrace the “Dork Side” when you read Julie Halpern’s Into the Wild Nerd Yonder.

This is definitely a light read.  It was a perfect start to my spring break!  I do so enjoy reading about people who are a lot like me.  I, personally, think nerds are awesome and are the most interesting beings on or off the planet.  Happy reading, and “May the Force be with you!”